This is the first in a series of posts dedicated to the editorial and portrait photography I did for PLACE in the Making magazine, a maker’s journal based in New England. In the magazine, we created business profiles of our artisans – and I had a blast getting to know everyone, going on-location to photograph their process, their people, and of course, the amazing things they make. Enjoy!
I walk along the woodland path, and the cedars close in around my footsteps. I feel a gentle breeze, hear the bushy treetops whisper in return, and see the bright blue green of the lake just on the other side of their rusty red trunks. The path turns out of sight ahead, but I know where it is going. I don’t have to think. I can just move, and find my destination effortlessly. This trail is home.
Ah, I can head there at any moment in my mind. I bet that you also have a place that you know so well that you can close your eyes (right now!) and see every detail as clearly as if you were there. Maybe it’s your hometown, or your school campus, or the way to a cherished vacation spot. Some places leave a permanent map in your heart so that you can always return to them. It’s a wonderful, powerful part of a life story – our sense of place.
Jennifer Carland definitely believes in the power of place. Her business, Carland Cartography, takes the places our hearts know well and celebrates them visually by creating a map. More than just a charting of location, her artwork bubbles over with emotion and energy, a sense of spiritual place as much as physical place. In her pieces of art, a map changes from a tool to a story. In her words, “We aren’t just selling art prints – we are providing personalized biographies to each one of our customers. We are invoking nostalgia, giving individuals a sense of belonging and an expression of self-identity. We are creating an illustrated reminder of the location each person calls “home”, the place where they fell in love, the area where they went to college, where they spent their summer holiday.” A fine artist with a background in urban planning, Jennifer brings a specialized understanding of place to her work. Her work was absolutely perfect for PLACE…In the Making magazine.
I got to visit Jennifer at her space in the Western Avenue Studios in Lowell, MA to photograph her portrait and take some candid working pictures for her feature in PLACE…In the Making. We sat in her cozy studio and talked a bit about how she brings her pieces to life.
Jennifer’s creative technique is unusual and multi-layered. She will render her map of an area in a number of different 2-D techniques featuring various types of media. Eventually those individual renderings will be layered, creating a unique blend of colors, lines and textures. (Her color choices often reflect the area she is representing – cherry blossoms of pink for Washington DC, or the Charles River in all its Fall glory.) This time consuming technique can take a while from start to finish – sometimes even up to 10 weeks! – but the result is always worth it. The final prints are stunning, and grace homes, offices and building lobbies all over the country.
Carland believes that “There is a psychological connection between personal identity and location. People love to talk about where they grew up, where they have lived, where they have visited and where they want to go to next.” Having a visual reminder of one’s journey so beautifully created by Carland is a treasure for the soul.
It was last Summer when my friend and photography client Sandra from Sweetgum Textiles and I met over a quick lunch to chat about photography, design, life, family, business, everything, as we often do. Sandra is an architect and a designer, and I honestly don’t think she’s ever created something I didn’t like. Natural toned with a lovely sophistication and beautiful, organic lines, her work is distinctively hers and just so exceptional. Plus, she’s pretty cool. Also smart.
Ok. Anyway. Sandra had this fun idea of creating a reader’s journal/magazine/catalogue with fantastic photography exploring the connection between our home here in New England and the things New England artists and artisans make, with fantastic and cool things for sale just in time for the holidays.
As an editorial portrait photographer, and as a business photographer who also specializes in creating visual profiles of creative businesses, you can imagine how excited this made me. Read: VERY. It’s pretty hard not to be inspired by the New England coast, and Sandra’s own company is a perfect example of this, since her textiles patterns are directly inspired by the plants and animals that surround us every day here in Massachusetts. What a cool idea. And so, PLACE…in the Making was born!
Sandra’s own business connections drove the finding of the first issue’s contributors – a found source woodshop in an old Rockport church (with a sawmill in the backyard). Enamel and woodcut artists with pieces that look as if they just came from the ocean’s heart. Yarn makers, soap makers, chocolatiers, potters, printers. Writings from architects and artists. Still life photography and images from the field.
The team behind the journal was vast, and the artisans we created portraits of are fascinating – I’m excited to share some of these creators and their businesses in a series of posts starting next week. For now, here are four lifestyle, detail and branding images from the publication – enjoy!
I just bought some new notecards that I am going to use for the holidays. They are from Sapling Press:
Sapling Press on Etsy – bringing real to the table. Thanks.
It’s funny because it’s true.
Okay, maybe not literally true (unless your Mom is currently sabotaging your business feed with questions about Sunday dinner and Why Aren’t You Married Yet, in which case…wow dude, sorry.)
I mean true in the sense that it can be really hard to curate your marketing – social media, website, blog, emailers, events, correspondence – to conform to your brand strategy. Sure, not everyone cares about a high level of brand coherence, and in some cases it isn’t really necessary – not every business is well-served with a extended presence. But more and more businesses of all types are embracing multiple methods to inform customers, build familiarity and gain trust. This comes with challenges, like making sure your content is published regularly, for example, or dealing with things that might not fall under your brand umbrella but still end up associated with you…like a comment from your Mom.
What’s important to remember is the difference between coherence and consistency. Coherence means you have a set of ideals that drives the heart of your product and is expressed by aligning your storytelling, your visuals, your consumer experience, your events – everything that makes your company what it is – along those ideals. Consistency is a lesser animal in this case, it means keeping things the same, instead of embracing change with your strong, well-defined outlook.
When your business has coherence instead of consistency, it is structured – which allows you to determine what fits with your brand strategy and what doesn’t. With a strong foundation to move from, you have the power to take action in any situation, confident that you have done so in a manner that makes sense to the people who know, like and trust your business. Instead of a monolithic, stagnant business, you are a living, breathing, responsive entity that believes in its mission, and shows it through coherent, well-branded content.
With that kind of reliable structure, you can handle pretty much anything that comes your way without missing a beat. And maybe even make those Mom comments an asset instead of a liability.
I love the seasons with a passion that only a New Englander can have – since we get all four in spades. And I love them as a photographer too. Each holds some unique and challenging photo opportunity, both from a technical standpoint and an emotional one. And while most shoots are dictated by when the final product is needed, it is so lovely to occasionally be able to say “Let’s wait until Fall”, my go-to season for drama and beauty.
Its perfect timing right around now, when the leaves are at their peak, because I start to get a little photographically antsy anyway. All that beauty is too hard to resist – so much color, and the low angle, the warm light, the frost creeping ever closer, reminding me of the long stark days coming soon…
Oh, talk about that light. No longer the strong sunshine of Summer, but not yet the thin, cold, fragile light of Winter, the light is at a lower angle in the sky. It starts to fade earlier at night and show up later in the morning. There is a rich quality that is amplified by all the leaves still clinging to the trees, but instead of adding the green they held all summer long to my compositions, they add golds, reds, yellows, copper. Skin looks warm and healthy. The backgrounds are patchwork magic. It feels abundant and full of comfort.
I’m also a big believer in how the atmosphere of a shoot affects the outcome of the photo. There is a wildness to the Fall, the scale and suddenness of the changes, the uptick in wind, animals leaving, a sort of au revoir that causes us to make sure things do not go unsaid, that feelings building all summer long are revealed, and lifetime secrets told before the deepwinter freeze holds our hearts and minds still for months. Some of my most beautiful and intuitive images come from this time.
Sure, not all of my images have this sort of depth. But many do. And I consider myself fortunate when the opportunity arises, and we get to take magical pictures, meeting the season in all of its wonder and powerful change.
Your Website? Your Storefront! How does your business look when someone comes to buy? Studio wall at KTDigs Boston
Does anyone other than me remember when nobody had a website?
How did you EVER get along, says everyone who doesn’t have a sense of it. And honestly, my answer for them is “I’m not sure!”
I do remember what was fun about buying something in a pre-website reality though. It was more about what was right in front of you, at the store you that could get yourself to in real life, than what was in the rest of the world. Only the most tricky, fussy, or achingly specific needs launched us into a get-on-the-phone-and-call-people, all-points national hunt. The local shopping experience certainly involved more walking too – so different from the armchair and office desk buying I enjoy now. (Actually, if I am honest it is more often in bed as I am heading off to sleep – ticking those list items off before turning out the light. But I digress…)
One of the delicious things about looking for what you needed back then was the sensory experience of the act – entering a store and finding that it smelled a certain pleasant way. Or finding a visual feast – arriving and taking in all the exciting and cool things you could buy beautifully laid out in front of you. Even, perhaps, an interesting and attentive someone there to listen to your needs, help you take a closer look and assist your purchase – hopefully without the hard sell. The feel of fabric. The fun of an unexpected gadget. The pulse-increasing rush of fantastic craftsmanship. Being front and center with all these visceral experiences helped you make an informed consumer choice and feel good doing it.
If you think of your website as a showroom where you strive to draw your customers and clients into the great consumer experience that is your business, you have to carefully consider the way your potential customer will interact with your site. It needs the virtual equivalent of that big, bright, enticing and confidence-creating storefront we walked into back in the day. Creating that perfect website environment can be a real challenge, especially for a business with a smaller in-house marketing department doing triple time on a bunch of different projects. Working with a full-service marketing agency to create an immersive site style is fantastic – if you can afford it. But even if you have to do it yourself, there are some key factors you can easily use that can make the display windows of your online store as inviting, exciting and competitive as they can be. I’ll share a few of my favorites:
MY OVERALL MANTRA IS KEEP IT SIMPLE:
- Make your headlines brief and clear. As much as I hate to say this, being a commercial photographer and all, its a proven fact that the first thing someone pays attention to on a webpage is the heading, even before they look at the image. SO BE BRIEF! Get to the point.
- Avoid clutter and needless navigation. In the same way a newly paved road without traffic back-ups or construction is a pleasure to drive on and a quick and easy trip, the navigation on your site should be simple, clear, and fast.
- Did I mention fast? Beware what I call the Beachball of Peril. Getting stuck too long on a loading page is the kiss of death. Make loading files smaller, or get someone to optimize your site, but no matter what, make it load in a blink.
- Pay attention to clarity and calmness in your overall design, too. You’re starting to see a theme here. Do your research on what types of color schemes instill confidence and why. Here’s a great article.
- Use Directional Cues. I love this one so much I used caps, and its another one worth researching – using cues that draw a viewer’s eye to what you want them to see really works. A picture of a dog looking at the viewer? We look at the dog. But use a picture of that dog looking at your headline instead, and guess what we look at? Yup. Of course, arrows and boxes and other graphic tricks work well too, but I’ve just given you permission to use a dog on your website, so if I were you I’d run with that…
- Customer Testimonials. In this age of online opinions, a great customer testimonial or two front and center goes a long way towards building trust. We want to know who we are working with or buying from, and since we can’t see you in person it is great to know beforehand that others have enjoyed great customer service and a fulfilling business relationship with you. Don’t be shy. If you’ve got charms, let your prospective client know.
- Limit options and sell more. My last little piece of advice is my favorite – you can actually sell more by selling less. Help your customers avoid decision fatigue by offering the best choices you can create from a fulfillment, economical and ease standpoint, and stop there. You can always customize for the special client. But most people will choose from what you offer, have their needs met and be satisfied not only because you’ve sold them the perfect thing but also because they didn’t have to fight to figure out what the perfect thing was in the first place.
I could go on and on, but you get the idea.
And of course, your images should be all of the above as well! Clear, uncluttered, fast loading, integrating well within the site, supportive of your product or service, trust-building and used with discretion and clarity.
Once you have created a clear, functional, inviting website for your business, you automatically raise the bar on every initial interaction, and set the stage for a flawless start to finish consumer experience that keeps them coming back for more – just like stepping into a wonderful storefront in real life.