It's a lazy Sunday morning and as many of you head to church and brunch for Easter Sunday, I find myself being overly reflective thinking about the last few years. I resigned my position as president of Rangefinder and WPPI exactly four years ago tomorrow. It's been quite a journey!
Many of you thought I was nuts. I had what appeared to be the greatest job in the world and nothing was hotter than WPPI and Rangefinder Magazine. I had the condo in California, lived less than a half mile from the beach, drove the sports car, the whole nine yards, but I wasn't happy. I was having to fight for things I deeply believed in virtually every day. Then one day it simply happened - I decided if I was honestly going to grow as a manager, a writer and a person, it was simply time to see if I could walk the talk.
I remember Sheila, now my wife, asking me, "What are you afraid of?" My answer was just one word, "Failing!" I got the lecture of my life for the next hour and the word "failure" in that context has never been used again.
So, the journey continues and I am literally doing what I love most. I dive out of bed every morning with the enthusiasm of a six year old on Christmas day. I can't wait to see what's going on in our industry. I can't wait to decide what I'm going to work on.
Even now, at this very moment, I'm doing a Sunday morning post for SCU with the biggest smile on my face and it wouldn't happen without the support of some amazing people in my life and especially my wife Sheila and my good buddy, Scott Bourne. Sheila's always believed in me. No matter what you're working on, you need one person who simply listens, comments and helps you trust your gut instincts. Shelia helps me down that path.
SCU might be my baby, but it wouldn't have happened without Scott's push over dinner one night. I was feeling frustrated over a whole series of projects that just weren't coming together. I'll never forget his question to me, "What would happen if you put all your energy into just one thing? Stop spreading yourself so thin and trying to do a dozen little projects when you can focus your energy in one singular direction!"
So, with the driving force of those two cheering me on, so many of you have played a role and you know who you are. You've made suggestions...you've sent me emails and called me...at every turn of every project you've been there with honest feedback, both good and bad.
I know exactly how I got here - it's thanks to all of you, new friends and old, along with some amazing people who blazed a path of inspiration for me over the years...Don Blair, Dean Collins, Monte Zucker, Bengt Forssbaeck and Mike Bowen all come to mind first. You may no longer be a phone call away, but you're the best team of angels I could possibly have.
"I am convinced that material things can contribute a lot to making one's life pleasant, but, basically, if you do not have very good friends and relatives who matter to you, life will be really empty and sad and material things cease to be important." David Rockefeller
Wishing all of you a safe and happy Easter weekend. As I wrote the other day, remember to hug your family and friends..."to thine own self be true!"
While doing an interview for a magazine article a few years ago, I spent some time talking with Dawn Shields about her business and how it’s grown since 2002, when she started. There was a common theme very strong with all three photographers being featured in the article, but best described by Dawn. Dawn talked about how she’s a relationship builder.
Most of us think about the importance of the relationships we build as those with clients, but in Dawn’s case she’s stayed focused (no pun intended) on wedding industry vendors, other photographers and of course her clients. When asked where does she get most of her referrals from? The answer was other photographers! Essentially her competitors, but in this case, competitors who are working together to build their businesses and reputations.
Dawn believes so strongly in building vendor relationships that four to five years ago she and her husband started a monthly luncheon for anyone in the wedding business. They organize the venue and everyone has to kick in $10 to pay for their lunch. At that price – it could well be the cheapest networking experience on the planet! And what an incredible opportunity for a group of business people with the same target audience and goals in working together.
At one location each month, everyone has the opportunity to meet and work with other photographers, florists, venue managers and wedding planners, just to name a few. Imagine the strength of your network if as a wedding photographer, for example, you had lunch once a month with the florists in town, the limo company and a travel agent. The list goes on and on and it's not exclusive to just wedding photographers.
Since you’ve taken the time to read this blog today, when you’re done think about the opportunities you might be missing in your own backyard to build relationships. Everyone in business today has the same challenges with marketing and building their business. You might be surprised to find how many allies are right around the corner, ready to work together for a common goal – growing each others business!
Illustration credit: © Pakhnyushchyy | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images
by Skip Cohen
Ever had one of those days where nothing seems to go right? No matter how good your intentions are, it all goes wrong. The day is a complete "train wreck" and you go to sleep that night feeling like the guy with the broom following the elephants in the circus day parade.
Well, here's the cool thing - some times those horrible days and events give us a chance to show our stuff and that's what my buddy Lori Nordstrom is doing right now. Here's how she described this week's challenges...
"You know I love this industry, but earlier this week I was NOT feeling it!! We had over 1500 people registered (great) for a free webinar and then had horrible technical difficulties (sooo bad). Apparently the Java issues we've all experienced with the labs also were affecting the conference software I use. I was on tech support the entire morning - logging on and off of 3 different computers, reloading the software, reloading the program, crashing, it was a mess. It was 1:57 (webinar to start at 2:00) when they figured out it was Java. I could take the chance and update Java and try for the 2nd webinar scheduled for 7:00pm, or switch to a PC. I chose PC! ;)
Everything was set up and ready to roll for 7:00. Logged in an hour early and started doing sound checks, etc. All was well. There were still a lot of people who couldn't get their own speakers to work, so I gave them a call in option. Great that there was the option, BAD that every time someone called in there was a series of loud beeps.
This happened throughout the program. Totally frustrating. Needless to say, my recording SUCKS!!!"
Okay, so that sets the stage, but here's what makes Lori one of the best educators and service oriented experts in our industry. She's re-recording the webinar and is sending out the link to everybody who registered. There are a lot of photographers who wouldn't do anything. They'd apologize, explain it wasn't their fault and then invite you to try again in a few weeks with another webinar. They wouldn't go that extra mile!
“There are no traffic jams on the extra mile.” Zig Ziglar
If you know Lori, then you know she's solution driven and doesn't point the finger without having a way to fix the problem. She can't take back the frustration everyone felt, but she can give everybody a great compromise...they'll still get the content she wanted to share, just a day later.
Great customer service isn't about getting yourself off the hook when there's a problem, it's about stepping up and fixing the problem, no matter what it takes. It's about taking responsibility even with the trolls and whiners who want to write the nasty emails and complain because they feel entitled. And that's what makes Lori and her approach to business so outstanding!
Lori sent out the attached last night to over 1500 photographers who had tried to attend her webinar. She took the responsibility, fixed the problem and gave everybody a great solution.
The next time you've got a challenge in your business take the responsibility. Then take the heat. Then, step up to the plate and fix it the best you can. It won't seem like it at the time, but it's really an amazing opportunity for you to strut your stuff!
P.S. This is the last week for Shoes for Love, Lori's favorite charity to help the orphans she talks about in her email. Here's your chance to clean out your closet and give back - all at the same time! Check out Sunday's post and you'll find all the links to help.
Photo Credit: © Pryzmat | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images
SCU is all about education and few photographers have been more active in these projects than SCU's "Student Council prez, Levi Sim. I ran across this blog post with more portrait tips on the SmugMug Blog. Here's just one piece of it with the full post just a click away. Skip Cohen
What’s “sportraiture?” you ask? Simply put, unique portraits of fervent athletes showing them doing what they do best. Pro photographer and SmugMug educator Levi Sim has a place in his heart for the passion and thrill of this type of portraiture, and today he’s sharing the three key tips on how to make it happen for you.
By Levi Sim
When I started photography four years ago a local photojournalist, Eli Lucero, opened my eyes to sports photography. He said, “You know when you make a great portrait that shows emotion and it’s awesome? Athletes are finally performing what they’ve been practicing, and powerful emotions show on their faces all day. It’s great to be a sports photographer.”
Ever since then, I take every opportunity I can find to shoot sports.
Still, I’m a portraitist at heart, and I can’t help making portraits of people everywhere I go. Here are three tips that let me maximize every opportunity I get to shoot great sports portraits.
1. Know Your Game Athletes spend many hours every day for many, many years to learn to perform flawlessly. They have worked incredibly hard to have the body and the skills to do what they do. It is disrespectful to put them in front of your lens and then mess around with your camera, trying to figure out the best settings. You owe it to them to be proficient at what you’re doing because you’re photographing other passionate people.
Now, I’m not saying you have to be a pro who knows everything before you photograph someone. I’m saying that you do your practicing before you shoot the athlete. At the very least, grab a kid from the sidelines and practice your setup right before you invite the athlete over. Then you can be confident that you’ll get a good image from that same setup.
I’d also recommend quitting while you’re ahead. If you’ve just taken a good picture with a test setup, don’t say, “Let’s try this other thing,” unless you’ve also practiced the other thing, too. They’ll think you’re the best photog in the world if you fire off two frames and have a great picture; if you mess around with the unknown, they’ll be frustrated and disappointed.
Practice your setup, take a good picture and say thank you.
by Skip Cohen
Ever heard about a project and said to yourself, "Why didn't I think of that?" Well, get ready gang, because Future Presidents is just one of those projects.
I couldn't be more excited for my good buddy and SCU's Dean of Portraiture, Matthew Jordan Smith. Last night he and Nozomi launched their Kickstarter program to raise the funds to finish the project. It's all explained in the video below, but here's the thing to really listen to as you watch it.
Ask yourself how, if you had an amazing idea like this, would you launch your own project? How would you get your message out to the public? What would be the key components you'd want to talk about to get people excited?
Their first sentence says it all:
If you could inspire a future American president would you? Our goal is to inspire children and their parents to always dream big.
Here's the link to Matthew and Nozomi's page on Kickstarter. It's worth the additional look and who knows, we might all be influencing a "future president"!
by Skip Cohen
Every now and then I run across something that's just a kick to hear about and in this case watch. AOL just featured one of the SCU faculty, Jen Rozenbaum in their "You've Got..." feature. The video says it all.
I've been following Zach and Jody Gray for a couple of years now. Over and over again their focus on the challenges in photography, both real and self-inflicted, have been incredibly insightful. As we started to put together this year's summer session of SCU, I was determined to sit down and talk to them at WPPI.
Since then Zach, Jody and I have had a few conversations and I'm delighted they're as excited about teaching at SCU this summer as I am to have them join the "family". This is a couple with message after message to help us all raise the bar on our thought process about business, our technique and in short, realize more of our goals.
This post started out as their contribution for their faculty gallery when answering the question, "What advice would you give a new photographer just starting out?" Well, it was so good, it needed to be a blog post.
In the third paragraph there's a line that deserves to be re-stated, "The only person that matters when it comes to approval in a business is the client you are serving." Or as my old buddy Dean Collins used to say, and I've quoted before, "Beauty is in the eyes of the checkbook holder!"
Zach and Jody need to be on your radar. Check out their site, sign up for their free newsletter and then follow them everywhere! They've already helped to change my life a little - I can promise they'll change yours too! Skip Cohen
When you get into any new pursuit, there is usually the feeling when you first start that you are second class and not as good as someone else. In the art world, that feeling can stick around longer than it should, and if it goes unchecked, can cripple your chance of succeeding.
Do you feel your images are not good enough to charge what you need to charge to survive? Do you feel like other photographers can't see you as a first shooter and always see you as a "second shooter?" Do you wish your clients valued your work as much as you do?
There is a stigma in this industry that you need to "pay your dues" and if you haven't been shooting for 5 or 10 years you can't possibly know what your doing or have a real business. That is simply not true! When we started out, we wanted to get praised by other photographers and feel the art we were creating and the business we were running was "approved" by those who were in our city shooting longer than we had. That was a major mistake. The only person that matters when it comes to approval in a business is the client you are serving. Your job is to give them an amazing experience and make their dreams come true, and not make other photographers think you are awesome and look to them for validation.
If you wanted to open your own Starbucks store, because you were passionate about coffee, you would buy into the franchise (Starbucks does not actually franchise, but that's not relevant to this story), take the management training courses, hire a staff who would go through the training courses, purchase the store and coffee materials, then open the store on opening day and start running your business at full steam ahead.
Now imagine on opening day, as the first customer came in, you told them, "Since we are brand new, all lattes are $1 instead of $4 because we are new and don't really know what we are doing." What do you think the customer response would be? They would wonder what's wrong with this Starbucks since they don't charge what all the other ones charge!
But the reality is, most of us start our photography businesses the same way and wonder why we never get ahead. What we should do, is get training from the best in the industry and learn the systems that make an efficient business function at a high level, decide what "franchise model" we want to have (volume based or boutique based), position and brand the business, open the doors and start charging our $4 for a latte.
But somehow, somewhere someONE has convinced us we are second class photographers. Let us assure you that we are not!
Jack Trout, writer of The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, says that "Perception is not reality, it is the ONLY reality." Meaning, once we have the skills to do the job, we need to act like any other successful business acts and come out charging! Be a force to be reckoned with, don't be afraid to compete right at the top and never let ANYONE tell you that you can't!
by Skip Cohen
"We interrupt the normal Sunday Morning Reflections post for a special announcement!" Normally I'd publish information like this in the Giving Back section of the site, but for this project we're down to the wire and it's only supposed to run until the end of the month. That gives all of you a week to go digging for shoes!
My buddy Lori Nordstrom and I talked about it weeks ago. She was going to send me information and got busy. Then she sent me information just as we were kicking off the first SCU program in Las Vegas and I was busy. Well, the show got in the way and as life seems to have it, so did other projects and I just forgot. So, here I am, trying to help Lori and Travis get the word out in time to make a difference.
Participating Studio Map
The project is Shoes for Love and it's foundation is deep in the word "Love". It's all about raising funds to help orphans in Ecuador with a shoe drive...and every one of you can help. There isn't a single one of us who doesn't have a closet full of shoes we should have retired years ago. Here's a better description off the Dando Amor site:
"We have chosen the orphanages in Ecuador as our first place to reach out. The children in Ecuador will both fill and break your hearts!
Most of the kids there will never be adopted…they have to be orphaned for 3-4 years before they are adoptable, which means that most will live their lives in the orphanage.
One of our friends has described what we’re doing, “There is an age-old question about the tree falling in the forest when no one is there…does it still make a sound as it falls? It’s the same in regards to these children; If a child is lovable, has a heart that is aching for attention – is he not lovable because there is no one there to love him?” We’ve considered this and said YES. That child is lovable and should be shown love.
Our hope is to give these children a better life there as well as to equip them with the tools needed to become confident and capable adults. We’ve been told that speaking English and having computer skills will increase their chances of survival once they leave the orphanages, so we began with that in mind in the fall of 2010. Our team was able to fix a roof in the computer room in one of the all-girls homes as well as hiring an English tutor for a full year.
We covet your prayers and your donations. Please help how you can. We know you’ll be blessed by the opportunity to take this journey with us.
Join our National "Shoes For Love" Shoe Drive being organized by Dando Amor along with partnering photographers and studios around the country! The shoe drive will be happening throughout March and your help is needed!If you can help to collect shoes, volunteer to be a drop off location, or even organize one of the major city drop-offs, please let us know!
You can contact Lori Nordstrom (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Travis Gugelman (email@example.com) for more information on how you can add your city to the list.
Shoes are being accepted of all sizes and in any shape. When we heard the statistic that over 680 million shoes were thrown away in America each year, we knew we needed to be a part of this, and we hope you will too! Your unwanted shoes can help to change the lives of orphaned children around the world.
Please get your family and friends involved and lets be a part of this together.
More information about the shoe drive can be found on our blog Shoesforlove.org"
For more information just visit Dando Amor. I know everybody has their own charitable programs they do, but this one not only helps orphans, it helps clean out your closet and as trite as that might sound, it's a donation that everybody can contribute to! A big thanks for your support!
Need more information write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Images copyright Lori Nordstrom and Travis Gugelman. All Rights Reserved.
Remember the word "fun"? It's why most of you got into this business in the first place. Somehow, too many people, not just in the photographic industry, but everywhere, lost their "edge". We've all been so wrapped up in the challenges today we forgot about having fun.
I know this post is going to sound like an infomercial, but this upcoming program has involved hundreds of people who have worked hard to make it as special as its become. Early next week registration for this year's summer session for SCU in Chicago is going to go live. It's going to be an amazing program and attendees are going to be working hard, but I can guarantee they're also going to be having "FUN".
Why? First, it's everybody's attitude. The community itself is all focused on one goal - building a stronger skill set, whether in marketing, technique, lighting, Photoshop - you name it, the bond at a small event like this is amazing.
Second, it's what this faculty does. Find me another conference where you could actually head home having met and talked with Joe McNally, Clay Blackmore, Michele Celentano, Suzette Allen, Bob and Dawn Davis, Jen Rozenbaum, Justin and Mary Marantz, Michael Corsentino, Adam Sherwin, J.P. Elario, Roberto Valenzuela, Zach and Jody Gray and Bob Coates.
Then there is the environment itself. We're going to pretty much own the hotel for the most of the conference. No lines to stand in. No worrying about getting a seat at an program. Most important of all, if you do have a problem there's a bunch of us easy to find to help fix it.
Last on the list is how involved the attendees themselves have been helping to build this conference to what it is today. Over the last four summers we've taken the feedback from each attendee and tried to incorporate as many suggestions as possible. And now we've got the "Student Council" helping to drive every program in the right direction.
In numerous posts I've talked about the importance of attending as many conferences as you can afford. Well, here's one on the list I hope you can attend. The price is right, the location is outside Chicago and the line up of talent to help you find new ways to put "fun" back in your vocabulary is amazing.
Oh yeah, fun also comes out of building a stronger business! Money isn't everything, but thriving trumps just surviving!
by Skip Cohen
We all have the same challenge, getting our website to look the way we want it, work the way it should and get the support when we need it.
The reality is it's not a perfect world and every website should be constantly checked. It should be checked on different computers as well. A few years ago I had a great suggestion from an attendee at a marketing presentation I did at the IPI Summer Convention.
"We have six people in the company. Every morning when they boot up, their landing page is a different page on our website. That's six different pages that get checked first thing, before we even start the day!"
Years ago there was a TV campaign that simply had one line: "It's 11:00 PM. Do you know where your kids are?' Well, it's time to modify and bring that line into business and 2013...
"It's the start of another business day - do you know if your site's working?"
Illustration Credit: © Vladacanon | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images
by Skip Cohen
Every year or so I run a similar spin to this story. It's something my good buddy Jim Morton found years ago when we were at Hasselblad "dealing with a tough economy". At least that's what we thought at the time. It's so relevant and it's become one of my favorite business anecdotes. So, as we wrap up the first quarter of the year and many photographers start to come out of hibernation, it'll definitely give you things to think about!
Challenges in technology and the economy are touching everybody. Just when we thought "Uncle Harry", who’s at every wedding with his high-end digital SLR, was under control, the economy threw us a curve ball, and now 20-year old scotch and 91 octane are the same price. (Actually, who even uses 91 octane anymore?) So what’s the key to surviving as a professional photographer in 2013?
At the risk of being overly anecdotal, there was a great story put in circulation by the advertising community in the early '90s. I’ll save you from the long, original version and summarize:
A very successful hot dog vendor is hitting record sales. He’s advertising, cross-promoting, staying open longer each day and business is fantastic. His son comes home from college for the summer and says, “Dad, don’t you know we’re in a recession? You need to watch your spending and be ready for business to slow down.”
The father, concerned, stays awake all that night worrying about what his son has said. The following day he pulls down a lot of his signs and puts the money he would have spent on advertising and promoting in the bank. By the end of the month, business is terrible and all he can say to himself is, “Wow, it’s a good thing I listened to my son. There really is a recession.”
I’m not minimizing the challenges of today’s economy, but I’m frustrated with hearing photographers cry the blues when they haven’t made an effort to evaluate and restructure their current business model. Those photographers whose businesses were solid last year did new things to reach their audience. Nobody is working any less, just smarter. Every photographer who has told me they're doing okay always follows with, "But I've NEVER worked so hard in my life!"
There is no secret to surviving as a professional photographer today—survival is all about marketing, promotion, hard work and utilizing every aspect of new technology. But there are some aspects of running a photography business that everyone needs to make a decision about...
Diversification: Are you hitting the same old target or developing new markets? If you’re a wedding photographer, how many of your brides in the last few years now have children? If they loved the wedding album you created, how about photographing their young family? If you really don't want to stray from your core business then at least develop a relationship with a children and family photographer and then cross-promote with each other.
Years ago—sorry I don’t remember where—there were statistics suggesting that 95% of brides under 30 have a baby within three years of their wedding date. Every bride you’ve ever photographed is a potential customer for family portraiture.
The demand for professional portraiture still runs in this order: brides, babies and then pets. So if business is down, take a look at your client database and find opportunities to create new clients or new applications.
Market and Promote: Our hot dog man, in an effort to stave off the recession, stopped reminding people he was there. What are you doing to promote yourself? Are you involved in the community? Are you advertising in local papers? Do people recognize your presence? Do you own your own zip code?
Years ago, one of the country's leading senior photographers, Larry Peters, told me about one of his best marketing tools. At the time, he was photographing a half dozen seniors each year at no charge. They, in turn, became his ambassadors and helped spread the word among the various high schools in his area. Today there are ambassador programs all over the place, because they work, but the concept doesn't have to be exclusive to senior photography.
Well known pro David Ziser, in a program also many years ago, talked about tracking anniversary dates of his clients and did a first anniversary sitting at no charge. Think about it...the younger the bride, the more friends she has who will soon be getting married—it’s a publicity manager’s dream!
The Internet and Social Media: You can’t be in business without a website, but how about the message you’re presenting? Look at blogs, for example. Everybody wants to have a blog, but only a handful of photographers are doing it the right way.
The key to a successful venture into social media has so many facets, but two that are critical are relevant content and consistency. Check out yesterday's post from Scott Bourne on ten tips for making blogging, podcasting and tweeting more effective. If you're going to do it, at least do it right.
Attitude: When was the last time you did an attitude check on yourself? I am reminded of the unspoken oath we all took when we fell in love with photography! That oath, we all share, is about quality, service and responsibility. It's everything I've been writing about since my first blog post almost four years ago. Your clients trust you to be their eyes at a wedding. At a portrait sitting they're trusting you to see them the way they see themselves. They're trusting you to deliver a product far better than Uncle Harry could ever dream of!
Think about how much you love the craft and all the excitement in our industry today. I’ll go anecdotal one last time—we’re living in our own version of Who Moved My Cheese? It’s a business parable that was on The New York Times Best Seller List in the late 1990s and well worth a two hour investment of time to read. If you’ve read it, you’ll understand that the only thing that’s changed in our industry is that the “cheese has been moved,” and we simply have to work harder to find it!
Photo Credit: © Julie Feinstein | Dreamstime.com
When my buddy Scott Bourne wrote this guest post for me in 2009 he had 35,000 followers on Twitter. Today he has over 144,000 and has never strayed from the advice he shares here. He wrote this as a guest post on my first blog and many of his points I've incorporated into my marketing presentation when I'm teaching. They're ten solid tried and true points of advice and each one is on the money! Skip Cohen
by Scott Bourne
Here are some tips I've found useful as I use these new communications technologies to spread the word about my
work. 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
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.
Illustration Credit: © Arrow | Dreamstime.com
by Skip Cohen
Many of you have just returned from WPPI and hopefully had a chance to look at the print exhibit, regardless of whether or not you entered in competition. The only sad thing about it was that prints were stuck in a back hallway with lousy lighting and hardly elevated to the presentation level they deserved. Plus, I heard the number entering was down to a record low, but I suppose that's what happens when WPPI's parent company runs a print contest every month. Sooner or later it was bound to affect the 16x20 competition, but that doesn't take away from it being an outstanding experience or a great competition.
Whether you enter prints in competition or not, you're missing the boat if you don't at least get involved. It's an incredible learning experience and might well be the best bang for your buck when it comes to what you'll learn by listening to some good print critiques.
Years ago, I entered my first images in PPA competition and was ecstatic when three of them scored high enough to hang. The next year I entered just one print in WPPI, the whale shot above, "Mother and Child". It scored well and hung that year, but here's what I really learned.
First, the judging is open to the public. I went in hoping my print might come up within an hour or two and stayed for six hours. Listening to a panel of industry experts comment on each print, as it was shown, was incredible. Comments about exposure, composition and printing were in abundance and the information shared with the audience was virtually unlimited.
Second, seeing the work of other photographers made me realize things I needed to do to improve my own presentation. It might have been something major in relation to how I had cropped the subject or something that had seemed insignificant, like the title. With each image I found myself creating my own scoring system to see how well I was understanding the process and how close I could be to the score from the judges.
Third, was simply listening to the judges. Most of the judges are instructors at various conventions and workshops around the country. Listening to the judge's comments on a particular print gave me a feel of whose program I might want to attend, even their teaching style and presentation skills.
Fourth, when a print does score well there are hundreds of photographers who publish a press release in their community. Others, enjoy displaying the various awards in their studios and offices. Even if you don't do as well as you hope, just the fact that you participated can be a publicity opportunity.
Last but not least, and maybe one of the biggest bonuses of print competition, is that you never know how your images might be used later on. Numerous times over the years at Rangefinder, we found some outstanding covers for the magazine - all out of prints submitted for competition and relevant to the theme of a particular issue.
Over the years I've entered prints in both PPA and WPPI and it's been a learning experience every time. So, whether you're attending a national, regional or state convention, make it a point to sit in on the judging, whenever possible. Make the print exhibit your first stop. Look at as many prints as possible and pay attention to the subject matter, lighting, exposure and composition. Then look at the printing quality, the material used and the actual presentation.
I spoke at the Dallas chapter of PPA years ago and they do a print competition at every meeting. Here's a chance to test your abilities with your local peers. There was some outstanding work shown that night. Check around your community and see if there are any local groups meeting who share and critique images.
I know it’s going to sound trite, but it’s not whether you win or lose, but really is simply about playing the game. You don’t have to enter a print in competition to learn from the process!
But I will close with one final caution. How well a print might do or not do in competition doesn't necessarily reflect how much the client liked it. Or, in the words of my old buddy, Dean Collins:
"Beauty is in the eyes of the checkbook holder!"
by Skip Cohen
My post yesterday about giving back outside of photography deserves a further explanation. Actually it doesn't require anything at all, but as my readers you've all become a BIG extension of my family. You give me suggestions on new posts and you inspire so many us to keep looking for new projects and ways to raise the bar on the quality, not just of the images being produced, but of our businesses and lives.
So, while I don't owe anybody a further explanation, it seems like this post, which is an encore, hits a little more direct on the personal challenge of Alzheimer's in my family. I first ran this post almost three years ago. At that time I was living in Ohio and coming down to Sarasota 3-4 times a year to visit my folks.
Today my Dad is 90 and has been married to his "best girl" for 66 years. While Alzheimer's has robbed my folks of so many memories, there are still moments to be cherished and this was one of them.
So often a scene unfolds in front of us and we’re caught without a camera. So, what do you do? You can’t just walk away. The only thing you can shoot is a neurochrome.
Neurochromes are pure memories occupying every little corner of your brain. They’re permanent memory “chips” not affected by any manufacturer. They have unlimited capacity. They’re never on back-order and they’re always free. You’ve got unlimited inventory, but you have to stay alert or, just like a wedding photographer who’s not paying attention, you’ll miss the moment.
I spent three days with my folks last week. They’re in their eighties and my mother has fairly advanced Alzheimer’s. The moments when the “sun peaks out from behind the clouds” so you can have a conversation, are happening less and less. My mom and dad have been married for almost 64 years and through that entire time, they’ve been each other’s very best friends.
The other night we watched a little TV and like so many previous trips I had fun “tucking them in”. As I shut off the light I noticed they were holding hands. It wasn’t just a couple holding hands, it was my dad saying, “Don’t worry I’m here!” as my mother replied, “I know. If you let go I’m lost!” There were no words spoken between them, they just held hands, smiling and said good night.
No camera, no film – I could only shoot a neurochrome. But the image of the two of them, like a Hollywood scene of a lifeboat on rocky seas, hanging on and supporting each other without a single word ever spoken, left an image for me to cherish. The image was so strong, that in spite of people who will tell me this is an inappropriate post for a photography blog, I wanted to share it with you anyway.
As photographers you’re trained to capture memories. Your entire business model is about seeing those moments your clients might miss. Everything you do with a camera in your hands is about being somebody else’s eyes. It’s an incredible responsibility because neurochromes, while some have been known to stay vivid forever, most eventually fade. However, as photographers your images don’t need to disappear as long as you never compromise on the quality and effort you put into capturing and producing them.
I’ve got this wonderful vision of dad and mom holding hands and the expressions on both their faces. It’s a neurochrome and only mine to view. Do I wish I had a photograph of them holding hands? Absolutely, but there isn’t a camera on the planet that could have captured what I witnessed!
by Skip Cohen
I always have something I want to post each morning. Sometimes it's something in the pipeline, other times it's related to something I've read on another blog. This morning the cupboard is bare, but I just did a tweet that might seem strange to some of you and it deserves an explanation.
@alzassociation @caregiverforum @alzheimerssoc Sun morn-a gr8 time 2 listen 2 the new podcast 4 caregivers. ow.ly/j5ne4
It's got absolutely nothing to do with photography. My mother has Alzheimer's and every Thursday for over a year my Dad and I have gone to a caregiver's support group here in Sarasota at the Friendship Centers. Paula Falk is the moderator and has been doing this for fifteen years. Well, I had an idea to talk them into doing a short weekly podcast, similar to what I've been doing here on the SCU site. They had no budget and had never done anything like this.
I wanted to launch "Ten Minutes with Paula", short advice segments for caregivers of Alzheimer's patients. The idea would be a new tip every ten days, just to help caregivers stay focused on their own health and well-being. You won't be any good taking care of a loved one if you're not taking care of yourself.
So, this became my way of giving back and thanking them for everything they've done to help my family deal with the challenges of my mother's illness. What's been a kick is how it's taken off, with each podcast getting more and more listeners. I've also loved being involved in something outside my core business.
And here's how this all connects to your business:
So many of you are looking for ways to give back and tie into your community, but it doesn't always have to involve your skill set as a photographer. You just need to find something that contributes to the community and at the same time makes you feel good about doing it.
"Many persons have a wrong idea of what constitutes true happiness. It is not attained through self-gratification but through fidelity to a worthy purpose." Helen Keller
Well, I can't top Helen Keller's quote. Doing the podcasts and working with the staff at the Sarasota Friendship Centers simply makes me happy. It keeps my battery charged and in turn gets me out of the cycle of being a "one trick pony" and only focused on the photography industry. Plus, it's testing things I've learned in my career about marketing, branding, reach and social media.
There's no such thing as any project in your community being too small or not worthy of your time if it involves some level of giving back and puts a smile o.
by Skip Cohen
Ever move and hang on to something from your old house that was special? You took it with you for good luck or maybe just a sweet memory. Well, this post is definitely an encore and I realized the other day, by closing Photo Resource Hub and bringing everything together here at SCU, I lost a very special post. This site just wouldn't be right without my tribute to Jake!
This has nothing whatsoever to do with photography, at least not directly. I’m not sharing it to get sympathy, but I do so appreciate all of you who follow my blog. I try to give you material to help make your business stronger, but today I hope this will make your life stronger. An event last week left me thinking about how precious life truly is. This is a stern reminder to stop and smell the roses every day, because you don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring.
Sheila and I left Ohio and moved to Sarasota a year ago. We moved to be closer to my folks who I’ve written about in the past. A side benefit we never anticipated was having great neighbors, especially Jake and Maryellen. They might have been a little older physically (in their 70’s), but their attitudes put them in their thirties! For example, we pulled into the driveway last year on Halloween and a priest and nun were standing there with trick or treat bags! It was Jake and Maryellen making the rounds.
Last Thursday I walked outside after being on the computer for a few hours. I heard somebody screaming for help. It was Maryellen and I ran next door. Jake had fallen in the hallway, was face down and she couldn’t turn him over to clear his airway. Jake was a big guy, easily 6’ 1” and Maryellen is probably a 100 pounds soaking wet. I got him turned over and she immediately starting doing mouth to mouth just as the paramedics arrived.
Jake was in cardiac arrest and although they worked on him for a good twenty minutes before rushing him to the hospital, he was already gone. There was nothing anybody could have done. His heart simply stopped. I’m sure there’s a more complicated explanation, but what difference does it make?
I went home, sat down and simply cried. It was only a few days earlier that I sat with him in the hospital listening to him talk about how much he wanted to get home. He’d had bypass surgery for the second time in twenty years along with a new valve and couldn’t wait to take it all out for a test drive. We talked about the chance that he might be able to play golf again. We talked about family, Maryellen and simply hung out to pass the time.
I only knew Jake a year, but he was like the older brother I never had. We’d talk every day at the mailbox. The four of us had gone out to dinner a few times. He’d bring our garbage cans back up to the house on garbage day, because the doctor told him he needed more exercise. Molly the Wonder Dog absolutely loved him and he’d get down on one knee so she could lick his face. If we were away he kept an eye on our house and when they were gone we did the same for them.
We respected each other’s privacy, but were always there for each other. We were simply good neighbors. I loved having Jake and Maryellen next door and was looking forward to lots of fun times ahead, but God had other plans.
So Jake, this is for you buddy. I’m going to miss you more than you could possibly have ever known. We’re going to keep an eye on Maryellen and at some point we’ll laugh about things you did or said. I’ll repeat your favorite joke before every workshop I do and think about you every time Molly starts to run next door to find you. You had a huge personality that will not be replaced. I’m so sad that I just figured you’d be around and never really told you how much we appreciated your friendship.
And that’s my point…there’s so much we all take for granted. We go to sleep each night believing there will always be tomorrow. We waste time worrying about things that are completely unimportant, often missing some of the most special moments in our lives.
That night I hugged Sheila tighter than I’ve ever hugged her before. I slept most of that night holding her hand. I finally fell asleep after spending hours thinking about how quickly life can change.
What good is all the work you’re doing if you’re not taking the time to enjoy what’s most important to you? What good is working to build your business or your reputation if you don’t have time to be with the people closest to you?
I think it was my buddy, Scott Bourne, who said, capture each image as if it was the last thing people would ever see of your work. Well, take that concept a few steps further. Think about everything you do in life the same way. If right now, as you are reading this, you simply disappeared from life as we know it – would everybody important to you know how much you cared?
It’s a really simple concept this morning…stop wasting time.
Photo Credit: © Tsz01 | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images
by Skip Cohen
This is the time of year when one of my favorite quotes comes into play and it's all about friendship.
Think back to any convention you've attended this year. The best part of any good show is always the time you get to build your network. If you did it right last week, during WPPI and the first SCU event of the year, you worked in time with good friends. You talked about the challenges of the industry, your common passion to keep raising the bar on the quality of your work. You shared some of the challenges you've run into since the last time you saw them.
Most important of all you recharged your battery, because it's that positive energy that keeps us going.
And that brings me full circle to something I've been saying for years, "The best part of being in this industry has nothing to do with photography, but the friendships that come out of everyone's mutual love for the craft!"
by Skip Cohen
At every convention there are always things that surprise me and this recent WPPI was no exception. At the top of the list this year were the number of attendees who didn’t seem to understand the real benefit of getting to know the various vendors and their products. They ran through the trade show like kids on a field trip, looking quickly at the exhibiting vendors and rarely engaging. Many acted as if they were more interested in getting through the aisles than really understanding the benefits of each company’s line-up of products and services.
If you’re in this group, here’s one example of what you missed…
There were some outstanding album companies presenting at the show. For us, Venice Album was my favorite with some upscale designs, textures and printing techniques that gave everybody a presentation to set them apart from the competition. And that’s the point that seemed to be so often missed.
You’ve got to find products that separate yourself from other photographers as well as all the Uncle Harry’s of the world. You need a presentation that matches the quality of the images you’re delivering to your client and at the same time allows you to match up with the various tastes of every client.
No two clients are alike and this is where you have the potential to be as clairvoyant as a great medium. You need to listen to your clients and ask questions that clarify their needs, You need to observe the way they’re dressed, the style of purse a woman might be carrying, her shoes – everything that gives you the ability to understand more about who she is and what her tastes might be.
We bumped into our good buddy, Michele Celentano, who was signing her new book in the Venice booth and nobody spends more time working to understand a client’s taste more than Michele. As one of the country’s leading family portrait photographers, she’s as much an interior designer as she is a photographer.
Michele not only sets the tone for the portrait session, but helps her clients decide on the style of the frame and the size of the print along with where the final image will hang. She goes one step further and whenever possible even delivers the finished print, framed and ready to display with hammer and picture hook in hand.
She does the same with her albums, always looking for a final presentation that’s more than just a book of images. She wants each presentation to be an addition to the decorative touches in each client’s home. If you’re doing it right, none of you are delivering just an album, but a family heirloom designed to be displayed with pride, not put away on a shelf.
At one point on the first day I wanted to install speed bumps in the aisles just to slow people down. At every booth, whether albums, frames, bags or software I wanted people to just think about the needs of their business, not just run by on a quest to cover the whole show in the first day. At any convention it's not about seeing who's exhibiting but getting to know each company.
I’ve written a dozen or so posts in the last few years with suggestions on how to work a trade show and I realized this week the most important reminder I’ve missed…slow down!
Photo Credit: © Adifor | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images
I found this little gem of Scott Bourne's and thought it was a great reminder as so many of you utilize the down time of this first quarter to just play and experiment. Skip Cohen
by Scott Bourne
There are many ways in post to make your sunset photos sing. But what if you don’t like to mess around in post? Here’s a simple way to jazz up your sunset photos in the camera. Under-expose. If you purposely under-expose, you’ll over-saturate the colors in the sunset. Most of the time I simply under-expose by one and one half stops and boom! Out comes the color.
You’ll have to experiment with the proper amount of under-exposure. Too much under-exposure and everything will get lost in the shadows. The image will become noisy and ugly. Not enough under-exposure and the color won’t pop. But since just about everyone is using a digital camera it’s no big deal. Silicon is cheap! Shoot two or three shots, each with a different amount of exposure compensation.
PhotoCredit: © Nyzoli | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images
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.