Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Business: Growing Debt-Free

I was on a forum today where someone mentioned that in order to get into the wedding photography business, they will need to spend $2,000-3,000. Their reasoning was that they needed cameras, lenses, lighting, backdrops and more to get started. I took some exception to that.

I have been following a debt-free business growth plan for the last four years. I believe that you can grow a solid home-based photography business without incurring any debt, and you can have the gear that you need - but it may take some time.

I started out with a high-end prosumer camera, added lights and other stuff over the years, and ended up with a great gear setup. It took several years, but I am satisfied that my equipment is sufficient to support my business needs.

Here's a rough summary of my growth over 5 years:

Year 1:
Bought Minolta Dimage A2 - advanced prosumer camera. Bought (2) Alien Bees AB400 and umbrellas. Paid for these with profits from dance and one Catholic School graduation.

Year 2:
Made a backdrop stand out of PVC. Rolled my own white muslin backdrop (fabric store), black fabric and a couple other neat fabrics when a store went out of business. Added an AB800 light, heavy duty stand and some light modifiers.

Year 3:
Bought my Canon D30 and a Tamron f/2.8 28-75 lens. Picked up also an inexpensive telephoto (Canon F4.0-5.6). Got a monopod and some good reflectors. Picked up a DRebel from a neighbor who didn't want it - added a flash bracket and a Canon speedlight. Got a Dell laptop. Added three backdrops purchased at the PPA convention. All funded from business income, and still cleared a good profit.

Year 4:
Added a fourth AB400 light, more modifiers, two new f/2.8 lenses, a Dell desktop, my CD painter and some more neat stuff such as backdrops and a new backdrop stand and a lightsphere. I also purchased portable power for my Alien Bees. Profitability continued to increase, and the purchases were funded completely from sales.

Year 5: (this year)
Planning to add another Canon body (40D or 50D), better tripod, a couple more backdrops and some close-up lens attachments.

Each year, I also purchase an external hard drive to back up my photos. I also cashflow insurance, professional fees, memberships and all of the online and software costs needed to keep the business running. I also set up a specific bank account for the business, and do not intermix personal spending with that account. If I want to spend earnings on personal stuff (my right as a sole proprietor), I write checks from that account. That way the business earnings and expenses always flow from that account, and the balance is a pretty good representation of the business' position.

From my history above, you can see a couple things. First, I'm not a gearhound. I try to buy those items that will meet my needs but not cost too much. I then work hard to get the most value from them. Second, I'm patient. I try to see the longer term, and work to add just the right items each year to fill out an area of weakness or position me for growth. For example, in year 4 I added a good f/2.8 zoom when I knew I had a job shooting sports outdoors. I didn't even break even on that job given the lens purchase, but it now is a great tool in my camera bag. Third, I'm cheap. I buy what I need, but I never buy top of the line. When I was a professional musician, I followed the same line. Only when I have totally used up or outgrown an item will I replace it. Remember, it's not the brand of painbrush, it's the artist!

Annually I spend far less than 10% of sales on new equipment. By laying out a multi-year growth plan for cameras, lighting, computing, lenses, accessories and other items, I can gradually build a great stock of photography equipment without going broke in the first couple of years.

If you are just starting out, I recommend that you write up a 5 year plan. Don't be specific about model numbers, but try to list those categories of items and determine when you can afford them without going into debt. One trick I used was to set savings goals for revenue. When I hit a specific goal in the bank account, I allowed myself to order the next item on my growth/wishlist. This keeps your acquisitions in pace with your sales, and still allows you to be profitable, and keep the account healthy for future spending needs.

Don't be impatient.
Have a plan. Buy the right gear for your stage of development. You too can run a profitable, debt-free photography business!

PS - Listening to Dave Ramsey once a week or so helps as well. It keeps your debt-free attitude charged up. If you are new to Dave, pull down an archive (try Fridays for starters) and give it a listen.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Business: Partnering With Nonprofits

There are a great many nonprofit organizations that exist to help people, animals or the environment. Each of these organizations struggles to achieve their objectives. Typically they have two major goals: First, to raise funds so they can implement their strategic objectives, and second, to raise awareness of their organization and causes to the public.

By partnering with nonprofits, you can create a mutually beneficial relationship. You can help them meet one or both goals, and you can generate awareness and potential business for you as well.

Here's a few things that I have done to get involved with local nonprofits. Each of these activities has helped out the agency, strengthened my network of contacts, and generated both recognition and business for me.

Ways to Help Nonprofits

1. Local Calendar. For two years, I took photography of children in our area with Type 1 (Juvenile) Diabetes and built a calendar which was both sold to generate funds, and given away to generate awareness. The calendars were very good communication vehicles for the Foundation. I had a plug on the back of the calendar, and was featured in TV and newspaper spots both in my local area and globally. I also received follow-on business from some of the families of the children.
2. Gala photography. For several years, I captured formal images of people who attended the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) annual gala and sent them complimentary prints on behalf of the foundation. This allowed the Foundation to extend their message of thanks and mission through the delivery of the photographs, and it also put me in touch with well-connected people in my community.
3. Sponsor a Team. For several years, my daughter has had a walk team for JDRF. I cover most or all of the cost of the team T-shirts and I put my business logo on the back. Each year, I end up with dozens of walking billboards, worn by and seen by potential photography customers all around our area.
4. Agency Graduation Ceremony. I worked with a local drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility to capture images of their client graduation ceremony. This was a very moving event. I produced images for the clients and the agency, whose board of directors are also well known community leaders. This led to #4.
5. Benefit Race Photos. I photographed pre-race, race course, finish line and awards for a local race that benefited the agency in #3 above. I posted the images for sale on my gallery and shared the revenues with the agency. The images were also released to the nonprofit for them ot use in event marketing and promotion. This also led to getting more sports work for another sporting event, which will result in additional visibility and revenue.
6. Silent Auctions. Whenever anyone approaches me to support a nonprofit event with a donation, I always provide a certificate for a session and some number of prints. I accompany the certificate with a framed print to show my work. These sessions almost always result in more business from the winners, great event revenue for the nonprofit, and great visibility of my business to the supporting community.
7. Hold Third Party Benefit Events. My wife and I are holding a midwinter food party called "Bean Day" to raise funds for the Second Harvest Food Bank. This fun event will generate lots of publicity for the agency. I'm not looking to push my business here...but any increase in community exposure that we receive from this event may help promote my business. I'm finding some low-key ways to feature my photography to help the event, such as creative images for the web site. We expect to raise at least $1000 for this nonprofit.

Serve Their Needs

In any nonprofit support event, serve their needs first. Achieve their goals of support, fund raising and message communication, and your benefits will naturally follow. If you have opportunities to get your brand out there, by all means do so, but not at the expense of the nonprofit and their mission.

I encourage all photographers to identify nonprofits that they would be proud to partner with, and approach them with opportunities to help further their goals. Your efforts will be appreciated, and your business will benefit from the exposure and additional business.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Camera Technique: Choosing Your Settings

I often get feedback from new photographers that they don't know how to set their camera for a particular situation. Armed with just a camera and no lights or modifiers, you have basically these factors to choose from:

The focal length of lens to use
The f-stop of the lens
The shutter speed of the camera
The ISO sensitivity of the sensor
The position and stability of the camera
The white balance setting of the camera
The focusing distance, or focus point(s) of the lens
All point-and-shoots and most SLRs have shooting modes that attempt to preset the camera to optimize some of these settings to a particular subject type or situation. While these work most of the time, you will want to have more control over your image capture as you grow as a photographer. The key is to determine which of these three factors is the "primary" quality you want to capture:

  • Image Quality
  • Depth of Focus
  • Time of Exposure

In all but a few settings, you will have to trade off one or two of these in order to optimize your primary factor. Let's describe some situations and discuss what the best settings might be.

Situation 1 - Dark Auditorium, Dance Performance

Primary concern: Stopping the motion of the dancer, to reduce motion blur. To achieve this, I would set my camera at the smallest f-stop (widest opening) and highest sensitivity required to allow me to shoot at 1/100 second. Since I shoot with f/2.8 lenses, I can often do this at ISO640-1000. So I would set my camera at shutter priority, 1/100, set exposure at f/2.8 and vary my ISO until I got a good exposure. Then I would switch to Manual and preserve those settings.

Situation 2 - Outdoor Soccer Game, High Noon

Primary Concern: Stopping the motion of the players. There's enough light to use a low ISO to get low noise, and you have the option of a wide f-stop to narrow the depth of focus to give you a nice blurry background. But you may actually have too much light, meaning that if you set ISO100 and 1/100 second, you overexpose at f/2.8 or f/4.0. So you may actually have to choose a higher shutter speed to let you keep that low f-stop.

Situation 3 - Inside a dim church, no flash allowed, wedding ceremony

Primary concern: Good quality exposure. These people aren't moving very fast, unless the groom is running for the exit! So you can afford to set a lower ISO, open up the f-stop and shoot at maybe 1/25 to 1/60. At this speed, you will have to stabilize your camera or your hand movement may blur the image.

Situation 4 - Macro shot of flowers

Primary concern - controlling depth of focus. Unless it's windy, you have little risk of subject movement. I assume you are shooting for quality, so low ISO is a given. So choose your f-stop in aperture priority mode after first setting your ISO at 100 or so, the let the camera tell you the recommended speed. Switch to manual, copy those settings, and adjust as you need.

Situation 5 - Sunset at the beach, backlit silhouettes

Primary concern - properly exposing the sky for color. Often your camera will see the subjects in the center and it will try to expose for them, blowing the sunset way out. The trick here is to go to aperture priority and expose for the sky, take a test shot and note the exposure. Switch to Manual and recompose and shoot the subject and they will be properly dark compared to the sky.


Notice I didn't talk lenses or white balance here. You'll have to choose the right lens for impact, and you should always test for white balance. I'll post a quick tutorial on this later. Also, I didn't talk about exposure compensation, which can be used to fine tune exposure settings when not in manual mode. We'll also talk more about that later.

So, the next time you go to shoot, ask yourself this question before you press the shutter:

What factor is most important in this image - Quality, Focus Depth or Shutter Speed? What camera settings will maximize this factor?

Once you start think about these things BEFORE you raise the camera to your eye, you will start to control that machine and your images will improve!

And remember... check your barrel! This means whenever anything changes in your environment - lighting level, angle, setting, distance, indoors to out, you name it - check your settings so you don't blow the next shot!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Business: Ideas for New Markets

Here is a list I compiled after reading a great 1991 book entitled "How You Can Make $25,000 A Year With Your Camera" by Larry Cribb. Written before the digital age, but the ideas are still good! Amazon and Alibris have lots of copies of this book available.

27 Ideas To Generate Income From Photography

1. Portrait parties - offer to parents with small kids. Hosts get freebies and/or piece of subsequent bookings.
2. Drawing for free senior session at tanning, hair and clothing stores
3. Offer to shoot and write articles for the local weekly paper (small-time weekly)
4. Mine the engagement section of the paper for wedding leads
5. Identify business types that can use photography (restaurants, salons, etc.) target them from yellow pages. Shoot a spec shot and make a sample brochure to show them what you can do
6. Make a brochure for summer beach photos and leave at hotels, restaurants, rest stops, souvenir places
7. Make decorative photography samples and show to doctor/dentist offices and hotels, places that decorate
8. Do a spec aerial shoot and send proofs to local businesses
9. Shoot a couple of nice for-sale homes in your neighborhood and sell yourself to local realtors
10. Contact local law and insurance businesses to offer up insurance photography services
11. Contact the local garden club, shoot their show or event, get additional business
12. Run a winter special on pet photography (3rd highest photo buy!)
13. Make postcards out of good local scenic shots and sell them to local businesses for tourism or unique advertising
14. Make a slide show of local businesses so they can use them on DVDs at fairs, festivals, expos.
15. Approach nonprofits, clubs or small businesses to build how-to slideshows from their activities
16. Contact the local marinas, offer to do "boat day" photographs, small prints or build collage for the club, sell prints to owners
17. Fishing and hunting clubs - members, prizes, day-of-tournament photos, website images
18. Contact convention center/bureau and offer services...even if they have a staff/contract
19. Offer photo scanning and to victims of flood/fire/disasters
20. Household insurance documentation - photos of valuables, slide show or CD, offsite storage
21. Flying clubs - fly-in event support
22. Same for bike clubs, hot rod clubs.
23. Dermatologists - before and after photos for marketing
24. Hair and makeup specialists and orthodontists, same thing
25. Golf Courses - grounds portraits (sell to members), tournament, member and member/family portraits
26. Rent a pony at some community event and sell pictures of kids...the grandparents will go nuts
27. Ski club - grounds photos, marketing images, shoot and sell on spec for action skiing shots

Have more ideas? Reply with them and we'll build a great list of resources!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Business: Setting Good Personal and Business Goals

Each year as I set up my accounting for the new sales year, I also set some goals. Usually they are very specific to my business activities and growth plans. I come away feeling good that I have pointed my business in the right direction, but I feel I'm missing something...the goals for my personal life.

Yesterday as I was listening to Dave Ramsey on his podcast, he described the seven types of goals and how to set goals that will stick. Here's my best restatement of this great piece he did, with a spin on how they apply to the business of professional photography.

The Seven Types of Goals

1. Career - where do you want to be in the future? For business owners, this can also include growth plans, product line, education/skills and equipment.
2. Financial - Do you want to reduce or eliminate debt? Establish or reinvigorate a retirement plan? The overall economic situation is forcing many people to revisit their financial habits and condition, and develop ways to reduce debt and increase their financial security.
3. Spiritual - Do you want to change your spiritual relationship? Read the bible more? Explore other dimensions of spirituality?
4. Physical - The most common goal is to lose weight and/or get in shape. Others will set goals to be able to run a 5k, half-marathon or more.
5. Intellectual - It is said that the only things that will change your position in life 10 years from now are the people you meet and the books that you read. Whether you are looking for formal education or to increase your knowledge of money, technology or other areas, setting intellectual goals is a good way to move you into new experiences and outlooks.
6. Family - Do you want to spend more time with your kids? Accomplish projects around the house? Build that scrapbook? Write a will?
7. Social - Do you want to get better at talking to people, speaking in public and interacting with customers?
Writing a Good Goal

Regardless of which goal category you are writing in, a good goal has these 5 characteristics:
A. It must be yours - not a goal that someone else has suggested for you.
B. It must be specific - name the specific activity, behavior or thing you will accomplish.
C. It must be measurable - if your goal is to lose weight, name the amount.
D. It must have a deadline - name it to end by a certain date.
E. It must be written -a goal put on paper is much more likely to be successful.


Bad Goal: Telling everyone that you will work out more and lose weight, because the Mrs said you were a little chunky.
Good Goal: Writing down on a sheet of paper: I will attend the gym 3 times each week for at least 1 hour. I will track it on a sheet. I will combine exercise with good nutrition and attempt to lose one pound per week with a goal of losing 40 pounds by Thanksgiving 2009.

Bad Goal: I will do better with my finances.
Good Goal: I will establish a $1000 emergency fund by March 1st and begin a written budget by February first, with the goal of eliminating 50% of my credit card debt by December 1st, 2009.

Bad Goal: I will work harder at my photography business/hobby.
Good Goal: I will join one photography association and attend one convention in 2009. I will identify three areas where I can grow my business or exposure and conduct at least one event in those areas by December 1, 2009. I will define a debt-free plan to grow my business assets by February 1.

Once I heard that bit from Dave, I realized that I have to take a fresh look at my Goals for 2009. Off I go to do some planning!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Tools: Choosing a Print Fulfillment Lab

Most new photographers have little experience in print fulfillment. Sure, we have all printed our images on our home printer, or taken them down to the local discount store for prints. Some of us as leveraged consumer labs like MPix, Shutterfly, Winkflash or Flickr. While these labs can produce good quality prints at good prices, they are often not set up to produce consistent output with the kind of interfaces that a photography business needs to remain efficient. For example, the ability to use online order management tools like ROES (Remore Order Entry System) and FTP (File transfer Protocol) is often a key requirement of a photographer doing regular print fulfillment business.

When I got into the professional business, I spent some time evaluating print labs, and learning how to interface to the labs. I found that most labs will work with new photographers on account setup, trial prints and developing the interface between photographer and lab. During that journey, I identified several areas that you may want to consider as you search for the print labs that will become your business partners.

Print Fulfillment Lab Evaluation Criteria

Often the first thing you look for. Look at unit costs. If you plan to do lots of printed proofing, the 4x5 or 4x6 bulk proof cost may be important to you. If your major fulfillment will be 5x7 or 8x10, look for good unit prices on them. If you will be sending small orders in (less than about 20 prints per order), see if they have minimum order amounts. Also figure in shipping if it's separate.

I like to identify a couple "typical" order scenarios and price them at different labs, such as:

Proofing: 150 4x6 proofs, no color correction
Small Order: 5 wallet sheets, 5 8x10s and 10 5x7's, no color correction
Large Order: 20 wallet sheets, 30 8x10s, 5 11x14 and 60 5x7's, no color correction

Figure out how much each lab would charge for your typical orders, including shipping.

This is a tough one to evaluate objectively. First, you MUST be color correcting your monitor with profiling tools! I suggest choosing three or four represenatative images from your portfolio and having them sample printed at each lab. Each image should be 300dpi at the print resolution - or in pixel terms for an 8x10, 2400x3000 pixels. Choose at least one color headshot if you do people photographs, at least one black and white (color space converted, not B&W space), and some with bright primary colors, particularly red and yellow. Each of the labs' print devices will have a different color profile, and the prints will come out different. Without getting into lab printer profiling, you want to understand how their equipment prints your images.

If your lab offers color correction as part of fulfillment and you want to use it, request some of the test images to be color corrected and some not, to establish some measurement of the impact.

How quick will the lab turn around your standard print products? How about more sophisticated print items like cutting, backing, canvas, gallery wrap, press printed items, books and specialty items? Most labs will quote standard turnaround times for various print types. When you do your sample runs, make sure you note their turnaround time.

Many labs will have a cutoff time for next-day shipping. I know at least one large lab that staffs a third shift on Sunday night to catch all of the weekend photography uploads and ship them on Monday. This is a huge benefit for those that like to provide quick turnaround to their clients.

I group tools and responsiveness under Service. How easy is it for me to order what I need, track my orders, know when they shipped, and contact someone if I have problems?

Upload mechanisms - a minimum requirement for me is a good ROES system, where I can drag and drop images and send the order to them on the web. If the ROES system has lots of options for titling, multi-image collages and such, that's a plus.

Responsiveness - If I have a problem, I like to talk to a warm body. I run my business after normal work hours, so having someone answer the phone after 5PM EST is great for me. Getting an email or phone response by mid-day the following day is an absolute requirement.

Extra mile - Some labs excel at packaging, follow through and proactive contact. When I switched my winter high-volume work from one lab to another, I received a call from the old guys and we had a good discussion on why I switched. Based on that feedback, I went back to them for some of my other business. That same lab tosses a lollipop in the box on occasion. A nice treat!

Packaging - Some labs have impeccable packaging, where the product is always preserved. They include 2-day shipping in the product cost. Others put the product in an envelope and hope it doesn't get crushed or bent along the way. Belive me that there is nothing more frustrating than opening an envelope to see bent or creased prints!

Upload/workflow capability - I already mentioned ROES as a minimum. If the lab has special software for book design and other special items, that's even better. Online order review and tracking and shipment tracking is great.

Drop Ship - The ability for the lab to drop ship orders to customers in unmarked packaging may be a need for you. Check them out with a sample order to your mother!

Product Capability
Newer photographers may not know the whole realm of products offered beyond the traditional glossy or lustre print. There are metallic prints, special papers, stickers, tiles, canvas, press products and a huge range of photo products.

Bound proof books - available in many sizes from 4x6 to 11x14 and up, these books are great ways to show session proofs to customers, should you choose to do that. Many customers will also buy these if they look good enough!

Canvas products - gallery wrap canvas, where the image wraps around the inner frame, is very popular now and is a great upsell.

Press printed products - produced on printing presses, the quality of production is often very high, and the labs offer books, posters, brochures, bookmarks, greeting cards and more.

Novelty items - Stickers, tags, dry erase boards, mugs, coasters, cutouts, puzzles, clothing and many more items are offered. You may choose to do your main print fulfillment at one lab and doing your specialty items at another lab.

What Labs do I Use? (today...)

These are my personal choices and evaluations. Please make your own decisions, your mileage will vary from mine!
Richmond Camera ( my choice for high volume, gallery wrap and specialty items. Pros:cost, capability. Con:service (still hasn't changed shipping, no wallet die-cuts by default)
White House Custom Color ( - Pros: quality, service. Con-price, capability (novelty items)
McKenna Pro - Pro-capability (Dry erase, novelty items, press-posters, ROES capability). Neutral-cost

Do your own homework. Evaluate all of the aspects of their offerings: Cost, Quality, Delivery, Capability, Service. I will be evaluating other labs later in this blog. Your war stories and input is appreciated!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Business - Building Your Web Presence, Part 3

This is Part 3 of 3 in a mini-series on Building Your Web Presence as a Photography Business.

Part 1: Building your Web Site
Part 2: Driving Eyeballs to your Web Site
Part 3: Providing Commerce on your Web Site

In Part 1, we discussed how to build a web site and fill it with content important to photography customers and potential customers. Then, in Part 2, we learned about ways to drive "eyeballs" to your web site through search engine optimization and other web resources.

In this article, we'll discuss how to sell your products on or through your website.

There are two main ways to sell products: (1) Through links to third party selling engines, or (2) Through a localized gallery/sales tool.

Third Party Selling Engines

There are many sites that will host your images in protected galleries so that your customers can browse, order and pay for them. Some of them will also print and ship the images if you choose. Years ago I used for this purpose. Their model did not cost me until someone ordered photos. Then I moved to Their event-based hosting model charged me by the gallery and image count, but I don't believe they actually collected money -they simply sent the order to me via email. I know that will also do this. Every one of these sites has some revenue model - subscription, per-gallery or commission on sales, or something related to these. As your customers use the site, they make some money off of the act of shopping or buying.

Pros - you can get up to speed quickly and you have a professional looking interface.
Cons - it will cost you to do this, and the images and website are usually off your main domain.

Localized Gallery/Sales Tool

There are a number of packages you can purchase or acquire that will allow you to host your galleries on your own website and provide secure shopping and even backend fulfillment. A quick web search on "photo shopping cart" shows ($279) and ($115) to name just a couple. There are many more out there. Most of these have you upload the images to your website and set parameters to indicate how the images are to be shown and sold.

Pros: The site is on your domain and you can customize to your experience.
Cons: Still costs money and you have to learn how to customize it.

Jalbum and Fotoplayer

I forget how I stumbled on this, but there is a great flash-based gallery display engine called Jalbum. It is free to use, and the PC client lets you import images and define the gallery experience. But it does not have shopping cart, security and other features. The great thing about Jalbum is that it allows 'skins' to be used over it. The skin called FotoPlayer, written by Dhinakaran Annamalai (Dhina), is a highly customizable interface for photo galleries. The features are numerous, including: security (userid/password, optional), shopping cart, image download (free or paid), usage tracking, discounts, coupons, customized shipping, eCard, watermarks, image ranking, full screen, customizable MP3 soundtracks, slide shows, Paypal and credit card gateway interfaces, and lots more. The license to use the pro version of FotoPlayer is $89. Their support forum is great and I have not had problems last very long without getting resolved. I host over 30 albums with an average of 80 images each. Your web server needs to support 'php' to handle this.

Pros: Great price, very customizable, great interfaces to Paypal and other selling methods.
Cons: I had a bit of a time getting this one installed and running, but then it's a great tool!
Click here to see a slide show that is not protected, and check out some features.


To show and sell images online, you can either lease the space and service from a third party, or host it yourself with a variety of products. Your expected sales customers and patterns and your technical skills may dictate your path here. Don't be afraid to try out an "easy one" and then move on to another product at a later time.

Thus endeth the 3-part series on Building Your Web Presence. I hope this gave you some ideas!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Business - Building Your Web Presence, Part 2

This is Part 2 of 3 in a mini-series on Building Your Web Presence as a Photography Business.

Part 1: Building your Web Site
Part 2: Driving Eyeballs to your Web Site
Part 3: Providing Commerce on your Web Site

In Part 1, we discussed the elements and steps to create a web site. So let's assume you have built this site, bought your domain name and you are ready for people to see it. How do you bring visitors?

There are two keys: (1) Getting good search results, and (2) Creating lots of pointers that people can locate and then navigate to your site.

Getting Good Search Results

There is an entire industry built around Search Engine Optimization (SEO). It's the art and science of getting search engines to home in on your site(s) when the user enters keywords in web search engines like Google. One of the main ways to do this is through placement of keywords on your main page(s). For example, my keywords are:
Senior,Photography,Erie,Pennsylvania,PA,Photo,Family,Wedding,Engagement,Dance,John,Huegel,Senior Photographer Erie, Erie Family Portraits, Erie Wedding Portraits, Dance Studio Photography, Edinboro, Meadville, Chautauqua, Jamestown, Warren, Party Planning Services Erie
These are made active using the following line in your main file (index.html):

META NAME="keywords" CONTENT="Senior,Photography...all the rest of the stuff above..."

Search engines like Google chew on these keywords and use other tricks to place your site(s) in the search results. For example, the higher count of other sites pointing to your site, the higher score you may receive. You also want your DESCRIPTION and TITLE set to have the right keywords.

You may want to spend some time reading about search engine optimization. I have done all my own optimization, and it has worked for me. I am outranking most of the local photographers, some of whom are 10x my business size.

Creating Lots of Pointers

Your main web page should not be your only web presence. There are several other places where your work and your presence should be made known:

1. Merchant sites. These are free or paid listing sites that you can enter your business information, and they provide a listing or page for you. Most of them let you link back to your home page. Good examples that I use are Merchant Circle, and Insider Pages. I particularly like Insider Pages, where I have a number of my customer reviews available for people to see. Each of these sites will be both a standalone billboard for your business, and a link that points back to your home page.

2. Blogs. You must have at least one blog! It's a great way to be informal, show the recreational side of yourself and your business, and basically let your customers see you from a different angle. And here's a tip: Make your blog titles relevant to your search keywords and they will also rank on Search Engines. For example, highlight a wedding photo in your blog and title the entry "Louisville Kentucky Wedding Photography: Ella and Jack". Then when someone searches the web for "Wedding Photography Louisville", your blog entry will hit, and they can use that to see a wedding shot, and then navigate from your blog to your homepage.

3. Other writing, publications or videos. I made it a point to start writing ezine articles to polish my writing skills and increase the level of recognition of me as an "expert". To date I have 30+ articles posted on Each one of them has a link to my homepage. Some of the people that read the articles will navigate to my pages and then contact me. Other people pick up the ezine feed and "syndicate" my article, and it shows up all over the place, but they all point back to me. You can do the same thing with videos, ebooks or editorial stuff.

4. Press releases. We'll talk more about press releases in a separate blog entry, but once you have written them, your business name and web page become permanent fixtures on the web, and the press release continually reminds people that you are active in your community.

To grow your web presence, one GREAT resource is The Publicity Hound. Joan Stewart really knows how to generate publicity, both on the web and off. Sign up for her newsletter and she will send you 90 days worth of great marketing and exposure ideas.


You need to be active on merchant and review sites. You absolutely need to blog. You should consider writing or other ways to generate other links. And every one of those should have your business name and website URL.

Don't believe me? Google "Senior Photography Erie" and see where I place. Go through the top 30 listings...On the day I posted this, I had 7 of the top 30 listings, including #1,#2, #3 and top placement on the map! Google "John Huegel Photography" and you'll see literally dozens of my links, each which provides evidence that I'm alive, active and doing things that customers will want to see, and which drive eyeballs to my web site.

Next up:
Providing Commerce on your Web Site

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Business - Building Your Web Presence, Part 1

This is Part 1 of 3 in a mini-series on Building Your Web Presence as a Photography Business.

Part 1: Building your Web Site
Part 2: Driving Eyeballs to your Web Site
Part 3: Providing Commerce on your Web Site

Lately, I have been spending time on the three blogs that I run. I try to keep them fresh, as they address different audiences and I want to keep them interested and grow the readership.
Blogs are very "now", but you still need a homepage, a place where you can anchor your business messages and show off your best work. And, you will need other web presences to drive eyeballs to your webs and blogs, but we'll get into that later.

I view blogs, consumer listings, reviews, videos, articles and other material as necessary support structures to your main data structure, your home page. Without the home page, there's no "place to go" for your customers to always land - that familiar place they can bookmark and associate with you and your photography business.

How Do You Build a Website?

Let's break it down into a few manageable chunks:

1. Domain Name. It should reflect you and your business name as much as possible, but not be too long or hard to spell. It should also be unique. In my case, John Huegel Photography was available and I could have used that, but I thought it was too long. I chose '', which has ended up to be a recognizable URL for many. You can search for available domain names at a variety of locations, Network Solutions being one of them. Incidentally, the 'music' part is because I also offer custom music mixes and am a professional musician. Plus it sounds artsy. Note that you may need to re-purchase your domain name(s) on a regular basis. If you don't they expire, your site gets orphaned, and someone else can buy your domain name!

2. Hosting capability. You will want your site to have good uptime, good response time, good feature capability and good capacity and bandwidth. There are a ton of hosting providers out there. Being a conservative type, I went with one of the old guards, Network Solutions. They support the php backend that I need to run my photo album and shopping cart application, and their customer support is top notch. They are not the lowest cost provider though; I pay more than $100/yr for their services. For less expensive providers, Here is a list of ten top hosting providers. Your provider will register your domain name(s) and provide a place for your code to live. Many will also provide templates for you to use. Do not use a free hosting site that pays for itself with banner ads. It will cheapen your image.

3. Content management. I use a flash-based template with an HTML front-end, meaning that I can protect my images (to some degree), and also do a minimum of customization and tracking. I bought my photography template from Winklet Web Design, as I liked their balance of appearance, features, simplicity and cost. I did not want to spend a lot of time coding. Their templates are try-before-buy, and they are great for photographers who want to get a portfolio listed quickly. They do not support shopping carts and gallery security, but I did not want them to do that. Other content managers double up in other areas such as hosting or shopping cart or fulfillment. You need to decide how much of the rest of the web site and business functions you want your content manager to own or provide.

4. Content. You'll have to provide this. At a minimum, you want to show your work in the form of slide shows, galleries or at least a few of your best images. You'll also want to display information about your business, such as your background, your approaches, and maybe some references, links or price lists. And most important, you need to make it very clear for people to reach you, including telephone, address and an email link or contact form. If you want customer photo galleries, you'll at least want to provide links to them from your site, or build them into your site somehow. For a few years I used EventPix and PhotoReflect for hosting of the web shopping functions, and I recently brought that into my own control. I'll describe that in Part 3. And when you write your text content, please make sure your grammar, spelling and punctuation are korrekt! (yes, deliberate)

5. Upload method. Usually you build your content on your computer and then send it up to the server using FTP - the File Transfer Protocol that predated the web's HTTP. There are many FTP programs that you can download for low or no cost. And, some web hosting sites offer their own upload methods.

So, you have a web name, a place to put it, an engine to show it, stuff to go inside it, and a way to get it there. It's time to build!

The first time, it took me several hours to load and tweak my template-based website. But then it looked slick and took only basic maintenance to keep it current. Once your site is up and running, make sure the website name goes on EVERYTHING you email, post, give away or spray paint on walls. The generations that are buying stuff and making selection decisions live on the internet. That website will be your entryway to online commerce.

Now that you have built a website, let's try to get it listed in the right web searches, and get lots of pointers pointing back to it!

Up next: Part 2: Driving Eyeballs to your Web Site

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Learning: Developing your knowledge and skills as a photographer and businessperson

One of my goals is to always be reading, learning, studying and increasing my network of resources and contacts. I believe that when a person stops learning, they cannot keep up with the state of the industry, and they cannot make themselves and their business better.

I spend a lot of time online and reading, and I have a nice pile of books and saved resources to dig into when I have some time. This post will highlight some of the most effective resources I have used in 2008 and earlier to grow my skills and knowledge as a photographer and as a businessman.

Web: is a wonderful site for photographers. Their purpose is to teach and explore lighting, but the conversational nature of their podcast is the real gem. They interview many professional photographers, and you get to hear them discuss how they got into the business and what they are doing and how they do it. This is a must-listen Podcast. Throw it on a CD or on your MP3 Player.
Digital Photo Review is a good site for reviewing cameras and participating in equipment specific forums. I always go there when a new camera comes out.
Digital Wedding Forum is a great resource for new and experienced photographers. The scope goes beyond wedding photography to cover portrait photography as well. They have two levels of membership: DWF Start for beginners, with limited but very useful forum access, and DWF Pro for those who want access to everthing. This one costs about $130 per year for the pro access, but the DWF start is free if you qualify. Highly recommended.
Paperback Swap is a great website for getting books for free. You list books you own that you are willing to swap, and as people request them, you send to them, paying outgoing postage. For every book you send, you get a credit for books to send to you. I have received many great business, photography and fiction books for basically the cost of postage. I have a wish list as well.
Alibris is a good website for ordering books that you want. Most of them are used, but for reading, who really needs a new book? They source their books from many locations. is a interactive social network site for entepreneurs and those wanting to make a change. Sponsored by Dan Miller, author of "48 days to the work you love" and a podcase along the same lines, there are lots of like-minded folks there who support each other.
Dave Ramsey is the foremost expert and business owner in the area of debt free living. His podcasts from his radio shows are excellent and provide inspiration and great guidance in becoming and living debt free.

Professional Organizations
Professional Photographers of America (PPA) - this is a great resource for photographers and aspiring pros. They have an aspiring professional membership discount of 50% for the first two years to let you get your business moving without paying a lot of fees. They offer as part of membership great errors and omissions insurance and access to legal resources to protect your business. Their "Imaging USA" events are not to be missed!
Society of Sport and Event Photographers (SEP) is a peer organization to PPA. The cost is lower but they do not offer the insurance of PPA. I belong to both. SEP is oriented more toward the higher volume event or sports/action photographer. Membership includes subscription to "Action News", their feature magazine.

I read Rangefinder and Professional Photographer, both provided at no cost for being a PPA member. I do not read any other magazines at this time. These are both oriented to professionals, and highlight great photographers, business and technical skills and resources, and they are also a great source for information on new equipment and businesses to utilize.

The e-Myth Revisited by Michael E Gerber is a good primer on why small businesses fail and what you can do to set up your business for success.
Guerilla Marketing series is a set of books oriented around low-cost and effective marketing for the small business owner. Written by Jay Levinson, the newest version includes how to leverage the internet for effective marketing and promotion.
The Total Money Makeover is Dave Ramsey's current bestseller on debt reduction and debt free living. I highly recommend it.
The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas Stanley and William Danko is a good book studying the characteristics of millionaires in America. A bit academic, it does a good job highlighting the common traits of those with wealth, and the conclusions will both suprise and motivate you.
Photography by Barbara London is to many the definitive reference work on the body of photographic knowledge. Recommended as a reference in preparing for the Certified Photography Professional exam offered by PPA, this book is also used in college classes. I recommend searching for a used but relatively current edition on Alibris, and reading it cover to cover a couple of times.

In a later post, I'll highlight the top 10 books on my to-read list.