Pay me now or pay me later

Back in the day when I was growing up (a long long time ago 🙂 ) there was a TV commercial that had a mechanic saying “you can pay me now or pay me later”. It was in reference to you can pay me to do an oil change on your vehicle today or in a number of years you can pay me to fix your blown engine.

Well that also applies to photography and how we handle digital images. You can take the time today to get things organized and backed up or you can spend a lot more time in a month or so trying to recover the lost images.

Last week was my preventative maintenance week, I spent most of the week at the studio rewiring computers, backing up files and installing more external hard drives to use this year. Was it a lot of waiting? You bet it was, but now I know that my files are all backed up from the past year and that I have drives ready for more files this year.

So as we get rolling in 2015 lets take some time to make sure our memories are backed up and saved correctly and we are ready for all the new memories this year.

Better to spend a few minutes now than hours and hours later trying to recover your memories.

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The business of photography – part 1

I have been asked a lot of these questions over and over and teach many of these in my Business of Photography Class.  For the next few months I thought that I would put out a few posts to help with the business side of things.

The first post I want to touch on some things that you should know / have BEFORE you open for business.  Some items may seem harsh but to be honest if you are taking pictures for money you should not be doing it out of a whim.  One thing to note, when I talk about the business of photography there are two distinct areas – one is shooting events like weddings, grads, family, commercial, advertising, etc.  The second is shooting nature or wildlife and selling the prints, both have their own issues to be aware of and benefits.

First thing, if you think taking great pictures is easy (that is what full auto is for, right?) and photography is a way to make a lot of quick money stop reading now as you are already in trouble!  If you are serious and want to put in the time and money to become a great photographer read on!

Business license

If you are starting a business you need a business license, as a Lethbridge photographer or any place in Alberta, Canada or most places in the world. Don’t start advertising or marketing before you get a license.  At the same time make sure that the name that you have chosen for your business is legal and is not being used. You do not want to start up a business only to get in legal trouble.  If you are doing nature and wildlife pictures you may be classified as an artist but make sure you check this out so you don’t get a nasty surprise.

Equipment

If you are taking pictures for money you are responsible for making sure that you have the equipment to do the job, this includes camera cards.  This does not mean just having a camera and a lens but having back up gear as well.  If you are in the middle of a shoot and your camera dies you are responsible to finish shooting and if you are shooting something like a wedding this means you do not have the time to leave and borrow equipment. You can rent equipment if you do not own it (if that is available in your area) but you need to have back ups.  My suggestion is to have a extra camera, lens and flash at the minimum.  As for camera cards you need to have enough storage on your cards (or have a way to download during the shoot) that you will not run out, things change during the day and a shoot that was only suppose to be a few images may become one for hundreds of images.  ALSO – you need to have enough battery power for your camera and accessories.  I have seen a number of photographers get into trouble when they ran out of batteries for their flash and could not continue.

If you are shooting nature and wild life then selling the prints your equipment needs are a little more flexible.  If you only have one camera and it dies when shooting you just head home with no images.  On the other hand nature and wildlife photographers may find that they need a lot more lenses to get the images that sell.

Knowledge

This is a BIG issue with many photographers.  Let me start by saying that you do not need to know all the intricacies of photography like what year was film developed or the technology behind a CMOS sensor, but if you are taking a photography assignment you do need to know enough to get your client excellent pictures in all situations that may come up.  This means that you need to be able to take pictures in with all types of lighting (knowing your ISO and what shutter speed and aperture you will need) , during all situations (what to do if a set of parents at a wedding are divorced or how to take a picture with a screaming 2 year old) and with a skill that will deliver a excellent product (your client wants to see a professional photographer that can take control to get the image, not a photographer that is as frustrated mess).  If you are not comfortable with shooting in a variety of situations then do not start offering your services!  Shooting on a auto mode is a quick way to get in deep trouble!!  Auto will not work in all situations and in many situations will deliver a substandard product.  One situation that I tell many students is the photographer that came to me several years ago for some printing.  As I was loading her images I asked her how long she had been a professional photographer (that is how she introduced herself).  I was told for three days, she had bought the camera 5 days before and shot her sisters wedding three days ago.  So many people commented on how much they loved the pictures, pictures that they had only seen on the cameras viewfinder, that she decided to become a professional.  All the pictures were shot on full auto in the “wedding mode”, actually it is portrait mode but this person thought it was called the wedding mode.  I printed her pictures that were very good as the lighting was easy for the camera to work with and away she went.  Two weeks later she was back and crying her eyes out.  She had just done her first wedding for money and according to her the camera broke.  What had happened was she had used the same mode as the first wedding, but the lighting was very difficult (back lite with large windows behind the wedding party) and everything was underexposed beyond fixing.  She did not know how to compensate for this and just kept shooting in the full auto mode.  I strongly recommend that if you want to do pictures for a business that you should shoot at least a dozen different events using different modes on your camera such as program, TV, SV, AV and M (so a dozen weddings, a dozen grads, a dozen family sessions) before you even think of charging or being the sole photographer (actually I would recommend a lot more, but I know most people will not listen to that).

Also for nature and wildlife photographers as well as other photographers do not believe it when friends and family say they like your pictures,  this is a sure way to get sucked in.  Many people will say they like or love pictures but it is not until people put their money out that you should believe them.  I had a person come in for my opinion on a picture, this picture was out of focus, under exposed and poorly composed – they were thinking of entering it into a contest and wanted to know what I thought.  EVERYONE in the family said that they loved it!!  I had to tell them that is was horrible, they went to another photographer and were told the same thing as I told them.  They entered it anyway as the family kept pushing them.  After a $50.00 entry fee they were told that it would not even be judge as it was not near high enough quality, and like the photographer said to me he thought it was bad but the family kept saying how good it was.  (Funny thing about this story is that the photographer had many great images and one of the images that the family did not like was a finalist in the contest).  It is easy for someone to say they love a picture and not mean it, take it for what it is worth, thank them and move on.  If you truly want to know if you are taking good pictures find a professional photographer and ask them, be prepared for praise or criticism and learn from that.

Well I hope this first part did not discourage anyone too much.  Always use what you learn to get better, be that to drive you to get more knowledge or to get more equipment.

Part 2 – Marketing your business

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Camera & Equipment prices

In the last couple of weeks I have done my share to help the economy – a new lens, monopod and an assortment of harddrives as well as a number of smaller purchases.  One thing that I have found is that prices are really variable and that shopping around sure does pay off.  Tonight I was looking at the price of a Canon 60D for a project that I have coming up, was trying to decide if I should bite the bullet and buy a newer body and battery grip or make due with my 40D’s.  I looked at several web sites from local stores to price out the 60D body, WOW what a price difference!! All the way from $1400 down to $800.00 for the body alone (these are all local stores – no US prices).  As for the battery grip the prices were all close to the same, the only exception is that one store has a different brand that is a third of the Canon price, but this is not really comparing apples to apples as it is not Canon (will do a write up on that in a minute as I was impressed with the features of the non Canon brand).

This was also true of the hard drives that I purchased, some of the stores were $75.00 or more than other stores for the same product.  At one store they were $125.00 more for the same size drive and it was only using USB 2, the other store I went to was selling USB 3  for the lower price.

So if you are looking for new equipment make sure that you are shopping around, it will save you a lot.

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External Hard Drives

Well for the past couple of weeks I have been busy backing up files and adding a couple new external hard drives to the studio.  Funny thing was that when I built my editing computer I thought that having a couple 250GB drives would be fine. Boy how fast do these fill up!! 

So I have been moving files to external drives. In addition to the standard back up drives I use for archiving I added a 2TB external work drive to the editing computer. I use this as a daily drive for files that are not ready to go to the back up. My backup drives are off 99% of the time and only get powered up when I am backing up or retrieving.  On top of this I added a 1TB WD Passport drive to transfer files from the studio to my offsite back up computer at the house.

Today when picking up another drive I had a chance to talk to a guy about hard drives. He had some good points that I thought that I would pass along.

Passport drives

The small portable drives used for transporting files. Experience a higher than normal failure rate. Many people that use them do not realize that they should be kept still when running.  They are an actual spinning hard drive and are subject to shock. To keep them running properly you should keep them still when using and on a flat surface. When not in use and transporting do so in a padded case and try not to drop.  Also, these drives are designed for occasional use. They are not built to run 10 hours a day as they do not have any cooling system in them.

External Hard drives

If you are looking for a drive that you are going to use 8 – 10 hours a day get a drive designed to cool itself with an enternal fan. Also one that stands up is better than one that lays flat.  ALSO, if you do use drives that lay flat never stack drives. Running drives build up heat and can cause problems.

A side note

If you are using any hard drive to store pictures make sure that you have a back up of some type.  I do not know how many times in a week I hear about someone loosing photos. They come in saying their drive died or something happened that wiped everything out.  I strongly recommend NEVER putting pictures on a main computer drive (the one with the operating system). Get a separate drive installed in your computer for pictures. Use an external as a back up at ALL times for the main storage drive.  If you need a back up program many drives come with one. Or look for a program such as Visa Versa Pro. That will allow you to easily back up files and over write the old files with the newer ones.

A little caution now hopefully will save a lot of lost files later!

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