Gear

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.

Why You Shouldn’t Use GoFundMe for Your Photography Business

GoFund Me.  We’ve all seen the fundraisers go through our newsfeed on social media.  House burnt down of a loved one, an illness that has struck a family unexpectedly or you’re just starting out your photography business and you want the latest and greatest equipment.  Wait…WHAT?!?!

Yep, that’s right, GoFundMe accounts to help the struggling photographer raise money for equipment.  Let me tell you right now.  Stop.  Just freaking stop it.

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At this very second, there are 345,654,456,345 photographers in the world.  That may be a bit of an exaggeration (or not) so what makes you so special and different from the rest of us that you can put up a fundraiser instead of WORKING FOR YOUR EQUIPMENT?!  I get that we all want the latest and greatest cameras, lenses, and gadgets, but you need to work for it.  Most of us had to put in a lot of time and hard work as photographers and we didn’t get the easy way out. I’ve been seeing these photographers that put up these GoFundMe accounts and post them in photography groups on social media which really confuses me. Umm what?!  So let me get this straight, you want other photographers that are out their busting their own asses for their own businesses to fund your gear?  Sure, I mean if your house burns down and you lose all your gear in the fire – that’s one thing, but just asking other photographers to buy your gear for you because you can’t? That’s not how it works.  That’s not how any of this works.  (Hopefully you get that reference lol)  So here are a few ideas on how to raise your OWN money to upgrade.

Saving
I know, it’s a strange concept but it works, really it does.  Each session or wedding that you book, throw a little bit of money in an envelope or savings account.  When you reach that goal, buy it cash.

Mini-Sessions
Mini-sessions are a great way to raise quick money.  Offer shorter sessions for less then your normal session fee.  6-7 sessions in a day could potentially raise $600-700 for you.  You’re half way there for a new body (obviously depending on what you want but you get the point)

Work For It
There.  I said it.  Work for it.  On a daily basis I see photographers that are booking sessions, weddings, posting up specials on their sessions and that sort of thing…so do it.  I know plenty of photographers that rock it out using entry level DSLR’s so there is no reason why you should put up a GoFundMe and beg people to give you money because when it comes down to it, it’s begging.  It’s showing that you are being lazy and don’t want to work for what you have.  It feels disrespectful to those of us who had to work for what we have. Earn it.  There are plenty of us doing that on a daily basis.

So, why should you not be using GoFundMe to fund your latest and greatest gear? Ultimately, because you should work hard for it and earn it. When you work hard for something you’re investing in your business, learning new things, and creating more value.

The Secret to a Killer Wedding Ring Shot

If there’s one thing I always try and do with my wedding couples, it’s to give them a killer ring shot.  Not just laying them on a flower or something along those lines but really using my noggin and giving them something pretty kick ass.  Without fail, every time I post a ring shot the day after a wedding, I get…OMG, how in the hell did you do that?  I would love to think that I’m hoarding some huge secret for these killer ring shots but as you read on, if you don’t slap yourself in the head with a huge DUH, then you’re probably already doing it.

You ready for the big secret?

Orthodontic wax.  Yep, that’s it.  Braces wax that you can buy at any drug store.  A whole $4 and that’s it.

So let’s start with a fairly simple one.  You can see a small dab between the rings and a little bigger dab on his wedding band since it was holding her ring also

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Into Photoshop is goes with a little cloning here and there and BAM!

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Moving on to my best one yet.  This one even shocked me and to date it’s my favorite shot yet.  You can see where I have the wax under the rings and under the hooks.  I had to use a little more wax with this one since there was a lot more to balance.

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Into Photoshop we go with a lot of cloning, a little bit of brightening and BAM!

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So there’s my huge secret.  That’s it.  Now how long is it going to take you to get to the store, buy wax and start balancing your rings?

 

7 Tips for Memory Card Care

In the past month I’ve caught at least two of my second shooters doing things on the list (I’m calling you out, you know who you are) so I wanted to put the topic back up, even though I know we’ve discussed it before just so I can remind everyone of things NOT to do to your memory cards.

As a professional photographer my memory cards are just as important, if not more important than the cameras I shoot with. They are my livelihood, if anything were to happen to them and the photos on them before I was able to get them safely home I would be in trouble. Not to mention that I spend a good fortune on high end memory cards so they keep my camera moving quickly and I don’t miss a beat throughout a wedding day or out on a photoshoot. If I’m investing a lot in memory cards it’s important to me that I treat them like the valuable objects that they truly are and that goes for you too!

1. Never Delete, Only Format!

Every time I see a photographer going through the back of their camera and deleting an image here or there I cringe. This is such a big NO-NO. Please don’t do this to your memory cards if you want to keep them happy! Deleting images from the back of your camera off your memory card can drastically shorten your memory card’s lifespan. Not only that, but it causes card corruption and data errors. You don’t want to delete images off the memory cards when importing to your computer either. When that little box pops ups and says, “would you like to delete these photos or keep them on the card?” Press the keep button. Always press the keep button.

Obviously when we mess up an image and get a crappy shot because maybe it’s out of focus or drastically too bright it would be easy to just stop mid-shoot and delete that right off your memory card so you save space for images that are worth your time. It sounds ideal, right? Except one thing. When you delete images off the back of your camera or even do a delete right after import your memory card still stores residual data from those images in the card. If you’re only deleting and never formatting all you are doing is overwriting that same data over and over. There’s only so many times data can be re-written before it becomes unusable. Over time that unusable data can fill up the card, cause card reading errors, corruption, etc. Formatting is the only way to completely remove images from a memory card without leaving residual data. If you’re one of those people that only deletes and never formats and you’ve noticed your cards running slower, filling up sooner, and storing less images it’s because your card still has the residual data from photos you never fully deleted. While you may have gotten through life thus far with no issues doing the delete method, you never know when it might come up. My philosophy is to always be safe rather than sorry when it comes to something as important as my clients’ wedding images. I’m going to do everything I can to treat them like gold.

When it comes to memory cards, just to be safe I never delete and always format. I keep all the duds on my memory card and cull them out later in Photo Mechanic when I get home. I format a fresh card for every shoot or wedding. Maybe it’s overkill, but when it comes to client’s memories I’d rather be safe than sorry. In general I am also close to filling up a memory card for every wedding, so I’d have to format it anyway to clear it. Sometimes I keep using a card until it’s close to full for things like engagement shoots and format when I’m done editing the photos.

2. Memory Cards Don’t Transfer from One Camera to the Next.

Always format your memory card in the camera you intend to use it in and don’t switch them out, unless you may have two cameras that are exactly the same. For example, I can’t use the same memory card to grab images from my mark iii and mark ii, the images don’t show up and the cards don’t work, so I never switch them out if I’m using both cameras while shooting. Each card is allocated to each camera.

3. Memory Cards Don’t Last Forever

Depending on how often you shoot and how many photos you take when you do, you may wear out your memory cards sooner rather than later. Technology has changed a lot since digital cameras first came out and memory cards were being used, so the lifespan of a memory card is much longer than it used to be. However, as a general rule of thumb running a full time business and being the type that tends to take more photos rather than less I give my memory cards a year for their lifespan. I buy new cards every Winter in preparation of a fresh new wedding season and retire my other cards. Sometimes they still get used, but not for important things like weddings, they may be used for taking photos of my dogs or other things I’m willing to risk corruption.

4. Store Your Cards Safely

I keep mine in a little memory card Pelican Case (see the photo below). It’s pretty awesome and it’s secure. It can get beat up and the cards are still fine. In fact, last week my dog stole it and ran away with it and I found it later with all the memory cards still in tact.

There’s a few other things you should know about storing your memory cards. Obviously putting them in extreme weather situations is probably not the best idea, but what I really mean is storage for things like when you want to stop for drinks with your second shooter before you head home after a wedding. I never like to leave my gear in the car, but sometimes I don’t want to seem like that weirdo walking into a bar with a large Pelican Case or two full of equipment. If I leave my gear in the car I take all the cards with me. That way if the gear gets stolen the memories of my clients don’t. Keep your memory cards with you at all times, especially before you’ve reached home and had a chance to import them and store them somewhere safe. Better yet, import them before you leave your wedding and upload them to a spare hard drive, somewhere via wifi or whatever works for you.

5. Dual Card Slots

I have my mark iii, with its dual card slots, set up to make a copy to the second card, that way I have two copies of every memory card just in case something goes wrong. It’s the main reason I wanted the mark iii and I love that feature. It makes me feel more secure while shooting that if anything were to happen the images would still be safe.

6. Use This Awesome Memory Card Case Hack

That way you can carry your SDs and CFs all in one spot if you use both.

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7. Label Your Cards

Put your name on your cards, contact info, and label them so you know which ones you’ve shot on and which ones you haven’t. A photographer friend of mine has a great way of telling whether a card is used or not in her case. When they’re unused and ready to go they’re facing with the front out. When they’re used she turns them backwards. Some people turn them upside down.

Put your name on your memory card case too. In fact, just put your name on everything (camera bodies, lenses, flashes, batteries, battery chargers, etc).