5 Tips For Grooming the Perfect Assistant

July 1st, 2017


5 Tips For Grooming the Perfect Assistant with Alissa Zimmerman

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All photographers have to start somewhere. Maybe you just picked up a camera for the first time and realized your passion for photography. Maybe you’ve been running a part-time studio out of your basement for the past three years and are bursting at the seams. Maybe you’ve been a professional full-time photographer with your own brick-and-mortar studio for 10 or more years and you’re ready to take your business to the next level.

At some point in the journey of the creative professional, we need to bring in another body, whether part-time or full-time. It is the most responsible decision to be made for future growth. Hiring and grooming an assistant is one of the most daunting tasks for creative business owners—our businesses are our babies, our livelihood. How can we possibly bring in some stranger to manage the back of the house so we can focus on doing the things that bring in money?

There is an art to grooming and managing the perfect assistant. Let’s be clear on what I mean by the perfect assistant. There is no such thing as perfect when it comes to an employee, but there sure as hell is a level of perfection for what you need to make your business more successful.

As the tables begin to turn for me, and I find myself in a position where I am looking to hire my first assistant, I have taken a great deal of time to reflect back on the top five most important elements of Sal’s training process that molded me into the person I am today and the key role I now play within our organization because of it. These tips can be used in any profession, and if they are practiced diligently, they can create the harmony you’re looking for.


There’s nothing more challenging or more important than being patient when training your new assistant. My first year working under Sal was, in retrospect, a complete waste of his time and money. I was not doing anything proactively, nor was he assigning me any high-level tasks. As the employer, you have to be mentally prepared going into this relationship that it will take 10 months to a year of shadowing and learning the business before your assistant is of any actual value to you or your company.

In the beginning, it’s important to set expectations. The first 90 days are meant for shadowing only—it’s a three-month window where you’re getting to know each other and figuring out if this person is the right fit for your company, as well as a time for your assistant to figure out if your company is the right fit for her. After that first 90 days, if you’re both still onboard, it’s off to the races. The following nine months are all about learning your organization and setting up processes together that make your workflow and life easier.

Will there be bumps in the road? Absolutely. If you are looking for a scenario where there will be no hiccups, you should probably abandon the idea of managing an employee. As an employer, you need to set expectations for yourself as well in order to make this a successful relationship.

Clear Direction 

As an employee, there is nothing more frustrating than trying to perform tasks with little to no direction. This vague type of management is only setting up your assistant for failure and creating an inevitable level of resentment between the two of you—ultimately leading to a complete failure in the role, whether your assistant ends up quitting or gets fired. All of this because of something that could have easily been prevented from the beginning.

Spend the extra five minutes to give clear direction in your tasks and what you’re expecting in the outcome so you’re not living in a constant state of unnecessary tension. This is especially critical in the beginning when training your assistant in how you expect things to be completed. If you decide to be half-assed in your task assignment details, you guarantee the same result from your assistant.


This is my favorite subject. It took me so long to understand how I went from a seven-year work history of job-hopping and being miserable as an employee to this career I have built for myself where I can actually envision a lifelong future.

Creating an environment where your assistant is accountable to you and your business at the end of the day is pivotal in the success or failure of this person. It is something that has to be established from the very beginning, or you will lose your very short window to build this foundation and run the risk of your assistant not respecting you as a leader.

Your assistant can be your best friend if that’s the relationship you want, but that person is still your employee and needs to understand that his job is to do what you tell him to do, and do it well. There has to be a certain level of fear in your assistant—a good assistant has to be afraid of disappointing you. If they don’t have that fear, their lack of performance will come out as complete disrespect, which ensures things will go bad.

Reward Based on Performance

I am a millennial, and understand my trophy generation all too well. Rewarding your assistant based on performance seems obvious, but it’s one of the most difficult things to execute. As business owners, it’s instinctual to want to give, give, give to make sure you’re keeping employees happy. At a certain point, you’ll realize the only thing you’re doing by rewarding these people regardless of performance is building entitlement and creating a nightmare employee.

I’ve watched too many people come through our organization who were rewarded with expensive gifts when there was nothing exceptional done to deserve any of it. Obviously those people didn’t last very long with the company. Who would stay once the work actually got challenging when they already got their Louis Vuitton?

Condition your assistant to understand that in order to receive any kind of reward, there has to be hard work that goes in first. It is your responsibility to train your assistant to be hungry in this dog-eat-dog world. There is nothing wrong with having ambition and drive to be the best; that should be something you’re looking for in assistants as you’re training them. The second you spot even a sliver of that competitiveness or hunger, embrace it.  

Get Them Vested in Your Business

When I look back on the past six years I have worked with Sal, I can point to one thing that has made my perspective change from this being a 9-to-5 grind to the most fulfilling career and most rewarding experience of my life.

Getting your assistant vested in your business in that first year is essential to molding her perspective throughout her time with you and your company.

Once you’re at the point in your business where you need to hire an assistant, you’re more than likely at a point of enormous growth, bigger opportunities and an endless supply of new and exciting projects. This is when you want to make sure to include your assistant. As an employer, you want to make your assistant feel like she has an actual impact on your business, that her voice matters to you.

It may seem insignificant, but it is exactly what made me into the employee I am today. Obviously, Sal is a bit of an exception when it comes to the number of new projects happening at any given moment, but I can look at every single company that exists today under the Salvatore Cincotta brand and say, with pride, that I played a huge role in building them all from the ground up. That alone makes me treat each of these companies as if they were my own.

If you find an assistant who can get to this point, the light bulb of perspective will click when that person realizes she gets to be a part of all of the rewards without any of the real financial risks.

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Lighting the Rock and Roll Family Portrait

July 1st, 2017


Lighting the Rock and Roll Family Portrait with Michael Corsentino

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The guitarist for a band I shoot promo work for just welcomed a brand-new baby boy into the world with his wife. That offers the perfect opportunity for a family portrait session. Not just any old cookie-cutter family portrait—I want my portraits, family or otherwise, to reflect the individuality of the subjects.

Every person and every family is unique. Could I have gone the tried and true family-on-the-beach-in-khakis-or-in-the-park-on-green-grass route? Certainly. But then it would look like a million other family portraits. It wouldn’t look like them. These guys are rock and roll, so the portrait needed to say that. What I’m getting at here is something I like to call portrait design. Rather than getting stuck following the pack, strike out on your own and produce portraits that tell your subject’s unique story. Think about them more like environmental portraits than family portraits. With environmental portraits, you’re doing your best to incorporate elements that help tell that story, whether it’s the location, the props or the wardrobe.

My original plan was to put Eric’s badass Day-Glo orange muscle car and the family in the middle of the road, and angle the car so that it crossed the double yellow line on the road. I’d stagger the family in a heroic pose, with Eric out front and Dani (his wife) and Asher behind him, and cross-light them with a broad keylight from one side, using the sun as a warm-toned kicker light from the other.

When my assistant and I arrived at the location, it quickly became apparent that none of that was going to work as planned. The yellow stripe on the road was only about 10 feet long, so it wouldn’t create the front-to-back infinity effect I wanted. The road was more highly trafficked at that time of day than expected, which made putting the car and lots of gear in the middle of the road unrealistic. The sun was low in the sky but being blocked by trees, so my accent light was gone, and it felt like it must have been the windiest day on record, which meant the light modifiers I brought were going to be a complete bear to work with.

Luckily, I had four sandbags with me, not nearly enough, and one assistant, again not nearly enough with all that wind. With the family arriving shortly and the clock ticking for setup, I needed a new plan and I needed it quickly. That’s often the case when unexpected environmental and location issues crop up. Having to change it up on the fly happens all the time. It’s something you need to be prepared for. You have to be able to roll with the punches, think on your feet and produce even when you’re thrown a series of curveballs. That’s what being a professional is all about, especially on location.

Luckily, there was an empty parking lot for a park right next to the road. It had a rustic enough look with its dirt floor, canopy of trees and a wooden fence that I could use to create leading lines in the composition. This proved to be a good compromise, one that provided a location that was consistent with my original concept for the portrait and that allowed us to work more relaxed and uninterrupted with plenty of room for gear.

Since I would be lighting a staggered grouping, I wanted to light them all fairy evenly front to back and also highlight Eric’s badass car, the main prop and rock and roll element for the shot. When you’re working with groups and you want even light, the inverse square law is your best friend. This scary-sounding term just means you’ll want a fair bit of distance between your subjects and your light source to achieve even front-to-back illumination. The reason for this is that light energy or fall-off happens much more rapidly as it leaves a strobe than it does the farther away you get from it. In other words, from 1 to 3 feet in front of your strobe, your aperture reading could easily drop two full stops. From 8 to 10 feet away from your strobe, the energy or amount of light remains much more consistent as it travels, giving you a wider margin of space for even lighting. So what you’re doing by working with distance is allowing a group of subjects to evenly share the same amount of light, more or less, from front to back.

To achieve this, I lit the group with an 8×8-foot scrim with two to three strobes fired through it from behind. I did this to create a large wall of light that provided enough coverage to illuminate the group with one source. I knew the light wouldn’t have a ton of contrast since I was using a diffused white source, but I also knew I could always add additional contrast in post. By increasing my shutter speed to underexpose or “knock down” the daylight and my increasing flash power, I’d be able to create the dramatic look I wanted.

Keep in mind when you’re working in ambient and strobe situations that shutter speed controls the amount of ambient light contributed to an exposure, and that aperture (as well as strobe power) controls the amount of flash contributed to an exposure. The light from the setting sun was being blocked by trees and clouds, and was therefore unavailable for use as an accent light. To overcome this, I used an additional strobe in place of the sun. I gelled it with color temperature orange gel (CTO) to help replicate the warm look of the sun’s light. I placed this accent light on the opposite side of the keylight.

I always bring along additional modifiers so that I have options and different looks at my disposal. I had a 20×50 strip box and a large deep silver interior umbrella and a 74-inch octabank. The wind rendered all of them useless. My assistant was having enough trouble managing the 8×8 scrim in the wind, even with four sandbags. That meant using only hard 7-inch reflectors on the strobes instead of the many modifiers I would have preferred. The wind forced us to improvise.

At the end of the day, I was able to create a compelling portrait that Eric and Dani loved. By shooting tethered, they were able to review images throughout the shoot. The key to working with babies is being ready to go when your subjects arrive. While getting as dialed in as possible with your lights, exposure and planned composition is a great practice and my standard operating procedure, when you’re photographing a baby, it’s essential. You have a very limited window of opportunity; once they get cranky and melt down, it’s over.

Capturing one image live where everyone has a perfect expression and their eyes are open can be a challenge, especially with a toddler in the mix. This is one of those fix-it-in-post opportunities. Developing solid compositing skills allows you to mix and match expressions, finding the best ones and combing them into one perfect image.

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Lessons I’ve Learned in the First 5 Years of My Career

July 1st, 2017


5 Years Later: Lessons I’ve Learned in the First 5 Years of My Career with Jeff Rojas

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In July 2012, I was handed a pink slip. It was the company’s gift for exceeding my sales goals that year. It wasn’t their fault. I was a regional sales manager for a company that relied on government funding; when their primary source of funding vanished, so did my job. That was the day I decided to become a full-time photographer.

Before I became a photographer, I had worked in various industries. When I first moved to New York City, I worked as an account manager for a data recovery company, where I was laid off 87 days into my 90-day period. I worked as an executive assistant at a bank when the housing market collapsed. I contracted as an executive assistant at a private equity company that canceled the contract after two years without explanation. All of this happened within a couple of years. Needless to say, it got old quickly.

I meet plenty of photographers who were born with a camera in their hands. I wasn’t one of those people. I didn’t pick up my first camera until the age of 22. Even then, I didn’t see how anyone could make a living as an artist. The two most creative people in my childhood had full-time jobs to support their creativity. My mom, who’s an amazing home decorator, is a human resources manager. My uncle, her brother, is a union electrician who can draw hyper-realistic images.

They’re the children of immigrant parents. They were taught to follow in the footsteps of their parents: find a 9-to-5 job, collect a paycheck, go home. Rinse and repeat. It’s been that way for generations. That mindset is about playing it safe. It didn’t work for me, so I decided to try something new.

I’m happy to say that 2017 marks five years since I’ve received a W-2. While there are many other photographers who can say they’ve been shooting for decades, I can say I was able to build a business when everyone was doing it for free. On top of that, I didn’t have the years of referrals, portfolio and experience to do so. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not discounting tenure.

I admire those photographers who’ve paved the way, but for every person who had something positive to say, there were two dozen others who said the same old phrase: Things aren’t what they used to be.

That’s not my problem. I say that with the utmost respect. As with any business, the photography market changes. If you’re on the winning side of it changing, you’re happy. If not, you’re pissed. If you weren’t ready for change and failed, it’s not the industry’s fault—it’s yours.

Let’s say 20 years from now, every car manufacturer is making electric cars. Do you blame the automotive industry for the one mechanic who didn’t adapt to the market and had to close shop? It’s not the industry’s fault; he didn’t do his homework. The market doesn’t wait for you. You need to chase the market. I want to provide both aspiring photographers and struggling professionals with the real-world lessons I’ve learned the past five years.

Don’t Expect Anyone to Support You. Just Do It.

As an educator in the photography community, I receive an email at least once a week with the same story: “My family doesn’t support my photography. What should I do?” Simple: Prove them wrong and stop looking for validation.

Friends and family want you to be successful. They don’t want to see you fail at your dreams, so they urge you to take the safe route. There is no safe route anymore. The market has changed. We hear about people getting laid off from their 20-plus-year job every single day. Don’t theorize how you’ll be successful. Prove to them that you can make a living while you’re doing it.

Productivity Is the Ability to Produce

If you’re not producing something, you’re not productive. As a businessperson, if you’re not producing, you’re failing by the second. Spending two hours debating about gear on Facebook isn’t making you any money unless you’re selling your gear. The same goes for watching cat videos, memes, cooking videos. Stop wasting time.

There are 168 hours in a week. If you’re spending 20 hours of that on social media and it hasn’t made you any money, your priorities are off. Time is money. The more time you’re spending on unproductive activities, the more opportunities you’re missing. It’s the very definition of opportunity cost. Figure out how you’re spending your time, and restructure accordingly.

Learn Something New Every Day

I have started reading a new book every couple of days, and I’ve learned so much in such a short time. Find books with a tangible guide to running your business. One of my favorites is How to Set-Up Your Business for Under $1000 by Dan Fleyshman and Branden Hampton. The book guides you through step by step, and does not spend time trying to sell mentoring sessions or other products.

If you’re strapped for cash, no worries. Itunes U has free audio recordings from classes at some of the most prestigious universities in the country. There are so many invaluable free resources available online.

Set Obtainable Goals and Stick With Them

At one of the first workshops I attended when I picked up my first camera, I followed the instructor around like a puppy. After the class, I asked how he was able to turn his love of photography into a career. He admitted that he hadn’t. His full-time job afforded him the luxury of new gear and the ability to be creative. In his words: “It’s impossible.”

Well, it’s not impossible, it’s just really hard. When you’re starting out, every day is like a kick in the head, and you must be willing to stand up the next day and wait for the next kick to the head. This continues to happen until finally, one day, you stand up and there’s no kick. That, my friends, is what it’s like starting a business.

Few will talk openly about it. Running a business is one of the most stressful jobs in the world. You’re in charge of marketing, sales, operations, finance—and then to top it off, you must be the visionary. It’s a lot of effort just to avoid a 40-hours-per-week job. Are you willing to make that commitment?

Earlier, I mentioned the importance of being productive, but productivity without purpose is like running without a direction: You’re going to get lost. I keep a to-do list with me filled with goals and objectives. I know what I want. I break those large items into small pieces and then I know that accomplishing those smaller objectives allows me to commit to a larger purpose.

Think about it like writing a book. Writing 45,000 to 80,000 words may sound intimidating, but if you break that book down into smaller sections, it sounds more manageable. The length of this article is around 1,400 words. If I wrote 30 of these articles or expanded on each element at length, I’d have a great baseline for a book.

Every big goal sounds intimidating until you break it down into smaller pieces. This goes back to my earlier point: If you’re too intimidated to start, then you’re not being productive.

Be Conscious of Your Shortcomings

I cannot manage life without a list of things to do. I know that. It’s the reason I keep a to-do list. It’s the reason I set reminders and alarms on my calendar. If it’s not on my list, it’s not getting done.

When you’re conscious of your shortcomings, you need to create systems to improve them. If you’re terrible at cold-calling, don’t avoid cold-calling. Spend more time doing it until you feel more comfortable. If that intimidates you, create a call script to read from. Have a system in place that you won’t deviate from. Record your calls and learn from listening to them. This is the reason call centers record your conversation—“for quality assurance purposes.”

Don’t hide your shortcomings. Embrace and learn from them.

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How to Rock Your Styled Shoots

July 1st, 2017


How to Rock Your Styled Shoots with Jewels Gray

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My big thing is styled shoots. I love them. I love coming up with a unique concept, obsessing over the details, styling the models and working with vendors for a cohesive design.

They also give me a chance to shoot something I want to shoot (as opposed to weddings where I have no control over the timeline, lighting or weather), and they let me practice new poses and lighting ideas.

Getting Started

When I started out on my own, I didn’t have a full wedding to show. I had always been a second shooter, so I had a lot of detail shots and candids. I didn’t have the wide money shots and portraiture to complete the collection. Styled shoots gave me something to show potential clients what a full wedding collection might look like. I still use the first one I ever did as an album studio sample.

Putting them together can be a daunting task. It can take months, but they’re totally worth it, from building relationships with vendors to getting those photos published.

What’s Your Concept?

First you need to come up with a concept. What inspires you? Is there something or somewhere you have always wanted to shoot? Perhaps you’d like a good excuse to get on a venue’s preferred list. Or maybe you just want to do something crazy and different. I am inspired by unique locations, fashion and movies.

So You Have An Idea—Now What?

I would start with research. Has this concept been done before? If so, what did you like and dislike about it? How can you make it better or different? Obviously, you wouldn’t want to copy something someone else did. Put your twist on it. I wanted to do Bonnie and Clyde themed shoot at last year’s ShutterFest. I love the styling of that era, their story, and all the details you could incorporate were awesome (guns, money, vintage car). Sure, it’s been done, but I haven’t seen a Bonnie and Clyde shoot that I was in love with; many aren’t complete shoots with a tablescape, flowers and props.

Making It Happen

At this year’s ShutterFest, I wanted something killer for the Rock Your Styled Shoots hands-on class. Last year I did get to do Bonnie and Clyde, but it rained buckets the afternoon of the shoot, so we didn’t get to use the Model A I had lined up. I love using old cars as props, so I take advantage of every opportunity to incorporate one into a shoot. I was more determined than ever to make it happen this year.

This year, I wanted to execute an idea I’ve had for several years, something ’60s mod/Elvis and Priscilla. I love rock and roll, big hair and lashes, and could easily pull the styling together. I also found out that May 1 would have been Elvis and Priscilla’s 50th wedding anniversary, so it was perfect.

The story is that Johnny and Presley eloped and had a courthouse wedding, small and intimate, just the two of them. Later, they wanted to throw a party for their friends and family. The Union Station Hotel in St. Louis had all the perfect locations to tell the story—from the blue suede couch in an atrium to the natural light of the reception setup, the steps out front simulating the steps of a courthouse, to the grand archway where we parked the car, setting the tone of the shoot.

The logistics of putting it together were challenging, since I am in Denver and ShutterFest is in St. Louis. I had to put together my team of St. Louis vendors. I made a list of the ones I wanted to work with, and asked if they would be interested. A couple of them passed, but eventually I got everything I needed. Some of the smaller stuff I brought with me, but that’s not possible with some things (cake, flowers, table, chairs).

Benefits for Vendors

The benefit for vendors is that they get to show off their work, gain exposure for their business and get professional portfolio shots of their product. By tagging and linking to your vendors, you’re building a relationship with them, and they’re getting value. Inbound links to their websites help their SEO, and every time the shoot gets published, you’re both getting inbound links and, hopefully, leads.

Start Here

The first place to start compiling your ideas is Pinterest. It’s an incredible resource for collecting your ideas. I make a board and start pinning anything and everything to it that might work for the shoot. Then I start refining it by deleting those pins that don’t necessarily work together. Sometimes I invite other collaborators to pin to the board; that way, you both see your ideas in one place so you can make them more cohesive.

Next, build your team. Make a list of the vendors you want to work with—your dream team. When you ask if they’re interested, be enthusiastic. Sell them your concept and brainstorm how to make it work. If they’re too busy or not interested, that’s okay, don’t get discouraged. Just move on to your next choice. Involving a planner is always helpful because planners help you with coordination and logistics of the shoot; it also gives you a chance to work together and build a relationship for future business. Building those relationships and providing a good experience will bring more referrals, and that is the best form of marketing.

The Shoot

Executing the shoot can be an all-day affair, and sometimes multiple days. It snowed on the day of our Gold Rush shoot in Colorado several years back, so we had to do the outdoor portraits two weeks later. Thankfully, the models were down, and we shot at the Colorado Railroad Museum (which wasn’t initially planned), and the pictures turned out awesome. Again, flexibility goes a long way.

Make a list of the shots you want to get so you don’t forget. I also find it helpful to have a cheat sheet of poses, compositions and lighting I want to try. These images will be in the portfolios of your vendors, so get some killer shots for them. The shop that provided the dress and formalwear still uses my images in its marketing and has a huge print in its showroom.


Publishers love details, the more the better. So my workflow on the day-of is to shoot wide, middle, tight, horizontal and vertical. This gives publishers options when they put their spread together. I also try to incorporate multiple elements of details into each shot. If I’m shooting a tablescape, I don’t just shoot the place setting by itself. I have the top of the chair in the foreground and the centerpiece in the background. This gives your image depth and makes it more interesting. Next, narrow in on the place card and use the top of the plate in the foreground or off to the side, and use the flowers in the background. If you start with your wide shots and work your way down to all the tiny little details, you’re bound to get lots of variety and not miss anything.


Now it’s time to get to work editing and polishing the photos. They need to be ready to go to print once you submit them for publication. One of the biggest mistakes I made starting out was not editing the entire collection the same way. We would do a few signature edits, but then the rest of the collection would be kind of boring and less dramatic. Even though the concept was unique and we had lots of details and images to choose from, they wouldn’t get picked up, and this is why. There has to be consistency.

Two Bright Lights

My favorite platform for getting published is Two Bright Lights. It’s efficient and affordable, and makes it easy to track what is going on with each submission. It brings the photographer and publisher to one convenient location. No longer do you have to go to each one, size the collection to their specs and submit them whichever way they prefer (Dropbox, email, zip file). All you have to do is upload the collection, enter your vendor team, include the story/details of the shoot/event and choose which publications you would like to reach. Done. They’re sent all at the same time, and you can easily see which ones are accepted, rejected or otherwise. For more information, visit www.twobrightlights.com.


Right after ShutterFest, I posted a teaser shot on Facebook and Instagram. I tagged the models, the venue and all the other vendors involved. So far, the reach is over 4,000. That may not seem like a lot, but that’s just from the first image.

Summing Up

The most important element of the entire process is to enjoy it and have fun. I keep a list of shoot ideas on my whiteboard in the office so I can constantly be thinking of the next one. There are a few that have been floating around in my head for a while, and I hope to execute them in the next year.

For more details about the shoot, visit my blog at http://jewelsgray.com/60s-mod-wedding-stlouis-photographer/, and keep your eyes peeled—they may be coming to a wedding publication near you.

Models: Joshua McCall and Stephanie Morrison (a real couple) | Venue: Union Station Hotel, St. Louis, MO | Dress: | Formal wear: Model’s own | Tablescape: | Florals: Artistry Florist & Event Design | Chair Rentals: Weinhardt’s | Cake: The Sweet Divine | Guest Book: | Vehicle: Motoexotica | Hair & Makeup: Jewels Gray | Shout out to my friend who took a load of stuff I couldn’t fit in my suitcase: Vinessa Olp | Special thank you to my lovely assistant Sharon. | Special thank you to my girl Chelsea for being my wheels while in town.

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

3 Ways to Find Clients While You Sleep

July 1st, 2017


3 Ways to Find Clients While You Sleep with Moshe Zusman

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If you know me or have read any of my articles, you know I love taking pictures but that I also love the business side of photography. And as a businessman, you should know what I know: Time is money.

In order to practice my mantra of “Hold a camera, not a mouse,” I have to make sure I don’t spend too much time online looking for leads, booking clients and even marketing all my services to them. In the past, a lot of my bookings were done manually. A client would call, we’d discuss things and then I would invoice them. We’d have to remind them of their appointment before the shoot, make sure we collect the remaining balance, etc. Then, of course, wait for the deposit or payment, put their appointment in the calendar and, finally, execute the photo shoot.

Thankfully, life isn’t like that anymore. Now there are tons of ways for you to streamline your workflows and reduce the logistics you need to focus on so you can go back to holding your camera. Here are three things I use in my business to make money and get work done practically in my sleep.

The 3 Basic Tools

1. Online Booking

Things have changed quite a bit in the past two years. I’ve discovered services for automating my leads and bookings. I use Square Appointments (SquareUp.com), a service that does it all for me. My favorite three words are one-stop shop, and SquareUp is just that.

First, you’ll want to customize the booking site to reflect your business hours and services on SquareUp’s appointments site.

Once you’ve done all the initial customization, you’re all set. All this is on the admin side, behind the scenes. On the client’s side, it’s integrated into my website and the experience is smooth and simple. In fact, ever since I started using this service, my booking rate has gone up and client feedback about the overall booking experience is always positive.

After you’ve set up the backend, you’ll embed the Square Appointments code onto the booking portion of your website. It becomes a seamless booking experience for the clients, and a completely hands-off task for me.

The service sends clients reminders via email and/or text before the shoot. All I need to do is keep an eye on my Google Calendar (which I live by) and make sure I’m in the studio to meet the client. The time savings alone is a deal maker for me. I no longer have to email clients a reminder or remember to collect payments.

2. Targeted Ads

Another way I save time is by not being online too many hours of the day to market myself. Instead I use Facebook, Google and Yelp ads. I have a monthly budget for those advertising tools, and each one is different—in its use and target market. So I diversify my marketing between the three. Here’s how.

Facebook Ads

I do a carousel of ads for specific demographics: people between the ages of 21 and 65 (because a 16-year-old high school student can’t afford my services anyway), government sector, health, law and Realtors—the top clients in my area. The main reason is not to waste clicks on someone who’s not a potential client and maximize the return from the ads. Using demographics means profiling your customers and placing the right ad in front of the right person.

Google Ads

Not everyone is on Facebook, believe it or not. So, for those “conservative” Google searchers, I want to be on the first page when they search for “headshot photographers” in the D.C., Maryland and Virginia areas. In addition to a great website with really good SEO, I want to make sure that my Google ads show on every search page. Google ads are perfect for that.


Yelp is a great way to advertise your services, especially in the headshot market. Unlike for wedding photography, people search for headshot photographers on Yelp because it is a quick service that’s typically needed locally. I have never heard of a bride searching for a high-end wedding photographer on Yelp, but I do get a ton of inquiries for headshot services.

Yelp offers packages that include options like removing competitors from your page and the “request for quote” button. I use all of them. Yelp is great for metropolitan areas especially, because people in those areas love fast service.

All of the marketing outlets you use should be targeted locally to your geographical area. Don’t market headshots in L.A. if you’re a NYC photographer. No one hops on a plane to get a headshot across the country. Market yourself within people’s reach—both financially and geographically.

Another thing that’s common to online booking and marketing is the idea that you “set and forget,” or at least forget about it for a while. I tweak my booking site only if needed (hours change, I’m out of town, etc.) and my ads run for one to three months before I change them.

3. The Perfect Assistant

To help you keep your hands on the camera and off the mouse, consider hiring a studio manager. If it’s too early to do that, consider a virtual assistant. Even though the services above are “set and forget” and “one-stop shop,” there’s always going to be that one (or more) client who needs special attention, has questions or simply needs help with the booking process. For that, we have an email and a phone number where my studio manager is always there to take care of my clients while I’m away, out of town or holding that camera.

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Building Blocks: The First Steps to Building Your Business

May 30th, 2017


Building Blocks: The First Steps to Building Your Business with Skip Cohen

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I want to apply this month’s theme of children to your business. Whether you’re a new artist just starting out or a veteran jump-starting an established business by adding a new service/specialty, you’ve got to grow your brand and skillset one step at a time. Babies learn to crawl before they can walk, and business works in a similar way.


Many of you are still in maternity mode, building confidence and your skills before giving birth to that new “baby.” For this month’s article, let’s assume you’ve built a strong enough skillset and confidence level to give birth. The new business is out there, but the challenge is knowing what to do next.


Just like setting up the baby’s room, you’ve got to set up your business.


  • So many new artists get hung up on thinking they need a studio or office. The truth is, you’ve chosen a career path that can take you anyplace you want to go. While having a studio is always the ultimate dream, you don’t need it to get started. Establish your business through great images, a good-looking website and an active blog to build readership/followers. You cash flow is limited, so plan to spend your money wisely.


One idea I heard recently from an attendee at ShutterFest was sharing a studio. She’s been sharing a studio with three other photographers. She focused on building up her business first, and is now ready to go solo with her own location.


  • Let’s talk about your URL. I believe in using your name to establish brand recognition. I know it’s not always possible, but you want people to easily remember you and be able find you on the Internet. Stay away from clever or not-so-clever names that describe your business. If you can work your name into your cyber address, you’ll make it easier for clients to recall.


  • Your website is about what you sell, and a blog is about what’s in your heart. You need both. Remember, women make 98 percent of decisions to hire a photographer in the portrait/social categories, so share content that’s of interest to Mom.


  • In your galleries, show only your very best images. Every image should be the only image you’d need to get hired.


  • Get yourself a business checking account, business cards, stationery, etc.


  • There are two professionals you need in your network even though you might not need their help immediately: an attorney and an accountant. After all, you wouldn’t have a new baby without a pediatrician.


  • Pricing is one of the biggest reasons so many artists spend their life eating macaroni and cheese. As Sal Cincotta once said, nothing can screw up your business more than bad pricing.


  • Pay attention to all your costs.
  • Look at your competitors’ pricing from the perspective of giving your clients more, not charging less.
  • Offer a range of products/services, including albums, prints, canvas wraps and slideshows. Stuck on what to offer? Talk with your lab.
  • Build your pricing structure in packages. It’s fine to have à la carte prices, but make sure they’re high enough so clients always move toward a set of products.


Let’s talk about brand awareness. You’ve got the “baby’s room” ready to go. Now it’s time to make a spectacular birth announcement. This is the start of your marketing program. Unlike with a birth announcement, you can’t just do one thing.


  • I’m a big fan of direct mail and an oversize postcard to get through the noise your target audience deals with every day. Also consider a partner or two. Partners can be other businesses with the same consumer target or other photographers with complementary skillsets.


  • Get involved in your community. People like buying products from people they perceive as giving back. Don’t be a taker. Take part in fund-raising efforts for nonprofits. Be active in the school system. Use your blog to talk about upcoming and past community events.


  • Own your zip code. Start pounding the pavement and introduce yourself to every business within a 2- to 3-mile radius of your base. Don’t get hung up on your specialty if it’s unrelated to their business. A wedding photographer could walk into a real estate office and make this introduction: “My main business is wedding photography, but I’m active in the professional photography community. I’m happy to help you with any photographic needs you might have at any time.”


  • Use your blog to build relevant content that ties into things going on in the community. Announcements about fund-raisers not only show your involvement but help spread the word for organizers.


  • Cross-promote with other vendors. Set up a program with a florist for something special when they refer a client your way, and vice versa.


  • Create third-party relationships. Design a gift certificate for a discount or free sitting, and give it to a Realtor. Each time the Realtor sells a home, that certificate goes in the welcome basket for the new homeowner. You’re offering something special without undermining your pricing structure since the gift is from the agent to the client. For more on this idea, visit Bryan Caporicci’s blog, sproutingphotographer.com, and search for “Doug Box.”


  • Do an open house. You don’t have to have a studio to do an open house or a gallery opening. Just pick a location conducive to entertaining, like a hotel lobby or restaurant. Design it like a wine and cheese party at a small gallery opening.


  • Build relationships with local opinion leaders, including publishers, writers and editors of newspapers and magazines.


Whether you’re a one-person business or you have a small staff, you need a customer service department. It’s about the new baby in the house who’s going to start crawling soon. Customer service is the equivalent of keeping an eye on the toddler, capping electrical sockets and protecting the child from other household dangers.


Here are a few customer service essentials.


  • Be accessible. If you’re working out of your home, I understand why you might not want to give an address, but give people a phone number, URL and email address.


  • Respond quickly. When you’re contacted by a client, it means they’re interested in more information. Stay away from “Comcast syndrome.” Don’t make them wait for a response.


  • Handle problems quickly and never hide from an upset client. Set the tone with your very first words: “I understand you’re not happy. How can I help?”


  • If you’re going to have a few concrete policies, share them in your final meeting before a contract is signed or a sitting is scheduled. Just don’t word your policies so harshly that they’d scare away an IRS auditor.


The first five years of a child’s life are the most important to brain development. Similarly, the first six months of your new business or jumpstart are critical.


Along the way, you’ve got opportunities to grow your business, and, as the “baby” grows, so should your skillset. You’re in a field where you can never stop learning, whether it’s expanding your technique or learning new technology.


Jerry Ghionis once said that the way we start in business is backward. We should all start out as second shooters and grow our skillset as artists. Then, after a couple of years, we’re ready to focus on everything it takes to run a business. Instead, we get our gear, start learning and shooting, and try to figure out how to do business.


Pay attention to that new baby of yours. When there’s a challenge, in the same way you’d take a child to the doctor, seek professional help for your business. There are lots of us out here willing to help. New babies and businesses don’t take off right after delivery.


Take your time. Build your skillset. Build your relationships. Don’t rush success, and stay humble and kind.


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One Light Magic

May 30th, 2017


One Light Magic with Michael Corsentino

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This month I use the test images from my One Light Magic class I taught at ShutterFest 2017 to show you how to get the most juice out of one light. Each was produced using only one light and a range of modifiers. This was one of my most popular classes, especially among beginners, since most of us start with one light.


Whether you’re using one light or six, strobes or speedlights, the same basic principles apply. Before we dive into the sample images and the modifiers used to achieve them, we need to talk about the four basic principles of light: quantity, quality, direction and distance. Let’s look at each.


Quantity of Light: This is the volume of artificial light you contribute to the exposure. If you want more artificial light, what do you do? Turn up the power on your strobe. What if you want less artificial light? Turn down the power on your strobe. It’s really that simple. You can either control the strobe’s power setting manually like I do, or, if you’re shooting TTL, simply use your camera’s flash exposure compensation adjustment settings, typically +/–2 to +/–3 stops depending on make and model, to find your lighting sweet spot. That’s quantity of light in a nutshell.


Quality of Light: This is determined in large part by the modifier, and is often described with terms like soft light, hard light and specular light. Soft light creates gradual transitions between shadows and highlights. The basic rule of thumb is the larger the modifier and the closer it’s placed to your subject, the softer the light. Feathering the light, a technique used to further accentuate soft light, is another useful method. Here, the subject is placed slightly behind the modifier and illuminated entirely by its falloff rather than the harsher center hot spot.


When it comes to hard light, opposites apply. Here, the transitions between shadows and highlights should be rapid and crisp. Modifiers are typically small and placed farther away from the subject. The smaller the modifier and the farther away it is from your subject, the harder the light.


Direction of Light: This is the angle of light in relationship to your subject. Photography is light and shadow, so don’t be afraid of shadows. They create a sense of dimension, volume, shape and drama. Imagine your subject in the center of a large clock, facing the 12 o’clock position. You, your camera and your light are also positioned at 12 o’clock, facing them. As you move the position of your light left or right around the clock’s circumference, you begin to introduce shadow to the lighting pattern created on your subject. The farther to the side you place your light along the arc of that clock face, the more shadow you introduce. Starting at the 12 o’clock position, you get butterfly/Paramount light. Moving left or right 45 degrees, you’re positioned for Rembrandt and loop lighting. Farther to the side to the 3 o’clock or 9 o’clock position, you’re where you need to be for split light. Beyond that is where rim lights are positioned, typically somewhere between 1 to 2 o’clock or 10 to 11 o’clock. I’m providing two clock positions because, if you imagine a dividing line separating the right and left half of the clock face, they each work exactly the same way, producing the same effects. They can be used alone or combined to create more layered lighting.


Distance of Light: This is the distance of the light source from the subject. Distance plays a key role in hard and soft light. The sun is a massive light source, but it’s 93 million miles away. Without cloud cover to broaden and soften it, it’s a point light source. This is why the sun isn’t always dependable. The perceived size of a given light source in relationship to the subject is also relevant here. The perceived size (and effect) of a 2×2 softbox placed 15 feet from a subject is large. Take that same 2×2 softbox and place it 10 feet from the subject, and its perceived size becomes very small. This is important because, as we’ve learned with quality of light, size matters, both real and perceived.


For the class, I highlighted three of the light modifiers I find most useful for a wide range of work: Mola Demi Beauty Dish, Elinchrom 74-inch Litemotiv Indirect Octa and Elinchrom 39-inch Deep Octa, along with their respective diffusion panels. I also showed examples of how useful grids can be for those working in tight spaces.


I’d love to hear from you. Hit me up on the ShutterFest Facebook page with your questions.


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What To Do When You Fall Behind in Your Business

May 30th, 2017


What To Do When You Fall Behind in Your Business with Vanessa Joy

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Everyone knows that it takes hard work to get to the top of your industry. Building a business is no joke, and the amount of work it takes to get to your desired level of success can seem overwhelming. What most people don’t talk about is the fact that once you make it, you have to work just as hard to stay there.

So what happens when you’ve realized just a little too late that you’ve been falling behind? Slacking off has serious consequences. Making up for lost time can mean double the effort to bring things back to life. Here’s how you can get things back on track.

Boost Your Social Media Efforts

Social media is a great tool, but it relies on momentum—and if you’ve halted that for whatever reason, it takes a lot to get it going again. Go back to the basics with your social media marketing. Concentrate on the platform where your audience spends the most time. Shooting weddings? Focus on Instagram. Families are your thing? Be more active on Facebook. Seniors are where it’s at? Then get on Snapchat.

The last thing you want to do if you’ve already found yourself with stunted growth is half-ass the comeback effort. Don’t just sign on to your social media network and haphazardly start posting without a plan. Do yourself a favor and reeducate yourself on the platform. Some things have likely changed. You’ll probably discover different ways of doing things that’ll be more effective for you.

Get into the habit of scheduling your posts. I’m a fan of Buffer because I like the format and I enjoy looking back at my analytics. Other systems, like HootSuite, Meet Edgar and Everypost, might be more up your alley. Whatever you do, plan your posts to be consistent and as highly effective as possible. You won’t see change right away, but after you build up enough momentum, you’ll start making up for lost time.

Concentrate on Networking

Just like in everyday life, if you don’t put effort into relationships, they tend to fall apart. The same goes for your photography business relationships. If you’ve fallen behind, this is one of the areas that got hurt the most.

Look back at your photography contacts and touch base with them. Send a friendly note. Maybe even one that includes a Starbucks gift card to perk up their Monday. Whatever it takes to reconnect and let them know you’re still there.

One of the best things to do at any point in your business is reach out to new people. I recently did this when I decided I needed to develop more relationships in the higher-end New York City wedding market. I attended a networking event full of a who’s who in the wedding world, and did my best. I actually ended up ditching the people I went with to force myself to walk up to perfect strangers and start conversations.

What do you know, it worked! I made a great connection with a prominent photographer who invited me to his Instagram pod, where I’m now connected with even more amazing wedding vendors. I also was able to get a personal invitation to check out The Plaza’s biggest competition, near Central Park. Nothing has paid off in dollars yet, but I know it will tenfold.

Boldly get out of your comfort zone and network with other businesses in your field. Be tactful. No one likes a cold call or spam email. Find a way to do this right, and it’ll boost your reputation.

Experiment With New Tactics

Odds are that if you’ve been out of it for a little while, things have changed in the marketing world. You’ll find that things that were working for you previously aren’t working anymore. Welcome to the wonderful world of marketing in the 21st century.

Luckily, basic marketing principles do stay the same—because, when it comes down to it, you’re still dealing with people. People are subject to basic psychology, and marketing is really just tapping into that psychology to make what you offer look like what they need. Grab yourself some a marketing book if you’re not familiar with this concept.

To brush up on the newest marketing tactics, I don’t recommend picking up a book. By the time books are printed and distributed, half of the new marketing ideas are old news. Instead, search through business and marketing blogs, and not just from the photography world. Search Google on the social media platform you want to concentrate on. Follow social media marketing gurus like Gary Vaynerchuk.

Finally, you can’t really go wrong by checking out what other successful people are doing. When I want to find new marketing ideas for the wedding world, I look at top wedding blogs, wedding dress designer Instagram accounts and the like. I look at how their audience (which is similar to mine) is reacting to their marketing efforts. I’m not saying to steal anything, just find inspiration and adapt it for your own company.

If you came to my keynote at ShutterFest this year, you know that my big takeaway was that you have to work for what you earn. If you’ve fallen behind, you’re going to have to work hard to make up for it. Once you’re where you need to be, never let yourself fall behind again. Work hard, work smart and work until you’re motivated.


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ON1 Photo RAW: A New Kind of RAW Processor

May 30th, 2017


ON1 Photo RAW: A New Kind of RAW Processor with Michael Anthony

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For professional photographers, a RAW processor is an absolute necessity. But because there’s so little competition, our current options are inefficient at best and completely unacceptable at worst.

After Apple discontinued support for Aperture, Lightroom became the only real option for photographers who are working with large numbers of images. While the robust options of Capture One are great, C1 does not work well for handling large numbers of files, beguiling for wedding or portrait photographers.

In December, On1 Software released its highly anticipated Photo RAW software. On1 has been hyping features of this software for a long time. It’s centered around speed and integration with On1’s already brilliant photo editing software. More importantly, On1 integrated its RAW browser into its develop module, which they say allows for much faster culling and organizing without having to use two separate apps.

First, let’s take a look at the biggest complaints with the current industry standard, Adobe’s Lightroom CC.

  1. Performance


Lightroom CC suffers in its most crucial function, the Develop Module. While rendering 1:1 previews works well with the browsing capabilities of Lightroom, an experienced Lightroom user can edit and manipulate photos much faster than the software can keep up with. Recently, Adobe added the ability to use smart previews to develop images, which was available through unconventional methods before. They also added GPU support, but it’s not full GPU support. Both of these help, but not nearly enough. On standard 20mp to 30mp files, LR experiences significant lag when moving from image to image, when applying presets and when using local adjustments. When processing over a million images a year, that extra one-second lag time adds up.


I process images on a water-cooled, overclocked 4.5GHZ quad core PC with 32gb RAM, a dedicated SSD and 1080 GPU. There is no excuse for why Lightroom cannot make use of this power. Adobe has made Premier Pro capable of using the resources of a powerful PC; it would be nice if they stopped treating Lightroom as their redheaded stepchild (no offense to redheaded stepchildren out there).


  1. Color

Color is my second biggest complaint with Lightroom. Lightroom uses camera calibration profiles that are designed to normalize files photographed with different cameras. While this is a beneficial feature, the embedded camera calibration profiles are not accurate to the JPEG previews that are shown on the back of my camera after I take a photo. If you have ever wondered why a photo’s color changes immediately after importing, it is because LR is applying the “Adobe Standard” color profile to your images. Changing that profile to “Camera Standard” does not give you an accurate rendition of color like it is supposed to. I have found that images on my 1DX Mark II and 5D Mark IV have much more contrast than Canon intended.


  1. Local Adjustments/Process Engine

Adobe’s process engine was revamped in 2012, and has received incremental updates since then. Software today needs to be built and updated as frequently as our camera technology changes. The cameras in 2012 were far less advanced than the ones in 2017, but Adobe has not released a new process engine since then. The local adjustments in Lightroom still require much work to be done in Photoshop (Clone/Heal tool, I am calling you out). If the technology is available, and Adobe obviously has it, why not make it available in Lightroom? Photographers who process a massive number of images should not need to go into Photoshop just to remove a few blemishes from their subjects.


Can Photo RAW (PR) actually be the solution to replace Lightroom? Perhaps it can, but let’s dive into the pros and cons.

First, a disclaimer. I am writing this article in late January 2017, right after ON1 has released a major update. PR is a work in progress, and On1 has made it very clear that it will be releasing new updates over the course of the next year. My initial use of this software has shown major potential, but, as will be discussed in a bit, the program still has a few bugs that are being squashed.


The Interface of PR is quite organized, and resembles On1’s other software. The layout is clean and everything is organized in an easy-to-use way. It offers many different functions, so will take some getting used to until you’re as efficient with it as you are in Lightroom. Do you remember opening Photoshop for the first time? PR doesn’t feel that overwhelming. You can get to where you need to be very quickly.

The software opens in Browse mode. Browse mode is similar to PhotoMechanic’s, which has been our studio’s method of culling for a long time now. PR natively supports color tagging of images in PhotoMechanic and displaying in Photo RAW without the need to adjust settings in PhotoMechanic like you do to get the same functionality out of Lightroom.

The interface is broken into five modules: Browse (similar to Library in LR), Develop, Effects (to make use of On1’s other software), Layers (you heard that right) and Resize. These features are useful for the majority of photographers. It still takes three to five seconds to change between modules, but, since speed is a major focus of this software, I am sure that On1 will address this in future updates.

Getting into the develop module, one thing that I love is that the module doesn’t use LR’s long scrolling method to get to the tools in the interface. Instead, it uses a drawer with different options that you click on when you need them.

The options available as of now are: Black and White, Color Adjustments, Curves, Glow, Noise Reduction, Sharpening, Skin Retouching, Split Tone, Transform and Vignette. All of the usual tools, like cropping and local adjustments, are found on the left-hand edge of the screen, right next to presets.

Keyboard shortcuts are available as well to get you to where you need to be.

Overall, the interface for PR was well thought out, allowing you to work quickly and efficiently.

RAW Conversion

I found RAW Conversion to be very good with PR. I am very happy with the color renditions and the added features, such as highlight/shadow purity, excluding skin tones from vibrance edits and integrated skin retouching.

Dynamic Range was also very impressive. I am pleased with the software’s ability to render colors without the need to embed a proprietary color profile. The automask feature is brilliant, and the ability to work in layers is exceptional. The foundations laid down by PR are exactly what photographers have wanted in a RAW converter for some time.

Contrast handling is very good, and it is clear that On1 spent a lot of time making sure this area of PR worked well. In terms of color adjustments, Capture One is still king, in my opinion, but the features added to PR that are not available in C1 would make this a much better solution for wedding and portrait photographers who are delivering many images.

Structure is PR’s version of clarity. As with LR, structure provides a local contrast that can easily be overdone and cause haloing if not used properly. I prefer LR’s version of this tool (but I seldom use either).

I like On1’s integrated presets and effects panel, which allows you to quickly apply filters to your images if that is your kind of thing.


Performance is make or break for PR. That’s because PR’s only real competitor, Lightroom, suffers dearly in this category. I have to address the first selling point of this software, its speed. On1 had positioned PR to work in the Develop module with little to no lag. I see that as slightly optimistic. Images in Browse mode do in fact load significantly quicker than in Lightroom, but not quite as fast as PhotoMechanic. Images take about a quarter second to load in Browse mode and are easily navigated and tagged.

Improvement can be made in the Develop module. Like Lightroom, PR still takes two to three seconds to load each individual image. This is the largest detriment of the software that I have found. I am sure that On1 is aware of this and is looking into fixing it with future software updates, but right now, I put it on par with Lightroom.

Summing Up

I was optimistic about the launch of PR because improvements need to be made for professional photographers in RAW conversion. It is clear that On1 spent a lot of time developing this software. While the software hasn’t lived up to all the promises made by On1, it is still a work in progress. On1 has released a roadmap of updates to improve performance over the coming years. Now that there is serious competition in the RAW conversion space, I am sure we will see improvements at a rate that will keep up with technology.

Overall, I am pleased with the RAW conversion abilities of this software. I wish PR would have obliterated the performance of Lightroom, but that is likely asking too much from new software. On1 is listening to its users and implementing upgrades quickly. Having skin retouching, the ability to work with layers and a fast browsing solution integrated into one program will make the job of event and portrait photographers easier. It’s just a matter of how quickly On1 will get the speed issues fixed so that we can make the switch from Lightroom.


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