How We Felt When We Saw Our First Billboard

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We're professional photographers, Mr + Mrs and Mom + Dad. We like to share insights into our industry and empower other photographers to build their biz.



What’s your dream as a brand photographer? What do you envision when you close your eyes and start drifting off to sleep? Is it all the amazing things your business can do for you? What’s the big dream you have? You might be like Hugh Jackman and have a MILLION dreams. And they’re probably all really awesome. One of ours was having our images on a billboard. To us, it seemed like a PINNACLE. The EPITOME. Like we would have ARRIVED and have that golden buzzer moment once we had our images on a billboard. 

It might be silly and really unimportant, but it was definitely something we held in our minds as an accomplishment. And we’ll give ourselves a little credit here. We may not have had gold confetti shoot out of the sky but it was still a pretty cool thing to see. 

But to be completely truthful…it wasn’t all high fives and glitter! We also dealt with a few different trains of thought and emotions as we saw our first billboard. 

Today we want to walk you through exactly how we felt when we saw our first billboard and our hope is that maybe you’ll learn a thing or two from this experience. We hope sharing our story helps you whenever you approach a shoot that has the potential for marketing at this level sot that you can avoid the same mistakes that we made. 

We Were STINKING Excited

When we first saw our images on a billboard, you can only imagine that our initial reaction was extreme excitement!!! And by extreme excitement, we mean we were driving down the highway, saw our billboard and for a moment, completely forgot we were driving. Whoops! Sorry not sorry! We turned to look at each other, did high five with of course a little happy dance, and Erica busted out her cell phone to take a picture. We then remembered, oh crap, we’re driving and it was TIME TO PULL IT BACK TOGETHER. Well, that’s if we wanted to continue to see our photos on more billboards….;)

We definitely thought about turning around, getting off the highway and circling back just so we could see it again. Yes, that kind of level of excitement! It was…..next levl!!! It felt unreal and we had to pinch ourselves. Is this even real?? Is our work FINALLY featured on a billboard prominently here on the interstate for everyone to see? And it was. It took a while for that to sink in and the excitement really didn’t fade. At least not immediately.

A little while later though, we began to realize something that kind of turned our guts upside down from excitement to, “Oh, crap…did we do something wrong here?” 

What We Were Missing

Our emotions went from excitement to realizing we felt a serious knot in our gut, as if we had missed something huge. You see, it had been a dream of ours to have our images on a billboard, but it never really occurred to us that this was going to happen with this particular photoshoot. We had no idea that the images were planned to be used on a billboard which is why it was such a big surprise to us and saw us almost running off the freeway!

This brought up a real problem because we realized instinctively it cost the business a decent amount of money to put that billboard up. And that business was getting great advertising from this billboard being in front of millions of eyeballs. The fact that we didn’t know the image was going to be used in that way meant that we neglected to ask some pretty important questions. And we probably also, due to not asking those questions, missed out on some opportunity for additional revenue. 

You see, most billboards on average cost anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000 to install. And if the installation of that billboard with our photo was going to help a business make a whole lot of money….don’t you think we should probably have a piece of that pie? I mean who doesn’t like pie!? It’s not greedy, it’s just business. That billboard would not be the same without the image on it. They wouldn’t be able to advertise with a billboard without the image. So in a sense, they are only able to market the way they are because of our service. Are you starting to see how our minds started spinning here? Sooo you’re probably thinking….’What was the answer to this dilemma?’

We Needed To Understand Image Licensing 

What we realized in that moment was that we really needed to understand image licensing. Image licensing sounds like a big scary word and we’re asked questions about it all the time. From, ‘Where’s the department of image licensing?’ to ‘How do I get an image license?’ and all sorts of other things. And trust us, we’ve been there. We’ve asked those SAME questions and wrestled with the SAME things. 

Here’s the deal. An image license is simply you as the photographer telling your customer what they are able to use the images for. It’s a written agreement you give them telling them how they can use the images you captured. And those uses for the images are definitely something you should be charging for. Yeah…that whole “We should have been paid for that” feeling we were feeling. It was real and 100% justified. 

But it wasn’t our client’s fault! It was definitely OUR fault. We were very naive and ignorant to what image licensing could do for our business or that fact that it was even standard in the commercial world. So naturally, when excited friends brought us flyers that they received in their mailbox with our work all over them…well, that feeling only compounded. It was now billboards, mailers…and storefront signs. 

Oh yeah. We missed an opportunity. 

Although it was difficult to process at the time, sometimes missing an opportunity can be the best lesson. Hindsight is always 20/20 and more often than not, failure can be our greatest teacher. As a matter of fact, we would say failure is the BEST teacher. Which means, it’s really not a failure. It’s just learning. 

Side note: a mistake is only failure if it makes you give up. Otherwise, mistakes are just learning experiences and opportunities to improve. Don’t let a mistake turn into a true failure by giving up…you got this!

Bottom line: we paid this tuition in real dolla dolla bills, ya’ll!. We missed out on a real opportunity because we were ignorant to the world of image licensing. But our hope is that through the content we’re able to provide to you, we can help you skip over that learning curve and start capitalizing on what’s rightfully yours without missing those opportunities. 

Here’s to never giving up and learning from your mistakes…and best of all, growing out of them!

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