Ever journey through the interwebs in search of something specific, only to land on a company’s website with images of awkwardly posed models who are very clearly not the employees of said company? Perhaps you’ve come across a perfectly captured high five between (fake) colleagues or hell, even a bemused professional carrying a handful of balloons and a briefcase, enjoying the breeze.
Of course, not all generic stock images are as bewildering as the ones above.
In fact, most are bland.
Entrepreneurs and business owners who choose to use generic stock photography in their online marketing are playing a game of “what fits best,” rather than acting intentionally and strategically to form relationships with their intended audiences. It’s hard to evoke curiosity or loyalty in potential customers using cold and corny images that are likely replicated all over the internet. So, what’s the answer?
Custom stock photography. Sounds like an oxymoron, right?
Why Are Brands Using “Custom Stock Photography”?
Custom stock photography tends to have the opposite effect of generic stock photography. Brand-specific, custom stock photos differentiate businesses from their competitors. When used consistently, custom stock photos will convey a brand’s personality and values, enhancing a brand’s ability to genuinely connect with their customers. Custom stock images bring clarity to a company’s expertise, services, and the intended customer experience.
Capturing Images with Intention
A typical custom stock photography shoot may include environmental shots (your office or workspace), product shots, and shots of the company's team engaging with others, serving clients, and generally doing the things they do best.
Let’s dive into the benefits of custom stock photography, using my lovely client Caroline Sanney as an example.
Using her own home office as the setting of this shoot, Caroline conveyed competence, organization, and expertise without saying a word. She has the necessary tools for the job, a functional pragmatism, and a clean aesthetic. The information conveyed in these images builds a relationship with her potential clients before she’s even approached by them.
Actually showing Caroline immersed in her work and smiling warmly creates a genuine first impression; rather than randomly styled models pretending to have the best business meeting of their lives, she offers her own face, furthering the notion that she is a real professional and that she can back up the claims she makes about the services she offers. Her personality shines through in her decor and the way she carries herself. It’s clear that she's calm, intelligent, and careful in her work - keywords to describe her brand.
Ultimately, investing in custom stock photography is about harnessing the power of intentional imagery and cashing in on your authenticity. It’s about being crystal clear in your communications to customers and future clients.
And, it’s about standing out and being memorable in a sea of cheesy handshakes.
After the party, it’s the after party… and when you’re celebrating a love like yours with an intimate wedding here in Asheville or the surrounding mountains, there are plenty of interesting spots to turn up in the wee hours. After a vibrant and exhilarating nuptials, it’s time to let your hair down and keep the good vibes flowing. Is your crew looking for some late night fun?
Check out this list of my favorite after hours spots:
Ben’s Tune-Up - Open until 2AM, this craft sake brewery embodies South Slope grit and Asheville foodie culture. Enjoy the menu of delicious snacks made with locally-sourced ingredients, and a creative, intentionally curated cocktail, wine, and beer bar. Cozy up in the meandering courtyard or one of the many nooks throughout this venue. The pineapple jalapeno sake comes highly recommended.
Sovereign Remedies - For the dreamiest farm to table late night menu, with perhaps the most ambitious and hyped up craft cocktails in town, make your way to Sovereign Remedies! It’s in the middle of downtown, on a quaint cobblestone road, and offers perhaps the most authentic gourmet Asheville experience!
The Walk - For those looking to get a little wild in West Asheville, there are several places that come to mind, but in order to satisfy hunger pangs AND enjoy some festive dranks, your first late night WAVL joint should probably be The Walk! With a pool table, room to dance, and array of eats, you will definitely keep the party goin’ with a visit to The Walk.
Storm Rhum Bar & Bistro - Another downtown bar and restaurant open until 2AM, Storm is classy, so if you’re after slightly fancy party vibes, Storm is a great fit for you! You could also book Storm for an event, if you’d like your after party to be a private, planned affair!
MG Road Bar & Lounge - Cocktails and Indian food on Wall Street, in the heart of downtown? Need I say more? This may be one of the most festive joints in Asheville, with a year-round glittering display of Christmas lights on the ceiling. The drinks are as delicious as the aesthetic and atmosphere is cozy. This is another rentable establishment, if you’re pre-planning after party shenanigans!
The Double Crown - If you are looking for a funky bar with live music, you must put the Double Crown on your post-wedding reception list. This spot is graffiti-ed up, full of characters, and certainly emits that I don’t give an F, “are we in Brooklyn?” anything goes type feeling. Don’t expect craft cocktails with locally sourced ingredients; this is an unapologetic dive! Come to this spot for an adventurous post-wedding experience!
Ole Shakey’s Getaway - Sometimes, you just wanna party in an uber-local, kinda secret, been-here-forever kinda spot. Well, this is it. With a rare French Broad River location, Ole Shakey's is a THE place to get a little crazy. With pool, darts, live entertainment, an open mic, live bands, and karaoke, you’ll be entertained and inspired to keep the energy high and the good times rolling...
With small + intimate weddings, it is often the case that the ceremony and reception venues are not booked out for an entire weekend block. Because this type of nuptials in Asheville is my speciality, I know that couples and their besties are often looking for a place to keep making memories, long after the reception venue closes. I hope you’ll be inspired to make your way downtown and enjoy a spontaneous night on the town-- the perfect ending one of the best days of your life!
Don't forget to Uber or Lyft your way home!
Let’s start by throwing away the trigger phrases "finding balance" and "we can have it all."
Perhaps you can do these things, but honestly, that needs to be determined on a case-by-case basis. When it comes to your self-employed hustle in Asheville, the same answer does not hold true for everyone. That being said, I would love to share some of my experience and tips with you on how to make your small business your full-time livelihood (if you want that!) and stay sane as a creative, maker, or artist in a town that we all love ...but that certainly has its own unique set of challenges.
1. Protect yourself from the “working 24/7” burnout.
I put my phone away after dinner 90% of the time to allow my brain to clear. Since my phone connects me to Instagram, Facebook, and email, the lines are blurred between work and play/relaxation.
Accepting that Instagram (for example) is equal parts work and play for me, I decide to stay away from it altogether when I need a work break, because the boundary is too blurry (because, for instance, I could be scrolling for fun and then get 2 DMs about potential sessions).
Personally, I’ve tried to accept only 2 shoots per week. As a self-employed photographer, I have found that understanding my working capacity affects everything else in my life in a positive way. It also gives me structure and familiarity.
By giving myself this work rhythm, I know there are days every week when I can focus on admin tasks or editing or having a full day off. It’s when I overcommit myself and agree to 3, 4 or 5 shoots in a week that everything else starts to fall behind, and I feel really overwhelmed. What boundaries can you create that will have a positive domino effect elsewhere?
3. Earning money, supporting yourself and feeling secure financially is important.
Don’t be ashamed of that, and don’t force yourself to let go of part time work before you or your business is ready. Release yourself from judgment about working on your art OR having a side gig. Both are important, and both are fueling your future. Accept the situation you’re in, and embrace it for all it is. I worked a second job up until 2 years ago, and I firmly believe it’s the only reason I got to where I am today.
4. Being discerning and knowing your bandwidth.
Unfortunately, sometimes you have to say no to some things in order to say yes to others. Are you talented and wanted, but refuse to turn down offers for fear of missing out or disappointing? In saying yes too much, do you overextend or sabotage yourself? If this sounds like you, my best recommendation is to read Essentialism by Greg McKeown - a recent fave business-yet-lifestyle book.
Here’s an example of mitigating your self-employed hustle: There’s a high expectation for you to make homemade cookies for your daughter‘s elementary school bake sale, and you would love to do it. It sounds fun and you wish you had a free afternoon to really enjoy that activity... but the only afternoon you have available this week really needed to be devoted to your work on a commissioned piece of art. So, maybe you decide to focus on the commissioned work, because you have a deadline and someone is paying you. Then, you can buy premade cookies from Whole Foods, Short Street, or Ingles. It’s about making that decision and letting yourself be OK with whatever decision you make.
5. Know your rhythms.
I know a few people who light up right around 9 PM and start having all kinds of inspirational ideas and energy to really work on their side gig/art/whatever. Some of us feel that jolt in the morning. Understand how your rhythms and natural energy works, then do your best to build around that. Of course, that’s not always possible and we have to be flexible, so that we can tend to other responsibilities as professionals, parents, or community members. Simply start by observing your natural tendencies and trying to make yourself available to them.
There’s no secret to becoming a self-employed hustler, but giving yourself the routines and habits to induce creative productivity will go a long way. And once you’re productive, it’ll show up in your experience. You’ll build a portfolio and/or track record of success. Then, with a little focused effort in self care and setting boundaries, you’ll build a sustainable foundation and hopefully, you’ll avoid the dreaded “burn out,” too. Eventually, you will find yourself in a place where you are doing the thing that is so close to your heart, and getting paid to do it, with only yourself as your boss. And that, my friends, is fulfillment.
As an agency director who has helped grow a lot of brands (including a Fortune 500 brand--yikes), I have so much love for small business owners. Whether you are a “company of one” or managing a small team, it’s not easy to work in your business and on your business at the same time.
Raise your hand if any of the following thoughts have crossed your mind:
I’m so burned out on social, it feels like everyone is using the same IG filters, I hate social media, I don’t know what to post today, it doesn’t even matter because no one buys from social media posts, Facebook keeps changing everything up and my posts don’t look as good as my competitor’s on Instagram. I’m just gonna skip it. Again.
Here’s the harsh truth: we live in the Attention Economy. And without your consistent social media posts, you will hand over your share of that attention to some other brand.
You need an average of seven touchpoints or interactions with a prospect before they’ll buy from you. Social is one of them.
Social is being social. That’s it.
Don’t let all the marketing “gurus” scare you into thinking it’s about measurement and algorithms and big ad budgets and posting times. (Yes, all those things matter, but not as much as your sanity.) Social means providing a visual and textual look into your world. It’s the art of conversation. A word or two to your audience. Let them get a word in edgewise. Listen. Continue. Laugh. Cry. Maybe add an animated gif or emoji. Repeat.
Don’t let writing social media posts bog down your day.
The more you practice, the faster and better your posts will become. But if you avoid practicing, you’ll remain stuck in the social media creation mudpit. Keep in mind: the average lifecycle of a social post ranges from a few seconds (Twitter) to a few hours (Instagram and LinkedIn). Your time is worth money. One Twitter post that will only last a few seconds is not worth half your day composing it.
Repeat after me: this social media post is not sacred.
But you know what is? The interaction and the human connection you’ll forge in the comments and DMs after you post that social media message. THAT is why you need to post consistently. It’s a way to start the conversation that leads to connection. There are people silently watching your brand, wanting to interact with you. Give them that gift. Start that conversation.
Many years ago, when I was a young, inexperienced marketing coordinator, I started out exactly where you are: floundering through social, slinging captions against the wall whenever I was inspired, and noting what resonated with people. I had many tasks to juggle and social media was one. It was difficult to come up with ideas on what to post and how to do it fast, so here are my tips and prompts to get you rolling.
My challenge to you: complete the prompts below in 30 days and see how you feel afterward. I bet you’ll see an increase in followers, engagement, or revenue, and most of all--you’ll feel aligned with your brand’s purpose and storytelling technique.
5 Tips From a Content Strategist
Weddings. Sigh. They’re magical.
Unfortunately, I’ve seen quite a few couples turn into stressed out project managers during their wedding days, instead of fully enjoying the special kind of wonderment they’ve worked so hard to create and share with their loved ones. Even the small, intimate weddings I love to photograph can sometimes challenge my clients to soak up the love and really live in the moment.
If you are already anticipating that you’re going to need a plan for controlling stress levels or anxiety during your wedding day, let me offer a few thoughts for truly enjoying this time, and ...avoiding potential freakouts!
Before Your Wedding
Stay ahead of the game by giving yourself ample time to think about and plan each of the major components of your wedding day, and then break each of those components down with details.
If you aren’t hiring a wedding planner, start a document that holds critical information such as the the vendors, materials, budget, and extra support people required for your ceremony, music, transportation, catering, flowers, makeup, hair, and photography. Having a central document will ease the burden of trying to recall mental notes and will help you think through the logistics of the day. You can even share it with your vendors and support people prior to the event.
On the Day
Here are some tips for navigating your big day, all happy and ninja-like:
-Assign roles to family members or your best friends to oversee each of the major components of your wedding. Aunt Jean can welcome the catering crew and Grandpa Joe will love making sure the band is set up on time. Remember, you’re supposed to enjoy this milestone and you can’t be in 5 places at once, so make this a real community event and enlist your nearest and dearest to help get it all done.
-Have a loved one or professional give you a little massage. Even 5 minutes of gentle touch can significantly calm nerves and shift your perspective.
-Leave snacks, herbal supplements, essential oil sprays, and water in your bridal suite or another quiet corner so that you have the space and provisions to restore your blood sugar and take a breather, as needed. You could even have your maid of honor, BFF, sister, or mom (or all of them?) hold a little bag for you to sneak away with for some alone time to recharge for a few minutes.
In Front of the Camera
Some of us are squeamish in front of the camera in the best of times. I have total compassion for my clients who deal with the compounded stress of making sure their wedding runs smoothly in addition to being the subject of a photoshoot. I love being a support for my clients in these highly emotional moments.
Here are some tips for keeping the vibes calm and cool as your photographer captures all of your candid and posed moments:
-Stay hydrated. You’ll look and feel better. Trust me.
-Loosen up! Wiggle, dance, laugh, get silly. If it’s time to smile and you feel like you’re forcing it, take a mini break to actually invite joy into your mood.
-Limit distractions. I know, easier said than done! It’s more than ok to say no to an audience, and to delegate tasks while you focus on your partner and how amazing your love is.
-Don’t just breath. Breath deeply. It is said that when our exhale is longer than our inhale, the heart rate returns to normal, and we can encourage our physiological state to shift from a stress reaction to calmness. Feeling calm and content and being in the moment will shine through in your photos and produce the best images.
Choosing to Bask in the Glow (my fave tip!)
Yes, you’re the architect of this vibrant day with many moving parts. Yes, things can (and usually to a small extent, do) go wrong. But still..this is your wedding day. There is a special kind of wonderment intrinsic to weddings. The glow of the community surrounding you and your beloved. The creation of memories. Experiencing a milestone. Celebrating love in all of its forms! Don’t forget to take care of yourself so that you can bask in that magic you’ve created.
You’ve just received that highly anticipated link to your new photo gallery! Your adrenaline is pumping and you cannot wait to level up your brand’s visual identity game. You open the gallery, and…..YES! You love your photos.
But now what?
Well, now it’s time to start curating stories with intention. Photo is one huge piece of the puzzle, but what you do with these photos and the content you generate to support your storytelling is what gives the photos LIFE.
For most of my clients, photos serve as one part of their marketing strategy, and specifically their social media plans. Visual storytelling is an integral part of social media, and resonant photos are the key to winning hearts and minds on platforms like Instagram and Facebook. Here, I’m offering a few of my favorite social media best practices to give your photos excellent mileage, from one entrepreneur to another:
-Once you receive your online gallery, follow the download instructions. These are very important because you need the image to be formatted to fit your intended use, otherwise it could come out pixelated.
-Next, backup your images. Friendly reminder: USBs and computers don't last forever, and sometimes they get lost or stolen- yikes. Using a cloud-based storage service is going to give you flexibility and peace of mind!
A personal fave of mine is Dropbox, which can be used to transfer images from computer to phone using the app. A basic Dropbox account is free, as is the app. This could be your convenient backup source!
As an added bonus, you can download your photos from the Dropbox app on your phone straight to your to Instagram or Facebook app when you’re ready to share your photos with the world!
-Once your photos are backed up and you’ve uploaded them to your social media platform, it’s time to tag, tag, tag!
If there are featured products, services, or contextual information related to other vendors or organizations in your photos, do tag them! Maybe you're using an East Fork plate, or maybe you’re featuring your products in a national park. Tagging those associated with your brand’s photos is social media courtesy and networking, plus they may reshare!
Feel free to tag Chelsea Lane Photography. I certainly appreciate the help in spreading the word about my services, but I definitely don't require it if you prefer to keep some mystery alive.
-Use all the hashtags! Seriously, use 'em! It's my understanding you can use up to 30 and there's no reason not to max that out. Take a lazy evening at home (bottle of wine...Netflix on in background...who knew hashtagging could be so romantic?).
Find the tags that are right for you by doing some research. Think of the type of images you share, then do some digging from brands you admire. Think of what your ideal customer may search. You can perform a search on that hashtag to gauge how active and popular it is. Pick active tags, and consider using a tag that no one is using, so that you can begin to dominate it with your own branded posts and user-generated content from brand loyalists!
Once you’ve got your bevy of selected tags, save the list in your phone notes so that you can easily copy and paste the list each time you post! I use my Notes app for this. Notes has become a living document on my phone for Instagram caption drafts and hashtag groupings.
-Use Instagram stories! This feature has blown up and people LOVE it! You can get creative with it- share images, videos, live stream, and ask your audience questions! Use this informal way of communicating however you feel comfortable. Make it personal and fun, or keep it strictly business. It’s all fair game on Instagram Stories!
-Engage. The biggest "secret" to success on social media is liking + commenting on others’ posts. It helps with the dreaded algorithm and creates community with your followers, peers, and those you admire.
-Show up as you. We're all camera shy, but nothing creates more connection with your followers than simply showing yourself. I'd say we all pretty much expect it now. I find it strange when I happen upon a biz account with zero trace of the owners. A portrait, a candid moment, a TBT memory, you playing around with your kids on IG Stories... however you want to do it, people will love it!
-Be sure to answer your Direct Messages as they come in. You’ll be generating buzz with your visually stunning and content-savvy posts, so expect some great leads to come in the form of DMs! Timely responses increase your chance of true connection with potential new customers. Pop in to your inbox regularly because you won't be notified if someone who you don't follow messages you.
-Post relatively consistently. Establishing a loose rhythm to roll out your new photos and tell your brand’s story is key. A daily post or every other day is a healthy social media post rate for most businesses and organizations to get some momentum.
-Encourage interaction and user-generated content! Showing off a gorgeous shot of your product? Offer a branded hashtag and ask your audience to post a photo enjoying the product, too! Then, routinely check the hashtag, and engage with your brand loyalists by liking and commenting on their branded photos.
-Follow these pros for the best advice that's always up to date: Tyler J. McCall, Jenna Kutcher, Jasmine Star
Cheers to you for understanding that visual identity is critical to social media success. I hope you’re jazzed about your photos, and that you’re ready to conquer the world with your social game!
Before I sign off, here’s a little ode to all of my fellow business owners:
You’re doing the damn thing, and although it is impossible to be an expert in all facets of your business, that’s what is somehow required and expected of you in order to thrive in a bustling, noisy market landscape. Luckily, with great content, you’ll go a long way in your marketing goals! Stay focused, embrace your creativity, and enjoy the ride.
Guest Post: Why This Wedding Planner Says ‘Heck yes, and here’s how!’ to Small Weddings with Alex Fisher, Owner/Head Cheerleader of Lucky Penny Creative
Y’all, I’ve gotta be honest, yes...large weddings pay my bills. But if I could share one thing with the world on a universal level it would be this: intimate weddings and elopements are 10,000% allowed and amazing! And if you’re reading this right now, you’re probably in the same boat or looking to get on board.
I get it, giant weddings -- even 100 person weddings -- can be super overwhelming for some folks. Maybe because you’re introverted. Maybe because you’re working on a budget. Maybe because you’re just not a fan of big parties. Whatever the reason, I want you to know, it is completely acceptable to have an intimate wedding or elopement. My only suggestion: know your ‘why’ and know your ‘who’.
I’ve worked with hundreds of couples planning every shade of wedding you can dream up over the last 5 years of running our business and before we ever dive into napkin colors and photographer recommendations I always ask the following two questions:
“What is most important to you on your wedding day?”
“Who do you want to share that with?”
I know it seems funny and like a total no-brainer but the answers are sometimes surprising.
If you were born and raised in the U.S. within the last 50 years, your brain has probably been inundated with a million and one “must-dos” for your big day. The rabbit hole of Pinterest can be totally overwhelming to some. And I’m pretty sure we all have that one well-meaning friend or relative that “knows what they’re talking about” and has ideas for every detail of your wedding and absolutely no issues telling you about them. But let me be the one to reassure you -- none of that shit matters.
What you and your partner want on your wedding day does.
If you’re reading this blog and follow Chelsea’s work then you’re probably already seriously considering a more intimate wedding and my advice to you is the same as any other couple: I encourage you to make a list of ‘Must Haves/Non-Negotiables’ and ‘Would be Nices’ along with a list of things that totally do not matter to you in the slightest. And then I want you to own every single one of those desires while also remaining flexible. Because sometimes, shit just happens.
Once you have those lists, start putting dollar amounts to those Non-Negotiables. Or, at the very least, a percentage of your budget that you want to allot to each item. For example, if you desire the most delicious cuisine with perfect wine pairings and for the day to be beautifully photographed but you could care less about music -- put the majority of your budget into food, drink and photography and hook a spotify playlist up to a speaker system and call it a day!
I know, it’s more involved than that, but approaching your planning with that mindset can truly save you a lot of headaches along the way.
The beautiful thing about intimate weddings and elopements is that your budget has to stretch to far less people so you can really treat those special few to an incredible wedding experience while also staying in tune with your own desires as a couple.
I know what I’m about to say is absolutely easier said than done, especially if some of your budget is being provided by a family member or friend who may have some say in the guest list. BUT the one thing I really desire for every one of our couples is the knowledge that, if you really don’t want someone at your wedding, you don’t have to invite them. Plain and simple.
I am fully aware that this is really tough. Almost every couple we’ve worked with has struggled to make peace with who they’re inviting to the wedding. I completely understand. I was one of those people too. Family dynamics are tough and maneuvering them during wedding planning can be completely overwhelming sometimes. A friend of mine said it best (and so gracefully) when she shared, “I’m gonna have to go to therapy if I don’t invite my mom and I’m gonna have to go to therapy if I do invite my mom.” Either way, it’s going to be a little extra work on your part to attempt to stay sane. But at the end of the day, what matters most, is if you and your partner will be able to be present with each other the day of your wedding.
Which brings me to my final point regarding who you involve in your wedding: KNOW. YOUR. VENDORS!
You’re not just ordering cake and music and photos and a timeline -- you’re hiring all the people that makes those things happen. If you’re not jiving, it’s gonna feel funky. If you feel in any way not cozy with someone you’re looking to work with -- I’m talking gut reaction here, not just “oh my god, we’re paying this person a lot of money” not cozy -- it is completely okay to say “We’re going to keep looking.” and move along.
Ultimately, your wedding day should be a celebration of you, your partner and your coupleship. You deserve every bit of grace, joy and connection that a wedding day brings and your wedding crew should reflect that to you. Cheers to you and the process, my friend! And have a look at our Ultimate Intimate Wedding Checklist to get started on your planning!