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Diversify Your Portfolio With More Than Pretty Pictures

Tuesday, February 28th, 2017


Diversify Your Portfolio With More Than Pretty Pictures with Blair Phillips


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If you find yourself having to stop for fuel late at night, you will normally look over your shoulder once or twice to be aware of your surroundings. We get so enthralled in our thoughts that we find ourselves going through life with blinders on. While I am not saying we should live in constant fear, we should live our lives with a sense of awareness. Most problems in life give us warning signs to make us aware of an upcoming problem. Think of an oil spot underneath your car in the garage. It may be very small when you first notice it, but if left alone, you could be facing huge problems down the road. We should treat our photography business the same way. Have constant awareness of where your business is, and if it’s meeting the goals you have set.


Goals are often put to the wayside as we put all our energy into simply getting through the day. We set goals to motivate ourselves and others. Setting the goal is the easy part. Actually putting the pieces in place to achieve that goal is another story.


We start off going after goals strongly, only to fall short due to our lack of awareness. It is not that we can’t accomplish goals, we just lack the awareness of our progress. Do you have weekly meetings with staff to evaluate your progress? Do you know what costs you the most revenue? If not, that should be one of your most important goals right now. You may be spinning your wheels chasing different avenues of business that do not yield the maximized profits you are capable of. Running your business with the sense of only surviving day to day will never allow you to grow toward the long-term goal of financial freedom and sanity. We should all be running our business with a goal-oriented mindset, while shaving time off the tasks we do each day.


Time is the most overlooked commodity in the photography industry. Photographers believe they are making good profit on a job, but forget that it took three times longer than it should. You must evaluate the amount of time you spend completing tasks.


If you perform a few of the same tasks each day, try this exercise. Write down each step of a task. Evaluate each step to ensure it adds value to your business or the end result. Dig deep to simplify and group together steps. Shave a little time off each task daily. You will be amazed by the amount of time you can gain by implementing this practice in your business and life. It is called lean management. Lean management is the concept of continuous improvement. It’s a way of making small changes to improve efficiency and quality. I guarantee that if you begin to work and live by a lean management standard, you will have more free time to focus on goals.


But be careful with your focus. If you focus on one thing too much, it is likely to turn into a disappointment. My studio has always been diverse. We noticed the importance of diversity about six years ago. There was a slight decline in the popularity of senior photography in our market. We began looking into other avenues that would allow us to photograph the same jobs year after year. This business would be so much easier if we had a guaranteed number of jobs. That is exactly what we have created with volume photography.


I never imagined I would be photographing entire schools, sports leagues, dance studios, preschools, cheer groups and volleyball leagues. When I saw the added security this provided my business, it was exciting and motivating. I now have a completely separate division under the same roof. Our volume school and sports division has become a large part of our business.


We still focus equally on the portrait side of our business, but the diversity gives us options. If you photograph only one genre, you need to broaden your skillset and offerings. Spread yourself around to ensure you do not become complacent in the marketplace. You can be thriving today and gone within a few moths if you are not making yourself constantly aware.


Businesses that thrive have the right people for the job. Obviously you do not want to pay someone $25 an hour to do something that is worth $10. There are companies you can outsource nearly anything to. For as much as I love keeping my dollars here in the United States, sometimes it is beneficial to outsource to a foreign country. You can hire individuals to do market research, book appointments, manage your schedule, help you find employees—anything you can imagine. These people are known as virtual assistants. You can hire qualified individuals for anywhere from $4 to $25 an hour. You pay them only when you need them.


Keep a few things in mind when outsourcing. When you send your detailed request, ask them to write you back and explain their interpretation of what you are asking for. This ensures you are both on the same page and not wasting money. Set a time constraint for every task you outsource. Use an outsourcing firm that has a team of qualified employees should your main contact fall ill. Know what your time is worth. This is the only way to know if outsourcing is worth it. Outsourcing sites include oDesk, Upwork and Fiverr (it is amazing what people are willing to do for five bucks).


Think about the measures you are putting into place to secure a prosperous future. Just when you feel like giving up, think of the number 242. That is the number of venture capitalists that Starbucks founder and CEO Howard Schultz had to pitch his idea to before he was given the chance he needed.


Think of 212 degrees also. Water does nothing at 211 degrees. Once water reaches 212 degrees, it boils. In other words, never give up. There are tons of people with an overwhelming amount of knowledge all around you. There is so much free information on the Internet to help us stay in touch with what is going on in the world. If you find yourself lost, take off the blinders. Stay on top of not only where you are going, but how you are getting there.


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From Edit to Export: On1 RAW or Lightroom?

Tuesday, February 28th, 2017


From Edit to Export: On1 RAW or Lightroom? with Dustin Lucas


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As we get further into 2017, more and more updates are getting pushed out. Based on the feedback from users, ON1 is stepping up its game. In last month’s article, I focused on where ON1 excels over Lightroom CC. For Round 2, let’s get down to business. From edit to export, what program produces the best results?

In this article, my focus starts with shot out of camera (SOOC) to export before any Develop settings are applied. I want to break down the range of color and tonality as well as detail and sharpness. Then, we can compare the editability by looking at the results with the recovery tool. Skin tones are going to be a major factor here because when it’s all said and done, do your clients look good? This business is all about the little things, and we cannot stop short on the details. Sharpness from input to output ties everything together in your image. After developing the image, we are finally ready to export to see the results.

SOOC to Export Comparison

After opening the images in each program, I noticed a default level of sharpening is applied automatically. Not to worry—this was easily turned off before exporting the SOOC image, but ON1 RAW won’t allow me to turn off its export sharpening feature, so I had to match it in Lightroom to make an honest comparison. I also use Photoshop to review the images since I’d normally process the images further in there. I contemplated whether we should be viewing these images as a PSD or JPEG and what color space to choose. To make this simple, I chose file type JPEG and color space sRGB. These are the more common export settings. (1ab)

Now, let’s dive in. At first glance, the ON1 image is brighter and more vibrant, clearly winning the color range category because of its true-to-life vibrant blue sky and balanced skin tones. (2) Even the dead grass in the foreground looks better. (3) Mind you, this is not white balanced in either program; we are dealing with straight from capture. Plain and simple, the exposure is brighter and the tonality is wider in the ON1 image. Although the black point in the Lightroom file seems more dense, it is limited in overall tonality. (4) This may have to do with the camera profile automatically being assigned; unfortunately, after testing, the other default profiles in Lightroom couldn’t match the ON1 image. So far, ON1 is in the lead.

Results With Recovery

Moving into the recovery section, I am focusing on highlights, shadows, white and black point. Looking at the histogram alone, each of these programs is measuring the scene differently. (5) We have to recover the sky and lighten the face equally in this image. (6) This will be a great example to showcase the recovery skills in each program. I start by selecting Auto Tone to see where we get. Both of these are useless for this image, but it looks like Lightroom does a better job adjusting for the histogram. Also in Lightroom, this tool adjusts the black and white point sliders to give the image solid density. (7)

Both programs have the right idea by lifting the exposure for the face and dropping highlights for the sky. We need some serious dehazing or black point recovery as well. After editing the images to where I would be comfortable in Develop, I think they are evenly matched for highlights in the sky tones. (8) Each program does a decent job fixing the clipped white tones. The major tell for the difference is how Lightroom recovers the hair with little to no color detail present. (9) On1 handles the surrounding areas well; it’s when you get to a blank white patch where the images lose quality in recovery. (10)

Shadows are problematic for ON1 as well. Lightroom does a better job at rendering these underexposed tones, and has better density with black point. (11) It appears the ON1 RAW became limited in the range of dark tones from lighter shadows to absolute black point. These areas tend to be blocked up and lose detail. (12)

The takeaway from this is that the image is difficult to start with, but Lightroom does a better job fixing what seems unfixable.

Saving the Skin Tones

I found an image that looks quite different in how each program renders a close-up portrait shot. ON1 renders brighter skin tones with a loss of density in the dark tones. (13) On the contrary, Lightroom goes for a darker look. (14) Adjusting the image in Lightroom to +0.8 exposure, we have two similar images. That must be due to the automated software in ON1, something I have no control over when opening an image. Nonetheless, they have a distinct difference.

After examining each of the images at 100%, they look pretty evenly matched. (15) ON1 has a little more definition in the midtones, especially around the lips. The less contrast and density in the recovery analysis has a better look and feel on the skin tones, especially for the eyes and eyelashes. (16) In Lightroom, the hot spots on the face seem to be minimized and a subtle gray tone is present. Another advantage is the defined black point, giving the eyes a bit more pop. (17)

White balance is another mystery between these programs. In On1, the background graffiti has a cyan tint to it; in Lightroom, it’s more neutral white. (18) This is a quick fix in ON1 by using the Purity section, although the skin tones become gray and unflattering. (19) We must go to Color Adjustments to desaturate the blues. After warming both images, they look pretty close in terms of skin tones. (20)

One huge upgrade to editing in a nondestructive environment is the skin retouching capabilities in ON1. I will explore this in a later article.

Let’s move on to developing the details and sharpening.

Developing the Details

It’s all about the little details and how we can salvage even the slightly soft images we want to show. Sorry, Sal—I’m not trying to throw you under the bus. Every lens has edge sharpness issues and difficulty trying to focus on the subject when they fall outside the AF range. Not to worry, we can bring her back into focus selectively. (21)

Starting with clarity or structure, we can start to add more midtone contrast and some high pass sharpening effect. I leave these alone for female portrait shoots, which makes the skin rather gritty. (22) Moving into the Sharpening panels is where we can get some great results. I have to admit I liked the less-is-more approach with Lightroom. I have four sliders for sharpening: amount, radius, detail, masking. Now, before I start messing with anything, I have to zoom in at 1:1 pixels, or 100%. This is a must during sharpening and noise reduction as well.

After some tweaking, I am set on the following settings for optimal sharpness for my slightly soft subject. For my subject, I wanted to crank up the details slider to 100 and slowly lift the amount slider until too much digital noise appeared. I could add the masking slider into the mix to remove some of the noise or even noise reduction. For now, let’s compare the results with ON1. (23)

As a default, when applying sharpening in the ON1 Develop, the High Pass tool is used. I like this for in-focus images with a lot of edges needing heightened details. For this particular image, we need something less intense but still able to bring out details in the soft subject. The three predetermined settings—fix focus, screen, and print—all show promise as well for a quick option. Screen has a more subtle approach, and even when moving the amount and detail sliders to 100, we still aren’t able to compete with the Lightroom edit. (24)

My final option is the Unsharp Mask to offer a better rendering of this soft image. Starting with the default settings, it’s radically worse. (25) We have to drop Threshold to zero to get any workable results. After dropping the Halo slider, I can begin lifting the Amount to the 300 range. (26) These are similar settings I’d use in Photoshop for input sharpening. I can immediately see the difference between Lightroom and ON1. This is by far a better recovery of the details, and it saved this image. Even with this highly sharpened image, I don’t need to do much else.

There you have it: ON1 shows up Lightroom for input sharpening. (27)

Edit to Export

Taking this same slightly soft image, we are now ready to compare the exported JPEGs. Starting with the unedited file, we have a soft, seemingly usable image. (28) Moving to the Lightroom edit, this is certainly a sizable upgrade from the shot out of camera. (29) Without comparison, I would be happy with these results. Now for the next level of detail and sharpness comes the Unsharp Mask tool in ON1. (30) Another addition is the refining of the shadow tones to give more detail versus the blocked-up dark tones in the Lightroom image. (31)

The Results

So that’s our side-by-side comparison of ON1 RAW and Lightroom CC. The results are interesting to say the least. It seems Lightroom won in the recovery area for a backlit and rather arduously exposed image. ON1 won out in all the other areas, but I am not totally convinced to convert workflows just yet. Lightroom still provides faster performance for hundreds of images. I may have to keep ON1 as my single image Raw processor.

Stay tuned for more workflow articles on these two programs and how to maximize efficiency with some added quality.


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5 Tips for On-Site Commercial Portraiture

Tuesday, February 28th, 2017


5 Tips for On-Site Commercial Portraiture with Moshe Zusman


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A big misconception about portrait and headshot photographers is that they’re always shooting in a studio. They actually shoot on location pretty frequently. Shooting on location is fun for me. It is a bit more challenging, but it gives me the chance to be more creative.

Since I’m not shooting on the typical white backdrop, there’s a lot more that I have to take into account when I’m preparing, including what gear to bring and where to set up. I didn’t always have a studio, so most of my early wedding shoots were outdoors or on location indoors. Shooting on location has become routine, and we look forward to taking a break from the studio. I get to spread my wings a little.

There are five things you want to think about with on-site business portraiture.

  1. What equipment should you bring?

Because schlepping gear all over the place can be a literal pain in the butt, minimize the gear you bring on commercial shoots, but don’t give up essential equipment. For example, if I need to bring a light shaper and have a choice between a softbox and an umbrella with a baffle, I will likely bring the umbrella with the baffle. The light coming out of both is similar, but the umbrella collapses faster and is much lighter and easier to carry.

When shooting on location for a client, it’s important to know what the final product is. This helps ensure you don’t take everything you own with you. Unlike with weddings and engagements, where you tend to bring all of the typical gear that you shoot with, on-site shoots are the opposite. Ideally, you have an idea of the final product, so you can bring appropriate gear.

If you’re shooting a group shot in a small space, you probably don’t need to bring your 70–200mm lens. A 24–70mm will do just fine. All of this will help determine what kind of lighting and equipment you’ll bring. Scout the location you’ll be shooting so you have a good idea of what gear needs to come with you. If you know you’ll be shooting outdoors or next to a window, the time of day of the shoot can greatly affect what gear you bring.

  1. Pick the right location.

When picking a location to shoot, your clients’ interests should prevail. Sometimes I arrive to a shoot and my client will want me to shoot in a specific room or have a certain building in the background. Another client will have an idea of what they want the final product to be like, but no specific location in mind. In this case, I have a lot more creative freedom and get to make decisions photographically that will benefit the final image.

If I have my way, there are three things I’m looking for in an off-site shoot: high ceilings, a larger room and enough ambient light so I’m not shooting in the dark. I prefer high ceilings so that I can place my lights wherever I would like. A larger room is nice so that I can optically separate the subjects from the background, rather than just using light to do so by creating more depth in the image. Finally, a place with a good amount of ambient light is preferred so I can create a nice balance between the ambient light and my Profoto D2’s.

  1. Learn to deal with small spaces.

When I don’t get my way, I have to improvise. One of the biggest hindrances to small spaces is how they affect the way I use lights and light shapers. One way I improvise is by replacing lights with reflectors. If I want to put up a second light but don’t have room for it, I use a reflector instead since it’s flat and I can direct light perfectly. If I don’t have space for a hair light, I place my subject next to a window and use the light coming through the window as a hair light. In a pinch, I use a set of Profoto modifiers that are flat and can fit into small spaces and still work beautifully.

  1. Make it look natural even with mixed lighting.

Dealing with mixed lighting is a common problem for any photographer, whether you are shooting weddings or on-location portraiture. One of the best ways that you can tackle this is by understanding how gels work on your strobes and flashes. Gels are used primarily in two different ways, either to color correct or to color enhance. When I’m shooting on-site portraiture, I want the ambient light to nearly match that of my strobes.

Last night I shot in a garage that had really horrible lighting. It had overhead lighting and nothing but fluorescent colored light spewing everywhere. My strobes are Profoto D2’s, so they are a daylight-balanced light. In order to match my light to the florescent lights, I put a green gel over mine. It helped balance the ambient fluorescent lighting to the lighting that I brought with me for a more natural look.

A more common example is one that wedding photographers are very familiar with when shooting in a reception room. A lot of indoor lighting is tungsten, which is orange-like compared to the daylight-balanced light on flashes and strobes. To combat this, I put a CTO (color temperature orange) gel over my strobes to match the warm, ambient light of the room.

  1. Put your clients’ needs over your own creative needs.

When we shoot, whether we’re hired or not, we tend to have a vision in our mind of how the photo should look. When you’re working with a client, it can be hard finding a middle ground between their needs and yours, especially if that middle ground compromises photography rules that you’d prefer not to break.

Clients have their own vision of what they want something to look like, but because they’re not photographers, they don’t understand how to make it come to life. I talk with my clients extensively about what they’re looking to do, and try to impart my photographic knowledge into the process as much as possible. Ultimately, I’m going to do what the client wants. If it’s something that’s super far away from what I would have done or it’s not coming out right, I suggest a different angle or method. I do this only after taking the shots they want. This shows the clients another option (the better option) without stepping on anyone’s toes or making it look like you’re not flexible.

As we all know, clients have visions made of rainbows and unicorns, and will find inspiration on Pinterest of a beautiful setting with natural light and West Coast sun. Then, you’ll find you have only a basement room to work in at midnight. Communicating with clients about what is possible is an art.

Shooting on location has its challenges and rewards. It adds diversity to your portfolio that can land you more jobs.

Check out this video, in which I walk you through the photos, lighting and steps I took to create a final image for a recent commercial client.


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8 Simple Lighting Tips for Dynamic Senior Portraits

Tuesday, February 28th, 2017


8 Simple Lighting Tips for Dynamic Senior Portraits with Michael Anthony


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It’s no secret that high school senior photography has changed over the last five to seven years. As with all genres of photography, our style of shooting must always adapt to the trends. Our studio has grown in the wedding market, but this year I set out to grow a new line of business for us: senior portraits.


Running a senior portrait session is a big departure from how we typically run a wedding shoot, but the lighting principles are the same. Our approach is very similar to how we photograph brides. The big difference here is that during a wedding day, we are photographing primarily for our clients; during a senior session, we are photographing both for the senior and her parents.


The thing about a senior session I love (as opposed to a wedding day) is that we have as much time as we need to create the perfect shot. I knew that I did not want to photograph the same boring portrait sessions that I see all over my Facebook feed. Instead, I wanted our senior portraits to have the same edge and fashion flare that helps us stand out among the hordes of photographers our clients can choose from.


Now, our style focuses on our use of light, and how we use it to shape and post our subjects. Light determines the outcome of our shoot. We have seen examples in our studio how, when a shoot departs from our house style, we end up with unhappy clients, even if the shoot would be considered a success by other studios.


To impress your clients, you can use light as the anchor for any photograph. Here are our tips for creating dynamic senior portraits.


Use Profoto for Speed and Efficiency


This is not a sales pitch. Here’s why I love Profoto’s B1 and B2 systems more than any other lighting option.


When setting up a shot, nothing can kill the interaction you have with your client more than taking 35 test shots to dial in your lighting. One reason I love Profoto is that it is the only lighting company that offers a hybrid manual/TTL mode on strobes.


This is how it works. First, dial in your ambient exposure in camera. This should take all of five seconds. Next, zoom in close and fill the frame of your viewfinder with whatever you intend to light, typically the subject’s face. The entire frame needs to be filled.


Now, with your Air-TTL remote in ETTL mode, take a test shot. The air-remote will dial in the power automatically and accurately. Switch the remote over to manual mode without touching anything else, and you are done. The variances in the scene will not affect your flash, as is common with shooting in TTL. You need to have the latest firmware installed for this to work.


Always Be Aware of Light Direction


This applies when you are shooting natural light. If you pay attention to the direction of light and find a background in your scene that is darker in tonality than your subjects, you will instantly create an environment where your subject is the brightest part of the image. This rule can be broken; one rule that should never be broken is that your subject needs to be at least as bright as the brightest part of your image.


All natural light, even open shade, has a direction to it. Once you find that direction, you can use it to light the face of your subject, specifically the eyes. To determine the direction of light, put your hand in front of your face. Pay attention to the grooves between your fingers. As you turn your hand left and right, watch how the light changes.


Find the Right Light for Your Subjects


I have used directional light as one of the key elements of my style of photography, but directional light isn’t the best for every subject. Directional light, or light coming from the left or right of your subject, emphasizes texture. If you pose your subject correctly, you can use this to create a slimming or three-dimensional effect. With seniors come blemishes, so you may be better off using flat light or beauty light.


One of my favorite tools for getting the must-have headshot from every senior session is the Westcott Omega Reflector. The reflector, designed by Jerry Ghionis, features a hole cut in the center that allows you to shoot through. This creates incredible catchlights in your subject’s eyes and hides any imperfections in their skin. The design of the Omega was well thought out, the placement of the cutout carefully considered. Don’t try making one of these at home—in my experience, it won’t work.


A reflector is my best friend on a senior shoot. One of the most liberating things for me, coming from a wedding background, is that we are working with one subject. This allows much more flexibility in light placement. You will often see me directing my assistant all around to different sides of my subject to find the best placement.


Vary Your Modifiers


I love soft light. I use the Profoto or Westcott 3-foot softboxes on many of my shoots. With seniors, I use bare flash for dramatic portraits. The key in choosing a modifier that looks appropriate for any scene is to match the natural light. On an overcast day, the natural light is soft, so use a soft light modifier. When shooting in the California sun, you will find us using Profoto’s Zoom Reflector to match the hard light in the scene. This rule can be broken, but if you are in a pinch, it is a good one to follow to create natural-looking images.


Watch Your Light Spill


The first thing that screams amateur about off-camera flash is light spill. There is nothing worse than a beautiful image with bad light placement. Remember, your eyes are drawn to the brightest part of an image, and if you are lighting the floor in front of your subjects, it takes the eyes out of the scene. Grids offer the easiest way to control light spill. Profoto makes grid options for monolights, while Magmod owns the market for speedlight grids. Both high-quality tools are always in our bag.


Make Sure Your Color Is Accurate


If light spill is the best indicator of an amateur strobist, unbalanced color is its little brother. If you are shooting at sunset, the light temperature will be very warm. You need to use gels to match the color of your flash to the scene. As above, this rule can be broken, especially in the case of color shifting (see my article in the 2015 Lighting Edition of Shutter). Overall, though, it should be followed if you want to create natural-looking photos.


Balance in Lighting Is as Important as Location in Real Estate


Using the proper ratio of ambient light to flash is critical to creating images that look natural and not too “flashy.” Properly balanced flash looks like natural light and appeals to most eyes. Everyone’s aesthetics are different, and even if a client hires you because they love your style, to create sellable portraits, your images need to appeal to them. Natural images appeal to a broader spectrum of people than images that are more stylistic. Have you ever submitted images to sites like The Knot or WeddingWire and been turned down because the images didn’t fit their style? It happened to me a lot when I started in photography.


I could not figure out why we continued booking clients while every magazine was turning us down. This is because the magazines publish images that appeal to the broadest set of readers, rather than smaller groups that like our colorful style. Just this week, I was asked to resubmit images to a large publication with a more natural-looking style of post-processing. No thank you.


Go Big to Create Your Standout Image


This tip seems obvious. Unique images equal happy clients, large sales and more referrals and social media engagement. On every shoot, focus on creating one image that is portfolio-worthy. This means that everything needs to come together—light, pose, scene, clothes, expression. Once you have this shot, double- and triple-check it to make sure it’s perfect before continuing.


Our signature shots are done with a wide angle, 12mm or so. They are lit with two off-camera lights, and usually showcase the scenery. If we get great attire or incorporate something special to the senior, even better. Just remember, light is the anchor to your photo, and even if all the other elements come together, if your light sucks, the image will too.


Summing Up


Good light allows you maximum manipulation of your images in post-production, where the magic happens. We have Lightroom presets for every image that will become one of our signature shots, and they require perfect light to work. This helps us create a consistent product that we can deliver to every client, which has fueled our referrals to help us get this new line of business off the ground.


Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the March 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.

Session Types for Seniors

Tuesday, February 28th, 2017


Session Types for Seniors with Craig LaMere


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Before I opened my first studio, I was still coaching football and shooting out of my house, so most of my sessions were on location. That first year of shooting was all about trying to get better in hopes of making photography my living.


I remember like it was yesterday my first paying high school senior session. It was with one of the high school kids I was coaching. We had a great session, took lots and lots of images, and at the view session, his mom picked out 20 images.


I was not selling any products other than digital files on a disk. I would edit the images, burn them to a disk and head over to my client’s house to deliver the images and collect my cash. I was charging $45 for the session and a whopping $10 per image.


I had my disk in hand with the 20 images and was on my way to my client’s house. About halfway there, it hit me that I was charging $200, and felt certain there was no way they were going to pay it. So I took $50 off. Three years later when I shot their youngest son’s senior images, my clients dropped $1,900 on them.


I have had my studio open for seven years now, and, since day one, high school seniors have been a huge part of my book of business. In those seven years, seniors have changed quite a lot, but the way I shoot them, process them and structure what I sell them has changed even more. One of the great things about photography is there are a million ways to achieve results. This month, I talk about the five biggest changes in shooting styles and business philosophies I’ve experienced.


Inclusive Packages


Since I started shooting, I have gone through three types of session and package structures. The first type I tried was what I would call an all-inclusive. I had a number of set product packages, and the session was built into the package. The larger the package the client purchased, the longer the session time, product offerings and clothing changes. I had four options for my clients. The structure of the options was to drive business to the middle options. The smallest package was set to not be a good value at all. It was built to have less of a value for the time and product options you got when compared to the other options. The largest package offered the greatest value, and the largest price tag. The largest option was a very good value, but it was priced so high that not many clients would go that route. The smallest and largest packages were really just built to be bookends to the middle packages.


With the inclusive package, you are not defining the cost of the session or goods, so you have the ability to assign value to both. Inclusive sessions make it a very easy choice for the customer, as there are fewer choices for them to make.


But you are locked in to a degree. You do not have the latitude as with other session types. The biggest downside to offering inclusive packages is understanding the conversion values of products when a customer wants to do a substitution with the products or the shooting time—which, without fail, they always do. After a while of using the all-inclusive sessions, I was finding the downside: I was too locked into a system that did not give me the latitude to customize what I was offering and to make substitutions in the packages. So I decided to make a change.


Packages With Separate Session Fees


One of the things the all-inclusive clients always wanted to change, other than the products, were the session time and the clothes changes. So I decided to break the shooting times and the clothes changes out from the products. I still had product packages, but it was your choice as to how long you wanted to shoot and how many looks you wanted. I had four sessions you could buy. Each one moved up in coverage and clothes changes. Session 1 was an hour shoot on location or in the studio, and you got two clothes changes. Package 2 was a two-hour shoot, you could do half on location and half in the studio, and you got four clothes changes. Package 3 was a three-hour shoot in the studio and on location, and you got six clothes changes. Package 4 was a four-hour shoot with unlimited clothes changes.


I also added an à la carte menu. There were a couple reasons for adding it. One was to offer more products. I was very limited in products with the all-inclusive, and there were products I wanted to offer as options, but not include them in my sets since they were very specific items and not everyone would want them.


With separate session fees, I had a system that better fit my clients’ needs because I was not as rigid. The value was more definable as the session was broken out. Adding the à la carte portion gave my clients two options to choose from. They could choose one of our packages and call it a day, or they could add some products we did not offer in the packages they wanted.


I found that some of my issues from the all-inclusive carried over. One issue was the shooting time for the larger sessions. When you are shooting three and four hours, you wind up with a shitload of images. Because I was an in-person sales studio, I would show 200-plus images at the view and order session. This made for a two- to three-hour session. I also realized that I was overwhelming my clients. Instead of thinking they were able to buy 20 killer images, they left thinking they had to leave 180 images on the table that they loved.


The biggest negative with this system was the same negative I had with the all-inclusive. Even though I gave my clients à la carte options, they still wanted to do substitutions for the package products. It was at that point that I made my biggest switch.


Pick Whatever the Hell You Want—No Mess, No Fuss


After using the separate session fee system for a few years, I have moved to a completely à la carte system with one sitting fee. I don’t offer any packages. I made the change when I moved into my new studio. I wanted to reinvent the way I was doing a lot of things.


First, I decided I needed only one session. I have a shooting routine, and it is not a three- or four-hour shoot. Why sell something they don’t even want? I have no idea what I would do with a four-hour session. My sessions are about an hour and a half long, or two hours if we have to do studio stuff with the location shoot. We move really fast. The shoots are guerilla style these days. My seniors, especially the guy seniors, love the pace. We get in, we get out and we are off to the next place.


As far as clothes changes go, whereas in the past I had limited the number of outfits, today it is unlimited. I tell my clients to bring at least five clothes changes and more if they like, and we will shoot as many of them as we can in the time we have. Because I mostly sell books and albums, it makes no sense to limit the looks. I tell guys they can just change a T-shirt or shorts so they don’t freak out on the outfits. Girls can come up with five looks without blinking. Because of the fast pace, I’m able to get to five locations with five outfits in the new session time.


As far as products go, I have about everything under the sun. We offer paper prints, canvas, acrylics, metals, books, folios, albums, standouts and even the dreaded digital files. We have so many options, I felt it was much better to go to an à la carte system where clients could choose exactly what they want and spend as much or as little as they desire. And, finally, no substitutions.


While I can’t think of a lot of negatives with the system, one is getting past clients used to the new anti-package system. When people think of getting a package, they think big savings because they are buying in bulk, and à la carte carries the stigma of having to pay more.


Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the March 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.

Underwater Portrait Photography for High School Seniors

Tuesday, February 28th, 2017


Underwater Portrait Photography for High School Seniors with Jeff & Christine Tonkin


Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the March 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.


Thriving photography businesses adapt to the changes in the market they specialize in. We wanted to do something different within our senior market that would create a lot of buzz and momentum for client referrals. After many hours of brainstorming and deliberation, DigiSmiles Splash Week was born.


Our idea was to shoot underwater with all our senior reps as well as any prebooked clients who were interested in participating. They would share their experiences with their peers heading into their senior year. We had never attempted a promotional shoot so far out of the box to attract new clients, so we set everyone’s expectation that they will have fun during the experience, but we weren’t sure how many quality images we would be able to deliver.


We felt strongly that being transparent with our clients was going to be appreciated. If we did succeed, it would be a massive boost for our business. We thought that boost alone was worth the risk of failure. In a few short weeks, we researched all that we could to make DigiSmiles Splash Week a success. We are so excited to share with you all the tips we learned from our experience during 150-plus hours shooting under the surface. This includes session planning, the gear you’ll need, posing in an underwater environment, makeup, props, editing and several tips that you must know to maximize your underwater productivity.




The most important hurdle to overcome when hosting an underwater event is everyone’s safety. Delegate a responsible individual, an assistant or parent, to monitor the body of water like a lifeguard, ensuring that no one enters the water unauthorized. Additionally, if a model wears a costume in the water, it will weigh them down when saturated, and one or two assistants will need to be in the water to help the model return to the surface. Creative minds seeking out-of-the-box results may overlook the dangers of their craft and forget these life-saving details. Planning for these details will add to the value of the experience you are providing your clients.


Our first goal was to find a pool that would accommodate our creative scenery. Not all pools are the same. We wanted a pool that was not too blue or overly chlorinated. We learned that a “salt pool” would possibly be gentler on the eyes, allowing us to stay in the water longer without getting prune-like skin. We also wanted a private pool to avoid interruptions and distractions. Because we already planned for safety measures to maintain everyone’s safety, we did not want to deal with the rules or liabilities of public pools.


We don’t do anything minimalistic. So, we quickly realized all the supplies and props required would be more of an investment than we originally expected. At one point in the early planning stages, we actually called the whole thing off because of the initial budget requirements. After a few days of deliberation, we took a deep breath and decided the investment and risk were worth the potential payoff.


As with most on-location shoots, you will need to plan for whatever will make the experience exciting and memorable for your clients. There may be some downtime for your clients while they wait their turn to get in the water; providing poolside snacks, drinks, seating, extra towels and music are some important considerations you’ll want to address if their entire experience is going to be a positive one. Taking care of your models in this manner will add value to their overall experience, and they will promote your business to their friends because of how much fun they had throughout their session. But giving your clients a schedule of the session day is particularly important to keep progressing along your workflow and prevent prolonged downtime for your clients and yourself.




If you’re reading this, then you are already doing your homework to prepare yourself with the right equipment. Investing in the best underwater camera housing is highly recommended to keep peace of mind about the safety of your most valuable gear, your camera. By investing, we mean renting. With technology changing every year or two, owning this equipment was not the right fit for our business. We rented an Ikelite camera housing with underwater strobes. Ikelite’s website offers video tutorials and support articles. Our online research found too many reviews on several different sites about underwater camera bags that leaked; water-damaged equipment was simply not a risk we wanted to stress about.


We also recommend using a wide-angle lens. Shooting at short distances
underwater helps prevent distracting floating particles in your shot and allows the strobe lights to properly expose your subject and minimize the “bluing” that occurs when shooting distances over 10 feet through water. Don’t forget your GoPro or other action camera that can capture behind-the-scenes footage both above and below the surface. Even a flying drone camera can capture a unique view overhead of the fun experience out of the water.


Under the surface, we used a scuba diver’s weight belt to keep the shooter from floating uncontrollably out of the perfect shooting angle. If you want to change the background color of your underwater shot, simply hang a heavy nonreflective black fabric over the side of the pool and turn a baby blue wall into a deep, vast ocean black. Have several bricks or iron weights around to hold the fabric on the pool bottom and the edge above the water. Other items we recommend having on hand are safety pins, heavy-duty paper clasps (not paperclips) and fishing line to suspend props at different depths.




Consider your environment. Everything is different underwater. Think s–l–o-w.


Underwater movement can be a serious challenge. It can make your subject look as graceful as a mermaid or awkward as a newborn giraffe. Coach your models before getting in the water and again just before dipping below the surface. Models need to understand how to move underwater. We asked our models to spend several minutes submersing themselves while working on staying as calm and relaxed as possible, and to keep their eyes open as if they were in a normal environment.


Instruct your models to descend slightly deeper than your shooting depth; as they rise, their hair and loose-fitting wardrobe will flow downward and appear as if they’re in above-water gravity. If you shoot during descent, hair and loose-fitting wardrobes will awkwardly and chaotically be floating out of place. The model’s face should be leading the rest of the body’s directional movements to keep the flow of hair out of the face.


If a model is having difficulty looking relaxed underwater, take artistic shots where the model is not looking directly at the camera. To maintain a graceful, floating look, point the toes so that the feet don’t look like they are standing on flat ground. Releasing a small amount of breath during descent allows the model to stay under the surface without floating upward and keep air bubbles from escaping out of the nostrils, thus ruining a beautiful shot.


Each dive lasts, on average, 30 seconds or less, depending on your model’s ability to hold her breath without looking like it’s her last. That feels like eternity when beneath the surface, but you’ll easily click the shutter button 10 to 12 times per dive.


Seniors who are on a swim team are much more skilled at looking calm underwater, staying submerged for longer periods, and changing poses for multiple looks during each dive. Swimmers are also skilled at breathing techniques, keeping them well below the surface without the tendency to unintentionally float back up before getting into position.


Shooting up at the model floating underwater near the surface makes an excellent backdrop with varying textures and reflections. Splashing the surface adds a unique effect that may enhance the backdrop if it fits the look you’re going for. Don’t forget that shooting from several angles gives you more vantage points you may find creatively useful.




Waterproof makeup is a must. Highly pigmented oil- or wax-based makeup works best. Application should be heavier and a bit more dramatic to showcase a brighter, more impactful look underwater. We found several great options to choose from. Sephora’s Makeup For Ever aqua line was designed for the Parisian Underwater Ballet. MAC offers an aqua line that does not smudge. Maybelline Color Tattoo pods offer an inexpensive and effective way to build many colors at about $6 per color. These pods come in eyeliner, shadow and blush.




Don’t be alarmed when all your images have a blue or green colorcast from the pool water, walls, reflections, etc. Image editing workflow will primarily consist of correcting colorcast, popping color, sharpening and removing distracting objects (pool drain, filter box, tile edges, bubbles). Correcting colorcasts can be done using many methods. Adding more magenta and red using the curves tool is very effective. You might create composites in Photoshop to change the background environment to add your artistic skills to your underwater portfolio, inventing different underwater worlds to pose your clients in.


Other Tips


Water clarity variances significantly impact image quality. Consider whether it is more beneficial to have the pool filters running during the session, or only during breaks. Limit the occupants entering the pool, as more contaminants from sunscreen and other particles will cloud the water. A high-flow filtration system can create a subtle current that disrupts suspended props or backdrops.


Even a heavy downpour did not slow us down, but your available light does change significantly throughout the day as the sun treks across the sky. If you spend several hours in the water shooting as we did, you’ll notice changes in shadows, “tiger striping” on the surface and ambient light fluctuations from clouds or structures.


For us, an extension ladder and some plywood made convenient scaffolding across the pool to stand on and hang larger props from.


The experience is pure fun for seniors who get to play in the water while you get to make your own splash in your senior market.


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Creative Senior Portraits That Sell

Tuesday, February 28th, 2017


Creative Senior Portraits That Sell with Melanie Anderson


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The March edition of Shutter Magazine is all about seniors, one of my favorite subjects. It’s about the ability to create with a client who, for the most part, actually wants to be there, wants to be photographed and is willing to try new locations. Senior clients tend to be more trendy, a bit more made up and all about showcasing their own style. They appreciate cutting-edge products like metal and custom albums and books.


I have several favorite products for my senior clients. We sell a ton of canvas wall portraits. My goal is for their images to showcase their personality and style. Remember to show what you want to sell, because you will sell what you show.




Metal is sporty and edgy. These extreme sports images are a huge hit at our studio. The metal has a grungy appearance, enhancing the overall feel of the design.


Canvas is classic but modern. These are my favorite style of wall portraits. Because I photograph mostly outside, the canvas allows the texture and color of the locations to add to the overall look and feel of the portrait.


Framed shots are classic. I don’t include the glass with the frame. I prefer the image to shine through. We mount and luster-coat all our framed images for durability and quality.


Albums capture a variety of poses, expressions, outfits and backgrounds in one product.


Brag books are fun and small, showcasing a variety of images. Moms love these because they fit in their purse and display nicely on a desk at work, allowing them to show off many images in one creative design.


Announcements showcase a variety of images for graduation and other milestones. We sell these in 5×5 and 5×7. We suggest that extended family members can frame them if a client’s budget is limited.


Signature books are our version of the yearbook. They allow family and friends to answer fun questions about their favorite times together.




Another way to make a senior feel great is through posing. Be mindful of your posing. Think about portrait standards with the S-curve and the C-curve. Pose females on their back leg. Be mindful of body frame and curves. This curve slims the client. Other slimming methods are to pull the arms away from the body and “turtle-necking”—the neck helps slim the client, thus avoiding rolls underneath the chin. A C-curve is more masculine and used mostly with males. Females can pose with the C-curve, but males cannot pose with the S-curve, which is just too feminine.


Most photographers have issues with posing clients and their hands. I’m constantly asked what to do with them. I tell all my clients, both male and female, to put their thumbs in their pockets and keep their fingers relaxed. It’s always the standard pose for my clients unless the client is sitting. In this case, I have them rest their hands in their lap, usually crossed at the wrists. I ask males to appear causal and relaxed.


For expressions, I strive for a smile in the eyes, or a more serious look. I have conversations with my clients while photographing. The camera is my eye, ready to capture that interaction that comes only from responding to whatever it is I am saying in the moment.


Being a fast and intentional shooter also helps with my senior portraiture. These young adults often come into the studio nervous about how they will look in their photos. When I take photos with intention and show previews from the back of my camera, it lessens their anxiety and allows them to relax. Here is when personality comes out and real smiles are shown through pictures. Making your seniors feel beautiful and special makes them look good, but also makes you look professional.




The following locations each offer a different vibe and style.


Urban alleyways, stairs and brick walls offer an edgy style. We utilize the natural environment around our studio. One of our alleys is even labeled “Anderson Alley” because of how much we frequent it. The great thing about our location is that we have a variety of alleys, each with different colors and shades of bricks and natural textures, giving seniors options and us a choice when matching clothes to backgrounds.


A field, park, weedy backlot, lake or ivy-filled area offers a boho and carefree approach to senior photos. Female fashion trends all go for this look, so these environments are very hot now with our senior models. We accompany these photos with sun rays or bokeh to enhance the beautiful light.




Outfits are important. We tell our seniors to pack their whole wardrobe. Girls bring suitcases and guys bring backpacks. We match outfits to personality, background and even emotional attachment. These are photos they will have for the rest of their lives, so the outfit they are wearing can make or break a photo. We tell our seniors to bring solids, casual outfits and a few dressier options. This allows me and my staff to choose from a variety of outfits for any situation.



Action Plans


  • Create an extreme sports metal piece as a “sample” to begin showcasing this style.
  • Be intentional with your posing.
  • Try new locations.


Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the March 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.

Alternative Marketing & Branding for High School Seniors

Tuesday, February 28th, 2017


Alternative Marketing & Branding for High School Seniors with David Beckham


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Alternative Marketing and Branding for High School Senior Photography – David Beckham

Branding: The marketing practice of creating a name, symbol or design that identifies and differentiates a product or business from other products or businesses in the same market.

Branding requires investing in someone to help you create and design a logo and then tie that logo into all of your packaging and marketing, with perfect colors and text fonts, ribbons and bows and fun little things that identify you. Is silver blue glitter and AvantGard BK BT text how you really want people to identify you? Yes, you should have some consistency in all of those things, but let’s examine what is most important. We’re going to look at big-picture branding and how to use it in marketing to seniors and their parents.

First, you need to decide how you want others to identify you. Think about that for a minute. What is it for you? Fun experience? Beautiful art? Traditional and timeless? Or is it “I don’t know yet. It changes all the time”? Once you decide what it is, you need to make a plan to ensure you achieve and complete your brand.

Recently I stopped branding my social media posts of my senior models with my watermark. I soon received many text messages and comments like, “I knew that was your work before I saw who posted it.” Ah, success. For me, the most important aspect of my brand is top-quality photography with natural, clean edits. It’s posing that flatters the subject with fashionable, cutting-edge style. I want people to say, “Beautiful” and, “That has to be Beckham” when they see my photos on Instagram or Twitter. There are some other things I want them to say about me, too—that he is involved in the community, genuine in character and his work is the best.

Quality Photography – Because you are reading this and attending events like ShutterFest 2017, you are already on the right path to improving and defining your art. I teach and speak nearly 10 times a year, but I also attend classes to improve my craft. The second you think you are good enough, slap yourself and seek someone better than you for help. Quality photography is an ongoing process.

Fashionable, Cutting-Edge Style – A couple of years ago, I stopped at a magazine rack because I’d seen an article about the new homecoming fashions. (I opened it and glanced around me to see another man my age with a College Football Preview and another guy with a hunting magazine.) You need to stay on top of it. If you are thinking about doing flower crowns and parachute skirts, you have already missed the chance to be cutting edge. I use my senior models all the time to get new ideas. Follow local and national fashion photographers, and see where they are going. Better yet, get on Instagram and see which photographers your senior models are following, liking and commenting on. You will be surprised and may be inspired.

Natural, Clean Edits – My goal with editing has been that the photo in the camera is so close to what I want the finished image to look like that I can pay a high school photography student to do my edits. I strive for the five-minute edit. That means a complete understanding of lighting and my equipment. It also means attention to the details of the pose and surroundings so that I never have to fix it in Photoshop.

Unique Locations – My top four locations this past year were wildflowers, waterfall, country and urban. Find places. Get permission. Be unique.

Beautiful – You can bring out the beautiful in everyone by understanding body language and posing, by knowing your clients and by knowing what outfits work best on different body types.

Be Involved, Be Genuine – My senior model program gives back. I talk about that later in this article. You need to be yourself with young people. They can see through fake faster than our new president claims he can.

Be the Best – I started competing in contests like SSG Hot 100 and PPA print competitions a couple of years ago. There is no better way to get better than by putting yourself out there, even if it means getting torn down. In the process, you build yourself back up again. You can’t count on your friends and parents of the seniors you photograph for unbiased, growth-promoting feedback. It can be a punch in the stomach when you see work that is better than yours and hear why yours isn’t that good. But realizing the flaws and correcting them will make you a better shooter. Hearing your peers say that you have created something extraordinary is the ultimate compliment. There will be nothing more rewarding for your senior models than to be published in a national magazine or to win a national contest. The buzz that comes back to you on social media is immeasurable.

Marketing: A form of communication between you and your customers with the goal of selling your product or service to them.

Now, how do you market this brand you’ve created? Google is still the number-one way to be discovered. That means getting to the front page of Google is still the ultimate goal. There are many elements that go into the formula to make that happen. The largest is getting people to your site. So, simply put, every item of marketing needs to get people to your website to increase your chances of being on the first page. The old Rod Stewart and the Faces song “Every Picture Tells a Story” is my mantra (EPTAS). I let my work do most of the talking on social media.

Website – There are many easy-to-use webhosting services that can make your website look professional. For me, it’s Squarespace. When you go to my website,, you see photos. When you click on a photo, it takes you to even more photos—EPTAS. No slideshows, no music, just what I believe is my best recent work, in an easy-to-navigate format. The site gets updated often since active sites get more attention in search engines.

Video – Every year, I make a promo video. I hire an excellent video guy who guides me through its creation. My latest one was made to look like a music video with Jessie singing a cover of “Photograph” by Ed Sheeran. She sings. I do a voice-over that is a conversation with the potential client about all of the elements I am building into my brand. The video has lots of excellent drone footage, great locations, beautiful imagery and fashions, but the hook is in the last 60 seconds. That’s the part that makes Mom get teary eyed and realize I am the right person to capture her daughter’s senior portraits. The last thing you see is the images that we shot while creating the video—EPTAS. The video is the first panel you see on my website, and my YouTube channel links back to my webpage. Here is the direct link:

Direct Mail – Yes, direct mail. Would you spend $1 to make $4.31? Of course you would. How about $5,100 to make $22,000? That’s a tough call there. I have a 16-page 8.5×11-inch, full-color magazine that is packed full of photos—EPTAS. The mag, of course, has a link to my website, and I also dedicate a page of it to the video that’s released the same week. Not only does the mailer attract new clients, but it builds my brand as beautiful high-quality photography, cutting-edge fashion, natural, clean edits, unique locations and being the best. I ask every client how they found me. Fourteen of them listed my mailer as the only reason, and another 20-plus listed it as one of the reasons. I will gladly drop $5.1K to reach 4.7K potential clients to get that kind of return. I’m not ready to spend that on a web designer or someone else to create my brand.

Apps – I use MyPhotoApp. It has a call button and a link to my website right on it, and the apps are so easy to share. There are others, too, like Sticky Albums and ShootProof.

Social Media – Build a presence on all social media. Reach the parents on Facebook. Reach the youth on Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and Pinterest. There are so many things written about when and what to post; you don’t need this article for that. But for me, 95 percent of the time, I post my best work—EPTAS. Each social media profile has a link back to my website. And since Squarespace makes it so easy to update, I often add a page there with multiple photos of the shoot I just posted about on Instagram. Then I mention, “For more photos from this shoot, see my website! The link is in my bio.”

The Best Friend Shoot – I offer my senior models an opportunity to bring their best friends in for a session while they are still sophomores and juniors. This allows the friends to see how fun it is to be photographed at David Beckham Photography before they’ve chosen a photographer. I photograph them as a group and one-on-one with each friend. I take one photo of the friends individually and edit it the way I would if they were my client. The photo is watermarked and resized and I gift it to them. I make a separate page for “Sydney’s Best Friend Shoot” on my website. I post a photo on Instagram and tweet another, and tell them there are more photos on my page.

Sports and Groups – This is an excellent way to meet new clients. When I shoot sports posters, I follow my same guidelines of clean edits and not a lot of Photoshop magic. What I do differently is take some fun shots of the athletes with their teammates. I capture the shoot on Snap Story and send out one or two photos on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. In these posts, I direct them to my website for more great photos from the event. A couple of years ago, I started taking headshots for the musicals at two high schools. This has been huge. I print 8x12s at no charge. They offer me a full-page ad in their programs. I get to meet all of these great young people, and actually hand-pick the best of the best to be my senior models when they are still freshmen and sophomores. So, many of the actors become senior clients as well.

Senior Model Program – I wrote about my program in my last article. I use photos of my models for most of my social media posts since they get digitals as part of their package anyway. One of the big draws of my program is that we are very active with promotional shoots and social service projects. We raised over $10,000 last year to purchase food for the homeless. I took groups of models to shelters 13 times, and we purchased, prepared and served over 2,800 meals. We raised so much last year that we were also able to donate pots and pans and other equipment to soup kitchens. I don’t overpost about these activities. I want the people who donate to know we are using their money correctly, but more importantly, I want to show that giving back isn’t about accolades. You can read all about my program at

All of these marketing practices will help get you to the front page of Google without blogging or paying Google for an advertised spot.


Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the March 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.

Diversity in Your Business

Tuesday, February 28th, 2017


Diversity in Your Business with Skip Cohen


Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the March 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.


With this month’s theme being “Seniors,” it’s the perfect opportunity to talk about diversity in building your business. Seniors can be an incredibly strong revenue component, and they can push your creativity.


Photographing a high school senior is all about personality. While the yearbook might require a standard pose and Mom wants a more traditional portrait of her little angel, the market is all about defining the subject. From their hobbies, friends, sports, music and special interests, you’ve got an opportunity with every senior to capture so much more than a well-exposed headshot.


There are plenty of writers and educators on this issue to help you work with seniors and get great images. I want to talk about it as a building block in your business.


Let’s start with my regular reminder of why people hire professional photographers. The top three reasons are brides, babies and pets. This data comes out of a Kodak survey from over 20 years ago, but I don’t believe it’s changed.


Here’s what I think today’s list looks like. Beyond the top three are children, family, seniors, business and boudoir. This month’s theme is in the top eight reasons for people to hire a professional photographer.


A lot of photographers and educators believe you need to be a specialist in just one category. I don’t totally disagree, but there are some incredible opportunities you leave behind if you take that approach. Every photography business owner needs a few secondary specialties that logically connect to your core business.


Let’s talk about a specialty in wedding photography to start. To be a great wedding photographer takes a unique personality and a comfort level in knowing you have minimal control—over your subjects, the environment and the clock. You’ve got no opportunity for a second chance with most of the images you capture. You either get the shot or miss it, and another magical moment is coming up almost as fast as you can click the shutter.


But that’s only part of the challenge. You’ve got to know how to tell the story. A wedding photographer needs to have excellent editing skills and be an outstanding storyteller. The wedding album isn’t just a book of photographs, but the first heirloom of a new family.


And there’s the keyword: family. The average age of a bride in the United States is 25.3 and the average age of a woman when she has her first child has risen to 26.3. Statistics on the average age of a bride are all over the place, so the data may be a few years old, but it doesn’t matter.


Think about your experiences with friends and relatives. It’s likely that within two to three years after marriage, there are some new members of the family being born. That means the status of your bride and groom is going to change, and new photographic needs are on the horizon.


Families mean babies and children. Families often mean pets. Babies grow up to be children and seniors. During the process of the family growing up, Mom and Dad might have a business, and their photographic needs expand beyond the immediate family. There are needs for updated headshots, along with publicity for events, real estate and even insurance photographs. And somewhere in the process, they may want a boudoir shoot.


I look at the cycle starting with the wedding, but wherever your skill set fits, you can diversify and expand into other specialties. If you did a great job on the wedding, why not be there for the photographic needs of the family as it grows?


Let’s go back to seniors. What I love most about the senior market is the potential for you as the artist to be creative. Every senior is a blank canvas waiting to express herself and share who she is.


Great senior photographers are relationship builders. They don’t just come in, grab the headshot and move on. There’s an opportunity to bring out the very best expressions with each subject, but only if you focus on building the relationship.


As I’ve written before, great senior portraits are about the photographer’s ability to listen. It’s about building trust and then capturing images that showcase the personality of the senior.


Senior and school photography are not easy to get into. There are contracts for underclass photography that can go back years in a community. It’s a tough market.


But senior photography has changed so much over the last decade. It’s more like lifestyle photography when you look at the finished results. A senior photographer isn’t limited to just a headshot. Because it’s a younger audience, you can get creative with a high-impact slideshow with contemporary music, and even hybrid slide shows with video.


Breaking into the market takes time. A good starting point is to get a few seniors in front of your camera. These first subjects are going to be your ambassadors and help get the word out, but your work has got to be the best, and sittings need to be fun. This is where your relationship skills come into play.


Look at what everybody else in your community is doing, and then do something different. Great slideshows play a role, especially if you’re capturing the personality of the senior, their interests and the fun of the session.


Put together the story the same way you’d do a slideshow of a wedding. Include still images and short video clips all put together with great music. Remember, each presentation you put together is also a marketing piece.


Think about offering a day-in-the-life shoot as part of your package. Day-in-the-life shoots capture the story so much better than just a few images. It doesn’t have to be an entire day—just four hours, during which you capture images that tell the story of who they are, their friends, interests, family and hobbies.


The images, when put together in a small album, will give you something different to share as a finished product/service. This is storytelling at its very best, and who better to tell the story than you as an artist?


And that brings me full circle. Seniors become adults, and another cycle starts. They get married, start families, build careers. There are logical connections for every photographer in the portrait/social world to step into the cycle wherever it makes sense—as long as your skill set matches the needs of each specialty.


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