Category Archives: training

Repurposing a light box to be a light table

I saw a very interesting blog posting on how to shoot flowers using a light box. I took a different approach since I did not want to build a cardboard box so anything else. I took my large softbox and flipped it upside down. I could do this because I use C stands with boom arms and it becomes very easy to change the orientation of a modifier. I just made sure that the legs were in the right position to take up the low weight and added a few sand bags for good measure.

I then put a piece of clear plexiglass on top of the softbox or now light table and put my subject on top of that. I have a Photogenics 1250 strobe but now I would pull it and put in the 600 instead. The 1250 is too strong even turned down as low as it can go. I plan to try it with white plexiglass whereas I’m shooting with clear right now. The white should be worth a couple of stops.

White on White Lilly

 

 

I had a second mini softbox using an SB800 in SU mode on a monopod that I held over the subject. I manually set the SB800 to something around 1/8 power and about 3 feet high. I tried straight on, sideways and all kinds of angles. The best results seemed to be feathering the small soft box slightly to pick up some edge shadows.

I used a pair of Atlas pocket wizard clones on this shoot only because they were handy and my real PWs were packed away. I shot with:

 

SB800 flash mounted to small softboxLight table set up shot

Next time I will put the small light box on a second C stand instead of holding it. That was just too much trouble but I was in a real hurry to try this and get back to the family outside. The ladder was the only way I could get enough hight to shoot down on my subject, anywhere else and I was shooting across it and it did not work nearly as well.

 

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Where are all the pictures?

I read an interesting comment the other day that continues to dig at me a bit. Over on Flickr, a poster put up a complaint about how he could not shoot because of the weather. It had been pouring rain for several days and his excuse was the weather sucked so he could not shoot.

I countered that with a single image and pointed out that pictures are where you find them, not where you think they are. Here is the image. I used just the light from the window and LR3 was used for the post work.  This is a rainy day image that was not staged or planned, I saw her playing by the window, ran to my camera, ran back setting the camera settings as I went and managed to get about five frames.

Rainy Day Imp

Rainy Day Imp

I’ve shot all kinds of things when other say they cant shoot.  I’ve shot toys on my desk, pull cords on the window blinds and my coffee cup. There is no reason in the world that you can not shoot at any time of the day or night and at any place. The shot below of my window blinds was taken in the afternoon while testing my 70-200mm F2.8 VR lens.

Shade

Shade

I’ve used my pro cameras, my point and shoot, my phone and even my ancient film cameras. It’s all about shooting no matter what or where. Dont get locked into the idea that circumstances have to be perfect to shoot, many times my best work as been shoot on the fly or at the last second. I’ve gone out in the rain knowing full well it’s dismal conditions for shooting but I find a way.

Art is where you make it and sometimes it comes to you but sometimes you need to go to the mountain and find it. Art does not take breaks or vacations. Art is around you all the time if you just take the time and the trouble to see it. So the next time you have plans to go shoot and something interrupts them, take advantage of the interruption and see where it leads you. You very well might be very surprised and pleased at the outcome.

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How to be a better photographer? Just Shoot more!

In the last few years, I have been investing quite a bit of effort into upping my game as far as photography as the craft. And with watching my friends and colleages going to dozens of shooting events and all the seminars, one thing has really started to stand out. You can train as much as you want, you can study as much as you want and you can spend a boatload of money on workshops but NOTHING works as well in helping you be a better photographer than getting out and shooting FOR REAL. Thats right, for real…  dealing with weather, clients, stray people, schedules, crying children, bad traffic, balky equipment while in front of a paying client and trying not to sweat in front of them.

Book learning (or DVD, streaming boards etc) all help but you will learn the most just by getting out and shooting. And not just shooting your favorite stuff, you need to be put into an uncomfortable zone with demands put on you to produce. When you stretch out your skills and wing it, you learn alot more than by sitting in your favorite chair or goofing with some friends in a studio somewhere without any pressures on you. And the funny thing is when you are done, what you used to think was hard and uncomfortable is really not any more.

Case in point, I used to hate taking portraits. I mean, I would photograph buildings, cars, landscapes with a vengeance but not people. I didnt want to interact with people, I didnt know how to capture the emotion in people. When I decided to go pro, I knew I would have to learn to shoot people so I grudgingly started to learn how to shoot weddings.  At least I didn’t think I needed to interact too much, I mean, it’s not like a up close and personal portrait session is it? My first mistake was to spend all my time “learning” about shooting weddings. I read books, I watched videos, I watched streaming classes, I was on the boards. I did everything BUT shoot weddings. Then I got drop kicked into actually shooting a wedding as a favor. Now I had to perform so I gathered up everything I had and shot the wedding. It was different than all the “learning” I had done up to that point. Between the chaos, the pressure and the demands of the various groups, it was quite the learning experience. And now after photographing more weddings, I do not view weddings with nearly the angst I had before. In fact, I really enjoy shooting weddings now, there is so much going on, so many opportunities to make art while making families very happy by capturing one of their most important days.

Colorado Bride

Family and single portraits were another “interactive” path that I initially rebelled against. But again, after being put into the position of shooting Christmas portraits for 30 families and shooting Operation Love Reunited deployment mini-sessions of military families where you really want to do your best, I find that portraits are probably what I enjoy photographing the most. It is very satisfying to shoot a deployment portrait for a family with a service member and be told that they never knew they had such a beautiful little family. This comment came from the young wife of a Marine being deployed in a few days and they had never had any kind of formal portraits taken of the family.  It’s the kind of thing that makes it all worth while when you see the wife go “OMG, I cant believe thats MY family”

Daddy's Little Girl

Daddy's Little Girl

This image is a classic “real” world shoot. High noon on the beach with a small child and lots of distractions. Big difference than shooting in a closed studio with a model being paid to tolerate the wannabe photographer. I had to find a good place to shoot, arrange the shot, work out the settings for some pretty adverse conditions, work with mom and child to get the needed smile and move on to the next one.

I’m still learning every time I go out to photograph someone or something. But I learn more when working against a deadline and a high level of  expectations  from my paying clients. If you want to improve your craft, you never stop learning from any circumstances. And the more you shoot, the better you will become at adjusting to those circumstances and be able to step back and catch the lesson being offered.

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Controlling your light

They say that shooing portraits in broad daylight such as high noon is nuts, that it cant be done and that anyone with sense will avoid it like the plague. Most times these experts are correct but one of the things that a professional photographer has to learn is to adapt and make things work out the way they need to. So with that in mind, let me tell you about my weekend of shooting Santa Claus.

I got an email from a acquaintance asking if I would possibly be able to shoot a session involving Santa Claus, families and a public park with four days notice. I had to juggle things but I replied yes, for a small fee and the list of names of the families with their email addresses. Now shooting this event was going to be a royal b**ch since it was going to be a  public park and starting at 11AM then running till 1PM. No tent, no cover of any kind. The last four years showed snapshots taken with on camera flash blasting the families to overpower the sun. Last years was pretty underexposed since it had been a grey day and the camera didnt get the settings right.

I decided to raise the bar and execute this event better than anyone there had seen before. I have a very cool Christmas themed muslin backdrop that is pretty decent quality and I have several 20lb sand bags. I also have reflectors but no portable strobes yet. I was bummed but I could not find a battery pack to run my Photogenics or get a small generator on such short notice. So I ended up using my SB800s instead.

I put up the backdrop, doubled it over to keep light from leaking through the back and had the back facing the sun directly to get the most shade I could. I put 25lbs of sand on each leg (ended up with 50lbs before the shoot was over) plus two 10 lb bags clipped to the bottom of the shortened backdrop to keep it from flapping around. I did not care about lighting it separately as there was so much ambient light, I didnt need to. On the SB800, I used a 1/2 cut CTO gell to squash the bluewhite “daylight” look of the flash. I prepped two more flashes with batteries ready to go. I had a spare body prepped and ready to go.

I put Santa in his chair and metered him using my older but reliable Minolta meter, the camera meter gets very confused with this type of shooting so I dont trust the brains of the camera. I then put everything on manual, dialed it in and shot off several images with my 17-55mmF2.8. I ended up going with my 1.4 50mm at F10 and ISO 200. The shadow was just long enough to keep me in shade without too much flare in the lens. The images did need their black points pushed way up as they were flat. I knew that from the first few pictures. I used a gold reflector to throw a dash of golden light on Santa Claus and the clients. The SB800 was dialed down -1/2 exposure compensation to avoid blowing out skin tones knowing that by shooting raw, I can easily dial it in.

You can see here the extreme differences between the sun and shade of the backdrop. I took this with my iPhone to avoid screwing with my numbering sequence on my shooting body.

Park shooting set up

Park shooting set up

So I ended up shooting about 40 families over three hours. Everyone had a lot of fun and everyone was blown away by the backdrop. But when I showed off the images, jaw dropped. The images really looked good and nobody believed that they were shot at noon and in a park. The grass was not a problem because 99% of the shots were “head shots” style.

Santa Claus with vintage treatment

Santa Claus with vintage treatment

Final Santa Claus image in park

Final Santa Claus image in park

Now that we had the shots, I used BayPhoto’s ROES software to make up the Christmas cards. My client was giving away a free Christmas card and we settled on the 4×8 photo card. I used Bay’s templates and treatments to make a simple card with a place for my friend to sign his name.

Christmas Card from Belmont shoot

Christmas Card from Belmont shoot

So in the end, with about 400 dollars in studio stuff that I already had from past shoots and 30 minutes of set up time, I was able to produce killer event shots of Santa Claus in a public park at high noon. I did this by using quality parts, by knowing how my equipment works and most importantly, how to work around problems on the fly. Were the images perfect out of the camera? No, they were not. They were flat and washed out even though they were correctly exposed based on the histogram. Thats partial due to the 50mm lens I shot with it. Partial from having to be very careful shooting into the light even though I had shade, there was still some spillover from the top of the background. But with shooting RAW, a few simple adjustments applied to each image and they all snapped into place.

So dont take the common wisdom as gospel like “you cannot shoot portraits at noon” or you can not use onboard flash effectively and so on. When you know your equipment and you know how light works, you can do amazing things when others say you can’t.  I have a happy client and 50 new possible clients who saw me shoot under difficult circumstances and still nail the shots.

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It’s all about the eyes

Eyes, the windows to the soul, dark pools to lose one’s self, the one thing that can seriously make or break your portraits. Radstone Creative Workshops is working with RedGum studios in Anaheim to bring good training at a very cheap price in a world class studio. This saturday, November 13, 2010, we had a four hour session that was all about the eyes and how to really shoot a portrait to show off the eyes. We also got BBQ burgers and ice cream out of the deal so for 20 bucks, it was a killer deal. If you want in, drop a line to either RedGum Studios by way of Darin at redgumstudios dot com or Richard Radstone

Richard makes good use of continuous lighting because the emotion that the eyes convey can be fleeting and even unexpected. So waiting or a strobe to recharge could break the shoot but with hot lights, Kinoflows or other continuous lights, you can have a good chance at catching that small tilt of the head and the flicker of the eyes that makes it a killer shot.

And as the noted shot below shows, you dont need alot of expensive equipment to get the shot. In this shot, the model was still getting make up on and sitting in the make up chair with a hot light lighting her. Not a “studio” hot light but a beat up what looked to be a beauty dish with a hot light instead of a strobe. That was it. Nothing more.

The rest of the images were taken over the course of four hours and more show what the workshop is about. Most of the lighting was a single main light, either a hot light or Kinoflow.  Nothing very fancy just light, some diffuser material, C47s (C47 Media Attachment Clip or clothespin ) and a assortment of gaffer tape 🙂 Really goes to show that you dont need a whole light money in hardware to light someone well. I will say that there was a small fortune in grip equipment holding up the few lights, flags and scrims.

The shoot also shows that having a makeup artist on hand or a couple of them can really amp up the shoot. You can change the “look” with a few clothing changes and some really good makeup. We had six different looks in four hours and it was amazing to watch. It was also important to learn that some makeup does not work well at all with HDLSR video due to how the light reflects and the same applies to this type of shooting that relies heavily on specular skin highlights. The wrong kind of makeup will go “waxy” or “muddy” in the images so a good make up artist is worth her or his weight in gold on the set.

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Painting for Photographers

The title is a double meaning, one is the obvious meaning, how can a photographer “paint” their images. The second is a reference to a book by Karen Sperling called “Painting for Photographers” which has been a guide for me while I explore how to use Corel Painter and Photoshop CS5 to change images into paintings.

I am a photographer, I am not a painter or at least I’m not in the classic sense of the word. But, as a portrait photographer, I use light and shadow just like a painter does to add texture and depth to my subject. Karen’s book really helps with understanding what makes a painting work and why it is different at times than a picture. I will say that while she is mostly oriented to the user of PainterX or Painter 11, she does not leave out the CS5 users who have the new bristle brushes and blending modes. Much of what she teaches crosses over to both. For example, when painting in the background, things like transitions, blending of hair, using different brush textures are not specific to one application but can be used by many different applications.

Karen shows alot of information on different styles of images using “chalk”, “watercolor”, “sponge” and more plus what makes each work for a particular style of image. You would not want to try to take a dark dramatic image and try to make it a watercolor. It would not look or feel right. Oils can lend a sense of formal stature to a portrait and sponge can really make a landscape pop with texture. Karen has all of this and much more in a relatively thin book.

What does all this mean to a photographer? Another revenue stream is what it means. Seeing a “painting” that is on canvas and LARGE is impressive to clients.  Most people really do not understand what a painting is all about, they are used to seeing pictures and snapshots. When they see a large portrait with the drama of blending and texture, they “get it”. And it’s unique enough that clients who really want that something “special” that few others have will be very interested.

So what can you paint? Portraits of all kinds, wedding shots are common because they lend themselves to a painted style of image. Landscapes are another type of image that works really well as a painting. Virtually any type of image can work with the right kind of technique.

I have a small gallery of a current project that shows the transition from a nice normal portrait to a painting that looks really nice. I’m still working on it and learning some of the fine points. I will say that you need to get used to using layers. I have several layers of painting so I can try different things and not ruin work already completed that I’m happy with. One of the big differences between the un-retouched and the painting is that I was able to really clean up the eyes and catchlights by painting. A second huge improvement was made to the overall image by the removal of the background to a more artistic painted background. One thing to remember with a painting is that you paint out alot of small details and use large details to carry the painting. This is true for most paintings and one of the hardest things for a photographer who has spent a fair amount of money to get megapixels of detail to turn around and paint out all the tiny detail. Why? Because it would never show in a real painting and since you are making a painting, you need to work like a painter. I personally find I like to blend the two where I keep some fine detail and lose other detail. But that is just a style of painting that I find myself falling into. Everybody has their own style or will have their own style just like their photography.

Digital Wedding Painting Bride

So what do you need to start painting your photographs? You need some type of software, normally Corel Painter or Photoshop CS5. You can do this with a mouse but I can not too strongly suggest a tablet like a Wacom tablet and pen. The control you get from using a tablet/pen is unparalleled compared to a mouse. With the pressure sensitivity of the pen, it gives you the feel and touch of using a real paint brush. So now that you have software and a tablet, what else? Find a picture you want to make into a painting. I did forgot one important item, you need to read Karen’s book FIRST and then use it as a reference as you start your painting. I will say this, while painting with Corel Painter is well documented, painting with CS5 bristle brushes is not nearly as well supported at this time.

To the end of trying to find some help for those with CS5 and not Painter, here are some links to help explain how to use CS5’s blend modes and bristle brushes.

Peachpit Press #86 Using the Mixer Brush

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Black and Blue

Black and Blue Portrait

Black and Blue
I was in Irvine, CA last night for the Westcott Pro Tour and this was one of the results from shooting at the event. We used the Westcott spider lights with the tri-flector and the new vintage backdrop from Westcott.
Herman Rodriguez was our mentor photographer for this shoot and he had alot of very good information on shooting portraits with a tilt to fashion. The point above everything else was “shape the light”. It was all about lighting and how lighting can make or break an image. It definitely got me thinking more about how I light my own subjects.

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Final Westcott Competition Entries

Some of you know that the photographic lighting supplier, Westcott,  did a pretty crazy cool thing at Photoshop World this year in Vegas. They set up four shooting sets and had live models, lights, props and watchers on hand and then let the public go nuts shooting the models. The payoff if that IF you enter their contest and IF you win, your image will be the Westcott catalog and you get some lighting equipment. And let me tell you that after shooting with their spiderlights, I’m lusting after a set of those lights! Cool, nicely balanced and bright, they are easier than strobes when shooting something like this where a subtle change in position or expression can have a profound impact in the image. Since the lights are continuous, you can shoot as fast as you can click the shutter without worry of the strobe not keeping up. In my studio here in Orange, this type of shooting works really well. I shoot strobes alot but after working with “hot lights” twice now, I really can see the value of them, especially the new cool “hot” lights.

Here are my entries for the contest. I’m also including a few shots of the sets so you can see the environment we had to work in. I used several different techniques with my entries. I worked only with the props and set given, I replaced the background in one, I flipped one to a “painting” using CS5’s new bristle brushes and I worked the tones. In all case though, the overriding concerns were sharpness, content, composition and overall impact of the image. I feel that without a sharp image and good solid composition, all the post work in the world will not push a bad image up the ladder.

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Using your small flash in broad daylight

A flashcube fitted to a Kodak Instamatic camera.
Image via Wikipedia

Shooting flash in the broad daylight always seems to bother people for some reason. I think that people are afraid that it’s complicated or some black art that is impossible to master. Listen, flash is just a self contained light that is run by batteries. Nothing magically about it or really hard to understand. The light from a flash works exactly the same way sunlight works or any other light. It has color, it will drop off in intensity over distance (square inverse law) and you can shape it. Probably the biggest reason people are suspect of flash in the daytime is that most camera can not do it well so you get blown out images or the traditional “hot spot” in the face or it’s still dark even though the flash fired.

To really use flash in the daytime, get manual. Forget that you spent a large sum of money on a camera that can virtually think for it’s self, put the dial on M for manual and learn how to set things up the way YOU want it. When I learned to shoot film, there was a rule pounded in to our collective heads. It’s been somewhat forgotten now by the users of digital but it is called the “Sunny Rule of 16”. For a bright sunny day, set the camera to ISO (ASA) 100, shutter to 1/125 (1/100) and F16 on the lens. That will get you 95% there for a properly lit exposure in bright sunlight. Once you have that, you can adjust each parameter and work out the others pretty easily.

What we need to know is that when shooting flash on a sunny day (or any other time) is that your shutter speed controls the ambient light and that the aperture controls the flash exposure. Why? Because the flash duration can be something like 1/42,000 (1/128 power) of a second which is way faster than your camera’s shutter at it’s best. Even at full power, the typical small flash is about 1/2000 of a second flash duration. And when you are shoot at 1/250-1/320 sync speeds, the flash is still way faster than your shutter speed.  Since aperture controls how MUCH  light comes in, you can adjust the intensity of the flash by either opening or closing the blades. Wide open is more light in and stopped down means alot less light is coming in.

The shutter on the other hand controls how LONG the light will hit the sensor or film. Short shutter speed means less exposure and longer shutter means more exposure. So if the flash is 1/32,000 of second long, when your shutter is at 1/200 second, you will get how ever much flash light there will be in that 1/32,000 of a second. What you CAN adjust with the shutter is the AMBIENT light. Or in this case, how bright the daylight will be. Slow shutter means lots of exposure and a short shutter means less ambient light. In the two images below, I shot both with exactly the same shutter and ISO but I added a Neutral Density Filter X2 which works just like pushing the aperture to F22 ( 1 stop) which my 50mm can not do.

Normal ISO 100 1/125 F16

Normal ISO 100 1/125 F16

Normal ISO 100 1/125 F16 with Neutral Density X2

Normal ISO 100 1/125 F16 with Neutral Density X2

This shows how the aperture adjusts the ambient light while the shutter and ISO stayed the same. What does that mean for us with a flash? Well, all things being equal, you can dial in your exposure with the flash by tweaking on the F stop. Of course, you need to have some range to do this, about F5.6 to start would be nice and thats tough in broad daylight. But not impossible. Lets do some math 🙂

If I start at ISO 100 and 1/125 shutter with F16 and I want to go lower on my F stop, how can I do that? I can drop ISO which I can not right now and I can UP the shutter speed controls my ambient light. So I raise my shutter 1/250, thats one F stop and I can cheat a bit and go to 1/320 shutter, thats two full F stops. So now I’m at ISO 100, 1/320 shutter and F8. With a neutral desity filter X2, I can go down one more F stop to F 5.6 which is right where I want to be. My exposure has not changed from the first set at ISO 100, 1/125 and F16. So now I have less depth of field, I have about 3 stops to work the ambient light to darken skies etc.

So this means that I have the ability to dial down the sky and use my flash to light up my subject even though it’s high noon or if I want a bit more drama at sunset. OK.. ok.. so enough about this ambient light stuff, how do we use a flash?  Pretty easy when you think about it. When you have the ISO at 100, the shutter at 1/125 and F16 for your aperture, the typical small flash like the SB800 needs to be eight feet away and full power to give the proper exposure.

No Flash ISO 100 Shutter 1/250 F16

No Flash ISO 100 Shutter 1/250 F16

SB800 Full Power Flash  8 Ft ISO 100 Shutter 1/250 F16

SB800 Full Power Flash 8 Ft ISO 100 Shutter 1/250 F16

SB800 Full Power Flash  8 Ft ISO 100 Shutter 1/250 F13 NDx2

SB800 Full Power Flash 8 Ft ISO 100 Shutter 1/250 F13 NDx2

You can see that we can easily light up the subject with an SB800 from about 8 feet away. But what if we wanted to use less than full power? Or get depth of field? Easily done by juggling the parameters. Lets bring the flash in to about 4 feet and cut the power to 1/2. Nothing else has changed. ISO, Shutter  and F stop are still the same. I did zoom in a bit tighter so you can see the lighting closely.

SB800 1/2 Power Flash  8 Ft ISO 100 Shutter 1/250 F13 NDx2

SB800 1/2 Power Flash 8 Ft ISO 100 Shutter 1/250 F16

Now what if I wanted to darken the background a bit more. Remember, ambient light is controlled by my shutter so I will raise my shutter one stop to 1/320 which is about the max I can go with my wireless triggers before I start cutting off the image with the shutter shadow.

SB800 1/2 Power Flash  8 Ft ISO 100 Shutter 1/320 F16 NDx2

SB800 1/2 Power Flash 8 Ft ISO 100 Shutter 1/320 F16

You can see the exposure of the subject is the same but the background went a bit darker. So now what happens if I use one of those plastic diffusers? The kind that comes with the SB800 and snaps onto the front? Well, it means I can move my flash way in close and get softer light since the size of the light source relative to the subject has gotten alot bigger than when it was 8 feet away. I’m still at 1/2 power, broad daylight with the same shutter and ISO settings. Just closer and with the diffuser.

SB800 1/2 Power Flash  2 Ft ISO 100 Shutter 1/320 F16 With diffuser

SB800 1/2 Power Flash 2 Ft ISO 100 Shutter 1/320 F16 With diffuser

SB800 1/2 Power Flash  2 Ft ISO 100 Shutter 1/320 F16 Without diffuser

SB800 1/2 Power Flash 2 Ft ISO 100 Shutter 1/320 F16 Without diffuser

You can easily see that the diffuser eats a fair amount of light. But the tradeoff is that you can get much better quality of light when you are so close like this that it’s a pretty good trade off.

I hope you can see from the images that understanding daylight use of the flash is not that hard once you keep some basic rules in your head. It’s not very magically but it is very useful. These images are just simple demonstrations of the ideas but I will be putting up some real portrait work later using these same ideas. So get out there with your flash and light something up.

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The art of selling

A few years ago I decided to go from being an “Amateur” to being a “Pro” with my photography.  Alot has changed from when I took my first photography classes in the early 80’s but some things have stayed the same. I learned about David Hobby and the whole “strobist” movement. I learned about flash,  overpowering daylight, composition, posing, the business of photography  and more recently, selling.

Selling? selling what you ask? Isn’t that the same as the photography business? Not so much as it turns out. To be a professional photographer is as much or more about selling than it is your images. Sounds a bit off doesn’t it? I mean images are my stock in trade, it’s how people judge me, right? Not exactly as it turns out. When you are trying to sell a wedding for example, you are selling something of a dream to the bride. She wants her day captured in the best possibly light and in a style that she likes. But what she does not understand or at least most dont, is that she is also judging you, the photographer. How well you relate to her, how well you two can talk and laugh and most importantly, how much she trusts you in order to pay a fair amount of money for something she wont see till after the wedding is over and the guests have gone home.

Yes, you are selling yourself to her and to every other customer you meet. How you present yourself and your craft will have more of an impact on your business than how much cool equipment you have or even how your pictures look. This selling of yourself is not just your clothes or how you talk either, it is where you meet and how the overall package of “you” is presented.

Let me share a story about something I saw just the other day. I’m in a Starbucks on my way to an OpLove shoot and I see a young woman looking at wedding pictures by herself at the next table over. The whole situation caught my eye and I placed a bet with myself if she was meeting someone there. About 10 minutes later, here comes the photographer who apologized right off the bat for being late as he pulls out sample albums and they start talking.

So what is wrong with this? I mean there are alot of photographers who use Starbucks as a cheap office space. They have coffee, wireless and tables. It’s also not your home with the kids, the dog, the cat and so on, sounds perfect right?

Not so much for really getting that sale or even the best type of sale. Let me explain a few things here.

  • First the photographer was late, that is one of the worst things to do with a potential client. It will leave a lasting impression that says you are somewhat unreliable.
  • Meeting at Starbucks with loud music playing so you have to yell over the sound is not professional at all, not even in the slightest. In this story, the added joke for me was the song that was playing, Mr Mojo Rising was playing as the bride  started to look at albums. What kind of comfort level does she have looking at your albums? Remember, your photographs push emotional buttons and that emotion is what will sell your images. If the emotion is overwhelmed by a desire to get the hell out of the Starbucks, then you are not going to sell nearly what you could.
  • What is this client going to tell her friends about you, the photographer? that you are not really a professional because she had to meet you in a Starbucks? I know of people that can make their business work this way but I really wonder if they are having to work even harder than they should be to overcome the presentation of meeting in a noisy, crowded public store front to conduct your business?
  • I know of several high end wedding photographers that meet in their house or they own/rent a house that they use for a studio. Why? because it works people!! Selling a 10,000 dollar wedding is not going to happen in Starbucks or Dennys but it will happen in the studio with good light, quiet music, someone being attentive to the customer and the customer feeling very comfortable. Ever wonder why the Mercedes dealer is more like walking into a fine house than the Chevy dealer with the tile floor and the tasteless cubicles? Now if you like booking 800 dollar weddings, do what you like but if you want to really book the good stuff, start raising the bar for yourself and really think about how you want to present yourself and your craft. I know of another photographer who can not afford a studio yet but rents one that has a very nice area to present the albums, videos and slide shows. Why? because it makes his upselling alot easier. He rents for a block of time and runs one or two clients through it during the rental time. It’s a lot of work but it pays off for him.
  • Read!!!  Read about selling and marketing. I’m doing this now and I really feel that I should have done it three years ago before I upgraded any equipment I had. Get a copy or the audio book by Seth Godin called Purple Cow, New Edition: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable. Another really good book on marketing is by Robert Provencher  and called Exposed: The Naked Uncensored Truth to Running A Successful Photography Business. There are more, many more but these two I have found to be very helpful.

With all this said, do  I have studio space? Not yet, I’m looking around at commercial sites right now and  have been for a month or so now. I do rent space when I need it and Robert Provencher made a point about leveraging what you DO have and not whining about about what you DONT have, in this case, professional space. I do have a house and I do have toys everywhere but he had some interesting things to say about marketing something I thought of as a liability and flipping it to be an asset. When I need to sell right now, I try to meet at the clients house where they are the most comfortable and so far it works. What I will not do is to meet a client at Starbucks and try to sell high quality photography in that type of environment. It’s not the way I want to sell, it is not how I want to be known and I do not want my art presented in that fashion.

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