share with us! how do you go the extra mile?

We recently had an experience as consumers that made us think a bit deeper about the way we treat the people who hire us. We were in the apple store and bought a new sleeve/case for our laptop. It looked cool, we liked the rugged feel of it, plus we needed something new to put our laptop in while traveling. The price was within budget, under $50, so we bought it and took it home.

I think that we do a fine job in the beginning stages of the photographer / muse relationship. The right people seem to be finding us and enjoy looking at who we are and what we have to offer. We seem to do a good job at the “falling for us” part, too, not because we are trying to “hook ‘em” or trick people into loving us, but because we genuinely love people. We love their stories and we believe that heaven and earth are intersecting in their lives, so we gladly join in to be a part of it. The price isn’t an issue for the people we are supposed to work with. And if it is, we have seen love move mountains to get us there to the big event they feel we must be a part of.

We took the laptop sleeve home and I started to open it so I could begin to use it.

observation #1: Herschel Supply Co., the company who made the sleeve, has made a thick, card stock wrap that goes around the sleeve, with their branding on it, and lovely words about the item I just purchased. It’s important to mention that the cardboard wrapper is discretely glued into one piece, meaning there is no way you are going to remove it in the store. It’s stuck on there pretty tight.

observation #2: The card stock paper makes me feel something. The use of fonts, design and texture is all pleasing to the eye and hand. It feels like quality from the beginning.

observation #3: As I remove the wrapper and unzip the sleeve, I notice it has a lovely leather pull attached to the end of the zipper, a nice, “handmade” embellishment that isn’t necessary, but appreciated.

observation #4: inside there is a foam “place holder” the same width as our computer, showing me how it will perfectly fit. But instead of just having a brand on it, it says “thank you”. Here’s where my heart flutters a little. I just spent money I thought was well worth it on a lovely little sleeve and they are thanking me. For my less than fifty dollars.

observation #5 (also, yowsers, I need a manicure): I remove the “thank you” note and notice one last lovely touch. “Welcome to Herschel”. I didn’t just give them my money. I didn’t just pick up some random item we needed for our business. I just became a part of something. I was welcomed into this club of people owning aesthetically pleasing products by creative artists who like to say thank you.

FINAL OBSERVATION: This company went out of their way to keep giving me an experience of warm fuzzies after I had spent money on them. They knew I wouldn’t see the thank you note or the little extra embellishments if I hadn’t purchased the sleeve. They went the extra mile long after they had my money.

As I’m about to throw it away, I notice on the bottom of the cardboard “wrapper” are six little words and two periods: “Welcome to Herschel. Enjoy your stay.”
Thanks, guys. I will.

What’s the point of all of this rambling? The point is, when is the last time that, after all was said and done – money exchanged, product / photographs / slideshow / prints / albums delivered – you went the extra mile to:

1. say thank you?
2. make your people feel like they were a part of the greater mission of what you are doing?

I honestly have to say that, unfortunately for us and the dear souls we work with, we rarely do either one of those. We get so caught up in the next couple, the next edits, the next deadline, the chaos of life around these parts, and just trying to keep our severed chicken heads somewhere close to our bodies. We forget to go the extra mile. And These dear ones are spending way more than less than fifty dollars on us!

So this is actually a blog post that is unfinished. We don’t have amazing and wonderful advice to give here, rather, we have questions: for those of you exercising gratitude with your people well, what advice and tips and ideas can you offer the rest of us who are floundering? post them in the comments section and we will edit the post and add them for us all to see and ponder.

don’t be shy! we are really looking forward to hearing your thoughts!

  • April 17, 2014 - 2:55 pm

    Steve Dalgetty - This is a GREAT thing to think about and something that we talk about a lot. I often feel hypocritical selling ourselves on a relationship-driven approach, knowing we rock that when we’re selling, and then knowing how hard it is to put the time into keeping that going with some level of consistency to the wedding or beyond. One little thing we started doing is celebrating anniversaries. A big part of our conversation is that the wedding is simply a celebration of day 1 of marriage, and the marriage is what’s important and what we’re actually celebrating/documenting. So we started sending out cards for the first anniversary for each couple. It’s simple, doesn’t take a lot of time, and I think it goes a long ways. Same with thank you cards. I feel like anything that gets out of email goes a long ways these days.ReplyCancel

  • April 17, 2014 - 4:11 pm

    Anne Hannah - When we bought our rental houses 3 years ago, we committed ourselves to not being those landlords that always only do the minimum. We’d seen enough bad examples of these and experienced the effects of this mentality on our city and the neighborhoods we lived in. We didn’t want to be slumlords.

    About 2 years ago we decided to shift our business to incorporate rent-to-own or owner financing with the goal of finding people that might not qualify for conventional financing due to personal factors or limited accessibility due to the struggling economy. Our goal was to provide an avenue for people in the city, and create a sense of ownership and dignity by allowing them to buy houses instead of perpetually renting. People who own houses inherently think differently about their house and their neighborhood. They care for it differently. They are personally invested, something our city desperately needs in the urban core.

    Maybe you’re wondering what this has to do with your question.

    When we screen and interview potential buyers, within the first few interactions, we always bring them into what we do… our greater vision for them and the house they are buying. We always tell them that our goal is to find people to buy our houses that will take care of them, enjoy them and be an asset to the neighborhood they’re in.
    And even after we sell the house to them, we stay in contact to see how they are doing. We offer them our resources and connections to help them stay in their house and manage the maintenance themselves, without overpaying needlessly.

    Even though God is calling us to something else, and we own relatively few houses, this approach has been immensely rewarding for us, and we see God’s sovereignty in how our business has developed over the years. He is on mission in the world, and we are privileged to have a part in that.ReplyCancel

  • April 17, 2014 - 10:45 pm

    nathan - We send happy anniversary cards on their 1 year anniversary too. We get a lot of emails back at how unexpected and nice it was. Another thing we do is stuff we include with our packaging. Among the various details, we include a second thank you card, for allowing us to a part of their celebration (we send the first one when they book), and a set of 15-20 postcards that are custom printed with our favorite images from their wedding day. Our hope is that it’s a lovely little surprise when they open the box. It’s in the guise of a gift- postcards that they could send in the mail if they want to, but we hope they keep them, and just look through them from time to time.

    It’s a small thing, but like you mention above, I think little details like that really send a message that you’ve put a lot of thought and care into what you’re doing, and make what you’re doing feel personal.ReplyCancel

  • April 18, 2014 - 10:07 pm

    Megan Gielow - I love this post! I think it’s easy to send gifts to our couples, but the more difficult thing is to keep it genuine and significant (and, of course within the budget). After my couples book, I give them a little notebook that I’ve decorated along with a note and “magazine/pamphlet” that invites them to make this more than photos…it’s about becoming friends and getting to know each other. The notebook is significant because it’s something I used a lot when I was engaged for dreaming/reflecting/sketching/etc. I also try to keep up with them via social media and send a small something for Christmas and anniversaries just to know that I still care. We’re helping celebrate a lifetime of love in one short wedding day. I truly enjoy getting to keep up with my new friends as time passes :) ReplyCancel

  • April 21, 2014 - 7:46 pm

    jenn stark - ahhhhhh just bought a herschel backpack and felt the exact same way!! i never want to take it off my back these days. yes. there is a whole lot of value to feeling like we are appreciated & that we mean something.ReplyCancel

the truth about this life we are living: sh*t happens.

them: You guys get to travel together for work? You are so lucky! Do you ever take your kids along?

us: um, yeah. sometimes.

them: How wonderful! I bet you have some amazing and magical stories!

us: interesting you say that, let us tell you one. . .

We thought it would be a good idea to take our kids to europe with us a couple of months ago. We had a wedding coming up in England’s peak district, a workshop scheduled in Ireland, and saw the opportunity to share it all with our kids. Three boys: ages ten, eight, and two and a half. And we survived. We survived airport security and an overnight flight with a highly emotional two year old. we survived layovers and rental car counters and hungry children. We survived hospital visits because our middle son got scarlet fever and his mother got strep throat. In case you’re wondering, there are places in the world that still prescribe penicillin. Flemming would be proud. And it doesn’t work. Flemming should be ashamed of himself. But despite it all, we still managed to watch the boys play by the ocean, sword fight in front of an english castle, pet cows on the cow farm we stayed at in england, and we introduced the kids to their ancestors – their great grandmother and great grandfather. It was sometimes amazing and sometimes magical. And sometimes not. Despite the good moments, we had worked our butts off while also taking care of three kids along the way (thanks, mops for your helping hands), we had eaten way too many “chips”, we were not feeling well, and we were really, really tired. “kids, let’s go home. It’s gonna be great to be back on U.S. soil.”
soil. interesting word. multiple meanings.

We smelled it over Nova Scotia.

It was unmistakable.

Ungodly amounts of pizza consumed the previous night in Dublin had adequately fueled the baby’s 37 pound frame and . . .well, elaborating is – ahem – unnecessary.
So of course he put it into his diaper.
In a sealed metal tube. 40,000 feet above the ground.
So here is the dilemma. Your son has obviously pooped in his pants and everyone around you knows it although you’re pretending (even to this day) that it was discrete.
It wasn’t.
Zion did what you’re never supposed to do – he dropped the bomb while on an airplane. While securely strapped into his carseat. As time passed, he fidgeted more forcefully, while his volume level reached “Power Ranger”. He was obviously uncomfortable, but Cars 2 was still playing and the iPads were available as well; we had chewing gum and fruit snacks and candy and we were bribing our two year old to simply keep him quiet and not incite any kind of anger toward us. The seat belt sign was on, we were starting our long initial descent, and we were screwed.
What you might not understand is that if we were to have removed him from his seat, he would have never returned to it, overthrowing his parents and the flight staff in order to freely roam the aisles and make new friends. He is a diaper terrorist. We know this kid. We’ve given him that inch before, and then he takes a mile. We were stuck as he actively kicked his brother’s seat in front of him and told the entire Airbus A-330 that he’d had enough, that the food was not ok, and that the USA is where his heart is.
We touched down, gratefully. As the plane disembarked, Ashley bearhugged our little man, and made a run for it – telling me over her shoulder to grab the bags. The snide passengers traveling without children seated around us give us their kindly looks, thinly veiling their anger that their nose hairs had since been cinged off and relief that we’re on the ground.
“He’s a busy guy!” someone remarks.
“mmhmm” I say, cussing in my head.
Our two older boys and I leave the airliner, walk up the jetway, and into the international concourse at O’Hare (the worst international concourse of all time). We locate the women’s restroom – undoubtedly where Ashley has rushed Zion. And we wait. And wait. And wait.
All of the passengers have gone, at this point. The terminal is empty.
“Honey?” I call into the restroom.
“Whaaat?” she wearily replies.
“You ok in there?”
. . . . .

Emerging from the restroom, we saw Zion. Pantless. Shirtless. Wearing knee high socks, and his leg braces over them. And nothing else. Poop won this round, the rest of us were the losers, and the only other clothing we had for him was somewhere underground taking a tour of the O’Hare conveyor belt system. We wouldn’t be able to find our bags, they were checked straight through to our destination. Tossing his soiled clothing into a trash can, we looked at what we had in our carry on’s and made do. We put a dirty hoodie over his naked torso, wrapped his beloved green blanket around his midriff like a sarong, loaded him onto the luggage cart, and began to walk through the airport.
The best part? We had a 7 hour layover ahead of us.

To borrow the words of N.D. Wilson:
“When one begins to make claims about life and its storyness, one should be careful. Stories tend to follow, and stories involve unpleasantness. God calls bluffs, and makes narrative hypocrites of us all.”

Do we have some amazing and magical stories? Of course! Real life is packed full of those! And life is also packed full of the stories of unexpected emergency room visits in foreign countries and a stench so bad just the memory of it makes one dry-heave, and life is full of little stylish baby clothes in airport trash cans.
this is the life we self-employed world traveling wedding photographers are living.

  • April 11, 2014 - 5:52 pm

    David - Sometimes the most unpleasant stories are the funniest in hindsight. Thanks for sharing this.ReplyCancel

  • April 15, 2014 - 4:33 pm

    Sarah - Oh my goodness. What a terrible experience, but fantastic story to look back on. A similar situation happened to our friends with their son when we were at a pretty nice restaurant. (luckily just as the meal was ending) I’m certain the restaurant threw away the chair our friends’ son was sitting in, and man did we have some stares while we tried to discreetly leave, a diapered-only little boy in tow. His clothes were also left behind. Mortifying then, best story ever now.ReplyCancel

It’s time to let go of what was to make room for what is.

Yesterday I was sitting in the Aztec-ish chair in our “fire room” -also known as the room in our old house with an inoperable fireplace- reading, and I soon found myself distracted and staring at one of the indoor houseplants resting on the shelf next to me. I have a history of having a brown-ish thumb, but the fine folks at the Home Depot garden center told me I have up to one year to kill this plant and replace it with a new one, so I figure I can’t lose. I have no idea what type of plant it is, just that it is green, it more resembles an octopus than a houseplant, and on each one of it’s octopus arms it holds tiny, surprise buds. Once in awhile these buds will open up with a small, delicate white flower complete with a yellow pollen center. They are no bigger than the eraser on my pencil, but I stare at them and marvel.

A couple of days from now, I will be sitting in that same chair, staring at that same plant and the little flowers I saw will be dead. The dried up remnants of a flower will be sitting there on the octopus arms, ash colored and turning to waste, as the plant tries to hold onto what was. I notice that hiding right behind the dead flower is a fresh new bud, sitting green and closed, waiting for its turn. But the plant seems to be working against itself as those arms clutch onto death when life is watiting just behind. Doesn’t it know? Doesn’t it realize what would happen if. . . So I take my hand and brush past the dead buds, ever so gently encouraging the octopus, “it’s time to let go.”

If you and I are still holding on to what once was, we won’t be able to see what is next.

If we are clutching onto how many weddings we used to shoot, or how many times in the past we have been published or how “those were the days”, we won’t be able to grow and nurture the beauty that is there for the taking, today.

“but I’ve always done things this way.”
“but I saw another photographer do this once and they got attention for it, so I want to see if it will work for me, too.”
“but I’m just wired this way.”
“but no one’s really complaining. what if I make changes and nobody gets it?”
“but old is so comfortable. old is safe. new is scary.”

Well, dear octopus, it might not be easy and you might be so scared you want to vomit and you might think that holding onto a dead flower is better than no flower at all, but we don’t think so. Because we can see you. We can see that just beneath that cover-up of what used to be is the promise of what will be next, if you just let go. Let go of what you thought this was supposed to look like. Let go of your mistakes. Let go of the photographer you are worshipping who doesn’t even know you exist. Let go of your fears and the “I could never”s. Let go of the constant obsession and preoccupation over fame, money, approval, control. Let go of it all to make way for the life that is already there, waiting behind all of that ashen waste to birth something new and beautiful.

At the Don’t Give Up Project, this is something we long to do for ourselves and each fellow octopus who joins us. And we really do it. And we all ugly cry and then we laugh until our cheeks ache because those muscles just haven’t been so intensely exercised in a really long time. And then we watch as the dead, lifeless ruins of who we were fall to floor, making room for new green buds. We work hard and link arms and stand in the sunrise and hold our breaths with childish christmas morning anticipation as the buds slowly open up before us.

If you are an artist and you have been doing things the same way for forever and it’s working just fine, if you are an artist and you are just getting started planting, or if you are an artist and all you see when you look around you is dead flowers, you are invited. Click here to join us.

  • April 9, 2014 - 4:32 pm

    jenn stark - amen ash! this is so well said, you put to words exactly the season i’ve been finding myself in, and it is so easy to want to try and figure out how to make things back to ‘how they used to be’ but everything changes and we too must change with it and grow in new ways. xoReplyCancel

  • April 10, 2014 - 12:37 pm

    ash - jenn, thank you so much for those words and for being honest about where you are at, too. The past can be such a romantic fascination and yet when you are living it, you realize nothing’s perfect. It’s hard to let go, but we are finding really go things in the willingness to do so.ReplyCancel

maybe it’s time you take the leap and join us!

We are really excited today.

We are exited because, in our experience, it’s really rare to find something in life that you can be a part of, something that you believe in so wholeheartedly and that brings such hope and purpose to you and countless others. And we’ve found it.

The Don’t Give Up project is worth being excited about.

It’s worth the long months of planning, the blood, sweat, and tears that go into writing the curriculum anew for each one. It’s worth the meetings with the chefs to make sure the food will tell just the right story. it’s worth the years of processing through wins and losses in order to pass on our mistakes and our hope to others in need of them. It’s worth the cost and the hours we spend packing suitcases, gift bags, Uhaul trailers and kids and drive the long, windy road up to the lodge. It’s worth the time, the cost, the sacrifice, the butterflies in our stomachs, the fear and the hope. It’s worth it all. Because after all of that is done, people start to arrive. People who were meant to be there with us, all along. People who were meant to eat the meals we grocery shopped for and hear the mistakes we have made. People who needed a long, three day breath of fresh mountain air. People who arrived lonely and left belonging to a tribe. People who had stories of their own that we desperately needed to hear. When we drive back down that mountain, we are completely refreshed, invigorated, and renewed.

it happens every time.

And now, we are asking you to join us.

We want to invite you to come be a part of the tribe. This isn’t an exclusive tribe. To be a part of this tribe you don’t have to be the cool kid. You don’t have to feel ready to go kill it. You don’t have to be full-time photographer of awesomeness, wedding blog famous or on top of your game. You don’t have to have it all together. You just have to be you. Come experience this thing that none of us really know how to put words to, we just know that we go home living differently. Come be brave and scared and real and funny and quiet and hungry and tired and overwhelmed and overworked and broke and rich and everything in between. Just come be yourself with us and a small family of others who are incredibly different than, but so similar to you.

If you are meant to be there, you know it. you will feel the pull on your gut, the stirring inside your chest cavity, your heart rate slowly starting to increase, and a small voice inside you telling you “ok, it’s time.”

let’s do this!


click below to join us!

if you try to join us, but the workshop is already sold out, please fill out the contact form and we will be sure to add you to the mailing list for the next one.

what the Don’t Give Up Project is all about

a few years ago, we looked around at the industry we were in. we saw a lot of photographers working really hard to become something. we saw them sitting and trying to learn at workshops that more closely resembled dental conferences. We saw them commenting on blogs in hopes that they would be noticed. We saw them wasting time away from their kids to try and climb the popularity ladder. We saw them working until three in the morning just to try to get caught up and waking up exhausted the next day. we saw them stuck in the popularity hamster wheel of this sometimes immature industry. We saw them tired, failing, drifting, and sleepwalking. They had forgotten their why. They had forgotten their story. They had walked away form workshop after workshop with no real community and no lasting change. We saw them when we looked in the mirror. They were us.

To share with you the inciting incidences that led to the don’t give up project, we would have to give away some of our story, and it’s a really good story. A hard one, messy and filled with heartbreak and mistakes, but it is a good one. It’s how we start each Don’t Give Up Project, and we hold nothing back in the days that we welcome artists from all over the world to come have a sleepover with us. And for the past four years, they have been coming. They have been bringing their own stories, their baggage, their hopes and fears, their failed attempts and their victories. They come armed with pajamas and bottles of bourbon. They come with questions and doubts. They come with loneliness and unspoken hurts. And then for a few days, we just let it all out. It’s impossible to tell you in words what happens. Trust me, we have tried. We even have a section on this site called, “the experience” in hopes that you can see some videos that other attendees have made and connect to the experience. But it won’t do it justice. not even close.

here’s what we can say: the Don’t Give Up Project is all about you. Your one “wild and precious life” and what you are going to do with it. We talk about making photographs. We talk about business. But it’s not about those things. It’s about you. It’s about the stirring you feel when you see a good movie, or when someone you love gives you a hug. It’s about the longing you have when you lay your head on the pillow and the sneaking suspicion that there might be something more to this life thing. It’s about the choices we make to slowly move away from who we are to who we think we are supposed to be. And it’s about a tribe of people who feel the same things you do, can’t put words to it yet, coming all together to eat and drink and laugh and cry and word vomit and laugh until our stomachs hurt as we revolt against the status quo and join in on something better.

it you are meant to be there, you will be. we have seen it too many times to believe that anything can hold you back.

join us. it will change you. it will change us. and it will change countless others because of who you discover yourself to be.