Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Get Out There: Photography Meetup at the Butterfly Pavilion

He Survived Rosie, originally uploaded by Sheba Wheeler.

On Saturday, I met up with members of the Mile High Digital Photography School for a fun photo shoot at the Butterfly Pavilion. One of the things I love about participating in this group is that it forces me to get out and shoot for fun and experiment. This meetup definitely tested my resolve as well as my creativity!

Anyone who knows me knows that I am deathly terrified of spiders, and I'm not too keen on creepy crawly bugs such as beetles and ants either.

Rosie the Tarantula

But I found myself fascinated by those things that scared me the most, especially this hairy tarantula named Rosie. Inspite of myself, I kept going back to it and watched while people bravely allowed the arachnid to crawl on their outstretched palm. I just knew I HAD to do it!

Taking photos of the critter helped me gain some confidence and getting encouraged by my friends finally did me in. I sat down, breathing hard and heart pounding. I thought just smelling my fear alone would cause the tarantula to take a chunk out of my hand. Instead, she crawled gently across my palm. I could barely feel her. If my hand had been made of sand, I don't even think she would have left a trail in her wake. I survived Rosie!

Members of Mile High DPS Social Group

We spent the rest of the afternoon checking out the other critter displays and witnessed the release of the butterflies, taken just moments after they had emerged from their chrysalis.

Blog Monthly Assignment: Decisive Moment

All of the social group members had imagined this grandoise daydream where a staff member would open her arms, launching thousands upon thousands of butterflies into the air for a fantastical aerial display. Well, we were wrong. All the staff member did was place the butterflies on a tree where they were allowed to take flight when they were able.

Luring a Butterfly

We still got some great shots out of it, including this one image I turned in as my decisive moment entry. One of the butterflies flew and perched atop this young woman's head! She sure was a good sport about I don't think I would have been able to stop myself from smacking it off my head.

Blog Monthly Assignment: Decisive Moment

Turns out my 75-300 lens on my Canon 5D was not a good choice for this shoot. I was unable to get as close as I wanted to get to an object because of the minimal focusing distance (even though the lens touts itself as a macro lens). There were simply too many people vying for the same space in such a small area, and I didn't have enough room to get to a focusing range my telephoto wanted. It beeped at me most of the evening, refusing to shoot at all in some instances. I may have done much better to shoot with my XTi (which has a dedicated macro setting). Can't wait to go again and get more practice. Part of being a successful photographer is knowing what gear to use in what shooting situation!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

An Aside: Meet the New Man in My Life

A Smooch from Daddy, originally uploaded by Sheba Wheeler.

I know I promised a blog post about fine tuning my business plan on Sunday. But my sister blessed me with the best gift ever for Christmas this year that kept me busy all weekend -- a surprise visit to Denver with her son and my new nephew, 8-month old Eli! Turns out the best present had nothing to do with coveted photo equipment, but instead was time well spent with family. My sister lives in Texas, and I had yet to meet Eli (short for Elijah), so I’m sure you can understand my absolute excitement when I got the local phone call, showing that my sister was indeed in Denver with the baby.

After our mother’s untimely death in 2005 at the age of 48, I wasn’t sure if I would ever see my sister would ever truly smile again. The tragedy sparked my passion for photography, but my sister was lost, given that she was only 17 at the time, and it would take her longer to find her new place in the world. Now, there is definitely a light sparkling in her eye since she has her life to share with Eli, and I know his birth will lead to new life and meaning for my sister in other ways as well.

Now, back to the photography part of this post:
To get this image, I told AJ, Eli’s father, to just play with his son and pretend I wasn’t there snapping away like a mad woman. I love this simple image of a smooch between father and son. But I wanted to add something new to the old-standby pose. In this case, it was a cool new Photoshop action that made the photo black and white with an almost golden tint.

An action is a series of tasks that you play back on a single file or a batch of files - menu commands, palette options, tool actions, and so on. You can create an action that changes the size of an image, applies a filter to the image for a particular effect, and then saves the file in the desired format. I had fun all weekend playing with the actions.

I’m still very new to photoshop actions, but the options they present are almost infinite when you combine them with your own post processing workflow. Do a random Google search of “free photoshop actions," and download some today to take your imagery to a new level.

Monday, December 29, 2008

VOTE NOW For December's Photo Assignment: "THE DECISIVE MOMENT"

The polls are open! Please vote now for the best interpretation of December's photo assignment: THE DECISIVE MOMENT.

Inspite of the busy holiday season, the blog received four excellent entries for this difficult subject. So show them some love by voting today!

Instructor's Tip: Ice and Snow Shots

Image by Russ Burden

Enjoy this week's "Instructor's Tip" by one of my favorite instructors, award winning nature photographer Russ Burden. To learn more about how Russ captured this image, join him on one of his photo tours. Visit Russ Burden Photography to get more information.

Ice and Snow Shots
Winter is upon us and the opportunities for snow and ice shots abound. Too many photographers put their cameras into hibernation this time of year. This is a mistake as many great images await the photographer who is prepared for the cold.

EXPOSURE - Meters are calibrated to reproduce what the lens sees as eighteen percent gray in the finished picture. In the end, this translates to gray snow. In order to prevent this, you may to need to dial in plus compensation. The amount is dictated by how much pure white is in the composition. Be sure to check the “Blinkies” and your histogram to get the optimum exposure. .

COLD - It’s essential to keep yourself and camera warm so you are able to operate when it’s cold. Dressing in layers is important because as the sun starts to warm the day, you can peel them off to maintain a given level of warmth without sweating. A hat and light gloves are mandatory as a lot of body heat is lost through the head and cold fingers will surely drive you indoors. Fleece socks and warm boots are beneficial. Give your camera the same attention. A pocket warmer taped to the area around the battery compartment will help keep the camera running. Keeping it inside your warm jacket when not in use will extend the life of the battery.

To take a class with Russ or a fellow Digital Photo Academy instructor in your area, check out the Digital Photo Academy. I took Russ' intermediate and advanced courses last year, and he continues to be a strong source of knowledge and encouragement as I progress in my photography.

Don't forget to check Take Great Pictures for Russ' most recent tips. On the home page, click on the "Photo Tips And Techniques" button in the left hand column. Additionally, check out his "Digital Tip of the Month" found by clicking on the Digital Photography button.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Saturday Morning Cartoons

Enjoy today's installment of Aaron Johnson's photocentric comic strip "What the Duck." The popular comic is celebrating it's 2nd year anniversary. Congratulations Aaron! And thank you for encouraging me and others to seek comfort in our sense of humor when the ebbs and flows of the photography business threaten to overwhelm us. The comic is available now for syndication as "W.T. Duck," appearing in a local newspaper near you!

This Weekend: Photo Meetup and Crafting My Business Plan

Later this afternoon, I will be meeting with several of my friends and photographic colleagues from the Mile High DPS Social Group. Together, this group has shared some memorable outings photographing the majestic, rocky crevices of the Garden of the Gods, zombies attacking downtown Denver patrons, colorful city holiday lights, and each other when our model decided not to show to her own photo shoot. Today, our subject will be butterflies taking flight at the Butterfly Pavilion. I am hoping to nail my entry for this month's blog photo assignment DECISIVE MOMENT while shooting at this event. A macro lens and wide aperture will be a must to get images similar to the one above and left, taken by my instructor and award-winning nature photographer Russ Burden.

The only thing the group needs more of is...well, you! We want to continue growing the social group, so membership rolls are open. To join, you have to be a member of the Digital Photography School forum, which in itself is a wonderful resource and has helped me on many an occasion to prepare for photo sessions and get advice on the business nuances of my photography studio. Once you join the forum, go to the navigational bar at the top of the page and click on QUICK LINKS. Scroll down to NETWORKING-SOCIAL GROUPS and become a member of the Mile High DPS Social Group. Our group is definitely one of the most active on the forum.


Tomorrow, I will be posting about the creation of my business plan for 2009. It's been a long time in coming. But I finally met with photographer and business manager expert Jim Turley to hammer out the details. Jim runs Sweet Water Images and teaches a "Passion + Profits" business management course at Illuminate Workshops.

If a photographer wants to catapult a passion into a livelihood, a business plan, profit and loss statement and effective marketing are essential. I found out it wasn't nearly as complicated as I had feared and that I had already been doing things and conceptualizing plans naturally that will help my business grow. Putting the plan down on paper and using it as a guideline to help gauge my profits will be essential to my ultimate goal of leveraging some investments from outside sourcing and creating a model that includes hiring other photographers to work under the Picture Your World Photography brand.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Get the Job Done: "Best Gift Ever!"

I got an email from my last boudoir photography client and the verdict is in: Her husband said his surprise CD of her sensual photo session was "the best gift ever!"

If you remember, my client's husband is serving in the War. Tired of hearing about how "hot the girls were in the Maxim magazines," my client said she wanted to give her husband a reminder of what he had waiting for him at home! And oh boy did she! Maxim ain't got nuthin on her:

"(he) finally opened his "Christmas present." I was able to video conference with him, and the look on his face was priceless! He loves them. He wants me to take more and he even has new outfit requests. LOL He said that he really wants to show them off, but at the same time he doesn't want any other guy looking at his wife. He can't stop talking
about them, and I know this is one Christmas gift he will never forget."

I am so glad I got to participate in this wonderful and memorable experience for my client and her husband, and I can't wait until our next session.

On Deadline: Monthly Assignment Due Sunday by Midnight!

You are officially On Deadline! Submissions for this month's blog photo assignment, THE DECISIVE MOMENT, is due in to my email by midnight on Sunday.

Send your entries to, sized no larger than 800 on the longest side, and please include a link to your business website, Flickr account or any other site to help promote your photography.

Good luck!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Get the Goods: My Holiday Wish List

Hope never dies. At least that must be the thing that's driving my holiday wish list, because Lord knows I can't afford anything on this list right now ;) But if Santa were in a giving mood, here's what I would be asking for:

PHOTOGRAPHY CLASSES: The educational opportunities to improve my photography skills seem almost endless in this wonderful creative age of digital technology. I am still loving every new technique I'm learning in Photoshop and have yet to truly begin my Lightroom studies. High on my wish list is classes with Illuminate Photography Workshop, Denver Darkroom and Digital Photo Academy, all of which have contributed to the solid foundation in photography I have gained over the past year.

GEAR: The Canon 24-70 2.8 is the missing tool in my gear bag. I've got the wide angles covered with my Canon 16-35 2.8 as well as the long distance shooting with a 70-200 2.8. All are great lenses to use in poor or low light situations, which seems to be the majority of situations I and other photogs find themselves in! The 24-70 would be a great everyday, mid-range lens to add to my photographic arsenal. The trouble is this though: I'm having a hard time finding one locally and all the ones I see online are for sale. That usually means a new similar lens is probably either in production or just about ready to be released!

NATURE PHOTO TOUR with Russ Burden Photography. Last week I posted about taking more time out to shoot for fun and experimentation. It's easy to get overwhelmed with the business aspects of your studio, trying to satisfy clients and keep a constant stream of income. You can lose focus of the simple joys and wonders of photography. Since my business specializes in people, events and portraiture, I shoot landscapes and cityscapes for fun. What's great about a tour with Russ is that he takes you to some truly unforgettable locations in national parks such as Yellowstone and Bryce Canyon. His knowledge of these sites (including the best times to shoot and the wild life you will encounter) combined with his passion and experience as a professional photographer makes for a great adventure.

SCRIM JIM: I have been coveting the Westcott 72 x 72" Scrim Jim Standard Kit ever since I saw photographers featured in the Photovision Educational DVDs using them in studio and location shoots. I have one of those 5-1 circular reflectors with a stand to hold it, but the stand always seems to keel over unless I use a sandbag (or an assistant) to hold it steady. The Scrim Jim diffusion and reflection system is collapsible and stands on its own because of a lightweight framing system, but is durable enough to withstand strong winds.

ROLLING CAMERA BAG: Either I'm getting old and back more worn out or my camera bag is just too darn heavy. Every new piece of equipment makes my old Tamron camera bag harder and harder to lug around. When I saw other photographers gracefully rolling their camera bags while we were shooting the holiday lights in Denver, I could barely stop salivating. I've got my eye on the M-Rock 524 McKinley Rolling Backpack. It comes with a telescope handle, large wheels and room for my 17-inch Mac Book Pro. It's not cheap, but it will save me sore back and arm muscles!

SOFTWARE: For the last month, I've been trying out free downloads of onOne Software Photoshop plugins, and I've fallen in love. They solve common and often time consuming photographic issues such as masking, enlarging and color correcting, but what I've really enjoyed playing around with is the professional effects and actions you get from award winning photogs like Kevin Kubota. It's easy to layer one affect on top of another for customized looks. I've only recently gotten into layers and using frames and edges to enhance images too. The Professional Photographers of America association gave all of its new members the Photo Toolbox CD as a free gift from Graphic Authority featuring frames, edges, brushes and drop and drag templates for cool affects.

And if I can't get any of this (at least anytime soon) then I will pray and hope for good light because that is still the essence of great photographer, and it's completely free if you know how to use it! Happy Holidays everyone!

Monday, December 22, 2008

From My Portfolio

This is one of my favorite photos taken during the Denver Digital Photography Holiday Lights meet-up earlier this month. One of the city's annual holiday traditions is to decorate the Denver City and County Building to the nines. Because it happens every year, it makes it difficult to get a shot of this common subject that hasn't been taken before. But one of my personal challenges for the evening was to capture something unexpected.

Photo instructor Russ Burden's favorite technique is to "exhaust all possibilities." He achieves this by taking numerous photos of the same subject using different lens. And he moves around the area or subject he's shooting, taking a photos from all different angles, directions and perspectives. When he's done, he has several photos to choose from that tell the "story" he wishes to portray about that subject.

With that in mind, I moved up behind this great display of Santa on his sleigh with the reindeer. Using my tripod, I moved around the display shooting from different perspectives, sometimes trying to shoot above
Santa, then below him, then to the side of him. I changed up my apertures to experiment with depth of field, and I used different lens to see how I might "tell this story" better. My idea was: how does Santa view the world when he's making his rounds on Christmas Eve? Sometimes I focused on Santa's head; other times I shot focusing on the reindeer with Santa blurred.

Out of about five photographs I shot, I liked this one the best. It makes Santa "look" as if he's checking out the lighting display himself. I like that the building is blurred putting the focus on Santa's head, and that we can't see Santa's face. Maybe he is taking a breather before he heads out to some far place to deliver gifts. It leaves room for the viewer to create their own interpretation, and that's pretty cool.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Growing Pains: New Business Slogan?

I have watched "I am Legend" at least six times (especially since it's been playing on HBO!), and every time I get something new out of it that I didn't catch before. Now, I wonder if I may finally have a slogan for my business:

"Light Up the Darkness." What do you think???? I like the dual meanings of bringing life and goodness to the world as well as using lights creatively to enhance photographic composition.....hmmm.

I've been doing a ton of research on developing my business plan, a logo and a brand in general. An article by photographer Sarah Petty in Professional Photographer Magazine talked about "owning your brand;" marketing to distinguish yourself and creating tag lines like:

"have a Coke and a smile"
"we bring good things to life"
"because you are worth it"

Petty shared a list of ways to help entrepreneurs brainstorm a business slogan:
1. Carry a creative journal at all times to sketch images and jot down ideas and words as they pop into your mind. They become a stockpile of prompts when you sit down to brainstorm.

2. Keep a running list of words that evoke emotion. If your wedding client says something warm and fuzzy during your presentation, write it down.

3. Subscribe to magazines (tax-deductible business expenses!). You never know when you can spark an idea from Rachael Ray’s Everyday or Real Simple. As you go through them, write down words, phrases, advertising and article headlines in your creative journal. You can’t steal someone else’s line, but you can farm the inspiration.

4. Read the copy in catalogs and awaken your inner copywriter. The Land of Nod and Sundance catalogs are two of my favorites. Get on mailing lists of companies who market beautiful and expensive products.

5. Ask friends, family, clients and prospects what they think makes you different. Ask new clients to put into words what brought them to you. Write it down immediately.

6. Reading kids’ books puts me in the playful place I need to be when I’m writing emotional copy.

7. Find the time of day or place where you feel the most creative. If you do your best thinking at a computer, transfer your journal notes daily.

8. Most truly creative people need to find inspiration, too, so they become sponges of the world around them— flowers, buildings, clothing tags, in-store signage, store windows, fonts, color combinations, textures.

9. Travel. Observe, even the pretzel packaging on the airline’s snack. You never know what little element will inspire you.

I love watching movies, and I can draw insight from great ones. Since I'm a reporter, I don't go far without having a pen and paper near by. So when I heard that phrase uttered in the movie "I am Legend," it resonated with me differently than it had all the other times. I don't know why. Maybe I'm just at this point in my life when I think the world needs more light in this time of financial and hence emotional darkness. I wrote the phrase down and started to think about how it could correlate to my photography.

In my photography, I've noticed that I often center subjects in front of a dark background. Common portrait techniques explain that a photographer should use a hair light or a light shining on the background to separate the subject from the background. But I don't do it, choosing instead to have the subject appear as if he or she is stepping forward out of the darkness. I think it makes the subject seem more mysterious. I like the idea that I have just thrown a light on them, capturing who they are in that one moment. Oh well, maybe I'm just being overly sentimental this morning. If I still think this way by this time tomorrow, then maybe I am on to something. :)

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Saturday Morning Cartoons

Enjoy today's installment of Aaron Johnson's photocentric comic strip "What the Duck." The popular comic is celebrating it's 2nd year anniversary. Congratulations Aaron! And thank you for encouraging me and others to seek comfort in our sense of humor when the ebbs and flows of the photography business threaten to overwhelm us. The comic is available now for syndication as "W.T. Duck," appearing in a local newspaper near you!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Get Connected: Home Studio Session

Last night I had several photography friends over for a shoot in my home studio. Unfortunately, our model didn't show. But that didn't stop Christine Tydingco, Sean Donnelly, and Jeffrey Bennett. Instead, we all used each other as models as we experimented with different lighting techniques, trying to duplicate set-ups we read in the book, "Master Lighting Guide for Portrait Photographers." I love this book because it shows diagrams for setting up your lights to achieve affects such as broad, butterfly and high key portrait lighting. It was fun spending time and learning with other photographers in such a cozy setting.

Without the pressure of performance or trying to satisfy a client, I felt freer to experiment. It was OK to make a mistake or try something new even if it didn't work. Photographers, especially those aspiring professionals, semi- and pro photogs, should take the time to shoot for themselves and tap into that spirit of excitement that got us on this path to begin with. I had been wanting to play around with long exposures and lighting with a single candle, and last night was my shot to try it out.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Get the Job Done: Creative Post Processing with Photoshop

I recently posted about getting more adventurous in my photo post processing now that I've got several Photoshop classes under my belt. Here is the final composite of the family portrait shot I took of the Newell Family at the South Platte River in Denver. I want to thank Armando Martinez, owner of the Mando-Matic retouching studio, for walking me through the steps to correct some issues I had with the original image, including a distracting background element (a bridge) and faces turned the wrong direction when I pushed the shutter.

Here is the BEFORE, RAW unprocessed image. After I carefully posed the family on the rocks near the river, Tristan got distracted and turned his head:

Here is the MID-AFTER processed shot where I copied a portion of Tristan's face from another photo looking straight ahead at me and placed it on top of the other image. This shot also includes some normal curve adjustments and portrait glamour work to even out the skin tones, brighten eyes and whiten teeth.

After: Step One

I carefully selected a portion of Tristan's face that included his eyes, his noise, lips and rosy cheeks, feathering the selection so the edges would blend in seamlessly and copied it. Then I dragged that selection onto the other original photo, which automatically created a new layer.

As it turned out, the new image of Tristan's face was much larger than the original, so I had to use the Free Transform mode (under "Edit") to reshape the face and fit it smoothly over the original. I combined the layers and healed the edges of the new selected face to make sure it blended with the existing head. I also replaced the bridge in the upper left hand frame with more autumn leaves.

As I thought, I still wasn't done with the image. I needed to get rid of that bridge and the more I looked at Liam's face, the more I realized that I wanted his eyes looking at me. I used the same steps to replace Liam's face. I "pulled down" Tristan's pants, so to speak using the clone and heal tool. Then I used some of the techniques I learned during Armando's Photoshop 2 class to blend aspects of images using quick mask selections and the darken mode.

Armando allowed me to use this image he took of a blue sky with puffy clouds:

1) In a new layer, I selected the background behind the family with a quick mask. I tried using the magic wand at first, but it was too difficult to select around hair. Using the brush in the quick mask mode gives you more control. I used the clone tool to copy portions of the sky into my image. Then I used the "darken mode" on the entire layer to help the sky blend in more.

2) To keep the sky in perspective to distance from the subjects, I used guassian blur to fade the sky a little bit, making it appear further away from the subjects.

I am glad I put so much effort into this image because as it turns out that is the one they want for their holiday cards! :)
To learn more about how to use Photoshop to enhance your pictures, take a class with Armando at Illuminate Workshops.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Get the Job Done: Tips for Great Holiday Photos

Yesterday, I received this great news pitch asking the Denver Post to print ideas about how to take great holiday photos from Alyse Liebowitz of 3 Chicks That Click. I thought it would be helpful to post it on my blog as well. 3 Chicks bring more than 40 years of combined experience in wedding, portrait, celebrity, and event photography to clients in the New York/New Jersey metro area. Their images have appeared in publications such as People, Teen Vogue, Rolling Stone, US Weekly, In Touch, OK!, TV Guide, and Life & Style.

Tips for great holiday photos include:

-Good lighting is essential to add dimension and depth to an image. In general, the light source should be behind the photographer. If shooting in front of a wall, the subjects should be about 2 feet from it to avoid shadows on the wall behind them.

-When composing a shot, don't zoom in too closely. Leave enough room "around" the subject(s) so you can crop the image to different sizes if you choose. Remember, you can always crop IN, but you can't crop out

-Clothing - for portraits, avoid busy patterns and logos. Solid colors work best, or choose a very simple pattern. For women, basic makeup and small pieces of jewelry will highlight their look. Men look best clean-shaven, unless they already have a full beard. Makeup, clothing, and jewelry should enhance the subject, not pull the viewer's eye toward those items in the final image.

-Most people look best when their body is turned slightly to the side, not facing the camera directly. It's a slimming effect that works well on all body types. Be sure your face is still turned toward the camera! If there are a lot of people in the shot, remember - if someone can't see the photographer, the photographer can't see him/her.

-Children can be a challenge if they're not particularly cooperative in having their picture taken. Try to get them interested by letting them take a few pictures first, showing them how they look in display mode (if you're using a digital camera), and letting them set up a few poses for the family.

-Ask your photographer to take a few test shots to help you relax. Hopefully the photographer has a good sense of humor, as a natural laugh is a much better expression than a forced smile.

-Above all, try to relax and have a good time. If you schedule a professional session and you or your family isn't feeling well, rescheduling may be the best idea. This should be a fun experience.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Full Cold Moon

The Full Cold Moon, originally uploaded by Sheba Wheeler.

Last week I posted about "The Full Cold Moon" which appears in December. Here is a shot that I took of it during a Denver Digital Photography Meetup featuring holiday lights in the city.

I have always marveled at others' successful moon shots. I could never seem to capture a decent one. Turns out my Canon 70-200 2.8 was the missing element. No other lens I had was bright enough or had enough range to get this much detail. I can't wait to get a teleconverter to bump up that range to at least 400 mm or more so I can get even more detail in the craters.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Instructor's Tip: Add People for Impact

Image by Russ Burden

Enjoy this week's "Instructor's Tip" by one of my favorite instructors, award winning nature photographer Russ Burden. To learn more about how Russ captured this image, join him on one of his photo tours. Visit Russ Burden Photography to get more information.

Add People for Impact
When it comes to photographing people, portraiture is often the first word that comes to mind. This brings thoughts of face shots, head and shoulder images, and even full length body photos. But people photography doesn’t need to be restricted to these criteria. Strong images can be made where a person is secondary in size to the overall composition. So much so, great images can be made where the person takes up less than five percent of the photo yet is an integral component.

I like to incorporate people into my landscape pictures as they tend to be better sellers. Before I decide whether or not I want to do this, I first determine if the composition is strong enough as a stand alone image. If the answer is yes, I study the composition to decide upon a strategic placement of the subject. This often turns out to be one of the power points or what is referred to as the rule of thirds. Power points fall at intersecting lines of an imaginary tic tac toe board drawn over the viewfinder. Placing the subject at one of these intersections adds strength to the image and prevents a bulls eyed center of interest.


To take a class with Russ or a fellow Digital Photo Academy instructor in your area, check out the Digital Photo Academy. I took Russ' intermediate and advanced courses last year, and he continues to be a strong source of knowledge and encouragement as I progress in my photography.

Don't forget to check Take Great Pictures for Russ' most recent tips. On the home page, click on the "Photo Tips And Techniques" button in the left hand column. Additionally, check out his "Digital Tip of the Month" found by clicking on the Digital Photography button.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Saturday Morning Cartoons

Enjoy today's installment of Aaron Johnson's photocentric comic strip "What the Duck." The popular comic is celebrating it's 2nd year anniversary. Congratulations Aaron! And thank you for encouraging me and others to seek comfort in our sense of humor when the ebbs and flows of the photography business threaten to overwhelm us. The comic is available now for syndication as "W.T. Duck," appearing in a local newspaper near you!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Get Out There: Shooting by the light of the Full Cold Moon

Today a full moon will grace the skies in Denver, making for a wonderful night photo opportunity. Hopefully it will light up your skies where ever you live too! Known as "The Full Cold Moon," December is the month "when the winter cold fastens its grip and the nights become long and dark," according to the Old Farmer's Almanac. The moon is also called, "The Moon before Yule," or "The Long Nights Moon" by some Native American tribes. The term is appropro because the midwinter night is indeed long and because the moon is above the horizon for a long time.

A bright moon should make for some great captures of the Denver City and County Building tonight when I join several other photographers during a digital photo meet up. Don't be intimidated by night photography. I let those baseless fears keep me away from it for far too long. Once I finally got up the nerve to attend a night photography workshop with Illuminate Photography Workshops, I LOVED it! Watch this video on the Digital Photography School forum to get some tips for shooting in the dark. There's a very different world out there when the sun goes down...learn how to capture it!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Get the Goods: Tips on Camera Shopping

Over the weekend, I got a great email from "Digi Pixels" with Ritz Pix featuring tips on camera shopping.

Here is Digi's Photo Tip No. 61:

The gift-giving season is upon us! Have you made your list and checked it twice? I have a great suggestion…a digital camera! You might say, "There are so many to choose from -- which one should I buy, Digi?" Well, I'm glad you asked! Read on for some tips for buying a digital camera this holiday season...

Point and Shoot vs. DSLR
Before going to the camera store, ask yourself, "what kind of pictures will so-and-so be taking?" If they are more likely to take party shots and candids, then a point and shoot camera is probably the best bet. If they will be taking more advanced photos and are serious (or at least, mildly interested) about the craft of photography, then you should look into getting them a DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) camera. Here are the differences between the two:

Point and Shoot – These are smaller cameras with a fixed lens and built in flash, and typically are pocket-size cameras.
DSLR – These cameras allow you to look through a lens and shoot. You can change lenses, use an external flash, and have more control over advanced features and settings. Typically, DSLR cameras are larger and more expensive.
Additional Questions to Ask
Once you decide between the two basic camera types, ask yourself the following additional questions. Go to the store prepared to tell the clerk exactly what features you must have and what you can live without:

Will the person you are buying for use mostly automatic settings, manual settings, or a mix? Most Point and Shoot and DSLR cameras provide options for both auto and manual settings, but DSLR cameras provide more control and are more advanced in general.

How much zooming will you need? Do you need telephoto lenses?DSLR cameras allow you to use various lenses, while Point and Shoot cameras come with a built in lens that usually cannot be changed. Keep in mind that some extreme zooms produce a lower quality image.

Is a built in flash enough or do you need to be able to use an external flash? Point and Shoot cameras usually have a built in flash and probably cannot be connected to an external flash, while DSLR cameras allow you to use an external flash (as well as other hardware accessories). An external flash is always better than a built in flash because it provides better lighting and more control.

Does the camera fit the person's hands? If the person you are buying for has large hands then a small camera may be hard for them to operate and adjust. Point and Shoot cameras are typically smaller, while the DSLR cameras are larger and require you to carry them by hand or in a case.

Is the viewing screen big enough? Larger viewing screens allow for easier viewing and shooting but may not always be necessary depending on the situation. Viewing screen sizes vary on both camera types.

Don't forget about accessories: memory card, tripod, protective case, batteries, etc.

Don't get caught up in "Megapixel Mania!"
Most cameras nowadays come with at least 5 megapixels, which is more than enough for an 11x14 print. If you think the person you are buying for will be ordering large prints frequently, then you may want to look into a camera with a higher megapixel range. But if the person will be printing mostly 4x6 prints, do not spend more money to get more megapixels. Higher megapixel images take up more room on a memory card, so more megapixels may in fact be disadvantageous in some situations. The bottom line is to look at the lifestyle of the person you are buying for and decide based on that.

I hope this helps you decide which camera to buy this holiday season! Next time we'll look at how to take beautiful photos of Holiday light displays. Until then, have fun shopping, and Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Get the Goods: Should I Outsource My Printing Services or Change to an Inside Job?

I've been making plans in my budget to purchase a professional Canon printer in hope of boosting impulse sales during presentations, but an email I got today from the Professional Photographer Magazine gave me some pause. In his article Andrew Darlow made the case that it might save me more time and money if I print my images myself, but it's also a good idea to consider other costs involved in in-house printer before I spend $1,000 or so on printing. Actual costs must also be calculated in the time and effort it takes to prepare files, hand-feed sheets, load rolls of canvas, trimming and mounting prints and the cost of ink.

I use Wolf Camera for all of my printing needs because they haven't failed me yet. Darlow suggests finding a fine-art inkjet studio dedicated to printing online, or using the Digital-FineArt Yahoo Group that he moderates to find vendors and sponsors.

He adds that many studios are owned by photographers who print for themselves

Try using this tips excerpted from Darlow's book, "301 Inkjet Tips and Techniques: An Essential Printing Resource for Photographers:"

TIP 13
Ask for a sample print.
Many companies are happy to send you a sample print at no charge, or they will sometimes charge a nominal fee to send a sample. Some will even print your full image (or a portion of an image) on a few different papers at a discounted rate if you are interested in possibly using their services.

TIP 14
Visit in person if possible.
The best way to get a feel for a printing company is to see their facilities in person. The most valuable part of this type of visit is to see sample prints that they’ve done for other artists. Working on-site also allows you to proof images under the lighting that your printmaker uses, which will generally be very consistent (such as a 5,000 Kelvin light box). Some printmakers have more than one lighting setup, which is even better because it allows you to see how your work will look in different situations. For example, at Fine Print Imaging in Fort Collins, Colo., you can review your prints under typical gallery lighting (using 3,500–4,000K halogen spotlights), or in lighting that simulates the walls of a typical home with daylight streaming in through windows (about 5,000K), or even under typical office lighting (overhead warm white fluorescent lights).

TIP 15 Match your lighting.
If you can’t work on-site with your fine art printmaker, it is important that you view your prints in a similar quality of light. For example, you can view your images in a darkened room in your home or studio, with the same quantity and type of bulbs focused on your prints, and from the same distance and angle as your printmaker does in his studio. This may require you to invest in a color-corrected light box, or you and your printmaker can both use a high quality set of halogen lamps. One well regarded manufacturer is SoLux. Their bulbs come in a range of color temperatures and beam spreads, from narrow spot to flood, and they also make fixtures and lamps that are well-suited to their bulbs. See Chapter 14, “Packing, Lighting, and Framing,” for more on this topic.

TIP 16
Buy a smaller version of a similar printer.
To reduce the cost and time spent proofing projects, consider buying a printer that is similar to the one your printmaker is using. An example would be for you to purchase an Epson Stylus Photo R2880 (13-inch) if your printmaker has an Epson Stylus Pro 9880 (44-inch) because both use the exact same inks. Other examples of two-printer models that use the same inks are the Canon imagePROGRAF iPF5000 (17-inch) and the Canon imagePROGRAF iPF9000 (60-inch) and the HP Photosmart Pro B9180 (13-inch) and the HP Designjet Z2100 (24- or 44-inch).

It’s also important that each set of printers be calibrated and profiled. Even though the paper and ink used are the same with each set of printers, some differences in color and density are to be expected. However, there are some techniques that can help you make your prints more closely match those of your printmaker. See Chapter 4, “Color Management & Driver Tips,” for techniques related to this topic.

TIP 17
Ask your printmaker to keep a sample of each approved image.
If you plan to print a specific image again as part of an edition, ask your printmaker to keep a sample print of the final approved image and keep one on file yourself. If you’d like to have very tight control over your images (in other words, if you would like to only have a specific number of final prints in circulation), you can write with an ink-based pen or marker, in one or more areas of the sample, print the words “Test Print—not for sale.” Even a year or more after the first prints are made, the sample can be taken out of storage and used as a reference without having to send your printmaker a print. See Chapter 13, “Exhibitions, Editioning, and Image Tracking,” for more about creating editions of prints.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Get the Job Done: The Testimonial That Made Me Cry


Speaking of thanks, I think the heartfelt email I received from my last client, Christine, was one of the best I have ever received. It made me tear up and reiterated exactly why I am a portrait photographer. In her letter, Christine wrote, "Some day, I would love to be someone's Sheba," meaning she wants to be the photographer helping someone else realize their inner and outer beauty. It's what I want for myself you be loved and treasured for who I am inside and out. I think I just project that universal desire to my clients, and they respond to it.

Thank you Christine for choosing to work with me. And as far as being my assistant..well, are you busy on Monday? I've got an assignment at Auraria campus and could sure use your help! ;)


So I have to begin by saying, "thank you." The pictures look amazing
and I couldn't be happier. You went above and beyond to accommodate my
unique situation and I appreciate it from the bottom of my heart (I'm
sure the Hubby will too).

Ever since our photo session I have been driven to take my photography
hobby to the next level. Jumping into this industry is quite
frightening and it sometimes feels like people are looking at you like
you don't have any business being there. You gave me advice and even
shared some tips about where to start, all of which I truly
appreciate. Becoming a photographer has always been in the back of my
mind and after working with you, I feel like its more attainable then

Please let me know if there is a shoot that I can help out with and
I'll be there.

Some day I would love to be someone's Sheba :) In the mean time I will
be reffering all my friends to you. I even hope you can take our
family portrait when hubby gets back from Iraq.

You really are the best and I can't wait to hang out to learn more."


Sunday, December 7, 2008

Growing Pains: The Power of Thank You

A recent PPA Vital Signs business newsletter resonated with me because it reminded me of a very simple mannerism that I have not been using in my business: saying "thank you." Now of course, I express gratitude to my clients for choosing to work with me during and after the shoot, but the article "Expressing Gratitude and Meaning It" taught me that I could be doing more to strengthen the personal relationships that are the foundation of a good business. I need to make creating and sending thank-you notes an essential part of my workflow.

I am considering sending my clients one free high resolution download of my favorite image from their session as my thank you; and because I am social, I really like the idea of having a customer appreciation party. Or I may just give personalized thank yous based on what the client needs. For example, I gave Kim several low resolution downloads of her favorite images to post on her website chronicling her wedding.

I did some research online and found this great example of photo thank you cards at Photo Card Creations. I love the look of these cards as well as the numerous templates to choose from.

But I may also take advantage of the new cards offered by Smugmug.

I am reprinting the newsletter article here on my blog. Thank you Professional Photographers of America for sharing the tools to make my business as well as others healthy and prospering! The money I spend to be a member is money well spent!

"Expressing Gratitude and Meaning It"

When you express sincere thanks, it makes someone stop and think about you. Showing gratitude is a way to keep your business “top of mind.” When you let someone know that you appreciate the fact they chose your business to capture a special moment or partner with you for referrals, you strengthen the bond you hopefully have already established. And this bond pays dividends: more repeat business and more new referrals.

You’ve probably heard this statistic: it costs six times more to get a new customer than to keep an existing one. Thanking your existing clients can actually save you money in your marketing budget!

Who Do You Thank?
It doesn’t matter what type of photography business you own—commercial, portrait, wedding, or sports—you have a lot of people to thank. Not only should you acknowledge your existing clients, you should also show your appreciation of your cooperative marketing partners, your vendors, and your referral network.

For wedding photographers, your “circle of gratitude” will encompass not only your previous clients, but the wedding coordinators, the wedding locations’ event management, the caterers, the florists…anyone who helped to make a bride’s special day memorable. Granted, they didn’t do anything for you. But by letting them know it was a pleasure to work with them in creating a beautiful wedding day, you foster a sense of camaraderie. The next time someone asks for a recommendation for a professional photographer…your name is more likely to be mentioned.

Commercial photographers will obviously thank the ad agency or direct client, but don’t forget that your “circle of gratitude” extends out to include assistants, anyone involved in production or post-production outside the studio, and the individual who may have recommended you for the shoot.

There will always be a few people who you won’t want to thank, and for a good reason. These may be your “problem clients” or individuals (or companies) with whom you would never do business again. Think hard before you cross them off your list, though, because they still may bring you referrals. (However, it is YOUR choice to send a thank you—it’s not an obligation. If you just can’t get yourself to thank these people, then don’t do it.)

How Do You Express Your Gratitude?
Two simple rules: be sincere and be memorable.

What’s worse than not receiving an acknowledgement of gratitude? Receiving one that smacks of falsehood, or is so impersonal that it doesn’t matter. We’ve all received one or two generic thank-you notes in our life, and perhaps we’ve even sent one or two that may not have been entirely heartfelt. (After all, you dutifully sent Aunt Jane a thank you for that Pepto-Bismol colored sweater that you’ll never wear!)

Be sincere in your message. Let them know you appreciate that they placed their trust in you to create memorable images. You want to make it as personal as possible: include their names or even an observation that makes the thank-you note sound less standard. Don’t try to sell to them in the thank-you note, either. Just let them know it was your pleasure to be a part of that experience.

It can be a struggle to make a thank-you note memorable. Often, these notes may get tossed in the garbage after being read…and quickly forgotten. You want something that they’ll keep, show to others, and remind them of your products and services.

For example, one wedding photographer selects a photo that wasn’t included in the package, and includes that image in her thank-you note. (You can purchase pre-cut photo cards for this purpose.) Many vendors offer innovative products that place your images on items like magnets, keychains, mugs, etc. If you purchased a personalized promotional product for $10 and sent it to your client, and that client gives you a referral…well, that $10 was money well spent, wasn’t it?

Here are some other tips to remember:

Make sure that you do include your studio name and contact information somewhere on the thank-you card (and any product you send to the client).
Handwritten notes resonate more than a pre-printed one. If your handwriting is illegible, then consider having an assistant, a family member, or a friend help out.
Don’t buy thank-you notepaper that feels cheap and flimsy. You want to project a professional image—use quality paper stock.
Do not send a thank you through e-mail. If you have your client’s e-mail address, use it (with permission) to market your services when appropriate. Thank-you e-mails will get deleted too quickly to make an impact.

When Do You Express Your Gratitude?
It’s a matter of personal perspective. Some businesses choose to send a thank you immediately after a session or the delivery of an album. Some wait a pre-determined amount of time (three weeks or a month), then send a note to jog the memory of the client. (For wedding photographers, this may mean a thank you for the engagement session, another thanks right after the wedding, and one after the album delivery.)

Don’t think that you can send a single note and be done with it. Whenever you do decide to initially give your thanks, it can help to remind them later on in the year—send out a second thank you, or take it a step further and show your gratitude in another way.

For instance, you could throw an appreciation party. If you have a studio location, have the party at the studio and invite everyone (all of your clients, vendors, marketing partners, etc.) to come and celebrate their part in making your business a success. If you don’t have a studio, you can choose to have it at a local restaurant or banquet hall…or even a public park. You want to avoid holidays and your busy times, so plan for the slowest part of your year (but before your busy season).

Whether you serve hot dogs and soda with a local band as entertainment, or filet mignon and champagne with a string quartet, it will depend on your clientele. If you specialize in children’s photography, include the child’s name in the invitation (or send the children their own special invitation). You could have a face painter and games for the kids, so the adults can talk to each other while the children are occupied.

Take a moment to thank everyone for attending and, once again, express your gratitude. Remind them that they are a huge part of your success. Invite them to look at your latest products or schedule an upcoming portrait session. The focus shouldn’t be on selling them more products and services, but you may be surprised to find additional products being sold to those attending. You can even choose to donate a portion of your profits that day to a local charity or worthy organization.

Steps You Can Take Today
While this time of year brings “thanksgiving” to the front of our minds, expressing your gratitude to those who help you is something you need to do constantly. Make it a part of your workflow, and include it in your marketing plans. Saying “thank you” in a sincere and unforgettable way is smart business sense that will expand your client base. And it reminds you about those who make your business successful.

Starting a “gratitude campaign” can be overwhelming, especially if you have a large client or vendor base. You don’t need to send everyone a thank-you card today, so here are a few ideas:

Set yourself a goal of writing a few notes each day (after you’ve chosen the notepaper and/or a memorable gift). Make it a part of your daily business routine, because this is part of customer service.
Look at your calendar to see when the best time to hold an appreciation party would be (if you decide to do this). Decide how many people you want to invite (you don’t have to invite everyone on your client list). You can always have an intimate appreciation party—or you can have more than one to thank different types of clientele. Planning this type of party takes time and assistance, especially if you’re watching your budget.
Search out a vendor who can offer you something unique to include in your expression of gratitude. Depending on the type of image you want to project, you may find that you need to spend a little more (or less). A high-end portrait photographer and an event photographer have different clients and will most likely not send the same type of gift.
Think about how you’d like to be thanked. What was the best “expression of gratitude” you’ve ever received, and why did it make you feel that way? Remember that feeling as you compose your own thank-you notes, as this is how you want the recipient to feel.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Saturday Morning Cartoons

This one goes out to all of my photo colleagues battling colds. Get better soon Susan B and Jason P! I know what it's like to burn the candle at both ends.

Enjoy today's installment of Aaron Johnson's photocentric comic strip "What the Duck." The popular comic is celebrating it's 2nd year anniversary. Congratulations Aaron! And thank you for encouraging me and others to seek comfort in our sense of humor when the ebbs and flows of the photography business threaten to overwhelm us. The comic is available now for syndication as "W.T. Duck," appearing in a local newspaper near you!

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