Photodex ProShow Web

June 22nd, 2015

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ProShow Web | A Fresh Look

DON’T MISS DISCOUNT CODE BELOW.

Slideshows are a huge part of my photography business, there is no doubt about it. Up until recently, I have been a huge advocate of Animoto and for good reason— they have been at the forefront of innovation. What made Animoto so attractive to me was its ease of use, but today, that ease of use and over-dumb-ification has created some gaps in my offerings to clients. I need more. Many photographers out there agree. Simplicity and ease-of-use are very important, but we also need control and the ability to customize.

Now, I don’t want to sit here and cast stones at Animoto. Our clients love our slideshows. Previously, the market leader was Photodex’s ProShow Producer. Whoa, talk about complicated. It was too much product. I am a photographer, not a slideshow ninja master. I wanted fast and easy. Animoto was the answer. And over the last 4 years, we have built hundreds of slideshows for our clients.

‘Innovate or Die’ is the mantra at Salvatore Cincotta Photography, our photography studio. We have to continue to offer our clients superior products and services and out-maneuver our competitors or risk losing market share and becoming irrelevant. This is the risk for all businesses today.

Recently, I took a fresh look at Photodex’s ProShow Web and I think you are going to like what I found.

1. PC/MAC compatible. For the longest time, they only ran on a PC. Yeah, welcome to 2015. Creatives love their Macs. As an ex-Microsoft employee who doesn’t own a single PC today, I can attest to this first-hand. Their ProShow Web is web-based and platform agnostic (it runs via web browser).

2. Branding. Finally a company that gets the importance of branding. I am not talking about adding your logo— that’s 101 crap. I am talking about a splash screen and watermark. With ProShow Web you have your logo as the splash screen vs some random pictures from the slideshow showing when your slideshow is embedded on your website. Don’t underestimate this— branding is key for everything we do. You also have the ability to have a watermark displayed across the bottom corner of the image the entire time. Again, this is huge from a branding perspective. Are you creating a slideshow for a vendor that will play over and over again in their sales room? Guess what? Very few people are going to catch the intro of the video to see your logo. That’s where the watermark is a huge branding opportunity for you.

Branded splash screen.

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Watermark on entire show.

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3. Price. ProShow Web is legitimately half the price of their competitors. But wait, it gets better. Whatever price you sign up with, Proshow Web lets you renew at that same price every time your year subscription is up.  Let’s say they are running a sale when you first sign up (see below)— not only do you get the sale price initially, but when your year is up, while other companies raise your price to current pricing, Photodex allows you to keep the original price point every time you renew. How’s that for a deal?

4. Support for video. They support up to 30-second video clips making it easier than ever to create fusion pieces for your clients.

5. Image timing. This is a HUGE feature in my book. With automated slideshows, you are dealing with the over-dumb-ification of it. You upload your images and the program controls the beat and timing of your images. It’s a catch-22. Well, no more. ProShow Web gives you the best of both worlds.  Upload your images and it will render your slideshow. However, got that one killer image you want on the screen a few seconds longer? No problem. Just click on the timing box and change the duration to whatever you wish. To me, this is a must-have feature. I didn’t work my ass off at an event to have one of my killer shots on the screen for a half second because some computer decided to just treat all images the same.

Customizing the timing of an image is as simple as adjusting the time in the text box. (see below)

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6. Automated Customization. I just made that term up, but it makes so much sense. Proshow Web is perfect for those of you wanting simplicity. Just remember, with simplicity comes repetitiveness and your slideshows all start looking the same. We need the ability to tweak the slideshow. This customization can be as subtle or as complex as you’d like. You can alter the timing and the transition types with a few clicks and leave all the heavy lifting to the ProShow Web engine.

These are just some of the features that jumped out at me. At a minimum, give their free trial a shot and see if you agree with my assesment.

If you are not using slideshows today, I have no idea what you are waiting for. It’s a huge value-add for your clients. If you are using slideshows but feel like you need a little extra control, branding and overall ‘umph,’ check out Photodex’s ProShow Web. I promise you will not be disappointed.

In fact, the good people over at Photodex have offered up a 15% discount code – SAL15 – if you use it by July 15th. Best of all, you will get the same price when you renew. What could be better than that?  http://web.photodex.com/sal

 

Creating Killer Head Shots

June 10th, 2015

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Creating Killer Head Shots

Everyone needs a good head shot, right? The funny thing is, as photographers, we are usually the last ones to get a good portrait. I know for myself, I hate getting in front of the camera. I last about 5 minutes and then I quickly lose patience. Today, we promised the team great head shots and dammit we were going to deliver.

We went with a studio shot and wanted to keep Photoshop to a minimum. Lighting and posing was going to be the differentiators for the shot – not some fancy Photoshop skill.

We have been using Profoto for quite some time now and they are a huge part of our lighting arsenal. This day, we used a 7 light set up. (See diagram below)

The best part? 100% wireless. I know the Profoto B1 is typically touted as the portability king for on-location, travel, etc. We use the B1 almost exclusively in the studio. There is literally been no need for us to use the more powerful units. Best of all, keeps the clutter and cords to a minimum. I can’t tell you how many times I have had my foot catch a chord and slam the light to the ground. A recent trip to Prague comes to mind where I was shooting in a studio and tripped over the chord and slammed the light into the ground costing me $800 USD to fix the flash bulb.

Bottom line, we needed to be fast and efficient on this shoot. Time is money and I wanted to get back to work. We set this up in under 30min. Lighting, backdrop, metered, and multiple portraits. Many lights? Yes. Hard? No.

Lighting Equipment

7 Profoto B1s
Profoto Octabox
Profoto 1×4 Strip
Profoto Grids
Profoto Beauty Dish w Grid

Camera Equipment

Hasselblad H5D-50c
Hasselblad 100mm

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Let’s break down the diagram. All strobes were the Profoto B1

Main lights had an Octobox up top and a 1×4 Strip on the bottom to fill in the shadows and provide more even lighting. Power – f8

On the back drop, we had two B1s with small umbrellas firing into the background. We used the umbrellas to soften the light and void hot spots in the back drop. Power – f4

In addition, we had two 20 degree grided B1s firing into the subject to create a nice edge light and separation from the dark background. Power – f5.6

And then finally, we used a B1 and the Profoto Silver Beauty Dish on a C-Stand above the subject for some hair lighting. Power – f4

As for the camera, many of you know I love medium format. The details are incredible. Previously, I had been using the Phase One IQ250 and honestly, just very disappointed with the results. One of biggest challenges with medium format, in general, is the single focus point. This forces you to focus and recompose. And the results can be complete crap. I left the Phase One platform for this very reason. Sorry, I want my images to be tack sharp.

Enter, Hasselblad. Just incredible. I was blown away from the first frame. This camera kicks the IQ250 in the ass. Sorry. Just reality. If you are going to pay this much money for a camera – the images have to be tack sharp. To see my point – check out the ZOOMED IN shots of each image below. The images say it all. I could not get consistent results with the Phase One IQ250 – so, I made the switch. The Hasselblad comes standard with the True Focus system which locks in on your focus point and maintains focus as you recompose. Life changing in the world of medium format.

To understand the conversion here and why focus is so important. I was shooting a 100mm lens on a 645 back @f8. This is the equivalent of shooting a 60mm lens @f2.8 on a full frame DSLR. So, if you are focusing and recomposing your shot, you are almost guaranteed it will be soft. The numbers get ugly fast if you want to shoot wide open on the medium format platform. For example, if I had shot this at f2.8, if would be the equivalent of roughly f1.6 – literally nothing would be in focus. Hasselblad True Focus makes this system a reality for anyone considering a medium format camera in my opinion – especially if you are considering using it for weddings and portraits.

Click to view larger.

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Final Head shots for the team.

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The outtakes.

Of course, what fun would it be if we didn’t do something a little silly to showcase the various personalities on this dynamic team.

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Now get out there and update your head shots… we can all use a fresh look.

I hope you enjoyed this article – share it if you did.

Strategy vs Tactics

June 4th, 2015

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Strategy Vs Tactics in the world of photography

Many people go through their entire life not knowing or understanding what these two military terms mean or how they impact everything from your day-to-day to your financial goals to your career objectives. These terms are not just for military use, they can be applied to every aspect of our daily lives.

Let’s start with a high-level overview.

Strategy is a larger overall plan of attack.

Tactics are those actions and tasks that are carried out as part of a larger plan.

Strategy is broad big picture. Happening over a period of time.

Tactics are narrower in focus happening in the present or near future.

I meet with and talk to many photographers around the world and have many discussions about business, photography, philosophy, etc and almost everyone gets the concept of strategy. Where I see many businesses fail is in their preparation and execution of tactics. Think about it. Have you ever had a great idea? What happened? Nothing? Why? Probably because you couldn’t execute for one reason or another. Basically, you had a faulty tactical plan. This is problematic for most businesses.

Personally, this is where my business thrives. If it is one thing we are good at is execution. We see the overall strategy and we execute. It’s not really that hard, it’s about adjusting the way you think. That’s where most people get tripped up. Stop telling yourself it can’t be done. More importantly, dial back the dreamer in you. Dreams create the strategy, but some of us can’t wake up from the dream to see the tasks needed to deliver on the dream.

Let’s look at an example. A strategy might be to book more weddings through referrals. Sounds amazing, right? No advertising expenses. Fewer bridal shows. The next logical question is how?  That’s where most people get lost and the dream and strategy end.

The tactics required might look like this. Network with local wedding vendors to create relationships and a referral network.

Take a step back and ask yourself, how can applying some simple strategies and tactics help me get off my ass and make sh$! happen for me, my business, and my family?

There is an old saying, “success begets more success” and if it’s one thing I have learned over the year from watching successful people – they are creatures of habit. Strategies and tactics can be addicting and help you on your path to success and creating your own habits.

Newborn Video – 5 Tips for the Anti-Slideshow

June 2nd, 2015

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Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the June issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking hereShutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.

I wasn’t going to break out my Canon C100 to film our newborn baby. I was trying to follow a rule about professional camera work and personal events. I prefer to keep work, work and personal time, personal time. That’s what smartphones are for, right? But I was urged to do something by peers and family who just couldn’t accept that the filmmaker in the family wasn’t going to document these first few months with a pro’s touch.

I’ve been a wedding and commercial/corporate filmmaker for so many years that I completely overlooked newborns and children. It’s not my forte, certainly. Weddings have always been our bread and butter. They are lucrative and somewhat formulated, and always provide ample opportunity for creativity. The idea of shooting newborns never even really crossed my mind as a filmmaker—until I became a father. And, of course it’s fitting. Video and newborns go together perfectly. Who wouldn’t want to capture those precious few moments when a baby is actually a baby? They change so much from day to day, even in the time between filming and editing.

It wasn’t until I actually fired up the camera, mounted a lens and started filming that a flood of creativity and beautiful ideas sprung to life. After a hearty feeding and diaper swap, we put our 2-month-old daughter (a tad on the old side for a newborn shoot) in my wife’s arms. I used the soft window light in the nursery to produce vibrant, intimate video clips of her perfect skin and all of her little baby parts. Even her tiny outie belly button. Not to mention her “eyes, ears, nose, head, shoulders, knees and toes.” Yes, that song rings in my head daily.

As I was filming, I started thinking about all the little pieces that make up this abundant miracle. Right away, I conjured up a title for the video, “Pieces,” and it would be all about how we love her pieces to pieces. Clever. Cute. And when you think about it, completely marketable as a product.

Being that newborn photography is an entire sector of the photo-business world, why wouldn’t video fit right in? I know some photographers have tried to incorporate video clips in a fusion slideshow format, but this takes it a step further. A video birth announcement doesn’t have to be long or overproduced.

Mine is only a minute and 40 seconds and contains fewer than 50 shots (not a lot by video standards), including titles. Most of the shots are less than two seconds long and are cut to the tempo of the music. I shot it completely handheld, and mostly at apertures sub-f/2.0 for a soft, dreamy feel using the motion of my body to push in and sometimes out toward and away from the baby to simulate a bit of movement.

No fancy sliders, no glider, not even a monopod. It took maybe 10 to 15 minutes to shoot the entire thing. That was about all most babies will stand for. My daughter unknowingly did all the work by just being adorable and doing what babies do. It’s funny: When you watch the video, you probably won’t even notice the baby was crying and flailing most of the time. Only in the shots where you see her face is she actually calm. The stressed look on her face post-tantrum was actually cute.

I cut the video together quickly with Final Cut Pro X, and created the titles using a preanimated title set from Pixel Film Studios called ProAccent. The edit required just a simple, straightforward cut with basic color grading that warmed up the image slightly and enhanced the lightness and saturation in the midtones of her porcelain-like skin and the color of her eyes. I didn’t use any slow motion, but I’m sure that kind of artistic approach has a place in a video like this.

I used SongFreedom for the music. The online licensing service has an entire section devoted to children’s and family music, and it was easy to find a sweet, building, driving instrumental score. Just by showing off my daughter’s tiny form and cute expressions and overlaying some titles stating her weight and length at birth—and of course a hashtag at the end for people to post photos and comments—I ended up with an adorable little film that I know she will cherish 20 years from now.

Truth is, if you have the ability to use light to form dimension in your images and can hold a camera relatively steady for a few seconds at a time, you can make a fun and marketable video birth announcement that fits perfectly in today’s crazed, short-attention-span, self-gratifying, Facebook-perfect, life-highlight-reel world we all live in.

If you are already a newborn photographer, a video like this can open a whole new stream of income from your sessions.

5 Tips to Get You Started Making a Simple Newborn Film or Birth Announcement

  1. Keep it simple. Don’t try to get fancy and overuse sliders and other cinema rigging. There’s one universal rule in show business: Children and animals will steal the show every time. Let the action of the baby speak louder than fancy gear ever will.
  2. Shoot shallow. Trying to capture a moving, kicking baby in focus at all times can be a real challenge, so embrace this unavoidable problem and go with it. Allow the shallow depth-of-field to create a soft, ethereal mood. The thought that went through my mind when I filmed this piece was that I wanted to simulate what a baby’s eyes might see—trying to focus on and track objects that are so new and wondrous.
  3. Aim for tiny moments. What you film doesn’t have to be earth-shatteringly beautiful. Don’t force it. Let the child be who she is, and just capture that in small bursts. When you sit down to edit, you can decide how to string together various shots in a way that moves your viewer’s eyes around the screen and reveals the baby a little at a time.
  4. Keep the room warm and cozy. This is a newborn photographer’s golden rule. You want an environment that doesn’t disturb the baby. The infant doesn’t have to be doing much, either. Simply laying there is enough. We didn’t pose our daughter or try to get fancy with light. I just went for what was already there. It’s real and sweet and couldn’t be faked or mocked even if we tried. It’s how I’ll always remember my little girl.
  5. Edit cleanly. Find a song that has innocence but also builds to create that cinematic tension and climax. Use simple titles to accent the message and polish the stone. Add some booked overlays if you want to jazz up the lighting scenario.

Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the June issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking hereShutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.

 

Color in Your Shadows – It’s Easy Once You Know How

June 2nd, 2015

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Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the June issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking hereShutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.

I love a good lighting puzzle, or what I like to call “decoding light.” Reverse-engineering the light you see in images is a great way to learn how it was achieved. This way you can try to replicate it, incorporate it into your work and eventually make it your own. The catchlights in the eyes and the placement and quality of the shadows are a few of the tell-tale signs to look for. I do this all the time, and encourage you to do the same if you’re just learning lighting or simply looking to add a few cool new techniques to your lighting bag of tricks.

Readers of this column know I’m a big fan of gels. There’s a ton you can do with them, from corrective to creative. During recent Google searches, I repeatedly came across several images that left me scratching my head. The images had a subject lit in what appeared to be relatively white light, seemingly from one strobe, yet the shadow being cast behind the subject was a completely different color. This was a big mystery to me. How was this possible? Where was the color coming from? How could the subject be in nearly white light but the shadow they were casting directly behind them be another color entirely? I couldn’t see any other light sources aside from the keylight, no secondary catchlights in the eyes, no double shadows to give away an additional light source. Definitely intriguing.

After some digging, I found a few clues and set about recreating the effect myself. I set up my mannequin Roxanne in the studio in front of a white seamless background, and began trying to replicate the effect. Figuring out how to create colored shadows, a cool look for both fashion and catalog work, was tricky but fairly simple once I figured it out.

It turns out that the secret is the use of a second light to create the color in the shadow. The devil is in the details. The placement of this gelled light makes all the difference. If it’s placed next to the keylight, you’re likely to get double shadows, which isn’t what I was after. I wanted one crisp, well-defined colored shadow. Placing the light on the opposite side of the keylight, pointed directly at the shadow, did the trick. The shadow still lacked the crispness I was after, but this was easily remedied by increasing the distance between the keylight and the subject and using a different modifier. What you’re doing here is filling the shadow; avoiding crossing shadows by keeping the power under the output of the keylight; and sidestepping any secondary catchlights in the eyes via the position of the light.

Creating Crisp Shadows

The qualities of shadows are governed by several factors, starting with distance. The distance of the keylight from the subject and the distance between the subject and the background will both dramatically affect the level of crispness achieved in the shadows being cast. The more distance there is between the keylight and the subject, the harder the quality of light will be. Hard light is a great fit if you’re after a deep, hard-edged, crisp shadow. The darker the shadow, the more color saturation you can introduce into it and the more defined the shadow will be, creating a more dramatic “crisp” effect. Remember with this technique in addition to a keylight used to illuminate the subject and cast a shadow, a second gelled light is used to fill in that shadow with color.

The Keylight

The next equally important factor is the modifier used for the keylight. The keylight used was a Profoto ProHead connected to a 7A 2400WS pack and modified with a Profoto Magnum reflector. The Magnum is a great light-shaping tool for creating contrasty, punchy light with crisp shadows due to its relatively small size, silver interior and deep shape. Because I wanted the crispest possible shadows, I placed the keylight approximately 10 feet high and 15 feet from the subject. The combination of distance from the subject and the properties of the light and modifier all contributed to the hard quality of light I wanted, and provided enough coverage for three-quarter and full-figure work.

The Fill Light

For the fill light, I used a medium-size strip box fitted with a 40-degree egg-crate grid and powered with a Profoto B1 Air. This light was placed close to the background relative to the keylight, about 5 feet away. The grid was used to tightly control the spill of light and confine it as much as possible to the shadow being cast on the backdrop by the keylight and subject. Inside the strip box, behind the internal baffle, I taped one different-colored gel at a time over the light head. Be careful doing this; modeling lights can easily get too hot and quickly melt your precious gels. Gels are also available in large rolls that can easily be used to cover the outside face of a softbox and avoid issues with modeling lights altogether.

Less Power Equals More Color

Working with gels and strobes is a little counterintuitive. Gels behave differently when held in front of constant lights than they do in front of strobes. In front of constant lights, many gels can throw a lot of saturated, vibrant color. With strobes and, to a lessor extent, speedlights, it’s a case of less is more. You get much better, more-saturated results using the lower end of the strobe power range than you do with higher output. Gels don’t seem to like a ton of light; they quickly appear washed out and lose their punch. My gelled fill light was two stops under the key for each of the three finals. So again, less is more.

The Fill Light Modifier

If you’re ready to take it to the next level and create the crispest hard-edged shadows possible, you’ll want a Profoto ZoomSpot with four interior cutters. This modifier’s built-in Fresnel lens allows users to control a light’s spread from wide to spot, while a second sliding knob can vary the light from soft to focused. The cutters allow endless shapes to be created with the light. This is a super-versatile yet extremely niche tool best suited to fashion, beauty and the occasional portrait application. I use the last-generation ZoomSpot, which I picked up on eBay for $650. Considering the new version, with its built-in 4800ws head, is $10,500, I’d say I got a big fat bargain. Elinchrom and other manufacturers also have adequate and much less costly solutions, and there’s always renting. When it comes to creating super-hard-edged shadows with a ton of control and custom light shapes at your disposal, nothing comes close to a ZoomSpot. I prefer Rosco gels for their quality and variety; they’re available in rolls as well as cut sheets for both strobes and handheld flash.

Whether you use strobes or speedlights to achieve this technique, it’s a great way to add sizzle to your images. So crank up the intensity in your images—gels offer the prefect way to do it.

Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the June issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking hereShutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.

The Revenue Stream – Tips for Capturing Baby’s First Year

June 2nd, 2015

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Wouldn’t you love the peace of mind knowing that you have a reliable cash flow month after month? We need to continually keep our diary full to keep our businesses afloat. But there’s a difference between being busy and being profitable.

There’s an old cliché: “It’s easier to keep a client than to attract a new one.” With the amount of effort required to market to a new client, we shouldn’t short-change ourselves by stopping at offering just one session. If a new mom likes your work enough to commission your newborn photography services, you’ve overcome the biggest obstacle: trust.

Lately I’ve noticed a flurry of photographers, both seasoned and new, branding themselves as “newborn only.” Although it’s important to specialize in an area you love and are good at, it’s just as important to hold onto clients beyond their newborn experience.

I want my clients to fall in love with me so they want to come back at every stage of their baby’s first year. Once you’ve convinced the new parents how awesome you are and how wonderful your work is, you don’t need to be a pushy salesperson, because you’re 80 percent there.

Why should a parent bring a baby back?

The developmental changes in a baby’s first 12 months are so drastic that it’s important to show Mom and Dad the value in having them return at each milestone. I show them an album of a baby’s first year so they can see the changes their own baby will experience. I talk about how they will feel and how much they are going to appreciate it later in life.

I paint a picture for them by explaining the benefits of capturing each stage:

“A newborn is super-adorable captured curled up and squishy, sleeping soundly, when we can capture those creative poses. At three months, their personality comes out, they can hold their heads up and they are smiling. This is the first time we can capture those gorgeous close-ups of their eyes wide open and their gummy grins that you’ll just love! At six or seven months, the change is remarkable; they are very animated, they can usually sit independently, hold a toy and interact with an audience.

“At nine months is their curious stage; they’ve developed the ability to move by crawling, cruising along furniture and pulling themselves up to a standing position. Of course at 12 months, it’s their first birthday, which is always a great reason to throw a party and celebrate! They are probably walking, standing and moving about. Every stage is precious and so worthy of being captured; it will become so much more meaningful to you once the moments have gone.”

How do I create a package that makes me money?

Selling your services based on value instead of price is what is going to secure your future. I’ve built a package that includes all five developmental stages (newborn, three months old, six months, nine months and 12 months) that, when bundled together, is a discount from my standard session fee. This should be a no-brainer—the value goes up the more they invest with you.

On occasion, I’ve found that a high session fee can become an obstacle to closing the sale, so by offering all five sessions together, they feel they are getting more value for their money. I also include a few 8×10 prints in the bundle that they can use at any stage so they feel they are getting a tangible product as well as the investment of time.

If I’ve done my job right, they will find it hard to narrow down their favorites to just a single image. The package includes a single 8×10 matted print at each session, but 95% of the time they always buy more. It’s important to upsell your services so you never create a ceiling. You want to encourage your client to want to invest more. In the long run, you will be making more money from the same client over the year because money spent is money forgotten.

How do we build a system that works?

The trick is to hold their hand through the process. Treat them like gold, and you’ll give them a reason to come back. At my studio, our primary focus (besides producing great-quality work) is client retention and working smarter. Having had my third baby just 21 months ago, I don’t have a lot of time. I have to fit a five-day work week into two days while my toddler is at daycare. I need to make sure that every minute I spend is going to bring me results. I’ve developed a system that walks new parents from one milestone to the next so they don’t have to think about what to do next.

The key is educating the client. It starts with planting the seeds: “This is going to look fabulous above the fireplace” or, “This will look gorgeous above the crib.” I’m a home-based studio, and I only sell by projection. I insist they come back after their session for a separate ordering appointment so I can guide them through the ordering process. I’m the expert, and they look to me for guidance, advice and artistic direction.

Leaving the purchasing decisions for your client to make at home through online ordering is just lazy. It’s a surefire way of killing your sales. I also don’t post any “sneak peaks” online or by email until after their ordering session.

It’s important to hold your cards to your chest and build the excitement so they look forward to seeing your work. Once they’ve seen the images online, it’s very hard to build that excitement back up again. Photography is an emotional purchase. We need to build all the emotion we can muster to keep the client vested in our services.

Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the June issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking hereShutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.

One-Flash Magic – Turning the Ordinary into Extraordinary

June 2nd, 2015

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Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the June issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking hereShutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.

As a wedding photographer in the highly saturated market of Los Angeles, I have always looked for ways to differentiate our brand. Early in my career, I experimented with different ways of using light. While I have always been drawn to the look of off-camera flash, the need to carry around large equipment hindered my ability to make a studio-quality soft-light portrait in a natural environment. Finding the balance between beautiful photographs and the ability to interact with my clients on the wedding day was going to be essential to our success as a studio.

Seeing the Light

Many people are surprised to discover that the majority of our work is photographed using a single flash combined with ambient light. I prefer to use soft, directional light found in easily accessible places. By directional, I am referring to a light source that comes from a distinct direction, rather than just open shade. This type of light is usually found by windows, tunnels or under freeway overpasses, or created by bouncing light off buildings, cars or reflectors.

Directional light, when used right, can be the most flattering type of light because it emphasizes highlights and shadows, creating dimension. When this light is found in natural environments, it is often soft and beautiful. While this is often good enough to make beautiful portraits, I have found that using a flash to accent the natural light allows me to create a studio-quality image in a natural-light environment.

Using Your Flash as an Accent

When using this technique, the flash will never be the keylight because a bare speedlight will create hard, distinct shadows. While this is good in some cases, many bridal portraits are more flattering with soft light. The flash should just be used to create dimension in your portraits.

Below is an example of what I am talking about. The first image of this bride getting ready was photographed using just the window light. Notice the highlight-to-shadow transition from the left side of the face to the right. This image, like most of my bridal portraits, was lit on the short side of the bride’s face (meaning that the light was illuminating the side of the face farthest from the camera). This is flattering light that provides a three-dimensional look to a portrait.

Short light generally looks good on everyone, but it looks especially good on females. The image of the bride is good by itself, but it lacks a punch and creative element that is consistent with our brand of photography.

For the second image, we added a flash behind the bride in a crisscross pattern, meaning the bride was sandwiched between light sources (the window and the flash). This added a level of dimension to the image, and separated the bride from the background. The flash was held by the makeup artist, and fired quickly through a small, portable softbox. (In small areas like this, use a grid on your softbox to avoid light spill.)

The second image is an example of how small differences can make a big impact in your photography.

Tips for using an accent light

  1. Your light does not have to be a hair light. You can use an accent light to light elements that you want to draw attention to. We often do this with details that are in the background of photos, such as a wedding dress.
  1. Experiment with colored gels to give your accent light a mood.
  1. Use a grid when in a small location to control light spill.

Creating Sun Flare With One Flash

Our studio is located just outside of L.A., where it is sunny and 75 to 90 degrees pretty much all year round. But sometimes we are faced with a gloomy day, or sometimes we are photographing in an open-shade location that needs a bit of punch. When conditions are not optimal, use a flash to create a warm, sunlit environment.

Back in April, we shot on a rainy day. It was gloomy out, but the way the sun lights up this particular location was something that we absolutely wanted our couple to have in their photographs. Remember, it’s up to us to meet our clients’ vision for their session if we expect them to make large purchases from us.

I positioned the couple on the ground and placed a light on a stand just behind them, camera left. I placed the light behind some brush to allow the light to skim off the brush and create an ethereal look. Now, positioning the light is one thing, but we have to get the color right. I am a big believer in the MagMod system, which is an amazing tool for photographers. I used a CTO (color temperature orange) on my Canon 600EX-RT, and placed the stand up high and angled downward. I exposed for the natural light on the couple. This was the final result.

Tips for creating sun flare

  1. Experiment with full CTO or half-CTO gels, depending on how much orange you want.
  2. Position the flash behind the couple in an area where it would normally be.
  1. If you are a wedding photographer, this technique works great with a bride who has a veil. Just be careful to not blow out the details of the veil by setting the flash power too high.

Using Backlight

We often use a flash in creative portraits as a backlight to give the image a unique look. Here is an example from a recent shoot we did in Pasadena, CA. The bride and groom were positioned on a wall, and we were using the cherry blossoms as a background. The first image was lit in open shade, which was even and nice, but it lacked the whimsical look that complemented the masquerade theme of this shoot. By adding a backlight, we were able to create a magical look. This image is different: By using a quick flash as an accent, we were able to make it stand out from the rest of the images that couples look at when searching online for this venue.

Using a backlight is also a great way to separate your subject from the background if needed. This image was photographed against a darker background, and without any separation, the subject’s hair would have been lost in the background. By using a flash behind the subject, we were able to make the subject stand out, rather than forcing the viewer to look for them within the image. The flash was positioned on a stand behind the couple, and was cloned out during post-production. When using this technique, place your back flash high enough to cover the back of the tallest subject’s head; otherwise, their head will only be half-lit.

Another thing you can do when backlighting a couple is to place the subjects slightly offset from one another. Have them turn their heads slightly, like they are about to kiss. The one farthest from the camera will have his/her face slightly illuminated as the light bounces off the one closest to you (we usually choose the bride to be lit).

Tips for using backlight

  1. Make sure your flash is not placed too low. This is done often, and will cause the groom to look like he is missing part of his head. Position your flash high behind the tallest subject.
  1. You can adjust the power of your backlight a bit more liberally than you would a keylight.
  1. Backlight water or translucent items for an interesting effect. This works great with fountains.
  1. Your backlight will reflect off bright objects, such as a wedding dress. Use this creatively combined with color-shifting techniques, flash gels and ambient light blending.

Lighting the Background

Lastly, I want to talk about lighting a background. We often use this technique on a wedding day to close out an album. We can easily create a beautiful silhouette by lighting a background directly behind our subjects. For couples, this is a really nice shot that gives a more candid appeal with a creative twist. Use a colored gel on your flash (it’s a good idea to use the wedding colors) to create a photo that doesn’t look bland or flat.

When using your couple as a silhouette, there are a few vital posing techniques. First, keep a slight amount of space in between the couple. This allows the shape of the body to be seen. The noses of the subjects should not be pointed directly at each other or touching. Kissing silhouette shots do not usually work.

Tips for lighting your backgrounds

  1. Colored gels work great.
  1. Even when using multiple-flash setups, lighting a background can turn a bland photograph into a professional-looking image. Try it next time you break out your flash.
  1. When creating a silhouette, keep space in between your subjects to show their shape; otherwise, it can be difficult to see the subject.

Using flash as an accent can improve your photography without much investment in equipment. We use every tool available to give us an edge on the competition.

Check out our video to see more examples of how we use flash creatively on a wedding day.

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Business 101 – Newborns

June 2nd, 2015

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Newborn photography was where it all began for me, and since then, I have photographed over 500 precious babies. For many years, I was known as the newborn photographer in my area. And then the digital era came, and suddenly anyone could call herself a photographer. As professionals, we all know how frustrating this can be. To the untrained eye, these photos were “good enough” and a heck of a lot cheaper than mine. To continue in this industry and make a living for myself, it became increasingly important to get creative with my marketing and educate my clients.

Marketing

Word-of-mouth marketing is essential. Moms talk. By establishing your brand in the community—through your network, personality and quality of work—you will hear the phone ringing consistently. This applies to all aspects of your business. Here’s how I market newborns at my studio.

Displays

We have displays in the local hospital, OB/GYN offices, chiropractor offices and pediatrician offices, as well as the local mall. How do we manage that? We asked. What’s the worst they can say? But they didn’t say no. Why? Because of the relationships and reputation I have built.

Through these displays, clients come to me because they see me everywhere. How did I get everywhere? I know my clients. I know who my ideal client is. I know where he/she works. I know where he/she likes to go. You need to know what type of client you want, and market specifically to her. For newborn clients, go to hospitals; for high school seniors, go to malls; for families, go to pediatric offices. You would be silly not to display your work in every place you can.

At the mall, we have a large wall between Macy’s and the movie theater. I have a variety of images displayed on this wall. My monthly cost for this is $600. This is the only display I pay for.

Social Media

Instagram and Facebook are our best friends in social media. We are constantly documenting behind the scenes at our studio. We document me holding the baby, me posing, the baby, and anything else we feel helps tell the story of our day with a newborn client—or any client, for that matter. We immediately upload to Instagram and use hashtags (#andersonphotographs, #newbornphotography, #washingtoncounty, #maryland, #marylandphotographeroftheyear).

These are just a small sampling of ideas. Make sure you are including the city, county and state. You never know who is searching under those hashtags. Our Instagram is set up to go directly to my personal Facebook page and Twitter. This alleviates having to duplicate posts over and over. We then copy and paste the same upload to the business page. We want everyone to know what we are doing in the moment. It shows that we truly are a full-service, full-time studio.

Client Communication 

Client communication is key. You need to educate your clients from the moment the phone rings. Explain the session time, what they need to bring and what they should expect to spend.

When a client inquires about a newborn session, we always say:

“We schedule a three-hour time slot. It doesn’t always take that long, but we want to ensure we have plenty of time to capture all the images needed. We need the baby ‘milk drunk.’ That means when you arrive at the studio, you will begin feeding the baby. We want that baby asleep—passed out—because this allows us to move the newborn as needed. Bring extra diapers and formula if baby is bottle-feeding. Bring a blanket and any sentimental items you want your baby photographed with, along with a pacifier (even if baby doesn’t take a pacifier). Sometimes that pacie is all we need to get baby into a deep sleep. We will provide the rest.”

If Mom and Dad want to be photographed, have them bring a solid black shirt, or I will put Mom in a strapless gown and Dad can be shirtless.

I want newborns under the age of two weeks; at this age, they are still moldable, meaning I can squish them into curled positions and they will stay asleep. I can move their hands and neck to exactly where I want them. I have photographed newborns up to eight weeks of age—still doable, it just takes a bit more time and patience.

Sales

We do all in-person sales at our studio using ProSelect to maximize our sales and truly provide a personalized service. Sales sessions are best held within one week of the portrait session. We want to capitalize on the emotional connection of the images. Once a client enters our studio for a session, I cover these points.

  1. How did you hear about our studio?
  2. What are your plans for these images? Where do you want to place them in your home?
  3. Whatever your budget is, I want to spend it wisely.
  4. Anyone who needs to be involved with financial decisions needs to be at the order session.
  5. You will be making your purchasing decisions on the day of your sales session.

See the video for further explanation of what I communicate to our clients, along with a quick tour of our sales room.

Props

Although I don’t use a ton of props in our studio (I like the focus to be on the newborn), I do see value in having them. Having these items in our studio allows our clients to pick and choose their favorites based on the décor of their home. We have mesh and knitted wraps, furs, hats, headbands, bowls and baskets, beanbags, pearls, flowers, etc.

Lighting/Gear

For newborns, I prefer to use 100 percent natural light. This is the only session in which I try to stay away from off-camera flash. Natural light provides a soft and beautiful light that just wraps around the baby. When needed, I use a reflector and/or SweetLight’s constant lights. I love SweetLight’s lighting system, which is daylight-balanced and acts like a huge window for me, providing beautiful light in any condition.

My camera gear:

Nikon D4

85m 1.4

24–70 2.8

105 macro

These lenses allow me to capture incredible images from the front, overhead and all the detail shots I want.

Additional supplies:

-Portable heater to keep the room warm

-Small hand towels that I put under the furs, which allows me to lift the baby up a bit

-Posing blocks to tuck under the newborn, allowing me to further sculpt the pose

-I love using gloves with newborns because they keep my hands warm

-A noise machine on the waterfall setting keeps a consistent sound throughout the studio; this allows me to communicate with Mom/Dad, staff, etc., while keeping the baby sound asleep

-I use a Sirius Satellite system to play music in the background; typically set to the “Coffee House” channel

-Silverlake brand backdrops, floors and baseboards provide the right look for the background

-Hand sanitizer (which we use constantly)

Newborn photography can be extremely rewarding. Be patient, create a relaxing environment, use the proper tools and techniques, and you too can be known as the Baby Whisperer.

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The Anatomy of a Destination Shoot

June 2nd, 2015

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The Anatomy of a Destination Shoot

I know April was the travel issue of Shutter, but an experience we had last month on one of our destination shoots gave me an idea for an article. What follows is the anatomy of one of our destination engagement shoots that shows why you should be offering them, how to produce them and, especially important, how to overcome the challenges they present. Let’s break down what I think are the essential elements involved in putting together a successful destination engagement session.

Travel

We block out four days for destination engagement jobs: two for travel and two for scouting and shooting. I’ll detail below how this plays out day-by-day. In the past, we tried to make it work with only three days away from the studio, but given issues with flights and weather that can crop up, we found four days was a better fit. With engagements, you’ve got much more control and flexibility compared to weddings.

Weddings are often at the mercy of the weather. With our destination engagement sessions, we do our best to build in enough extra time and flexibility to account for unexpected flight and/or weather issues. Clients are spending a lot of money to get you and possibly your team to their destination, so you need to have a solid plan with contingencies in case things go off the rails. Remember, it’s your job to provide a great experience and deliver the images you were hired to produce.

Here’s what our typical destination engagement shoot schedule looks like:

Day 1

Arrive at the location early; allow ample time for location scouting and any additional onsite planning that’s needed.

We also try to have dinner with our clients on Day 1. We spend that time catching up, telling them what to expect on the shoot, and genuinely investing in them and building a great relationship. (Despite the good times, it’s equally important to keep in mind that you’re not there on vacation.)

Day 2

Shooting or partial scouting and shooting, depending on how much is accomplished on Day 1.

Day 3

Built-in bad-weather/travel-delay contingency day. This is our extra day of padding; it’s our safety net. If there were no issues on Day 2, then Day 3 can be a day to relax or do additional work with clients. We typically offer our clients extra time in front of the camera, giving them a wider diversity of images and a terrific overall experience. The added benefit is that more images and locations translate into more post-sales opportunities, so it’s a win-win.

Day 4

Travel home.

Gear 

You want to be as compact and efficient as possible. You are going to be going through security checkpoints and trying to shove your gear in those little overhead bins. Do not check your camera gear—ever! The only things we check if we can’t carry them on are things like small light stands and inexpensive light modifiers.

The only time carry-on can present problems is if you are on a smaller plane, one that doesn’t have overhead compartments large enough to accommodate a typical camera bag. Do your research ahead of time so you can find out exactly what type of plane you will be on, and plan accordingly for carry-on measurements and weight requirements/limitations. This is a super-important step. If your bag ends up not fitting in the overhead, you may end up having to surrender it to a flight attendant so it can be checked (read: chucked) into the belly of the plane. And if the bag is over the stated weight limitations, you can easily get stung at the gate with hefty fees.

Don’t be surprised when they pull your bag aside at the gate and weigh it. You can either break it up into smaller bags or go with a bag that will fit under the seat in front of you. We carry on two bags with us (Lowepro x200 and Profoto Backpack M) that each fits in the overhead bins of major airlines but not those on regional jets. One has our cameras and lenses and the other has our lights.

Here is a list of what we bring. These are all of the essential items we use to produce our images. We bring the lenses we use on a regular basis, two camera bodies and enough lighting to overpower the sun and provide creative flexibility.

Canon 5D MkIII x 2

Canon 70–200 2.8L II

Canon 24–70 2.8L II

Canon 16–35 2.8L II

Sigma 1.4 Art Lens

Profoto B1 Location Kit

Profoto Air Remote TTL-C x 2

Profoto OCF Grid Kit

Profoto OCF 2′ Octa

MeFOTO RoadTrip travel tripod

Spider Holster with lens pouches and hand straps x2

Planning and styling your session 

When planning sessions, you definitely want to go above and beyond what you normally do for your typical local session. For our latest shoot, we initially thought about heading to Europe with our couple. But we decided on Costa Rica, which was the location of their first trip together.

Locations matter. Choosing a destination that has meaning to your to clients is a surefire way to create an emotional bond with the experience and images. This results in stronger pictures and increased sales opportunities. Another great example of creating an emotional bond based on location was shooting one of our couples in New York City, where they first met. You don’t get a better backdrop than NYC.

For Costa Rica, we coordinated with our clients as well as the stylist to create several different looks. It’s important to have a well-thought-out concept, look and wardrobe. You don’t want to show up and find out your client only has Bermuda shorts and flip-flops. We always provide plenty of direction for clothing, and view client selections well in advance. This way, we can make sure everything is consistent with the vision for the shoot.

We give clients a clear idea of what pieces and styles they should be looking for when they’re shopping, and ask them to send pictures wearing the outfits they choose. Doing this assures us everything’s clicking, and provides an opportunity to make any necessary adjustments.

In Costa Rica, we knew we would be shooting around a volcano, beautiful tropical settings and thermal hot springs. With that in mind, we knew we wanted to start off with something casual. It was a great way get our clients comfortable and then move on to the more dressy looks and finally the swimwear you can see in the images. We had three solid looks to work with in advance. After arriving in Costa Rica and scouting our locations further, we were then able to re-review all the wardrobe options our client brought, and formalize our shooting plan. We also had the luxury of a talented stylist on our team who provided added variety with makeup and hairstyling for a total of five different looks.

We can’t stress enough the importance of planning and styling sessions in advance. It reinforces your position as trusted advisor for your clients, and also ensures that you will be able to deliver as promised.

Challenges & Tips

Now let’s run through some quick tips to help you avoid the challenges that can arise.

  1. Sign up for a trusted traveler program such as Global Entry. Customs and Border Patrol Trusted Traveler Programs provide expedited travel for preapproved, low-risk travelers through dedicated lanes and kiosks. Global entry provides you with quicker reentry to the U.S.A. It costs $100 per person and includes TSA PreCheck for your domestic travel. PreCheck gives you quicker transit through airport security screening and faster lines, and you don’t have to remove your shoes, belt or light jacket. You can keep your laptop and “3-1-1”-compliant bags in your carry-on.
  1. Always book your own travel. We learned this the hard way on our Costa Rica trip. After our first flight got canceled due to inclement weather there, our clients, who were already there, offered to book us a new flight. We thought we were in great shape until we tried to board seven hours later and were denied. It turned out the airline flagged our clients’ ticket purchase as fraudulent because it was made outside the U.S. We weren’t even allowed to pay our own way at that point; apparently it’s against airline policy. We ended up being forced to take a flight the next day. So book your own travel and schedule an itinerary you’re comfortable with. It’ll save you a lot of headaches.
  1. Pay for upgraded seating. The extra legroom is great, but the real bang for the buck comes with the priority boarding that’s usually included. This means first dibs on the limited overhead compartment space.
  1. Research your flight and plane to make sure you can carry on your gear. I use an app called SeatGuru. It allows you to book flights, but more importantly, it shows you your plane and a seat map, and provides details about each seat and the plane itself.
  1. Our final issue, which I’m sure you’re thinking about by now, is how to run your business while you’re away. In the U.S., it’s safe to assume you’ll have access to cellular and Wi-Fi service. Once you’re outside the county, it’s a different ballgame. Install WhatsApp and have your clients install it too. This app allows you to text and call over Wi-Fi for free. Purchasing a prepaid SIM card for your phone when you arrive at your destination is another good move. Check with your carrier for options.

It all comes down to doing your homework. Find out as much as you can about your destination, and make sure you have the ideal travel arrangements.

Why?

We’ve talked about traveling. We’ve talked about gear, some tips and how to overcome certain challenges. At some point, you may have asked yourself, “Why am I doing all this? Is it worth it?” Yes it is! Think about it. You’re offering your clients a unique experience. We’re all about standing out from the crowd. You’re offering them once-in-a-lifetime images.

It’s a win-win: The clients enjoy a sweet getaway and world-class experience, and you get amazing portfolio images and the opportunity for increased post-sales. People who are going to take time away from work, be out of town for several days, and spend their hard-earned cash on travel, wardrobe and your travel are going to make a significant purchase of the engagement images. Do your best to capitalize on that experience.

This is why I encourage everyone to offer destination engagement sessions. It won’t be the right fit for every client, but when it is, it’s an incredible experience for everyone involved.

Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the June issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking hereShutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.