Friday, February 29, 2008

Get Out There: Online Advertising

This week, I started my first advertising campaign for my company. I signed up for Google's Adwords so that my company ad will appear on relevant websites with keywords ranging from "denver galleries" to "little league sports." I get to choose how many times my ads appear based on a monthly payment budget. The process was definitely a lesson in restraint. How do you sum up all of your dreams and aspirations for your business in four lines? In the end, I used a tighter version of a slogan I had already unofficially been using:

Picture Your World Photography
captures your life moments.

I was totally psyched when I saw my ad appear on another blogger's site. The ads have led three potential clients directly to my business website. Now, I'm ready to go further; my next plan is to advertise in a local newsletter that all of Denver's community churches receive. A source told me that churches always need photogs to shoot events. I think it's a great target market for me to tap into. What do you think about the ad? Have any suggestions for ways to make it better?

Thursday, February 28, 2008

BREAKING NEWS: More online print sales!

I just made my first $200 in online print sales from my last big event! Last week, I blogged about being confused and discouraged because few people who attended the annual National Black Skiers mini-summit had purchased photos I took during the week-long event held in Breckenridge. But business is now booming! Here an image one client purchased featuring his unfortunate wipe-out during a ski race:

I've sold 22 of my images, and I should be getting my first pay check sent to me by SmugMug, which hosts my business website and prints and delivers my photos to clients. It's interesting to note that clients have purchased only 5x7's and 8x10s, and more than half of the sales were from digital downloads. Clients I contacted said they appreciated having immediate access to the downloads and were able to easily place the images on their own websites or MySpace pages. Many of my images were also purchased by vendors who were performing during the NBS event, so I will need to take them into account during future events. Several images I took of stilt walker and giant puppeteer Bill "Stretch" Coleman, who performed during the event's opening ceremonies, can be seen on his company website and in this image from my portfolio:

I think all of this information will be helpful when it comes to figuring out what to charge for my services and where I'm most likely to get the biggest return for my efforts. If I can snag this event again next year, one thing I may want to consider to help increase sales is hiring some assistants for these events so I have the manpower to edit photos on the scene and have prints ready to purchase the very next day. I was also able to convince the NBS's newsletter editor to include an ad in her upcoming issue giving members links to my photo galleries online. I traded the free advertising for some free prints she will use in her newsletter, but I'm convinced the added exposure will net me more sales to come.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Get the Job Done: Don't Trust Your Viewfinder

I wanted to share an example of why a photographer should NEVER delete images directly from their camera because the viewfinder can't be trusted. A photography instructor told me once that often times the photo you think you should delete could be the one you wished you had kept. As a matter of fact he never deleted images, chosing to keep even the messed up ones on a hard drive somewhere. If a photo is obviously out of focus or underexposed, I normally delete it, but this lesson has forced me to stop doing even that!

I took this photo of Cornelia during the Denver Darkroom's "Crash Flash" course on Saturday (look for a post on tips I got from this class later this week). I was very disappointed when I looked in the viewfinder and was just about to disregard that voice in my head that was screaming at me "DON'T DELETE IT!" The image was underexposed, and there was too much motion blur making the subject out of focus, and I was about to erase it out of anger and frustration.

But something about the look in Cornelia's face and the way she was cradling her body stopped me. It was one of those "in between shoot" moments I love to capture when a model is resting during a portrait session...when she thinks the photographers circling here are no longer shooting and she's off the hook from performing. I'm usually the only photographer still shooting during those moments because the model is more natural and at ease.

I got home that same day after class and uploaded the images taken from the day. Oddly enough, that image of Cornelia haunted me. I was angry with myself that I might have messed up a great shot. Inspite of myself, I called the image up in Picasa anyway and thought that I would play with it and see what I came up with. I adjusted the exposure, brighting it up a bit. I toyed with black and white versions before I finally settled on a sepia tone. And since it was out of focus anyway, I softened the focus even more to hide the blur, but sharpened the area around Cornelia's face. In Photoshop CS3, I decided to heal the circular areas around her head where the background paper had been cut because I wanted the image to have an antique, Old World feel.

And Voila! This image is now one of my favorites from the whole class! The lesson for the day: Don't trust your viewfinder even if an image looks terrible at first glance. Call it up on your computer at home and then decide if it's a throwaway or a keeper. With just a little tweaking, or playing as I like to call it, you could have yourself a diamond in the rough. Here are more images I took of Cornelia, a burgeoning photog in her own right and daughter of celebrated photographer Richard Peterson (who taught the Crash Flash course).

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

National Photography Conference being held in Denver next month

I wanted to pass along some information that came across my desk today about an upcoming photography conference being held in Denver from March 13-16. There will be plenty of free exhibits and hands-on training sessions. I'm particularly interested in the one-on-one portfolio critiques to make sure my Port is distinctive and representative of my talents. Hope to see you there!

More than 1,000 photographic artists, educators and professionals are expected to attend the 2008 Society for Photographic Education 45th annual National Conference in Denver. The event will take place March 13-16, 2008 at Adam’s Mark Hotel, 1550 Court Place, Denver, CO 80202

Keynote Speaker: Susan L. Burke, Thursday, March 13, 2008
Featured Speaker: Subhankar Banerjee, Friday, March 14, 2008
Featured Speaker: Edward Burtynsky, Saturday, March 15, 2008
Honored Educator: Patrick Nagatani, Saturday, March 15, 2008
Invited Speaker: Lauren Greenfield, Friday, March 14, 2008
Invited Speaker: Toby Jurovics, Friday, March 14, 2008

The conference will offer four days of seminars, panel discussions, imagemaker presentations, scholarly lectures, a Curator Portfolio Walkthrough, one-on-one portfolio critiques and sessions, informal portfolio sharing, hands-on training sessions, a print raffle, silent auction, a Film Festival Showcase, receptions, dance party and an exhibits fair, featuring over 60 corporate exhibitors showing the latest equipment, processes and hot-off-the press books. The exhibits fair is FREE and open to the public. The educator fair will once again feature schools with programs in photography and related media at colleges and universities. Visit the SPE website: or request more information by emailing

Monday, February 25, 2008

From My Portfolio

Here is a "Happy Accident" that I think turned out great. This shot was taken from the "Touch of Romance Fashion" show I covered earlier this month at a Denver metro area bar. My batteries were dying in my flash, so it was taking much longer for the flash to recycle after a shot. I took this image without the freezing benefit of the flash, but it's still pretty cool because I was able to take advantage of ambient light and get some colorful streaks in the image that accent the model even more. Her face is in sharp focus which adds a great compositional element as well.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Get the Job Done: Touch of Romance 2008 Fashion Show

This weekend, I finished editing shots I took at the "Touch of Romance Fashion Show" held in a local Denver area club. I was one of six photographers covering the event. Models were wearing fashions from Remo Men's Wear, Swim'n Sport and Cache.

As typical in clubs, the lighting was dark and intimate...which is great for patrons, but terrible for photographers! Lighting with strobes and on-camera flash was required; but the kinetic atmosphere made up for the poor illumination. I wanted to try to bring that same sense of excitement and playfulness into this image. What I like about this picture is the interaction between the models. Rick's facial expression makes him appear as if he's just been caught doing (or thinking in this case) something naughty. Viviana is gorgeous and the center of attention between these handsome men fighting over her, and Alex seems to be just moments away from kissing her. Even in my fashion shots, I strive for telling a story and expressing emotion.

Check out the rest of the images in my gallery. I wasn't paid for this assignment, but the experience was well worth it. I was able to add some great swimsuit shots and male portraits to my portfolio. And a contact from the show is looking into securing a paying gig for me at the next fashion show where his clothing line will being featured.

Friday, February 22, 2008

From My Portfolio

The frosted glass naturally diffused the sunlight streaming through this window, giving model Kim's complexion a dreamy, soft glow. The one thing that bothers me about this image is that Kim's right arm has been cropped. As the image is, I stuck to the general cropping rule that says to never crop at a joint. But if I were able to take this picture again, I would probably try backing up or using a wider angle lens to get more of Kim's body in the image. Getting closer to a subject is always a great recommendation for any photographer, too, or I could try cropping tighter to the model's face.

My workflow for editing this image in Photoshop CS3 included sharpening and using retouching plug-in called Portraiture. I made a duplicate layer I named "Glamour" and used the Portraiture plug-in which saves me a great deal of time in complexion healing and blemish retouching. I generally lower the opacity level of the duplicate layer to about 65 percent because a little bit of Portraiture can go a long way, leaving the model looking plastic and not very realistic in her beauty. Share your suggestions about how I could improve this image by leaving me a comment or emailing me.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Get the Goods: New Lighting Gear

Some long awaited lighting equipment finally arrived this week and will be a big boon for my business, allowing me to capture more images like the one I took above of model AngelucaK. I took that photo during a Colorado Strobist meet-up earlier this month. I had to borrow other members' equipment, but the experience got me instantly hooked to strobes. Now I have my own! My new Alien Bees strobe kit and my Westcott Spiderlite TD5 continuous light source will give me more portability and make it easier for me to overcome the challenges that shooting outside a studio can pose. These new set-ups along with the Wescott constant light deluxe kit I bought last year and two new PocketWizards to trigger everything will give me plenty of options to illuminate any situation!

Sooner or later, every photographer has to leave the controlled setting of their own studio and head out into the unknown world that is "shooting on location." Being able to manipulate both natural and artificial lighting wherever an assignment takes you is crucial to making a living with a camera.

Buying kits are the most cost effective way to build a studio set because they usually include everything you need in one box. Both the Alien Bees and Westcott kits I purchased include two lights, softboxes, sturdy light stands and a carry case. Check out the March issue of "Popular Photography" for reviews of off-camera lighting systems. On Saturday I will be taking a "Crash Flash" course to learn some new off-camera lighting techniques. I'll share them with you next week.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Get Connected: POTW - Graffiti

Whenever time permits, I stay connected with photography enthusiasts I've met online by participating in weekly or monthly competitions. Most of these contests are designed to keep photogs shooting regularly by requiring all submissions be shot during a specified week. I'm not sure the friendly competitions would be as beneficial if they allowed us to pull previously taken photographs from our portfolios that just happen to fit that week's theme. I always keep a camera with me, in my case a compact Canon G9 when the XTi stays home, so I can be ready for a shot that matches a chosen theme.

The picture above is my entry for the Colorado 4X4 Shutterbug forum "POTW" (Photo of the Week). The topic was GRAFFITI, and submissions had to be turned in no later than 8 p.m. tonight. I think shooting graffiti is a double-edged sword because there is so much of it that it can be hard to find a different way of photographing it. When I spotted these guys while driving into work this week, I immediately pulled over and asked for their permission to snap their picture. I think the human element adds depth to the assignment, while placing them off-center adds an extra compositional element and draws the viewer's eyes across the frame.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

In My Library

A fabulous photography coffee table book landed on my desk last week, (thank you, to whomever left it for me!) and I haven't been able to put it down since. "America at Home: A Close-up Look at How We Live," (Against All Odds Productions, $40) is an amazing feat of photojournalism that captures the images of the collective dream we all share: the longing for a place called home.

Authors Rick Smolan and Jennifer Erwitt are the creative minds behind some of the industry's most provocative photography books, including "The Day in the Life" series and AMERICA 24/7. Their newest work tries to define what "home" means to Americans featured in more than 250 photos. From an 84-square-foot cottage on wheels to a crowded Harlem street in the Puerto Rican part of town, each peak inside these residents' lives showcase the rituals, social interactions and treasured moments of our most sacred space.

I enjoyed the colorful examples of pictures that tell stories viewers can relate to. The shot of the church service in New Orleans reminds me of my childhood when I struggled to stay awake during long sermons. Bermese mountain dog puppies nibling on their owners toes brings a smile to my face because my dogs love to do the same thing. The photos are filled with life and emotion, and it's the type of photography I strive for everyday. A cool interactive feature allows readers to personalize their copy of the book by transforming a favorite digital image into a glossy book cover at My America At Home.

Monday, February 18, 2008

From My Portfolio

Simply named "Mother and Child," this image of Terilynn and daughter Avery was taken during my first attempt at a family portrait session held in my home studio. I was excited to try out a newly purchased studio lighting kit (plus I thought all the equipment would make me appear more professional, I admit it). But over the next agonizing 30 minutes, I watched as each bulb in the three-light kit blew out one by one!

Out of desperation, I whipped out a "cheapy" kit given to me by a photographer instructor: one of those Home Depot clamp-on-lights, a white styrofoam board for bounce and a furnace filter for diffusion. But you never would have known that minimalist lighting setting had produced this stunning image.

Stay the course and be quick on your feet, no matter what happens during an assignment. Sometimes, your skill, determination and ingenuity will help you nail the shot -- not your equipment or how much you paid for it!

Get the Job Done: Selling Prints Online

59,519. That's the number of original hits I've gotten from visitors checking out the nine galleries of photos I took and edited for the annual NBS 2008 AMCC Mini Summit event held in Breckenridge.

16. That's the number of sales in ordered prints and digital downloads I've made to date since the event was held a month ago. Here is an example of the photos I shot at this event.

I'm sure you can understand my confusion. With that many people looking at my galleries, why wouldn't more of them be willing to buy prints? I handed out my business card to every person I shot a photo of. I sent emails to all the club presidents letting their members know where to find prints online and how to order them. I returned every email and phone call I received from customers needing help with their orders or needing to know where they could find a certain image. I've even received emails from people saying how great all the images were, and that they would tell the group leaders to hire me again next year when they meet in Aspen. So what gives?

Other photographers running their own businesse ranted about the same problem at this public forum thread. I agree with poster "Dogwood" who said I need to be better at finding out who my target audience is instead of just expecting everyone from an event to buy a print.

Here is what Dogwood wrote: "The trick on shooting events and selling photos is to find your audience. For example, I shoot a LOT of local fashion shows and I originally thought models and designers would want to buy the photos. A bit of on-the-ground testing, though, showed it's actually the mom's of models who buy 95-percent of the photos from those shows. So I make a point of giving out my business cards to moms at the shows-- it's pretty obvious who they are. The other people who sometimes are worth 'targeting' (in my example) are the hair and makeup artists. The models? They NEVER buy photos. Same with the designers.

Guess what I'm saying is find out who actually buys photos, forget the others, and target the buyers! It really is possible.

And... last fashion show I shot (last week) -- for the first time I had an editor buy the files from the entire shoot for a flat fee. I've known her for three years and it really did take that long for her to make a purchase like that."

The friend who helped me get the gig also said I need to be patient when it comes to people spending their money. Considering that many people waited until the last possible minute to pay their registration for the NBS event, I could probably expect it will be months before I see the final fruit of my labor from this event.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Get the Goods: PayPerPost

I signed up for PayPer Post last week, and my final approvement came in today. A trusted colleague suggested I start a blog related to my photography business, Picture Your World Photography, and try to sell online advertisements on it. She pointed me to Blogger and PPP as the best way for me to get started. She thought I would have to wait until 90 days before PPP would approve my blog for their program. But it took less than a week before I received my acceptance email.

On my first day, I had 10 pages of advertising "opportunities" to read over. Clicking on the "All Opportunities" tab allows viewers to see what types of topics you might want to blog about, while the "Qualified Opportunities" shows you specific options that are available to you. Another way to quickly decide if an opportunity is good for you is to use PPP's color-coded system: white boxes are opportunities currently available to you; lime green is an available featured opportunity; gray is available but has all of its post fully reserved and pink boxes are no longer open.

My first qualified opportunity could net me $20 if PPP accepts my post on my blog, while special days like 1K Tuesdays could earn me $50 to $500 worth of paid opportunities. The money I get from my PPP blogs will be a forced savings plan to help me buy new equipment and finance photography tours that combine travel to great locations with one-on-one shooting instruction. Make your blogs work for you by signing up to payperpost.

Friday, February 15, 2008

BREAKING NEWS: Get the Goods

YESSSSS! My new MacBook Pro laptop just showed up at my office this morning! That was really fast, and I can't wait to open it and start to play. I knew I needed a laptop during my last photography gig for the National Brotherhood of Skiers. The group's PR rep needed one image ASAP to post on a national wire, but all of my pictures from the event had been shot in RAW and needed to be edited!

Luckily the videographer had his MacBook with him during the gig, and I was able to make some quick edits in Photoshop Elements that pleased my client. I was able to show my client pictures I had taken so far. She picked her favorite, which turned out to be the image above, and I did some PS magic in a few minutes. She was able to make her deadline to the national wire, and we all know a happy client is a better paying one. I never want to be in a situation like that again, so now I have the ability to take my business mobile, editing and printing pictures like these when I'm on the road. I'll let you know that my decision to purchase the Mac wasn't taken lightly. Last year I purchased a Dell XPS 710 (they've already come out with a new model, damn them, the XPS720) to get my business started since my old Gateway was ancient at more than 10 years of age. Nearly everyone I spoke with (including random interviews held with customers I bombarded at a local Starbucks) said Mac was the way to go -- namely because of its easy of use especially with complicated programs like Photoshop CS3 and no virus attacks. I'll let you know what I think after I pull it out of the box.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

AN ASIDE: Dating Another Photographer

So why didn't someone warn me that dating another photographer might be hazardous to my emotional health? I thought shared passions and interests were supposed to bring a couple closer. But last night, I had to tell my beau that I NEVER wanted to hear him say he was jealous of my photography again.

At first, hearing him say he was jealous in his soft, gentle tone gave me a sense of pride. He has been shooting film for five years, and his technical photography skills far outweigh mine and continue to amaze me to this day. Our first date was spent with him teaching me how to manipulate my shutter speeds and use neutral density filters to capture that cottony essence of water in mid-flow.

Since then, my photography business has taken off -- largely, he says because I'm good with people. But after listening to him utter how jealous he is about my progress over and over again, I got fed up with it. It wasn't just a joke anymore. Suddenly, the phrase felt bloated with insecurity and resentment. He says he is proud of me, and that his whining is really more of a reflection of his own inability to do the same thing I'm doing: start a photography business.

All of my life I've had to hide or squash my achievement from family members and friends who misconstrued being educated and successful as being uppity. I will not hide my accomplishments any more, and I now have people in my life who support me. This background surely made me sensitive to my BF's statements. At the same time, I want to make sure I'm not doing anything to contribute to his feelings of anxiety. If you read this, I also want you to know that I will support you in any endeavor you chose. I will carry your photo gear. I will set up your lights and hold your bounce reflectors. You are my idol, and I couldn't have learned how to take this shot without your help, my love. It is now hanging in my first ever exhibit at an Italian restaurant in Denver. Here's hoping I get some sales and that we continue to grow together.

BREAKING NEWS: Get the Goods

Holy crap! I actually got to stroke a Nikon D3 DSLR last night. Canonians don't get your panties in a bunch. I am still a die-hard Canon fan....but I have to say, that Nikon D3 was fracking amazing, and I can't wait to see what Canon's response will be.

Glenn Asakawa, a wonderful Denver Post photographer, colleague and mentor, is leaving the paper and heading back to his alma mater (The University of Colorado at Boulder) to serve as a University Communications photographer. His loss, both personally and professionally, hit me in the chest, so I had to say my farewells at his going-away party last night. Some of the other photogs were using a Nikon D3 to memorialize the event. The Denver Post photography staff uses Nikons exclusively, which used to be a long point of contention years ago with photographers who felt that Canon was producing a better product. Photog Posties don't feel so bad now since Nikon has stepped up to the plate with some of their own equally great (or dare I say it, better) equipment. So a photog was trying to convince me about why I should switch to Nikons.

The Nikon D3's size alone was impressive and admirable. The 12.1 megapixels won't be ignored either (although I really don't need that much). But what got me was that out-of-this-world 6400 ISO with an additional two stop boost over that topping an amazing 25600 ISO! The lounge was very dark and intimate -- which is great for patrons and terrible for photographers. But that D3 full frame sensor and incredible ISO lit up that lounge as if the photog was shooting in daylight! So many of my shooting situations have been in low-light. I could have truly benefitted from the D3's speed and ultra light sensitivity.

It was enough to make me doubt for a few seconds all the money I've invested in my Canon Rebel XTi and the numerous pieces of high quality glass that cost even more than the camera. But I won't be swayed to Nikon -- yet. betta bring it! And soon.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Mapping the Course

Here are the categories and lists of topics I will tackle throughout the blog to help you (and me, honestly) map out the course for how I became a professional photographer:

1) Get the Goods: buying the necessary equipment
2) Get Connected: attending photography classes and meeting other talented shooters
3) Get Out There: self-promotion, marketing, and networking
4) Get the Job Done: snagging paid assignments

Now granted, I still consider myself to be a newbie with so much more to learn. But there is no denying how quickly I have progressed in less than a year. My friends and colleagues keep saying it -- but it really got driven home when the manager of my local Wolf Camera Store said even he was amazed about how far I've come. (Guess that's the kind of pat on the back get when you know all the staff by first names because you've spent a year's worth of lunch breaks salivating over photo equipment you know damn well you can't afford). Some day this Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III will be mine. (Of course by the time I can afford it, the company would probably would have doled out at least five more intermediate to advanced models).

A great deal of my progress can be attributed to the wonderful resources we have available here in Denver's photographic community. The schools, photography clubs and amazing landscape and cityscape right in my own backyard, so to speak, is a photographic oyster. I mean, if you lived in Colorado, and DIDN'T eventually find your way to the mountains where wildlife and nature abound, you should be shot! But I think the wonder of finding a true passion and having a natural eye is what gives me the drive.

I want this blog to a personal diary as well as a self-help tool with useful topics for photographers new to the craft. I will include "How-Tos" when I've learned and can implement new techniques. I will devour books and review them. And I will test out equipment and software so you can decide if a product is worthy of being bought or being ignored. If you see a "BREAKING NEWS" in the will know that something really cool just happened. Maybe I just got a great new gig or purchased some coveted equipment. Or maybe I've just been honored with some special award. Keep coming back for updates. And if you have some thoughts, ideas or topics you want me to investigate, hit me up. Sometimes, I will throw in "AN ASIDE" if I have a random thought or want to share some juicy tidbit about something happening in my life, so look for those too.

Friday, February 1, 2008

And so it begins....

A good friend and colleague suggested I start my own blog, and I figured it was time I take her sage advice.

As usual, insecurites prevented me from moving forward with this idea, thinking I didn't have anything of consequence to say. But a recent stab at writing blogs for The Denver Post's Room Section, as well as collaborating with other photographic minds to maintain posts at One Day, One Picture, has given me the experience and encouragement I needed to carve out my own piece of the internet pie. What I've enjoyed most about participating in these forums is the chance I get to interact with visitors who leave comments and share their thoughts and ideas. I look forward to having the same kind of candid discussions on this blog which will be more personal and dearer to my heart.

I thought the blog would also be a great way to chronicle a new and exciting time in my life: my transformation from a print journalist to a photographer.

This coming April will be my first year anniversary of taking on photography to supplement my 12-year career as a reporter for The Denver Post. The shock of my mother's sudden death at the age of 48 in 2005 sent me down a dark path inside my soul. To reclaim some sense of self and learn how to appreciate a world that no longer had my mother in it, I turned to photography. I bought my first digital camera, a Canon Rebel XTi, and I took a digital photography class with Denver Darkroom. Less than a year later, I am owner of a burgeoning company I named "Picture Your World Photography." I have a business website, where people can purchase my photos or book my services, and I shoot events and portraits during my evenings and weekends. I hope to one day shoot for the Denver Post as well and be one of the first staffers to have both a byline and photo credit showcasing my work.

Photography is more than a momentary saving grace to overcome the hardship of my mother's death. It is now a driving passion that motivates and inspires me to see each day with a new set of eyes, a photographer's eyes...always in search of the best moments that "Picture Your World." I invite you to join me in this journey of reclamation and renewal.

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