by Skip Cohen
"Thrive" and WPPI are right around the corner. A lot of you will be there as well as at other conventions and trade shows in the weeks ahead. Conventions are an amazing way for you to build your skill set, but you need to get the very most out of every trip. Time is the one thing you don't have enough of and can't waste.
Let’s just talk about why you need to get yourself to the next convention.
New Products: Being a great photographer is an ongoing process. You need to understand all the changes in technology, while developing your own style and technique. Since this past September was Photokina, (the largest photographic event in the world every two years) most of the major manufacturers have new products to show. That means you’ve got a chance to catch up on everything that’s new, especially in terms of hardware and software.
Diversity In Your Skill Set: Every convention offers a variety of workshops to help you fine-tune your craft. Here’s your chance to add a few new techniques to your bag of tricks. Try and get to the various programs you choose a little early and then make it a point to meet the speaker as well.
Marketing and Business: Most conventions offer at least a program or two on the business and marketing side. What good is creating the finest images of your life if nobody knows who you are? Here’s your opportunity to pick up ideas on how to promote your work and your business.
Print Competition: If the trade show you’re attending offers print competition make it a point to walk through the gallery of winners. Looking at all of this outstanding work will help you stay on top of what’s hot in composition, lighting, printing and presentation. And, if judging is open to the public, find some time to sit in and listen to the judge’s comments. You’ll find the process a remarkable addition to your ongoing education.
Network, Network, Network: This may well be the most important reason to attend any event where there are a lot of photographers! You need to build your network and meet other photographers who are dealing with the same challenges you have in your own community. At every program you attend make it a point to talk to the people around you. You’ll be amazed at how much you have in common!
Working the Trade Show: I’ve actually done complete posts about just this topic alone, but essentially hit the trade show with a plan. Start out be thinking through what you need the most in your own business. Do you need new gear? Are you in need of better backdrops, lighting, props? Maybe you need help with your workflow. The list could go on and on, but the point here is to follow through online before going to the trade show, so you know who the exhibitors are and where their booths are located.
Start in one aisle and literally do your best to walk the entire show. If you make a list in advance of the companies you want to make sure you don’t miss, they’ll come up in your travels regardless.
Take a Camera! All you need is a decent point and shoot or these days a phone with a good camera. You never know when you’re going to want to grab a few shots of you interacting with one of the vendors for your own press releases when you get back.
And one last BIG reason...join us at Thrive, a day and a half workshop March 8-9 and the first program of the launch of the full SCU series. Next program coming up is our summer session, August 11-14 in Chicago. More announcements coming in the next few weeks.
A couple of summer's ago Scott Stuart came to his first Skip's Summer School. He was already an accomplished photographer on the sports scene, based in Ohio and was simply looking to expand his skill set and get better. He was back again last summer in Chicago and continuing to expand his expertise, recognizing that being a professional photographer is a never-ending educational experience. I just caught up to him last week on the phone and he's hoping to be at SCU's summer program again this year.
During past workshops I've talked about getting your work out there. Last summer we even added a panel discussion on getting published, with help from Resource Magazine's Aurelie Jezequel and Adam Sherwin. How many times have you looked at an image in a magazine or on the cover and said to yourself, "I could have done that!" Well, here's the difference, you didn't submit your work to the magazine. You didn't network with the editorial staff. You chose to watch the parade go by, when you should have been in it!
Well, a big congrats to Scott - he just got the cover shot of a national issue of Sports Illustrated, with work that most photographers couldn't have done. Plus, he got the cover last year of the regional issue. Like I said once before, the only thing that would make me prouder is if it was my shot! LOL
Way to go buddy!
by Skip Cohen
"There exist limitless opportunities in every industry. Where there is an open mind, there will always be a frontier." Charles Kettering
We're all used to "spin-offs" in the television world. It seems to happen most often with sitcoms. One character is so well received, that he/she gets their own show a season or two down the line. Or, a theme is so effective it's carried through to series after series.
In the corporate world it happens all the time when a corporation forms a new company or business entity. In fact, this blog is a spin-off of two other previous projects. We hear about spin-offs in our industry all the time, but did you ever think that a spin-off might be just the right thing for you to consider as another avenue in some aspect of your own business?
(Totally unrelated sidebar, but fun to read - check out Wikipedia's list of Television spin-offs, which is where I found the list for Law & Order.)
Of all the challenges photographers have to deal with, there’s little creating more of a challenge than the economy and the peaks and valleys in cash flow. If you’ve read “Who Moved My Cheese” then you know the moral of the story is to look for new “cheese”. If you wait until somebody delivers it to your doorstep you’ll starve. The economy has forced all of us into looking for new “cheese”, new business ventures and spin-offs to our existing skill set.
The peaks and valleys in business, especially photography, have always been there, through good economies and bad. It’s simply the seasonality of the business. In most parts of the country, winter is slow for the wedding business. Commercial photographers, especially those working with corporate clients, will see things slow down towards the end of any company's fiscal year, followed by a little increase when a new budget kicks in.
The challenge is to always be looking for new business ventures to expand your revenue stream and even out your cash flow. Secondary, new ventures help you expand your brand awareness in your community and you just never know what doors might open up down the line.
Here are some prime examples, all of photographers you know:
· Jim Garner had a vision of great camera bag. He designed Boda around his personal needs. The next thing you know there was a spin-off into a new business.
· Dawn Shields, winner of Album of the Year from WPPI almost three years ago, bought a local wedding magazine with her husband. Today, the magazine is a thriving business also hosting a significant bridal show.
· Kevin Kubota – well, if you’re just starting out, you probably think of him as one of the leading software developers. What you might not know is that Kevin is one of the finest photographers in the industry. His wedding images are outstanding, but a few years ago I saw his series of images from a trip to Italy and they were incredible!
· Sal Cincotta sets the contemporary standard for diversification. In fact, he's developed so many spin-offs of his skill set that if you listen to the podcast with Sal and his wife, Taylor, you'll hear him talk about his promise to Taylor that there will be no more new projects until 2014!
· Clay Blackmore, our Dean of Weddings, following his passion for golf, developed a relationship with the PGA. I can’t begin to guess how many tournaments Clay has photographed over the years. And the video below is another concept of a "spin-off". This short video takes you inside the challenges of creating thousands of framed prints for a Park City, UT hotel. Clay's main focus might be wedding and portrait photography, but over and over again he demonstrates there's really nothing he can't shoot!
Here are some suggestions to help you consider new ventures that utilize your talent as a photographer:
· Make sure your primary income stream is solid before you branch out. Are you the best you can be? Don’t let yourself become a master of mediocrity with too many projects/ventures all needing just a little more fine-tuning.
· Network with local businesses and associates. A great example – you just bought a big Epson wide format printer, but the business next door might have some printing needs you never knew about. Get to know the other businesses in your community.
· Listen to your clients! Scott Bourne had a great example on a podcast a couple of years ago and talked about a friend who was a wedding photographer and identified a need for a more reliable limo service – so he started one! Now he’s got the ability to offer his clients an additional service and just tie it in with their wedding coverage.
· Attend every trade show you can! Here’s where getting to know all the products and services of your suppliers can really pay off. Look for synergy with other products and your skill set.
· Look for partnerships, including other photographers! Sure they’re your competitors, but they’re also dealing with the same challenges you are and they just might have a skill set complimenting what you’re missing.
This isn’t just about diversity, even though it's one of my favorite topics. This is about building new business opportunities and simply keeping an open mind!
by Skip Cohen
How much time and money have you invested in your website? Let’s assume you love it and it’s doing everything you want it to do. Assuming everything is wonderful in your Internet world how many clicks does it take for a visitor to get to the most relevant information on your website? If it’s any more than two, then you might be missing the boat and losing opportunities. Don’t make your visitors mine through your site to find what’s most important.
They may not break out in a sweat, but navigating through your website shouldn’t be aerobic! As a photographer, grab your visitors with images first and your bio, background, contact information, pricing etc. later. Looking for what's most relevant on some websites is like trying to talk to a live body at Comcast! And when you do finally get a live body, it’s rarely somebody who can help you.
Your website is your storefront. It's an introduction to your business and especially your images! What good is building up the greatest content in the world if people have to work to find it?
Illustration Credit: © Amaviael | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos
by Skip Cohen
Every now and then we all have days when we just hit the wall. It's an off-day and you know it the minute you wake up. It doesn't happen very often, but it's one of those times when everything is just out of alignment. For me it's literally everything: the planets, my attitude, my computer and printer, even the toaster oven gives me a hard time. When I was a little kid my grandmother used say, “You woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning!” I haven’t thought about that expression, let alone actually used it in years. The reality is simply I'm in a lousy mood and can’t focus.
Normally this is a blog about advice, education and marketing for aspiring and working professional photographers. While this isn't directly related to ideas on marketing, it is important for you to at least know you're not alone in having days that you just can't seem to focus on the challenges. With all the experience I have in the industry, you’d think I’d have some incredibly wise suggestions on what to do when you’re having a bad day. I only have what works for me when I need to get out of the funk...
· You can’t snap out of it until you can identify what got you there in the first place. So, I do what makes the most sense – I stay out of my office for a few hours an work on clearing my head.
· I take Molly the Wonder Dog and just go for a ride. I crank up the music in the car and head out to do some meaningless errands.
· I'll sometimes just go wandering through files in search of old photos. That seems to snap me out of it most often. I find myself laughing over old events in my life, silly things that just made so little sense. It takes me back to a lot of wonderful friends and then Sheila's stuck listening to the stories.
· Just like Who Wants to be a Millionaire, I sometimes phone a friend! I'm a big fan of the telephone and nothing snaps me out of a funk faster than catching up to one of my knucklehead buddies who I haven't talked to in a long time.
What is it about good friends who you haven’t talked to in a long time? Just a phone conversation, a few laughs and the idea to reconnect at an upcoming convention - *poof* that's all it takes and I'm back on track.
And now and then, there's nothing I can do and just have to roll with it until the storm has passes. Just "rolling with it" is a technique I have yet to master, but like all of us, I'm work in progress.
Here’s the point this morning. When you hit a low spot, just go with it and pull yourself away from work for a little while. Nobody, besides you, expects you to be on your game every single minute of each day. And, it’s perfectly okay to just have a bad day now and then – without the bad days, how could we really appreciate the good ones?
Photo credit: © Arenacreative | Dreamstime.com
by Skip Cohen
Looks like this is the weekend to tie in restaurant themes after yesterday's post.
A few weeks ago we had dinner at a little restaurant in Sarasota called Darwin's. Great food, nice atmosphere and we were there really early in the day for dinner. Even my 90 year old parents eat later than we did that day, but we'd been out all afternoon and 5:00 pm seemed as good a time as any.
We were seated at the counter that overlooks the kitchen, which they refer to as the chef's table. Darwin came over and introduced himself and we had a blast watching the crew cook. It's an upscale menu and being seated right in the action was like watching our own private episode of "Chopped".
Just before the dinner rush started, Darwin brought out five cans of Red Bull, one for each of his chefs. Well, as usual, I can't get photography off my mind and it got me thinking about what photographers do to rev up their engines before a big event or shoot.
I know Joe Buissink has talked about the importance of getting to know the venue and doing a walk through, spotting ideal locations for a bridal shoot. If you know Joe, just seeing the venue starts getting his creative juices flowing. When I was diving a lot, just getting my gear checked out and starting to pack got the adrenalin pumping. Then there are the short term energy fixes, like Red Bull.
Well, this is a Sunday morning post and it's meant to be short - but this one is participatory. So what do you do to get pumped up before a shoot?
Over the years I've written more than just a few posts about companies who just don't get it. You've heard me rant about Comcast, Network Solutions and Verizon, who so often can't walk the talk. They write these stunning introductions on their websites about customer service and their dedication to each of us, but honestly, when was the last time you saw the guy with the glasses and his support team running behind you as you were trying to use your cell phone?
I'm not out to take anything away from the rest of the staff at one of our favorite restaurants here in Sarasota, but last night we had an outstanding evening and for the most part it was thanks to a waitress named "Barb". Here's the scenario: a couple times a year we love to go to Flemings. Dinner is always consistently good and the service is terrific. We've had the same waitress on several occasions.
Trust me, there's a great link here to your business as a photographer. Since this is a blog to help you with the building blocks for success, I want to apply what Barb does to your own customer service policies and style.
So, there's the first tip from the "Book of Barb"...make every client feel terrific about the experience of working with you. Matthew Jordan Smith talks about it in his recent podcast.
There's another tip, she gave our meal the same attention on the front line that the chef was going to do from the kitchen.
There's the third tip. During a portrait session, especially, do you simply take the time to talk to your subjects? I'm not suggesting you discuss their life story, just check on them like Barb did. You'll be able to see from their expression if they're enjoying the experience.
There's the fourth tip from the Book of Barb. When there is a problem, exceed customer expectations. When you have even the slightest challenge with a client, do you go over board to resolve the issue immediately?
And there's the last lesson...make your customers want to come back. The success of your business is built on relationship building. Angela Carson talked about it in a great podcast she did about her portrait business. Over 60% of her family portrait work is from returning customers. Yes, a huge part of your success is about the quality of your work and your skill set as an artist, but a great experience becomes something people talk about.
And just when I thought there was nothing else that could be done to top off the dinner, I woke up this morning to an email from the restaurant. I know, it's an automatic response, because I'd made the reservation on line but just the fact that they added one final touch shows that management walks the talk...just like Barb.
"A customer is the most important visitor on our premises, he is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption in our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider in our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favor by serving him. He is doing us a favor by giving us an opportunity to do so." Mahatma Gandhi
by Scott Bourne
Post – Inspired by Seth Godin
If you look at how many people it takes to make a movie, or record a CD, or build a bridge or to make a car, you might stop to realize that the beauty of photography is that generally, it is the work of one human being. The maker of the photograph alone creates the composition, finds the light and presses the button. Yes, there are a few exceptions to this in professional photography where there are set designers, models, makeup artists, etc., but I’m talking about the average prosumer’s work here. One person with a camera and an idea, by themselves, ready to thrive on the glory of success or the agony of failure – all by themselves.
For many, the solitary nature of photography as an art form is a very appealing thing. I once spoke with Leonard Nimoy. Back in the mid 1990s, he exhibited his nude photography on the Internet for the first time through my site f64.com. He told me that while making movies was something he enjoyed, it was always a collaborative effort. You had to rely on others doing their part before you could do yours. You had to let the project sink or swim based on the combined effort. The notion that you alone can make a photograph – and that you alone can control the outcome and live with it, was something that drew him into photography. He remains a very dedicated and serious photographic artist to this day.
I know that when I am alone, in the woods, or at a park or even at a race track, I feel challenged to find a way to tell my story and I feel gratified knowing that it will live or die based solely on my effort.
There’s nobody to blame but yourself when the image doesn’t work. The good news is – there’s also only one person who deserves an “attaboy” when it does – and that’s you!
by Scott Bourne
If you’re a photographer, chances are, you’re a communicator. Most of the photographers I know are really storytellers. They have something they want to say, and they use the medium of photography to do it.
While it would be easy to focus this post on the communicator, I want to focus it on the audience. That’s something rarely (if ever) talked about in the photo community. Too many photographers make images they like, and then go looking for an audience.
Serious communicators find an audience first, then go craft a story that fits the audience. Photographers should consider this approach as well. If you’re taking photos for kids, you better get down on your knees because they see everything from 30 inches. If you’re taking pictures for an intelligent audience, include lots of details. Get it?
If more photographers could learn this lesson, then the art and craft of photography would be considerably more important.
by Skip Cohen
Everybody has a dream. We all have goals and aspirations for our business and our family and I'm no exception. I've been incredibly lucky and always loved my job and my career path, but there's been this haunting dream since I started Hasselblad University over twenty years ago.
I 've wanted to create something better, more personal when it comes to education for photographers. It's not just about gear or computer skills. It's about relationships, networking, business, marketing and diversity. It's about passion and waking up every day and literally running to your computer to see what happened in the world of photography while you were sleeping. (Yeah, I really do that!)
Over the last few years I've seen a change in the educational programs available for photographers. It's become big business and in the process it got bigger, but not always better. The line on the home page of SCU really says it all,
So at SCU we've decided to do something radical. We're going to go back to basics. To human handshakes, telephone calls, meetings that happen face-to-face in a room full of people who share a passion for photography.
When we started this concept I got some serious criticism. I was told we shouldn't be doing something like this so close to another convention. It didn't matter that this is an educational resource that goes all year long.
I was told the market already has too many educational programs and didn't need another one, even though so many of them don't meet the needs of the photographers they're trying to attract. Don't get me wrong, there are some outstanding programs available and I highlight them all the time, but there are also too many that miss the mark.
There is a need for something better in education and with an incredible team of dedicated artists, we're building it and the response has been amazing. So, to my critics, I've only got one comment and it's my favorite quote...
"I do it because I can, I can because I want to, I want to because you said I couldn't." Author Unknown
On March 8-9 we're going to launch the first SCU program. It's going to be a small group and that's intentional. We've never anticipated much more than fifty people. There's a lot going on in Vegas at that time and we're not interested in standing room only crowds. In fact, we'll NEVER be interested in crowds! It's simply not who we are.
This is about getting to know each attendee. It's about everybody getting a little extra help from some of the finest instructors in our industry. Most important of all, it's about leaving the program with ideas you can implement and get started on your goal to "Thrive" not just survive.
With an amazing team we're about to take education to a new level in photography and we're going to keep it small, personal and customized as much as possible to each attendee's needs! We've got limited space and when the program is sold out, that's it.
See you in Vegas!
P.S. We did make one update announcement just a few days ago. The Summer Session of SCU in Chicago will be August 11-14. We want to always keep the cost for every program down as much as possible, so attendees of the March program will be able to apply this cost as a discount for August. More coming next week on the August program!
It's one of my favorite older posts from my pal Scott Bourne on Photofocus...and he so makes a point! Skip Cohen
by Scott Bourne
I’m going to start a series of posts about what I call “photographic religions.” You know, the memes that get started relating to photography as if they are inspired by God himself.
When you meet someone who lives and dies by one of these photographic religions, it’s usually a clue that their photos aren’t great, but their grasp of one tiny bit of photographic science – out of context of course – surely is.
Today we’ll talk about the religion of low light.
I review lots of cameras and lenses here at Photofocus.com. In the last two or three years, the number one question I am asked about a camera is “How is it in low light?”
The first question used to be “How many megapixels?” We’ve pretty much vanquished the evangelists for THAT particular religion – but I can tell you the ardent supporters of the “Book of Low Light Shooters” are many.
It’s as if the ONLY thing that matters when you buy a camera is how it works in low light. Most of my audience is probably too young to know that in the film days, a film speed of 800 ISO (or ASA) was very, very, very fast. Most of us shot films in the ISO/ASA range of 25 to 100. If we were crazy we shot Tri-X at 400. The point is – hundreds of millions of photographs were made, sold and published using these low ISO films – and the films were grainy – and nobody cared.
Today – if a $200 camera isn’t perfect at ISO 25000 people brush it off. It’s all perspective I guess, but for me, the religion of low light makes NO sense.
First of all – I want ALL the light I can get. I want lots and lots of light. Give me buckets of it – scratch that – give me barrels of it. Dark out? Bring lights. No electricity? Bring battery packs! You can always make light. So low light performance is only relevant if you HAVE to shoot in low light – and most photographers don’t.
The quality, quantity and direction of light is what makes a photo. Not the LACK of light. All cameras operate better with more light. Period. End of story. Every system on the camera from autofocus to shutter press works better when we have lots of light. So chasing cameras that work in no light is wrong-headed thinking in my mind.
The biggest problem with the religion of low light is that people get so wrapped up in it that they buy the wrong camera. If low-light performance on a camera is superb, but it lacks other features you really need – or – contains features you really don’t, then you are needlessly penalizing yourself.
Look at the WHOLE picture – pun intended. Recognize that these cameras that perform spectacularly in low light often do so at a high price – and that price is lack of detail. Physics being physics, you can’t change the fact that in every single aspect of photography you are faced with trade-offs. Even digital forces compromise. And less detail is the compromise you make when you practice the religion of low light.
So I realize that by writing this post I have blasphemed the religion of low light but I hope I have also offered freedom of choice to those who wish to escape that cult. Perhaps I can convince some of you to look at ALL of a camera’s features before buying it – not just it’s low light performance.
Pick up some great ideas to expand your skill set with Scott plus Clay Blackmore, Skip Cohen, Michael Corsentino and Rich Harrington March 8-9 in Las Vegas at the first SCU workshop.
by Skip Cohen
A couple of years ago on Photofocus, Scott Bourne published a post about a way to test your portfolio – "look in the middle of the book and see if the quality is representative of your first images." It’s such an easy thing to do, but it deserves a little expansion on the concept.
To start, your portfolio as well as the galleries on your website need to be considered one in the same. I'm so tired of photographers who make excuses to clients, "This is just the way it looks on my site. The real image in the album was stunning!" Seriously, don't take shortcuts on your galleries. Every image needs to be spectacular. If it's not then take it down.
The challenge of showing only your finest work doesn't just rest with new photographers. A couple of years ago I had a terrific evening with Cleveland’s ASMP chapter. I was one of four judges doing portfolio reviews. It was a kick to see some outstanding work, but there was a common theme in both seasoned and new photographers alike: not enough depth.
While the best example is what I saw with the student portfolios, almost everybody was guilty. Almost every student portfolio is the same. It’s always a collection of assignments with a still life, portrait, table top of a reflective object and the traditional editorial images the photographers feel they need to make on some political statement.
Many of these images will be perfect, but that’s not what anybody is looking for if they’re considering hiring you! The portfolios never have enough depth in any category. Seeing one great shot of a crystal bowl isn’t enough to show you’re great at table top work. Seeing only a handful of wedding images aren't enough to sell a client on your ability to be a storyteller and put together an outstanding album.
But it’s not just an issue with new students entering the photographic workforce. I saw the same with seasoned professionals. I saw some outstanding work with many of the ASMP members, but if I was looking at the book and considering hiring some of them I’d want to see more!
Here are a few suggestions to give your book and your galleries more impact:
· Consider having no less than six images on any one topic.
· Don’t mix too many specialties in one portfolio or gallery. My suggestion is no more than two and they should be related.
· If you’re going beyond two specialties, for example table-top, architectural and editorial portraits, then break them up into separate books. You've got the same challenge with your website. If your areas of expertise are too far apart you might need to consider two different websites. An account exec from an ad agency will not go through your galleries with the same eyes as the mother of a bride.
· It’s great to be diverse, but consider a closing section to your portfolio that shows your diversity with the front section of the book being the specialty you’re most interested in sharing. For example, pitching an ad agency on your architectural work would make it important for your portfolio to be 95% images in the category. However, you could close with some composite pages showing your diversity in other areas – just make it at the back of the book.
· Quality – Quality – Quality! You need quality in every image as well as in the style of the portfolio case itself. You don’t have to spend a fortune on a portfolio case or album, but you do have to spend something. Showing a potential client a portfolio that has all the class and style of a seventh grade book report isn’t going to land a job for you! Again, just like the caption above, you're being judged on the contents of the portfolio and galleries, not the case! Just don't go overboard.
Just remember the purpose of your portfolio and your galleries – they might be inanimate objects, but they're still your representatives! They're your agents working to get you an assignment, working hard to get you hired! Don’t compromise on the images. Don’t compromise on your message! Most important of all, make your work habit-forming, so the viewer can’t stop looking and sharing.
Illustration Credit: © Walshebnik | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos
by Skip Cohen
Over the last few weeks we've had a couple of guests talk about building trust with their clients. Matthew Jordan Smith talked about the importance of the relationship in both his podcast and his guest post. Kirk Voclain has been mentioned in a number of posts and spends an incredible amount of time just getting to know each senior he photographs. His best images are the result of his subjects just talking about their friends, hobbies and goals. That's when he's looking for the perfect moment to click the shutter. Joe Buissink talks about the real benefit of an engagement shoot - getting the client and photographer to know each other. When Joe appears on the day of the wedding he's coming in as a trusted friend and no longer an outsider.
The economy is finally turning around and I'm hearing so many positive things about potential business in photography for this year. Yet, I know there are those of you who still don’t see a whole lot of light at the end of the tunnel. I’m not saying it’s easy and in all honesty, many of you already know I never believe very much from the media, good or bad, but this is about good news and optimism from your peers.
This is a slower time for most photographers and the perfect opportunity to fine-tune your skill set. This is where it all starts. If you can’t adapt to each opportunity that comes along then you’re stuck being a one trick pony. You’ve got to understand how to capture the very best images, which means composition, exposure, knowing your gear and trust. Hmmmm, seems kind of strange putting “trust” on the list.
Trust, may be the most critical aspect of working with any client. They have to know you, trust you understand their needs and trust you’re about to capture an image that will be their most favorite one yet.
Talk to any photographer you consider a leader in our industry and you’ll hear story after story of how they build their relationships with each client.
I've run this video a few times over the last few years. It was done by Justin and Mary Marantz. As you watch the video, pretend you’re a wedding client. Mary is talking about her relationship with her husband, Justin, not just how they photograph a wedding. She’s letting a potential client know that she and Justin can be trusted to understand the importance of their relationship and their romance.
(Just a fun sidebar here, while they won't be able to join us on March 8-9, Justin and Mary, Kirk Voclain, Matthew Jordan Smith and Joe Buissink are all members of the SCU faculty. You'll be hearing a lot from them in the year ahead!)
So, the ability to listen to your clients and in turn build trust as you get to know each other has to be a priority, just as much as understanding exposure and composition. Can you photograph people without trust, absolutely, but why would you want to hold yourself back?
by Scott Bourne
I found this older post by good buddy, Scott Bourne. It's still so accurate and it fits so well with my post this morning about the quest to find new customers. It’s ten points to help you be more effective in your use of twitter, blogging and podcasting.
At the time Scott wrote this he had 25,000 followers on Twitter. Today, he’s one of the most followed photographers on Twitter and is approaching 140,000 followers! He practices what he preaches and has proven over and over again how these tips can help you expand your presence. SkipCohen
Here are some tips I’ve found useful as I use these communications technologies to spread the word about my
These tips have all worked for me. I don’t offer them as a set of rules or even guidelines. I offer them as pure information that you can use or ignore. Just remember, they worked for me.
1. Remember that blogs, podcasts and social media sites WHEN COMBINED are 10 times more effective than when used alone. When I JUST blogged, I had a good audience. When I started podcasting and blogging, my
audience grew much larger. When I added social networking (Twitter) my audience grew tremendously. If you do just one of these things, you’ll see benefit. Do all three and you’ll see that benefit multiplied by
more than three.
2. Blogging, podcasting and Tweeting are all about communicating. As photographers, we all feel the need to communicate. Otherwise we wouldn’t make and share photos. Remember that you need to be accessible to communicate. I put my telephone number, email address and snail mail address out there on almost everything I do. I want to be reachable. What’s the point of sharing a photo that moves someone if they don’t have a way to respond?
3. Respond to your audience when they ask for help or ask a sincere question.
4. Ignore your audience when they are complaining due to their false belief that they are ENTITLED to something from you other than the free gift you give them of your time. Also ignore trolls. No good can ever, ever, ever come of responding to them.
5. Try to use your blog, podcast and Twitter sites to solve problems. Everyone likes a problem solver.
6. Be consistent. Blog or podcast once every hour, or every day or every other day or every other week, but be consistent. This applies less to Twitter but you should try to Tweet at least once per day to keep your followers interested.
7. Don’t spend too much time worrying about SEO and search marketing. If you offer targeted, niche content of high quality on a regular basis, you’ll outscore the best SEO-driven site every time.
8. When you first start out in blogs, podcasting and social media, listen first, talk second. Listen more than you talk. Only talk when you REALLY have something to say.
9. When you launch, you’ll have few in your audience. Be patient. Don’t start counting followers on Twitter until you hit 1000. Then you have real traction. Until then, you’re just ramping up and still
learning. Don’t be discouraged. Keep at it. It took me one year to get my first 4000 Twitter followers. It’s taken me 10 months to add 31,000 more.
10. Be generous. Be generous with your time, your knowledge and your gifts. Yes, prizes and giveaways are a form of generosity. It’s a form I use well and often. But you need to also be generous in human ways
in order to gain real traction.
by Skip Cohen
I remember hearing that statement for the first time around seventh grade and it's still so deadly accurate. I know it's trite and right up there with my grandmother's stitch in time saves nine, but Sunday morning's are for fun but purposeful little rants and it's so appropriate this morning.
The topic is all about making assumptions and I've written about it before. We all do it, some more than others. We do it in our personal lives, business, on events for the future and on decisions from the past. The big question is, why don’t we ever simply pick up a phone and talk to the people involved instead of coming to our own, often misguided, assumptions?
Wandering through cyber space a long time ago I found the following on a site by Ken Lauher:
"We have a tendency to make assumptions about everything. The problem with making assumptions is that we BELIEVE they are the truth. We make assumptions about what others are doing or thinking, we take it personally, and then we blame them and react by sending emotional poison with our word.
We only see what we want to see and hear what we want to hear. We don’t perceive things the way they are; we literally dream things up in our imagination. Because we are afraid to ask for clarification, we make assumptions that we believe are right, then we defend our assumptions and try to make others wrong."
In the photo industry there are people who have taken assumption drawing to an art form. I’ve heard stories about major companies in trouble, cameras being discontinued, even people being let go. I’ve heard stories so severe that had they been more widespread, the companies involved would have actually seen a drop in sales.
Then there are the personal stories that run through our industry. Assumptions are drawn over why somebody left a company, why a new product was late for introduction, why a policy was changed and the list goes on and on. Assumptions are drawn, then they hit the rumor mill and suddenly they’re FACT - and not once does anybody along the way stop and simply call the people involved for verification.
Last on the list, there are the personal assumptions made in our own lives. I've got a whole collection of finger-pointing relatives who love to talk amongst themselves, but they do it better than Mike Meyer's character has ever done it! Not once have they ever talked to me directly. The final result sets a new standard in self-righteousness and judgmental behavior.
But here's where you shining stars all come in...I'm blown away by the support given to each other on the various forums. I love watching the conversation unfold on the Facebook page for Skip's Summer School when somebody has heard something and puts it out there to the group. I love what guys like Jason Eiting has done on his own time to build a Google+ hangout for photographers needing help, or the enthusiasm of the new Student Council for SCU as Chantale, Tamara, Brook, Jason, Brent, Jared and Levi all share ideas and ask the questions they need to get all the facts. The only assumptions I see people like this drawing are based on the confidence that the answers are out there.
Well, to everyone who draws assumptions, and we’re all guilty. The earlier quote is from The FourAgreements by Don Miguel Ruiz and his closing paragraph on the topic hits the nail right on the head:
"The way to keep yourself from making assumptions is to ask questions. Make sure the communication is clear. If you don’t understand, ask. Have the courage to ask questions until you are as clear as you can be. Once you hear the answer, you will not have to make assumptions because you will know the truth."
Illustration credit: © Gulekk | Dreamstime.com
by Skip Cohen
There’s nobody on the planet who at one time or another hasn’t had a fight with one of the major corporations in our lives. The most common are the phone and cable companies, but here’s a different way to look at the challenges. Each bad experience is a lesson in helping you understand how to work with your own customers.
I’ve often wondered if customer service is simply dead in America. Then, I have something amazing happen that restores my faith in humanity. Okay “humanity” is maybe going a little too far, but how about “retail”?
I had a problem with a Delta shower head a while back and even wrote a post about it. I called to complain about paint peeling off a supposedly anodized antique finish removable shower head and hose. I didn't have my receipt, but knew it was installed less than a year ago. Plus, it was one of those defects that just shouldn't happen.
I called and within minutes the customer service rep had all my information. She never questioned the defect or the date of my purchase. Less than a week later the replacement piece arrived, exactly as promised.
Between the outstanding response to my phone call and the prompt delivery to resolve the problem, I’m completely hooked on Delta plumbing products. Well, the experience, got me thinking about the ingredients for great customer service and it ties in with the bad experience I wrote about last weekend.
· Exceed expectations!
· Be cheerful! I know it sounds basic, but you can tell when somebody is smiling, even on a phone call.
· Give people the answers to the questions they’re asking.
· Solve problems quickly. The faster the better.
· Make your customers feel like their order, no matter how small it might be, is important. They need to feel you value their business.
· Always give customers more information than what they ask for. Disney is the best at this. I know I’ve written before about it. If you ask any Disney staff member “When is the electric light parade?” They’ll not only answer you, but they’ll give you a great suggestion on where to watch it. Be engaging!
We all have things that make us feel good about our shopping experiences. For example, you can buy the same Polo shirt at Macy’s or Nordstrom’s, but think about what makes people enjoy shopping at one store versus the other.
Now, take those same ingredients and apply them to your photography business! Obviously the quality of your images has to be outstanding, but don’t underestimate the power of providing a great experience for your clients! It’s the greatest tool you have to separate your business from the competition.
“Your customers won’t love you if you give bad service, your competitors will.” Kate Zabiskie
Illustration Credit: © Raja Rc | Dreamstime.com
"Most people aren't aware that before Scott Bourne expanded his skill set to become an outstanding outdoor wildlife photographer, he shot a lot of weddings! In fact, building a wedding business is just one of a few dozen projects he's taken on in his career as an artist, educator, writer, speaker, social media guru and developer.
There's a great quote from Tennyson's Ulysses, "I am a part of all that I have met." Well, there it is, in just one quote, the explanation why Scott Bourne is so diverse and has such an amazing skill set. As our first Dean of Marketing for SCU, you're going to have a chance to see a lot of that skill set in so many different areas.
I found this post of his from a while back and loved the randomness of his approach. This is an interactive site, so feel free to expand on Scott's "Random Seven" and we'll do a composite post of more tips next week from your comments! " Skip Cohen
by Scott Bourne
1. Find out which two or three photos the bride is really hoping you will nail. Which shots will she complain about if they aren’t in the book. This is a simple thing to do and it can save a bunch of heartache later.
2. Don’t ever eat at the reception. If the wedding party says you’re invited, politely decline. Say you already ate. Say you are on a special diet. But don’t eat anything. Here’s why.
a. This is prime shooting time. While people stand in line and wait for their food, you see genuine personal interaction. You should be shooting this stuff.
b. More often than not the bride’s father is paying you and he’s paying the caterer. The last thing he wants to think about is the fact that he’s paying you to sit down and eat the food he’s paying the caterer to bring.
c. Before I implemented this rule I often got sick from eating the food at the wedding. Better to bring an ice chest and fill it with drinks, a sandwich and some snacks. Take turns with your assistant going out to the parking lot to sneak a bite here and there so nobody notices you gone and you don’t miss too much of the action.
3. Be invisible. This isn’t the time for you to show off. This isn’t your day. This is HER day. Stay out of the way. Don’t be the center of attention. Be as invisible as you can be and still get your job done.
4. Be ready for Uncle Harry. Uncle Harry is a nickname all professional wedding photographers give to the relative who – like you – has a nice 35mm DSLR and who insists on shooting over your shoulder all day or worse, jumping into your shots. There are different opinions on dealing with Uncle Harry, but I’ve come to the conclusion that the best way is to make him a helper. If you constantly berate and yell at him, you’ll make everyone mad. If you complain about him, you’ll make everyone mad. If you make excuses because of him, you’ll make everyone mad. So, instead, give him a job to do like hold a reflector. Make him feel like he’s part of your team.
Another approach is to let ALL the Uncle Harrys (and yes these days everyone has a camera) take their turn. Establish some simple ground rules. When you have the wedding couple in the nice light that you scouted and in front of the nice background you scouted, the wedding guests will invariably run over and try to grab their own shots. So I play a little game with them. I say, “Okay folks everyone will get a picture but let’s be fair with each other.” I’ll get the shot set up and you have 30 seconds to go crazy. Take as many pictures as you want but then, please step back and let me take my turn.
Eventually the folks get the rhythm of this and it seems fun to them and there’s no need to worry about their shots competing with yours. You have better technique, better retouching, etc. So rather than fight, just work with them. The bride will love you for it.
5. Always budget twice as much time as you need because the bride will give you half as much as you ask for. Brides are never on time. Heck – nobody in the wedding party is on time. I used to offer a $100 discount on the wedding if the bride and groom could show up on time for the formals. I never ended up having to actually pay anyone the $100. Nobody was ever on time. Relax and reduce stress by just accepting this up front and the day will go smoother.
6. Remember the camera looks both ways. If you’re upset, nervous, and disturbed, the chances increase greatly that your bride will look upset, nervous and disturbed. Relax, smile, be calm, be patient, have a good time, go with the flow. If you’re calm, the bride will be calm. The reverse is also true.
7. Photograph every single child at the wedding and do it well. These children belong to someone at the wedding and if you take time to make a nice portrait of each child you will probably build enough business off of a single wedding to keep you working for a month. The parents of those children are going to want those pictures. They may even want to hire you for a separate session. So make sure you photograph ALL the kids. To do otherwise is to fail to properly tell the story of that day and to walk away from extra dollars.
Weddings are always hard work, but done right, can make you as the photographer lots of money and can make the family you’re photographing a permanent keepsake of a special day. Be there for the bride – no matter what. Be sold out for her. I know it sounds corny but love her more than yourself. Think of her as your sister or daughter. Be committed to making that the best day of her life. No exceptions. No excuses. If you do, you’ll end up with a lifelong client. Oh yeah, and it’s never wrong to do the right thing.
by Skip Cohen
Scott Bourne and I, along with all of the faculty for SCU, spend a great deal of time talking to photographers. The questions that come up literally cover every topic you can think of regarding photography. But there is a common theme, especially with new professional photographers. They all think they’re alone in working through the challenges of starting a new business!
Not only are you not alone, but there isn’t a single one of us in the industry who hasn’t felt your same concerns, doubts and frustrations! Every one of us have experienced those moments of just asking the question, "What am I doing here?" Sadly there are some incredibly talented people in our industry who every now and then just give up and it's not because they lack the skills. They lack a support group.
"Most people give up just when they're about to achieve success. They quit on the one yard line. They give up at the last minute of the game, one foot from a winning touchdown." Ross Perot
There’s only one purpose to today’s post – to remind you that you are absolutely NOT alone!
In May I'll be celebrating four years since I left Rangefinder/WPPI and headed out on my own. Every day has been an adventure, not always in the right direction, but a learning experience nonetheless. When I started this journey, even a few members of my own family thought I was nuts. It was suggested that I should just be satisfied with where I was in life. After all, I was president of Rangefinder and WPPI, what could be better? It was suggested that I was too old to be starting a new business. Then there were those who had to tell me I was nuts to start a new business in the worst economy since the Great Depression!
So, I set out and followed the wisdom of Dr. Seuss: “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind. “
Just a few weeks ago, with help from a whole bunch of great friends and photographers who share a common belief in education and raising the bar, we launched SCU. The usual critics are out there, but this time there's a whole crew of photographers looking for something better and more focused than what's currently available. On March 8-9 we'll launch the first live program with lots more coming in the year ahead. It's another dream slowly becoming reality.
I’ve learned a lot in the last four years, about the industry, chasing dreams and especially myself. Just like everybody, there’s always more to learn. But along the way I have picked up some pointers that might just help you through the process:
· Surround yourself with positive people.
· Listen to the advice you’re given, but make your own choices. Always go with your heart!
· Short term compromises are fine, but don’t compromise your long term goals.
· Read, follow and meet those people who you admire most in the industry.
· Spend time just kicking-back and daydreaming! Some of your best ideas will come out of just being relaxed and thinking, “What if?”
· Set a goal to understand every aspect of the photographic process and don’t let yourself be frustrated over how much you don’t know – just take it one step at a time.
· Build your network by attending workshops, local meetings, national conventions and trade shows. Being a great photographer is about education – and you can never stop learning!
· Never stop dreaming! And in the words of SCU's Dean of Portraiture, Matthew Jordan Smith, "Alway dream big!"
"The future belongs to those who believe in their dreams! Eleanor Roosevelt"
Photo credit: © Digikhmer | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos
"Think simple" as my old master used to say - meaning reduce the whole of its parts into the simplest terms, getting back to first principles.” Frank Lloyd Wright
by Skip Cohen
There's a serious challenge with so many photographers, but the issue is universal with small businesses. Everyone spends so much time trying to reinvent the wheel that in the process they forget a key word, "simplicity". Instead of just keeping it simple, people create promotional offers that take a Harvard MBA to understand. Seriously, there's something to be said about eye contact, a solid handshake and simply building relationships and those same qualities need to come out in the way you promote yourself and your business.
I follow a lot of photographers and I'm always looking at everybody's promotional offers, not the stuff we read about on Twitter and their facebook page directed towards other photographers, but what they're putting out to the public. I've seen some offers that are incredibly complex. Well, it got me thinking about how complicated we tend to make things, when simplicity is the key.
Let's just use SCU as an example for a second. This is about education...nothing particularly complex. What we're building, with your help, is a resource center to help you grow. It's all pretty basic and it's all based on putting the human spirit back into everything we do. I hope you'll join us on March 8-9 and check it out the live program aspect for yourself, but in the mean time let's talk about your business and importance of simplicity!
Here’s the point, in everything you do as a professional photographer, keep it simple.
· Promotional Offers: Make them easy to understand. I watched a live demo of a “space age” storage product at Sam’s Club a while back. The salesman said, “I don’t have the authority to change prices at Sam’s, but I can give you more! Today only, I can double the number of containers you’ll receive!” I’ll be the first to admit it sounds as cheesy as a $19.95 special offer for the pocket fisherman on late night television, but it was simple to understand and everybody jumped at the offer.
· Limit the Time on Special Offers: Keep the windows of opportunity on any offer relatively short. For me that means 30 days is the max. When you give consumers too long to take advantage of an offer, they procrastinate. The shorter the window, the greater the urgency to respond, but you still have to have an attractive promotion.
· Free Goods or Services: They have to have value and be something your target audience understands. Always focus on added value rather than discounted prices.
· Print Competition: Let’s step away from promotional offers and think about other things you do. If you’re entering print competition, simplicity in your use of filters/plug-ins will always trump an image that’s just over done. Here’s where less is more. If it’s a great image then enhance it in the computer. If it’s a bad image, move on to another shot – all the filters in the world won’t change a bad image and no judge is going to be impressed with the fact that you stuffed a half dozen different tools into one photograph. It's one of my most favorite expressions for you to remember, "You can't buff a turd!"
· Your Website: Can your clients get to the most important page on your website in 2 clicks or less? If you’re forcing them to mine through your site struggling to find images, who you are or special limited time offers, then you’re losing them just when they walk through the door. You've sabotaged the simplicity of your site! Check out our Dean of Portraiture's site, Matthew Jordan Smith for a real look at the definition of simplicity - you don't need a map to figure out who Matthew is, how incredible his work is or how to contact him.
· Photographic Technique: Just keep it simple! Michele Celentano at Skip's Summer School last year, focused on just getting natural expressions with your clients. Kirk Voclain talks about how he gets his high school seniors just talking about their interests and in the process he clicks the shutter when he sees that ideal expression. It's all about simplicity.
· Education: Don’t be overwhelmed by what you don’t know, just keep it simple and take it one step at a time. Don’t over-think what you need to know, but instead take each new technique you learn and practice it, until you know it cold and then move on to the next one.
Photography is an art form and your success is based on not over-focusing on the challenges, but embracing the beauty of the craft and as always, it's about simplicity!
By Skip Cohen
Everyone in business today has the same challenge, including me. We're all on a quest to stay relevant.
By the time I finally learned how to program the VCR, they weren't making them anymore! Now I'm waiting for my contract to finish up with Verizon so I can finally dump my Blackberry. And the list goes on and on.
Technology seems to beat me to the punch all the time, but that's only part of the challenge. Lifestyles, consumer trends and social media still top the charts for me. Three years ago family and friends told me I was “too old” to be on Facebook! Then they didn’t understand why I’d want to post things on a blog or do podcasts.
As a professional photographer you've got the same challenge. How will you stay relevant to your target audience? The answer: You've got make yourself habit-forming! So, how does somebody create incredible work that people can’t stop looking at it? Or, better yet, they can’t stop sharing it with their friends?
Let’s create a list this morning and add some resources for you to follow:
Know what’s hot and what’s not!
· Take a trip to the mall and just window shop. Look at the most upscale stores and how they display merchandise. What are the colors this year? What’s hot in new looks related to your target audience? Tiffany’s doesn’t show everything they carry in every window, just single pieces with outstanding lighting to draw you in.
· Read every magazine you can – not the magazines you specifically are interested in, but what your target audience is reading. Look at the pictures! Your clients are influenced by trends and the trends for photography start with advertising. So many clients get their ideas from upscale fashion and product ads.
· Remember your primary target. If you’re a wedding or portrait photographer your target audience is women. I’ve only said it a few dozen times, so once more won’t hurt: Women make 98% of the purchase decisions to hire a professional photographer in the portrait/social category.
Whether you’re a commercial photographer or not, look at the work being presented at one of my favorites, www.workbook.com. Pay attention to the styles, the lighting and the composition. As a commercial photographer this will help you understand the trends. As a wedding photographer you’ll get some new ideas on how to do some of your detail shots – check out the lighting and composition on some of the product photography.
· Be involved in your community! Market yourself to the customers who are physically closest to you first.
This isn’t about being involved in the way I usually talk about cause-related marketing. This is about getting yourself known and knowing your target audience.
· Scott Bourne uses a great expression, “Own your own zipcode!” Yes, we know you want to dominate the world and get the draw from all corners of planet earth, but you also have to walk before you can run. Dominate your zipcode before you branch out.
Quality trumps quantity!
· Every image you share has got to be spectacular and repeatable! Review all your images on your website and your albums.
· Every image needs to have consistent quality! A few years ago I wrote about an album of a new wedding photographer I met. There wasn’t one consistent flesh tone – pay attention to every image so your clients know you consistently produce terrific work.
· Quality isn’t just in your images – it’s in your style, mannerisms, customer service and approach. Be a class act!
Know the trends and show the trends!
· Every market is different. In this case I’m using parts of the country as a definition of “market”. You’ve got to show work that appeals to your client base. What's hot in Chicago this month isn't the same in Las Vegas, Denver or Atlanta.
· You’ve got to know who your clients are. When you look at your albums and galleries are you showing work that appeals to your audience?
· Show work that’s diverse. It seems like a hundred years ago since I was last looking for a job, but I had three different resumes. Each one pushed the button on a different skill set or style that I had. You need the same with your albums. You need to always be matching up the right images with the right clients. My vote would be to have a couple of terrific sample albums that showed two great looks, one very contemporary and one a little more conservative. Then, I’d have a third book of personal favorites where you really pushed the limits.
If you keep doing the same old thing because it’s always worked, you’ll eventually drown. In fact, staying relevant means you’re willing to change and keep pace and sometimes set the pace with your target audience.
“You don’t drown by falling in the water, you drown by staying there!” Edwin Louis Cole
Check out "Why?" one of the most popular features on the SCU Blog. It's a very simple concept - one image, one artist and one short sound bite. Each artist shares what makes the image one of their most favorite. We're over 100 artists featured since the project started. Click on the link above and you can scroll through all of the episodes to date.