Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Consultation

One of the questions I get asked the most is about how I structure my sessions.  Everyone is going to do this a little differently and you will find what works best for you.  It will change over time as you get to know your business and clients.  I have at least four points of contact with my clients.  Every time, no exceptions,  I am going to spend the next four weeks going over each step in my structure.  It took my four years to really figure it out so hopefully this will help you figure it out a lot faster.  I prefer to have as much contact in person as possible.  If you are working from your home this may not be possible.  Each step will work for face to face or phone interactions.  Just make the obvious tweaks if needed.  And I am also skipping the initial contact which is almost always going to be the phone call from the client inquiring about your services. A successful phone inquiry is going to lead to the following:

The Consultation:

I love meeting my new and potential clients in person in my cozy studio.  It allows for a more personal experience and a chance to put my work right on front of them.  It also provides an opportunity for me to see them and get an idea about their style and personality.  I get to ask questions that will help me make sure they get the session they really want.  The questions I ask are basically the same for each client.  Here are some examples of my favorites:

1.  Who will be in the photographs?  If they just want the newborn in the pictures I will suggest that we get a few with mom and/or dad, siblings, etc.  If they are camera shy I will suggest using their hands only.  I can almost always get some kind of relationship photos that will lead to a bigger sale. I am always planting ideas about what products they will be presented in the sales session.  If it is a family portrait I need to know ages and names and something special about each member of the family.  Everyone in the family is going to be more comfortable with me  if I show up to the session knowing their names and a little something about them.  If there are going to be babies or young children I need to be prepared with toys and treats.


2.  What will you be using these portraits for?  In October I get lots of Christmas Card sessions.  These will almost always be cards and a large family portrait print.  If it is a newborn it is going to be birth announcements and prints for grandparents and the baby's room.  I like to have clients bring pictures of their home and the walls they are wanting to utilize.  I can better prepare them for what sizes they will want.  This is also important while I am shooting.  I need to know whether they need portrait or landscape orientations.  This is the point where I start suggestions albums and collages and other products that will allow them to have as many photos in a print form as possible.  Go ahead and make sure they know they are going to love all of the images.  Give them some ideas to alleviate the anxiety of having to choose at the sales session.


3.   What will everyone be wearing?  Now, they may have been planning this for months or they may have not considered it at all yet.  Either way, this question will lead to more than a discussion about clothes.  Colors say a lot about a client.  Are they bright and happy and ready for anything?  Or are they more formal, planning on dresses and suits?  This information will help you determine appropriate locations, posing, props, and how crazy you can get.  You do not want to be in an outdoor location with only rocks and grass to sit on if the family is formally dressed.  You never want your client to feel uncomfortable.  It's hard to get natural smiles in that situation.  Just to be sure, I will have the client go home and text me pictures of the outfits.  If they have not yet decided you have had a bit of time to get to know them at this point and can make suggestions.  Have some outfit suggestion pictures to show them  Some people will need more help than others.


4.  What else would you like me to know about you, your family, your child, your expectations?  Never ask the question "What do you want your sessions to be like?"  Just assume they don't know.  After asking the previous questions you may already know all that you need to.  This last question is just to give the client an opportunity to bring up anything else they may have thought of during your conversation.  You should now have a session scheduled with a date, time, and location. Make sure you understand each other and that you have each others contact information. 


 Now it's your responsibility to plan and prepare for that client's session.  Make sure you take their desires and needs into account so that they know you were listening and care about them.  Next time we'll talk about your second point of contact, the session.  Where all the magic happens!



Thursday, April 10, 2014

Shooting in RAW: Noise Reduction

More Reasons Why Shooting in RAW is Good

Noise.  Every photographer’s worst enemy.  It’s that grainy look in a picture when it’s too dark to get a good shot and your camera compensates for the darkness up to its limits.  Usually it happens when you are taking a picture indoors and to the eye it seems like there is enough light.  But your camera says otherwise.  Maybe you’re too far away to use your flash.  Maybe the flash would ruin the shot you are going for and so you adjust your camera settings to shoot in low light.  Up until recently I shot with a Canon T2i, so that meant setting my ISO to 3200 and praying.  I think the camera could handle up to 6400 ISO, but that was just asking for trouble.  My pictures always turned out to grainy even at 3200.  Now I shoot with a Canon 6D and I sometimes flirt with 10,000 ISO and the picture comes out fine.  Cameras are more than just the number of megapixels.  So what do you do if your best shots come out too noisy (grainy)?  Good thing you’ve learned and are shooting in RAW.  You can still adjust for noise with a JPEG, but as with everything else, I think the adjustments come out better in RAW processing.

The Details
                                                                                                                 
If you are working in Photoshop Elements, like me, then here is a picture of the settings that we are discussing (circled in red).  Other programs will have similar settings.  Looking at the picture below, you’ll see at the top that we’ve switched from the shutter icon on the left (where most of the RAW adjustments are) to that triangle-looking icon.  This gives you access to Sharpening and Noise Reduction.




How it Works

There are two types of noise.  Luminance noise is that grainy look that we’ve been discussing.  Color noise is a purple/green outline around certain objects in your picture.  Color noise happens most often when using low quality lenses.  While the adjustments in the diagram above help combat color noise too, I’m focusing mainly on luminance noise here.  To reduce the graininess of your picture, move the Luminance sliders to the right.  

The pictures below give you an idea of how it works.  The first is a shot taken with my Canon T2i at 3200 ISO, so it’s pretty grainy.  It might be difficult to see with this example, but trust me, if you zoomed in you would definitely see a lot of noise.



Compare that to this next picture where I adjusted the Luminance slider in the noise reduction area.  You should see that the graininess that was all over the helicopter is mostly gone.




What You Give Up

It might be difficult to tell unless you zoom in on the second picture but the result of using the noise reduction is a loss of detail.  Compare the two pictures by looking at the guy sticking his head out the window near the front of the helicopter.  The noise reduction tool makes your picture a bit blurry…especially if you use too much.  This makes sense because the tool is getting rid of that fine detail that makes up those specks of noise.  It blurs them out so to speak.  But you also get a blurry picture as a result.  So the lesson here is don’t go crazy with the Noise Reduction Tool.  A little bit is OK, but if your picture is too grainy, it might just be a lost cause. 

Caution

You have probably picked up on the fact that the Noise Reduction Tool is purposefully placed in the same area as the Sharpening tool.  Sharpening is definitely a good idea when you reduce noise as a way to try to get some of that lost detail back.  However, what usually ends up happening is that people over-sharpen way too much as they try to recoup all of the lost detail.  Too much sharpening looks bad.  Just come to terms with the fact that some of the detail will be irretrievable when you do a lot of noise reduction.

Wrap Up

I have discussed what causes noise in a picture as well as how to compensate for it using Photoshop Elements in the RAW editor.  I have discussed the drawbacks of using noise reduction.  There are other aspects to noise reduction that you can research on your own if you wish.  For example, some cameras, such as my Canon 6D, can automatically do some noise reduction within the camera itself when the picture is taken.  Also, there are separate editing programs that focus only on noise reduction.  Some people swear by programs such as Noise Ninja and others.  I have not used these programs and so I cannot comment on how well they work. 

Next Week: Applying saturation to specific colors

Do you have any success or horror stories?  Feel free to post your comments and questions to this post and I’ll be happy to discuss them.  Happy shooting!


Bryan Rasmussen owns Chiseled Light Photography and is also a freelance photographer for a local newspaper. Follow him at www.facebook.com/ChiseledLight. He is also on Instagram, Flickr, and Fine Art America.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Bringing Professionalism to Your Small Business



I know it's your studio and that most of the time you are editing and probably the only one around.  But that doesn't change the fact that you are also a business owner.  You never know when someone might stop by or the phone might ring.  Are you ready for either?  Whether you are in a retail location or working from a home office or your bedroom, you should always be a professional, ready to greet the public.
 
First of all, what is professionalism?  To me it means that you are always dressed appropriately for your work and well groomed.  Your speech and grammar are correct.  You are confident and have a complete knowledge of your products and services.  You take responsibility for your mistakes and work to correct them.  People can count on your to do the right thing and can trust you to deliver amazing service each and every time.  So now that we know what professionalism is, let's explore some of the reasons why professionalism is so important.

1. Image.  You represent your business.  What impression do you want to make?  Do you really want to greet the UPS guy at the door in your pajamas?  Of course not.  What self-respecting UPS guy would ever come to you for photographs after seeing that on a regular basis?  I spent a lot of days in my studio when I knew there were no sessions scheduled. Until the day I had a potential new client walk in the door and catch me in my yoga pants and the oversized stained and really nasty t-shirt I usually reserved for painting in.  She loved my work that was displayed in my adorable studio but must have been less-than-impressed with me as I never heard from her again.  After that I was never in my studio again without being dressed for a consultation.  You probably wouldn't walk into someone else's business all disheveled. Don't walk into yours that way.

NOT THIS: 


THIS:



2. Productivity.  Let's face it, how much more likely are you to take a nap in the middle of the day if you are already in your PJ's?  Even if you work at home it is important to set hours for yourself.  It's also important to get ready for your day, get dressed, make your bed, and brush your teeth.  Fix your hair and put on a smile.  How much do I sound like your mom right now?  Well your mom knew what she was talking about!  I'll wait while you call her and tell her that.....It has been proven that we are most productive in the mornings.  Take advantage of that time to do your best work.  Treat your business like a business.  Be on time and ready to work.  Even if it's just getting from the kitchen to the office, but especially if you have a retail location.  Your best customer may have come and gone while you were putting around the house. 

 
 3.  Client Relationships.  Always be quick to greet your clients or anyone else who walks through your studio door.  This Includes the UPS guy!  Don't let more than 10-15 seconds go by before acknowledging them.  Offer them a smile and speak in a pleasant tone.  This will set the stage for a successful transaction.  Take care of their needs, be it a session, consultation, package delivery, or inquiry.  Offer any further assistance that they may need or want.  Thank them for their business and invite them back.  And use their name as much as possible.  People respond well to the sound of their name.  They like to know that you are paying attention to them.



It probably seems like common sense to most of you but I think from time to time we can all benefit from a reminder.  It's easy to get lazy when you are working alone.  Just remember, you never know when that golden client is going to come knocking.  Always be ready!


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Lightroom: The Tone Curve


Post 18
Series: Introduction to Adobe Lightroom®

Setting the Tone

The Tone Curve tool controls ranges of actual tones in the image. It may look complicated, but it is pretty simple to use. This azalea image needs after-capture adjustments we can take care of with Lightroom Tone Curves.



Math? Well, a Graph

The graph represents all tones in your image. The bottom axis shows shadows, midtones and highlights. The y-axis shows darks to brights.


The tones in your particular image will be shown subtly on the graph (highlighted in blue-green here).

Tones get darker as you move towards the bottom of the graph, and lighter as you move towards the top.


Making the Move

The Tone Curve tool can be adjusted by clicking on the actual graph and dragging, or by moving the sliders underneath the graph.  Which of the tones do you want to adjust? Choose from Highlights, Lights, Darks and Shadows. If you are making adjustments on the graph, the area you click in before you drag determines which of these you are changing.



Being General or Getting Pointed

Lightroom has two different curves you can change, the general curve and Point Curve. The general curve is the graph and sliders we have been working on. General Tonal adjustments to the sliders in Highlights, Lights, Darks and Shadows gives you more control. Lightroom’s general tone curve controls are also set up to keep changes smooth, so you don’t distort your image too much. At the bottom of the tone curve section is Point Curve. Click on the arrows to the right, and choose from 3 options, Linear, Medium Contrast, and Strong Contrast to see different instant adjustments to your image. Using Point Curve is the quickest and easiest tonal adjustment. 



Fine Tuned Tones

Whether making fine-tuned adjustments or a quick Point Curve selection, whatever your preference for changes to the tones in your image, you can make them with the Tone Curve tool in Lightroom. 





Next post: Lightroom: HSL / Color / B&W



These posts are part of a series: Introduction to Adobe Lightroom®

Jennifer Apffel is a photographer with over a decade of experience in portrait, event, and product photography. She also does freelance graphic design and fine art. For more check out jenniferapffel.com, albaphotography.net or look for her on fineartamerica.com.
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Friday, April 4, 2014

Lightroom: Develop Module Cool Tools 2

Post 17
Series: Introduction to Adobe Lightroom®

A Big To-Do

In the last post we covered Crop Overlay, the Aspect tool, the Angle tool, Contrain to Warp, the Spot Removal tool, and Red Eye Correction.

This post covers the rest of the section.



Graduated Filter

For the Graduated Filter, click on the vertical rectangle near the center. Recognize these options underneath? Here are Temp, Tint, Exposure, Contrast, Highlights, Shadows, Clarity, Saturation, Sharpness, and Noise.
The Exposure and Contrast sliders are especially important in changing the look of your shot. Make these adjustments first. Play around and have fun. If you aren’t already, get familiar with these tools. You will use them constantly. 

Parlez-vous Français?

What is Moiré?  Moiré is a digital feedback pattern that appears over another pattern like stripes or plaid. Have you ever tried to take a picture of a computer screen? Lines and waves appear. This is one example of Moiré. It happens when a fine pattern in an image intersects with the pattern of the digital sensor in your camera. You can avoid Moiré by changing the position and angle of your camera. If adjusting your camera and capturing another image is not possible, then using the Moiré tool can make the pattern look normal. Use your adjustment brush to cover the area you want to fix. (Note: the sharper the image, the more noticeable the Moiré effect.)



What does Defringe do? Sometimes a camera will give your image a purple or green edge to the subjects. Defringe turns that odd coloring back to the color you intend it to be.

How about that Color and rectangle at the bottom? Let’s say you want to emphasize a particular color on your image. Select that color by clicking on the box. Pick a color and tone.


I chose a bright yellow for this example.



Next, go to your image and click-and-drag over the section you want to take on the color hue you chose. I clicked-and-dragged over the top left corner for a graduated yellow effect.



Radical Radial Filter

This filter takes the Color you have selected and created a circular color-effect over your image. The color will be on the outside.



If you want to switch the color to inside the circle/oval, click the little box next to Invert Mask.



The Feather slider determines how soft or crisp the circular filter is.



Adjustment Brush

For more fine-tuning on your tools, Choose Brush A or B, Erase, change your Brush Size or change the Feather of the brush edge.



Eenie Meenie Miney Mo

What to do with so many choices? Mess around for hours. Or, get exactly the look you are wanting. Let’s start with trying things out. As you get comfortable with what you can do, you will pick up speed and end with the precise image you intended. Ah, satisfaction!





Next post: Lightroom: The Tone Curve

These posts are part of a series: Introduction to Adobe Lightroom®

Jennifer Apffel is a photographer with over a decade of experience in portrait, event, and product photography. She also does freelance graphic design and fine art. For more check out jenniferapffel.com, albaphotography.net or look for her on fineartamerica.com.
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Thursday, April 3, 2014

Deal of the Day: Nikon F4s Camera

Today's Deal of the Day promotion is for the Nikon F4s camera body.  It's a great film back up to your digital camera.  It will also work with all of your full frame lenses in autofocus.  This is a great time to purchase one of Nikon's most reliable and most loved professional SLR cameras.


The price is valid starting today at 11:00 a.m. through 10:59 a.m. tomorrow Eastern time.  Available in limited quantities while supplies last.  No rainchecks or substitutions.  Limit 1 per customer.

Click HERE to shop now.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Give Your Business (and Yourself) a Break!

Summer will be here before we know it.  It's time to start planning that summer vacation.  Yes, I'm talking to you.  Yes, I am aware that you are a small business owner and that if you are not there to take the pictures and run the studio no one else will.  Yes, believe me, I know.  But did you know that taking some time off for rest and relaxation is not only good for your body and soul, it's also one of the very best things you can do for your business?  Working all the time increases the chance of illness and fatigue and diminishes your productivity and creativity.  So how do you do it?  How do you leave for a week or even two without putting your business at risk?

It's easier than you think.  Here are four tips for a successful "small business owner vacay":

1.  Close up shop.  We are fortunate to be in the business of photography.  It is possible to just lock the door and walk away for a short time.  We have the freedom to book appointments around a schedule that works for us.  Plan in advance when your vacation time will be and block it off on your calendar and/or scheduling software.  Inform anyone who might be making appointments for you that you will not be taking any clients during that period of time.  You don't have to inform your clients that you are going on a cruise or to the beach, just let them know when you have openings and book them.


 2.  Choose a slow time.  Think about your busiest seasons.  For me, a newborn and child photographer, it's busiest around holidays.  October through December is crazy.  January is typically pretty dead.  January also happens to be the best month to go to Disney World.  Shortest lines and cheaper accommodations.  Easter is also very busy for me but then I have another period of time wherein I could take a break.  For every specialty there will be different slow periods.  Pay attention to when your down times are and take advantage of those times for much needed breaks. 


3.  Hire temporary help.  If you employ another photographer then what are you still doing here?!?  Go on vacation already!  I'm sure most of us are not in that position.  And I'm not really talking about hiring someone to photograph your clients for you.  Maybe all you need to relax is to send out some of your editing.  Maybe you need someone to answer the phone for you to answer new client inquiries and book sessions for when you get back.  It's hard to unplug under normal circumstances.  Worrying about what you might be missing, or work that you could be getting done, will quickly take the R&R out of your R&R. 


4.  Make use of mobile technology.  If you insist on keeping in the loop while on your vacation just be cautious.  Give yourself 30 minutes each day to check and respond to emails and phone messages.  Check in on your Facebook page and website or blog, if you must.  Just keep in mind that a working vacation is not really what you need.  You will benefit from truly unplugging.  



So, to summarize, you need to take care of you.  Your family will appreciate having you all to themselves.  You will be healthier and happier if you plan some downtime and a trip to the beach, or the city, or a whole other country!  Your business will thank you for it.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Deal of the Day: Nikon D700 Camera

Our latest Deal of the Day offering is for the Nikon D700.  The camera is in EX condition and comes with the battery and charger.  The Nikon D700 originally sold for $2,800.00 when brand new, and has been marked down from our everyday price of $1,429.00.  For 24 hours, the camera will be available for sale at the discounted price of $1,299.00.


The price is valid starting today at 11:00 a.m. through 10:59 a.m. tomorrow Eastern time.  Available in limited quantities while supplies last.  No rainchecks or substitutions.  Limit 1 per customer.

Click HERE to shop now.  This great deal is NOT an April Fool's joke.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Deal of the Day: Tenba Vector Sling Bag

We have a great deal on the Tenba Vector Sling camera bag going on right now!  The bag is in brand new condition and comes in an eye-catching cadmium red.  The camera bag originally sold for $79.00, but for one-day only we are offering them for $17.00 each.


The price is valid starting today at 11:00 a.m. through 10:59 a.m. tomorrow Eastern time.  Available in limited quantities while supplies last.  No rainchecks or substitutions.  Limit 2 per customer.

Click HERE to take advantage of this amazing deal!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

How to Deal With the Less-Than-Satisfied Client

If you have been in this business for more than 3 hours you have experienced the unhappy customer. It happens to all of us.  Those who want to stay in this business are the ones who learn how to pacify the fussy client without giving away the whole studio.

First let's look at some of the reasons you may end up with an unsatisfied guest, and some creative ways to deal with the problems.  (warning: my "not best" work to follow)

1.  This business is subjective.

Let's face it, we are artists and art means different things to different people.  We all have a style and it's not always going to please the client.  I know, I know, they should be able to look at your website and know what it is you do.  Occasionally people just like your work and don't pay attention to whether or not it's a good fit for their home, their child, or their family.  Maybe you're so cool that you are a status symbol and they want to be able to say that you took their picture.  And then, when it's all said and done, they don't like the finished product.  

First of all, there are reasons to have a solid contract and this is one of them.  If you spend the time you should get paid.  If the client hates the images they will not order product, but you should not back down on getting paid for your time.  Offer to re-shoot the images if you can come to a clear understanding of what they really want. If that is simply not going to happen, have a few friends in the business that you can refer them to.  This is something that works for everyone's benefit.  You can help each other out of sticky situations.   


2.  The child (or some member of the family) has a bad day.

This will always be your fault.  Just keep that in mind.  At least it will be your fault to the customer who is going to be mad about the results.  Bad days happen.  I've called off a shoot in progress because a baby or child was just not having it.  It's not worth my time or the client's time to drag it out if it's not working.  Sometimes though, the bad mood is just coming from one member of a family portrait session and you do the best you can.  Most mom's will grin and accept the results as a part of life as it is right now.  I love these moms!  Other times you won't be so lucky and you'll get a more frigid reaction.   I have mixed feelings about swapping heads and I won't do it unless it's requested.  But if I have upset mom with a perfect family portrait other than little Johnny's frowny face, I'll suggest swapping that frowny face in no time flat!



  3.  Cold feet

Well, I hate this one but it happens.  I have had clients come in for a consultation, book a session, spend 4 hours in my studio with their newborn baby, and never come back to see the pictures.  This isn't exactly an unhappy client, but a client that doesn't want to spend the money.  See, the session fee was paid so they come to the session. But the sales session is where the real money gets spent.  There are a couple of ways to handle this situation.  First of all you can just continue to wonder what happened and why they never showed up.  This is the wrong way to handle this situation by the way.  The second, and correct, way to handle this situation is to pick up the phone and call them.  Maybe they hit a bump in their financial road.  Maybe you offer a payment plan.  Maybe they just changed their mind about how important the photos are to them.  It's disappointing when this happens but I don't take it personally.  I have had this happen just a couple of times.  I chose to provide the new moms with one digital image from the session.  A freebie.  One client was very grateful and I have seen her in my studio a couple of times since then.  She also eventually purchased some of the newborn images.  The other client I have still never heard from.


 The bottom line is this: We all know the customer is NOT always right.  And some people are just cranky and hard to please.  Honestly, there are people out there that just like to make trouble.  Is it fair?  Of course not.  But we are business owners and that is HARD, not FAIR. Choosing to treat our clients with kindness and respect, especially when they are being difficult, is what sets us apart from other businesses. Earning a reputation as fair and honest, and as a business that stands behind its work 110%, will bring in more of the kind of clients we really want to work with.