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The Five Senses: How They Impact Sales with Leonardo Volturo
Are you struggling with in-person sales? Is your client experience lacking? In this month’s article, I walk you through the experience we’ve created for our studio by focusing on the five senses, and go over the key elements needed when creating a sales room that’s built for profit.
When our couples come in, the very first thing they see after sitting down is what is in front of them on our coffee table. Here we feature our top-of-the-line albums along with our handmade wood album boxes. The idea behind this is to allow them to visualize how they could display their wedding album in their home.
Here, our goal is to show exactly what it could look like for them in their home. It’s something they’ve never seen before that creates that “gotta have it” mentality.
Large images on the walls
It’s hard for people to visualize how a certain size picture will look in their home. They may think they don’t have enough space or that a smaller size is much larger than it is until they actually see it in person. Conversely, they may think a certain size will be too large for their space, which is why we’ve set up clusters of common large sizes, such as a 20×30 acrylic over a 15×30 acrylic with a 24×36 metal on either side, showing what can be showcased over a standard size couch. Since we set up this display, it’s become the most popular way our couples choose to showcase their artwork. This offers a great balance to showcase both their engagement and wedding imagery. This setup also opens the door to planning for their wedding sale during their engagement sale.
We lit our sales area with the Hue Wi-Fi LED system from Philips. This allows you to control brightness, mix colors and create a custom lighting setup that can all be controlled from the Hue app on your mobile device. Being able to create your own colors and control color temperature helps when showcasing your products and dialing in the perfect lighting for your space.
When clients sit down to view their slideshow from their engagement session or wedding, we remotely turn off the lights to create a more immersive experience. This very simple touch easily impresses our clients. They perceive us as high-tech and ultramodern, which helps convey the message of our overall brand. We learned very early that it’s all about the experience, so we feel it’s our job to always have something unique and interesting to separate ourselves from the pack.
What does your sales room smell like? Have you even thought about it? This is one very important element that is often overlooked. Maybe you had something funky for lunch or you work from home and just finished cooking a fish dinner for your family. Having clients come into your space and immediately be hit with a terrible smell is a sure way to sales that stink.
So avoid eating or cooking close to any meeting—unless it’s fresh-baked cookies, of course! Our studio uses a Scentsy wax scent warmer with Vanilla Cookie Crunch made by Better Homes and Gardens, available at Walmart. After greeting our clients, one of the first things they comment on is the aroma. Our clients enjoy it so much that we’ve started giving them as gifts as part of our client experience.
Music plays a major role in setting the mood. Having a family in to view their wedding images? Heavy metal may not be the way to go. Know your audience, and program your music accordingly. One playlist most likely won’t work for all genres of photography. For our wedding couples, we’ve curated Spotify playlists with artists like Jack Johnson, John Mayer, Train and Goo Goo Dolls to set the mood for a relaxing and emotionally connected meeting. We play the commercial-free music wirelessly via Bluetooth speakers.
Some photographers may think it’s not worth the investment to have samples of everything you offer for your business. But there really is no substitute for putting a product in the hands of your clients. Let them feel the weight, texture and quality, and immediately everything becomes real and more valuable. The sense of touch comes across most significantly when we show couples our wedding albums. They’re able to feel the weight, the textures of the Italian leathers, the velvet liners and the quality of the pages. Immediately they see the worth and know our books are built to last.
Something else we did recently was relocate our acrylic blocks. Originally we had them next to our TV, which was about 8 feet away from where our clients sit. Our block sales weren’t very good, so we decided to move them to the coffee table right in front of them. Now, every person who sits down picks up the blocks and comments on how great they are, and we sell one in nearly every sales session.
Are you offering your clients anything beyond water? Are you offering them anything at all? Think of a high-end boutique or salon that serves customers wine and champagne. We are trying to create a similar experience, and want to be perceived as a luxury brand. So when our clients come in for an initial meeting or engagement preview, we offer them beer, wine, soda and water. For our wedding previews, we have champagne poured and ready to go before our clients arrive.
Beyond the literal taste you’re leaving in their mouths, this is really about the figurative taste you are leaving with the experience you’ve created for your brand. Remember that you need to show it to sell it. Stimulate the senses. What taste are you leaving, and are your clients coming back for more?
Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the July issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.
Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the July issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.
How I Got the Shot with Sal Cincotta
This month in How I Got the Shot, I talk about the nightmares of a photo shoot gone bad. Sure, the purpose of this column is to talk about how we got this perfectly amazing cover shot. The reality is, things don’t always go as planned. Shit happens. How do we react to it? What do we do when things go horribly wrong? Most importantly, what are the lessons learned? Failure, to me, is the unfortunate side effect of creation. If you are a creator of any sort, failure is part of the process. You don’t have to accept or even enjoy it, but you should learn to see it for what it is—and grow from it.
The July Cover Shoot
Every month, we aim to put together a gorgeous cover shoot for the magazine. July is our three-year anniversary and also the anniversary of the founding of this country, so we wanted to do something patriotic. Part of the initial conversations included the American flag and a model with long, dirty blonde hair, denim jeans and boots in an open field. Sounds amazing, right? If only that had been the case.
Challenge #1: Flaky models
It is so frustrating to work with “models” who don’t take their reputation or craft seriously. (I’m sure it’s equally as frustrating for models who are responsible to read something like this.) We have had more issues with flaky models over the years than any other part of a shoot. And these are models who are being paid well and given great industry exposure.
We went through several models who fit the look and style we were going for, and were met with either no response or a cancelation two days before the shoot. Something came up, apparently.
Taylor Cincotta to the rescue. Working with your spouse is never easy, especially one who is a photographer—but she’s also a model, and there’s nothing worse than a model who now wants to art direct. Perfect, so now we had a model—let’s rock and roll. Twenty-four hours until deadline.
Challenge #2: Location
When it comes to the cover or any other involved shoot, we are very diligent about getting permits or permission before shooting anywhere. There is no “running and gunning” on these types of shoots. They just move too slowly. My right hand, Alissa Zimmerman, happens to have a friend who lives about 10 minutes outside Shutter’s home base of O’Fallon, Illinois, whose family has farmland. Perfect spot for this all-American shoot. Alissa calls the friend’s father and explains the shoot to him and asks for permission to shoot there. “Sure, no problem,” he says. It’s on!
We show up around 6 p.m. and start setting up lighting, test shots, etc. We’re waiting for the light to be perfect when, all of a sudden, a beat-up pickup truck pulls up and the woman behind the wheel starts screaming at us to get off her land: “I ain’t puttin’ up with this here nonsense anymore.” Of course, we are all shocked since we have permission already from the father. Alissa calmly walks up to the lady and tries to explain that we called and got permission, to which the irate lady starts screaming, “I don’t care who you spoke to—I want you off my land now.” Alissa, again looking for clarity, explains that we already did this and are not trying to trespass.
That’s when it all became clear. Apparently, there was a huge family falling out. The father had given us permission to shoot on property that was in dispute, and the family was no longer talking to him.
Perfect. We didn’t get the shot, we just got chased off the land and we lost about three hours. It was 8:30 p.m. when we got back to the studio. The sun was gone and we had no Plan B.
If you have been following me at all, you know my motto: As business owners, we have to be able to #pivot. Plan B was born as the team sat and collaborated on ideas. Krystal, part of my team, came up with an idea for an in-studio shoot. It wasn’t our original idea, but it was a great Plan B.
We wanted something sexy—something red, white and blue. ’Merica.
The image you see was the final edit of the shot.
We lit this shot very differently than we normally do. I wanted something moody. We used two Profoto B1’s. The main light had a Para 88 from Broncolor on it. Just gorgeous light. And the fill had a snoot with a 5-degree grid on it. She just needed a little pop of light on the shadows on her face from the main light.
Camera // Hasselblad H5D-50C
Lens // Hasselblad 100mm lens
Settings // 1/250th @ f8, ISO200
Lights // 2 Profoto B1’s
Modifiers // Profoto Snoot with 5-degree grid and a Broncolor Para 88
Final editing was done in Photoshop CC and Alien Skin 7.
This was one of the toughest shoots of my career. Not from a lighting or posing perspective, but from a morale perspective. It is tough to be creative when so many things keep going wrong. “Keep your head up” sounds amazing in theory, but in practice it can be extremely challenging. You just want to walk off and scream, you are so frustrated, but you have to not only remain cool, but continue to be creative.
I love the final shot. Is it my original vision? No, not even close. But under the circumstances, we still created a gorgeous image of Taylor.
Team Cincotta is a brutal bunch. This image didn’t pass the team’s sniff test. Everyone rejected it for the cover. No one felt it was strong enough. It’s so important to have people around that you can trust. You may not always like what you hear, but at least you know they are being honest and looking out for you and your brand.
The image we decided to go with for the cover is one we took of Sophia on a trip last year to London. Obviously contrary to what we were aiming at for our big Fourth of July cover. We just gotta learn to laugh sometimes. Tomorrow will always be better.
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Building Blocks: Customer Service with Skip Cohen
Customer service is one of the most important aspects of your business. So often, like a doctor with no bedside manner, photographers forget the importance of dealing with the challenges of keeping clients happy.
Because of social media, one angry client can influence thousands of potential customers. The reach of today’s consumers is as big as that enjoyed by magazines and newspapers 10 to 20 years ago. Think about the possible impact of ignoring an unhappy client, who, right or wrong, decides to go public and position you as the bad guy. His reach can easily affect your business.
So, let’s come up with some things you can do to build a strong customer service program. We want your images to be the best, but the experience of each client is just as important. As the leader of your business, you need to hone your ability to empathize, resolve problems and communicate with every customer.
- Anticipate challenges: Think about everything you sell, from your products to your services. Whenever you work directly with the public, there’s always the chance that something is going to go wrong and not meet client expectations. Think through the nature of your business. Think about the things that can go wrong in any client relationship. All we’re doing here is making a list of potential challenges and how you’d resolve them.
- Be accessible: It starts with making it easy for customers to find you. Your phone number and email address need to be easily found on your website. Many of you don’t have a formal studio, so it’s understandable if you don’t want to list your home address, but give people other ways to contact you.
- Develop a stash of solutions: As a “one-man operation,” think through the potential solutions. With staff involved, talk about the list together and how you might solve any given situation. There are no such things as problems, only challenges that can be resolved.
- Have a chain of command: Establish some definite chains of command, giving every person involved in your business the authority to resolve certain types of challenges. There’s nothing worse than an upset client who can’t get an answer and keeps being passed along to another person.
- The Two-Person Rule: I’m a huge fan of WalkTheTalk.com and some of its books on customer service, leadership, communication, etc. I ran across the Two-Person Rule from the site’s 1999 publication, 180 Ways to Walk the Customer Service Talk:
Adopt the Two-Person Rule. Never make a customer talk to more than two people to resolve a problem. If you’re the second person to deal with the customer, you “own” them. Either solve the problem immediately or get a phone number and a convenient time to call back.
- Develop a positive attitude with every client: It’s a lot more fun playing offense than defense, and so many problems can be completely avoided just by building trust with your clients.
- Play offense: There are some easy ingredients to playing offense in customer service, starting with your attitude. Every customer needs to feel like they’re your first and most important client. You’re building trust with every meeting, conversation and email.
- Keep smiling: When on the phone with any client, smile as you talk. Believe it or not, a smile changes the tone of your voice and people on the other end of the line will hear it.
- Exceed expectations: In every aspect of your business, you’ve got one bottom-line goal: exceed expectations.
- Your reaction time: When you do get an upset customer, your reaction time is critical. There are few things that impress an unhappy client more than a fast response, even if you don’t have an answer. Whether you get an angry email or phone call, your key is being accessible immediately.
- Empathize, empathize, empathize: You don’t have to agree, just empathize with what a client is telling you. An upset client needs to know you’re listening. One easy response to an upset customer is to say simply, “I can’t blame you for being upset (or ‘I’m sorry you’re upset’), but the buck stops here. Let’s see how I can help.”
- Solve problems quickly: The faster you find a solution, the smoother the challenge and the less likely for any peripheral damage to your reputation.
- Be a resource: Always give customers more information than what they’re asking for. Disney is the best at this. I know I’ve written before about it. If you ask any Disney staff member, “When is the electric light parade?” they’ll not only answer you, but they’ll give you a great suggestion on where to watch it. Be engaging!
- Listen, listen, listen: All the answers are out there—as long as you listen. Learn to listen to your clients. Know the demographics of your audience. Pay attention to what’s going on in your market as well as with your competitors.
- Find solutions of value: So often, as a consumer myself, I’ve been given a solution from a company that failed to match my complaint. Here’s a prime example.
After an airline delay due to servicing the aircraft—and obviously not the fault of the weather—we were significantly delayed. To get home, we had to fly to a different airport and then find ground transportation to get home. American Airlines refused to cover the additional expense, offering a $50 voucher for approximately $300 in expenses.
You can’t offer a customer who is upset with her album a free 8×10. You can’t give away the store, either. So it’s important to empathize and then look at all the possibilities you have to resolve things to their satisfaction.
Be active on social media. Just having a website isn’t enough today. You need to maintain a consistent presence with a blog, Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook and Google+. Because that’s where your customers are looking. Social media is also a terrific foundation for building trust and your reputation.
There’s so much more I could write about this one topic, but let’s wrap it up with one more great series of tips. Author Steve Ventura, in the WalktheTalk.com book, hit on five assumptions every business owner should avoid like the plague when it comes to serving customers.
Stay clear of:
- Assuming you know what customers want—or what’s best for them.
- Assuming customers know what they need.
- Assuming customers understand everything you have explained.
- Assuming customers are OK with whatever you do in the course of servicing them.
- Assuming customers are happy and satisfied.
I love his closing comment on the last one:
You’ll never really know unless they tell you…or unless you check. So, if they don’t say anything, ask! (“My goal is to make sure you’re happy and satisfied with the service you received. How did I do?”)
All of you are working to create the finest images of your career, but that’s not enough. Customer service is all about putting together your attitude and your aptitude. We’re a word-of-mouth business, and the best way to build a strong brand is to build a reputation as a listener and then solve each challenge as it comes up—quickly and fairly.
One last thought: Not every client will always be satisfied. There will always be that one you just couldn’t help, no matter what you tried. Just don’t let it eat away at you. Instead, focus on how many great relationships you continue to build.
Top 10 Ways to Plan for a Successful Business with Lori Nordstrom
We’ve all heard it said that “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail,” and I believe it—not only in business, but in our personal lives as well. I want to share with you the top 10 planning techniques I use to ensure success. I learned to plan the hard way. It was at a time when I felt I’d hit rock bottom in both my personal life and in my business. I made a decision to get up, dust off and start over. I sometimes say that I didn’t have a choice, I had to make it work. But the reality is, we all have a choice. Instead of letting things happen as they may, build a plan for success.
- Plan to Plan
Make a decision to plan. I set aside time to plan for several days at the end of each year to review the year and put projections on paper for the coming year. I also go over my business plan at this time and make any changes needed. Each month, I designate time to plan for the coming month, and break it into weekly and even daily priorities.
Put blocks of time on your calendar for planning. I spend the first 15 minutes of each workday prioritizing and planning my day, and ask the same of my employees. This has made a big difference in productivity. Having a daily road map helps us stay on track and get things done. Clear-cut goals for the week, month and year allow us to put action steps in place to make sure we reach those goals. Having time carved out for this is essential to making it happen.
- Plan for Work-Life Balance
As small-business owners, we often get so caught up in running our business that it takes over everything else. Learn to plan for your personal goals and dreams first, and then build your business to support those dreams. When planning your schedule, plan for personal and family time first, and then plan your business time around those things to keep them your number-one priority.
- Plan Your Income
Planning your income may sound foreign to you—the idea that we actually get to decide how much money we will bring in, and how much we will put into our pockets. But as business owners, we do get to decide. The thought of what you make shouldn’t feel like a roller coaster ride with its ups and downs and loop-de-loops, never knowing what’s coming next. I realized years ago that if I was going to be responsible for taking care of my family, I really needed to know what to expect. The only way to know what to expect is to plan for it.
First, decide how much you need to profit each month. Second, decide how many sessions you can do each month. Third, decide how much you need to average for each of those sessions to meet your profit goal.
- Plan Your Workflow
Most photographers get bogged down with their workflow at some point, which leads to burnout. A workflow that isn’t planned out will keep you up all night working on images, or scheduling sessions at times when you should be with family. How can you streamline your process? What should you be outsourcing? We wear a lot of hats in our businesses, and I’ve found that if I don’t plan out each job, I get behind and end up pulling those dreaded all-nighters. I don’t know about you, but I like my sleep. So, don’t just plan your sessions on your calendar—plan for all of the other jobs you do as well.
Make a list of all of the different jobs performed in your business—things like bookkeeping, marketing and playing receptionist, all the details in the client process and more. Make a list, and start prioritizing parts of your day for specific tasks. Put each part of your workflow on your calendar. By getting it all on paper, you can see the things that are consuming too much time and the things you should be outsourcing.
- Plan Your Pricing
When we determine how many sessions we can do each month, and go through our workflow process, thinking about how much time we invest in each client, it’s much easier to start thinking about pricing appropriately. So many times photographers look at what the competition is charging and try to price similarly instead of looking at their own costs, overhead and time value.
The planning of pricing is an important step to profitability. The PPA Benchmark says that we should shoot for a 25 percent COS (cost of sale) for the rock bottom that we are willing to charge. That means we need to take all the costs associated with each product we’re creating and then multiply them by four. The step most photographers leave out is to consider their time in this cost-based analysis. Remember, cost-based pricing is the lowest that you can charge for profitability. You’ll raise your prices from there based on experience and demand.
Once you’ve determined your base prices, you need to decide if you are going to offer your products à la carte, in packages or in a build-your-own package. Each one of these methods has benefits, and there is no right or wrong. You need to decide which is best for your clientele and the products you’re offering. Next, you need to plan how and when you’re going to present your pricing to clients.
- Plan Your Sales
A problem I see over and over is that a photographer makes the right decision to meet with clients and show them their images in person, but they aren’t closing the sale. Even though their clients love the images and get superexcited about them, they leave frustrated and upset, unable to make a final decision. I hear it almost daily.
The key to changing this is to realize the sales process doesn’t start in the sales room. It begins with your marketing and your website and everything that your potential client sees before calling your business to begin with. Once that phone rings, it’s our job to get to know our client and then start leading and suggesting. Ask questions. Find out as much about your clients as possible. Start making suggestions based on their lifestyle and the things that are most important to them.
A “first phone call” question that has changed my business is this: “Have you thought about where you will hang your portraits?” The answer is always a big fat “No.” They don’t have any idea what they will buy or where they will display it until we make the suggestion to them. This is the number-one missing ingredient for photographers who are frustrated with their sales. If you wait until the sale to ask, “What would you like?” it’s often just too much for the client to deal with. Start the process on the first phone call. Plan a consultation call or meeting with each client to start working through the products that you suggest before the session.
(Download my “first phone call” script at PhotoTalk.biz/script.)
- Plan Your Marketing and Networking
We all get to a place in our business where we need to gather more clients or get in front of a whole new audience. This might come at a time when you’re starting to feel comfortable with the workflow and the process and are ready to take on more work, or it might come when you’ve got to raise prices and you really just need a whole new market to speak to.
Usually when we start in the photography business, and even for the first couple of years, our marketing consists of dragging people in to be photographed. From there, it spreads to word of mouth—and usually because we are pretty cheap.
That’s where marketing and networking come in. You have to have a plan for it.
Networking is really important to a marketing plan these days, and when you’re building your business, you should have time set aside every week to get in front of your target client. That might mean attending events or functions where they are, belonging to the same gym or church, or partnering with other businesses or well-connected people who work with the same people you want to work with.
- Plan for Client Communications
That leads us to another thing I’ve found I have to plan for. How will you go through the first phone call, what should you be covering and what questions should you be asking? We also need to know how we’re going to answer questions, how we’ll tell them about our process, how it benefits them and how we’ll be showing them their images and helping them through their order. Next is a consultation call or meeting. Plan what you will be communicating during this appointment so that your sale runs smoothly.
Plan for when you will send handwritten notes and other correspondence, how you will follow up with clients, how you will thank them and how you will stay in touch.
- Plan to Give
If you haven’t experienced the spirit of giving through your business, you’re really missing out. I don’t necessarily mean giving away your work, although there might be times when that’s appropriate, like for a terminally ill child or mother, or for a family that’s lost everything in a fire. You also might consider giving away your work when you travel, especially to families in need. Giving generously is so important.
Making a plan to give allows you to be a businessperson in that planning. You can set up events and donate all of the session fees, but you still get to be a businessperson and make money by profiting from the sale of all packages or portraits sold. You can have a presence at high-end auctions and other charitable events. If you have a storefront, you can be a drop-off location for a toy drive, pet-food drive or shoe drive (check out Shoes4Love.org).
One of the things to think about as you are planning charitable marketing and events is that you need to make a lot so you can give a lot. The law of reciprocity basically says, “What goes around comes around.” Give and you will get—it just works out that way. Anne Frank said, “No one has ever become poor by giving.” So true.
- Plan to Increase
In all of our planning, we should always set goals to stretch, grow and become more abundant in all areas of our lives. Your goals aren’t meant to be a stop sign in the road. When you cross an item off your list, replace it with another. When you reach a goal, set one that’s a little bit higher. I mentioned that every year I go back through my business plan and adjust. I look at areas I can improve. This doesn’t always mean increasing my income, although that was a goal for many years. Now, the goal is to increase my time for family, friends and travel. I also find great fulfillment in helping other photographers increase their success. Life continues to change and evolve for all of us, so make a plan for it.
There are many checkpoints in your business where you should look back and ask yourself some questions. What went well? What can I do better? These are two of my favorites. Ask these questions after phone calls, sessions and sales. Plan for growth in every area of your business.
When you hit certain checkpoints, ask, “What comes next?” Do you have a plan for going even farther? I hope so. This will keep you motivated and reaching for the next level.
It is easy to be excited and overjoyed at the growth of your business. The story rings true over and over: Business is booming, the phone is ringing, shoots being scheduled, sales made. But you just aren’t a businessperson. You didn’t realize the chaos that growth would have on your business. Do not panic. Learn from other people’s mistakes and make adjustments before it is too late.
Having a rock solid process for every aspect of your business does not come overnight. For us at Evolve, process is something that has been developed, trashed, redeveloped, tweaked and ultimately beaten until it has the most efficiency rung out of it. Process is there to help keep you from being overwhelmed when the wheels are coming off. Believe it or not, just because you don’t have a book that outlines step by step how to do different tasks in your business, you already likely have process in place. Process for storing image files. Process for responding to inquiries. Process for putting appointments and notes on a calendar. Process for booking jobs and signing contracts. Process for completing client orders and albums.
The list could go on forever, but identifying these areas is step 1. Wringing efficiency out of them is step 2. This can be difficult if you do not like change, but it’s integral to growing your business. Look at each area of what you are doing and ask yourself if there is a better way to do it. What used to make sense when you weren’t as busy might not work anymore. For example, when someone emails and asks if you are available on a specific date, do you respond with, “Yup, I’m available, let’s meet,” or do you have a carefully calculated response that covers the next logical questions they will ask? By just tweaking this small process, you can save yourself from having to respond to a handful of emails, or better, save yourself the time of having a meeting with someone who is never going to be your client.
Without a doubt, I will have dissenters on this topic, but I’ll shout this loud and clear: Work-life balance is a myth when you are the owner of a growing small business. There are too many businesses out there struggling to get from point A to point B, but you want to talk about balancing your personal life? Sorry, friends, you are living in La-La Land. Ride the wave of success you are finding, and ride it now. The opportunity might not be there tomorrow. Set the target and get laser focused. The latter can be difficult when outside influences (husband/wife, children, friends, etc.) are pulling you and creating chaos for you on a personal level because your business has become front and center.
Look for the little things you can do to alleviate issues caused by the monster that is consuming your life—things like coffee dates, an hour at dinner not constantly checking email, creative ways to spend time with loved ones. Just do not lose sight of the fact that you have been given a wave to ride when the odds are overwhelmingly against every small business.
How many jobs did you do last year? What is the percentage of inquiries versus meetings versus bookings? Do you know these numbers? Or do you work from what you “think” they are? When your business is growing, it can become easy to operate off of a gut instinct of what you think is right. However, digging into these numbers—and, more importantly, understanding what they mean—can give you insight you might not realize.
Could removing a certain product from your middle package increase your profit? In many conversations I’ve had with studios, one area they struggle with is in realizing that sometimes there is more profit in their smaller packages because of the cost of goods of what they’ve built into their bigger packages. Another area to look at might be what happens to overall profit if you can increase your portrait sales average by 10 percent. What if you increased all your wedding packages by $500?
What metrics do you track currently? Can you track other useful areas of your business? You will be surprised by the outcome when you really start digging into these numbers. It is also a good way to see how you spend your time. Are you spending 80 percent of your time on something that generates 20 percent of your profit?
While I believe to my core that outsourcing your post-production is one of the best areas in which to start scaling your business, I won’t bore you with an elevator pitch. I hope that if your business is exploding, you already outsource. My concern is that the Business 101 term opportunity cost may not be even remotely on your radar.
Opportunity cost should be part of your general thought process. The vast majority of photographers are one-man shows, and it doesn’t make sense to hire full-time staff that you need to pay 40-plus hours per week, 52 weeks a year. But you can’t do it all yourself, can you? A few years back, outsourcing was a dirty word that implied shipping jobs to India or China. I remember reading a forum thread that made fun of the movement toward outsourcing aspects of your business. But you likely already outsource aspects that you don’t realize. Do you print your own prints? You likely outsource them to a lab. Do you do your own accounting? You likely have an accountant.
Looking at areas where you can outsource doesn’t stop at just the business. How much would it cost to have a yard service cut your grass at your home to save you a few hours per week? Getting back that time would likely be worth it to your business (and maybe your sanity). This is just one area. Look internally at what you do in a given day, week, and month. If you value your time, I suspect you will find many areas where you can regain some of your time.
Last but not least is the biggest problem for a growing small business: growth. It might sound funny, but a business that is growing will find that its biggest nemesis is itself. I’ve touched on different ways to mitigate and ease the pain of growing, but uncontrolled growth is mentally and physically taxing—and expensive. Look to local business organizations, networking, banking partnerships and education.
Whenever it feels like the walls are closing in because of growth, we have a conversation about how to prioritize tasks (when everything is a priority). Most of the time, it goes back to the time-tested “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” Take the time to look for areas of inefficiency, and figure out whether or not you have the time to spend on them.
In working with hundreds of growing studios around the world, I’ve found that sometimes the smallest solution can be the most enlightening—removing the smallest task can be the most beneficial. Almost every photographer starts as a photographer first, businessperson a distant second. Getting better at business has to be on par with any goal to improve your photography.
Just remember, there is no glamour in being a starving artist, and the best photographers in the world will fail if they are horrible at the art of business.
Overcoming Obstacles – How I Got Started in Photography with Blair Phillips
The only person who truly wants to hear excuses is the person giving them. Taking the easy road is most likely not going to bring you true happiness in the long run. Anyone can buy a camera and call himself a photographer, but only a few are able to be persistent enough to make a living with that camera. Fear of failure is the biggest thing that can keep you from accomplishing goals. There is a huge misconception that you have to have a huge studio, tons of equipment, and a huge client base in order to start making money as a photographer. The other misconception is that once you are past the five-year mark in business, you are here to stay. But being a full-time photographer and business owner is a struggle that never ends.
One of the cardinal sins I see new photographers make is what I call “betting the farm.” This is when you put everything you have on the line and hope it works out. That puts so much pressure on you that you will never be able to enjoy photography.
I began my business by asking friends and coworkers if they knew of anyone in need of a session by a beginner. A few of them did, and I somehow struggled through those early sessions. I made enough to buy my first studio light. I went back to those people who believed in me, and asked them to reach out to more friends and families who might be interested in a session. Before I knew it, my phone began to ring. With each session, I would save all that I could and put it into my equipment fund. That was nearly 11 years ago.
Getting the ball rolling
Walking away from a full-time job to start a career as a photography studio owner is not something you wake up and spontaneously decide to do. Once you have an influx of business, it is so tough to determine when to go full time on your own.
I have an easy way to gauge when the timing is right for you to make that jump. When your job is consistently keeping you from making more money month after month, you know the time is right. I worked my full-time job and moonlighted as a photographer for two years before letting the job go. I worked the last six months of that job part time just to be sure of my decision. Creating a great foundation takes time and can’t be rushed.
What to shoot?
I am so glad I explored all types of sessions in the beginning. Everyone should shoot weddings early on in their career. They bring a certain type of stress and pressure that will either make or break you. With years of weddings under my belt, I feel I can handle anything. You will find that you enjoy photographing certain types of sessions way more than others. If you despise photographing certain things, mark them off your list. If you continue to do sessions that bring you no enjoyment, your work and life will suffer.
Let’s shift gears and talk about maintaining the business you have worked so hard to get. Having a very outgoing personality is one of the best tools you can have. How you handle mistakes is key. Communication and kindness will often dissolve any problems you may have with a client. People are often very rude and disrespectful when there’s a problem. Be the change you want to see in the world by killing people with kindness. Being able to create great images is essential, but the way you treat clients is sometimes even more important because of referrals and repeat business.
Bigger Isn’t Always Better
More is not always better. I have had up to six employees at one time, and that turned into a business itself. In order to be very successful, you don’t need a building full of employees. My wife and I live a very nice lifestyle with lots of freedom with just three of us working the business.
The photography industry is one of the quickest markets in which to become displaced. Just because what you are doing today is working very well does not mean it will carry the same success next year. If you put all of your focus on one thing, where will you be if it fails? We are constantly digging for new business. You have to consciously break your mindset. Change is inevitable, and you must change what you are doing every once in a while in order to retain your popularity with clients. If you produce the same thing day after day, it will become boring and lose client interest. You do not have to set out each day to reinvent the wheel, but be prepared to make adjustments to it every once in a while. Keep your eyes and mind open to what is going on in the world around you.
Network, Network, Network!
Another helpful asset to beginning and growing photography entrepreneurs is the ability to reach out to competitors. I have befriended several very successful photographers over the years. Most of those relationships were started at a photography convention. These are people I bounce ideas off and gain new ideas from.
Here is an example of just how helpful this can be. I recently attended a convention on school photography. I needed help with pricing and packages. Organizers asked the 40 studios in attendance to bring their current school order forms, so we left with 40 different pricing perspectives. Before the convention, I wrote down every question I could think of. Then I took advantage of any downtime and asked everyone I could to help answer my questions.
I seem to get more help by forming relationships way outside of my market. Cherish the relationships that you are able to make along the way, because you have no idea just how much you can help each other.
No matter the size you want to grow your company, we all have the same responsibilities as photographers. Those responsibilities include creating great images and relationships, and giving back to a beginning photographer. When life gives you reasons to gripe, just take the high road, because there is a lot less traffic up there.
Less Is More: High-End Fashion on a Budget with Michael Corsentino
Hi, my name is Michael and I’m a gear addict. There, I said it. I love sexy gear. I’ve drooled over my fair share of stratospherically priced Broncolor Paras, Profoto Giant Parabolics and Briese lights. What kind of gibberish am I speaking? These are the big boys, the go-to tools that high-end rental houses stock and that productions use to create the gorgeous light you see on magazine covers and in ad campaigns day in and day out. They’re incredible tools with incredible prices to match, easily reaching into the thousands and tens of thousands of dollars.
This month, I wanted to see how close I could get to these results using gear that costs a fraction as much. As the saying goes, “Light is light,” so all things being equal, could I approximate the big-production look I love using just one light and a $100 umbrella? Keep in mind this look is typically created using four lights for the background, one keylight with an out-of-this-world modifier and numerous fill and accent lights. Stick around, and you’ll learn how I got pretty close.
Achieving the Look
Half the battle is figuring out the tools you need to create the look you want. Since I was planning on shooting full-figure, three-quarter and tighter images, I knew I was going to need a source large enough to cover this range. Additionally, with the one-light setup, I knew I’d be standing directly in front of my light and potentially blocking it. So I’d need a source large enough to completely wrap around me and illuminate the model without any issues.
There were other important factors to consider. I wanted a punchy, contrasty light that approximated the look popular in fashion magazines and advertising images. I also needed maximum coverage, with enough spill to light both my model and the white background behind her. With these things in mind, an extralarge umbrella with a silver interior was the obvious choice. Westcott’s $100 7-inch Silver Parabolic was the prefect fit. Silver would not only give me the specular quality of light I wanted, but also increase the effective output or efficiency of my light. With an indirect light source like an umbrella, this was important. In order to shoot full-figure images at my desired f/14–16, I’d need to place my light at least 16 feet from my model, and I’d need all the power I could muster.
Anatomy of an Umbrella
So why use an umbrella? Each light modifier has its own unique set of characteristics that make it the right or wrong choice for the job. Umbrellas spread light everywhere, so if you’re looking for a modifier that’s going to allow you to control exactly where you’re placing your light, an umbrella isn’t the right tool. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for a modifier that’s going to deliver as much overall light as possible, an umbrella is just the thing.
Umbrellas are often scoffed at because they are such basic tools, but don’t be fooled: Under the right circumstances, umbrellas rock. They come in shoot-through and bounce-back versions, providing myriad effects, from soft to specular, based on their size and interior fabric. The silver bounce-back style I’m using here is known as an indirect light source. This is because the strobe faces away from the model and into the curved, concave part of the umbrella that faces the subject. Because of this, you’ll need a strobe with sufficient power and/or sufficient f-stop.
2 Looks, 3 Sets
This shoot was all about keeping it simple—simple tools and simple techniques. I started off with one light and white seamless for the first look. I always have props on hand, things like interesting chairs, antique ladders and wooden boxes. The red stool worked perfectly as an accent note to Chelsea’s red blouse, and helped create compositional balance. A fast flash duration freezes the action as Chelsea flips her hair, creating an energetic series of images. Image 3 from this series uses a slightly different technique. Here I used two foamcore V-flats to build a three-sided white box behind and around Chelsea left and right, essentially bathing her in white light. This added an extra all-over wash of light to the image. It’s a great way to go if you like the high key look or don’t have a roll of background paper (see Look 1/Image 3 and Lighting Diagram 2).
For the second look, I decided to go all DIY and use the silver insulation panels I had in studio serving as large reflector panels for background. I taped them together and created a cove to shoot in. Insulation panels are inexpensive and work perfectly as backgrounds, reflectors and black blocking panels.
The point is, you don’t need to spend a king’s ransom to create really cool-looking images.
I kept the post simple and straightforward, focusing on the skin, color and contrast. For retouching, I used frequency separation, a fantastic method for removing blemishes, adjusting tones and maintaining realistic skin detail. Frequency separation separates the detail and tone in an image, allowing you to work on them independently. It sounds complicated, but it’s not. If you search YouTube, you’ll find a ton of videos explaining this technique in excoriating detail. (I recently came across a great Photoshop retouching panel that has it, among other super-useful scripts, built in. It’s called the “Beauty Retouch Panel,” and you can find it over at RetouchingAcademy.com.
What’s Your Angle?
Choosing the right angle when photographing models makes a big difference. As usual, there are no rules here, and of course it will depend on the model and your vision for the images. In this case, shooting slightly up at Chelsea produced more winners than losers, by a wide margin. A lower angle helps elongate and slim the body, and adds a larger-than-life, heroic feeling.
Gear and Camera Settings
This series of images was shot with medium-format digital, a Phase One DF+ with an IQ250 digital back; Schneider Kreuznach 80mm LS f/2.8 AF and 150mm LS f/3.5 AF lenses; a Profoto 7A 2400WS Generator and one Prohead; Pocket Wizard Plus IIIs for triggering the lights; a Sekonic L-758DR light meter; and one Westcott 7′ Silver Parabolic Umbrella (Model 4633). Given their size, build quality and versatility, these umbrellas are an amazing value at only $100. They’re available in four flavors: Silver, White Front Diffusion Cover, White Diffusion and White/Black. I’ll definitely be doing more with these in future articles. Camera settings were as follows: ISO 100, 1/125 shutter speed, f:14–16.
Fashion for Less
The experiment was a success. Clearly, you’re not going to get the exact same quality of light delivered by the big-league über-expensive modifiers listed above—there’s no arguing they produce insanely beautiful light. The important takeaway here is that I’ve achieved the look I was after using a single $100 umbrella. You can do a lot with a little. If you have access to drool-worthy professional tools and tons of lights, by all means, use them. But if you don’t, don’t be held back—if you know what you’re trying achieve, there’s a lot you can do with simple, inexpensive tools.
4 Techniques for More Impactful Images with Craig LaMere
Because I shoot so many genres, other shooters sometimes ask how I describe my style. And because I’m the most immature human on the planet, my answer is usually: “My style is badass!”
When a person looks at my images, I want a strong reaction, regardless of genre. I’m not one to shoot with a lot of hidden meaning or with a message. I’m just not that smart. I shoot images that I think are going to be cool, strong and impactful. The reaction I want from every photo is: “Damn! That is a badass image!”
This month, I cover five techniques that can be combined or used independently to help you get that same reaction.
Black and White
When I first started shooting, before I had any clue what I was doing, I would pretty much point, hit the button and hope for the best. Then, after the session, I would look at my images and assess the damage I had caused. For the most part, of the thousand images I would take at a shoot, five were good, 20 were average and the other 975 were pretty much poop for one reason or another.
In the bad images, the colors were off because I didn’t know anything about white balance or color temperature. For these images, I would do the one thing that was almost guaranteed to save any image, as long as it was in focus: convert it to black and white.
At the time, black-and-white conversion meant going to the Image tab in Photoshop and hitting the desaturation button. As I got further into photography, I started to understand tonal range and channels in black-and-white images. Soon I started to love black and white, and not look at it merely as a last resort or a fix.
Nowadays, I often shoot specifically in black and white. I shoot with tones in mind, not with a color palate. I’m looking for very strong contrast between light and dark. You are still capturing images in color, but you should be envisioning them in black and white.
As I said before, the way I would create black and white was to merely take all the color information out of the image and call it good. While this will give you an image that is black and white, you are not maximizing your image’s potential in the least.
There are many black-and-white converters out there. I use Nik Software’s Silver Efex Pro 2. It lets me manipulate each of the specific channels and assign different depth of contrast to each. It’s the contrast that gives your images impact.
Of all the questions I get asked, the majority of them fall into two categories: lighting and posing.
There’s a reason the old tried and true methods for posing have survived for years and years. The three most basic things I advise people are:
- Stick to your rules.
- If it bends, then bend it.
- Pose guys into C’s and girls into S’s.
If you stick to these three things, you will be fine 90 percent of the time. But when I want to pose for impact—especially with women—I pose for power, strength and confidence. There really is not a lot you have to do to pose women for power and strength, but the results of a few little tweaks are really amazing.
Tweak 1. In standing poses, do not let clients bend their legs. When posing a woman, you can have the hips pointed away from the camera and the knees slightly bent, which softens up the pose. Have your client take a slightly wider than shoulder width stance and hip to one side. By keeping legs straight, you are creating hard lines that play very well for impact.
Tweak 2. Create hard triangles with arms and legs. When you are posing women for power and strength, make sure the elbows and/or the knees are bent at a 90-degree angle—and even a little more if you have a client with very long arms or legs. You want to close the pose as much as possible to create a sense of rigidness.
Tweak 3. When using an S curve, keep the head in a straight-on position, without a lean, creating a full S curve. This reveals the femininity of the curvature of your subject’s body, while the head being straight gives your image strength—and impact.
The way you crop can make or break an image’s impact. Whether you crop in-camera or in post, your crop is the trail you lay down to lead your viewer to your point of interest.
There are two basic cropping philosophies. The first I call the competition print crop. This style best fits the standards for print WPPI, PPA or pretty much any other standard print competition. Probably the most prevalent crop rules for print competition is not chopping people at joints or the head, and using the rule of thirds.
Which brings us to the second philosophy of cropping: breaking those standard competition rules. It is very important to understand all aspects of print competition, but once you do understand the rules, you can venture away and get more creative than the rules allow you to.
I’m such a nut for keeping my point of interest in one of the far thirds of an image. Because I’m a portrait shooter, the eyes of my subject are usually my point of interest. To get the eyes where I want them, I often chop the tops of heads. When I’m shooting full length or three-quarter, I chop off hands, feet, arms and legs in the final crop in order to get my point of interest where I want it. You might lose some of the image, but less is more, and to me it is worth losing some of an image to focus the attention on what is really powerful.
If you come from a town like mine, where every field, alley and graffiti wall has been shot over and over again, you are faced with the task of making highly shot locations new all over again. When I shoot locations, I consider two lighting options: natural or strobe. Here’s how I shoot both in hopes of making any location my own.
Natural-light locations are about colors and tones, and how I can use them to complement my subject. I like to shoot between 85mm and 135mm, and as wide open as I can with my f-stop. On my 85mm, that would be f1.2, and on my 135mm, it would be f2. I like to do this so I can compress the image, pretty much completely blur the background and create a lot of separation. When shooting like this, my goal is to make shallow depth of field shine the spotlight on my subject. With this technique, you can render any location almost unrecognizable.
Strobe-light locations are about making the environment as important as the subject. I pretty much shoot only my 24–70 L 2.8. I shoot at 24mm 99 percent of the time so I can take in as much of the location as possible. I shoot in the exact opposite way as I do in natural-light locations: I shoot closed down at f13 to f16; I do not want any compression of the image; and I want to be certain everything will be in focus. In strobe locations, I always underexpose to bring out all the colors and the grit of the location, and then bring my subject out with the strobe.
This is one of the most impactful setups you can pull off, and one that will set your work apart.