Hey guys and welcome to another episode of Make Your Break. Today I’m talking with destination wedding photographer and master story teller Jonas Peterson about the importance of narrative in art. You’ve probably heard people talk a lot about the importance of storytelling, both in your craft and in your business. Stories are the core of connection; they also help you create desire and value around what you do. Your story will make you unique and more importantly, authentic.
Before I became a full-time wedding photographer, I spent a couple of weeks in Thailand with my wife. I remember not being happy with my job; I didn’t want to leave Thailand and go back to it. Photography had always been a passion of mine, so I thought that might be a good place to start. After scrolling through some photography blogs online, I came across wedding photographer Jonas Peterson and I was absolutely blown away by his work. He inspired me to pursue wedding photography.
A year or so later, I saw that Jonas Peterson was holding a workshop. I was barely able to afford it, but I knew I had to get in that room. Attending that workshop was the first step that got me where I am now, so I am thrilled to be able to talk to Jonas on the podcast today and show you all why I was so inspired by him when I was first starting out.
Jonas Peterson is a destination wedding photographer whose work has taken him all over the world. Jonas started out as a copywriter in advertising, where he had a successful career for years. After a while, he found himself getting burnt out and decided to transition to his passion, photography. He initially saw wedding photography as the lowest form of the craft, as he didn’t think it promoted creativity.
But he found the challenge of reinventing a form appealing. He knew he wanted to do it differently to everyone else; he just had to decide how. Jonas realised that the majority of wedding photography fell into two categories; high-end, precise shoots or cheesy, poorly-executed snapshots. He found there was a lack of story in both and decided that’s where he would make his mark.
This approach paid off; he went from shooting one wedding for his friends to shooting 40 weddings in his first year and 65 in his second. Very quickly, Jonas became one of the top wedding photographers in the world thanks to his narrative-based approach. He extended this focus on story-telling to his website and social channels, ignoring the traditional wedding photographer website format and designing his own. The response was immediate and overwhelmingly positive.
Jonas thinks that standing out from your competition is crucial. He thinks you should get nervous if your work starts to look the same as everyone else. I agree; if I scroll through a social media hashtag, I often find amazing photographers, but I can never remember their names because they blend in with everyone else. As competition increases, I think it’s actually easier to identify gaps in the market and ways to standout from other photographers.
Jonas thinks that wedding photography is inherently formulaic. But that gives creatives a chance to really break out of the mould. Especially nowadays, as wedding photography has become kind of cool; there are many ways to reinvent the wheel. You have to do what makes sense to you. For example, Jonas doesn’t shoot ring shots, because it made no sense to him. This doesn’t mean that nobody should do it. It just means that it’s not part of his identity as a photographer. You should always question why you’re shooting a specific shot and if it makes sense to you. This will help you stand out in the long run.
Jonas Peterson’s storytelling skills are obvious in his work. But I was interested in how he integrates storytelling into the rest of his business. Jonas believes anything and everything should be a story, even the ‘About’ page of a website. As humans, are brains are wired towards stories; we try to turn everything into a narrative. If you can tell a story through each and every interaction your work has with the public, people will connect more with your work, and more willing to pay money for it. The goal should always be to make people feel something.
I totally agree with Jonas. I was doing some research the other day, and came across a guy in Hollywood who has a hand in every big script that gets made. He has a step-by-step process inspired by Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey, which informs most films and stories. These basic steps can be applied to anything from a major Hollywood film to a wedding photographer’s website. Jonas even employs storytelling in his emails and urges others to do the same. ‘Story’ doesn’t mean that you have to create some elongated narrative; it just means you have to link it back to something personal.
The goal of good storytelling is to make people feel something, so that they can attach themselves to your story. When people look at Jonas Peterson’s wedding photography, they imagine themselves feeling the same way on their wedding day. That’s why they hire him. His storytelling inspires emotions in his prospective clients, who project themselves into the same kind of story. They want to feel and look the same way.
One of the biggest mistakes I see people making on their website is making the story about themselves. Jonas thinks that sometimes people are afraid to share their own journey and include anything about themselves. You have to strike the right balance between opening up about yourself and also taking yourself out of the narrative. For example, Jonas’ father passed away when he was 25, so he finds himself connecting more deeply with stories about absent parents. He also finds that he produces his best work when he connects with people and experiences. He cares more deeply about it.
Jonas wants to underline that this is his approach, and it might not apply to everyone. There are plenty of other successful photographers who do things differently. You don’t have to be the type of photographer who’s digging for the story at every opportunity like Jonas. Highly aesthetic-focused, editorial styles that look amazing on the surface are totally fine too. Do whatever you want, just do it the best you can. Decide on who you are and what you believe in. Then run with it. People will always respond to how you see the world if you’re being authentic.
I want to say a big thank you to Jonas for taking the time to chat with me. It’s always so refreshing to hear his take on the business and I hope people realise how valuable his point of view is.
Big thanks to you guys too for listening! I’ll catch you next episode!
This episode is brought to you by the guys over at PepperStorm, an awesome copywriting team who I have used across all my businesses for years. If you need some killer copywriting, get in touch and use the code: MAKEYOURBREAK to get $100 off when you buy one of their packages.