Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Business: Year in Review, and Goals for Next Year

Now is the time of the year to make resolutions. I use the week between Christmas and New Year to analyze my business and make changes in the way I work, in order to make my business better next year.

I write down my evaluation of my business, and set goals for change in the next year. Here's the questions of my business self-analysis that I just completed:
  1. What did I improve this year?
  2. What went well this year?
  3. What was the best thing that happened this year?
  4. What can I change to make it happen more often?
  5. What got worse this year?
  6. What was the worst thing that happened this year?
  7. What can I change to make it happen less?
  8. What specific goals did I have this year, and were they met?
  9. What goals will I set up for next year?
  10. What specific actions will I take in the first 90 days of 2009 to initiate change?
  11. What other actions will I take during the year?
I have been working on this as a continuous process, so many of my actions were already mapped out and I have been working them. However, this formal time out caused me to really look comprehensively at all aspects of my business - hardware, software, technique, business skills, customer and contact management, pricing and promotion, education, business growth and community service to mention a few.

I come out of this with two action lists: The first, indicating what I will do in the months of January through March (my quiet season), and the second, a list of actions that I will complete over the year. The first quarter list is very tactical, and consists of tasks I can complete in around a day's effort or less. The rest of year goals may be more strategic, and may need to be broken into actionable tasks as the year progresses.

For example, I have determined that I don't need to add much in terms of hardware or software - I have that dialed in. Sure, I'll pick up a second camera body and some accessories, but that's minimal. Most of what I need to change is outside the act and art of photography - it's about developing and executing consistent processes for contact management, customer relations and follow through. It's about taking action on the 40 growth ideas I have listed. It's about making my offering and pricing information clear and attractive.
I have found that I am naturally a technical person, so the hard skills I have taken care of. I find those tasks manageable and concrete. I suffer at the softer skills, those of running a business and interfacing with customers in a way that grows my business and increases customer satisfaction. So I have to define specific tasks that will force me out of my comfort zone and into the areas where my business really needs to improve.

Fortunately, I met my revenue, profitability and growth goals for 2008. I want to make sure that I maintain that into 2009 and at the same time, grow my business breadth so that variations in any of my current income areas don't cause huge income gaps.

Whether you are professional or aspiring, I suggest that you use the change of year to do some reflection on your own, and make a clear assessment of your skills and performance this year, and a list of actions you will take to make a change in yourself and your business for 2009.

Have a productive and profitable new year!


Sunday, December 28, 2008

Technique: Workflow and Backups

This is not a very exciting post, but it is necessary for professionals to have a solid backup and recovery plan. As you develop your workflow, you should program into it a number of backup steps that guarantee that your images will not be lost. Here is part of my image management workflow, showing where I make backups:
1. On the shooting location, at the end of the shoot, I back up my CF cards to a portable hard drive. This little 30gb unit is battery powered and will copy the contents of a 2Gb CF card to a folder in about 5 minutes.
2. Back at the office, I upload the originals to a folder called ORIGINAL under the shoot folder.

3. I work through the image list and identify the "keepers" - marked with 3 stars in ZoomBrowser. These are copied to a folder called "3STAR" under the same shoot folder.

4. I back up the entire shoot folder to a data DVD and take it offsite. This is insurance in the event I have a fire or flood or something takes out all my electronics.

5. Weekly, my PC backs up all of my documents to an external USB hard drive.
I only erase the CF cards once I have a DVD burned. So I should have up to 5 copies of the original images, (1-portable HD, 2-DVD, 3-USB drive, 4-Originals, 5-3Star), even after I erase the CF card. Eventually after the session has been printed and delivered, I'll erase most of the working copies, but will keep the DVD and the USB Hard drive backups forever.

A couple other comments on my editing workflow: As I edit images, I change the suffix of the image to add a letter 'b', so the original "3star" file is not changed. Then I move all of the 'b' images to a "Edits" folder so I can see which ones were changed. If I do any layer work for collages or web postings, I put them in a folder called "Layouts". This way I know where my originals, edits and special files are, and they are all under a folder with the shoot name.

To make this easy to repeat, I create a dummy folder called "000000 Upload Template". Under it are these folders: Original, 3Star, Edits, Layouts. Then when I upload a job, I just copy the template folder, rename it using the year/month/day and client, and start using the lower level folders.

I know this sounds a bit anal, but if you don't have a consistent workflow, you may not know where to find your edited files, and you may really disappoint a customer if you lose or damage the original images. Consider writing down a workflow and trying to stick to it for your next couple of shoots. You'll thank yourself in the future!

I promise the next post will be more interesting!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Tools: These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

Photography can be a gadget-heavy business. From the cameras to the computers, there's a lot of stuff that you can utilize in your business activities.

I started thinking about the items that are most useful to me. I won't list the camera, because that's kind of a given. I shoot with the Canon 30D. I'll work out from there, and highlight my favorite 10 things that have made my business better over the last years. I'll do this like a Letterman Top 10 list:

My Top 10 Tools:

10 - Credit Card Account. I use Midwest Transaction Group for credit card ordering. This streamlines the orders I take for many of my customer sales, and it legitimizes me as a businessman to many. The card reader and automatic 2-day deposit are well worth the low fees and rates that I pay. I waited 3 years to get this and I should have done it earlier. I pay under $10/month and a couple of percent on transaction fees, and the return on this investment is high.

9 - Zoombrowser EX. This is a key tool in my workflow. I use it to triage the images quickly, to assign ratings of one to three stars. Then I scrub down that 3-star list until it has my very best images. Once I have done this, the 3-star list becomes my working set of images. It saves me many hours. This is a Canon utility. I believe that Windows Vista will do this now, allowing you to choose 1-5 stars. I didn't spend any money on this one; it came with the camera.

8 - Proshow Producer. I make many slide shows each year, for dance, seniors, band, weddings and more. This program is very productive and lets you make impressive slide shows with lots of great effects. I started with Proshow Gold for the first year and then upgraded to Producer. I also have the plug-in pack for High School Seniors which works well. I think I paid around $300 for Producer and upgrades.

7 - Jalbum and Fotoplayer. Jalbum is a Flash-based website photo viewer application that you can run from your website, or you can host it elsewhere. Fotoplayer is a skin or plugin that works with Jalbum, and provides great browsing, watermarking, ecard and shopping capabilities. Using these tools, I now host my own online galleries for customer viewing and ordering. Jalbum is free and Fotoplayer is around $80. Given that I spent hundreds of dollars per year hosting albums with EventPix and PhotoReflect, the payback was just a couple of months. I have customized the albums and provided login security and online ordering, including shipping, discounts and coupon codes. It takes me about 10 minutes to build and upload a new gallery and tie it into my website. Check out this album of some of my scenic work for a taste of what these products do (no pasword is required). Incidentally I use all royalty-free music on my web galleries and slide shows...and I'm writing and recording some of my own stuff now!

6 - JTL's 5-in-1 66" collapsible reflector. I use this on many of my outoor shoots. It has white, black, silver and gold reflectors, and a diffuser as well. It folds down to about a 24" circle, and opens up large enough to light a sitting family or a standing senior. It takes a bit of practice to learn how to re-collapse it, but once you get the hang of it, this reflector is a must-have on outdoor shoots. This reflector is about $110.

5 - Monopod and Manfrotto Tilt Head. Outside the studio setting, more than 80% of my shots are made using a monopod and tilt head. This is a great blend of portability and stability. The Bogen Manfrotto Tilt Head is sturdy and allows me to switch from portrait to landscape with a twist of a locking nut. I have a couple of monopods; they are generally under $30, and the tilt head is under $40.

4 - Tamron f/2.8 lenses. I have three: The 17-50mm, the 28-75mm and the 70-200mm. These are all sturdy, accurate, and they come with great customer service and warranty. I had one lens quit on me owing to sand in the barrel, and Tamron repaired it under their 6 year warranty. The fast fixed f/2.8 over the zoom range allows me to get shots with shallow depth of focus, great bokeh and great performance in low light. These great lenses are quite affordable for their capabilities - the 70-200mm for example is right around $799.

3 - Canon Speedlite 430 EX and Gary Fong Lightsphere. I have used the 430 EX for years, in situations where I need a touch of fill light or indoors. It's essential for good sunset shots, and other situations where I need to balance ambient light with flash. The flash runs about $200. I just received the Lightsphere and I'm confident that it will further enhance my attached-flash work. Various components of the Lightsphere system are available from $50-150.

2 - X-rite Eye-one display for computer color calibration. I use this every day, in that my monitors are always color corrected. This means that I see the true color of the image on the screen. I can't tell you how important this is. I worked for 2 years with out it, and my print color accuracy suffered. You absolutely must invest in this early! I think I spent around $250 for my solution; there are other good ones out there.

And my #1 favorite tool is...

1 - Corel Paint Shop Pro X2. You probably know by now that I am not a Photoshop person. I got my start with PaintShop Pro version 6 and I am so used to the software now that it would kill me to change. Version X2 is so feature laden that I it meets all of my editing needs. I use this every day, and am quite adept at editing, layout and automation using this tool. And it runs all of the plugins I have ever needed. For more reasons why I think PSP/X2 is better than Photoshop, you can read my article here. This software is a steal at $80 and is often much cheaper than that. My favorite capability is the cosmetic editing, which makes quick work of face, teeth and hair edits for portraits.

So you can see what makes me tick. I don't often go for the top end or most expensive equipment or software, but what I do have I use like crazy and I get a lot of value from it.

I'd be interested in hearing about other peoples' top 10 lists!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Business: I got the gig, what do I do now?

I had a reader ask me these questions, and I thought it appropriate at this stage of the blog to address them:
What is it like when you get a gig? What questions do you ask? What details need worked out? Have you ever turned anybody down because you felt you weren't experienced enough? Or lacked the right equipment?
A lot of questions, but all very important ones.

What's it like when you get a gig? It's exciting and scary at the same time. You feel honored and thrilled that someone wants to pay you to do what you love, but you are concerned that you will not be able to exceed their expectations. Unless you are either very experienced or self-assured, you will have this mix of good-scared until you convince yourself and the world that you can do this work and get paid for it.

What questions do you ask? The first question you should ask your client is to define the scope of what they want you to do. How long will the session be? What kind of prep time will you need? What kind of props or equipment will be required? What kind of products do they want? Prints, electronic images? These questions should help you understand the time and materials required to complete the job. Determine what it will take you in terms of hours, and base your pricing that, and also on the cost of goods and services you will need to procure to do the job.

Think about your planning, shooting and post production time commitment. Estimate the number of hours and then double it if you are inexperienced.

She didn't ask this question, but it follows: What should I charge? Next, think about your fair hourly rate. Remember that you will be paying all of your income taxes, medicare and Social Security, and supporting your business expenses. A good rule of thumb would be that you need to make 2-3 times your target hourly rate to take home as income. So for instance you will need to make $75 per hour to clear $25 per hour after taxes and expenses.

So how do you price a job to get $75/hour? If your math above said that the gig will take 10 hours of your time, is the client prepared to spend $750? Sometimes they are prepared to spend much more or less. And there are several ways to get the $750.

The first model is to charge a fixed price up front, and deliver a fixed product at the end. This is valuable when you are delivering a known product, such as a CD of images for use in advertisement.

The opposite end of the scale is to charge nothing for the session and hope to get it back in prints. I have done this as well and I'll tell you that often you will not get your money for this, as some people don't order what you think they would.

Some events, particularly groups like sports events and dance/proms, benefit from pre-ordering, where customers fill out and order and pay the day of the shoot. I have found however that sometimes you limit your sales by offering packages the day of the order. You'll have to decide that for yourself and your event.

Somewhere in the middle may be the right answer for personal photography. I charge a pretty hefty session fee for seniors, families and weddings. I call this the creative fee. It is designed so that if the customer orders nothing, I am somewhat compensated for my time. I allow part of that fee to be used as a design credit, to purchase products, provided they order within a deadline. This basically guarantees a minimum sale if they use the credit or not. The vast majority of customers order more than that design credit, and most of them order before the deadline, thus tying up the loose ends quicker.

You'll have to think about how you want to price your work. On my website, I publish my price lists for sessions and products for most of my services. They are different for the different types of work that I do. Early on, I made the common mistake of underestimating the value of my time and charging a markup on print cost only. If you underprice your services, you run the risk of coming off as low quality or not worthy of respect or consideration.

What details need worked out? You'll want to confirm the date, time, location, contact persons, fees, permits, electricity if needed, props/backdrops or other equipment. You'll also want them to understand how long it will take from the shoot date until they can see proofs or images, and until they can receive the images. I always recommend that you under-promise and over-deliver. Quote 4 weeks and deliver in 1 or 2. If it is a complicated event such as a wedding or commercial shoot, you may want to build a contract indicating what you will do and what they will do. Sometimes a 1-page agreement with a couple of paragraphs will do, and it certainly will be better than nothing. And confirm the details in writing, either via email or paper. It's hard to over-communicate in the planning stages.

The last question - have I ever turned someone down because I did not have the experience or equipment? Not yet, but if I were asked to do a job that required specific skills or gear, I may point them to someone else in the community. Or, I may take the job provided it gave me the incremental revenue to let me purchase the equipment to perform the job. I did that this fall on some sports shooting, which I knew would require a telephoto lens to do well. I didn't actually profit from that job, but I did break event and add a good lens to my arsenal.

For the other new pros out there, can you comment on your first gigs? What went well or badly?

Monday, December 22, 2008

Business: How and When do I Start Charging Money?

If you are like me, you are always taking pictures. Many of us got into photography so that we would have great images of our family. We photograph the kids at sports, dance, school and other events. We share freely because we are part of a larger group, be it sports moms, dance dads or bird watchers, and sharing makes everyone happy. And the recognition makes us feed good!

But at some point, we make the decision to go professional and we want to start charging money. There's a problem that we have to resolve: What we have done for free in the past we want to start charging money to do.

I know this happened to me. For the last 15 years, I have taken photos of my kids in dance, cheerleading, band and other activities. As people saw the quality of work I did, they asked me to share. I did share, putting my work on Club Photo, and then on Winkflash, where people could download the images for free and order prints for ten cents each. Then I found that as I moved into the professional realm, the other parents were unsure whether I'd still be offering these photos for free.

So to clarify things for me and for them, I developed my personal rules of what I'd give away and what I'd charge for. I was determined to be very clear about it, so people would not be uncomfortable asking me. My code was like this:
- If I am taking images of my kids in an event, and the rest of the group is OK with me taking other kids' photos, I'll do that and post them on Winkflash or provide digital images or prints at no cost or obligation. I do that for Band, Dance Competitions, Academic awards and other community events. I often also provide CD's of images to the yearbook or event coordinators.
- If it's a charitable event I'm asked to cover, I'll generally do most of the work at no cost or obligation, but I may offer reprints at some cost, and I to ask for some program recognition or display space. Again a CD usually goes to the nonprofit at no cost.
- If I'm asked to photograph an event, I'll determine if it falls into one of the above categories. If it's not something I'm willing to do for free, I'll be very clear to the requestor. I'll say something like "I'd love to do that for you. Since it's not a charitable activity, I will consider this a commercial shoot and my rate is x. Are you OK with that?" If they want you for your talents, they will tell you right away. If they wanted a free shoot, they'll back off but most of them will understand that you are a business person and that's how you are going to make money.
- If I show up at an event with my camera, and I am doing it for the love or fun of it, I'll mention to some others that I'll be posting the images for free. That way they know where I stand, and to some degree, they can relax and enjoy the event while I shoot. And in areas where I might be put in an akward situation, like at a wedding, If I'm not the paid photographer, I don't bring a camera. Period.

Being up front with your commercial expectations will avoid a lot of hurt feelings and misunderstandings later. As a beginning pro, you may not have the confidence to accept or discuss commercial work, but this is how it starts. Someone likes your stuff and wants it, and they are willing to pay for it.

You may want to think about several situations that you may encounter with friends and family and consider what your response will be once you have decided to go professional. If a cousin asks you to shoot a wedding and you've never done one before, how will you respond? If a friend asks you to take her son or daughter's senior portraits, what will you do? If a charity asks you to photograph their gala, what's your plan?

There will be a turning point when you start thinking and acting like a professional: that moment will be when someone asks you do to a photo job, and you politely and professionally engage them in a discussion about scheduling, scope of work and pricing. Once you are confident enough to look them in the eye and tell them you are worth the money, and they accept, you have entered the next level: You're a Pro!

For you who have already crossed that line, would you care to share that moment when your first "gig" was born? How did you feel? What would you have done differently?

Later, we'll discuss pricing. One of the biggest and most dangerous mistakes new pros make is underpricing themselves because of lack of confidence or experience. We'll talk about benchmarking and calculating your profitable pricing for various events or products.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Business: Getting Established as a Professional Photographer

How do you get started in this business? For many, the opportunity does not just knock on your door; you must go find it. In my case I was very fortunate to have a dance studio photography opportunity get me established as a money-making photographer. That branched out into school work, weddings and seniors. But I also built other connections that have led to more work.

The best way to get started is to become recognized in your community as a person of action, and a person of heart. By this I mean that you are constantly participating in activities and events that help someone, and not asking to get anything or much in return. By giving of your talents, whether as photographer, teacher or worker, you show the community that you exist, you care, and you are in it for more than the money.

As an example, I have been active in Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) for many years. I volunteered to make a calendar for the local chapter for two years, and for several years I donated event portraiture for their annual winter Gala. I also donate a free session for their charity auction (and just about any other fund-raiser that asks). I cannot tell you the amount of spin-off business I have received from this. It started with me wanting to help the foundation raise money, which worked...then it had benefits for my business as people saw my work and my dedication to community service, and hired me.

So my suggestion is to identify several areas where you can contribute to your community and use them as anchors to build relationships, awareness and a portfolio of images. You will help others and help yourself as well.

For some ideas on how to get involved in the community and grow, see my article on 20 Ways to Grow as a Professional Photographer on my business blog.

This winter, I'm also branching out into Church program photography, retirement home holiday portraits, portraits for military families, and portraits for local firefighters. I'm also leading a fund raiser for the local food bank that doesn't have anything to do with photography, but it will be good publicity and it takes advantage of the quiet winter months. This will keep me busy and will provide needed financial support to support those that have trouble keeping food on the table.

So what are your plans for the next 3 months?

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Camera Technique: Check Your Barrel

One of the hardest things for me to master in my shooting is the perfect exposure. I can often see the shot in my head, but I still struggle to consistently capture it in the camera.

I remember reading about a young photographer who was being tutored by an older, more seasoned professional. The older photographer kept telling the beginner, "Check your barrel." By this he meant that before you press the shutter, you check your camera settings to be certain that they are correct for the shooting situation. This was certainly very important in the film days, when you did not have instant feedback, and the cost of missed shots was significant in terms of wasted film and development time. It's equally important today for the professional, as you don't want to waste the clients' time, and you don't want to lose a good image as a result of bad camera settings.

I have taken this to heart, but I still have lapses. I will sometimes miss changing the white balance or camera mode, or keep a high ISO when going from dark to light settings. I'll fire off several shots and then glance at the viewfinder to see that I've forgotten a key setting change or light adjustment. Or worse off, I won't see it until post production and will have either lost a great shot, or set myself up for some heavy editing.

I'm trying to come up with a mantra of some kind, to remind me to check all the possible parameters: Shutter, f-stop, ISO, white balance, exposure comp, flash/lighting, and other stuff. If anyone has a good mnemonic to remind me, I'd love it. Until then, I keep saying to myself, "Check your barrel."

Today, I set out to capture images for holiday cards I'm making. This shot I set up as my wife and daughter were decorating Christmas cookies this morning. I wanted a natural light image with very tight focus, and this shot, taken at f/3.5 and 1/125 under west-facing window light, was one of my favorites. It crisply shows the center star cookie, and places it among many others, to symbolize bounty. The diagonal line keeps the image dynamic.

My wanderings today took me from light to dark indoor settings, and outdoors in very bright light. I had to remind myself to keep "Checking My Barrel", so I would not blow a good shot. I still missed some key changes, and ended up with shots that are not nearly as good as I wanted. But, the more I practice these habits on my personal shooting, the better I will be disciplined on my paid shoots. advice to all of you: Check Your Barrel!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Tools: How Much Camera Do You Need?

It's one of the first questions photographers ask each other: "What do you shoot with?"

I have had many cameras in my life. When I first went professional, the digital SLR was still out of my league. I was shooting with the Minolta Dimage 7i and then the Dimage A2, which had a great zoom and image stabilization in the body...the same tech that Sony acquired from them and now has on their Alpha line of camera bodies.
I took some great images with that Minolta. And I made money. To me that was the definition of Pro. Of course I would have loved a new camera, but I was trying to minimize the debt side of the business equation. I triggered external flashes, and shot great stuff both indoors and out.

Then, a couple of years ago, I could afford that SLR. I chose the Canon 30D, middle range as far as cameras go. I still use it on virtually every shoot. Soon, I'll pick up a 40D as my main body. I checked out the 50D and the increase in resolution is not as good as you might expect from the 40D, and it's 50% more. So I'll work the 40D like a rented mule and wait a couple more years for the 60D or maybe even shift gears to another platform.

Most digital SLRs will take great shots. In fact I think the glass you put in front of it is more important than the body. I have had Tamron 2.8 lenses now for several years and I like the balance of affordability and great low-light capability. Plus they offer a tremendous warranty which I've used already. I shoot a lot at the beach in Erie, and sand in the lens is a problem.
My advice to aspiring pros is to not worry so much about the camera. 8 Megapixels is enough to make 95% of what a new portrait photographer would need to do.

A case in point: On my vacation to Maine this summer, I traveled only with my Pentax waterproof point-and-shoot and a monopod. We hiked Cadillac Mountain and toured a lot of the coast, and I tool dozens of great images. One of my lighthouse shots from that camera was turned into a 30x40 canvas gallery wrap, and it is sharp and wonderful. See the attached photo for the original image, enhanced lightly in PaintShop Pro.

Now, I won't recommend going on professional shoots with only a pocket camera, but consider that you don't need to spend thousands on an expensive camera setup to take good images. Learn your camera body and lenses, and learn good lighting, composition and posing, and you can take great images in any setting.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Background: My Photography Business

Here's a quick background of me and my business:

Age: 46
Location: Erie, PA, USA
Education: BS 1984 Edinboro University of PA. Major: Computer Science. Minors: Math, Physics, Astronomy. High geek rating.
Occupation: I work full time at a Fortune 100 company. I run my photography business outside of my normal working hours.
Years in the Business: Entering my 5th year as a professional.
Business format: Sole proprietorship, part-time, run out of my house.
Web presence: Home Page, Business Blog, Reviews Page, Article Database.
Camera Platform: Canon, currently 30D, adding 40D next year.
Lens Preference: Tamron - good value and great warranty. I go for the f/2.8 lenses.
Lighting: Alien Bees all the way. Several lights, stands, modifiers, wireless triggers and portable power.
Computing: Dell laptop and desktop. Home wireless network. Windows Vista.
Editing: Paint Shop Pro...yes, I'm NOT a Photoshop user. Been with PSP since version 5. More on this later!
Office Software: Open Office! I abandoned Microsoft Office 2 years ago.
Web: Paid site from Network Solutions. Template by winklet web design.
Proofing/Sales: Jalbum platform, using FotoPlayer templates.
Specialties: Dance Studio Phography, High School Senior Photography, Family Portraits, Weddings, Corporate and Nonprofit Events.
Memberships: Professional Photographers of America (PPA), Society of Sports and Event Photographers (SEP), American Child Photographers Charity Guild (ACPCG), Operation: Love Reunited (Military Photos)
What Makes Me Qualified to Blog: I have grown my business from nothing to debt-free and nicely profitable in 5 years. I have a strong customer base and am very active in my community and online. Though I am not the most successful photographer in my community, my business is exceeding my goals and serving the purpose for which I started it.

Let's hear about you! What are your interests and gear? What's your business model or plan?


Format: The New Professional Photographer

I have been collecting my thoughts on how I want to roll out this blog. My goal is to cover a lot of bases on how to start and grow a photography business, and I want to stimulate discussion and feedback as we go along.

I'm going to post in the following categories:

Tools. This will cover camera gear, lighting, computers, software and online resources. I'll describe my journey and thoughts on the things we use to create great images and run a business. I'll also try to review new items to stay current, and describe my wishlists.

Techniques. Here we will discuss camera technique, lighting, editing and workflow. I'll include specific examples to illustrate specific points, and before/after editing cases.

Business. This is the biggest opportunity for photograpers. The vast majority of time spent in a small photography business involves the planning, marketing, advertising and operations aspects of the business. From website development to insurance and taxes, we'll discuss the dirty details of developing business plans and keeping your business healthy.

Learning. There are many opportunities to learn about the art, science and business of photography. We'll discuss ways I have found to learn, and encourage dialog on other ways to learn. If I run this blog properly, perhaps it will become a great learning source for others!

I'll try to post 3-4 times per week, and cycle through these subject topics to keep it interesting.

Early adopters: Here is your opportunity to steer the ship! Let me know your thoughts on what you are most curious about, would like to learn more about, or would really like to discuss. I'll take these topics and work them into early posts.


Monday, December 15, 2008

Dance Photography - My Roots

I have always been interested in Photography. As a kid, I had a number of cameras. I was fortunate enough to receive two nice film SLR cameras about 15 years ago, and that got me back into the art as an adult.

But what got me into the business was Dance. Both of my daughters are dancers. As a "Dance Dad" I proudly took countless photos of them and others at their studios. I honed my "people photography" skills as I went. As they competed more and more, I began informally being the competition team photographer. This grew as I posted thousands of photos on the old "Club Photo" site, and built slide shows for the studio recitals.

From there it eventually grew to me taking the official recital photos. Over the years, I have slowly invested in the gear to allow me to take indoor images with high quality. I'll talk more about my gear later.

After the Dance Studio work established me professionally, I branched out into Seniors, Family and Wedding photography, as well as lots of nonprofit and charity work. I'll always be indebted to Paula Janicki and Judy Rose who trusted me to capture the images of their studio's customers. Without that support I would never have broken into the professional ranks.

Here is a photo of my daughters taken at a recent dance competition. They are very compatible dancers, as you can see by the similarity of their leaps. At most competitions, I struggled getting good indoor shots. Usually, flash photography is prohibited, the room is dark and the dancers are in constant motion That led me to fast lenses (f/2.8) and cameras that have good low-light sensitivity. I usually shoot ISO800-1600 and fix the shutter speed at around 1/100 with wide open f-stop to capture images like this indoors.

So, my trigger was Dance Photography. What's yours? If you're thinking of getting into the business, what niche can you work in to develop your skills and provide good images and services to someone?

The New Professional Photographer

I'm starting this blog because there are a lot of advanced amateurs that are thinking of getting into the business, and they may lack either the direction or confidence to make that next step.

I would like this to be as interactive as possible, so please follow me and offer feedback. I will be the first to admit that I have a lonnnng way to go to be the best photographer and businessman that I can be, but I can offer feedback about my first 5 years in the business, and share some of the struggles I have been addressing.

If you are curious, I have an official website where my catalogs, albums and other information can be found. I also have a blog related to my business here.

This one will be different - it will be oriented to new photographers, whether advanced amateur or young professionals.

When I feature some images, and talk more about the technical, artistic or post-production elements, and leave the shameless promotion to my other blog.

Any ideas for topics, please let me know, and I'll try to address.