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

Preparing images for print – a few hints

I have a lot of people come in and ask for suggestions for getting images ready to print, so I thought I would address this. If you are going to print images you may was well get the best quality.

The first thing to remember is that unless you balanced your monitor more than likely the image on your monitor will not match the final output.   If you are having me print your images I will correct them for you at no charge so they look the best when printed.  If you adjust the color or density do so using a layer so that when I get the image any changes that you made are not permanent, this saves blowing out highlights that cannot be recovered or correcting the color so it is beyond fixing.  If you like I can also provide you with a target to check by eye how close your monitor is.  If you want to make sure that your monitor is 100% correct the best thing to do is to buy a calibration tool and use that.

Cropping – Make sure that when you crop you do not crop too close to a subject. Remember you are more than likely going to frame the print and having the head at the edge of the print is going to be a problem when framed.

Adding signatures – Like above if you are going to frame the print make sure that you leave space around your signature.  You should have your signature at least 1 inch from the bottom or the sides.  1.5″ is better.

Black & White prints & color signatures – if you are having a print done in black & white make your signature black & white.  It looks horrible when you have a print completely B&W and this color signature in the bottom.

Density – even if you have a balanced monitor your prints will generally be displayed in a dark room, so make sure that you do not have your prints so dark that when hung on the wall they are all black.  Making your prints a little lighter than you like them on your monitor will get you a good print to hang.

Media – it makes a HUGE difference what you print your images on.  Some pictures just do not look good on gloss when other look great on gloss.  Some images should not be printed on canvas, other images pop on canvas.

Image size – size is not everything but it does play a huge part in getting a good print.  You should be cropping your images to print size @ 300DPI.  If your image is sized to a 1″x2″ at 72 DPI you will not be able to get a 20×24 from that.

 

 

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!

Black & White Printing

Black & White Printing

Well some things I miss from the olden days (food that tasted like real food, being able to talk to someone without them texting, etc, etc.), some things I do not miss (having to find a pay phone to call home when on assignment, dial up Internet, etc).  One BIG thing that I do not miss is darkrooms.  Sure there was some fun in getting a perfect print after a lot of experimentation, but it was a lot of work to mix chemicals, wash prints and hang them to dry.  One thing that I have heard from many people was that they could not get a good Black & White print with digital.  Well no more!!!  Last year I did a lot of testing with our new printer and have come up with some amazing b&w settings and media.  I found a high gloss media that makes amazing b&w’s.  True blacks (no yellow or blues mixed in), GREAT contrast and details so amazing that I do think they pass the quality of old darkroom prints.  If you want to see some samples stop by the Lethbridge studio, I have a couple printed and am working on some more samples.

Some more work with a Full (or almost full moon)

I have been having a lot of fun these past few months shooting some work with full moons, or as it has been – almost a full moon.  In the past when I have wanted to shoot with the full moon more often than not I never knew when it was going to appear, or where on the horizon, and sky, it would be till it was too late. 

Then I got my hands on The Photographer’s Ephemeris (http://photoephemeris.com) and it has helped a lot with my planning of shoots, not only for the full moon but to know what stage the moon is in and where it is in the sky so I can shoot without the moon.  The other thing that I did was to add a calendar on my tablet to let me know the stages of the moon.  Using the two of these tools it has made shooting a lot easier.

Clouds

The only problem that I have been having is that every full moon for the past several months it has been nice before the moon is full but then the day it is to be full and the days after it has been cloudy.  REALLY frustrating for trying to plan some shoots.  Add to that the light winds that we have been having and long exposures have not been fun.  The shoot shown below I had to shoot in RAW and then really add sharpening to take away from the shake of the camera and tripod because of the wind.

Moon & well
Moon & Well
Moon, Well & City Lights
Moon, Well & City Lights

Or if you want a picture without the moon and need to know that the moon will not be in the picture this is great as well.  Nothing like taking a picture with part of the moon in the picture and you did not want it there.

Oil Well
Oil Well

The other thing that I like about the programs that I am using is that I can locate the rising moon a week or more before and know exactly where the moon was going to rise.  I was always finding out too late that the moon was rising above a great landmark and I was not able to be there to catch it. A number of times I was driving home and watching the moon rise and would have loved to do a picture of the moon with something in front of it like the windmill picture below.  On my list still is to do a picture with the moon and a elevator and the moon and the reflection in a lake (one that is not frozen or with waves)

Rising Moon
Rising Moon

Depth of field

Depth of field is one area that I find people always are asking about so here are a couple pictures to help understand it a little better.

The lower/smaller the aperture

Smaller the number that you use, the shorter/narrower the depth of field.  So in the first picture I shot this using an aperture of f5.6.  Notice how the subject (the fence & wire) are sharp and the background is out of focus? Great to blur the background and to focus a viewers attention on a model or a bride.

f5.6 Narrow depth of field

In this picture I stood in the same spot but I changed the aperture to F10.  Notice how everything is in focus? This is good for groups of people or subjects that are not lined up in a perfect row. This can also cause the picture to look confusing as you do not know what the subject is. If not sure try a wide and a narrow.

F10 Wider depth of field

Using a short/narrow depth of field allows the photographer to separate the subject from the background. In a busy scene like the above images, this allows you to see the subject better. You are not be bothered by the busy background.  If you really want the effect to be dramatic then you need to get a lens that goes down to F1.8 or F2. That way you will really see the effect.

****NOTE****

Having your focus a little off with a short depth of field will show in your subject being out of focus.  A longer depth of field can cover for bad focusing, a short depth of field will show bad focusing. As mentioned before if in doubt try both.