History is not as boring as school makes it out to be!

Many times over the years when I have been either taking pictures, editing or printing I think about how what I do today would look to those that have gone before us. Not only in the photography business but also in the printing business.

What would a photographer from the 1900’s up to the 1970’s think of the cameras of today. Even the cameras that we had to shoot during the last years of film photography. What would photographers up to the late 1980’s think about digital. Or my big one what would people think about the digital editing and printing that we can do now. I tell people that if I could go back in time 50 years or more with my computer and my printer I could own the printing industry. Both for photographs and for printing of signs, posters, etc. I could do so much. With today’s equipment I would be able to do retouching & print jobs that were unheard of in years gone by. Or jobs that took days to do I could do in minutes.

Searching for my history

After my father passed away I was going through a pile of old papers he had and found some information on my grandfather. My grand father on my father’s side passed away when my dad was just a young boy. I knew very little about him but I did have the blessing to come across some military records for him. As I was reading them I found out something that was SHOCKING!!! My grandfather was a printer early on in life. Later on I found more documents that lead me to believe after he came back from the war that he was still a printer.

From my families history a military record
My grandfather’s military information

I wonder what it would be like to work along side of him printing a book in the way he did or print a poster advertising an event. Then being able to show him what I can do now. Need a poster for advertising – it would take a printer back in the 1900’s the better part of a day to layout and print. Today I can do it in a few minutes and I can make changes in seconds. Or showing someone like Ansel Adams how I could retouch, adjust and print photos in minutes that would take his darkroom tech days!

Today will be tomorrow’s history

The saying is true that history does repeat itself. I also wonder if my grandson or a great grandchild will ever go into the photography or printing trade? What will they have for technology in the future that I could only dream of today or more so I could not even think of today. It is cool to think about!

Educating your clients


Dealing with clients can suck!!!  The biggest complaint that I hear from photographers is that they get tired of fighting clients for every nickel and dime, even after being paid.  A customer will book a wedding, family, grad, etc and after paying a deposit or even paying for the entire package they will start to try and get extras, change things or try and get money back as they “don’t need this or want that”.  So to help with this issue I came up with a program a few years ago that I used when I did weddings.

Read moreEducating your clients

Are you shooting enough???

When you are taking pictures are you shooting enough images of each pose? I have the privilege of seeing a lot of AMAZING images that people bring to me to print.  I have seen pictures from just about all the local photographers and many national and international photographers.  I have to say that some of these pictures are beyond amazing!  One thing that I am seeing more and more with photographers is the lack of shots of various poses, a photographer will set up an amazing photo making sure everyone looks perfect and that the lighting is perfect then they will only shoot one or two images of that pose.  Now in reality there is nothing at all wrong with that, it is the way we did it when we shot film, we did not have the freedom to shoot 5 or 10 pictures of each pose so we would only shoot one or two.  But with digital it costs no more than a few seconds to fire off a couple extra frames of each pose.  Now before I go further I am not talking about setting your drive to warp speed and taking 200 images of every pose, that is going to the extreme the other way.  What I am talking about is taking 4, 5 or even 10 pictures (if you have a large group) to make sure that you get perfect expressions.

Last week I had a lady bring me in her daughters images on DVD as she wanted some prints.  To say that they were good is an understatement, the worst ones on this disk were better than 99% of photographers best images – I would have loved to add any of these images to my portfolio except for one thing.  The posing was perfect (ZERO room for improvement), lighting was amazing (On the entire disk I saw 1 with lighting that was not 100% perfect), lens selection was fantastic and the expressions were okay – and this is where the problems were.  Just about every image the expressions were off, like the people were caught before they had a chance to smile or they were caught just after smiling, and the worst part was that for each amazing pose there was only one image to choose from.  Every picture that this lady wanted printed she asked “Is there one with better expressions?” And there was not.  It was sad seeing this as I know that a couple more images shot of each pose and they would have been 100% perfect, and the prints would have been amazing.

This is not an isolated case as the same day I got to see another photographers work that was also great.  The client had over 100 images to select from but there was only around 25 images in total, the photographer made a B&W, a sepia, color and a color with reduced saturation of each image.  So the client kept asking me if there were better smiles and I had to say that sorry they only had 25 images from a huge family shoot to chose from and the rest were the same just different colors.

This is also something in shooting nature images that I see a lot. A photographer goes out and finds the perfect location for a picture then waits and waits for the perfect lighting to happen and they only shoot one or two images before moving one.  If you have taken the time to do all this why not try different angles, lenses, crops and exposure settings instead of only a couple images.

Again don’t go overboard when doing this but make sure that you are getting a selection from weddings, families, nature and wildlife so you get the best image possible!


The business of photography – Part 2 – Marketing: Prints, Web Sites and Email

Well now that you have gotten through part 1 of the business of photography and my less than encouraging comments lets move on to something a little more encouraging, Marketing.

This is a overlooked area when starting a business.  People think that if they take some okay pictures that word will quickly spread and clients will come beating down the door.  Well in some industries that is what would happen if you have a good product, but in photography it does not happen.   Why? Just look on advertising web sites at the number of people that are doing the same thing as you are.  So what should you do?

1 – Display Prints: First you need to set yourself apart from the crowd.  If you want people to call get some amazing prints and start showing them around.  Put them on web sites, find display space, show them to every potential customer.  Now when I say AMAZING prints I am talking about the best of your best.  Don’t show okay prints.  Don’t have any amazing prints?  Get some.  Start shooting pictures that take time to set up, use great lighting and great subjects.  For the nature people that means get out first thing in the morning or late at night to get the exceptional light.  Everybody else is showing prints shot at 1 in the afternoon with flat light, go for the amazing!

Southern alberta windmills with a full moon
Full moon rising

For the wedding and portrait photographer find poses that will blow the clients away, work on lighting and shoot, shoot, shoot. As for the size of your display prints?  A good saying to go by is “You only sell the sizes that you show”.  I have proven it time and again to people that if you only show 8×10 prints that is the maximum that you will sell, show bigger sell bigger.  People do not want to buy a large print if they do not know you can print that size.

2 – Get a web site and a real E-mailI am not talking about a Facebook page, but a real web site that you can design and modify as you like.  Facebook is not a real web site and limits a lot of what you should be doing.  Nothing wrong with having a Facebook page and your web site but you need to show clients that you are serious and not just a fly by night operation that did not even bother to spend on a real web site.  (Whoops sorry about the honesty again 🙂 )  In addition to a web site get a real E-mail address, not mike99684a54545@yahoo.ca but one that advertises your web site and shows people that once again you are a real business, one like mike@firstchoicephoto.ca shows people that you have a web site and you have taken some time to set up a business.  Whenever I get an E-mail from a company trying to sell me something the first thing I look for is do they have a real E-mail address, if it is Yahoo, Gmail or Hotmail (now Outlook) I am VERY cautious about the company.

Question – Should you spend money at this point to market you web site?  I have to say at this point no.  There is a lot more to do before you should be spending money on SEO and other marketing for your web site.  I would make sure that ANY thing you send out about your business has your web site address on it and you are letting people know about the web site but wait on the marketing of it.



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.


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.


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

Buying used – a photographers guide

Buying used can save you some money, if you are careful! Well it is that time of year again when people are looking at either buying a gift for themselves or for someone else. Many people look at used.

This can be a great way to find some good deals but a few things to be careful of:

1- Before you do anything make sure that it is what you want or need. No point in spending $600.00 on a great wide angle lens when you need a telephoto or a portrait lens to do graduations.  Also no point in buying a Nikon body if you shoot Pentax, even with it being a fantastic price.

2 – Make sure what you are buying fits the equipment that you already have and will not cause any harm.  Had a lady bring in a lens last week that was amazing. Unfortunately it was for manual focus Canon cameras (before digital) and would not work with her cameras.  Many lenses will not fit today’s cameras and if they do fit some will not work correctly or at all.  Some equipment like old studio lights will ruin your camera.  I have one set at the studio that I can use as a slave (not hooked up to a camera but triggered remotely).  If I hook it up to the camera it will fry the camera in seconds. Other things like flashes will fit the camera but they do not work correctly. I have one flash that will fire when on the camera so you think it is working. But actually it fires after the shutter has opened and closed and does no good. Had a wedding photographer bring in a beautiful flash that they were told would “fit” their camera and it did fit it. It just did not work.

Check the prices.

3 –  I see a lot of  equipment advertised as “Like new”. Problem is it is priced like it is new as well.  If the equipment has been used, has no warranty,  shows any wear or tear – it should be less than new price. It should not be the same or more. Of course if it is a unusual piece or a collectors item that is different). I just saw a package deal of camera and a couple lenses for $1100 Like new. New price today is $850.00 plus GST – something is wrong with this when you can by new cheaper than used.  Also a lot of photography equipment is listed as “collector piece” and all it is good for is as a paper weight. It is not a collector piece and you can probably buy the same thing at a second hand store for a couple dollars, not the $200 that they are asking.

4 – Try it out with your equipment and take pictures with it.  Then look at the digital files (or negatives) before buying. It may look like it works but only by closer examination will you find a problem.  I remember a client bringing in a camera package that they were going to buy. I checked it out and everything looked great.  He shot a roll of film, had it developed and found that the camera had a MAJOR light leak.

5 – Don’t rush into it. “Limited time offers” or “I have another person that wants this” is more than likely a lie. Usually is done to pressure you and many times people are trying to hide something.

If you are concerned that something is not right walk away. If it feels wrong or to good to be true it usually is.