Carrie Swails

I’m a serial entrepreneur. Owner at Photography Awesomesauce, Rock Your Weird and Made in the Lab and I photograph offbeat weddings. In other words, I’m crazy. I have a birthmark in my armpit, and am a terrible mathematician. What I lack in understanding of complex theories such as Pi (clearly a food item – apple is my favorite) and invisible numbers (if I can’t see them, why should I care?) I make up for in awesomesauce. I believe there is no right way to put the toilet paper on – I’m just happy it’s available. I believe there’s no such thing as a bad fortune in a fortune cookie. I believe we only live life once so we should wear costumes as often as possible. I believe wine is like the force – it has a light side and a dark side and it holds the universe together. I howl with my basset hound every morning, call my brother to beat video game bosses for me, and love eating fried cheese.

CGPro Prints – Product Review

cgproWhat can I say? I’m always looking for ways to offer quality at an affordable price. I’ve tried canvas wraps from many, many other labs and I do markup my prices for products with my clients. I want my products to also be affordable though. I don’t think a 16×20 canvas wrap should be unattainable for a client on a budget and that’s where CGProprints comes in. I also don’t want to charge a client a price that I would never pay for a canvas for myself. These guys sell a 16×20 Canvas Wrap for $22.99 and you really cannot beat that price (prices may have risen since this blog post was written, but they’re still incredibly affordable)!

I had the opportunity to get some sample canvases for myself and review them. Honestly, even as a photographer I only have one or two small canvases in my house that have been around for awhile. These ones were a lovely set, so they had to be of our most prized possessions, Opal, Lily, and Rufus – of course!

First of all, canvases are so much easier to hang than framed photos! CGProprints canvases come with a small hanger on the back of each canvas so all I had to do was put some pushpins in the wall, straighten and voila. If you see the photos of below you’ll have to ignore my lack of straightening on the basset hound on the end. They are hanging above the couch and I wanted to straighten them for a photo, but my boys were asleep underneath.

One of the features that I think rocks about these guys is that every canvas comes with a backing. I’ve paid a lot more for canvases that have no backing on them and then if you ever have them off the wall and lean them against something that shape can bend and distort the canvas on the front. I studied painting in college and that was something that drove me crazy about transporting my canvases back and forth from school to home. I had to be so careful with them. CGProprints makes this easy and it’s something I have to worry about even less.

The canvases arrived at my door, each one individually packaged, but they shipped together and shipped quickly! It might be that they got here so quickly because I live only 30 minutes away from Longmont, CO where they are made. I love supporting local businesses and CGProprints is a local business for me so I doubt I will ever buy canvas anywhere else. Perhaps sometime in the future I’ll get the opportunity to take a tour of their lab and see how everything is done and maybe I’ll be able to report that back here.

My canvases shipped without a receipt which is a plus if you want to drop ship them to clients. I have been sending out 16×20 canvases to my clients as a gift because CGProprints makes this so cheap. After every session, I surprise my clients with a little canvas gift of their favorite image. It’s so easy and clients are so appreciative. The plus side? Usually after they get a free one they want another one to match!

Finally, the canvases look great and the colors are true to my original images. The images themselves are thickly coated for protection on the top.

Final Review

1. Customer Service: 5/5 This company is easy to work with and easy to contact if you have a problem. If you are ever unhappy with your canvas they offer a 100% guarantee. They will replace it or refund you. Not all labs that produce canvas are so generous.

2. Product Quality: 5/5 I’ve been impressed with the canvases I’ve ordered for myself and my clients have been absolutely thrilled.

3. Ease of Use/Ordering: 5/5 It’s very easy and all you have to do is visit their website to order. There are no special software downloads or ROES systems.

4. Delivery Speed: 5/5 Fast!

5. Product Packaging: 5/5 I was confident that my products would arrive safe and sound. Each one is packaged in an individual box.

If you’re a photographer looking to add canvases to your list of products for clients give a try!

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5 Common Questions About Photography Business, Taxes, Accounting, and Licensing

5 tax qsAfter receiving numerous questions the last couple weeks about business licenses, taxes, finances, accounting etc. I decided to answer a few. I’m no accountant or tax expert by any means so my knowledge is limited, but I do know some basics.

1. Do I need to be charging sales tax?

Anytime you are giving your client a tangible product, one they can hold in their hands, you need to be charging sales tax. However, that being said sales tax in the US can be extremely more complicated than you might think. Sure, you could look up the tax rate for your city and state and think, ‘okay I’m good,’ but it’s unfortunately not as simple as that. First you must have a sales tax license in order to charge sales tax. If you’re just starting your business and you have been charging sales tax without having a license, stop charging sales tax and get a license as soon as possible.

2. How much should I set aside for income taxes?

When you started your business the lure of being able to work for yourself, set your own schedule and all of that sounded great right? Well, one thing they didn’t tell you was you’d have to pay more in income taxes than you would at that corporate desk job. Your first year in business you’ll have more expenses than profit so it’s fairly safe to set aside 30% and it’s more than likely you’ll have some of that left over. Afterward you can reinvest the leftovers into your business. For the years after that it’s recommended to set aside 40%. I can imagine the jaws dropping. 40% is a good safe amount and depending on your expenses and how you file your annual taxes you may not end up paying all of that back. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

3. What kind of business license do I need?

This will vary incredibly from state to state as well as from county to city and so on. You’ll need to go to your state’s website in the business section to find out what the requirements are for you specifically.

4. What can I count as an expense?

Again, this may vary depending on your business, how much you spend, what you already have, and more. My best advice is to record all expenses related to your business and have a tax guy sort through and tell you what works and what doesn’t at the end of the year. A tax expert or accountant will know best and until that time of year comes around again if you keep tabs on anything you spend at all you’ll have a full list to go over with him later.

5. I want to start being able to accept credit cards, do you know any companies that allow me to do this without a fee?

Nope, sorry. Unfortunately all companies that process credit cards do take a percentage. Most companies are within the same range and don’t vary much. I highly recommend as an easy company to work with to process credit cards almost anywhere. I’ve been incredibly satisfied with them. The important thing to remember about processing credit cards is that you cannot charge the fee that the company charges you to the customer. That is against the law. That fee though does count as an expense you can take on your taxes.

If you need more help with taxes and the official side of becoming a photographer and legit business owner, check out Photography Awesomesauce’s 6 Week Online Bootcamp!

54 Must-Have Wedding Photos for Photographers

54 must have photos1. Wedding dress hanging up
2. The shoes
3. The rings
4. The flowers and ceremony decorations
5. Bride getting ready
6. Groom getting ready
7. Groom putting on boutonniere (traditionally the groom’s mom pins it on him)
8. Bride putting on dress/veil
9. Bridal Procession at Ceremony (each set of bridesmaids/groomsmen and anyone else in the wedding party)
10. Bride and Father Walking down the aisle
11. Groom’s expression when he first sees his bride
12. Reciting Vows
13. Exchanging Rings
14. Unity Candle/Sand Ceremony/Any other unique addition to the wedding
15. First Kiss
16. Introduction of the Mr. And Mrs.
17. Signing the Marriage License
18. Receiving Line (if they have one!)
19. Bride with Parents
20. Bride with Mother
21. Bride with Father
22. Bride with Siblings
23. Bride with Parents and Sibings
24. Bride and Groom with Bride’s Parents
25. Bride and Groom with Groom’s Parents
26. Groom with Parents
27. Groom with Mother
28. Groom with Father
29. Groom with Siblings
30. Groom with Parents and Siblings
31. Bride and Groom with Flowergirl/Ringbearers
32. Bride with Bridesmaids
33. Groom with Bridesmaids
34. Bride with Groomsmen
35. Groom with Groomsmen
36. Bride, Groom, Bridesmaids, and Groomsmen
37. Bride with Maid of Honor
38. Bride with individual bridesmaids
39. Groom with Best Man
40. Groom with individual groomsmen
41. Bride Portraits
42. Groom Portraits
43. Bride and Groom Portraits
44. Arrival of Wedding Party at Reception
45. Cake
46. Reception Decorations
47. Toasts
48. Cake Cutting
49. First Dance
50. Father and bride dance
51. Mother and groom dance
52. Garter Toss
53. Bouquet Toss
54. Bride and Groom Farewell/Driving Away

These of course vary depending on the bride and groom’s families and wedding parties as well as their individual wedding and anything extra that might be happening. This list is just a starting place of must-have shots and all these family photos in there can vary greatly. I strongly suggest you consult with each bride and groom individually to ensure you are aware of any family situations and any extra family photos they may or may not want.

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20 Things I Wish I Knew About Photographing in Manual Mode

manual mode1. ISO is an important setting you shouldn’t ignore. It works differently than ISO on an old film camera. It controls how sensitive your camera’s image sensor is to light. When you have a lot of available light use a low ISO and in low light you can use a higher ISO.

2. WB or White Balance is a setting used to get the right types and tones of color you want in your images. Different types of lights can create color casts on white objects or skin tones in images and white balance is a great tool for correcting this. For example, fluorescent lights can make white sheets appear greenish. Tungsten lights (like a table lamp) can make things appear very orange or yellow. Cameras have many settings for White Balance, but learning to use custom white balance is something that can rock your digital photography world.

3. Aperture (or f-stop) controls how much light is allowed through your lens by setting the f-stop. There’s actually a lovely little thingy right inside your lens that opens and closes to let light in or out. A lower f-stop (like 1.4) will let in a lot of light and a higher f-stop (like 16) will let in less light. Aperture also controls bokeh (that beautiful background blur). You get more bokeh with lower apertures.

4. Shutter speed controls how long the image sensor is exposed to light. Higher shutter speeds prevent motion blur and freeze motion, but let in less light because the shutter is not open as long. A lower shutter speed will let in more light, but may give your subjects motion blur if they are moving in the photo because the shutter is open longer.

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5. You don’t need to use manual focus to photograph in manual mode. Manual mode is all about learning to have control over your camera instead of letting it control you. Manual focus will entail a few extra seconds to use the focusing ring on your lens in order to capture a sharp image. Many photographers auto focus so they can photograph and capture moments quicker and ensure they are tack sharp.

6. We all know that the camera does not make the photographer, but a super awesome photographer who has a handle on shooting in manual knows how to control the camera really well and can rock any type of camera (even that iPhone).

7. Every camera has a ‘sweet spot.’ Even when you’re photographing in manual and you’re looking through the viewfinder and the line is right in the very center of your light meter it may still be too bright or too dark in your camera. My camera’s sweet spot is just one line over toward underexposed from that center spot on my light meter.

8. When photographing in manual there are no ‘go to’ settings for shutter speed, aperture, or anything else. You photograph and set your camera up for what’s best in that light or for whatever it is you want to achieve.

9. The higher your ISO is the more ‘noisy’ or grainy your photos will be. Know that there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s a style choice. I love grainy black and white images from wedding receptions, but it’s not everyone’s style. If you have to push your ISO up higher you’re not doing anything wrong.

10. Shooting in RAW mode instead of JPEG will help Manual photographers in case they get the exposure or white balance a bit off. A RAW photo holds all of your camera information in the file and can be easily fixed later in Photoshop without ruining the photo.

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11. Practice! Photographing in manual is hard, but it will force you to learn your camera inside and out and you’ll be a better photographer for it. It takes practice so don’t expect everything to come naturally the first time out.

12. Don’t believe the myth that all professional photographers photograph in aperture priority or some other mode. Believing that is an excuse to not become an expert in your camera. All pro photographers have a favorite mode they photograph in, but you can guarantee all of them also know how to photograph in manual and that learning experience helps them know which choice or mode is the best one for them to use in any given situation.

13. Tack sharp images are a problem. If you’re shooting in manual make sure your shutter speed isn’t too low so you don’t get motion blur. Tack sharp images have a lot more to do with lenses than anything else.

14. Many portrait and wedding photographers photograph “wide open,” meaning on the lowest f-stop their lens will allow so they get portraits with background bokeh (blur) and sharp subjects in the foreground. To achieve that look try to keep your f-stop at 2.8 or lower.

15. Steps to setting up in manual: First set white balance, second set ISO, then set aperture, and finally your shutter speed.

16. Scott Kelby’s digital photography books are great for showing you photos and the settings recipe. His recipes may not be right for everyone’s styles, but I learned a lot by looking through his books and trying some of the shots for myself.

17. It’s okay to ask for help.

18. Do some test shots. Your camera records its settings in the image file so you don’t have to write them down separately. You can test your camera, test settings, and see the difference in how manual feels and looks by going back later and looking through your images and seeing what the settings are that helped you achieve a certain look.

19. You won’t get things right every shot. There will be lots of over exposed and underexposed shots when you photograph manual and you’re learning your settings.

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20. Once you’ve mastered your manual settings in your DSLR camera, you can purchase an external flash and start learning about setting your flash manually to perfect your settings with that. Using a flash will affect how your settings look completely differently so if you’re into flash photography you’ll want to learn what settings mean with and without your flash.

These tips are not by any means rules to follow. These are tips that made learning photography easier for me, and there are more tips out there I’m sure. There is no wrong or right way to learn to photograph in manual mode and everyone has their own style and ways of doing things that work best for them.

20 Things I Wish I Knew About Photography Posing


These tips are not intended to be any sort of official rules. These are things I’ve learned as I grew into a photographer. I can only speak to my own knowledge, experience, and style. Not all of them will fit everyone’s style and some of them might work or not work depending on what type of photography you are focusing on or how your photoshoot is going. These are tips I merely use as a “general rule of thumb” set of tips.

1. Don’t shoot people straight on from the front. Sometimes shoulders or hips can be the widest parts of human bodies and shooting from straight on will accentuate that and it may not be a part of the body your client wants to show off. Strive to shoot from a flattering angle and have your client turn slightly to the side at a 3/4 angle.

2. “If it bends, then bend it.” (I’ve heard this from numerous sources, but it’s unknown who first said it). Don’t let your clients have stiff and straight joins in their photos. It will look like they have lots of anxiety and aren’t’ at all relaxed. Have clients bend arms, fingers, shift their weight so a knee is slightly bent or tilt their head to the side to help them look all chill and awesome.

3. Shooting from above someone is a super duper flattering angle. Shooting from below a person shows off lots of lovely things we don’t like, big hips, butts, nostril views… Instead if you shoot from above you can make a curvy client appear slimmer, get rid of icky double chins and get some good catchlights in the eyes.

4. Speaking of nostrils – No “up the nose.” Sometimes we forget our perspective and as moms when we photograph newborns we look at them the way a mom would holding them and take a photo. Anytime you are shooting a face from below or at an angle, be careful you are not doing ‘up the nose’ shots where you can see up your client’s nostrils. This can happen during any type of photography, so it’s good to be aware. I still make this mistake all the time when I view photos in post processing. It’s especially gross if you end up capturing high definition boogers up there.

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5. Sharkeyes. Sharkeyes are when someone’s eyes in a photo are black and have no light or color to them and they look like sharkeyes. I first heard this term while training to be the world’s best newborn photographer (which I ended up not being). Add catchlights to your clients eyes instead by adjusting their positioning with where the light is. A little eye sparkle can add some great emotion to an image.

6. Put weight on the back leg. This automatically makes clients appear more relaxed and will help you start to position them better from there.

7. Give tons and tons of direction when you are at your photo sessions. Don’t be shy and if you feel awkward just make jokes about yourself. When you are silent and don’t give much direction it leaves your clients wondering if they are doing things right. Direction and talking will bring your clients confidence and when they feel confident they look confident and relaxed in your images.

8. Do some “flow posing.” If you have a great pose that’s working for your client have them stay put and capture it from as many different angles as possible. You can move your own feet, or zoom in or zoom out or move slightly to the side and take photos from different angles. Make small subtle changes to hands, heads, where they are looking, etc. to capture a series of different looks instead of always starting over and getting into a new pose.

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9. Don’t always have clients stare deeply into the depths of your lens. You can tell them to look away, look down over their shoulder, look past your camera to provide a different emotion and variety to your photos.

10. Give your clients encouragement and positivity! When they’re in front of the camera they can’t see what they look like and they need to know if they look good. When they hit a good pose or you’re taking photos that you know have hit the mark, let them know how good they look. Give lots of great positive feedback and you’ll find yourself with a couple of awesome clients who know how to pose for you.

11. Keep eye-level in mind. If you are a traditionalist remember that these traditional portraits are not usually photographed with the eyes in the dead center of the photo. You may place the most interesting part of your subject (their eyes) a little above the center line, or a little below to help create interest and good composition.

12. Bring a stepstool with you to all your photography shoots and weddings.

13. Talk to your clients. Getting to know them gives them a sense of trust with you. You want your subject to trust that you know what you’re doing and can make them look good.

14. Sometimes people’s faces get stiff. Ask your clients to take a deep breath and breath out with their lips slightly open. The few moments after this your clients face will be relaxed and natural – so snap a few. If that doesn’t work, ask them to do the “pufferfish” face where they blow up their cheeks and then let it all out. That helps their face to relax too. If you do it with them, they won’t feel as silly.

15. Give them something to do with their hands. They can touch their cheek, run their hands through their hair, put their hands on a nearby object…something.

16. Be visual yourself. Instead of trying to tell your client how to pose, get in the pose to show them how you want it to look. You’re a photographer right? You are visual and probably learn visually and it’s likely that your clients are visual learners too! In fact, most people in the world are visual and kinesthetic learners, very few people are auditory learners.

17. Watch out for them ears. Shooting people straight on isn’t flattering in more ways than one, it can make ears appear large. I pay pretty close attention to anyone with short hair especially during backlit photos, sometimes ears can become large bright pink orbs if you aren’t careful. Anyone with long hair I try to keep them from putting their hair behind their ears, it’s better to keep it down around their faces.

18. Get in there and be all up close and personal. As a newbie photographer I was not very confident with shooting people so I took a TON of photos from far away and never got in close for head and shoulders shots. This happens a lot when we’re not confident with posing. If you force yourself to get close the photo becomes more about the clients and their interactions with each other or with you than about the background. However, I’m also a fan of lots of background being able to tell part of the story of the day. I have to remind myself to get in close and get a variety of shots at different lengths away.

19. Arms and Legs. If you are cropping an image either in camera or in post processing watch out for that crop lines do not fall at the joints (wrists, knees, elbows, etc.). When this happens it gives the appearance that the subject’s body does not continue past the frame of the photo. Instead if you have to crop, do it where there isn’t a joint and this will give the impression that the rest of their arm, leg, etc. continues beyond the photo. Sometimes though, this just happens. It still happens to me on some of the best photos. I’m a “feet cropper” by nature which means I always have to remember to look for people’s feet.

20. Use good light. Sometimes in portraits and posing we can get ugly light where it’s too harsh and we get lots of shadows and highlights on the face or body. That’s why a lot of photographers love to shoot in golden hour when the light is soft and angled.

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