International award-winning photographer, enthusiastic entrepreneur and founder of The Pretty Blog, Christine Meintjes shares her secrets to success.
Her training started years ago when from the age of 14, she assisted a local wedding photographer. Assisting gave her plenty of insight into the photography industry and the aspects of running a business. In 2007, at the age of 23, Christine officially started her wedding photography business – Christine Meintjes Photography.
Key factors for starting a business in photography
If she has to summarise key tips to remember when starting a photography business, it would be the following:
- Build a strong portfolio: Without a good portfolio you won’t have anything to “sell” your services with and without anything to sell it’s just a very expensive hobby.
- Invest in your education and experience: Do your research and invest in one or two really good courses than trying to do it all. Invest in experience that will teach you something even if it costs you something. Money can’t buy experience, but willingness and perseverance can.
- Buy smart: Do your research about equipment. Only buy what you need and if you’re unsure about which lenses or bodies to buy, rent them first to find out if you really like / need them. My number one tip is to invest in the best lenses you can! (In my opinion – always prime, prime, prime :D.)
- Start somewhere: Remember that no-one starts at the top; just give the first few steps and you’ll learn from there. It’s a journey; not a race. If you go to the top fast, you’ll miss out on all the fun. Skip the step-by-step learning phase and you’ll miss out on building substance and stories.
- Be open to criticism and learn from others: Many other people have walked the road – be open to learn from their mistakes and wisdom.
- Fire the artist and hire the CEO: The reality is if your bottom line is not working, the business is not working. You often need to think of yourself as the CEO of your business and not just the creative or photographer. It’s hard, but reality.
- Perseverance and problem solving: You need to persist to move to the next level, no matter how hard it is. If you feel like it’s not working, find another way. There is always a way.
How important is experience really?
“I believe in assisting other photographers. Not always only the top guys out there, anyone with more experience than you.” We can all learn from one another and working with other people teaches you a lot. But assisting is not the only way; there are great courses out there and many online training like places like CreativeLive.com.
Other practical options are to arrange shoots with friends and just practice, practice, practice. In the end doing it over and over will make you a master of trade. It’s also important to think on the spot and think for yourself: It’s easy when other people instruct or help you, but when you’re alone, you need to learn how to handle situations when the light isn’t working, the models are uncomfortable or the weather is against you.
A recipe for a happy client
Christine Meintjes says that having a happy client is her number one priority “because happy clients create a network of good marketing and that’s just a basic principle many people forget”. Having been a bride herself, she realises that a wedding photographer is not just there to make sure they capture amazing photos, but also there to make you feel at ease and to actually help you through the day.
The wedding photographer is with the bride more than anyone else on the day, so Christine finds it very important to relate to her clients as REAL people, with REAL emotions and not just as “models”. “I also see my clients and all their guests as VIPs on the day, it’s about the client and their guests and all should be captured, not just the couple. All of the people invited are the most important people in their lives and I honour that.”
Guarantee happy clients with:
- Good communication before, during and after the wedding
- Immaculate administration
- Reasonable delivery dates
- Performance: Under promise, over-deliver
Marketing is KEY
“I believe in word-of-mouth as my number one marketing tool.” She feels that social media has become people’s mouthes and the way they talk about things, brands and experiences they love. So, focus on a good online presence. “I’m very active on social media, especially on Instagram.” (Have a peek at her profile: @cmeintjes.)
Marketing for international clientele
Christine Meintjes says that marketing for international clients is pretty simple as she just ensures that all her local clients are happy, as they will then spread the word. “I do have many international clients who get married in South Africa, then go back to their countries and tell their friends.” Shooting all over the world, she’s befriended international photographers who refer her work, which she’s very grateful for.
I just had to know if Christine ever makes some time for exploring when overseas and she says that although time can be restricted, she always makes some time for exploration! “It’s part of the perks of being a photographer.”
Business dos and don’ts
- Communicate: Always be open and honest!
- Serve your clients: Remember your business can only exist because of them, without them, you have no business.
- Make sure you cover your costs and make a profit.
- Be organised: Have your admin in order.
- Use systems and apps to be more productive.
- Always deliver a product that you’re proud of.
Christine Meintjes gives us three factors to look out for that can break your business:
- Bad administration, especially regarding finances.
- Becoming lazy.
- Appointing people who damage your brand.
How to calculate a pricing structure
She believes in basic economics, namely supply and demand. That’s basically what it’s about. For more practical tips she says that photographers have to start with the basics and keep in mind their:
Tip: Don’t forget about the brand you’ve built and the market you’re in.
How to balance family time and work
The first few years Christine says with all honesty that there was NO balance! “You only learn what the word means when you can’t cope with life anymore and you realise your whole life has become work. Then you realise you need to make a change or you won’t make it.” So, three years ago, Christine and her husband (entrepreneur and co-founder of PlusPlusMinus, a web development agency) from home to dedicated offices. Now, they are able to keep work at work so that their home always stays home, aka: the “chill” zone.
What motivated Christine to keep going
Knowing how much she wanted to make it work kept her going in those early years when, sometimes, all she wanted to do was quit. (And believing that if it were easy, everyone would do it.) “I wanted to be one of the ones who didn’t give up, but truth be told it takes A LOT of hard work. It really isn’t easy.” Now, her favourite part of being a successful photographer and businesswoman is seeing the fruits of her labour.
Christine describes her dream holiday destination
“I’m a traveller at heart and love to explore. I have a few countries on my bucket list; I would LOVE to see Japan. I’m obsessed with minimalist design and the culture really fascinates me. I would also love to see Mexico, Morocco and Australia is also on the list.”
In terms of the “ideal” holiday it all depends on the mood she’s in, but good food (and wine) is always part of the equation (she a huge foodie!).
Some of the best holidays have been places that took her out of “the busy” and into a “a simple quiet cabin in the mountain. Silence is my favourite sound.” So, a basic countryside spot always does the trick to get her rested and excited about going back to work. “I also have super fond memories of the bush! I’d never be able to pick only one option.”
Christine: unapologetic, honest, beautiful and short
Blushing, Christine admits that when she was young she wanted to be a model. But after taking part in a very random beauty pageant at the age of 14, she quickly came to realise that she didn’t like being in front of the camera. And besides being WAY too short, she didn’t like the industry (even thought it is how she first learnt about photography). When she grew up she thought she’d end up working for a magazine and with The Pretty Blog, that’s pretty much what she does, “just digitally”.
Christine Meintjes (whose surname is now van Niekerk) is an ingenious entrepreneur who works hard for everything she accomplishes in life. This self-professed introvert is blessed with immense talent and shares a special appreciation for the sacred covenant that is marriage.
Simple, honest and elegant are three words used by Christine Meintjes to describe her style of work. And having had a chat with her, I can honestly say that she’s the kind of photographer and businesswoman you would want to learn from.