Responding to Critique – A Lesson from America’s Next Top Model

One of my favorite post-wedding activities is slumping in front of the TV with a bottle of red wine.  I have mostly fantastic taste in TV, however I’m also partial to a little trash here and there, and America’s Next Top Model fits that bill perfectly.  If you’ve never seen it, and even if you never want to (and I can’t blame you for that) I recommend tuning in for the last 15 minutes or so when the girls are critiqued on their best photos of the week.  Not because the photos are always worth seeing, but because the girls have obviously been taught what the appropriate response is to a tough (but fair) critique: you nod, and say thank you.

And if you’re not getting critiqued at least once a year, you’re missing out.  You need critique to get a better sense of what you need to improve.

Running a print sale

In the New Year I like to take a look back at the previous year  – what worked well, what would I do differently?

I had fairly good results with my Black Friday/Small Business Saturday/Cyber Monday print sale and thought I’d share some of the things I learned here.

– Set an objective
My objective was to hold a simple and attractive print sale over 5 days in time for holiday gifts and to get more of my work on my clients walls/desks

– Figure out your target audience
I targeted my wedding clients along with their friends and family

– Have a plan to promote your sale
I posted about the sale on my blog and on my facebook business page, next year I will probably plan to incorporate email too

– Consider frequency/sale overload
Beware having sales too often. I roll my eyes when I see TV ads for “Macy’s One Day Sale!” as they happen so often. I plan on having one sale per year.

– Consider having a theme for your sale
It was my 5 year wedding anniversary/5th year of being in business so I did a FIVE theme. A number of prints were just $5, larger sizes and canvases were multiples of $5 i.e. $250, 500. Clients could use the code FIVE to get free shipping.

– Make it easy to shop/understand
I loaded my sales prices into all of my galleries. I didn’t want clients to have to remember codes (plus I wanted to make it easier for parents/grandparents who can be less familiar with online shopping). I also wanted the sale price visible in the cart as they shopped to encourage additional purchases vs. only seeing the sale price at check out.

– Analyze your results
All of my clients receive a disc of their images and my prices are fairly high (wedding coverage starts at $6k) so I don’t usually expect significant print sales. I was pleasantly surprised to see orders come in from 2009, 2010 couples as well as recently married couples. Revenue was over $5700 with a profit of over $4200 – a nice year end bonus!

Some other ideas for sales and promotions:
– A 12 day promotion with a different item/product on sale each day
– 50% off prints
– Birthday sales
– Giving clients a one time discount code to use on their anniversaries

Have you held a sale? Was it a success? What would you have done differently?

Finding the Light when You Can’t Find the Sun

You know those gray, overcast days when you’re pretty sure the sun isn’t even in the sky?  Well, there’s still directionality in the light, and if you want to give your subjects the best chance of looking good, you’ll need to find it.  This is a really quick tip I’ve seen repeated at a number of workshops, but it’s not obvious until you know it and it can make a huge difference to your photos: hold the back of your hand out in front of you and slowly turn in a circle, watching for changes on your hand – at some point you’ll notice that your hand becomes just a touch lighter; the strongest light is coming from behind you at this point.  That’s it!  Now all you have to figure out is how to use that light to your advantage – do you want to face your subject into the light to brighten up their eyes?  Or maybe there’s enough change to create a touch of shadow if you side light …

Getting the most out of educational events – photography conferences, seminars, workshops and retreats

As this post goes live both Kate and I will be at Mystic getting our learning on for 2013.

Before I choose where to spend my hard-earned education budget each year I like to figure out specific areas I want to improve on. In previous years I’ve wanted to work on lighting, posing, business etc. Once I know what my educational objectives are then I take some time to look at the myriad of photography workshops, seminars and conferences out there and figure out which one will best meet my needs. Just last month I did an intense phothojournalistic/documentary style workshop with critiques galore and I’m excited to put what I learned into action in 2013.

When budgeting for an educational event you should make sure to capture your registration fee, transport/travel, hotels, meals and “entertainment”.

Some practical tips to help you get the most out of a conference:

– Remember your chargers (phone, ipad, laptop)

– Bring pens and a notepad

– Bring business cards galore and don’t be shy about exchanging them

– Whenever I get a business card from someone else I try to jot down a few notes on it – who the person was/what we talked about etc to help me remember the relevance of our conversation and any follow up

– Bring comfortable shoes (you’re often doing a lot of walking between conference rooms) and outfits you can layer (air conditioning/heating can be unpredictable)

– Spend some time studying the schedule and mark down the sessions you MUST attend, those you’d LIKE to attend and then plan on lunch/breaks/meeting with friends or colleagues during the sessions that aren’t relevant to your business

– Be open minded. I think you can get something out of every session if you try.

– I like to plan some time to check email/respond to voicemail but I limit it. There’s no point spending a ton of money on an educational event if you’re going to be editing on your laptop the whole time or frantically tweeting/facebooking.

– Depending on location it can be a good idea to bring some snacks and a case of bottled water so you’re not spending $5 in the hotel room everytime you take a drink

– Don’t be shy! If you see someone standing alone, looking lost, stop and introduce yourself. You might make a new friend!

– It’s so easy to go home and forget everything you learned/planned to implement. I like to spend an hour or so reviewing the materials and listing out my to-do list (with dates) so I actually make some changes

Some of our favorite educational events with descriptions from their websites along with some of my personal thoughts :

WPPI – WPPI is a week-long event combining educational seminars with a major industry trade show and networking events, all designed around learning the latest techniques, building new relationships and growing a businesses in a friendly, fun environment. This is the BIG one in Las Vegas each year, attended by around 16,000 photographers! It’s HUGE and can be completely overwhelming yet amazing at the same time. The tradeshow is spectacular if you’re looking for new products/suppliers – you can easily spend a whole day in the tradeshow. The quality of the speakers (in my opinion) varies greatly with a large number being the professional speaker selling their latest action set/DVD/workshop etc but there are some great sessions if you plan your time carefully. I like to do WPPI every other year as travel to Las Vegas, hotel, food, bar, shopping costs quickly add up:)

Mystic Seminars – Mystic Seminars is going into its 8th year! Mystic is for like minded photographers wanting to learn, share, net-work and have fun with. Full registration includes all platform programs, lunch / beverages (coffee, tea, soda and bottled water). Mystic is not as crazy as WPPI and Walter does an amazing job of getting really fabulous speakers. There are usually a bunch of hand-on programs by speakers the day before the conference starts for an additional fee. Mystic wins the award for best conference food too! I’m a big Mystic fan, a great bonus is that NPS/CPS/Full Registration Attendees can get their sensors cleaned by pro Nikon/Canon staff.

Inspire Photo Retreats – Inspire is a retreat-style conference for professional wedding and portrait photographers. The conference is comprised of sessions on a variety of subjects, from business practices to shooting techniques, led by local professional photographers. The next conference is February 11 – 13th, 2013 in Sturbridge, MA. Full disclosure, Kate and I are speaking at Inspire this year and we’d love to see you there. My favorite thing about Inspire is that all of the sessions are run by actual working photographers vs. professional speakers. There are a lot of great topics on everything from finding inspiration to pricing. It’s also one of the most valuable networking opportunities for New England photographers – the atmosphere is super friendly with no egos:)

Maine Media Workshops – haven’t attended but hear great things!

Foundation Workshop– The Foundation Workshop is the original and toughest photojournalism workshop for wedding photographers. It offers the unique opportunity for wedding photographers to study closely with the world’s best documentary wedding photojournalists. Under the guidance of these experienced instructors, workshop students hone and develop their photojournalistic skills by photographing and editing a complete photo story of real subjects. Unlike other wedding photography workshops, there are no staged weddings or model sessions. Instead, students are challenged to approach their real assignments creatively and are encouraged to shoot passionately while establishing a foundation for learning the skills and perspective of a photojournalist. This is a favorite of Kates, I hope to do this next year!


Creating Best Of and Year End Review Posts

If you live in the northern part of the northern hemisphere, chances are this is your quiet season.  No matter when my weddings are scheduled throughout the year, I always consider the end of December the end of the season, and I like to mark the occasion with a retrospective of the year’s work.  I think it’s important for our growth as artists to look back on each event we’ve photographed and see how we’ve progressed since the previous year, and it’s also great for our clients to see us celebrating their weddings and engagement one last time too.  Plus, it doesn’t hurt to have stuff going up on the blog, and on our facebook walls – click here for a little more on keeping an online presence during the quiet season.

There are many ways to tackle these “best of” posts, but I’ll be mostly writing about how I do mine, with some recommendations to consider along the way.  We’d love to hear about YOUR system for tackling this somewhat major undertaking in the comments below, or on our Facebook page!

If you have time, I think it’s really great to look back through each and every delivered client image from the year; this is an immense job if you’re shooting 20+ weddings per year, but it’s the only way you’ll discover those hidden gems – photos that perhaps didn’t jump out at you at the time, that with a little retrospect are more important than the same-old images you post on your blog each time (I’m guilty of this, and I bet I’m not alone!)  As you work though each wedding and portrait session, copy your favorite images into to a new folder.  Of course, time is one thing I rarely have enough of, so I’m going to be honest here and say that I usually just end up scanning through my blog posts instead … and because I can right-click my blog images, I usually just save new versions directly from my blog, ready to re-post (they are already re-sized for the web and watermarked – hurray!)

Once you have your favorites folder, you’ll need to decide how you want to blog the images.  I personally usually have one post for engagement sessions, then three or four posts for the wedding images – I’m not a great editor, and I also like to showcase at least one image from each wedding and engagement session I’ve shot.  If you don’t shoot a ton of weddings, or if you’re good at editing down, one post for weddings and one for engagements may work better.  I’d recommend keeping it to around 50-60 images max per post though.  I love looking at other photographers’ best of posts, and the ones I enjoy most are where the images are mixed up – details and portraits and candid moments mixed together, rather than in chunks down the page.  It keeps it visually exciting and fresh!

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