Archive for the ‘Tricks of the Trade’ Category

Had a pretty busy labor day weekend, with 3 family portraits and some live music. All my portraits this weekend involved small kids under 2 years old. My sister, Tara Miller, blogger and knitteratus, and I have been working on a neat project creating a youtube video advertising her totally awesome neighborhood: Tributary, in Douglasville, GA. Douglasville is a bit out in the sticks, but this neighborhood is like a Shang-ri-La. Great architecture, wonderful community, lots of activities that aren’t a token gesture and a complete waste of time. Poker nights here are great; some of the best hunch punch I’ve ever had. People really chip in and help each other out, sharing baby gear, business networking and just great relationships.

So, we planned on making our video a photo montage of lifestyle and portrait photography: kids playing in the park, folks walking their dogs, having a neighborhood cookout, etc. I was going for a ‘documentary-with-spin’ kind of vibe – show all the things that are inherently awesome about the place, and show them in a good light. String the photos together, with some CC-licensed music and sound bites of the residents, and you’ve got a great video! So, Tara sent out an email to the Tributary Women’s Group looking for folks willing to pose for some family photos for the project, in exchange for a free 8×10 from the shoot and a signed model release. A ton of folks signed up basically right away.

Things were coming together nicely, when the whole project got canceled right out from under us, for reasons unknown. Total bummer. I really didn’t want to let go of this body of potential repeat customers, though. Instead of canceling the free photo shoots, I decided to re-fashion them into a new promotion for Tributary residents: a free, on-location portrait sitting for all-first time customers. Anyone who signed up before the contest was cancelled still gets the free 8×10.

Lemons -> lemonade. This is going over great.

I generally think it’s a bad idea to give free work now on the promise of paid work later, but I think this is different. First of all, the ‘free work now for paid work later’ garbage generally comes from businesses, not consumers. If a business can’t pay for you now, what makes you think they will want to budget for it later, once you’ve shown them they can get it for free (and if not from you, then someone else)? Consumers are different, though. Build a relationship with a family, and they will keep coming back. It may hurt a bit on the first shoot, but if I do my job right, these folks will all be repeat customers. Think of the freebie as a loss-leader.

Moreover, the work I am shooting now is not free. Thanks to my awesome store-front provided by Smugmug, print sales will (hopefully!) defray my shooting costs and time. This is, of course, a risk. Maybe nobody buys any prints. I am banking on the hope that parents will want to buy pictures of their kids. A pretty safe bet.

Finally, I am getting a lot of value from the pre-existing social networks here. Tributarians are closely-knit. Since they know each other, they listen to each other. By focusing on them, I am generating a positive feedback loop of cumulative buzz (coined!). Given the non-existent results online and print advertising has provided for my business, I am now focusing 100% on generating word-of-mouth recommendations, and I am starting right here.

We’ll see how it goes.

Anyway, next up, I’m going to post a few of my favorite shots from my shoots this weekend. Stay tuned!

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Hey Blogosphere!

I wrote a few weeks back about the new Eye Fi memory card. We talked about some implications it could have for the photo industry. While it definitely seems marketed towards the more casual photographer, who is looking to avoid the hassle of downloading pictures, I am interested in the benefits for professional photographers: shaving off time getting an image to print, instantaneous auto-backups, and art direction. So, that’s what I’m going to be looking into today.

What you get

Here are some shitty pictures I took of the packaging with my wife’s camera.

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I am a sucker for good packaging, so I really liked this box, and the way that both sides slide out when you pull on the tab. This reveals the eye-fi card and card reader, and the instructions. The card reader is just a fancy looking vanilla SD card reader. Feel free to lose it if you have a multi-card reader like I have.


Setup

This thing is stupid simple to set up. You plug the thing in, install the software in a pretty ordinary way (drag to applications on mac, and install wizard on pc), and open up the software. You need to be connected to the internet to register yourself, set up, or make changes to the way your Eye Fi card functions. This is pretty irritating, and (in my opinion) functionally superfluous. I’d be interested to hear why they do it this way. Anyway, you’re online. The setup screens are simple and clean. Setting the card up to talk on a network and upload your pictures to a variety of sources (including smugmug, my website host!) is a breeze.

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Once you’ve got everything done, you can remove/eject the card. I shoot with a Canon 30D, which takes CFII cards. I bought this to make it work.

“Premiertek SD/MMC Card to Compact Flash Type II CF Adapter” (Premiertek)

Its ratings are not the best, but so far, so good. I haven’t had any problems. Everything plugs together thusly. Photographer see, photographer do.

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Make sure the SD card gets tightly seated!

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Once you’ve got everything put together, you can start shooting.

What it’s like

Once it’s setup, the thing just works. It only transfers jpg files (see below). If you drift out of wi-fi range, the card will wait until it sees the network again to resume transfers, even mid-file. You get a nice popup in the upper right corner of the screen on your host computer showing you uploads, too.

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As you can see, I am uploading a picture of the glass(es) of wine I’ve been drinking while writing this post.

What you can do with it

The applications for professional photographers using this product are endless. If you’ve got a laptop, a wi-fi router, and an internet connection, you can get your pictures anywhere in the world, as soon as you shoot them. That’s powerful stuff. I’ve started promoting this service to my wedding clients, as a way for distant relatives to enjoy your wedding, live on my website.

I’ve also started using it for product and fashion shoots. Instead of shooting tethered, I shoot RAW+L (which creates a high quality JPEG alongside the raw), the jpeg gets transfered, the RAW stays put. Clients can review images as I shoot, and direct and make changes as necessary. That’s a big value-add for them, and it’s gone over very well so far.

This could be big for newsies, too. With a laptop, wi-fi router, and your internet-enabled cell phone, you can become a roving live photo correspondent almost anywhere in the world.

If you upload somewhere that generates an RSS feed (like flickr or smugmug), you could be slick and get upload confirmations on your cell phone by text message.

Let’s not forget the backup ramifications as well! Maybe you’re a war correspondent, u

Hey, Eye-Fi! Here’s how to make it even more awesome

Don’t require users to go online to setup and use the card. What if we don’t have an internet connection, but still want to transfer pictures over a wi-fi network to our computer? I am also uneasy about eye fi’s website keeping tabs on everything I do with their card.

RAW Transfer. My best guess is that they were worried about large images transferring slowly and queueing up. Pros will still want RAW transfer.

More configurability. In regard to the upload services, I would really like to have some more options made available. If you upload to flickr, it does not allow you to specify any tags or groups, yet it adds an eye-fi tag. So, they have the capability. They are just denying users access to it. Nice, thanks. Specifically, I want to be able to upload to a pre-existing gallery. That way, I can send it to my customers beforehand. They can load up the gallery and watch the images appear when I start shooting.

Get the software running on a smart phone. It’d be nice to eliminate the laptop middleman, even if you do still need a wi-fi router somewhere. My dream would be to link up my camera and my internet phone,

Just hack the damn thing, guys. I can only hope that some saintly genius somewhere is going to write some open source software to run this device that will give us all the functionality we desire.

How about a pro version? Instead of bogging down your amateur consumers, how about you offer a juiced up version for pros? Faster write-speeds, faster transfer-speeds, upload configurability! Etcetera, glorious etcetera!

Q & A

So, now, I’d like to open the floor to you. Feel free to ask my anything you like about the card, and I’ll do my best to demonstrate something or get you an answer.

What happens to RAW files?

They just sit on the card as usual. As of now, only JPG files can be transfered. No CR2, no NEF, no DNG.

How fast does it transfer?

I don’t know. I will ask the company.


How fast does the card write data?

I don’t know. I will ask the company.


Does it drain the battery?

The website says: advanced power management optimizes use of camera power. I haven’t noticed a difference in battery drainage rate. I imagine that it has to be drawing more juice than a regular card would, but it doesn’t seem to be enough to affect your usage.

Do files ever get dropped?

Unless there’s a bug that shows up in a circumstance that I haven’t observed yet, no. Transfers resume mid-file, so it will pick up right where you left off.

I admit it. I TOTALLY thought of the title first. That said, I have put together some great ways to increase your sales, generate repeat business and referrals, and become irresistable to the opposite sex.

(As a quick side note, based on this awesome post here, I’m going to let “my” voice come through in my blog more. The content will still be there, but things are going to get a little bit sillier…)

Sell yourself – We photographers are a pretty ubiquitous bunch. A quick google search for “Atlanta photographer” gets 159,000 results. I checked several pages of results: 1, 4, 11, 19, 25, 32… all of them full of photographers. Clearly, we are not hard to find. So, what makes you different? For starters, none of those other guys are you. That’s all you have: your own talent, your own vision, your own personality. So, focus your business on selling yourself. Let clients know what you’re all about: your values, your focus, and your approach. We get hired based on our ability to apply our unique vision to a client’s needs. What do you do that’s different from the tens of thousands of other photographers who are so readily available?

Specialize – When I first started out, I pursued every possible opportunity to make money taking pictures. I freelanced for a local paper that paid $10/image. I shot my friend’s kids. I shot food, architecture, dogs, weddings, makeup, sports, real estate agents, bands, anything, anything, anything I could do to make a buck. I lacked focus. Figure out what you want to do, and concentrate on that. It seems a bit counter-intuitive to “turn away” potential business. Don’t get me wrong: If you’re broke, and a job outside your focus falls in your lap, go for it. (Ain’t nothing wrong with that!) The problem with being a generalist is that you are competing with specialists. You are a jack-of-all-trades and master of none. Specialize on the types of images you enjoy creating, focus your business efforts there, and give yourself a fighting chance.

Surprise your clients – Promise small, deliver big. Enthusiasm, I’ve found, is my best selling technique. I get extremely pumped about my client’s projects. Enthusiasm, though, can get you in trouble. Don’t promise what you can’t deliver. Hell, don’t even promise what you think you can deliver. Promise only what you have successfully done in the past, even on your own. Whatever you tell the client you can do becomes the bare minimum they expect of you. Don’t set that goal higher than you can consistently hit. In fact, with a little modesty, you can over-deliver! Who do you suppose gets called back: the guy who promised more than he could deliver, or the guy who delivered more than he promised?

Sustain your buzz – WHOA! PASS THE BONG! I’m not talking about huffing pot reefer or whatever the hell you kids call it these days. I’m talking about a sustained marketing campaign. However you do it, keep doing it. Send mailers. Stop by and say “Hi.” Show them new work you’re doing. Stay on their minds. If they don’t know you, they don’t call you. Nothing survives in a vacuum. That’s why they scare dogs so much.

Stay on top of your books – If there is one thing that will come back to bite you in the ass, it is your paperwork. I’m not just talking accounting. I’m talking contracts, model releases, invoices, all that stuff. You abso-tively posi-lutely must, must, must, must, must stay on top of this. If you can’t do it, hire or marry someone who can. Can’t afford an accountant? You can’t afford NOT to have one. Which is more costly, paying a couple hundred bucks for peace of mind come tax-time, or an IRS audit? Find some photographers that you respect and look up to. Ask who they use, and give them a call. (Be sure to note how that accountant just scored a new customer!)

Sign a contract – Respect the awesome power of CYA. A contract won’t keep a dishonest person from trying to take advantage of you. It will limit their ability to take advantage of you, and give you a leg to stand on when they do. A good contract just tells everyone involved what to expect from a pending business transaction. No big deal. Get some standard paperwork together so you can get all your ducks in a row quickly when a potential client calls. Make sure everyone knows what to expect as the project comes along. Clients like to be surprised with great pictures, not huge bills. Stay honest, get called back.

So, there we go. I managed to find six things, all starting with the letter S, to help you improve your photography business. I knew I could do it! Thanks for reading! And, hey, why not subscribe? Absolutely zero calories, and it feels soooo good.

I volunteer my time with the local high school’s photography club, giving lighting, shooting and photoshop lessons, advice and whatnot. I really enjoy passing along knowledge, because qualified advice is difficult to glean from all the crappy advice on these topics. The kids have an absolute blast, and feeling appreciated is a good morale booster, especially when times are tough.

Hey, that’s a good idea: If you’re not getting any work, why not volunteer in your community and drum up some good PR? A post on public relations and press releases is in the works!

The last lesson was on retouching in Photoshop. I moved pretty quickly, and didn’t cover some things the way I ought to have, so I am going to point out some photoshop books that I found to be extremely useful. Next post will cover the tools I used in the photoshop demonstration. Stay tuned.

Books:

I showed off some really handy photoshop books. I am a big fan of learning with books. There are so many photoshop books that, at best, could be described as “redundant,” pointless, tired discussions over either useless minutiae, or self-congratulation. I’ve certainly owned a few of those, and what a waste of money (not to mention trees!) The books that I list here live on a small bookshelf under my desk for quick reference:

“Commercial Photoshop Retouching: In the Studio” by Glenn Honiball

Interesting things about Glenn: he doesn’t use a tablet and stylus. He does all his retouching with a mouse. I used to do this, too, but I have decided that I like the extra “input” of pen pressure. Anyway, this book covers a lot of the things you would come across as a retoucher: adding shadows to complex objects, changing an object’s color (sometimes dramatically!), and making digital composites. All very useful stuff.

“The Photoshop Channels Book” by Scott Kelby

Scott Kelby writes three photoshop books every day. As you can imagine, some are good, and some are birdcage liner. The channels book is good. Largely, though, this book is about layer masks. Layer masks were a tricky thing to understand for me, and this book was invaluable towards my getting comfortable with using them. Masking is a big part of how I do my photoshopping. Kelby likes to lay his books out as a series of step-by-step guides, awesome for use as a quick reference tool.

“Photoshop Classic Effects: The Essential Effects Every User Needs to Know” by Scott Kelby

This book is a list of easily-refenced tutorials for just about every cheesy and over-done photoshop effect out there. That’s why it’s so great. Photoshop cliches are cliches because everyone asks for them at one point or another. You can find a lot of this info on the internet, but I don’t trust internet photoshop tutorials. Kelby is a professional retoucher, and I would rather my workflow be built on that basis.

“Photoshop LAB Color: The Canyon Conundrum and Other Adventures in the Most Powerful Colorspace” by Dan Margulis

This book might just make your head explode. It’s not a series of tutorials, like the Kelby books. LAB (spell it out when you say it) is a massively useful tool, and it certainly does things that RGB can’t touch. What’s more, you can frequently do everything you need in LAB with one tool: Curves. It’s a complex topic, and Dan explains things with a dorky series of analogies that make things a lot easier. It’s a very big, long book, and it covers a ton of ground, all of it useful. The curves tool is difficult to understand at first, and this book’s reliance on it is a great way to get yourself used to it.

“Skin: The Complete Guide to Digitally Lighting, Photographing, and Retouching Faces and Bodies” by Lee Varis

This book is awesome. It really is the complete guide. One of the big misconceptions about photoshop is that you can fix anything later. And it’s easy! Because it’s Photoshop! Mercifully, Lee covers a very important topic: Start with the absolutely best source image possible, so your later retouching will be more effective. He covers lighting for flattering skin tone, among other things, before jumping into the nitty gritty of sculpting, molding and radically altering faces and skin.

“Real World Image Sharpening with Adobe Photoshop CS2” by Bruce Fraser

This is a very dry, technical book. Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish examples of different sharpening techniques on the same images. That said, this book is a great resource. Bad sharpening can really ruin an image, and worse, not sharpening can send your overly-soft images to a photo editor’s trashcan. Sharpening is a very nebulous topic for new photographers, and Bruce lays things out in a way that makes it easy to get from point A to point B, and why you’d want to in the first place.

So, there you go. If you have some amazon gift certificates lying around, and you want to get better at Photoshop (or gain that first initial understanding, then these books are a great place to get started. I’ll start working on the photoshop tools post now.

I am putting together a slug of posts like I did for my wedding series for advertising photography marketing. Until that goes up, you should get started reading the following posts I’ve compiled from a Photo Editor’s blog. a Photo Editor is run by a photo editor for a national magazine. When he speaks, you should listen. The posts below are all relevant to new photographers. I’ve put some brief comments next to each article. It’s a lot of reading, but all of it is good.

Once you get this stuff down, my 3 post series on the topic should be ready to digest. Let’s get started:

Photographer Tags – How aPE sees photographers. What categories does your work fall under? As a new photographer, it’s better to focus on your best work before expanding into other genres. Knowing how you are ‘pigeonholed’ isn’t so bad if you can get to the point where editors think of you when they are presented with ‘x’ genre or style. Where should you be focusing your efforts?

Photographer Questions – “Why don’t photo editors return phone calls and emails?” “How do I get a job as a photo assistant?” “Do you know where there is a list of photo editor with email addresses to contact them?” “Do e-promos work anymore?”

The Book AKA The Portfolio – Do you have a physical portfolio? What do editors want from your book?

Hiring New Photographers – How clients check you out before they call you!

How editors find new photographers – When an editor hires on a new photographer, he has to go to bat for you to his bosses, first. Here’s how aPE assembles his ‘evidence’.

Advice From a Photographer – This is for assistants, but it certainly pertains to new photographers, too. Read this as hard as you can.

Hiring a Photographer – This one is a biggie: “Never hire a photographer to shoot something that’s not already in their book.”

Making a Living as a Photographer – This one is about editorial photography and renting equipment.

Crapshoot – Looks like living outside LA or NYC can be a big disadvantage!

W+K Art Buyer – Don’t make cold calls. Promo cards are good. Email is good. Don’t be an asshole.

There’s a ton of great info over on aPE. He doesn’t beat around the bush, even when it hurts to say or hear. Gotta respect that. Learn as much as you can, don’t take rejection and adversity personally, take great pictures and be easy to work with.