Are you your own client?

May 4th, 2015

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Are you your own client? This seemingly rhetorical question is straight to the point. 

Photographers around the world struggle with pricing. The most common reason being a complete lack of confidence in their pricing, often quoting, “I would never pay that much.” 

Well, if this sounds like you, then keep reading. 

Here is my simple, to-the-point, advice for you. GET OUT OF YOUR OWN WAY! Yes, it’s that simple. Accept that this is only a mental block, nothing more. Just because you wouldn’t buy a Louis Vuitton or a Mercedes-Benz doesn’t mean there isn’t a world of people out there who are willing to spend money on luxury items. The reality is, if you ever want to be able to afford the finer things in life, then you had better get your pricing in order, which typically means raising your prices. If you are looking for an expensive hobby, well, congratulations, you have found it. At a minimum, you should be looking for ways to afford the gear you want, which, again, comes back to money. 

You have to value your talent— you are an artist. Art is not a commodity product, although some out there would have you believe otherwise with shoot and burners charging $500 for a DVD of images. Trust me when I tell you there are clients out there, tens of thousands of them actually, who want more than just a DVD of images. They want a complete service that you aren’t able to afford to provide because you are not charging enough, because, again, you are not your own client. It’s a vicious circle. 

So, how do you break out of this circle?

  1. Accept that it’s ok if you are not your own client. Do you think people who have their own private jets sell private jets to billionaires? Of course not. The very thought of that is ridiculous. So, too, is this notion. Accept that it’s ok and move on. 
  2. Value your work and your talent. This is tied to confidence. If you don’t value your work, who will? Of course clients are not willing to pay for your services if you don’t believe in them. You are a limited resource— it’s that simple. What is the minimum amount of money you are willing to work for on any given day? $500? For me, I would rather have the day off. You might think that sounds elitist, but I assure you it’s not. It’s 100% based on experience. There is a cost to doing business— gear, marketing, advertising, time on the shoot, time to drive to the shoot, phone time with the client, insurance, post production, and the list goes on and on. I don’t want to work for $6 per hour. Nor should you. 
  3. Do you ever want to be your own client? Think about it— what do you want out of life? Surely, there is something you want. Maybe you are not a materialistic person and there is no shame in that, but do you want to retire? Do you want to provide your kids with a good education, or finally take that family trip? Do you need new or better gear? Well, none of this is ever gong to happen without the money to pay for it.
  4. Position yourself and your business where you want to be 12 months from now. Stop convincing yourself you are not good enough. It’s a massive chicken-and-egg scenario. Sure, we all want to get better and yes, we all need to be committed to continuous improvement, but will you ever reach your final destination? No. As artists, we are all on a journey with no final destination. 
  5. Think like your clients. Maybe you are not your own client, but surely you can figure out who they are and understand their spending patterns. Companies all over the world do this. You have to get in the mind of your client. This will help you at least understand who you are trying to attract to your business and give you some guidance. For example, clients buying a Louis Vuitton are not looking for a sale on Groupon. In fact, it’s the opposite. So stop doing things that are counter-intuitive to your own success. 

I hope this has helped you think a little differently. Get out there and start thinking like the client you want to be some day and the client you hope to attract to your own business. Your outlook and projections should start looking up immediately.

Good luck. 

Craig Lamere – The Lens Choice for Capturing Creative Images

May 1st, 2015

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Craig Lamere – The Lens Choice for Capturing Creative Images

 

I’m often asked what my go-to lens is. My standard answer might seem like the worst smartass answer ever, but it is the only one I have: My favorite lens is the one that enables me to shoot the image I have in my head. That said, it’s hard choosing the right one. So let’s talk zoom versus prime lenses.

 

Zoom Lenses

 

A zoom lens uses specialized mechanics that allow you to change focal lengths by turning the zoom ring. There are as many types and quality of zoom lenses as there are focal lengths. Lenses that are on the lower to midrange end in quality tend to have the greatest zoom margins. Typical zoom lengths at the midrange level include 28mm–300mm and 70mm–300mm. Higher-end lenses typically don’t have the wide range, and are commonly 16mm–35mm, 24mm–70mm and 70mm–200mm.

 

Prime Lenses

 

Prime lenses have a set focal length and do not zoom in or out mechanically. If you are standing in one place and want more or less of an image in the frame, you have to physically move to get what you want in the picture. An 85mm lens has a fixed focal length of 85mm—no more, no less.

 

Aperture

 

Aperture is literally the size of the hole in the lens that allows so much light though it. When talking about aperture, you have to talk about f-stop and depth of field, as they are connected at the hip. The f-stop is the size of the aperture. This is where aperture gets a little confusing for people because the relationship is opposite to the terminology. Remember that the smaller the f-stop number, the larger the aperture. If you are at f1.2, the aperture—or the hole—is much greater than if you were at f16. How all this relates to depth of field is that the aperture determines how much is in focus and how much is not in your image. If you were shooting f1.2, you would have a much smaller depth of field than if you were shooting f16. Depending on the type of shooter you are and the environments you shoot in, this part is critical in choosing the right lens.

 

Fixed Aperture vs. Variable Aperture

 

One of the biggest differences between prime and zoom lenses (more so in the lower to midrange zoom market) is how the aperture works in them. Lower to midrange lenses usually have a varying aperture. Variable aperture means that as you change the focal length of the zoom lens, the aperture changes as well. Let’s say have a lens that is 70mm–300mm and f3.5–f5.6. What those numbers are telling you is that at 70mm, your maximum aperture is f3.5, and when you are zoomed out to 300mm, your max is f5.6. These numbers are super-important because they correspond to your depth of field and also to the limitations the lens will have in certain lighting conditions. In the higher-end zoom lenses, you see a lot more of what is called fixed aperture. Fixed aperture is when the lens keeps a constant aperture throughout the entire focal length. For instance, my Canon 24–70 L 2.8 can stay at f2.8 from 24mm to 70mm, which gives me latitude in how I can use the lens. Primes, on the other hand, have fixed apertures because they have a single focal length.

 

If you are a wedding shooter and you want a zoom so you can easily move in and out of your subjects, the variable versus fixed aperture issue is huge for you. Many wedding locations do not allow any artificial light, and so you are forced to shoot with the available ambient light, and the best aperture you can get to is f3.5; when zoomed to f5.6, even with your ISO pumped up, that may not work at all. A fixed-aperture zoom would better fit your needs. Buying a 70–200mm 2.8 would be a better choice, even though it’s more of an investment than buying the variable zoom.

 

One of the features that makes primes different from zooms is their max aperture. A lot of prime lenses are somewhere between f1.2 and f2, and most high-end zooms are f2.8 and higher. If you are a wedding shooter whose main concern is having the largest aperture available so lighting issues are minimalized, you would probably choose an 85mm f1.2, 50mm f1.4 or 135mm f2.0.

 

Cost

 

So which is the better deal? If you are going lens for lens, it would look like buying a prime is the better deal since they typically cost less than a zoom, especially when you get into the higher-end fixed-aperture zooms. But here is one thing you have to take into consideration. When you buy a zoom lens, you are buying focal length X to focal length X, which is basically like having a number of lenses built into one. When you are buying a prime, you are buying only one focal length. To get as many focal lengths as you get in your zoom, you have to buy multiple individual primes, which could cost more than buying one higher-end zoom.

 

Depth of Field

 

Depth of field is such a huge part of images and the creative process. I’m not going to get into the nuts and bolts of how it all works, but what I will say is the bigger your lens aperture or smaller the f-stop, the shallower your depth of field will be. It is the shallow DOF that makes more of your background dreamy and creamy, and separates you subject. One other factor to take into consideration is the actual focal length of the lens used. Even though two lenses can be at the same f-stop, they are going to produce very different images based on the focal length in relationship to the subject. As an example, if two people shoot the same person at f.28 and one person is using a 200mm lens and one is using a 24mm lens, the images in regards to depth of field are going to look much different. With the 200mm, you have compressed the image so less of the background can be seen in the frame, and so the DOF seems to be greater in the image. With the 24mm, you have included much more of the background, and so you have not isolated the subject, and your images will not have that creamy, dreamy look. This should be a huge consideration when choosing a lens.

 

Zoom vs. Prime Trade-offs

 

Here are a few key points to keep in mind when choosing a lens.

 

  • Convenience: Zooms are going to be way more efficient and convenient if you need multiple focal lengths fast, since it’s like having a number of individual lenses built into one.

 

  • Performance: Primes outperform zooms as far as sharpness and aberrations go because of the simple fact that they have been built to do one thing at one focal length.

 

  • Subtraction and multiplication: If you want to add or take away from a shot, all you have to do is turn a zoom lens one way or another. If you want to add or take away from a shot with a prime, you get to use your “foot zoom” and step closer or farther away from the subject.

 

  • Aperture: Primes have a much greater aperture than a zoom. Most zoom lenses are maxed at f2.8, and primes usually go from 1.2 to 2.0.

 

  • Size: Primes are smaller in size and easier to carry than a zoom.

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Dustin Lucas – Silence the Noise: Best Practices for Noise Reduction in Lightroom

May 1st, 2015

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Dustin Lucas – Silence the Noise: Best Practices for Noise Reduction in Lightroom

In post-production, image noise can be almost as distracting as a blurry image. When shooting in Aperture Priority mode, opening up your aperture all the way and seeing the shutter speed has dropped, it’s ISO to the rescue. Throughout your daylong wedding shoot, you’re going to encounter low light and be forced to throw your camera up into the high-ISO range. No need to worry about image quality—as long as you expose the image properly, you should be fine, right? Noise depends on many factors, but mostly how high you set your ISO, how much you increase exposure in post and whether or not you recover the shadows. After making these adjustments in Lightroom, move down to the Detail panel to silence the noise.

Using Lightroom for noise reduction can seem like a daunting task when editing hundreds of photos at a time. Taking a step backward, even adjusting one photo can be difficult. I definitely want to address noise reduction for an entire set of images, but first we need to understand some fundamentals. There are two kinds of noise: color and luminance.

 

Classifying and Correcting the Noise

When looking in a large, single-colored area, you might notice a fragmented patch of discoloring. For example, in this night shot zooming in at 2:1, or 200%, the groom’s suit has noticeable color noise (Figs. 1, 1a). Usually noise is more prevalent in the underexposed midtones and shadows where large gradients of a color have noise, especially in this night sky. Once you find an area you wish to correct, you can use the Detail panel to begin removal. You will notice that the Sharpening amount defaults to 25; adjust this to 0 for now. We will circle back to this adjustment after we complete noise reduction.

Under Noise Reduction, skip down to the Color, Detail and Smoothness sliders. Like sharpening, Adobe Camera Raw defaults color at 25. Start by moving the slider to the right and adding the correction effect (Figs. 2, 2a). At this point, I like to toggle the Detail panel on and off to see the change. I start by correcting color noise to fix the distracting discolored speckles and keep the clarity in the image. Moving below in the detail and smoothness sliders, these default at a value of 50 each. Adjusting the detail slider gives you the ability to control the threshold. This means that, as you move the slider to the right, the edge detail increases in color noise. Smoothness does quite the opposite: As you increase the value, a softened effect is applied to the speckled color tones.

Now let’s look at luminance noise (Figs. 3, 3a).

Luminance noise is visually the most obvious in underexposed and high-ISO images. There is evidence of this noise in the entire image. Using the same area we corrected for color noise, we have a range of highlights to deep shadow tones. This will work out great for reducing the noise for the entire image. Luminance noise is a major factor in the noise, or grain, of your images (Fig. 4).

Correcting luminance noise can quickly start to remove detail in your image, as you see I have done (Fig. 5). Once you find a balance between soft and sharp, you can move the detail slider to the right. This gives you back some of the defined edges in the image, rather than sharpening the noise. You definitely do not want to sharpen the noise. Contrast is useful for blending areas where opposing tones meet. In short, this reacts similarly to editing the contrast: The less you use, the smoother tones seem side by side; adding more causes more distinct, or separated, tones. Generally, I stay around the default values and occasionally add detail under luminance noise (Figs. 6, 6a).

Lightroom incorporates noise reduction with some of the adjustment brushes as well. These tools are the Graduated Filter, Radial Filter and Adjustment brush. Lightroom has added the ability to specifically edit areas of the photo in order to add more noise reduction (move the slider to the right) or remove the effect (move the slider to the left) that was created under the Detail panel earlier (Figs. 7a, 7b, 7c). A huge benefit of selectively editing an image is bringing back some detail in an area that needed less attention.

 

Creating a Noise Reduction Workflow

We just walked through correcting noise for a single image, but what about the rest of the images? Syncing settings is a huge efficiency tool across similarly lit and exposed images. This is a great starting point. With the image we corrected already, it can be a middle ground for settings across the entire set of images. If you are interested in making the different presets for noise reduction, this is a great tool to begin bridging the individualized and batched editing processes. I would start by correcting individual low-, middle- and high-ISO images to gauge differences between each of them. For each image, make a new Develop Preset and name each accordingly. (I explain presets in-depth in my previous article “Efficiency With Lightroom Presets” [Fig. 8].)

Now that you have made these noise reduction presets, you can filter your catalog by ISO in the Library module to select images and batch-apply the presets (Fig. 9). You will repeat this step for every set of images needing the other noise reduction presets. If you want to be extremely particular, you can make a preset for every camera and ISO speed.

 

Plug-ins and External Editing in Lightroom

One step further than applying generalized presets based on ISO is using plug-ins to automate noise reduction. Plug-ins such as Topaz DeNoise, PictureCode Photo Ninja and Nik Dfine 2 require you to go to the menu bar and select Photo > Edit in > [software name], which forces Lightroom to export and save a duplicate (Fig. 10). I have an example of the auto setting applied in Nik Dfine 2, which seems to be the best balance between easiest interface and best quality (Fig. 11). They all include automation features that can batch-process your images, which is great when you want to rasterize your RAW file (Fig. 12). Not to mention that this becomes time-consuming once you process an entire wedding.

 

Batch Editing

There is a solution to batch editing all your images and not having to render duplicate image files. A donation-based plug-in by Jeffrey Friedl called Bulk Develop Settings allows you to edit images in Lightroom. Here is how it works. Noise reduction is broken down into Luminance and Color categories. As exposure increases, this can be compensated for by adding points of Luminance and Color. The same goes for shadow recovery, although the set value is every 10 points of recovery for a custom increase of noise reduction. This plug-in also includes Sharpening Mask, Contrast and Clarity. This game-changing batch editor is useful once you process an entire wedding for white balance and exposure, giving your work a hand-touched look with a fraction of the time spent. Once you edit the cleanest image with least noise and the harshest one with a lot of noise reduction, you can build your parameters in the plug-in to be applied to all images. This means that you choose the lowest-ISO image with the least-corrected exposure and the highest-ISO image with the exposure increased the most (Fig. 13).

After you have completed noise reduction, you need to apply sharpening. (See my article “Attention to Detail: Better Results With Sharpening” from the November 2014 issue for more information.) Remember not to be hypercritical of noise. Noise is a traditional photographic element that has been revered by digital photographers. Leaving some noise in a photograph can give it some realism, if you are into that sort of thing. Try out some of these techniques and try to save images you thought were hopeless.

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Kristin Korpos – Is Your Business Profitable?

May 1st, 2015

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Kristin Korpos – Is Your Business Profitable?

 

One of the toughest tasks for many creatives, including professional photographers, is to think like a business owner. That means a lot of things, one of which is coming to terms with the fact that every dollar a client gives you is not profit. Ensuring business profitability often means putting aside the creativity and scrutinizing both expenses and income.

 

Is it a smart move to spend $3,800 on a new 5d Mark IV (when it comes out) when you just purchased a 5d Mark III last year? Will that new camera really help your business make more money? Restraint can be difficult. Many photographers could easily convince themselves that a new camera, with even just a few new features, could help create more revenue. The new camera may allow the photographer to take better images, and those better images may lead to more clients and sales. But the operative word is may because it is not a given. The artist is a dreamer. I know this because I am a dreamer who has always needed to remind myself to think like a business owner.

 

If you want to run a sustainable photography business, achieving long-term profitability should a major priority. Why do you think many businesses fail in their first few years? Is more cash flowing out of the business rather than in? Did those business owners who failed know their numbers? Let’s talk about what it means to be profitable.

 

What does it cost to run your business?

 

A photography business is profitable when it earns enough money to cover all financial obligations as well as personal obligations, with money left over to intelligently reinvest in the business or save for the future. Do you know each and every one of your business costs? For every dollar that flows into your business, what amount must flow out again to pay for operating costs? You need to know this number, because it is an imperative piece of data for all business owners.

 

If you don’t know this number—and don’t feel alone, because many don’t know it until income tax time hits each year—one of the simplest things to do is create a spreadsheet. Within the spreadsheet, list a description and amount for all monthly, quarterly and yearly expenses. These should include items like gallery hosting, software and studio management subscriptions, website hosting, editing services, equipment and studio rentals, continuing-education fees, film processing fees, advertising and marketing. This spreadsheet represents your operating costs—the amount of cash flow required to keep you in business.

 

Taking a closer look at expenses

 

Take a look at all your business expenses. Do you see any way to reduce them? Are you overspending in certain areas? Are you spending unnecessarily in some areas?

 

For example, do you pay for advertising? Many photographers pay a monthly fee for advertising in local newspapers or magazines, or on websites like WeddingWire or The Knot. Are you asking your clients how they found you? If not, you should be. If you are a wedding photographer and a very high percentage of couples have discovered you from your WeddingWire listing but not one has discovered you from a local newspaper, you may want to question the effectiveness of the newspaper ad. It might be wise to discontinue the newspaper campaign and get rid of that expense.

 

The takeaway here is that as a business owner, you need to question each and every expense to determine if it is positively impacting your business. By scrutinizing expenses and limiting extraneous dollars flowing out of your business, you ultimately help increase profitability. Many (and I speak for myself) are so eager to spend money because we are passionate about our craft that we often do not take the time to reflect. Do you really need that new prime lens so bad that it is worth it to charge it to your credit card at 18 percent interest? Make smart decisions. The health of your photography business—and your future—is at stake.

 

Do you need to raise your prices?

 

For some photographers, a deeper issue is that they may not be charging enough for their products and services. The cash coming into the business may not be enough to sustain the costs necessary to provide their products and services.

 

Create a spreadsheet that documents the cash received from clients over the past 12 months (if possible) and the anticipated cash to be received over the next 12 months due to retainers already in place. From this information, you can get some general data points, such as the approximate cash your business receives and will receive. How does this stack up against your expenses?

 

For example, do you outsource your image editing? Have you examined this expense to determine what additional amounts should be built into your pricing? Do you accept credit card payments? Credit card processors generally charge a 2 to 3 percent processing fee. Have you considered the need to build this additional expense into your packages?

 

Building and sustaining a profitable photography business is not easy work. There will be triumphs and there will be failures. Learn from your mistakes. If you have more debt than you want and no savings in the bank, or if you feel you are just financially treading in place each month, dig into your numbers.

 

SproutingPhotographer.com is just one of the many free calculators online you can use to create some basic business projections that can further help you determine if you need to be charging more. Use these calculators to gain a better understanding of what you should be charging in order to manage business and personal obligations, as well as save money for the future.

 

Tools

 

The most basic way to keep track of financial data is through the use of spreadsheet software like Google Sheets and Microsoft Excel. The most basic bookkeeping can be done with these apps. Other, more robust applications designed from the ground up specifically for small-business owners include Intuit’s QuickBooks.

 

Yes, QuickBooks is another expense, but well worth the investment. The price varies depending on how many features you want and whether or not you want the online version. With the higher-priced online subscription levels, users can create numerous reports that can help them analyze their numbers. QuickBooks can teach you how to think like a business owner. When you see the real numbers, you learn from them.

 

This article just touches on some general aspects of determining business health and profitability. For more in-depth knowledge, and for information on creating and understanding financial statements and key ratios and percentages that come from those statements, check out Small Business for Dummies or a similar general business book.

 

Understanding more about the business side of your photography business is powerful. It’s a huge investment in your future. It may be intimidating, but once you understand your numbers, think about how much more control you will have over your business. How liberating was it when you went from a priority mode to full manual operation of your camera? It changed your world, right? Well, this knowledge can change your world too.

 

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Rob Adams – Make More Money With Video by Upselling

May 1st, 2015

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Rob Adams – Make More Money With Video by Upselling

 

With all the photographers and videographers entering the wedding sector, it’s easy to get lost in a sea of companies in larger, more saturated areas. The ability to distinguish oneself from other video services is becoming more difficult, especially now that the overall skill and education level of new video producers is rising and wedding work is starting to look somewhat homogenized.

 

Wedding videos/films all look pretty similar to me (thought it’s better now as opposed to four or five years ago). This can undermine my ability to command a higher price point for wedding films overall since in my market (NYC/NJ/PA), many newer or “volume model” videographers are undercutting the higher-end videographers, causing many brides to consider budget options without seeing the benefit of paying more for a highly polished, well-produced wedding film. I’ve had to find new ways to increase revenue. I’ve realized that the best way to do this without cutting my prices and doing more weddings was to leverage the spending tendencies of my existing clientele. The way I do this is by upselling the clients I’ve already earned.

 

Upselling can occur either before or after the wedding. I start with a set package and pricing list. All my packages are designed with pull-throughs to get brides thinking they may be missing out on a better film or better quality by going with a lower-priced set of options. For example, my second-most-expensive collection contains documentary edits of the whole ceremony, first dance, parents’ dances and toasts. The collection beneath it does not. If you book the lower package, you get an eight- to 10-minute feature film, whereas with the next collection up, you get a longer feature film and the addition of those documentary edits.

 

What bride doesn’t want her whole ceremony and the entirety of those important reception events? Not too many people in my market are willing to have just a creative film and not the longer edits that Mom and Grandma will certainly want for posterity. There are exceptions, but for the most part, this pull-through works very well in getting couples to spend $2,000 more on a film package.

 

The same principal applies to upselling before the wedding.

 

When clients book a package, I always make it perfectly clear that they can add any à la carte item to their order, or upgrade their package to a higher tier at any point before the wedding—even the day before. I’ll even let them upgrade if they tell me the morning of their wedding. This is because we shoot every wedding using the same technique, allowing us to create any length of film at any point after the event. So I don’t worry about not having the right material. The bride gets a sense of security knowing she always has that option.

 

I’ve had couples contact me days before their wedding to lock in a longer film or add a jib or aerial shots. I leverage this security by always asking brides at some point before the wedding (usually about four weeks before, when the nerves start to kick in) if they wish to upgrade or add on items.

 

Prewedding upgrading is not as effective as postwedding upselling. More on that in a moment. If postwedding upselling is meant to play off of the emotions experienced on the wedding day, prewedding upgrades are meant to play on the insecurity of wondering if they made the right package selection headed into the big day. What clients don’t know out of the gate is that they will be propositioned to upgrade right after the wedding as well. Before the wedding, I’m more interested in getting them to upgrade their overall package. After the wedding, it’s a whole different approach. Discounted prices and savings bundles are more effective after the wedding is over, after couples have experienced how fast it all went, confirming my prewedding warnings.

 

The Monday after we shoot a wedding, I sit down to answer my morning emails and immediately contact the weekend couples that may or may not be on their honeymoon by this point. I remember that my wife and I both checked our emails on our honeymoon, so I know I’ll be able to reach them soon enough. I tell them how wonderful the wedding was and what amazing footage we have from their day.

 

An important side note here: If I honestly feel like I don’t have quality material or enough of it to warrant making a longer film—for fear of it hurting the overall quality—I won’t offer certain upgrades. This can happen due to a really short ceremony, or having no toasts with which to weave a longer narrative story. I then inform them that it is not too late to make a better film. The upgrades option list I send them is a carefully structured menu of both à la carte items and upgrade packages that include everything from longer feature films in increments of individual minutes all the way up to 10 extra minutes; custom DVD or Blu-ray discs (we normally don’t include optical media in our original packages); aerial footage (yes, I will revisit the venue if it’s within a reasonable distance and if the price is right); theatrical trailers, movie poster designs and print credits for those movie posters; and even postwedding photo/video sessions to add extra creative footage to the feature film. Of course, documentary edits are also an upgrade option. The couple that didn’t order them before the wedding will most certainly want to add them on because, looking back, they realize they won’t be able to watch the whole wedding again. The options are practically limitless.

 

Here’s the best part. In 2014, I was able to upsell a good portion of my clients, resulting in thousands of dollars in additional revenue for the year. My cost of sales for producing the wedding is not affected, and the only additional overhead is paying an editor the difference in editing the longer feature or assembling doc edits. DVDs and Blu-rays are all hourly work that I can outsource for cheap. The overall amount of extra work and cost absolutely justified the efforts to produce upgraded products.

 

I also created package bundles that include heavy discounts for adding more than one à la carte item and increments of additional minutes. For example, I have a feature-film upgrade package that offers Blu-ray discs and print credits plus 10 more minutes of additional feature. One package even includes the postwedding video shoot that makes it even easier to make a longer, more compelling film. Again, the options are limitless. You just have to feel out what clients in your market are willing to spend their wedding-envelope money on, and play off of their emotions when the day has flown past.

 

I’m not manipulating anyone. These brides are more than willing to hand over extra cash for an enhanced product, so I’d better be able to consistently deliver a quality product.

 

If you’re struggling to produce good films one after another and find yourself missing key shots or recording poor audio, keeping you from consistently killing it, hold off on offering upgrades until you can do so. Otherwise, you might find yourself having a hard time meeting upgraded-client expectations. Expectation increases with each dollar more spent on postwedding upgrades.

 

Overall, upselling your video clients is a great way to increase your bottom line and make them exponentially happier with your service. Brides often thank me for the time and care I spent upgrading them to a fuller experience.

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Laurin Thienes – Post-Production In Wedding Photography: Identifying Trends

May 1st, 2015

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Laurin Thienes – Post-Production In Wedding Photography: Identifying Trends

 

I shot my first wedding on Kodak Porta 400VC. I went through about nine rolls of film totaling about 300 frames. I didn’t even bring an entire brick with me to the event. I’ve been in or overheard countless conversations between photographers, yearning for the days when you had to make every shot count.   It seems funny that the more technical knowledge requirements where actually a simpler time. There was only one main look – the look of what got printed from your chromes or negatives. Then along came the affordable dSLR a decade ago, and everything we knew started to evolve. With that constant change came the explosion of Photoshop actions, wild post-production styles, and some horrific processing I’m sad to admit I fell for. You might be thinking – “So what if styles change? Why is this important?” The answer is simple. If you want to create lasting images for your clients – images that have the longevity of an art gallery piece, identifying and defining your style is increasingly important.

 

I remember using the first set of Kubota actions. They were revolutionary at the time. The ability to click a button and give your images a super saturated glow or to over sharpen every image: it was something so anti film that it actually looked good to people at the time. But that was acceptable at that time due to the overwhelming acceptance that just because it was digital meant that every image had to be processed. I wonder what some of those couples think of their pictures now. To even the untrained eye, images like this have a specific era of post-production to them.

 

So why do some of these trends flame out? The same thing that drove their acceptance is now behind their shunning and rejection by an entire industry: Tastes change. Look around. When did the last sets of unique Photoshop actions or Lightroom presets come out? “Years ago”.   The companies that used to frequently release revolutionary action sets seemingly have stopped producing anything new. The presets that are available are minor iterations from the previous versions. Trends tend to stabilize, and so you do not see bold new introductions anymore.

 

RIP the following trends:

 

BW Colorization: Those high contrast BW images, with the bright red flowers popping off the print. It became commonplace and easy to make these images. Clients loved them, but soon that faded because it was no longer unique. It has become the laughingstock of the entire photographic community.

 

Hyper Saturation: When the entire wedding day looks like this, you know you have a problem. There might be a time and place to take an image to this level today, but to brand this as a specific style is not something any seasoned pro would do.

 

Super Glow: Gaussian blur at it’s best.   The ethereal glow that was done tactfully by using filters on one’s Hasselblad, made it’s debut in processing between 2005 and 2008. It’s hard to find even novice photographers displaying this look today.

 

History must not repeat itself. With these trends long gone, it is time, once again, to focus on making good images that we’ll be proud of in years to come. So what trends have lasted the test of time? Well made images that are processed in a way that helps drive the viewer directly to the subject; post-production that adds to the images and enhances what is right and not covering up what is wrong.

 

This image takes a subtle use of texture and some light dodging and burning to drive the viewer directly to the subject. The sky, while not the original sky, is still believable and not overpowering in the image.

 

When art directing the original straight-out-of-camera image, we did not want to stray too far from the reality of the scene that the couple was in. However, we had to take it further to create the fine art piece we envisioned. The addition of texture this time was used to help even out the tonalities between the two train cars in order to not distract from the couple. The grungy tonality across the image fits the railroad track location helps bring the viewer directly to the couple’s kiss.

 

Black and white images always will hold their own when it comes to trends fizzling out over time. The decision to make this image monochromatic was really to keep it as a timeless piece; taking into account the historic location in central park. The removal of the people takes most of the distractions within the image away, isolating the silhouette of the couple. This couple should enjoying a final image such as this years later.

 

Do you risk misidentifying a fading trend? Absolutely. In the same breath, an argument could be made that “cutting edge” could be code-speak for “will fade soon”. However, I believe cutting edge today is a result of incremental adjustments in style and not going off the reservation chasing new looks every time they present themselves. Being cutting edge is perfecting your craft, your look, and always knowing that your goal should be to produce heirloom images for your clients. So study history. Study the true masters of photography. Study what sells for you and what doesn’t. Study fashion magazines. Simply put, educate yourself.

 

But what’s next and where do we go from here? Even though I truly believe the majority of trails have been blazed, there will always be minor variations from year to year. In the future – the trends that will present themselves will be more specific to how you capture the image you want to capture. Trends will be defined by what is in the RAW file. The way you work with backlighting, off-camera flash, reflections, and composition will help define the next trend is.

 

This is not meant to instill fear, but to help guide you in defining your style in a lasting way. As you move forward in your career, it is important to recognize trends that will flame out and more importantly, to maintain the look of your brand.

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Blair Phillips – The 8 Keys to Loving Weddings Forever

May 1st, 2015

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Blair Phillips – The 8 Keys to Loving Weddings Forever

 

Most every photographer has shot a wedding at some point. And many photographers who have shot weddings say they’ll never shoot another as long as they live. But that’s likely due to a lack of research, planning and preparation. A wedding business can be very enjoyable, and it can also financially rewarding for you and your family. I have been photographing weddings for 11 years, and am so grateful for all the skills I’ve gained. Weddings can bring you to tears as you get caught up in various moments, but also bring you to tears with all the things that can go wrong.

 

Market research

 

To be successful at weddings, you first have to know your market. Research wedding photographers in your area and look at the price points all the way from low end to high end. Consider how much your time and labor are worth.

 

Pricing

 

One of the biggest reasons photographers get burned out from weddings is their pricing. There is nothing worse than looking at all the emotion and labor you put into a wedding only to find that you made very little profit. Your pricing has to be high enough that when you leave the house on a Saturday, you are excited to know you are making really good money. The amount of stress and liability on your shoulders should come with a financial reward. If you feel guilty presenting couples with a high price tag, think about all the money you have invested in your equipment. I also had no problem adjusting my prices when I started thinking about the family time I miss on Saturdays.

 

Time

 

Weddings are so much more enjoyable when you shoot for six hours and then go home. They are generally an all-day affair that goes well into the night. When I started out, I did not have specified time constraints. Brides would expect me to be there all day and night. It did not take me long to realize I was getting burned out really quickly. I sat down and started looking through some of my completed wedding albums. I studied what pictures generally made it into the album. I quickly realized that I could photograph everything I needed in six hours. All the late-night reception images of the drunken guests were not really needed. So we implemented a six-hour time frame into our wedding collections.

 

My wedding coverage begins 2.5 hours before the ceremony. That allows ample time to photograph everything I need leading up to the wedding. That also allows plenty of time to photograph the reception. This is only successful with lots of prior education and communication with the couple and their families. The wedding planner and reception DJ have to know that you are on a schedule and have to leave at a certain point. So they know that the evening festivities will need to take place before your time ends.

 

Equipment

 

Because everyone has a camera and thinks they know how to shoot, it takes a lot of equipment to make your work stand out these days. If you are using lighting, you must make everything very portable and easy to set up. Most scenarios will not allow you tons of time to set up and break down. Everything I need is on wheels and extremely portable. This makes things easily reproducible. Most of my wedding receptions require lighting that I bring. To keep my stress level down, I bring four studio lights with umbrellas. I place them in opposite corners of the room, with all of them pointing toward the center. They are raised up high enough that they do not create an eyesore. The output is generally different on all four to prevent flat lighting.

 

If you struggle with reception lighting, take a day off and go practice. Once you have a good grasp on what works for you, write notes of all your settings so you can reproduce it the next time.

 

Rest

 

Sometimes too much of a good thing can turn into a negative. Even though weddings can be very enjoyable and highly lucrative, give yourself a break to recharge. Having an occasional weekend for rest and recreation is key to ensuring you remain fresh and do not burn out.

 

There was one year that I photographed 50 weddings. The money was nice, but I began to dislike weddings. I took those emotions as a wakeup call to slow down. The way I combated that was by raising my prices. This allowed me to do fewer weddings but keep a similar profit. Your work will begin to suffer if you shoot every single weekend.

 

Planning

 

Your planning should include looking at the weather forecast, especially if you’ll be working outside. If you’re shooting a midsummer wedding on a 90-degree day, you should not rely on an occasional stop by a water fountain. Pack lots of water, snacks and sandwiches. Respect the needs of your body in stressful environments. Dehydration, fatigue and headaches shouldn’t be on the invite list. You are the star of the show, and the show must go on without interruption. Weddings are stressful enough, so take the time to take care of yourself.

 

Communication

 

There are certain people you should communicate with prior to a wedding who are often overlooked. These are the wedding planner and the directors of the wedding and reception sites. Call them and introduce yourself. Take a few moments to familiarize them with your style of working. Ask if there are any rules for photographers at their venue. This shows respect, and it will put you on the top of the referral list. It can also eliminate surprises once you are there working. The wedding planner is probably the most important person to have on your side. Planners should know what kind of time you need to successfully do your job.

 

Education

 

Your couple, their families and wedding attendants need to be properly educated prior to the wedding as well. They hired you because they love your work. They need to be educated on all that it takes to create what you do. Let them know that in order to create the caliber of work they will be happy with, you require complete participation and cooperation. Walk them through a timeline. Express how important it is for all parties to be punctual. Successful photography should not fall solely on your shoulders. Keep this conversation friendly, lighthearted. Don’t come across as bossy or controlling.

 

There is no greater feeling than watching a bride’s eyes well up with tears of joy when she opens her wedding album for the first time. There is also no worse feeling than an angry and upset mother of the bride. Following these fundamentals will help keep your creativity sharp and ensure your longevity.

 

If you do a superb job and deliver what you promise, word of mouth may be all you need to maintain and grow your business. The trick is to never let the potential stress of a wedding overtake you, and remember that they hired you because they really like you.

 

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Michael Corsentino – One-Light Location Bridal Portraits

May 1st, 2015

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Michael Corsentino – One-Light Location Bridal Portraits

 

There’s no perfect camera-setting recipe for every scenario. Every situation is different. The guidelines here will help get you in the ballpark and arm you with the knowledge you need to make informed decisions. Knowing why and how is the most important concept to master.

 

Finding the light

 

One of the first things I look at when creating bridal portraits that I plan to augment with flash is the overall ambient light conditions. “Ideal” shots are typically in open shade or are backlit, but side-lit scenarios are what I’m looking for. These allow me the flexibility to work with even light and then add flash at whatever strength fits the desired mood for the images I want to create. If a harder look is more to your liking than contrasty, natural lighting conditions might serve you better as your starting point. But for this shoot, I wanted to create a flattering, natural-looking blend between the available light and fill flash.

 

Don’t overlight

 

Resist the temptation to overlight your images (unless that’s what you’re going for). Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Sometimes a bold lighting statement that says, “Look at me, I’m artificially lit” is what you want because it really makes your image sing. Other times, it can end up being a major distraction or, even worse, looking amateurish.

 

During ShutterFest, I noticed a tendency toward overly lit images among many of the electronic print competition entries. I get it: When you’re getting started with off-camera lighting, it’s easy to get carried away with the excitement and wow factor flash can bring to an image. But remember the mission of your image, and be true to that with your lighting. Let subtlety rule the day. Think of lighting like salt when you cook. A little boosts flavor, while too much ruins the dish in a hurry.

Balancing flash and ambient light

 

Understanding how to balance flash and ambient light is a challenge for many people getting started with off-camera flash. Let’s break it down to its simplest terms. With ambient and flash contributing to the same exposure, you’ve essentially got two separate zones or sources of light you’re working with. Each of these sources requires independent control to achieve the desired result. You may want less ambient light for a dramatic day-for-night look, or maybe it’s a subtle fill flash you’re after.

 

Independent control of flash and ambient is easy once you know how to do it. The camera controls you’ll be focusing on the most are shutter speed, aperture and ISO, and flash exposure compensation in the case of speedlights and TTL-capable strobes. Remember that aperture controls the amount the flash contributes to the exposure, while shutter speed controls the amount that ambient light contributes. In the event you’ve set your desired aperture and want less or more flash, you’ll use flash exposure compensation to control the flash output (speedlights and TTL-capable strobes). ISO controls the impact, or sensitivity changes, that aperture and shutter speed will have overall.

 

Step by step: Determining your exposure

 

Whether you’re working in manual or TTL, the workflow is the same. The first thing you’ll need to do is establish your ambient exposure, which provides a solid starting point for your image. I recommend doing this before ever turning on a speedlight or strobe. Dealing with one variable at a time is much easier than starting with both ambient and flash at the same time. During this first step, you’ll decide how much ambient light you want contributed to the exposure.

 

As previously outlined, slower shutter speeds deliver more ambient light, while faster shutter speeds deliver less. In other words, if you’re looking for a natural-looking balance between daylight and flash, you’ll want to choose a shutter speed that maintains detail in the sky (if you have one in your shot) but that isn’t too underexposed. Depending on conditions, this is typically achieved by deterring the balanced exposure reading provided by the camera’s meter and then slightly underexposing by a half to a full stop. Conversely, if you’re looking for a moody dark-sky look, you’ll want to underexpose your ambient exposure by a full stop or two, maybe more. In many cases, trying to achieve this look will cause you to quickly exceed your camera’s maximum sync speed as you boost your shutter speed to bring down the ambient light contributed. This is when high-speed sync (HSS) saves the day.

 

Keep in mind that because of the way HSS works, you can expect a serious reduction in the output of your speedlight/TTL-equipped strobe. You may need to gang up several speedlights/strobes to maintain the power output you need. High-speed sync allows you to exceed your camera’s maximum sync speed so you can substantially knock down the ambient in an exposure using shutter speeds up to 1/8000 of a second. Most cameras’ sync speeds are somewhere between 1/125 and 1/200 of a second, so you can see just how much flexibility HSS gives you.

 

In the event you’re working with manual strobes or manual speedlights and you’ve reached your maximum sync shutter speed, you’ll need to rely on stopping down your lens to reduce ambient light while also boosting the output of your strobes to compensate for the overall loss of light reaching the camera’s sensor. I’ll be writing more about additional ways to use HSS in upcoming articles.

 

Using a light meter to determine % of flash

 

One exceptionally fast and accurate way to determine the balance between the flash and ambient contributions in an exposure is to use a handheld flash meter. My meter of choice is the Sekonic L-758DR for a number of reasons. One of them is its ability to provide a numerical reading of the percentage of light being contributed by my flash. For example, if my meter told me that 20% of the light in my exposure came from my flash, it would easily follow that 80% of the exposure came from the ambient light in the scene. This is important because by knowing the effects created by using different percentages of flash, you can determine the overall look of the exposure and know when to use one percentage over another.

 

Basically it works like this: 20% to 30% flash provides a nice natural fill light, 50% flash creates a 1:1 relationship with ambient, and 70% to 80% will overpower the sun. This method provides quick feedback and an easy-to-use shorthand for creating the balance you want. These images are right in that 20% to 30% fill flash range.

 

Lightweight, portable tools

 

The right tools make all the difference. This is especially true with weddings and location work. In general, I’m looking for lightweight, supercompact and easy-setup/tear-down tools. My go-to for this type of scenario is Lastolite’s line of collapsible softboxes, octabanks, reflectors, diffusors and extension poles.

 

For this shoot, I used the following equipment:

 

  • Lastolite Ezybox II Medium Octa 31.5″ Softbox LL LS2720 to provide a natural-looking circular catchlight and plenty of soft light due to its internal and external diffusion panels.
  • Lastolite Ezybox II Speedlight Bracket LL LS2701 so I could gang up two flashes in the event I needed more power.
  • Lastolite Non-Rotating Extending Handle (29″ to 91″) LL LS2453 for on-the-move shooting where light stands don’t apply. (I don’t mean to sound like a Lastolite commercial. There are plenty of great options out there, but these are just the tools I use.)

 

Feathering your light

 

You don’t need a ton of lights to create beautiful location portraits. You just need to know how to control the tools you have. These portraits were created using just one speedlight and a collapsible octabank. When it comes to controlling the softness of flash, one must-have technique is feathering. The great thing about softboxes and octabanks, unlike umbrellas, is that they have a definitive edge where the light output begins to fall off. This falloff actually starts from the center of a softbox/octabank, where there is a hotspot of light, and moves outward toward the modifier’s edge and beyond. This is where the light becomes much softer and “feathered.”

 

It’s this range outside the middle of the softbox/octabank where you’ll find the ultimate soft-light sweet spot. Work the edges of your lights rather than the middle for the best results. Aim them slightly past your subjects for the softest light. This way, they’ll fall into the softer, feathered part of the light rather than the harsher hotspot in the center.

 

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Joe Switzer – How to Approach Film This Wedding Season

May 1st, 2015

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Joe Switzer – How to Approach Film This Wedding Season

 

Big changes are happening just in time for wedding season. Every year as we approach the first wedding of the year, my team and I take a step back and collect our wedding thoughts. Our goal is to have a tremendously successful wedding season. What do you want this year for your weddings? I want to give you ideas for gear, workflow, delivery, client interaction, social media, same-day edits, pricing and music. As you read this, write down your game plan, focusing on these eight categories to ignite your wedding workflow.

 

What gear should you consider for 2015? Before your next shoot, take inventory of what you have. If you inventory of wh, put it up on eBay. We keep a clean inventory of gear, and if it’s not being used, we sell it or give it away. No need to fall in love with your gear and stockpile it. Clutter and old technology will only distract you and keep you from reaching your potential. New technology is always coming out. You don continues to change ourr house just so you can afford all the newest gear. It’s a good idea to always be planning and budgeting for new gear.

 

The gear we are using for 2015 filmmaking are three Sony A7s cameras, a Glidecam HD-4000, a Manfrotto monopod and tripod, Canon lenses, Sony audio attachment XLR-A1M, a Rhino Slider Pro 2ft, a Shape cage, a Zoom field recorder, Lectrosonic UCR100 wireless mics, and a Think Tank belt/pouch/bag.

 

Carrying around all of your technology can bog you down and make you miss very important filmmaking moments. It’s critical that you have the Think Tank bag or something similar so you can easily carry around and capture video shots quickly. You don’t want to be digging around looking for lenses, audio attachments, cages, cables, batteries and cards. Keep your gear insanely organized in that bag. We attach and load all the gear we can so we can start shooting right out of the bag instead of wasting time connecting things. By the way, if you don’t have the $10,000 budget for the newest copter or fully loaded handheld gimbal, don’t worry. Outsourcing or renting the gear is your solution. If the right wedding comes along that needs an aerial shot or two, think about outsourcing or renting.

 

Simplified editing workflow and delivery

 

How long does your editing take? Are you one of those who has a six-month or even a one-year backlog? Perhaps it’s time to take a look at what your final product is and simplify it. In order for you to feel enthusiastic about your edits, it’s important to keep your backlog down to a minimum. My team and I are 100 percent caught up and ready for wedding season. We are excited to jump on that first wedding edit of the year. The reason we’re all caught up this year is because we offer a music video and a full-coverage add-on. That’s it. If you’re one of those spending a week editing 20-minute short features with audio, perhaps it’s time to change what you offer.

 

Remember that your wedding clients don’t know what a wedding video should look like. They don’t know if their video should be one minute or three hours in running time. The final product you offer should be something you believe in and are passionate about. Many of you are just offering longer films because you heard that’s what brides and grooms want. Almost all of our clients get the three- to four-minute music video, and this year we are switching from DVD to a jump drive for final delivery. This will allow us to be completely caught up all year long. We believe in our final product, and it’s the best way to simplify the editing process. Think about what final edit you want to deliver this year and the consequences of your actions.

 

Client interaction

 

How many filmmakers just show up on the wedding day and meet the bride and groom for the first time? What do you think their comfort level is with you putting a camera in their face with a monopod, Glidecam and track after knowing you for only a few minutes? With all of our couples, we make it a priority to take them out for dinner and drinks. We want to become friends with our clients before we just show up on wedding day with all this gear in their face. In addition to the meeting, we are communicating with dozens of emails and phone calls, creating a detailed customized schedule for their wedding day. What about the photographer? Don’t just let the photographer take over. Meet with the photographer, even if it’s just over the phone. You are playing on the same team, so you need to know each other. The quality time you spent getting to know the couple and photographer, plus a good game plan, will give you more time to get all the shots you ever dreamed of to make great wedding films.

 

Social media uploads

 

Most brides and grooms view their wedding video on YouTube, Vimeo or Facebook. Which service should you use? Do you upload it to all three? Vimeo is our favorite because it gives you password protection and downloading options, and it makes it easy to send links via text, email and even Facebook. We use YouTube for videos we make for fun, but it’s rare. This year, we will be uploading our videos directly to Facebook because that gets more shares and views, but we’re also still uploading to Vimeo. YouTube looks and feels like too much advertising for our videos, and we want something clean for our clients. Most importantly, upload your videos to the platform that your fans and followers are most responding to and engaging with.

 

Restructured same-day edits

 

For the last decade, we have depended on the DJ or the band to connect our wireless transmitter and receiver to output the sound for the same-day edit. This year, that comes to an end. For years, we have been frustrated with inadequate sounds. With the DJ or band in charge, they never played it loud enough and were often difficult to work with. It’s important that you are in control when you can be. New audio technology allows you to transport high-quality sound that can fit in a bag and be turned on in just minutes. You don sound that can fit infive speakers, receiver and sub. The new audio systems have everything combined into one speaker. Head to your local speaker or sound retail store and listen to the system options. Find the best system that suits your needs. Consider price, size, ease of use and quality.

 

Pricing changes

 

It’s time to increase your prices and make tweaks to your pricing form. You should always be trying to improve your wedding package information to increase your wedding revenue. We keep it simple and offer only what we want to sell. Sal’s pricing strategy is a major influence. We basically use his template. Find a company that you have tremendous respect for, and see how they present their packages and pricing.

 

Music pipeline

 

You need to go into every wedding knowing the music you will be licensing and editing to. If it’s a slower song, you might consider shooting more slowly than if you were using a fast and upbeat song. We have started researching the SongFreedom music library and favoriting the songs we want to use for 2015. I suggest you do the same. Some of the artists we will be using are American Authors, OneRepublic, Imagine Dragons, Phillip Phillips, Tyrone Wells, Zerbin, Caleb Lovely, Little and Ashley, and Mat Kearney. Almost every week, new music is being uploaded. You and your team should know the song you’re shooting for before the wedding day. Sometimes our clients are excited to choose their own music, and we will email them a playlist with the top songs we think would be a good fit for their wedding. Match your music to the style and theme of the wedding. Just because you like hipster music doesn’t mean that genre is a good fit for all your weddings this year.

 

Your workflow and wedding filmmaking business can be what you want it to be. Make your own rules and all the filmmaking decisions. Take notes and write down what ideas you are going to implement in 2015 when it comes to gear, workflow, delivery, client interaction, social media, same-day edits, pricing and music. Happy filmmaking!

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