Friday, March 27, 2009

Technique: Lighting Quiz

I had some down time at a recent church photo shoot. I decided to experiment with different lighting with a cooperative subject (me). I had my remote trigger and a tripod and my lights and backdrop.

Here's a shot of the lighting setup. The main is to camera right, the fill to left, and the background and hair lights back of the left.

I shot a lot of combinations to see the effect of various settings. I have posted six here. I thought it would be fun to quiz you the reader to see if you can match up a light setup with one of these images.

Here are the six setups. See if you can match the setup number with the image letter. The answer key is below.

Setup 1: Main, BG and Hair on...but no Fill
Setup 2: All lights on, main level very close to fill
Setup 3: Hair and BG on, no fill, Main as center "butterfly"
Setup 4: Only main. No Fill, BG or Hair.
Setup 5: Main and Fill switched in intensity.
Setup 6: All lights on. Main and fill differ by about 2 stops.

Study the above images and try to match the image letter with the setup. See if you can learn to see how a shot was lit by looking at the light levels, shadows and other cues.

Answer key: 1-E, 2-A, 3-B, 4-F, 5-D, 6-C.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Technique: Indoor Dance Studio Photography

In March and April, I spend a lot of time indoors taking dance images. I work at two different studios in different cities, connected by the studio owners being related. I started this activity a few years ago and it has grown to encompass three days at each studio.

The system I use for lighting is very repeatable and provides good results. I shoot with (4) Alien Bees lights. Here is my lighting setup:
- Main light (right of camera): AB800 with 48" brolly box, set at about 1/4 to 1/3 power.
- Fill light (left of camera, up): AB400 with 48" brolly box, set at about 1/8 to 1/4 power.
- Backdrop light (left, back): AB400 with 32" brolly box, set at about 1/4 power.

- Hair light (upper left): AB400 with 20 degree honeycomb grid, set at 1/4 power.

I use custom white balance, set from a white shot taken at the start of the session, and shoot Manual 1/250 sec f/3.5 to f/4.0 at ISO 100. I have Alien Bees remote triggers for two of my lights and the other two fire from slaves. I vary the backdrop each year and often across studios, but keep the same backdrop for the entire session.

Over the years, I have returned to this setup. I get repeatable results: Good front lighting, nearly flat but with some dimension; nice hair and skin highlights off the subject's right shoulder and hair, and a nicely lit background with no shadows. I can modify this setting as the subjects need: For larger groups, I bring both lights closer to front and flatten it out to minimize shadows. I can drop the fill light or take it out entirely to provide higher contrast front lighting, and can move the main light from ground level (for laying-down shots) to high for leaps and tall girls.

In addition, I have quite an arsenal of dance photo props. I bring probably 20-30 kinds of flowers, a white bench, several stools, a pedestal, and lots of little kids items like teddy bears and wagons, as well as hula hoops and fans. I bring a professional steamer to de-wrinkle the backdrop before we begin. I tape the edges of the backdrop and keep the wires out of the path of the kids.

The dance teachers and I tag team with posing and ideas. We try not to pose each student the same as anyone else. We usually shoot three poses per "sitting", with a seated, standing and special pose making up the usual set. Each student "sitting" takes about 5 minutes, and we often have students come for 5 or more sittings each in different costumes. We also do sibling and related groups. I usually shoot both a full body and a close-up (chest/head) of each pose, in a couple of exposures each.

This makes for a very busy weekend, but we often come away with over 100 sittings and many hundreds of good proof images out of perhaps 2000-4000 images per studio. In addition, I offer a special session for the competition teams on a white "high-key" background with special offers for the team members.

Later on, I'll discuss the different aspects of selling event images like this: Whether you pre-sell packages or let the customers pick after the fact; package pricing; proofs sales, specialty items, and special "members-only" promotions.

Also, during the year, I'll often stop in and take candid shots of the kids during class to use in a slide show that they present during the dance recital. It's another way I can add value to the studio's operation, and build recognition of the range of my talents.

From this business, I have gotten school work, senior photos, family portraits and wedding work. It's a great way to interface with a lot of customers in a short period of time. And since I get a signed model release and email release, I am building my customer contact database and my portfolio to display.

Bottom line, dance studio photography is a very good spring activity. If you take your time, partner with your studio owners, pay close attention to every every pose, and offer your customers lots of creative product choices, this activity can be a very lucrative source of income for photographers.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Local Affiliate Marketing: Love Thy Neighbor

Last night I received a phone call from a lady wishing for me to photograph her family at an upcoming anniversary. The strange thing about the call was that it came to my residence, not to my business number. As we talked, the told me that she saw my work in a local Spa, and the owner had given her my business card, but there was no phone number on it. (I have made a practice of putting my website and company name on wallet shots of kids and leaving them as reference cards.) Between the spa owner and the caller, they figured out where I lived and the lady looked me up in the phone book.

The outcome of the call was favorable: She booked me for a session in the summer. But I came away feeling like I had accidentally gotten this business. She had worked way too hard to find me and it was my dumb luck more than my sharp marketing skills that had won me this gig.

To my credit, I had done a few good things along the way. The Spa in question has a large print of mine, of the owner's son, from when I had taken his senior photos. I also am allowed to keep a book there of some of my images, and a stack of business cards. But had made a few mistakes along the way:
  • I didn't know how many cards are left, if any
  • I hadn't stopped in there for close to a year
  • My cards don't have my contact information on them
  • The book features seniors - but not families, pets, weddings, church, sports and the other work that I do
I have since set about fixing this. I ordered "real" business cards last night. I'll be building a better sampler book to showcase my work. And I owe the spa owner both a thank you, and a courtesy call.

My Marketing Plan

I don't advertise in traditional venues. My marketing consists of three main areas:
- Word of mouth
- Search Engine / Web
- Local business affiliations

I try to encourage word of mouth through complimentary promotional wallets, and through delighting the customer so they tell their friends, family and co-workers about me. I work hard to have good web search results and a heavy web presence. But I don't do well at local business affiliations. So I am creating an action plan that will increase my local business-to-business effectiveness. This way all of us local small businesses can support each other.

Improving My Local Affiliate Marketing

Here are some of the key actions for me:
  1. Write down a list of the 20 local businesses that complement my work - florists, hair and makeup, DJ and bands, social halls, tanning businesses, videographers, cake bakers, pet/grooming places and dance studios. Immediately contact those that I personally know and offer to trade references. Also approach those in my neighborhood and introduce myself.
  2. Provide business cards to all customers upon delivery, and to all of my affiliate businesses.
  3. Build an affiliates link on my web site, listing all information to reach my affiliate partners. Include them in my Merchant Circle network. Visit their sites and enter reviews of their businesses where appropriate.
  4. Produce one or two great sample books that showcase my work and style. Provide a copy to all affiliates. Put a business card holder in them and stuff them full of cards.
  5. Make a schedule of business visits - to check up on my books and cards, and to stay in contact with my affiliates.
  6. Find ways to help my affiliates grow their business through things I can do - pro bono photography, drawings for packages, in-store activities and other ideas.
  7. Consider donating framed artwork to businesses for them to display, with your name on or near the product.
  8. Make a list of questions to ask my clients during consults or session planning, which may lead them to my affiliated businesses. Example: At a wedding consult, I ask if they have chosen a DJ or baker. For Seniors, I would ask if they plan to have a makeover before their images, or tanning.

How About Your Affiliate Marketing?

If you haven't started a local affiliate marketing program, maybe it's time for you to begin. Take out a sheet of paper and list your adjacent business types and name specific business for them. Then think of ways that you can help that business, and how they can help you. And make an action love thy neighbor!