How to Defuse Bridal Bombs: 4 Tips for Avoiding and Dealing With Client Catastrophes

April 28th, 2017

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How to Defuse Bridal Bombs: 4 Tips for Avoiding and Dealing With Client Catastrophes with Vanessa Joy

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The first time I had a bride complain about me was when I shot my first wedding, for which I’d charged just $500. Long story short, the bride didn’t like the pictures. Looking back at those pictures now, nine years later, she certainly had every right to complain because they just weren’t that good. It was also my fault because I didn’t provide her with clear expectations of what she should expect from my photography.

If you’ve ever had a client upset with you, you know that it can flip your life upside down. You can’t sleep at night. All you do is worry about it and talk about it to people who really don’t want to hear it. Thankfully, there are a lot of ways you can avoid client catastrophes, especially with brides. There are ways to handle these unfortunate events that will leave your bride happy without letting her walk all over you. Brides can be the most difficult clients, but if you follow the steps below, you’ll be able to breeze through transactions with or without confrontation.

Tip #1: Set realistic expectations.

Setting expectations is where it all starts. If you set expectations for your photos, your customer service, your product delivery and anything else that involves clients and what they receive, you won’t have a problem meeting those expectations. If you don’t set them, you run the risk of your client subconsciously setting them for you—and likely setting them beyond your capabilities.

Setting expectations starts with your website. The second they come to your site, they subconsciously create expectations about your brand, your photos and what they can expect from their wedding pictures. When I meet with clients, I talk about their wedding day and show them pictures that look like what I envision for their final product. If they’re having a church ceremony, I show them how I photograph in that setting. If they’re not doing any of their photos until after sunset, I show them a winter wedding.

Setting expectations early on means you will be able to communicate with your clients more effectively and they will have realistic expectations of what you’re going to deliver to them. Set expectations for quality of the product and turnaround time as well.

Always give yourself a buffer in turnaround time. I tell my clients their proofs will be ready in around three to four weeks, even though I know I’ll have them done in one to two weeks. This gives me two possible outcomes. I’ll either deliver the product early to them and they’ll be happy that I’ve exceeded their expectations, or, if some things are holding me up on the backend and I deliver past my normal one- to two-week turnaround, they will still get their photos “on time.” It’s a win-win either way.

Tip #2: Keep lines of communication open.

Your clients should always be able to get a hold of you via email or phone. You should also be easily approachable. If they’re having a problem, you want them to feel comfortable coming to you. When they come to you at the beginning of a problem, it’s easier to resolve it. It also ensures that your client isn’t getting madder and madder, while you are completely unaware something is even wrong.

Throughout your relationship with the bride or groom, email them asking how things are going and if there’s anything you can do to make things better. This may open up a can of worms, but it will help diffuse problems before they begin—and it gives you the chance to rectify existing ones. Create a client exit survey that can help you avoid problems with future clients.

Tip #3: Sympathize and listen.

When a client comes to you with a problem, you need to be able to respond favorably. I realize that half the time clients come to you with a problem, their expectations or demands are petty, and you want to roll your eyes at them. Don’t do that.

When they talk to you about their concerns, sympathize with them. Tell them you understand how they feel and you are sorry about it. Repeat what they say back to them in different words so it’s clear that both parties understand what is going on. (These techniques will not only help you with your client relationships, but pretty much any relationship you have.)

Tip #4: Ask them what they want.

It might seem like a really bad idea to ask a hypersensitive, emotionally unstable bride what she wants. Give clients the benefit of the doubt. When you ask a client how she wants you to compensate for a problem, verbalizing the problem will help make them more rational. Ask them what you can do to make things right, and you’ll often arrive at a practical solution.

When you do reach a reasonable solution, overcompensate. Offer an additional free canvas or some extra pages in their wedding album. Your goal is to turn unhappy clients into very happy clients, and one of the best ways to do this is by overcompensating.

If you’ve never had a bridal bomb explode in your face, trust me, you will. I’ve been in business for almost a decade, and I’ve had my share of client confrontations. These methods have helped me manage clients in a way that keeps them happy throughout our relationship.

 

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Engagement Sessions

April 28th, 2017

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Engagement Sessions with Craig LaMere

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Engagement sessions are one of my favorite sessions to shoot for a few reasons. You get to use almost any shooting technique you want. You can shoot in natural light or in the studio. You can shoot with off-camera flash. You can shoot editorial style. Another reason I love shooting engagement sessions is because the clients are so in love. They want to show the world, and are eager to try about anything at the shoot.

 

The engagement session offers one of the best ways to build rapport and trust with your future bride and groom. It’s a fantastic calling card for future business. You have to do engagement sessions with a strict game plan, or they can get away from you. Let’s look at four big things to keep in mind when shooting future married couples.

 

Digital vs. Prints

 

One of the biggest gaps in photography is between shooters who are cool with selling digital files and those who are not. My studio is product-based. A tangible product is far superior to a digital file. As technology progresses, digital imagery is likely to become obsolete in its current form. Eight-tracks, cassette tapes and compact discs are gone. But digital images have a place on our menu. Engagement sessions for me, are one of the genres where digitals make sense for me to sell more than prints.

 

When I first started shooting, I was firm on not offering digitals to engagement and wedding clients. Without fail, each person who contacted me wanted to know about digital files. They all wanted them for their announcements. I would tell them the studio offers announcements. They would be so excited right up to the point of finding out what their investment would be on the 400 announcements they wanted. I lost a lot of business because I held tough to not selling digitals. Then I realized if I wanted to capture some of the business that was walking away, I would have to change what I was doing. I decided to offer digital files to my engagement sessions.

 

I implemented a per-file rate, with price breaks on volume orders. The files were formatted so they would only print up to an 8×12 before they started to break apart and pixelate. My clients could use the images for announcements and to print out images to place around the reception tables, but they could not use them to make large prints. I decided that if my clients wanted big prints, they would have to go through the studio.

 

Appetizer vs. Main Course

 

One of the other pitfalls I fell into was spending way too much time shooting sessions. When I started shooting engagement sessions, I treated them like a main course and not an appetizer. I had my clients bring three to four clothes changes and we would go to a bunch of locations. I shot 300 images per session. After culling the images, I was showing 100 to 120 images at the view session. What I did not understand was engagements are just a teaser to the wedding, and the wedding is the big show. I was putting all that effort and time into the engagement session and putting my clients through it all too; I found out pretty quickly that it was not the right approach for a couple of reasons.

 

One of the reasons this approach was bad was because I was asking so much of my clients. They were stressed out about all the clothes they had to bring. The time investment was hard on my clients. They would come to the studio all pumped up, and by location three, they were pretty tired. At the view session, they were overwhelmed looking at that many images; they quickly started to all look the same, so my clients started to second-guess. The biggest problem with my approach was that my clients did not want the number of images I thought they did. In my mind, I was shooting the session to sell an album, which at my studio would be around 20 to 30 images. My clients wanted just five to 10 images. I found that my clients didn’t budget a lot for the engagement because they were allocating the lion’s share of their money to the wedding and the wedding photography.

 

Nowadays, instead of four clothes changes, we do two. One is casual and the other is formal or semiformal. We go to two locations and we shoot around 60 images for the entire session. The session is an hour or less. At the view session, I show no more than around 40 images. My clients are happy and I’m happy.

 

Makes the Wedding Day Easier

 

I love shooting engagements, but the goal is to book and shoot the wedding. I look at the engagement as one of the best ways to set yourself up for a successful wedding shoot. I have shot weddings where the bride and groom had someone other than me shoot the engagement. But shooting the engagement is a fantastic lead into the wedding day for a couple of reasons. When you shoot the engagement, you establish a rapport with the couple. The day of the wedding will be crazy, and it helps when they trust you are going to take good care of them.

 

The engagement session also prepares you for their personalities and tastes. Time is of the essence at a wedding, and with nerves and stress levels so high, it is a huge advantage to know how the couple likes to be shot, how they take direction, if they like structure or if they are more in the moment. All these factors help you use the time you have to your best advantage.

 

Incentivize the Shoot

 

Because shooting the engagement is so important and because our end goal is to book the wedding, we use the engagement session as an incentive for clients to book the wedding. In some of our packages, the engagement session is built in. Or, if my client is at a certain spending level, I offer the engagement as a bonus after they have booked.

 

I know it seems strange to give something away once they have agreed to pay for it, but I know I’m going to do well with the wedding and I think it goes a long way for a value-added experience. Giving away a few hundred dollars is worth the word-of-mouth returns.

 

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The Wedding Exit Plan

April 28th, 2017

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The Wedding Exit Plan with Moshe Zusman

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Shooting weddings can get to the best of us. Maybe it’s when we are waiting for all the family members to come together for a big family photo in the middle of a wedding reception. Perhaps it is one of those moments when your bride turns against you. Or maybe the lifestyle of a wedding photographer has just become too much. Whatever it is, all wedding photographers face deep frustrations.

 

For me, this realization came around the time my first kid was born. I was shooting 40-plus high-end weddings a year and second-shooting as well. In addition to weddings, I photographed high-profile events and portraits.

 

Two months before Noah was born, I was living on top of the world, running a successful photography business in Washington, D.C. I was about to become a dad and was working harder than ever to get ready for it. I had doubled my prices and my bookings every year for the past few years to get my wedding photography business to where I wanted it. The first few years of being a family of three were life-altering, but not in the way most people describe. Sure, your Lexus is now a babymobile, and there are those sleepless nights too.

 

But the biggest change is the rest of your life. Weddings suddenly occupied a bigger part of my life than just another Saturday night. I was in denial that I’d become disenchanted with shooting them.

 

I was ready for a change.

 

I was getting that undeniable urge for an all-in moment to make a better life for my family and me. That’s when I decided it was my photography that needed to change. I had built this wedding photography business from scratch after moving to the U.S. from Israel, but now I had my wife and son hiding in a closet while I was trying to meet with clients. Noah was only just learning to walk, and I knew I never wanted to miss his baseball games.

 

Aside from the burnout of shooting weddings, this just wasn’t the lifestyle I wanted anymore. I wanted to be able to call out sick and not get sued for it. I wanted to be there when my kid was sick, and for it to be just a matter of rescheduling some clients for another day and not missing the most important day of someone’s life.

 

The idea of breaking into a new genre was terrifying. I wasn’t just afraid of failing, but afraid of failing my family. I knew that shooting in the studio would allow me to create my own weekday schedule and take control of my time. That’s when I started moving into fashion, portraits and headshots.

 

If I were to talk to someone doing what I did, I would tell them to treat this new business like pulling off a Band-Aid. First, get your portfolio together. Learn what you need to about studio photography. Unlike wedding photography, you don’t need to spend time second-shooting and doing styled shoots because you can practice headshots a lot more easily than you can practice weddings. You need only about 12 images, maybe 20, to create a full headshot portfolio.

 

It takes endless practice, but the learning curve is way shorter with headshots and portraits—primarily because of the difference in what I call “liability.” For weddings, you pay a great price for small mistakes. With studio work, it’s different. I called my friends, family and even past brides to come in and let me experiment with their headshots, all in one day, creating a portfolio I used on my website.

 

From there, I created a pricing, scheduling and a workflow structure that was seamless and hands-off. I changed the look of my studio to look more fashion-based, and started building my business from there.

 

I used Squarespace to design my website because it was fast and easy, and I was already using it for my wedding photography. I got a separate URL, HeadshotDC.com, for headshots and business portraits. I’ve created such a streamlined system that it takes me only an hour from the time the client looks at my website and decides to book me until I photograph them and deliver their final headshot. I make about $500 an hour this way, which is way better than photographing weddings. Weddings require a total of 40 to 50 hours from start to finish. I limit my bookings to a month or two out, eliminating that daunting feeling of being committed to jobs for the next two years.

 

Moving to studio photography was one of the best things I’ve done for my business and my personal life. If you have the chance to get to hear me speak at places like B&H Event Space, PhotoPlus Expo or Headshot Bootcamp, you’ll hear more about my story and how I get clients to book, pay and show up without having to send out a single email. When they come in for a basic headshot, I spend 10 to 15 minutes with them as they select their final images on the spot. I send the selected images to my in-house retoucher, who delivers the images in 24 to 48 hours. That’s it. No more culling through hundreds of images or waiting up to eight weeks to deliver proofs. And there’s no more chasing down clients for album choices years after their wedding.

 

In the studio, I shoot with a Canon 5Ds and the Canon EF 70–200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens. I use Profoto D2 and Profoto light shapers, Savage Universal Backdrops and Tether Tools. There is a little crossover in switching from weddings to studio work. Your existing camera and lenses will be a good start, but it’s the lighting you’ll want to invest in the most.

 

I don’t hate weddings. I still do a few every year, and have recently rediscovered the fun of second-shooting, which is how I got started. But wedding work is the most physically and mentally challenging genre of photography. They demand too much of my most precious asset: time. Now, I spend most of my time photographing headshots for politicians, businesspeople, yogis, pageant contestants and health professionals in the D.C. area. I get to spend more time being creative on each individual picture, and that inspires and pushes me to be a more fine-tuned photographer.

 

If you’re ready to spend more time living than working, I recommend taking a look at headshot photography. Start out like I mentioned. Rip off the old like a Band-Aid, build a website and start marketing—which you can do in as little as 48 hours, like I teach at Headshot Bootcamp.

 

Grow your new business while stepping back from your other. Maybe you’ll love it, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll decide you still want to shoot weddings and do headshots on the side, or maybe you’ll change your life altogether.

 

The best thing about being a photographer is that we aren’t stuck doing something we no longer enjoy. We have the freedom to explore any genre we like and mold our lives how we please.

 

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Reshape Your Wedding Market: 4 Tips for Making Couples Want Only You

April 28th, 2017

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Reshape Your Wedding Market: 4 Tips for Making Couples Want Only You with Phillip Blume

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It may be the most common complaint we hear from wedding photographers: “My market is just too cheap. No one’s willing to pay real money for photography.” It’s a frustrating feeling, and I’ve felt it, too. There’s no doubt photographers (and “faux-tographers”) are everywhere—entering and exiting our markets with bargain prices and shiny new cameras they got for Christmas. How can photographers like us, who want to run legitimate full-time businesses, ever compete?

 

Compete is the operative word, isn’t it? We all tend to obsess over, scope out and compare ourselves to “the competition.” For good reason…right? I mean, isn’t it basic supply and demand? We’re afraid too many photographers will drown out our voice, and there won’t be enough newly engaged couples to go around. If you’re dealing with meager bookings and high advertising costs right now, your fears will seem confirmed and reinforce this pessimistic narrative about the “bad” market.

 

I’d like to preach some good news to you a better-informed narrative about how the market really works. It may give you hope. But more importantly, it will give you some practical direction in how to increase your income. After we got our heads around this concept, we found Blume Photography couldn’t keep up with all the inquiries we began to receive. To keep up, we had to open a new studio, Eve&Ever Photography, with more photographers, whose photos you see here.

 

Let’s look at four steps you can take now to reshape your approach to a poor market and discover new clients. After reading this, you may decide you need two businesses to handle the traffic.

 

  1. Accept responsibility.

 

As a husband-wife photography team who got our start in 2009, Eileen and I can relate to fear of competition. Back then we were the new kids on the block. When Blume Photography’s first amateur website went live, I bet studios in our area rolled their eyes and sighed, “Here come the newest low-ballers to ruin our business and sink the industry.”

 

That wasn’t how we felt. We were starry-eyed newlyweds looking to make our own way through the dream of self-employment. Soon, though, fear set in for us, too. Work was endless yet didn’t cover our bills. Then came a final crushing blow. We learned a cold fact about our local market that we’d been oblivious to. It was saturated with young photographers from local colleges (not a unique problem) and boasted America’s highest poverty rate (a unique and big problem). Our already small market was much smaller than we’d thought. We didn’t want to move away from our hometown and families. But how could we make a living here?

 

We didn’t give up on our market. Instead, we got smart. Because, guess what: The problem with our business wasn’t our market; it never is. The problem with our business was us. That’s hard to admit, but this fact tends to be eye-opening for many photographers we coach one-one-one. None of us can change our markets. But we do have the power to change ourselves and how we do marketing. Keep in mind that relationships with fellow photographers are your greatest asset, so overcome your fears and focus on community over competition. This is a choice you have to make. Reach out to your fellow photographers. If you offer an olive branch, they’ll become your best allies, lead sources and friends.

 

  1. Understand luxury clients.

 

The closer we grow to other photographers, the more we understand that we are not all competing for the same clients. Upstart photographers often make the major mistake of marketing their service as if it were a commodity. You are not Walmart. Stop acting like it. If you market a luxury service based on “best price” or even “quality of work” alone, then you are advertising “things.” Things (or commodities) can be purchased anywhere from anyone who has the same things to offer. If you advertise this way, you will be competing against a lot of other photographers for the same bottom-of-the-barrel clients. The wrong clients.

 

But who is the right client? And how do you reach her?

 

Researchers have known for decades that humans, for both psychological and physiological reasons, make important purchasing decisions in the limbic, or emotional, brain. The rational brain barely enters the equation.

 

There’s a huge, almost magical, business application here. Don’t miss it. There are people in your market who deeply value photography and will pay well for it. You may never have met them, but they are there. It’s precisely because they value photography that your discounts or facts and figures don’t attract them. They are seeking emotional value, not a bargain commodity. So you have to woo them with emotional marketing.

 

Have you unintentionally been targeting the very people who don’t care about your craft? Sure, everyone knows they have to find a photographer for their wedding, along with the cheapest chair rentals. (In fact, they may care more about the chairs.)

 

The solution? Am I saying a price increase will automatically bring you high-end clients? No. In fact, if you hike your prices without grasping this point, you’ll sink like a stone. The point is, we all need to stop talking so much in terms of price, discounts and the “amazing archival paper” our images are printed on. That’s all stuff. Talk instead about emotional experience.

 

Tell and show personal stories about your past clients on Instagram. Use your website’s About page to sell yourself and explain why photography matters. Use your talents to give back to community charities, where you’ll meet and connect with local change-makers over causes you all believe in. Invest the time to reach an audience that values you, rather than wasting money to run an expensive ad that desperately screams, “Please hire me!” to the unwashed masses.

 

  1. Define your style.

 

This seems easier said than done. Defining Blume Photography’s style has been our biggest challenge. For one thing, I’m constantly honing my technique, so my style is always in flux. Then consider trends. How can I stick to the same old thing if I’m also trying to stretch and meet popular demand?

 

I don’t pretend to have all the style answers. But I do see how powerful brand consistency is in the marketplace. Consistency gives your ideal clients the sense they “belong to” your brand (like a club) even before they inquire about your services. That equals very high conversion rates for new inquiries.

 

Our friends the Youngrens have done a fabulous job of this. They own three studios in the San Diego area that all take wedding clients. The fact that their first brand advertises specifically to “black tie and ballroom” clients keeps the brand consistent and attracts more people who like upscale weddings because they relate to what’s shown on the website. Their other brands target outdoor barn-style weddings and edgier affairs for hipster kids who like artsy images.

 

What kind of weddings do you love to photograph? Use this as a starting point in specializing, and you’ll be surprised how effectively you can now attract more of the weddings that look similar to your defined style.

 

  1. Peel back your market’s “layers.”

 

For our Eve&Ever associate studio, we’re starting the process of differentiating by style. It helps that we’ve already differentiated our pricing. Remember those couples who care about photography almost as much as they care about rented folding chairs? They may represent the bottom rung on the client ladder, but don’t snub them or the photographers who shoot their cheap weddings. There are three or four “layers” in every market where different consumer classes dwell—and they all need to be served.

 

As my friend and world-class photographer Scott Robert Lim asks, “If you offered a simple shoot-and-burn package for just $1,500, do you think you could book 50 weddings per year? If yes, you could essentially earn $75,000 for one day of work per week. That’s the best job in the world.” Before you decide to structure a business this way, you need to ask a lot of big and very personal questions. For example, would you feel emotionally satisfied shooting so many low-end weddings? Different weddings offer photographers very different creative opportunities.

 

But the jobs are there. And there are layers in between the low-end and high-end markets. What matters is that you shape the service you offer to fit the price. Do the math. Let’s say you want to include a wedding book for all your clients because, like us, you want to ensure your work lives on as a legacy for families. You know you can’t afford to include a wedding book in a $1,500 package. So you increase your price to $2,400 and start including the book along with client “welcome gifts” and small items to improve the customer experience and increase word-of-mouth referrals.

 

Uh-oh. You may have made a big mistake. The middle-of-the-road market is often the hardest to crack. A more limited number of consumers exists in this budget zone, and even fewer of them care about a wedding book. But if they do like your offerings, your lower profit margin could put you out of business before you know it. Yikes.

 

Pricing strategy is powerful but complex. It’s a topic we talk about a lot with our students. At the very least, you need to make sure your wedding package prices fit both your local economy and the market layer you want to target (considering your values and goals). A great place to start researching your market in detail is www.theweddingreport.com. There is a fee to access the report, which is rich in information and worthwhile if you’re ready to strategize this way.

 

Conclusion

 

It’s become clear that virtually no market is a bad one. If there were a poor market, it would be ours—yet opportunity exists here. There are extreme exceptions. You probably can’t run a very successful studio in a two-horse town or on the moon. (Although if you’re a great entrepreneur, you could probably find a way to attract clients there, too.)

 

If you begin to feel as though all the leads you receive are “unqualified,” it’s time to reshape your market. Take the proven steps to attract qualified leads, and then enjoy the fruits of working smarter rather than harder.

 

Explore our free online photography group ComeUnity at www.blumephotography.com/photographers.

 

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Mastering the Second-Shooter Shots On a Wedding Day

April 28th, 2017

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Mastering the Second-Shooter Shots On a Wedding Day with Alissa Zimmerman

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The second shooter plays a crucial role on the wedding day. The most important shots below apply to anyone in the wedding photography business, whether you’re a secondary shooter, a primary photographer who hires a second shooter on a wedding-by-wedding basis or a studio with a full-time second shooter on staff.

 

Use these four key shots as your foundation on a wedding day. Train your second shooter to understand their role and what is expected.

 

#1: Candid shots

 

The most important skill of a second shooter is the ability to capture candid shots in a unique and artistic way. Anyone can grab a camera and take a few snapshots of the bridal party, family or guests interacting. It takes true talent to master timing, composition and an understanding of the “who’s who” on a wedding day, to turn an ordinary snapshot into an impactful candid image that your client will cherish forever.

 

It’s always nice to be on a team with a primary photographer who knows when to make a group of people laugh to set up the perfect shot for their second shooter.

 

Candid images can get stale or boring. Layer your subjects and shoot wide open to make an image more interesting. Use eye candy (objects in the foreground of an image) to add a little extra something to your candids.

 

#2: Details, details, details

 

There are specific detail shots the primary photographer is in charge of at every wedding: Isolating the bride and groom’s details in the morning while they are getting ready, the program and any extra decoration done for the ceremony and reception, and, of course, the impact ring shot.

 

There also are plenty of times throughout the day when the primary photographer needs to focus on getting through the timeline as efficiently as possible, and so may not have the time to shoot other details, such as the groom and groomsmen’s boutonnieres, the bride and bridesmaids’ bouquets, and any other special piece of your client’s wedding day. The second shooter needs to capture any detail the primary shooter does not.

 

“Details” doesn’t always mean the second shooter needs to be photographing details. This also pertains to those moments when the primary photographer is setting up a big, dramatic shot. It’s the second shooter’s responsibility to make sure every little detail of that scene is flawless: The bride’s hair should be perfect, her dress should be lying right, the groom’s suit should be adjusted correctly and so on. Paying attention to details like this for a big shot you intend to sell as a large piece for their home can make or break the sale.

 

#3: Complementary images

 

I cannot stress enough the importance of building a wedding-day formula between the primary photographer and the second shooter. During any part of a wedding, no two photographers should be using the same focal length. Nor should those two photographers be standing in or around the same area to capture the same subject.

 

Understanding the art of working side by side with another photographer and getting to know their habits and workflow is crucial to the success of a second shooter. I know what lens Sal will be using and where he will be standing to get the shot during every part of a wedding. I know what lens I need and where I need to be standing to get the complementary shots that will give our clients images that capture every part of their big day.

 

Follow this rule: If the primary photographer is using a wide lens, the second shooter should be using a mid-to-tight range lens, and vise versa. Understand that not every scene lends itself to a wide/tight formula, so learn your gear so you know what to use during each part of a wedding day.

 

#4: Capturing emotion

 

This is my favorite part of being a second shooter, and the number-one reason I love photography. The ability to capture emotion and freeze that moment in time for your clients is priceless.

 

No bride on the planet wants to see images of herself crying, regardless of how emotional the scene may be. No bride on the planet wants to see an image of herself sharing an emotional moment with someone if it was shot at an unflattering angle.

 

These moments happen in the blink of an eye, and you won’t always be able to capture them perfectly. Take the time to learn the basics of a wedding day, and you’ll be able to anticipate these moments and be more prepared for that one great capture. You’ll always want to capture the father/daughter first look, for example; this is guaranteed to be an emotional moment. Control the situation ahead of time so they are perfectly staged and you are in the right spot with the right light, using the right gear.

 

Control your destiny when you can, and allow the rest of the emotional photojournalistic shots unfold naturally throughout the day.

 

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The Art of the Scrim: Daylight Portraits

April 28th, 2017

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The Art of the Scrim: Daylight Portraits with Michael Corsentino

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It’s just as important to know when to use strobes as when not to use them. There are things you can do with scrims and natural light that are difficult if not impossible to replicate with artificial light. A case in point is this lovely daylight portrait series of model Willie Demi Spink shot at New Smyrna Beach, Florida.

 

Scrim and Subtraction All in One

 

For this shoot, I used a Sunbounce Cage, a five-sided 8×8-foot popup scrim/subtraction panel tent that becomes a portable daylight studio anywhere I go. People always ask why I don’t just shoot my studio-style on-location portraits in a studio in the first place. That’s a great question. The soft wrapping quality of light I can create with a large scrim and the sun is like nothing I’ve ever been able to create in the studio. Scrims are super portable, easily packed onto planes and into cars. I can take my studio with me. I don’t have to worry about electricity, I can capture environmental and studio images during the same shoot if desired, and, as you’ll see, there is no shortage of lighting options available, all without ever powering on a strobe.

 

Position Is Key

 

The way in which the Cage or any similar tool is oriented in relationship to the sun plays a key role in the quality of light created. Couple that with the wide variety of ways the Cage can be configured to control quantity and quality of light, as well as its direction and intensity, and you end up with an extremely versatile tool.

 

For our first look, I worked with the diffusion panel on the right side of the Cage. I did this for two reasons. Earlier in the day, the sun was lower in the sky, providing directional side light. Audra Seay, our talented HMUA, had styled model Willie’s hair flipped to the left side. This meant there would be no shadow cast from the hair when lit from the right. It’s not a hard and fast rule I followed the entire shoot, but for the majority of images, it was the look I wanted.

 

In addition to the 8×8 diffusion panel on the right side, I used the diffusion panel on the ceiling of the Cage. This created a soft hair light. My assistant simply unzipped the black cover on the ceiling as we were setting up. Each surface of the Cage can be used with either black fabric to block light or diffusion fabric to let light in. In addition to this different-colored background, fabrics can be used to create a variety of looks. Here I used black infinite cloth for a classic portrait look. I also chose black because I knew it would help accentuate the porcelain quality I wanted Willie’s skin to have after the black-and-white conversion was applied to the files. All said, the goal of this first look was to create a soft and directionally lit portrait.

 

When it was time to move on to our second look—with a more dramatic, flat-lit, specular lighting effect—the Cage needed to be repositioned to make the best use of the sun. When you’re working with scrims, it’s important to determine the path the sun will follow as it rises and sets; plan what order makes the most sense for the looks planned. We also zipped the black blocking fabric back in place. The only open surface, aside from the front, was now the top diffusion panel. The way the scrim is oriented in relationship to the sun has a direct impact on the quality of light created. Our first look was soft and side lit because the sun was coming in from the side at a relatively low position in the sky.

 

For the second look, the sun was now very high in the sky and had moved behind my camera position. We spun the Cage around to get more overhead light coming directly into the Cage via the top diffusion panel. In this position, we were able to introduce a silver reflector to provide fill light from below and the side. By rearranging the position of the Cage, the rim light on Willie’s hair light was now much brighter; with a silver reflector in place, our dramatic specular look was ready to go.

 

Fill Reflector

 

Adding the silver reflector from below or from the side for our second look introduced directional fill and a prominent catchlight in the lower half of the model’s eyes. This worked well in this situation, but you do run the risk of creating an overly harsh and distracting catchlight, so be careful. This can always be softened, along with the rest of the fill light from the reflector, by simply switching to a white-surfaced reflector.

 

Shooting Tethered on Location

 

If you follow my work or read this column regularly, you know I’m a proponent of shooting tethered whenever possible. This shoot was no different. Here I used a Nine-Volt laptop table on a C-stand, which provides a stable base on surfaces that aren’t level. To shade the laptop and make it infinitely easier to view the screen, I used Nine-Volt’s collapsible laptop sun shades.

 

Rounding out my tethering setup were Tether Tools’ 15-foot USB and 15-foot USB extension cables, along with a portable SSD drive for backing up files in the field. Shooting tethered allowed us to see large previews of what I was shooting, check exposures, monitor posing, position Rachel Velez’s awesome wardrobe and accessory styling as needed, and also dial in the black-and-white conversion for the shoot in real time. This way, every image coming up on screen was the black-and-white look used for the finals.

 

Working With Models

 

It’s essential that your talent know they can trust you implicitly. This is especially true with nude or implied-nude modeling. Trust is critical for a male photographer working with female models. Models need to feel safe and comfortable. They’re vulnerable, and need to trust that you’ve got their best interests in mind. There needs to be zero “creeper” vibe. That means no awkward jokes, no staring—you need to be a total pro at all times. I also like to have an assistant ready to drape the model in a robe between looks or during breaks. My models understand that I would never publish any capture that they aren’t comfortable with.

 

Post Workflow

 

My post-processing workflow started in Capture One Pro 10, where I chose my selects, adjusted exposure and tweaked the black-and-white conversion and digital “film” grain that had been applied in the field. I opened the images in Photoshop CC and retouched them using Retouching Academy’s Beauty Retouch Panel, my go-to. One of the benefits of applying digital grain to simulate the look of Kodak Tri-X black-and-white film stock is that retouching becomes much easier. The grain covers up a multitude of sins.

 

A Scrim Is a Scrim

 

Remember, just because you might not have access to a Sunbounce Cage doesn’t mean you can’t get close to the effects I’ve created for this shoot. Scrims and black block panels are affordable, and can also be DIY’d using PVC pipe and a variety of common fabrics.

 

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Use Products to Create Photographic Longevity

March 31st, 2017

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Use Products to Create Photographic Longevity with Blair Phillips

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Today’s generation is one that is generally open and accepting to change. While that’s a good thing, it also has its disadvantages. Your business could be here today and gone tomorrow. This is something I have learned in the volume photography world. When working to acquire new business, it is frustrating for people to not be open to a new way of doing things just because it has always been done a certain way. If you are the one already providing that service, it is good to hear that. If you are the one trying to gain that business, it can be frustrating to hear that. I have found it best to create a product that they cannot imagine not having any longer if the client chose to hire someone other than me. That is exactly what we have done with banners in our market.

 

It is no secret that today’s youth like looking at themselves in pictures. They may not love how they look, but they sure take lots of pictures of themselves. The word selfie is now in the dictionary. We photograph all the team and individual images for every sport in every high school in two counties. That puts us in front of a ton of athletes three times a year. That is a large business, and I do not want anyone to take that away from me. These banners have helped secure my existence in this space.

 

We print an eye-catching banner for each individual senior in their sports environment. These banners hang wherever their sport is played throughout the season. The banners are printed on an outdoor material that withstands the elements. Seniors get to keep their banners at the end of the year. Most students tell me they take it home and hang it in their room. The banners have a brand-reflective look and design. If the images on the banners don’t get the kids excited, they won’t be as effective.

 

You may find that it seems impossible to convince the decision makers to let you photograph a sports team. I felt the same way when I began this venture. I went to the coach of a high school team and showed him an example of the idea I had in mind. I asked to borrow a couple of his star players to photograph as an example. This allowed me to do two things. It allowed me to show him what I could deliver to parents as an option for them to purchase. It also provided me images to work up into a banner that I could show as an example. The example is more powerful if you use one of the team’s players. Showing examples of rival teams just doesn’t get many prospective clients excited. When the coach was able to see the banner hanging on the fence and hear the response from the players, he told me that he had to have them. The icing on the cake was letting a few players’ parents see the banners. Once the parents got involved, the banners turned into a must-have product.

 

It is all well and good to create an awesome and highly desired product, but the toughest part is figuring out who is going to pay you for it. Some schools have booster clubs that raise a lot of money. For the schools with a good budget, the booster club buys them from me at cost. I am making my money on the team and individual images that I create and sell to parents. The banners are a way for me to give back to my schools with my skillset, rather than just writing a check that digs into my profits. The schools without much booster support have to have another option in order for the banner option to work. We sell the banners to these schools at cost too. The difference is that the parents have to buy their child’s banner out of their own pocket. If that is not an option, the students can go out into the community and fundraise from local businesses to help them hang their banner. I am a firm believer that where there is a want and a will, there is a way.

 

Our schools and athletes have grown to love and expect these banners season after season. We have a system and a rock-solid product in place that runs like a fine-tuned machine. The thought of them not having the banners any longer is not something that would sit well with the students, coaches, and especially the parents. I love going to the Friday night football games and eavesdropping on the families commenting about the banners. These banners have made it tougher for another photography company to step in and take the business from us. We offer the banners only to the seniors. This gives them a little more meaning. It also creates anticipation and gives everyone encouragement and motivation to make it to that senior year, when their banner will finally hang proudly. The banners represent more than just a pretty picture. We market them to stand for commitment, perseverance, dedication and skill.

 

The great thing about getting into the school sports market is the number of opportunities you have to sell to them. They have three seasons at the high school level: fall, winter and spring. In the fall there are two football teams, two soccer teams, two cheer squads, a golf team, two volleyball teams and two track teams. In the winter, there are four basketball teams, a cheer squad, an indoor track team, a wrestling team and a boys and girls swim team. The spring season consists of two baseball teams, two softball teams, a boys and girls track team, a golf team, two soccer teams and a tennis team. If you can acquire a decent number of these schools, you can make a good living photographing sports three times a year. The trick is to be quick, efficient and very friendly. You must deliver a product they feel they cannot live without.

 

Confidence is a game changer in our everyday life. It has to maintain a balance within our business lives. Lack of confidence keeps us from growing our business in the direction we want it to go. Too much confidence causes us to lose sight of what is important, which leads us to stray from the details that helped get us the business to begin with.

 

Confidence is something we create for ourselves. No one can take away from you what they never gave you to begin with. Let your confidence be the motivation that keeps the ball rolling. Confidence alone is not enough, though. You have to search for the right product offerings that help you stand out in your market. Only then can you apply your confidence and drive home the big sale.

 

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How to Open a Photography Studio

March 31st, 2017

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How to Open a Photography Studio with Moshe Zusman

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When I started doing photography, my focus was mainly weddings, and I was working from home. Working from home was easy because I had no overhead and I was meeting my clients at my house or Starbucks. I just had to make sure the place was straightened up. After a few years, my business grew tremendously. I had maximized the amount of income I could make with just two hands and a living room.

My son was born in 2010 when I was doing 40 to 50 weddings a year. I’d been hiding my infant son in the other room with my wife while I was meeting clients in the living room. 2010 was a very busy year, and probably my most profitable year. But I felt like it was time to move to the next step and open a studio. Thankfully, I found a space that accommodated what I wanted and more.

Here are four things you should consider when you are thinking about opening up your own studio space.

 

1 – Should You Even Get a Studio?

 

If you’re shooting primarily weddings and don’t feel like you need to upgrade your meeting space, you probably don’t need a studio of your own. If you are doing other types of photography and feel like a studio would grow your business to the next level, look into it.

You first need to determine if you can afford a studio space. A lot of photographers don’t realize when they look to buy or rent a studio that there’s a lot more overhead than just rent. All of a sudden you have more bills, like heat and electric, that are separate from your household bills. It starts piling up to the point where you’re actually working 20 extra hours a week or shooting five to 10 more weddings just to pay for the space.

I looked at my numbers and saw that with the new work I anticipated branching into, a studio would be extremely affordable.

 

2 –  Needs vs. Wants

 

The gear you need for a new studio is only the gear that you will use in the studio. Ideally, a lot of what you have already you’ll be able to repurpose. Don’t invest in gear that only looks great and that you think you need because other studios have it. I’ve had a studio for six years, and I never built a cyc wall in it. I wasn’t focused on fashion in the past, and never felt the need to invest in such a thing, even though most portrait studios have a cyc wall.

In the studio, you sometimes need two lights and sometimes five. Over time, I purchased as many lights as I needed, but I never bought all eight Profoto D1 strobes at the same time. I built up to it as needed.

Working in the studio is different than working on location. In the studio, you can have gear that’s a little less portable but much more sturdy and easy to use on a flat surface. I use light stands on wheels (roller stands) that are easily moveable on my studio floor, but I don’t take them on location.

Another key element to making my studio location fun, easy and free of tech problems is the perfect tethering station I built. I enjoy building rigs for lighting, and the tethering station was one of my favorite things to build. I used a wheeled junior light stand and a couple of custom pieces from Kupo, Impact and Tether Tools to create the surface that holds my 21-inch iMac as well as a keyboard, mouse and all the other cool gadgets that Tether Tools has to offer. It even holds a printer on the bottom that prints proofs for my clients on an 8×10 print.

You may not be able to afford the fancy lights immediately or the expensive heavy-duty stands, but that doesn’t mean you can’t start working in your studio immediately with the gear you already have. I’ve seen photographers who do headshots with speedlights or AlienBees, and later grew up into Profoto and other superior brands.

 

3 – Spaces You Need in Your Studio

 

Your studio shouldn’t have only a space to do photography. It should also become your office and a convenient area for clients to hang out while they’re waiting for you. For fashion shoots, I use my extra space as a staging and wardrobe area. I’ve seen photographers who lease the studio space that was perfect for photography but was not convenient for clients to get to, or studios that didn’t even accommodate a small space for a coffee machine.

In my studio, there are two full bathrooms, a mirrored area for makeup and hair stylists to work, a full kitchen, a living room and two workstations for me and my studio manager. The shooting area is 600 square feet, a 20×30 room that can accommodate shooting full length with a 70–200mm lens. It has 16-foot ceilings with a sky track system installed to avoid roller stands and clutter when I’m using a larger number of lights.

If you can’t have all those spaces in your first studio, at the very least, have the room to be able to photograph what you need. If that means full length, you have to measure the space, including space for background light and backdrops, to make sure it fits. The secondary priority is a client area and a kitchen. Those are not as important, but they’re great to have.

In the past, makeup artists would set up shop anywhere in the studio with their own portable lights to light up their workspace. Since I’ve gotten more into headshots, portraits and fashion, I built a very large makeup area for the artists to work in that includes lighting mirrors and countertops, outlets and even phone charging stations.

If you’re looking into your own studio space, don’t rush into it. Keep thinking about all the cons, not just the pros, of a studio space of your own. One of the best pieces of advice I received many years ago, when I was sick of meeting people at home and found an opportunity to share a space with another business, was from my mentor, Doug Gordon. He told me not to worry about inviting people to my home, that it’s ok to show them that my home is my business, my business is my home.

That saved me a lot of money and prevented me from making some bad investments in shared spaces. Later down the road, I was able to afford my own space. Good luck to you if you’re considering getting your own studio space.

 

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Choosing the Right Light

March 31st, 2017

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Choosing the Right Light with Michael Corsentino

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Choosing the Right Tools

 

With so many sources of artificial light at your fingertips and numerous ways these sources can be modified, choosing the best tool for the task can be confusing. HMI with focusable Fresnels, strobes, fluorescent lights, tungsten, beauty dishes, softboxes, barn doors—each has different characteristics and produces different effects. Developing a working knowledge of the differences between these tools and their results is the first step in choosing the right light.

 

Fresnels are for Hollywood glamour, fluorescents for soft beauty light, tungsten when it’s all you’ve got, strobe for everything. Each artificial light source brings something different to the table, and that’s before we even get to modifiers and the different ways they impact the shape and quality of the light.

 

The second step in choosing the right tools is to determine the effect you’re after. Planning is key. This way, even if you don’t have a working knowledge of every light source and modifier out there, you at least know the kind of light you want to create. Then it’s simply a matter of reverse engineering how to produce that kind of light in the best, most effective way possible. Within each lighting category you also have additional choices regarding which tool is best for creating the effect you want. In other words, a strobe isn’t always just a strobe.

 

There’s a ton of strobe configurations, shapes and reasons one is more suited for specific uses than another. Let’s look at the ring flash.

 

Right Flash

 

This specialty light, also known as ring light, is the perfect tool for a few essential but very niche applications, and not much else owing to its signature look. There’s no slight intended in the previous sentence because, when it comes to lighting glamour and fashion and creating a hard-edged rock and roll look, nothing beats a ring flash.

 

They’re used all time for shoots for magazines like Rolling Stone and FHM. This is one of those lights that can easily sit on your shelf collecting dust. But when you need it, you’re instantly reminded why you’d never want to be without it. Unlike a traditional strobe, a ring flash has a circular flash tube situated inside a donut-shaped housing that fits over your camera’s lens. It approximates the “flashy” look of on-camera flash, only much cooler looking.

 

The signature tells of a ring flash are circular catchlights in the eyes and a shadow cast around the edge of subjects. Bare ring flash can cause red eye in subjects’ eyes. Be on the lookout for this and be ready to correct it in post as needed.

 

Most leading manufacturers offer some version of a ring flash, and there are adapters that can turn a speedlight into an ad-hoc ring flash. One of the reasons my preferred ring flash is the Profoto is the availability of two soft light reflectors, one silver and one white, that can be used to soften and modify the quality of light in varying degrees. This isn’t an option I’ve seen offered by any other manufacturer. I didn’t end up using either of these modifiers for this shoot, but they’ve been very useful on past shoots. In addition, the Profoto Ring Flash can be used with one of their companion high-power-output 1200ws battery packs, making sure there’s plenty of juice.

 

Ring flash isn’t a stationary light source like most traditional strobes, but one that travels with you and your camera. This creates a very different set of considerations with respect to exposure. Because it’s a manual source (at least mine is), maintaining a consistent exposure takes practice and an awareness that any change in your distance from the subject will affect the exposure, either adding more light as you get closer or less as you move farther away. But once you’ve nailed down a solid exposure, as long as your distance from the subject remains constant, your exposure will remain the same.

 

Because ring flash is mounted on your camera, taking meter readings can be tricky. You’ll need an assistant to take the readings for you or a tripod to hold your camera as you take readings; or you can simply work intuitively. I do a little of both, having an assistant pull a reading and then adjusting power as I move closer and farther away from subjects.

 

The same rules apply, when balancing ambient light and ring flash, as they do with other types of flash units. Aperture and strobe power settings control the amount of light contributed to the exposure, while shutter speed controls the amount of ambient light contributed.

 

With ring flash, you also have to be comfortable working with a source that doesn’t afford you much in the way of control. There’s nothing subtle about a ring flash, and that’s kind of the point. Like an umbrella, it puts light everywhere. Unlike an umbrella, it creates a unique, harsh quality of light with specularity for miles.

 

Turning Challenges Into Opportunities

 

Every location presents a different set of challenges that need to be overcome. It’s overcoming these challenges—cracking the code of each location, finding the visual hidden gems, making magic with what you’ve been given—that’s the fun, creative part of working on location. Everything else is just lots of heavy lifting, packing, unpacking and packing again.

 

The run-down motel that my producer and HMUA Audra Seay scouted for our Trashy Rocker shoot was perfect in every way, like it was right out of central casting. Add to that two of the most amazing models we’ve ever worked with, Sam and Christina, Audra’s dramatic makeup, a vintage phone, a bitchin’ electric guitar and the perfectly styled wardrobe pieces pulled by our stylist Rachel Nicole Velez, and we were ready to rock.

 

The tiny biohazard of a room was covered in mirrors. Every single wall had mirrors on it; hell, even the ceiling had mirrors. Very classy. After my initial shock, somehow I’d conveniently forgotten about the mirrors after seeing Audra’s location pictures. I tried to wrap my head around how to shoot without being seen in the pictures and how to work with a ring flash blasting light everywhere in such a confined space with wall-to-wall mirrors.

 

Working around mirrors can seem challenging at first, but it’s also an opportunity to be creative. Every obstacle is actually a chance to not only problem-solve but to be creative doing it. Once you flip things around mentally and look at challenges as opportunities to flex your creative muscles, you start to see all sorts of interesting options.

 

Mirrors can be used to create a variety of unique and otherwise impossible-to-capture images and perspectives—from mirror images to capturing reflections, or in our case shooting up into the mirrors on the ceiling to capture the subjects below. To avoid being in the pictures, I shot from angles that kept me and my ring light out of line of sight of the mirrors. When that wasn’t practical—when shooting straight on at the models—I relied on height and the models to block my reflection. With this many mirrors and a team of people in the room, there is a lot of shifting of people back and forth to keep everyone but the models out of the images. You need to be extra vigilant and constantly check the reflections as you change shooting positions. That meant not only shifting people but also gear, cases and stands.

 

Shooting Editorially

 

Shooting for editorials has more in common with wedding shooting than you might think. Both are about telling a story. Both lead to a series of images destined for layouts. Both benefit from a variety of standalone as well as supporting images. Just like weddings, when I’m shooting an editorial, I’m thinking about the eventual spreads, so I’m mindful to shoot wide, tight, horizontal, vertical, portrait, 3/4 length, full figure and details to tell the story in the most visually diverse and compelling way possible.

 

Color and tone also play an important role in the emotional impact and success of the final product. Color grading that supports the creative mission of the images rather than intrudes on it in an obvious effects-driven way is my guiding principle. I want my post-processing choices to work in the background creating mood and texture without calling attention to themselves.

 

When I’m creating complementary color grading, like the black-and-white and cross-processed styles in this editorial, I choose effects that add to the creative direction of the project, in this case a grungy rocker motel, and I think in terms of what colors will work well next to each other in spreads.

 

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