Archive for December, 2007

Blog post titles don’t allow formatting. Otherwise, that would read “Weddings: You Need a Game Plan!” It’s that important. It will absolutely save your butt. A wedding game plan is a collaboration between you, the bride, and the wedding planner (if she has one). You all sit down together, and talk about the big day, from start to finish, and cover everything. Get as much detail as you can.

Start with contact info. You need cell phone numbers for as many of the following as possible: Bride, groom, Planner, Bride’s parents, Groom’s parents, best man, and the maid of honor. Redundancy is key, because sometimes people don’t answer their phone on their wedding days. Imagine that…

Get locations. Exact addresses are important. Check them out on google beforehand anyway, just in case. Know the lay of the land beforehand and you can’t get lost Where will the bride be before the wedding? The groom? Where is the wedding? Where is the reception? Where is the parking? Where is the bathroom? (I kid, but it’s good to know, anyway)

Who is coming? How many people are coming? Which guests are important and will be in the portraits?

Talk portraits. Think of an estimate for how long portraits will take you, multiply it by 1.5, and tell them that, instead (Always better to end early than run long!). People often vastly underestimate the amount of time portraits take. Make sure you give yourself enough time to do the job right (I will write a blog post about running a wedding portrait session).

Reception rituals! Get a detailed breakdown of the reception, and what things will be happening and when. Will there be a band or a dj? Do they want photos of either? How, when and where will the bride and groom be arriving?

Are there restrictions? Can you use flashes in the ceremony location? What about monolights? Same for reception location? What areas are off limits all together?

Establish the timeline. You should put together a timeline for the whole day. When does the bride start to get ready? The groom? Will they be getting ready in the same place or different locations? When do they leave, and what time do they arrive at the ceremony location? When does the ceremony start? When does it end? When do pictures take place? For how long?

Plan B. This one is all on you, guys. Like an extension of the wedding emergency kit, having some good Plan B’s will save the day. You should have the number for a tux rental place with whom you have a good relationship. Same for hair stylist, dog sitter, mechanic, florist, seamstress, etc. Anything can happen on a wedding day. You won’t be prepared for everything, but sometimes you can whip out your phone, say “I got this.” and save the day.

That should about cover things. You don’t need to run through these as a big list of questions. Start a conversation about the wedding day, and get the information you need as you discuss, back and forth, the important details of the day. You will always be surprised at what new information can pop up in these discussions, which is why it’s absolutely essential that you have them.

Here’s a great video I found on The Runway Scoop of a Louis Vuitton photo shoot. That’s right: I read fashion blogs. Don’t you? Because the people you send promo cards probably do…

Anyway, here‘s the video, along with some things I noticed, and what we can learn. The video opens in a new window, so you can watch and read along.

00:29 – Photographer is using a Hasselblad Digital Body, with an on camera flash, on a bracket, with a diffuser… thing. Looks like it’s hooked up to a Quantum power supply.

01:22 – Interview with Mert + Marcus. They are keeping their minds on the concepts, and on what clients want. They never talk about lighting. They never talk about gear. Just the stuff that the client thinks about.

01:36 – Wide shot of the studio. It’s a bit hard to see the gear, but here’s a go at it: I see a big white seamless backdrop lit by a softbox, maybe 3ft wide, high and camera left. There’s a beauty dish camera left with a diffusion screen around it. For fill, there is a large white reflector, camera right.

01:45Pocket Wizards!

01:51 – Look at all those people! Shooting at this level is a big production. So make sure that the shoots you’re doing now let you flex your managerial skills. Hire your friends on as assistants. Teach them how to work with your equipment. Let them work out the details, so you can concentrate on your client’s vision. Also note the observation area, camera right. I have a blog post cooking on how to set one of these up for your photo shoots.

01:54 – GREAT view of the whole studio. About 20 feet wide room, the shot takes up the whole back wall. Two huge softboxes clamshell the scene. They are using sandbags to stabilize them (so should you. another blog post! aaa!). I think there is another softbox hanging over the car, pointing downwards, probably on a boom arm.

02:40 – Here you can see him shooting with the tether on, so clients can see the shots live, on a big, calibrated screen.

03:05 – That hair stylist is on the ball! These shoots are big productions with lots of key players who are working the whole time, just like you.

So, there you go. Harvest your friends for assistants, start putting together large scale shoots, get the management experience, and get the shots that will get you clients.

New photographers often times don’t have (or don’t think they have) the right equipment or the best equipment for the jobs they are bidding. You can easily psyche yourself out of trying for jobs because you are apprehensive about your gear’s ability to deliver. Better to take small jobs, build up your kit, and work your way to the top, right? I don’t think so, and you shouldn’t, either. Letting your equipment dictate your sales is a great way to not get jobs. Besides, just because you don’t own the best equipment doesn’t mean you can’t use the best equipment. You just plain don’t have to break the bank to have the best cameras and lenses at your disposal, folks. Here’s how:

Rent it.

If you live in a decent-sized city, you probably have someone in town that rents photo equipment. I’m sure that prices vary from area to area, so you will have to do your own research, there. Here is the pricing for the rental firm I use here in Atlanta. Basically, you have to write a check or use a credit card for the actual cost of the item. That’s a big check to write, and you’d better be good for it if the equipment breaks. If you’re insured, you can also put rental equipment on your current equipment insurance. That is a very, very good idea. You can even show a certificate of insurance for the equipment being rented (naming the renter as a beneficiary). (As a side note, Certificates of Insurance are worthy of a blog post all by themselves) in lieu of the big deposit. Equipment Insurance is a very good idea.

It’s far better to set up an arrangement with a renter well before you need it, because some have an approval process that can take some time. That could dash your hopes for a pick-up on the way to a shoot, so get a relationship set up ahead of time. There’s nothing wrong with a test drive or two, either! You can get a feel for the renter’s equipment quality (rental equipment tends to get abused) that way.

Pass the costs on to your client, and don’t forget to mark it up!

When you rent equipment for a job, it is absolutely fair for you to pass the cost of that rental on to your client. Don’t believe me? Ask John Harrington. He literally wrote the book on running a photography business. He even charges rental fees for equipment he already owns. The way he sees it, his value as a photographer is his talent, not his equipment. That’s certainly how I would like to be viewed, too.

Markups also deserve their own post. I’ll cover it briefly here, though: Markups are a totally normal, honest and expected part of a business transaction. When you markup the cost of something to pass on to your client, you are covering the cost of that activity. While you were buying such and such an item, you were not taking pictures or getting new business. So, that time costs you money. You mark up items to recuperate those invisible costs. Doesn’t feel like stealing now, does it?

Write it off.

Keep your receipts for these rentals, and don’t give originals to clients. You don’t work for their company, and the IRS doesn’t need them to produce your receipts. They are your business expense, and you should write them off your taxes. (I will certainly write many posts on tax time, but I have a lot of research to do first!) Write off your equipment rentals and shave a bit off your taxes.

Renting equipment is a great way to get your hands on top-level equipment. If you have an important wedding, fashion shoot, or something else coming up, and you need some bigger guns in your arsenal, renting is the way to go. Equipment buy-in is a huge hurdle for new photographers, and equipment rental can really save the day.

I’ve spoken about my Canon 17-40mm f/4 lens before (here, on wedding photography). It’s a great lens, and at just over $600, it’s an absolute steal. It’s big brother, the Canon 16-35 f/2.8 is almost $1300. That’s a huge gap, and I don’t think it’s a justifiable expense. Here are 3 reasons:

F/4 to F/2.8 is only one flippin’ stop. That’s not a huge leap, and unless you are making your career shooting in low, natural light, it’s probably not worth it. I’d rather keep more things in focus at f/4 (our DOF calculator tells us it’s still quite a bit), and make that stop up in ISO.

The effect of low depth of field is reduced on wide angle lenses. For me, one of the great benefits of low depth of field is not that I can work in low light, but that I can isolate my subjects. A long lens with narrow depth of field really knocks the subject out of their surroundings. On a wide lens, depth of field does not fall off as quickly, so the effect is reduced and can look muddy.

Don’t be intimidated by big price tags and low f-stops. Don’t get me wrong. The 16-35 is an awesome lens. But its specs and the availability of a close alternative at a much lower price, in my mind, make it more of a specialized tool (the same way a tripod is a specialized tool).


Bonus:

$700 is a whole ‘nother lens! Pick up the Sigma 50-150 f/2.8 (the greater length justifies the lower f stop’s cost, too!) with what you don’t spend on the 16-35. You are now armed to the teeth for nearly any photographic situation. Don’t just buy the best equipment out there. Worse, don’t just wallow around in self-pity because you can’t afford same! If you understand your own needs, you can sometimes find great lenses that do what you need for a lot less than you’d pay on the very top of the line gear. Use what you need, folks.

I do not own a studio, nor can I fit one in my home. So, I do all of my shooting “on location.” For a while, I used to just keep everything in my trunk and bring in whatever I needed in a tote bag that I carried, along with my stands, camera and lenses. It was a back-breaking mess, let me tell you. Worse, what if I needed something from my car in the middle of a shoot?

Often times, I would be doing a portrait on the 43rd floor of an office building, so going back wasn’t an option. In the end, my pictures suffered because I didn’t have what I needed, where I needed it. That’s why I put together my Travel Studio-in-a-Tote! It does everything I need, plus a couple things I didn’t anticipate.

It’s pretty simple, and I’m going to show you how I made it, and what it’s good for:

Start with a big tub like this one, which is a 22 Gallon Sterilite. I got mine at Wal-Mart. It has a locking lid, which is pretty important. That way, if you ever have to pick it up, and the tub bends a little, the lid won’t pop off. That could be bad.

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Next, I drilled holes for some casters, two that swivel and two that don’t (just like a car). Just a note: I recommend using locking nuts for all your ‘permanent’ equipment fixtures. My casters are already missing a few nuts. I need to make that replacement, too. Locking nuts never loosen (which is why they only belong on permanent fixtures). It works now, and you can load it up and wheel it around to your heart’s content!

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I added a couple more things to mine, just to make it that much nicer, though. Home Depot will cut custom lengths of rope for cheap. You only need 4 feet for your handle (mine was too short at 3 feet, I extend it with a ball bungee), so you don’t have to bend over to tug it around. I keep my lightstands nice and secure by bundling them up with a couple ball bungees, and strapping them down to the top of the tub with a ratcheting strap. You can see my stands, monopod, tripod, and my softlighter are all snug and secure on top of the tote. My dog, Annie, stands guard in the background.

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I’ve also added some velcro stripes to the underside of the lid, so I can attach small, light modifiers and keep them from getting lost in all the other equipment. Shown above are some gobos made of black coroplast and velcro, snoots made out of drink coozies (camo!), diffusers made from those fruit protector thingies, and some extra bristle velcro. You can also see how I secured my handstrap: I tied the ends into knots, and wrapped the knots in electrical tape. The straps I’m using to secure the snoots are velcro cable ties from Office Depot (probably).

When I arrive at my shoot, I just take off the stands, set them aside, break out the equipment that I need, close it back up, and the tub doubles as a work-surface! This is so handy. I can keep my laptop there and use it as a reference when I am shooting tethered. I can keep batteries, spare lenses, a mirror for models all at easy reach.

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When I’m all done, everything packs up nice and tidy and the whole thing with the lightstands attached and everything, fits in the trunk of my Civic.

My Travel Studio in a tote has dramatically reduced my load in/load out times. I no longer have to kill my back carrying stuff, either. My life is a lot easier with it. Why don’t you build one for yourself and modify it to your heart’s content? The whole project costs less than $15, so it’s not like you can’t afford it. Your spine will thank you.