We are so thrilled today to welcome Justin and Mary to the Rock the Shot Blog today! Take a moment to learn more about them and visit their website Justin and Mary Photography. Thank you so much Justin and Mary for taking the time to share your work with us today!
Where did your inspiration for photography begin?
Oooh, this is such a hard question! If I’m being really honest, it was when I first looked at Justin’s pictures when we had very first started dating. I had grown up in a pretty rural part of West Virginia where, at the time, the extent of “wedding photography” consisted of standing behind your cake in the New Prospect Baptist Church basementand having your picture taken. When I saw his pictures- so full of emotion and these different angles and beautiful black & whites- my first reaction was “I didn’t know it could be like that.” Now we get a lot of our inspiration from things like Vanity Fair, Old Hollywood images from the 1940s & 50s, turn of the century images of sports teams,and photographers like Louise Dahl Wolfe, Mark Seliger, and of course Annie Leibovitz (who doesn’t love them some Annie??:)
How would you describe your photography style?
It definitely has a lot of candidness to it. Even when we’re posing the couple, we’re always trying to do so in a very organic way that keeps them moving….and always looking for those real moments in between. But on the flip side, I would also say that even our truly candid moments also have an element of that 1940s Old Hollywood vibe to them that carry a little bit of editorial influence into the mix as well. That has a lot to do with how we’re thinking about and using light.
Did you study photography in school or are you self taught?
Justin most definitely did! He was one of those rare people who knew what he wanted to do at a very young age and then went out and actually did just that. We actually have a picture of him at about two years old in footie pajamas holding a toy plastic camera if that gives you an idea.But he has been studying it seriously since he took his first class in high school (his high school actually had a really good photography program), and then he went on to school at RIT to study advertising photography. For me, I never picked up a camera until 2006 when I graduated law school at Yale and we both went full time in our business. So everything I know, I either learned from him or we’ve now learned together. We always joke that I was the first graduate of the Justin School of Photography. It was a lot cheaper than law school, I can tell you that!
Do you shoot Canon or Nikon, and what is your favorite lens?
“I got a Niiiiiikon camera!” We are Nikon all the way! We love it for their incredibly sharp glass, the focal points that go close to the edge so we don’t have to focus & recompose, and their low light capability. But like we always say, the tool isn’t nearly as important as what you do with it. For lenses, I am a 50mm girl all the way. I shoot pretty much the whole day with that one lens. And Justin prefers to rock the 85mm. Between the two, that’s 80 or 90% of our coverage right there. But we are looking to add in more of a 35mm focal length to the mix as well. Either way though, we definitely prefer the prime lenses!
Do you have any tips for photographers on how to find the light?
Definitely! We actually teach a workshop called “The J&M Lighting Intensive,” and in it the first thing we’re always explaining is our goal to always seek out and createdirectional, dimensional light. By that we mean light that rakes in across the subject left to right or right to left (as opposed to straight behind or in front of), and how we’re then always positioning ourselves at an angle 90-120 degrees from our subject to get that really rich pattern of highlight and shadow throughout the image. So if you think of two imaginary strings, and draw one from the light to the subject and the other from the subject to the photographer, we want the angle that those two strings create to be somewhere in that 90-120 degree range for objects (60-120 degrees for people so that it can be a little more forgiving.) That pattern of highlight and shadow directional light gives us throughout the image is what’s giving us both rich color and black & whites, as well as that Old Hollywood vibe. If you look at a lot of the photography of the actors & actresses from that era (Vivienne Leigh, Clark Gable, Katharine Hepburn, Grace Kelly), most of it has the common denominator of using directional, dimensional light.
What do you feel is the most challenging thing about photographing weddings?
We often joke that shooting weddings is kind of like creating art on an obstacle course. Right? If you think about any of the other people in the world who are commissioned to create art- painters, poets, sculptors, etc- they get hired to create a piece of work, and then they get to go off into a quiet place with no distractions to work on it. We, on the other hand, get hired to create art, all the while dodging the chaos of the wedding day timeline, sometimes only being given minutes to shoot, having priests or church ladies telling us we actually can’t shoot at all, dealing with that one bridesmaid who doesn’t want her picture taken, the guests with cameras shooting over our shoulders so we can’t back up without bumping into them, the groomsmen cracking the same old tired jokes when we’re trying to take serious portraits of our couple, and all the while of course being referred to as the paparazzi. I mean seriously, I wonder what DaVinci would have done under those conditions!It can be tough. It can be really, really tough. But I think it just makes this thing that we do, this thing that we all do, in finding and capturing life amid all of that craziness… that much more amazing.
How important is pricing when starting a new business?
The piece of advice that we always give people whether they’re just getting started or several years in, is to focus on what you’re making not on what you’re charging.When we were first getting started, all we wanted to to do was to get to the point where we could charge what the people we looked up to were charging. We just wanted to have that price tag on our packages like they did. But the thing is, we weren’t actually asking ourselves whether we could book weddings at those prices. Or whether the people we were looking up to were even booking weddings at those prices. I mean, I could say tomorrow that I charge $100,000 for a wedding. And overnight I’d be a $100,000 wedding photographer. But if I never actually book it, then I’m still just making nothing.
Also, if I create a really high end package with a big price tag, but then I throw everything but the kitchen sink in there to justify it chances are, once you take out the cost of goods sold, I’d probably actually be making more on one of my smaller packages that include less product even though I could say I charged more for the big one. My advice is to always, always, always run your own race. Forget about following what everyone else is doing. Crunch the numbers. And then charge what you want to be making, yet still allows you to book the number of jobs you need to be taking. Because the fact is, if you’re not actually booking you’re not making a living. Period. No matter how glamorous your prices might sound to the outside world.
How do you sell value to your customer when the price tag may be higher then they expect?
This is such a great question! And our answer is actually a little bit upside down in the sense, that we actually try not to sell them at all. Instead, we’re looking for the couples who come in and have already sold themselves on the idea that we are the only photographers in the world for them. This is something we’re calling “The Reverse Sell.” If they come in knowing that they want us, Justin & Mary, in particular then the price that they had expected to spend or what other photographers in our market are charging becomes so much less important. Because there’s only one place you can get us…and that’s with us. Basically, in everything that we do we’re making it clear that we don’t see ourselves in competition with anyone else. Because nobody else will ever be us and vice versa. And because of who we are, no one else will ever see the world and shoot in the exact same way that we do. So if this couple has already decided that we are the only ones they want with them on their wedding dayand that our work is exactly what they’re looking for, then the value is already there. They’ve already sold themselves on it.
The flip side of that coin, of course, is how do you get people to sell themselves on the idea of wanting you in particular in the first place. And the answer is what we call “connection marketing.” Every corner of our website is designed to give potential clients every opportunity in the world to absolutely fall in love with us….or not. And for us, either of those is a win. If someone comes to our site and knows instantly that we are exactly what they’re looking for…that’s a win. If someone comes to our site and knows instantly that we’re not the right fit….that’s also a win. The only way we lose is if someone comes to our site and walks away luke warm. Just some of the ways that we’re showing that personality to allow people to make those decisions, is our promo video & about page about how we do the dishes and how that “you wash, I’ll dry” mentality is more like a mantra for how we take on the world together; our “Stuff We Love” page with a random collection of….stuff we love! ; and the personal blog posts that we have mixed in with all of our photography posts that really give kind of a behind the scenes pass into our lives.
The final thing I would say on this, is that we are then validating that decision they have already sold themselves on by creating a “Lovemark” type of client experience, where we just keep heaping love on them from day one. We have a meeting gift, a booking gift, a date night gift, a day of wedding gift, a holiday gift, and then we also put on various client nights like our wine & chocolate night earlier this year. Basically, we’re looking for the clients who love us and who we absolutely love in return. And that takes a lot of the sales aspect out of it!
What is a good lesson you have learned this year in photography or in your business?
To just focus on winning the day. There are so many things that we want to do with our business and so many things that we have to do, that in the busy season it can be really easy to get yourself so wound up that you don’t know what to do next. And days and weeks can slip by where you haven’t moved yourself closer to getting any of those things done, because you’re stuck in this sort of paralysis of feeling overwhelmed. The best trick I’ve found for getting out of that, is to wake up every morning and write out a “Win the Day” list of 5-10 things I have to do that day to be able to say that I’ve won. Some of them are things I want to do every day like go on a walk with our dog, Cooper, and do one nice thing for Justin. Some of them are things that I have to do like culling a job for the blog. And then I always try to include at least one thing that moves me closer to one of the things I want to do, like shooting out an email to pitch an article idea to a magazine. The “Win the Day” principle is an idea built on grace, not perfection. It says, “I might not be able to do everything today, in fact I know I can’t; but if I can just do these few things then I can say this day was a win.” And you’d be amazed at how much a string of days like that can add up to accomplishing those really BIG things that once seemed so impossible.
If you could encourage a new photographer in one area, what would it be?
I would say it would be to choose your teachers wisely. There are a lot of people out there who are putting up the pretense of teaching, but are really just after the big stage. They just like the idea of being seen as speakers and teachers and leaders in the industry, rather than asking themselves whether what they say is actually the truth and whether it will actually help somebody else. There’s a lot of fluff out there that you’ll have to wade through. But it’s worth it. Because if you can find the people who teach because they truly love it, because they’re just born teachers, and because they really believe in helping people, then they can help change everything for you. So before you sign up for a class, or a workshop, or follow someone’s advice on their blog blindly… just ask yourself what your gut is telling you. It’s usually right.
What do you love most about being a photographer?
A couple years back we wrote out our “Why” for why it is that we do what we do (something I recommend that everybody do!), and I think it answers this question better than anything else I could write.
It says: We recognize that what we do is about preserving life, preserving love, and preserving history. To provide the very proof that that love existed in the first place.Therefore, in reverence for the gravity of that which we do, we choose to exercise the restraint to only tell those stories through the veil of authenticity and to capture the meaningful images that will record that history for the generations yet to come.”
A couple years back, Justin grabbed a picture of my grandparents, sixty two and a half years into their marriage, holding a picture from their wedding on day one. It was not long after that, that we lost my Grandpa Glenn. And the last picture we have of the two of them together in this world, is a picture of them on their first day being held by them in a picture of them on one of their last days. And the fact is, neither of those pictures would exist without a photographer. This is why we love what we do.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Happy. Maybe-perhaps, possibly- braving the great adventure that is having kids. With a house that is finally mostly done. Lots of long hours to just sit and smile and be. Hugs. More hugs than you can imagine. A little boat we can take out on the water. A couple golden retrievers sleeping lazily on the front porch. Iced tea in the summer, hot apple cider in the fall. Big, hairy audacious goal chasing…mixed with heart-swelling gratitude for every small victory along the way. A writer’s desk for me, and hopefully a case full of copies of my first novel…that I can then shove on every person who comes to visit, along with a slice of pumpkin pie. And a familiar hand that I will still hold on to like it’s the very first time. Anything else that happens to come along, well, that will just be gravy.
About Justin and Mary: Justin & Mary Marantz are internationally traveled destination wedding photographers, who call New England home. This past year they shot close to 40 weddings, put on their “Walk Through a Wedding” Workshops worldwide, took their “J&M Lighting Intensive” Tour to 10 cities across the country, drank more Starbucks andhugged their golden retriever way more than any normal person should…. And they’re just getting warmed up.