Thursday, December 23, 2010

My Grown Up Christmas List

There is a great song by that name. It's been covered by a bunch of country artists over the years. It always makes me think, what is my grown up Christmas List.

It's been a tough year. I think a lot of us, and probably myself included, have let the pressures of the economy and the challenge of facing a world full of problems we can't individually change chip away at our inner souls. We're a little less hopeful. A little less forgiving. A little less convivial. We root for each other a little less and we protect ourselves a little more. I guess my biggest Christmas wish is that enough light would appear at the end of this present darkness that we could start to look up and move toward that instead of staying hunkered down. That light is whatever it is for you. It is not a religious thing or a socio-economic thing or a world peace thing or anything like that. It’s my thing and your thing. It’s the thing that gives us hope.

I also wish we could figure out a way to stop wasting time on the meaningless and focus on the meaningful. There is a world full of need around us and instead of reaching out to see how we can help, we get lost in petty trivialities. Some of this is mere mimicry. The folks that we look up to seem to ignore what is important in favor of what is interesting. Headlines, whether twittered or printed, hold favor over real contribution. That’s our fault in a way. Real help is hard. It takes time. We want it now!

It impacts our own industry too. Some of it is amusing. On our own forums I am often amused at the level to which people will go to fight about things like Canon or Nikon, PCs or Macs, Lightroom or Aperture, etc. Some of that is natural. It can also be fun. But goodness sakes folks, why waste the time and energy and risk the friendships on things that ultimately mean so little? I wish we could remind ourselves in those moments that the point we want so fervently to be accepted is really not all that important. (BTW - in case you’re still wondering, the answers are; Canon, Lightroom, and Mac.. :-)

Some of it has been a challenge and can be destructive. This year a lot of emotional capital has been spent on both sides of a great divide. Are the folks who teach seminars qualified? Is their “fame,” whether simply inside of our own marketplace or even reaching outside, “warranted.” A certain amount of good natured humor tests those qualifications. It’s a good thing. Frankly I think it becomes a little less worthwhile when humorous challenge becomes personal attack. I wonder why we spend the time? Why not simply ignore what we disagree with and focus on our own businesses, friends and community? I wish we could find that ability and move on.

I wish we could all find more opportunities to give back. They’re all around us. When we hold our cameras in our hands we hold a powerful and affirming gift. Those I serve, so much more than I, have the power to create meaningful memories and reminders for a world around them that so needs a reason to smile and feel valued. Through the charity events we hold and even the smaller things I’ve been involved with, I never cease to be amazed when those who have so little outward reason find the inward impulse to smile when the lens points their way. It’s a gift I can give them that costs me nothing but time. I wish to use it more.

In whatever way you celebrate the Holidays I wish for you peace and laughter and the knowledge that you are loved. More than that though, I wish Hope for you. I wish the Hope of a future that is bigger and better than today. If food sustains, sleep refreshes, and breath gives light, Hope is the fuel of the future and there is no greater gift than the dream of a better tomorrow.

Monday, December 13, 2010

2010, Images in the Den. Memories from a busy year.

I have to admit that I have a few favorites. It isn’t really appropriate, right? But it’s true. There are a few folks who, for whatever reason, I just root for, lurk around, check in on, and always feel especially blessed when I hear from. That’s a horrible sentence, but you get it.

I neither have, nor have much need of, a lot of friends. I’m sort of prickly. I’m given to moodiness. If you ask for an opinion you probably won’t like what you hear. If you’re near me much you frequently get these whether you ask for them or not. My close friends have pretty thick skin. I’m not going to change. They know that. For some reason they stick around anyway.

It’s the time of year when we reflect on such things. No matter what our faith (or no faith!) we find ourselves looking around our memorial 'dens' at this time of year. Some of the images are painful. Others may be funny or poignant. They all contain friends. Over time the pictures on the walls in the den of your mind change. One comes down and another one goes up. Someone on the staff up there must do it. I rarely see it happen. I notice the changes at this time of year.

It isn’t really a surprise that this year the walls are covered with photographers, and photographers’ work. It’s what I do. Angela and I were out the other night and someone asked if the hours in this job were better than the hours in my last job. Ang just laughed. Hours? I never really got the concept. My hours these days are split between family and photographers. I’m not sure the split is even.

There are a lot of great memories from this year. Inspire Boston in February and arriving at the Concord Inn in deep snow. Drinking way too much, hanging out late with a great bunch of folks. Coolness.

Lens and Learn before WPPI. Such great kids and so cool to see a concept come to such inspiring fruition. Will Jacks said, “Nothing can take away your pains like seeing a child smile.” He’s so right. Especially when that child hasn’t had a chance to smile in a while. Those kids will never forget their standing ovation from so many great people at the Awards Banquet. I’m grateful to the industry as a whole for that. That’s a memory.

And speaking of WPPI. Studio-freakin-54. A little debauchery and a little too much fun, but there’s just something about seeing over 1000 people just forget about everything else for a while and have fun. That’s on the wall.

Walking through the year with Carlos Baez. Phenomenal photographer in the throws of the change in the industry. At once struggling with change and deepening his focus on his creativity and craft. An honest struggle to understand and see and change in a way that is real, but also appropriate. Too many people don’t have the courage to face these demons. Being a friend and a confidant in the process was/is an honor. And speaking of that, an evening in studio in Chicago with Kevin Weinstein and Dave and Nancy Wittig’s Chicago PUG. That was a night to remember too.

Who can forget Ron Dawson’s award worthy films at Partnercon? These artfully wrought pieces so surpassed my clumsy oratory that when I first saw them I wasn’t sure I could use them. Joe Buissink’s heartfelt testimony, to his love for the industry and his own struggles did what I thought was impossible, and if anything deepened my respect for this amazing soul. Sharie Zellers said what few others would. She was fearful of what might happen, but the applause she got for her courage said as much as she had. In the end though, it was Carla and Ashley and their story and struggle, and their choice to face their challenges with such blatant, ‘logic-less’ positivity...that’s on my wall. The moments I spent with Carla and the time I spent getting to know Ashley in Ron’s films changed me. We can make a difference. We just need to decide to and then do it. We can face our fears. We just need to decide to and then do it. (these films will go online in just a couple of days, if you're interested in seeing them follow me here or on the forums or keep an eye on the Pictage blog and you'll get a chance. They're well worth watching).

Last but not least, the evening a bunch of the lucky folks spent with Ralph Alswang and Paul Morse. That was an evening to remember.

There are no blank spots on my walls this year. There are, in fact, a lot of images I’d love to find a place to hang. But these were the big moments. The ones I remember without trying. Most of those of you who are reading this shared a bunch of these with me. I’d love to hear yours too ...

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Power of Pictures, Perspective from Behind the Viewfinder.

My son is in high school. He’s a senior. There are a lot of things you do when your son is a senior. You wonder where the time went. You wonder (and fear) what’s next. You find yourself overcome with pride and anticipation (at least you do if your son is half as great as mine). You alternately cheer and weep and sometimes do both at the same time. One thing you do no matter what is you reminisce.

Last night Angela and I sat down and started going through old pictures to pick some for Mitch’s yearbook page. (A quasi obligatory thing overly sentimental parents do these days for their kids). We were looking for a few baby pictures and a few growing up pictures that can be ‘collaged’ together with a statement that more or less reads, ‘good luck we’re proud of you.’

The images brought back memories. Remember when ... Some were very funny. Like the pictures of Mitch with the colander on his head. It was alternately an army helmet, cowboy hat, cool hat, etc. He had other hats, but he preferred the colander. (stainless steal with uniform holes and a long handle). Some were sentimental. First day of school, ever. A family tradition was to walk to Fremont Elementary. That family tradition started that day. What will his last day be like? Some brought tears. Pictures of Mitchell playing with his beloved Auntie Rene who we lost to cancer, too young.

Going through these pictures is in a real way like going back through his life. I still love watching the Kodak ad, now on YouTube, where the guy asks the kids if he can hear the pictures. I can. I can hear them and smell them. I remember if it was warm or cold. They’re like two dimensional time machines for my mind. I never get tired of looking at pictures.

I’m not in most. In fact, in our total family collection, images that include my “visage” make up less than 5%. (Some would say ‘thank God’ and I’m one of them). But in a weird way I’m actually in almost all of them. I’m behind the camera. I’m looking through the viewfinder. I wonder if these images speak so clearly to me because they are what I saw? They are where I was. I wonder if they can ever be as powerful for someone who is simply in them? Perhaps.

But I wonder if a non-photographer can ever really appreciate a photograph the way a photographer can. It isn’t to say that I am somehow better. It is only to say that the experience for me is different. I can’t look at an image without experiencing it through the viewfinder. It’s the way my brain wants me to see what is in front of my eyes. My perception is dictated by my habit or my hobby or whatever you want to call what photography is for me.

No matter how these images of my sons are seen I am grateful to have them all. Someday I will want to sit and page through them again and remember again. They are who he was and they are also who he is and in some small way they are who he will be, at least to me. Weird year.

Monday, December 6, 2010

This Present Fog. A Prescription for Challenging Times

If you’re anything like me you’re probably having a hard time “feeling it” this year. I think sometimes we get lost in what’s happening immediately around us. What’s going on with our lives. Is it a struggle to just pay the bills? Does business feel harder and harder? When things are harder we humans tend to have a shrunken world view. Why is it so hard for me?

This is when I think community forums and other personal and professional connections can be so valuable. The truth is that we aren’t alone in our struggles and the one gift I think the internet has given us is the ability to connect with people we’d have never met otherwise who’s experience so mimics our own that we can’t help but listen when they say, “here’s what I did and it worked for me.”

I also think it is important to point out that the current economic environment is incredibly wearing. It seems like every time we hear a shred of good news it is accompanied almost immediately by bad news. Stuff we couldn’t possibly have any control at all over seems to be impacting our own livelihood. (If you actually have ANY control over Greek or Irish banks, could you please stop reading now and go and fix them so I can have a better Christmas?) We keep hoping that tomorrow will bring better news, but we keep finding the same thing around time’s bend. The track keeps going, but it continues in a murk. When will we punch through?

In this business, a business that serves not the necessary but the desired, these weights continue to hold especially true. When people are having a hard time covering the necessities, paying a professional photographer is a long way down the priority list. For working professionals there are fewer jobs and they are farther between. This environment has been made more challenging due to the emergence of so many new photographers.

So how do you keep going? How do you maintain your creative vision? How do you keep your business afloat? Isn’t it easier to just give up?

At this point you’re probably ready for some pithy statement that makes you smile and makes it easier. I don’t have that for you. In fact, what I have may not help at all. It depends on you.

In times like this I have to remind myself that I do not, by myself, determine all of the outcomes. There is nothing I can do to change the world economic situation. There is nothing I can do to change consumer sentiment. The impact of the challenging economy is pervasive. It even impacts our moods. We get one more “no” and we think it must be us. Look, sometimes it is us, and so a vigilance around our business is a good idea. Are we communicating in the best, most efficient way? But just as often that “no” has nothing to do with us.

Ships captains of old dreaded few things more than fog. Fog obscured vision. It forced the world around the ship to close in. The lives and safety of the crew became an obsession. Several days in a mid ocean fog could drive men toward the edges of sanity. Every morning they rose hoping for a glimpse of the sun or a star to reckon by. Every night when they crawled into their berth, they wished or prayed the same thing. Lift the fog.

In that fog there was little the mariner could do beyond stare at the compass, keep the ship’s heading true and trust the charts created by those who’d gone before. Ships with lesser captains foundered on rocks or shoals when they went in search of shelter, to wait it out until the fog was gone or they found themselves run aground or hopelessly lost when captains recklessly pressed on without proper vigilance. Being too careful or foolishly courageous could get you killed. The best course was simply to carefully press on, knowing that the fog would eventually lift. It was to trust the compass and the other experts on board, make solid, informed decisions, and go.

It is the same for us. We can’t control the fog. We can’t change the economy. We can’t be too careful, or our lack of progress will be a self-fulfilling prophesy, and we can’t press on too hard or we could easily run aground. We simply need to trust what we know and forge ahead with enough conservatism to make it through but enough careful progress to be where we want to be when the fog lifts.

The only good news is that the fog will lift. I’ll leave the conjecture about when that is going to happen to others (and frankly I couldn’t care less what the “experts” have to say these days) but I’ll make sure that we’re moving forward in a way that both ensures progress and keeps us solid in challenging times. Perhaps that will also work for you and in a bigger way, perhaps the knowledge that what you’re feeling and seeing isn’t unique to you will help.

What’s next is what’s important.


Friday, December 3, 2010

Things your photographer can't say but wish they could...

Being a professional photographer can be a lot of fun. Generally you’re around when fun stuff is happening and you’re celebrating with people and you’re taking pictures of people when they’re happy. They're chasing their own dream. They’re an artist and they’re making a living at being an artist.

But there are some things that get on their nerves. Most of these are things they won’t say, at least not to their clients, but they are things that can make a difference and so it is worthwhile for their clients to know.

With that slightly confusing preamble out of the way. Here are some things they won’t tell you.



Generally speaking your photographer isn’t going to be dictating what you do when on your wedding day. They spend most of the time in the background. However, there are some things you want them to capture and they want to capture and the more predictable the timing is the more likely they are to be there to capture these things.

As an example, if you want to take some portraits before the wedding make sure you’ve left enough time for makeup, prep, transportation and (if applicable) real and emotional breakdowns so you arrive at the location(s) in time for your portraits. If you plan for an hour and get there 55 minutes late you’re not going to get as many images as you saw in their portfolio. Calling to let them know where you are is a good idea too.

Uncle Bob

Photographers have a name for your family members and friends with big black cameras. They call them Uncle Bobs. (It’s a funny term in that it can be applied to your friend Nancy too - as in, “Then Nancy, this wedding’s resident Uncle Bob, started doing her own poses with the group and our timeline was completely out the window!”)

Most great photographers are willing to be more than patient with Uncle Bobs. They don’t worry that Uncle Bob will put images on Facebook. They don’t worry that Uncle Bob will make prints for you, etc. I know a few who will even lend Uncle Bob equipment. (but never ask for that because even those folks would wonder about you). What drives them crazy is when Uncle Bob gets in the way.

Ever look at a group picture and realize that half the people don’t seem interested enough to be looking back at you looking at the picture? Know where they’re looking? Uncle Bob. He’s standing next to the photographer with his/her big black camera shouting “look here.” What else are people going to do? Did you notice that there is no great shot of the kiss? That’s because when the photographer went to capture it, framed oh so perfectly down the aisle, Uncle Bob jumped out of his seat in the way and the only picture the photographer got is of the back of Uncle Bob’s head. If you know you have an Uncle Bob in the family, do the photographer a favor and just drop them a line ahead of time to say that you’ll love to see their pictures, but you’re so excited about your photographer too and could they please just be sure they let the photographer work?

(Important safety tip. At my friend’s weddings - usually my friend’s kids weddings these days - I am the volunteer thug. In this role I control Uncle Bobs, drunk guests, unruly vendors etc. I also feed photographers. But this takes me to my next point).

Food, Drink, Rest

Your photographer is likely to be chasing you around for about 7 hours on your special day. I’ve been to a few weddings since I got this job and I also had the sort of strange but also special responsibility of shooting one (by accident but it worked out ok for everyone) and I can tell you that during this day they are likely to walk, run, climb and crawl at least 10 miles.

If you’re like most people you hired your photographer for two reasons. You like their images and you like them. Try not to forget about them on your special day. It doesn’t take much, a few minutes of planning in the middle of the hours and hours of planning for these days, but you’d be amazed at the horror stories I hear of sitting out back by the garbage cans eating stale bread from the kitchen.

I know. They’re paid to be there and they are paid well. But they are also paid to be at your beck and call all day. They need a few breaks and some food and water (or other non-alcoholic liquid sustenance!) Give most of them a table in the corner to themselves and access to some hot food while everyone else (including you) is also eating and they will be prepared to kill themselves for the rest of the evening and never miss a beat!

Hey Miss Photographer? Can you take a picture of?

“Yes. No problem." It’s what they’re there for. Just know that they may be changing batteries, a memory card, checking flashes, going to the bathroom (I know - horrors!), setting up another shot, etc. They’ll be right there. A few minutes warning about when you’re going to cut the cake, first dance, etc. is all they generally need to be ready.

Frankly, they like it when you tell them what you would like pictures of -and even what you don’t. Photographers can be amazingly discreet. Whisper in their ear that Heidi would love a few pictures without Swen and he’ll never know it’s happening. Tell them you’d love some pictures of Aunt Millie and Uncle Joe together and you’ll get a beautiful set. Tell them your mom favors her right side and they’ll make sure she’s always on their left. They’re incredibly good at this. Just don’t come afterwards and say, “I wish you’d gotten a picture of ...” They can’t make time go backwards.

When you get drunk you’re going to look drunk.

Make sure all of your keeper event pictures are taken before this happens. There is not a “remove drunkness” action in PhotoShop. (though I’m quite certain Kevin Kubota or some other PhotoShop genius just sprang into action to create one).

If pictures are important to you, make sure you think about that ahead of time.

There are a lot of things you can do to make your pictures better. Think about just a few of these ahead of time and you’re paving a path to success.

Make sure the halls have just a little light. Modern professional cameras need surprisingly little. But contrary to popular belief they can’t actually see in the dark. Making sure there is just a little light saves them from having to use strobes a lot.

Check with the church. Different churches have different rules. You don’t want to be surprised when the pastor won’t let you take pictures during the ceremony. It isn’t your photographers job to know this (though many will) and it isn’t their fault when they can’t. If this is the church’s policy and you want pictures of the ceremony you may need to move it to a different church. You get my point. It’s just better to know.

These dresses are really tight. Perfect. They’re going to look great on everyone? If not, perhaps a slightly less form fitting dress, or a dress that has shoulders or straps would be a good idea. (or a wrap). No amount of photoshop can make the uncomfortable slightly heavier bridesmaid look like the size two next to her.

If you’re chewing gum we’re going to see it. By all means, make sure your breath is fresh. Have a mint. Chew gum for a minute or two. When it’s time to take pictures we’re going to see it tucked down in your between you cheek and your teeth. (Trust me, it’s green, we’ll see it).

Leave your cigarettes in your purse. The square bulge under your left breast in the bodice of your beautiful white gown isn’t flattering. Come to think of it neither is the wad of cash.

As you can see there are a bunch of things you can do to help your photographer make you look great. Most of these may seem like common sense, but I’ll tell you right now that I have seen pictures and heard stories of ALL of these things happening on numerous occasions. You can make the difference between something great and something average. Give your photographer just a little help and the work they’ll do will thrill you. I know. I see it too!

(as with all of these posts, this is free for photographers to use however you see fit. If there is a topic you’d like me to address, just drop me a line at and I’ll get right on it).

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Picture Perfect Professional Portraits

Picture Perfect Professional Portraits

Contrary to what the latest Nikon or Canon ad might be saying portrait sessions with professional photographers are alive and well, In fact, the business of portrait photography is actually going through a healthy expansion thanks to the emergence of some fun new genres such as expecting moms, family lifestyle and boudoir. Additionally, the emergence of much more portable studio quality equipment means that more often than not, your portrait photographer will either come to you or meet you in a great location where together you can capture some really great images.

Just like with all things related to working with a professional, there are some dos and don’ts when selecting, preparing and even during the process of having your photos taken. Your photographer will likely have a guide of some sort as well, but this should get you started.

Selecting a portrait photographer.

What do you want to do? Make a list. You want pictures. What will you use them for? Is your home a part of the subject/memory? Do you want the location to suggest other thoughts? Is this a one time thing or something you’re going to want to do every year? It is a good idea to have thought this through ahead of time. You’ll save a lot of time finding your photographer and you’ll also have a really clear set of priorities when you see her or him for the shoot.

Portrait photographers generally segment their business by what they’re shooting. Most will do more than one thing. Whether a photographer sticks to a particular genre (such as babies) or not will generally have much impact on the quality of their work. So take some time and look through their images to see if what they offer is what you want.

This said, you want to make sure that the photographer you select has enough experience doing what you want for them to be the experts when it’s time. Excellent boudoir portraiture isn’t about satin sheets and white wines, it is about posing and use of light and lenses that will put you in the best possible situation. If your photographer hasn’t worked with teenage boys, they’re not likely to get a smile from yours.

Let the photographer take the lead!


Babies are best in the morning and they’re best at home or a short walk from home. Baby photographers know these things. They also know babies. If your child cries they’re not going to be shocked or dismayed. They’ve heard babies cry. They won’t think less of you as a mom. The key trait possessed by most baby photographers - (in addition to amazing photographic skills of course) is patience. They’re also great at understanding how to change the environment enough that the baby sees and feels a change and they’re great at making babies feel comfortable. They’ll ask for help when they need it.


Having your teenager photographed for senior pictures? I have one big tip for you. Disappear. Don’t dictate wardrobe or poses or anything else and for heaven’s sake, don’t stand over the photographer’s shoulder yelling ‘smile’ at your teen! Let your teen and the photographer decide what they’re going to do and how they want to do it. Remember, these images are as much for them as for you. The best photographers know how to draw the best from this group. They make these sessions fun and interactive and both you and your son or daughter will end up with images you love.


Venturing into the dark for a boudoir session? You’re not alone. This is the fastest growing segment in portrait photography. Gals all over the country and gals of all shapes and ages are booking boudoir sessions with photographers who specialize in this genre. Interestingly, when interviewed about why they’re doing it, most say it’s something they’re mostly doing for themselves. Bravo gals, here’s some suggestions.

Consider your photographer carefully. What is going to make you feel most comfortable? Is your session going to be in a studio, hotel or your home? Boudoir session parties are one fun way a lot of women are jumping in, if that works for you it’s a great way to save a little money on the session fees. Just know that the key in getting great work is going to be a connection you’ll make with the photographer. The best make these sessions fun and easy. They encourage rather than push. And they know their craft. Tell them what your boundaries are in clear terms and then let them pose, mold, light and move you so they can get their best work. A common mistake is drinking too much before a session. Avoid this. It will show in your eyes and face. Any great boudoir photographer will have a solid list of do’s and don’ts for you to work from. Head their direction and you’ll have a great time.


Another fast growing segment is the family/lifestyle genre. In this case, portrait photographers will generally visit your family in your home. They’ll shoot some posed work but they’ll also do a lot of candid work around the home. They may meet you at a local park or other outing. These segments are great because they yield great images that can be used for everything from holiday cards to family yearbooks. Just tell your photographer what outputs you want ahead of time so they’re thinking about these things as they work.

As in all other genres, there are some dos and don’ts for Family portraiture. Think about your spouse. Is the best time to capture them in a great mood at the end of a long workday? Are they going to be excited about this or will they see it as something worse than the annual physical? Don’t spring this on your spouse when the photographer shows up at the door. No matter how animated, your fight will rarely make good photographic art. The same goes for your teens. Dragging them home from a friend’s house will rarely get them terribly excited about smiling for the camera. It seems like an oxymoron, but the more prepared your family is for what is going to happen, the more likely they will be able to relax and be natural when it’s time.

And here again, let the photographer take the lead. Don’t yell at the family to smile or be quiet or stand up straight. If you’ve selected an experienced family photographer they’ll make sure your family has fun. You’ll end up with what you want and your family will be excited when it’s time to do it again next year.

In all of these situations there are some important things to consider...

  1. Look your best. Get your hair done. Wear clean cloths you like and are comfortable in. Give the photographer the best chance to get you at your best and the work they’ll do will amaze you.
  2. Forget everything you’ve heard about Photoshop. It is a tool that can make a great photograph perfect, not a bad photograph good. Great photographers will not use photoshop make you look skinny if you’re not. They can fix some flyaway hair but they can’t edit away a bad hair day. They can fix a blemish in a heartbeat but if your eyes look drunk or stoned that’s how they’re going to look in your images.
  3. This is a photographer not a plastic surgeon. Great photographers know how to approach any body type and show it in its best light. Let them pose you and work with you. Just know that they’re going to celebrate who you are, not turn you into something you are not.
  4. Be prepared to spend a little extra time. Shut off the cell phone. You’re paying for the photographer’s time. You don’t take calls in the dentist’s chair, why would you take them during your portrait session? They’re not going to extend an hour just because you’re not ready or are distracted. Some will give you a little extra time, but most are busy enough that they can’t simply drop everything and hang out with you while you sort out your mother in law’s transportation or hairdo woes. If you book a one hour session, block out three hours. One in advance, one during and one after. Give yourself a break. You’re worth it!
  5. If someone is sick call early! Don’t push a sick child through a session just because the Christmas cards need to come out. See above. Photoshop is not a miracle worker. Great baby and family photographers are used to removing some unwanted - er - nose-stuff. But if your child is sick and fussy they’re not going to be able to make them look healthy. Just call and reschedule - but do it as far in advance as possible so the photographer is free to rebook your time.

There are lots of other things. Most, your photographer will share with you in preparation for your session. Now it’s time for you to act! Take the leap. Book a pro. Stick to these simply guidelines and you’ll be thrilled with what you get.

(as always, if you’re a working pro and you have something you’d like me to write about or add just drop me a line here or at and I’ll try to get it done. These posts are all free for you to use in whatever capacity you see fit. Feel free to copy and use them in whole or in part).

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Selecting and Working with a Professional Photographer, Step One. Making Contact

I spend a lot of time on the Pictage Forums. It’s a great environment where I am able to interact with photographers on a daily basis. It’s closed, so they can talk about what’s really on their minds, and through that experience I’ve been able to develop a pretty clear view of their challenges in working with clients.

Here’s the thing. In my experience (and we currently serve just shy of 12,000 of them), these folks universally love what they do. They approach every job wanting to do their absolute best work. There are some things you can do to help them. Many of these are things they’ll discuss with you. Some are not. Some are just common courtesy. Some you may not think of. Taking a few extra minutes to think through these things will make your time with them and your experience and images just that much better. The work they do is amazing, so long as you follow a few simple guidelines.

Over the next few days I will be posting a series of posts that are free for anyone to use for any purpose. These will cover subjects ranging from selecting a photographer - the work you need to do before you get started - to preparing for a successful portrait session, to ways to make sure you come away with the best possible images for your wedding, mitzvah or other event.

Finding a photographer. Navigating the Website and Blog to find the perfect fit.

There are a lot of professional photographers. In almost any town you may find there are almost too many to choose from. It can be a little overwhelming and it is not surprising that so many potential clients essentially resort to sending a blanket or form email out to see who responds. You should know that the more a photographer is working, the less likely they are to respond to an inquiry like this. It isn’t that they don’t love you or want to work for you, and it certainly isn’t that they won’t do great work (in fact, quite the opposite is true), but these folks are busy and they simply don’t have time to respond to all of the inquiries they get. To make your search more fruitful, take a little extra time and get to know them before you reach out. You’re much more likely to find someone who will absolutely thrill you with the work they do!

The web site.

Think of this as their store front. You will notice that all photographer sites feature rich image galleries. This is the first place to go when you get to the site. They’re all going to feature great images, but how do you narrow it down? You’re looking for two things: Their style, whatever it is that makes their images unique. And, their specialties. If you are seeking someone to photograph your baby or perhaps a boudoir photographer, make sure the photographer’s galleries include images like these that you LOVE.

I recommend creating a folder and “favoriting” a few photographers on the first pass and then going back to spend a little time. View their image galleries (those most relevant to you) a few times so you know for sure that this is the way you wish to see yourself. (One thing to look out for here ... Are all of the people in all of the images model beautiful? Are you? If so, great. If not, then spending a little time to find a photographer whose work more closely reflects who you are is a good idea).

Photographer Pricing

In most cases you will also find their pricing on their websites. Make sure this is also in your range. As discussed in a previous post, their pricing is generally not significantly negotiable. You are likely to be able to make minor changes to what is included in a package, but you are not likely to get a 50% discount. You can actually find great photographers in many price ranges. Just know that those who are really good and lower priced will require a little more searching (and they’re generally building their businesses so they’re also very busy).

The Blog

If the website is their storefront, their blog is their family room. Once you’ve narrowed your search down to a few (less than 10) photographers you’d like to work with, go and visit their blog. You will likely find a combination of recent real client projects and personal work and musings. You’re going to spend some time with your photographer and even if you’re just doing some headshots you’re going to want someone you know you’re going to be comfortable with. Taking the time to do this will help you get comfortable and will also give you something fun to reference in your inquiry email. (and that’s the generally the next step). One other quick note is that on their contact pages the photographer will likely tell you how they prefer you make contact. Again, this isn't them being hard to work with. It is actually that they are trying to be easier to work with. If they are generally on location then it might be easier for them to get a phone call and a voicemail than an email. They'll tell you that. Going with their method is another way to start out right.

First Contact - The inquiry email.

These days it is common for photographers to make first contact with their potential clients through email. It is a convenient way for both the photographer and the client to communicate, so this makes sense. However, you should know that if you are seeking a photographer who is in demand, (and most are), sending them an email that appears to be a simple form letter is not likely to get you a response. This isn’t because they are snobby or don’t want to take the time. It is because they are generally very busy and they get a LOT of these. If they took the time to respond to every one, they’d never get anything done. Here is a good and bad example.

Response unlikely: “Hi. We are seeking a photographer to take some portraits of our children. Can you send us pricing?”

Response likely: “Hi. We’ve been looking for a photographer for a while and we found your website and blog and we love your work. (especially the picture of the child with the balloons!) We’d love to get together with you to talk through what we’re looking for. Can you suggest a time and a place that makes sense? Weeknights are probably best for us.

Granted, you’re not going to be able to contact every photographer in your area if you use this approach, but taking the few extra minutes necessary to spend some time in their portfolios, review their pricing, etc., will be a big help to you in selecting a photographer whose work you will love and in making sure that photographer understands that you are serious about working with them and that is the first great step to success!

(Note: For photographers - if you are interested in using any of this content for any purpose you are welcome to do so. Consider it a gift and use it however you please. Also, feel free to drop me an email at if there are subjects you would like me to cover. I’ve gotten a lot of great ideas from the folks on the Pictage forums so I have plenty of subjects to cover, but I always love hearing from you).

Friday, November 26, 2010

Selecting your professional photographer - an alternative to that survey that looks so good.

Before you send that survey ...

A number of the wedding websites have surveys on them designed to help brides select their photographer. Seems like a good idea in theory. But before you cut and paste that survey glance through this... It may make you think twice.

Having looked through one of these so you can make sure you ask questions relevant to you and make sure there are no surprises isn’t a bad idea. But sending a long survey to a photographer you are seriously considering may be the best way to make sure they aren’t interested in you.

Questions about photographic style (and definitions of style).

Frankly the best way to understand a photographer’s style is to view their work. Almost all photographers today will work mostly in a style closely tied to photojournalism. They’re going to work in the background, try to be unnoticed and catch the moments that matter. It is nearly impossible to put anything else related to style into words. Their images and their style is unique to them (if they’re any good), but any words they’d use to try to explain what that is will more than likely confuse or diminish the power of the imagery.

Go and look at their work. Are there images of people and venues that look like you and yours and do you like them? Then you know their style works for you.

Questions about how many, or "all" of the images.

Most professionals will shoot somewhere between 1,000 and 3,000 images during your event (some shoot many more). You will have no idea that most are taken.

I know this sounds like crazy talk but I promise that you don’t actually want ALL of the images your photographer will shoot. No matter how great they are some will be too light or too dark, some will be out of focus. Some will include things you don’t want to see. (your cousin’s hand up your mother’s dress?) One of the things you are paying your professional photographer for is to send you a collection of images that tells your story without burying you with so many that you can’t figure out which ones you want.

The number of images they take and deliver has little to do with whether or not they are good photographers.

Questions about pricing (why does a pro cost so much?)

I know. Your uncle and your friend take great pictures. Why not have them there instead of a pro? They have a big black camera. Won’t the pictures be just as good?

Truthfully, some may. However, a professional photographer understands the best use of light, situation and equipment. They aren’t there for the party. They’re working. Most of them will have photographed events in your venues. There are few problems they haven’t already had to solve for someone else. When you hire a pro you aren’t paying just for the time they’re there. You’re paying for all of that training and experience.

You’re also paying for all of the editing time. As a rule of thumb, it takes about three times as long to edit an event as it takes to capture it. That is a process of first culling out the images that you don’t want to see and then going through the remainder on an image by image basis to make them look their best. That may be done with professional image organization and enhancement tools like Lightroom or Aperture and it will also likely include some use of additional tools like Photoshop. Professional photographers will see and solve a multitude of ills before you ever see the pictures.

All of this is going to be included in what the photographer is charging for time.

Now - why the prints cost so much.

You aren’t paying a professional photographer to capture just any day. You’re paying a pro to capture a day that matters. It is amusing, and sometimes deeply frustrating, to pros that their clients seem so interested in taking these images to the local drug store to have the 14 year old kid print them out.

When you buy a professional photographic print you’re actually paying for two things. One, the use of the image. When you hire a professional event photographer to shoot your wedding you are paying for their time. The images they capture belong to them. When you want to use one of those images, either in print or online, you must license that image. Many photographers will include these licenses with their packages. That’s fine. It is their prerogative to do so. However, the higher end photographers will not do this. Their images are their art. They want to make sure that when they are used they are used in the best possible way. So they maintain control over the image and the way it is displayed. This is part of the cost of a print when you buy the print from a pro.

The other portion of the cost is the print itself. Professional photographers use professional labs. You actually have to qualify to be a customer in one of these places. They don’t serve consumers. Why? Because a professional understands that green is not green and black is not black. They’ve taken time and money to make sure that the screen they are editing on is calibrated to the printers in their chosen lab. Ever get a print back and look at it and wonder why the green dresses are teal? Or why what looks so bright on your Mac looks so dark on paper? This doesn’t happen in professional situations. The colors you chose for your day will be the colors you see. The photographer and the lab technicians spend a lot of time and energy making sure that this is the case.

Further, the materials used are a step above those found in the online sites or other sources. Archival quality papers ensure the colors are as vibrant on these images 50 years from now as they are today (and many labs provide lifetime guarantees).

Ok - So why are albums so expensive?

Any professional photographer has access to lots of different companies that can create books and albums for you. These are expensive for two reasons. One, they are a collection of the photographer’s images. (see above). Two, depending on the process and style (and this is particularly true for Albums) there is a lot involved in producing them.

Albums are actually still handcrafted. An album is a combination of archival quality photographic prints, a cover (usually leather, but sometimes metal, or other materials), and substrate (the material the prints are adhered - or glued - to). Someone actually has to go through and glue the prints to the substrate and then the prints and substrate are bound together to create the album. All of this then needs to cure - or dry - to prevent it from warping. There is very little automation in the album creation process. They are expensive to produce and are therefore expensive to purchase.

Digital, Film or both?

I have to admit that I almost laughed when I saw this on a survey. These days almost any professional photographer will predominantly shoot in digital. With this said, there are photographers who’ve made a niche of shooting some work in film. These photographers may employ older 35mm or square format cameras (such as Hasselblads) to capture some of their images. They may also use toy or plastic cameras, such as Holgas. In any case, know that their choice to shoot in film is a choice they’re making because they like that look for whatever it is they happen to be shooting at that moment.

When you are speaking to a photographer, asking them if they ever shoot in film may yield an interesting discussion. Whether or not they do will tell you nothing about the quality or level of experience of your photographer, but it is something all photographers think about and either do or don’t do for interesting reasons. With all of this said, if you are looking for someone to shoot in film these days, expect to pay a healthy premium.

Negotiating pricing and packages.. Some do’s and dont’s.

It is natural to want to negotiate pricing and a package that makes sense for you, and frankly almost any photographer is more than willing to do this with you. They want you to get exactly what you want at a price that makes sense as much as you do. The best way, by far, for you to do this is to simply call them, request a meeting, etc. But only do this if what you want to pay is within reason when compared to their published pricing.

The photographer’s packages are based on the amount of time they know they’ll spend on your day. Better photographers are in demand and they will command higher prices. Ultimately their business is entirely based on them and their skill, so once they’re hired for the day, that commodity is gone. There isn’t another. For this reason if a photographer has a published shoot fee, or booking fee, of $5000 (which is not at all unusual) you can expect that once you’ve negotiated, that’s about what you will pay.

Going to someone who has a fee of $2500 and telling them that someone else will do your event for $500 will almost always ensure that they will not call you back. If you want to pay $500, find someone who sells for around that price and negotiate with them. (But first, make sure you LOVE their work).

A photographer can generally substitute a book or some prints, or provide a slightly modified version of their coverage. As an example, if your event is on a Thursday night and it is only going to be three hours, they may give you a break on the coverage. However, if your event is a Saturday night and it’s only three hours the same will not likely hold true (because someone else will have wanted them for that whole day).


Most photographers will give you a full refund if they have to cancel for any reason. Additionally, most will also refer you to another photographer who they know can provide a very similar style and package to their own. (They are perhaps unique in their willingness to work and refer to each other).

However, if you cancel - and cancellations happen for all kinds of reasons - know that you will likely have to pay some amount, and perhaps all of the initial amount, for their time. The reason is that once they’ve committed to you they have taken themselves off of the market on that day. Most good photographers are busy, so this means they will likely have turned down events that they would have taken had they not already committed to yours.

Some photographers will offer you alternate uses for the time you pay for such as portrait sessions, etc. and these can be a lot of fun. (Doing a fun portrait session with your friends and family if the wedding is called off for instance). But they are usually under no obligation to do so.

Make sure you read carefully through the cancellation clauses in their contracts so you have a full understanding of your rights and theirs.

Selecting your photographer.

Ultimately selecting your photographer comes down to three things. Decide which order you want to put them in and then use these rather than a complicated survey and you’ll likely end up with someone who enhances your experience, both while it’s happening and in your memories.

  1. Photographic style. No two photographers are going to be the same. Make sure you look at many and take some time over a glass of wine or a cup of coffee to really immerse yourself in their imagery. Are the people you see real? (Watch out for models). Do they look like you and your friends and family? Does the venue look like yours? Do you love what you see? This will matter a lot more than the way they may describe their style. You want to love what you see when your day is long past. (for me, this is the most important thing).
  2. Personality. Once you find a photographer who’s style you love, spend some time getting to know them. Almost all photographers have a blog. Read what’s there. Many include personal tidbits with the rest. Here’s the thing. This person is going to be with you for your whole day - and these days aren’t always easy! Are you going to want this person with you while you’re getting dressed? Are you going to want them there when you’re stressed and losing it? Is their face the one that’s going to make you smile when you’re tired and getting cranky? You can learn a lot of that online, but when you think they are, meet with them and spend some time. This is nearly as important as style.
  3. Price. As previously mentioned. If a photographer’s packages start at $3,000 they’re not going to work with you for $1,000. Asking them is a waste of their time and yours. Ultimately this comes down to how important great photography is to you. For me, it was very important, and 20 years later I am so glad that we had such a solid photographer as we still cherish our album and the images of that day around our home. For you, the cake may be more important. Just remember this; the only thing you will have in 20 years is your pictures. Everything else will be gone. That may be worth a little extra sacrifice, so when you see them you’ll smile and remember the day and if you’re lucky, the cool person behind the camera who shared it with you.

Hope that helps.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Beware of Fraudulent Photographer Ads posted on Craigslist and SEOing on Google

This is mainly for photographers. There appears to be a well coordinated quasi phishing expedition using a series of established photographers and bogus URLs all registered through enom and hosted on the planet. The URLs are all cityname photographer dot com. A partial list is below, there are many, many more. We have attempted to contact most of the affected photographers. By searching the following text block on google you can find the fraudulent sites (and I'm sure the one that the original text came from).


A photographer is often known for the type of subjects they take pictures of. Most obviously a family photographer is a professional photographer who takes pictures for one or more families during special family events. A family photographer will often spend a while developing a familiarity with his clients that allows him to take surprisingly candid shots of family members. Because of his rapport with his subjects he is able to capture all the cute and endearing idiosyncrasies of family members which are the fabric that holds families together.

The sites are all basically the same, stolen business names, etc., forms to fill out and phone numbers to call. We have contacted local authorities to investigate the fraud and are also contacting FBI internet crimes to investigate.

If your site is affected immediately notify your local authorities and also notify Craigslist, Google, etc through their fraud reporting departments. We have notified ThePlanet where the sites are hosted as well.

What a pain in the ass ...


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Partnercon Speaker Preparation

I thought it might be interesting to have this out there on the ether ... (or however we categorize this now). This is the speaker preparation and expectations memo that is issued to all of the speakers at Partnercon. Frankly, I think it should be the speaker preparation memo distributed to all speakers at all photography conferences, but if I said that you'd need to forgive me for overstepping...

It's out here for two reasons. One. I think it shows a little tiny piece of what goes on behind the scenes in conference preparation. Putting these things on is no small task. Two, it creates an element of accountability between the attendees and the speakers and teachers at Partnercon. So, here it is ...

Speaker Memo 1 - PartnerCon, 2010. November 9-11. New Orleans, LA.

Hey Y’all,

It’s hard for me to believe that Partnercon is already less than two months away. We’re headed down there in a week or so to check out the venues and meet with the hotel and that will bring it all home for me for sure. Last year we did conference calls for speakers ahead of time but I know these are hard to fit into your schedules. This year I’m going to try to impart the same information here, so this is for you.

I’ll say up front that this is truly a “big boy pants” communication. (If you know me at all you’re used to these but if you don’t some of the tone may come as a little bit of a surprise. Rest assured that I love you, but I want to give you every chance for success).

Many of you speak a lot. Believe it or not, this is just as much for you as for the folks who are speaking for the first time. Maybe more. In my experience, and I’ve heard many of you speak, many of you are resting on your laurels. For this conference in particular I strongly encourage you to consider branching out and approaching your subject in a fresh way. You may be surprised at what YOU learn in the process.

That’s a tough statement. I get that. What gives me the right to say this? Well, two things. One. Before we had officially announced the speaker schedule for this conference there were over 200 registrations. These are people who simply trust Pictage to make this week great. In many respects, that actually increases the pressure for us and we take their trust very seriously. Two. Every single person who is coming has paid their way to be there (including all of you!). Folks spend real money to be there and I believe we ALL owe it to these people to do everything we can to honor their trust and sacrifice and to give them our best in everything we do.

Now. You’ve been chosen to speak at this conference and that’s meaningful. We had over 150 abstracts submitted. The community team and yours-truly spent hours (quite literally) going through all of the options and we’ve chosen you. In case you’re wondering why, there are two reasons. One. We know you. We’ve seen you speak and we know what you can do. We know you rock. Not a single speaker was chosen this year because of their fame. Every single person who is speaking has a passion and a unique perspective and a level of professionalism that causes us to trust that you won’t just fill the time, you’ll actually knock the ball out of the park. In truth, we’re incredibly excited about this year’s slate of speakers. We strongly believe that for actual content value you represent the best the industry has to offer.

With all of this said I am offering the attached guidelines to successful presentation preparation. I offered the same guidelines last year. Some people took advantage of them. Some didn’t. It was clear who was who. (some of those who didn’t did just fine because they took the gist to heart and did their own thing.)

Understand that I send this because I really, really want you to succeed. There are few things that I am a real stickler about. This is one of them. I take preparation for my participation very seriously. I’m just looking for you to do the same ...

Enough preamble! Here goes:

  1. Your presentation needs to have an introduction, content, and an end. It should tell a story. There is an old public-speaking saying, “tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them.” Over the years I’ve learned something about old sayings, they’re usually right. So, make your first slide an agenda and your last slide a conclusion. (Hint - I actually make these first when I’m building a presentation as they keep me on track).
  2. Never do the same presentation twice. The reason is that while it may be fresh for the audience it won’t be fresh for you. That will come across. Even if you’re just freshening some images, etc., make sure you are making the presentation new enough for you that you’d enjoy hearing it even if you’d heard it before. This applies in this space as there are lots of people who’ve heard you speak. They’re coming back because the liked it last time, but they’re hoping for something new. (BTW - this was the most common complaint in our after surveys last year... “so and so just keeps doing the same old presentation.” Don’t let that be you.)
  3. Give them very practical takeaways. Presentations with Five rules for this and Ten steps to that are VERY effective presentations. (these rules and steps are also GREAT blog posts and if you tell the folks who come to your presentation that you’ll be putting them on your blog later that day you’ll be amazed at the interaction you drive).
  4. This is a presentation, not a slide show. Most of you are photographers. I strongly encourage you ALL to intermix images into your presentations. Your images bring continued connection and credibility to what you’re saying. They provide a place to connect. But make sure you have very strong and specific content wrapped around any slideshows. To make sure this is the case, embed your slideshows into a Keynote presentation. This will keep you on track. If any of your slideshows are longer than 3 minutes they’re too long. Attendees have exceptional “filler meters” and they will see long slide shows as ways to fill speaking time.
  5. If you’re leading a shooting workshop you need a plan. New Orleans is a veritable cornucopia of backgrounds. Many who came last year have said they got some of their best portfolio work all year just goofing around outside at Partnercon. But there are secrets to success ... Know how many attendees you have and how long you have and make sure your plan takes all of that into account. Walk the route and plan impromptu shoot locations along the way. Take someone you know and trust- another photographer, helper, along with you to work with attendees while you are busy. Know what shots you want where and make the attendees put their cameras down while you are instructing. Then, make sure they have time to shoot!
  6. Mind your internal clock. (and if you don’t have one make sure you have an external clock somewhere you can see it). In most cases you only have an hour. That time can fly be and it can crawl by. The best method to making sure your presentation works in the time allotted is to practice it. Find a local PUG and use it there. Ask for feedback. Listen. If you do this one thing you will be prepared.

That’s it for now folks. If some of what I’ve said here is offensive to some of you I’m sorry. I have enormous respect for you all, both as individuals and as photographers. If I didn’t you wouldn’t be on the dais. I want to challenge you all to be better, both because I think our attendees deserve it and because I think it’s more fun to take a risk and do something new than to simply do the same old thing ... And that’s probably the best reason of all!