Seattle-based photographer Svetlana Popova came to Wonderful Machine looking for a way to translate her personal style and philosophy into commercial work. I worked with her for six months on Creative Coaching to accomplish the goals she had set for her business.
A self-proclaimed “crazy cat lady with a camera,” Svetlana has discovered her niche as a cat photographer. With her love of animals, Svetlana has found success with pet commissions and self-assigned projects. The latter often involved working with several local cat rescues and sanctuaries. I’ve worked on difficult dog shoots before, but getting a cat to listen? She might be one of the few people to exist who can give direction to a cat, and it’s pretty evident in her work. She describes it as “emotional, soulful, and authentic.”
Although Svetlana primarily works as a pet photographer, she has been aiming to transition into the field of commercial and editorial animal photography. Being an introvert, promoting herself isn’t something that comes naturally. However, she recognizes the importance of putting herself out there to attract commercial clients.
My background in magazine publishing had me looking at many portfolios and websites regularly. I was also meeting and hiring a variety of photographers from all over the country. With a busy schedule, I knew exactly what kind of person I needed to hire for the job.
As a Creative Coach, this is something I put great emphasis on. Convincing creatives like Svetlana that they need to target an audience can be challenging. The hardest part of this process for them is realizing that the audience isn’t themselves. They need to reframe their presentation and consider their work in two spheres: public and private. Svetlana and I worked together in the public sphere, where potential clients would want to see themselves represented on her website.
After a review of her website, we discussed how complex and wordy the content was. I found it hard to navigate through the journal-style content. It was obviously very meaningful to her, but may not be to a busy commercial client representing a brand that has no time to waste.
The structure of her website was very complicated with several unnecessary landing pages and navigations. We wanted to make it more user-friendly and simplified. We started by drawing up new flow charts and kept revising them to cut out anything extraneous.
Her home page didn’t have enough impact. Considering her attachment to her subject, she sees every image as unique, unable to choose one (fur) baby over another. So we discussed one of my favorite visual problem-solvers: the checkerboard. In Svetlana’s case, this was accomplished with different colors, the occasional dog, but also alternating contrasts that make the page more dynamic. I encouraged Svetlana to find inspiration from various commercials. We also discussed the possibility of including videos, as stills and the occasional video also contrast in a series nicely.
Gaby was my perfect coach who helped me get started. She guided me through the entire process, and we ended up with an entirely new site structure and design.
After streamlining her website, one of the main challenges Svetlana faced was defining commercial photography in terms of her own practice. We discussed how selling the importance of a cat sanctuary is not much different than selling anything else. She could create commercial stories that could work very similarly to her passion stories about cat rescues and sanctuaries.
Svetlana started creating more commercial content featuring cat treats and cat toy brands she had available. I reminded her that if her content is product-based, she needed to prioritize the product over the cat. This was very hard for her to do, but in the end, we were able to select the examples that worked best.
These days, creatives need to devote a lot of their time to promoting and networking. Our creative coaching service helps guide creatives like Svetlana through organization, presentation, and self-promotion. During this process, I also explained the difference between passive and active promotion to Svetlana. A great website is important, but it passively waits to be seen. We must actively use social media and emails to “cast a net” and bring people to our websites.
Still not comfortable promoting herself in an e-blast, she hadn’t yet announced her new improved website. We came to the conclusion that Svetlana could benefit from reframing her outreach, using the word sharing rather than selling. I encouraged her to start an e-blast and plan to announce the news on social media.
I very much appreciated Gaby’s honest feedback as she always told me what would work and what wouldn’t. Gaby also gave me a whole bunch of ideas for my business promotion from social media to participating in contests.
If my current circle of friends is any indication, I’ve become a Cat Auntie despite my allergies. I couldn’t wait to tell them all about Svetlana and her creative coaching journey!