Gear

7 Mistakes Photographers Make When Buying a New Lens

PHOTOGRAPHYAWESOMESAUCE.COM-2Raise your hand (in the comfort of your own home where nobody knows) if you’ve seen those Facebook posts that say the following.

“Share photos taken with the 85mm 1.4 please. Thanks!”

Or maybe they say this.

“Looking to buy a new lens. What should I get? What is your favorite?”

Or maybe it’s this.

“I have an 18-55mm lens and am looking to upgrade. What’s best?”

Maybe it’s just me, but these questions are tough to answer. I’ve been around the block when it comes to lens purchasing. I’ve made so many mistakes when I’ve based my purchases off questions I ask or see in Facebook groups or elsewhere online. I’ve never bothered to count how many dollars I’ve lost when I purchased a lens and then found out it wasn’t the lens for me and had to sell it for less than I purchased.

What I didn’t realize is that lenses are truly an investment. The technology doesn’t age as fast as that of your DSLR. So lenses are here to stay. They’re a big purchase and one that should last you a very long time without a need to upgrade it. That means we shouldn’t just run out and buy the next big thing or whatever your neighbor uses because she takes great photos. Here’s a few common mistakes I see happening when photographers are considering a new lens purchase. A lot of these are mistakes I’ve made and wish I had known better, so I’m passing this on to you.

  1. Not Doing Research – You should always be reading, watching videos and researching a big purchase like a lens. Remember, it’s an investment. Learn how it works and what people like and don’t like about it. It can give you a lot of insight.
  2. Not Knowing Your Style – Doesn’t it feel awesome when you get a new lens? I just get excited to get out and play with it. I’ve often times made the mistake of buying something because I heard it was great only to find out it really didn’t suit my style. If you love big wide landscapes then the 200mm 2.8 is probably not an awesome idea. Or if you love traditional cropped portraits, you may hate the 24mm 1.4. You need to really take a look at your style and where you think its going in the future and chose a lens that accentuates it instead of the newest trend.
  3. Buying a Lens Someone Else Has Because Their Photos are Amazing – No. Just no. Don’t do this. We all know that the camera and lens don’t make a photo. You do. Lenses are just tools. Ultimately so many factors come into play when creating an amazing image. Your camera body and your posing of clients. Plus a true understanding of the type of light you love and how to work with it. Just because someone else has a specific lens doesn’t mean you can create the same imagery they do. Remember. Lenses don’t make photos, you do.
  4. Not Trying Before Buying – I know it’s a pain in the booty to pay to rent lenses before buying. You’re probably sure you’ll like the lens, but don’t want to loose the $100 on the rental when you can put that into something else. I know exactly how you feel. Trust me though. You need to rent the lenses first. Rent different brands of a focal length you want to try. Make sure you rent it on a weekend where you have scenario that’s very typical for you within a shoot. Don’t rent it when you’re not working. You actually need to get out there and try it. Compare it to other ones you’ve tried and see what you like. I really thought I wanted the Canon 24mm 1.4 for example. I rented it and it was just blah. I had second thoughts about purchasing it. So instead of purchasing it anyway, or skipping it altogether I rented the Sigma version. That one wowed me. It’s now my most-used lens ever. If I had just passed on trying it, or given up, or not tried it at all – I would’t know what I was missing out on. Always try before you buy. A new lens is expensive. It’s an investment. You wouldn’t buy a car without testing it first, please don’t buy a lens without testing it first. Make a wise educated investment instead of one on a whim.
  5. Not Giving a Lens a Second Chance – I don’t mean you need to forgive it like you did that ex-boyfriend who needed a second chance. What I mean is your style changes. It’s constantly evolving. I told photographers for ages how much I hated the focal length of 85mm. I just thought it was so traditional and boring. I like to shoot wide. So that level of zoom was just too much. I rented it and tried to give it a chance and it was just awful in my opinion. However, years later I kept researching and tried it again. I fell in love. My style just needed to develop more. Don’t rule out a lens forever because you may change your mind about it later.
  6. Not Saving for a Better Model – I’ve totally bought the cheaper version to save money and I’ve been sorry many times. Of course sometimes it still works out great, but consider saving a tad bit more to invest in the better model. You won’t be sorry for it if you do.
  7. Buying New When I Could Have Bought Used – Since lenses don’t age as fast as a camera body does they hold their value for a long time. They also don’t have “mileage” the same way a camera body does. I buy all my lenses used now. You can get like-new quality for a much better price. My favorite place to buy used is Lens Authority. It’s Lens Rentals’ used gear store. They have the best customer service, the best prices and the best quality in one place. My favorite!

It’s easy to just run out and buy a lens. It’s fun to have that new toy to play with. It’s exciting! Make sure you take the time and invest in a lens that you truly know you’re going to love. It will help you put time into the right parts of your business and not waste time purchasing something that doesn’t work out.

If you want to learn more awesome behind the business stuff like this make sure you subscribe to our weekly newsletter below, where we’ll be giving out extra special discounts and a few free products only for subscribers this Winter. You can also join our Facebook group, follow us on Facebook, follow us on Instagram, and even follow me on Pinterest where I love to pin social media, blogging, business, and photography tips from all over the web! If you subscribe to our newsletter you’ll need to head on over to your email after you hit the submit button here to confirm your subscription. If you don’t see a confirmation check your junk/spam!

 

12 Tools to Rock Your Photography Business This Year

12 Tools to Rock Your Photography Business This YearDisclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means Photography Awesomesauce receives commission if you make a purchase using affiliate links.

Hey hey! Today I put together a list of some of my favorite tools I use to rock my photography business daily. Everything from gear related tools to business tools. If you’re really looking for a way to level up your business this year and take something that’s a weakness for you (maybe it’s social media) having the tools available to help you make it a strength can make a huge difference in your business.

I’m not saying you need to run out and buy all these things right now. Everyone has a budget for your business, but I strongly encourage each of you to sit down and figure out what you’re strengths and weaknesses are when it comes to business and how you can use one of these tools to make a weakness into a strength. I’ve always been a believer in investing in your business and looking at these types of purchases as an investment that lets me get my life back and do a better job for my clients.

  1. Fundy Designer – Fundy is an album design software program – primarily. The cool thing is that Fundy has also come out with software to help you design wall galleries for your clients, or to help you collage blog posts and more. If you’re going to invest in some software to automate processes like album design Fundy is simply the best there is out there.
  2. Pixifi – Pixifi is my favorite tool for studio management. I run all my contracts and payments digitally through Pixifi, but it also automates my client reminders and communications as well, which means I get to take back my life and let Pixifi do the hard work for me so I can enjoy more time with family or getting out and shooting!
  3. Made in the Lab – If you haven’t heard of my new business venture with my business partners, Rachael and Jason, then you need to get over and read all about it. Made in the Lab is a web design focused company. We’re dedicated to creating affordable website templates for creative business owners like photographers. If you need a professionally designed website but typically can’t afford all the high fees associated with purchasing a template to design one, well look no further. You can grab a template for only $60.
  4. Showit5 – Showit5 is a brand new website design platform geared specifically toward photographers. It’s all about simple drag and drop website creation, no need to know how to code! Right now Showit5 is invite only based, but you can grab an invite for free from Made in the Lab over here.
  5. Lens Flipper – The Lens Flipper might be my favorite new thing I’ve found at WPPI this past year! If you’re a photographer then you probably know exactly what I’m talking about when you want to switch lenses and you just don’t have enough hands, or a place to set down a lens to do it properly. The lens flipper is a little attachment cap so you don’t have to worry about swapping lenses and having extra hands. It’s so cool. I was able to use it at weddings already and I’m in love. It’s incredibly helpful for swapping out lenses on the go.
  6. Holdfast Moneymaker – I struggle a lot with neck and back problems so the Holdfast Moneymaker harness system is the best way ever for me to hold my cameras. Whether you shoot with two cameras at once, or one (you can attach a lens bag on the other side to even out the weight), it’s perfect for keeping your back happy and healthy. Plus you look badass.
  7. Shootproof – Photo CDs and USBs are out for me and I love delivering photos through digital download with Shootproof. If digital download isn’t your thing that’s okay too, you can still use them as an online proofing gallery and sell prints! There are tons of reasons I could go on about why I love Shootproof, but instead you can read about how Shootproof’s automated email system can help you sell more prints, 9 reasons Shootproof is the best, and this review about Shootproof. You can also take 25% off any annual plan on Shootproof if you use the code SWAILS25.
  8. Lens Rentals Membership – For $79 a year you can never pay shipping fees ever again from Lens Rentals. I’ve only rented a few times and it paid for itself multiple times over already. It can cost $25-50 per rental to ship, so if you plan on renting more than once a year – you already save money. Lens Rentals is also Lens Authority, a used gear sales shop. They are seriously my favorite place to buy used gear. Everything is in pristine condition and the customer service is out of this world.
  9. Professional Graphic Designer – If you’re not into templates for web design (as mentioned earlier) and you want something a little more custom then I highly recommend hiring a professional designer. I’m terrible at design myself, and having Rachael Earl on my team to custom design two websites for me this year (among other projects) has been one of the best investments in life ever. Professional design can go such a long way to making your business look professional. After all, if it doesn’t look like you invest in your business, you can’t expect your clients to as well.
  10. Coschedule – Struggle with blogging? Writing and scheduling posts in advance is an amazing way to keep up with blogging and take advantage of all its marketing benefits. One of the best ways to help me with scheduling is Coschedule. It’s a plugin for WordPress blogs that adds an editorial schedule, but most importantly, it adds a box under each blog post that allows you to schedule social media blasts in advance for after your post is scheduled to go live. It means you can automate the blogging process, write when it works best for you, and then not have to worry about remembering to post on social media about your blogs.
  11. Edgar – Speaking of social media scheduling tools, let me tell you about Edgar. Edgar is a bit pricey in terms of scheduling, but if social media is something you majorly struggle with – Edgar can also be a lifesaver. I would say it’s definitely one of the best investments I have spent in the last year. It’s a social media scheduling tool for Facebook and Twitter. Unlike Hootsuite, where you have to go in and schedule posts, Edgar allows you to create a huge library of updates and sort them into various categories. Then you can assign the categories to post at specific times of the week to specific accounts. So Edgar actually does the scheduling for you, by cycling through your library and then making the posts go live. Even though it seems pricey in terms of a monthly investment, it’s WAY cheaper than hiring a social media assistant and it makes your social media basically hands free.
  12. Schedugram – The only thing Edgar can’t do is schedule on Instagram. In fact, a lot of Instagram scheduling programs still don’t fully automate the process. They have to send a reminder to your phone to post something. You have to drop everything you’re doing to post it at the time you wanted it to go live and then who knows…you’re probably off track chasing down weird hashtags on Instagram.  Hours later you’ve lost tons of productive work time. Am I right? That’s where Schedugram is different, it schedules and fully automates the process for you, unlike Latergram. You just schedule everything by logging into your browser on your desktop and then voila – it takes care of Instagram for you and you get your editing done. Between this and Edgar, I do often feel like I’m spending a big investment on social media, but I can’t tell you enough how much I’ve also earned back from that investment in terms of followers, leads, and actual bookings…plus happier clients and a happier husband who I can actually spend time with! Here’s a blog post I wrote about Schedugram and how to actually automate your Instagram posts.

If you want to learn more awesome behind the business stuff like this make sure you subscribe to our weekly newsletter below, where we’ll be giving out extra special discounts and a few free products only for subscribers this Winter. You can also join our Facebook group, follow us on Facebook, follow us on Instagram, and even follow me on Pinterest where I love to pin social media, blogging, business, and photography tips from all over the web! If you subscribe to our newsletter you’ll need to head on over to your email after you hit the submit button here to confirm your subscription. If you don’t see a confirmation check your junk/spam!

 

Why I Converted to Sigma Art Lenses

Sigma Art LensesI’ve heard nothing but good things about the Sigma Art series of lenses, but as a Canon user I’ve found it incredibly difficult to let go of all the money I’ve invested in my lenses with the red line around the end. It’s like a status symbol for how hard I’ve worked to pay for those L series lenses. They’re hard to let go of. I decided to rent a Sigma Art lens just for the sake of seeing what all the hype was about. I totally intended on writing this blog post where I figured I’d tell you all how much they sucked and how to stick to your own brand.
Sadly that’s not this post. I was seriously impressed with the Sigma Art series. After renting I did some research on them, watched a lot of review videos and finally came to the conclusion that I needed to sell my Canon lenses and switch to Sigma Arts (for a few of the lenses at least). I’m not sorry. At all. Sure, I miss my fancy little red line around the end of my Canon lenses. I also miss how much more lightweight the Canon L series is (in most cases) because the Sigma Art series are metal and heavier. However, here are a few reasons why the switch was incredibly worth it.
  • Focus Speed – OMG. OMG. OMG!!! The speed at which Sigma Art locks in and nails focus is incredible. Freakin’ incredible. I don’t have all the stats like some videos and fancy reviewers do, but I can feel and tell there’s a huge difference. These lenses lock in on focus so fast that I feel like I’m actually on a learning curve figuring out how to deal with the ability to take photos faster than I’m used to. It’s kind of amazing. I owned the 50L for a long time and comparatively Sigma feels like a race car and I feel like I’ve been driving a beat up old mini van.
  • Chromatic Aberration – Okay this is a big word. You might be reading this blog post and think that you have no idea what this is, but don’t feel embarrassed. I didn’t know what it was until well into my photography career – so you are not alone. Chromatic aberration is a lens distortion that can be corrected in an editing program like Lightroom or Photoshop. It causes there to be a halo of color (typically bright magenta for me) at points of deep contrast in photos. I’ve learned over the years that every photographer is sensitive to different things in photos. Some can’t stand vignetting, some can’t stand black and white photos, and me? I can’t stand chromatic aberration. That pink halo in my photos DRIVES ME NUTS. One thing people have found with the Sigma Art lenses is that there’s less chromatic aberration. That means one less major fix in post processing. I’m super happy about that.
  • Sharpness – I found in a lot of videos and reviews that people were saying the Sigma Art lenses were sharper not only in the center, but sharper on the edges compared to their Canon counter parts. I can’t say I’ve pixel peeped enough to notice a huge difference, but they feel sharper in general.

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If you’re like me and you’ve been hearing all the amazing hype about the the Sigma Art series of lenses, it might be time to rent one and see if you can sell off that fancy L lens for a Sigma Art. Hey, you might even profit off the sales since Sigma Art lenses are definitely cheaper in price (and in my opinion better in value overall).  I hope this blog post gives you some insight into Sigma’s Art line! If you have other questions hit up our Facebook group, or shoot me an email! Don’t be afraid to ask for help or look for support in a community of like minded people!

4 Things My (Photography) Mentor Taught Me that Changed My Life

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Most of us in this business have a mentor. I’m convinced that the woman who was my mentor was the best one out there. She started out as simply my wedding photographer when I hired her over 11 years ago. She became my teacher, my friend, eventually my colleague and always remained my go-to for advice and input on all things business and photography. I have gotten input from so many people of the years, but she was my only mentor. Despite being only a few months older than me, she had so much to offer. Tragically, at only a few years into her 30’s, she passed away just two days ago. In her honor, I’m sharing the top 4 things she taught me that absolutely shaped and changed me as a photographer and business owner.

 

  1. Find Your Tribe:  Have you seen those threads on social media? The ones that start out with “So-and-So said they can’t believe I charge $___ for a 5×7! How do I explain to them why it’s worth this much!?” This usually is followed by a long (looooong) parade of photographers encouraging the OP (“original poster” if you’re not a this-facebook-group-thread-is-so-long-I-forgot-to-feed-my-kids-dinner veteran and you’re lost on that acronym…) to “educate” the client. I mean, we’ve seen the memes, right? The ones that breakdown the “real cost” of photography. The ones that breakdown mileage and hours and editing and the cost of insurance, the cost of education, the cost of gas…. (can you feel my eyes rolling?). Those things are all real. Very very real. And you should know your CODB (cost of doing business…. I’m all about the acronyms today I guess!) in order to set your pricing because most photographers are woefully undercharging. But here’s the thing. None of that means anything to the client that questioned your pricing. One of the best things that my mentor taught me was to let that kind of thing roll off my back. Because if you have to convince someone to pay for you, you’re already lost them. Don’t spend your time wording your website, your social media posts, your emails, your conversations with keyboard warriors defending what you do and what you charge. Spend your energy finding and connecting to your Tribe. The ones that get you already. The ones that understand your value without you ever having to explain. Those are the clients that will keep coming back, will evangelize their friends, will do all that explaining in a way you never could and actually be heard by the potential clients out there. And believe me, it’s a much more rewarding experience, both personally and financially.  And they will be so much happier as your clients knowing that your energy, creativity, and efforts are dedicated to them. All the wins right there.
  2. Be Frugal: This seems like an odd thing (or maybe just a boring one) but it’s huge. I was brand new to the business (when I first started taking lessons with my mentor, I didn’t even know I’d be starting my own business yet!) and she counseled me to be very smart about my purchases, my investments, and to avoid credit like the plague. She offered guidance on investment purchases when needed or asked for, but constantly taught me to think about ROI (return on investment…more acronyms!). Did I want a fisheye lens? Sure. But would that be a smart buy for maybe a handful of images per wedding? NOPE (with a big ‘ol p-pop). Because of her guidance, I started (and kept) my business 100% debt free. I didn’t take out a line of credit, I bought everything for cash, and I kept my overhead low. And I have no doubt that is a big reason why I didn’t sink when business was slow or when I had to cut back on work load from time to time. Boring advice? Maybe. But HUGE. Be frugal people. Don’t buy it just because you like it. If I had done credit I might have some sweet lenses and a whole lotta ONA bags, but I wouldn’t be a more successful business. I’d just be in debt.
  3. Stay Timeless: When I look back at my wedding photos (over 10 years old now), one of the things I appreciate most about them is that they still look good. There’s no wacky editing, not strange colors/filters/angles/overlays/double-exposures/layouts…. It’s classic. It’s timeless. And other than my choice of dress and hair styles, it will stay that way. The photos will remain timeless because that is exactly the style she shot weddings with. Portraits were a source of artistic expression and a place to occasionally try out a trend, but weddings? No way. Timeless was always the goal. She taught me to see trends for exactly what they are – trends. And much like my poofy bangs in the 80’s, my Lisa Frank trapper keeper (holla!) and my everything-has-glitter makeup choices from the 90’s, trends have a way of becoming embarrassing later. Keep the bulk of your photography clean, classic, and straight ahead and watch it stand the test of time.
  4. Pay It Forward: This is quite possibly the biggest thing that my mentor taught me. She took me under her wing, with no hesitation (that I knew about anyway) and willingly shared with me everything she knew. She brought me on shoots. She helped me setup my own to test new techniques and get more guidance. She pointed me in the direction of places to learn the things she couldn’t personally teach me. She taught me to love not only learning about it all, but to help others as well. She taught me to not see other photographers – even the local ones – as competition, but as co-workers. She would laugh when talks of “stealing work” came up between catty photographers because she’d always point out that there’s PLENTY of work to go around. She never hesitated to refer people to me (she knew her tribe too!) and she believed that “a rising tide raises all ships”. Because of how she treated me, I promised myself that my business would always do the same for others. I have helped to teach or guide several photographers and photographer-hopefuls along the way this past decade and I have maintained a internship for several years. I operate an online forum for educating underwater photographers and I teach through my local photography meetup group when I can. I never became a “cards close to the vest” photographer because she taught me to be generous with my knowledge, just as she was with hers. Her legacy lives on in the work of so many photographers because of it. It’s a legacy I’m proud to be a part of.

Whether your find your mentoring here on Photography Awesomesauce, or you have a specific person you are able to go to, I hope you one day have the chance to pass on what you’re learning to someone else. This business can be brutal and working from home or running your own business can be lonely. Find your tribe, find your connections, find your colleagues, find your voice, and know that you are creating a legacy that you may never be fully aware of. I wish I had told my mentor more clearly just how much she meant to me. But I hope that my work will honor her investment in me.

Happy February, friends.

7 Tips for Traveling with Camera Gear

7 Tips for Traveling with Camera GearDisclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means Photography Awesomesauce receives commission if you make a purchase using affiliate links.

Going somewhere with your fancy camera and lenses soon? It’s inevitable that at some point you will want to go on a family vacation to an amazing location that requires a good camera or maybe you’re getting into destination wedding photography and will need to start traveling with your gear soon. Here are a few tips to help you out!

  1. TSA Pre-Check – You’ve been to the airport and seen the shorter line off to the side that is only for TSA Pre-Check travelers. The good news is that you can also become one of the elite and travel this way. When you apply and are approved to be TSA Pre-Check you don’t have to take your laptop out of your bag, liquids, or pull your shoes off so the lines are much quicker. It costs $85 to get your TSA Pre-Check and as long as you’re approved you will be able to bypass security lines for the next 5 years. When I am traveling for photography business I not only bring all my gear with me, but I always have a computer, hard drive, memory cards and every other thing. It’s a pain in the booty to undress myself and take everything out of all my bags to have it all scanned. TSA Pre-Check just makes it an entirely less stressful thing when you’re carrying all this stuff with you through the airport. Plus the other benefit? You can claim that $85 fee as a business expense!
  2. Never Check Your Gear – Never ever…EVER…check your camera gear. Always carry it with you as a carry on. You definitely don’t want your gear stolen out of your checked bag. If you’re a photographer traveling for business your gear is your livelihood, so it’s especially important to treat it as though it were more precious than gold when flying somewhere.
  3. Cover Up Brand Names – Depending on where you’re traveling you might be more at risk for getting mugged or having your gear stolen. If you’re doing a lot of sightseeing as a tourist in a country where carrying fancy camera gear might draw some unwanted attention you can do this little trick. Take some black electrical tape and cover up all the brand names on your cameras and lenses. If you’re a Canon user with the fancy L series lenses that have the red line on them, cover that part up too. If someone can’t see what gear you’re sporting, they might be less interested in taking it later. Last time I traveled somewhere that I was concerned about this, I also put a little whimsical masking tape here and there on my camera gear. Sure, it made it look pretty beat up, but it didn’t stand out in a crowd as something worth stealing.
  4. Bring 2 Lenses for Vacation – One of the questions most commonly asked by photographers is how much do you bring when you go on vacation? I say bring two lenses (unless you’re a zoom user), one that’s wider to capture larger framed shots and one that is a telephoto to get close to things you’re far away from. That’s all I’ve ever needed when traveling as a tourist. If I were a zoom lens user I would probably just try to bring one lens to make things easier. Remember traveling isn’t all about photos and taking the best shots. It’s about being present in the moment, seeing new things, meeting new people and experiencing the world. It’s hard to do that when you’re stuck behind your camera all the time. I probably take more photos with my iPhone than any other camera when traveling. The best camera is the one you have with you.
  5. Pack Gear Neatly – If you’re flying with a lot of gear try to pack it as neatly as possible. Don’t let all the cords run all over the place. When things are neatly packed it’s easier for the machines to see what is inside and therefore you might avoid an extra search.
  6. Use a Travel Case – I’m a huge fan of Pelican Cases and the Pelican 1510 (which is a carryon sized roller bag) is perfect when I travel with gear for a wedding. I love the hard shell cases because they can get banged around a lot and I feel my gear is a bit more secure. The one in the link above also includes the padded camera gear dividers you can move around to fit whatever gear you might need. Think Tank roller bags are also pretty awesome, but they have a soft shell. They’re still carryon sized and perfect for travel!
  7. Backup Storage Systems – If you’re traveling for a wedding it’s important to bring a hard drive for you to back up your memory cards on. I never like to keep all my eggs in one basket. Bringing a big external hard drive also takes up a ton of space so I back up onto one of these tiny Sandisk USB drives. Mine has 64GB so I can typically fit a whole wedding on there. Then I back that up online as well so I’ve got triple backups in place before I travel home. These little drives are awesome for travel because they can stay right in your laptop and are so flush with the side they won’t get in your way.

Enjoy your travels and if you get to travel for work, enjoy that even more because it’s amazing! Have you ever had issues traveling with your photography gear? Leave a comment in the tips and tell me your story!

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Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means Photography Awesomesauce receives commission if you make a purchase using affiliate links.