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How to Use Off Camera Flash at a Wedding Reception

OCF_COVER_largeWhen I started shooting weddings the hardest part of the day for me to get great photos was during the reception when the lights would turn down low. All day I would be outside using natural light and I’d be getting gorgeous images I couldn’t wait to share with my clients but when it came to the reception I felt like my photos were lackluster and only a step away from being compared to Uncle Bob and his point and shoot. And then I discovered off camera flash…

For those of you who don’t know, off camera flash gives you the ability to take complete control of your light. By literally taking your flash off of your camera and putting it on a light stand you’re able to direct the light wherever you want it at any given moment. In order to make this work you’ll need a couple of speed lights, a light stand, transmitter, and a receiver. And because there are a bunch of ways to set up off camera lighting for receptions I’ve decided to start by sharing a simple setup to get you started.

But before we get in to the setup let’s break down the gear you’ll need. All of the equipment below is what I am currently using. NOTE: I recently picked up some Yongnuo flashes and can’t recommend them enough. They are extremely reliable and are available at a fraction of the price of Canon/Nikon name brand flashes. I’ve had issues with guests knocking over my light stands in the past and replacing a $500+ flash sucks. With the Yongnuo’s I’m a little less worried because they cost less than $75 a pop so if it gets knocked over and broken it’s not as big a hit to my wallet.

Flashes:
Canon 580 EXII (Discontinued)
Yongnuo YN560-III ($70 on Amazon)

Transmitter/Receiver:
Yongnuo RF-603C’s ($30/pair on Amazon)
**Please note that these receivers do not lock in to your camera. To keep it the receiver from falling off your camera you may need to use a piece of gaffers tape to hold it in place.**

Light Stands:
Bowens Portable 11.5’ Light Stand ($70 on B&H)

Two Light Setup
With a basic two light setup you’ll be placing one flash on a light stand in the corner of the room or dance floor, connected to a receiver. Then, connect your other flash to a transmitter and place it on top of your camera. To help keep things consistent throughout the night I recommend setting both flashes to manual mode and typically between 1/32nd and 1/16th power. The flash that is on the light stand will act as your rim light to help separate your subject from the background while the on camera flash acts as a fill light to ensure you still have light on your subject.

If you don’t quite understand what I’m talking about, not to worry! I drew up a little diagram to help explain things. 🙂

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When I use the setup diagramed above I like to place the light stand away from the DJ. I do this so that I can use the flash on the stand as a rim light on the dance floor and still shoot from angles that show the room in the background. As much as possible I try to shoot from an angle that hides unsightly elements like the DJ, speakers, equipment, etc. Bonus: This single light setup is not only good for dancing shots but works well during all aspects of the reception. Time to shoot cake cutting or bouquet toss? No problem! Simply move the flash that is on the stand and place it behind and off to the side of the subject to keep that beautiful rim light consistent.

The following are some examples of images I’ve taken using this two light setup.

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In the photo above I have placed my flash out of frame to camera right to help light the line of people dancing through the tables

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In this one I also have a flash set up behind the couple (right of camera) set to low power and aimed at the table to add rim light.

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In this photo I have placed my flash stand behind the girls and off to the left side to help illuminate not only the girls in the background, but also the bouquet in the air. The flash on camera helps to keep the bright bright in the foreground.

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Again, flash stand is behind the couple and outside the frame to the left. Notice the subtle rim light around the bride and groom that helps separate them from the twinkling lights in the background while the flash on camera keeps them bright and in focus.

So there we have it! A Simple OCF technique to help bring those reception shots to the next level. I’d love to see some photos from you showing how you’ve used OCF to enhance your reception images. And be sure to tune in next month as we dig deeper into off camera flash techniques for receptions and portraits!

What to do if You Have an Emergency as a Wedding Photographer

2014-09-08_0001_large“Would you be my emergency coverage if I ever needed it for a wedding?” I asked a fellow photographer friend a couple years ago. “Of course!” she said and that was that. I had all my ducks in a row and would just call her if anything ever happened where I couldn’t make it to a wedding. At the time I felt relieved knowing I had someone I could trust to handle my business for me in one of those worst-case-scenarios. I felt confident that I was planning for the future and wouldn’t ever need to worry.

I was wrong. It wasn’t until last weekend where I was in the situation of being the emergency wedding coverage that I realized a simple “of course” needed to be so much more! At about midnight last Friday night my awesome photographer friend messaged me on Facebook saying, “Hey, are you awake?” I was about ready to go to bed, but I was curious so I answered. Turned out it wasn’t her at all, but her boyfriend. To make a long story short she was in the hospital and had two weddings this weekend that she wasn’t going to make it to.

PANIC!!!!!!!
Okay, after the initial panic knowing how I would feel if I was in her shoes her boyfriend and I took to making a plan for at least Saturday’s wedding (less than 12 hours away). Luckily it was one of the rare weekends during wedding season where I wasn’t booked. I knew I could take the Saturday wedding easily, but the Sunday wedding would require some rescheduling and generous flexibility on the part of my other clients.

It was a bit of an insane weekend for me. I worked the wedding on Saturday meanwhile trying to find someone good who could cover Sunday’s wedding. Everyone was booked, out of town, unavailable or otherwise engaged so that left me and another photographer friend who was getting over a cold. Together we decided to tag-team Sunday’s wedding since it was such a long day with 400 guests.

My weekend basically got turned upside-down by taking over her two weddings, but I’m so glad I did. I’m also incredibly thankful that my portrait session on Sunday night was flexible enough to reschedule for the sake of ensuring a couple had wedding photography!

The entire weekend really made me think about how I should really be more prepared for such an emergency if it were to happen to me. I can’t imagine my husband digging through my computer, emails and everything trying to find the right information and connecting to my other photographer friends. So, here’s a few tips and things I’ll be implementing into my own wedding photography business just to ensure things are always going to go as smoothly as possible!

1. Print out wedding day schedules and client contact information in advance. I’m going to start printing and leaving out a paper copy with all of my client’s contact information, payments due, and wedding day schedule so it’s easy to find in case of an emergency.

2. Make an emergency wedding photographer phone tree. Keep a list of contact information for all your second shooters and other wedding photographers you know so your spouse can quickly access them and know who to call. Keep this info on PAPER! Don’t hide it in your computer where it might not be easily accessed.

3. Find an emergency wedding buddy. Pick a photographer in your network who you are especially close to. Maybe someone who second shoots for you often or you for them. I know a lot of my friends and I trade off second shooting for each other so we have someone equally as skilled with us at our wedding days. Pick one of those people who knows your business as well as you do take them out to lunch and ask them to be your emergency wedding buddy. That person can be at the top of your phone tree and the first person your spouse calls in an emergency. That person you can pay to take care of your business. Even if they’re not available to cover your wedding, they’ll call everyone in your network and find someone to be there, pass along client information, notify your clients, and do all the behind the scenes work that comes with coordinating emergency coverage (and believe me there’s surprisingly a lot). Make a plan with your friend for what you’d want done in your absence and put it in writing, so it’s somewhere you can find. It’d be good to keep all this information in a folder somewhere that’s easily accessible so it’s all in one place.

4. What about the final payments due? If the photographer you are filling in for is in the hospital leave the final payments between their clients and the original photographer. This past weekend I just let them all know that any other payments need to be settled up with the original photographer. That takes the pressure off you for accepting payment in their stead.

5. How much should you pay? Decide with your emergency wedding buddy how much you will pay for someone to take your place and add this into your written paper copy of emergency plans. That way when your buddy gets the word out to find a photographer for you, they already know how much to expect to be paid. I would say that typically you should pay more than you would pay a second because that person is coming in your place as a primary photographer. It’s hard to provide a specific amount, but agree on something in advance with your buddy that seems fair.

6. Don’t worry about the editing, unless you have to. As long as the original photographer will get better in the near future plan on not taking over the editing process. Other situations may require editing, but typically with a wedding you just want someone to go there in your place, take photos, and if you can edit them later in a timely fashion then at least you can still put your stamp and style on the editing and provide the clients with a more consistent experience.

7. What should I expect from the clients? The clients are most likely going to be incredibly thankful that a replacement is at their wedding. As long as there is a replacement, they are going to be the hero of the day. Obviously the clients will feel torn with concern over their photographer’s well being in an emergency, but also worried about their wedding too. If you are going to be the replacement just remind them that you are experienced with weddings, you’ll have everything taken care of and to enjoy the day. Give them a call as soon as you can to let them know about the situation so they have as much notice as possible.

Knowing that an emergency could happen at any time and your clients could be stranded without a wedding photographer is a reality. If you can’t find coverage you’re risking losing business, being sued and all kinds of ugly nasty stuff that nobody wants to happen. One of the reasons we shouldn’t be so competitive with our neighbors is because we need to network and rely on each other for help, emergencies, and support in many situations. Hopefully everyone will be going out for coffee now and finding their emergency wedding buddy!

10 Things You Need to Know About Photography Business Insurance

photographyawesomesauce.com-2One of the first things I recommend to photographers on their path to getting legit is business insurance. Business insurance may be the single, most important purchase you make as a business owner. It’s more important than the latest fancy gearBefore you have anything else, this can be the one thing that will save your butt in a bad situation and every photographer should have it. I’ve put together a list of common questions we see on Photography Awesomesauce about business insurance for you guys to look through.

What is liability insurance and should I get it?

Liability is a type of insurance that protects you (the business owner) against claims from any customers you might have that come under your insurance policy. Liability will protect you if a client attempts to sue you for getting injured on a photoshoot and things like that. Business insurance is two-fold and liability is something every photographer should have as part of their policy. If you are a wedding photographer you may find that venues require photographers who work there to be insured and provide a copy of your insurance or even specifically alter your policy to reflect a listing of their venue. Liability insurance is pretty general in that it usually covers things like bodily injury, property damage, personal injury, etc.

What is E&O insurance and should I have it?

E&O stands for ‘Errors and Omissions’ and is sometimes referred to as Professional Liability insurance or even Professional Indemnity Insurance compared to general liability (which is what we covered in the previous question). Errors and Omissions will protect you against situations where a client may claim negligence with the service you provided. In the medical field it’s often referred to as malpractice insurance. For photographers E&O would help cover you if a memory card failed and you lost images or similar circumstances. This is insurance coverage I would recommend to any photographer, and especially wedding photographers. Negligence can be scary to be accused of so make sure you have a good plan in place when you are transferring memory cards, storing them, and storing photos for clients. Taking care of the most valuable thing you do in this business (the images you create) in the best way possible will help you avoid the need for ever filing a claim under E&O.

How much liability coverage should I get?

A very typical general liability coverage policy will cover up to one million. Most wedding venues that require photographers to be insured require this amount as a minimum policy.

What should my deductible be?

Choosing your deductible for insurance is truly up to you and your finances personally. It’s very similar to car insurance in that if you want a smaller deductible you’ll pay a higher monthly/annual premium. A very average deductible choice in the photography industry is $500. In terms of equipment insurance this means that any equipment worth less than that amount you’d probably want to pay to replace on your own in a bad situation instead of going through your insurance.

How much does business insurance cost?

Quotes can be all over the place depending on who you go with and how much coverage you want. On average I have seen photographers discuss annual quotes ranging anywhere from $400-900. Again, the price will vary depending on the coverage you want to have.

How can I start getting business insurance and where do I go?

There are lots of great options for insurance. Professional Photographers of America (PPA) includes a basic insurance in their membership. Many photographers use PPA and upgrade their insurance package within their membership to have fuller coverage or still purchase insurance separately to ensure they have full coverage as well.

Not all insurance companies offer business insurance and even then some won’t insure photographers. One popular insurance company for photographers is Usher and Hill. Statefarm, Secura, and several other companies also insure photographers.

The best place to start with insurance is to get quotes from several companies, compare and make a truly informed decision. Your business is your livelihood, so it’s especially important to ensure you are protecting it as such.

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

How do I insure my camera equipment?

Equipment insurance is separate of liability, so your policy will have two parts. Depending on how much equipment you have you may be insuring different amounts than your neighbor so it may change the price of your policy premium.

Camera equipment usually comes to mind first when insuring your gear, but don’t forget to insure anything else that may leave the house with you as a business owner like your computer.

I am still building my portfolio and don’t have a lot of paying customers (or any at all). Do I still need business insurance?

Yes, the first thing I recommend to any photographer who is photographing people and property that you could potentially damage is to have insurance for both general liability and your equipment. Whether you are paid for your services or are still building that portfolio you are taking a risk when stepping out your door with your equipment. Your equipment could get stolen. Let’s say you were shooting a client for free to build your portfolio and you asked them to jump or stand on a ledge and they fell and broke their ankle, you want that covered. Regardless of if you get paid for your work or not, a client can still attempt to sue you for bodily injury. Even though you may not have all your ducks in a row as far as making your business legit, like your business license for example, you still can get business insurance and should have it.

 

 

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Want to learn more about the business side of being a photographer? Join Photography Awesomesauce’s 6 week online bootcamp to learn more about everything from business insurance, taxes, accounting, copyright law, hiring employees, business licenses and more!

 

Leave the Drama to your Llama: Facebook Groups and Photographers

2014-07-08_0003_largeIt’s no secret that these last few weeks have been filled with a turbulent, writhing cesspool of drama, hate-filled speeches, grandiose blog posts, and a lot of hurt. If you’ve been in any Facebook Group with more than 200 members, chances are you’ve heard about it. And if you haven’t…well you don’t really need this article, you’ve already got a llama that helps you with your drama. *hi five* But for the rest of us, the emotional turbulence and gossip that is dominating every feed, every major group, and many decisions as far as who to work with, and who to buy from—it’s downright suffocating.

Although I have my own views on everything happening between Shoot & Share and the rebel forces of photographers leaving en masse over irreconcilable differences, that’s not what I’m here to talk about. In fact, the only reason I mention it is because it’s such a perfect example of something I see in almost every group, every thread, every time.

The No Drama Llama.

I consistently see posts from random people in groups that tend to go something like this: “I didn’t come to this group to see so much negativity and drama. The people of this group need to stop complaining all the time, I thought this was a group that was about building each other up, I’m sick of seeing it, keep your whining to yourselves.” It varies, obviously, but the message is always the same: I don’t care what you’re going through, it’s not helping me or making me feel good, so I don’t want to see it. I absolutely, 100% HATE these posts. HATE. I don’t use that word often, except to describe my loathing towards spiders, bad customer service, and bad coffee, so understand that when I use that word, I really mean that I’m against it. I’m not against you, if you’ve written it. I’m sure you’re a great person that just is sick and tired of negativity and annoyed with seeing the same hurt come up over and over again. Maybe you’re already over it. Maybe you have no idea what’s going on. Maybe you internalize your feelings and have decided that everyone else should follow suit.

But here’s the thing: when you tell someone who’s sharing their story, their hurt, and their incredibly strong cry for help, that they need to bottle that up and take it elsewhere, here’s what that person is hearing: “You are not worthy of being heard. You are not worthy of being helped. You are not worthy of closure.” For reals. Every time you shut down someone who’s trying to cope, trying to make sense of something huge, trying to communicate and understand a delicate and heated subject, you’re telling them that because YOU find it inconvenient, they are no longer allowed to have that healing process.

And that’s downright selfish.

Would you go to a grocery store, and tell the stressed out mother that she needed to go home because her screaming newborn was impacting your positive shopping experience? Would you tell a co-worker to reign in the soft weeping she’s doing at her desk because you can’t get any work done? Would you tell the bride and groom at the wedding to reign in the emotional First Look because you’re on a time schedule and they’ve been blubbering for almost 10 minutes now? No? Because that’s what it looks like to me, every single time I see those types of posts. I see someone who has decided to close down their mind to everyone around them, and focus only on their needs, and theirs alone.

Maybe you didn’t know this, but the human body and mind suffers terribly when turbulent feelings like hurt, anger, betrayal, and distress are internalized. Studies show that in situations where a person was made to internalize their negative feelings and experiences, they would PHYSICALLY suffer. We’re talking elevated blood pressure, back pain, ulcers, asthma, STROKES. And that’s NOTHING compared to the devastating effects it has on the mind. Depression. Chronic Anxiety. Sleep Disorders. Eating Disorders. OCD tendencies. Suicidal tendencies. You see…the feelings always show somewhere. They don’t just go away. They don’t just simmer down because the person has stopped talking about it. They’ve just started to manifest in horrifying, debilitating ways. And that’s terrifying. It’s why, whenever I see someone venting, or asking for help in a less than diplomatic way, I try to find a way to gently correct that trajectory, if it’s more destructive than helpful. But I NEVER tell them to not talk about it. And I certainly won’t post a passive aggressive post demanding everyone stop talking about it. And neither should you.

Instead of asking everyone around you to stop with the drama, open your mind and heart a little more- even if for just a moment. Recognize that these are people. People who very much so believe they have been hurt, wounded, used, lied to, and/or manipulated. These people NEED to talk about it. They NEED to get it out. They NEED a safe place where they can say ANYTHING they want to, without fear of reprisal, judgment, and banishment. And it can take more than a few days of talking for the theme of conversations in your Group to mellow out. It can take a month—longer if the situation doesn’t resolve itself.

So what can you do to reign it in? How can you help? For starters, let them tell their story. Acknowledge that it’s something you wish you didn’t have to see, acknowledge it may not be important for you, and scroll on if you can’t find anything nice to say. Secondly, if you feel up to it, join the conversation. Help them find closure. Tell them that you hear their story, that you hear their pain, and that you accept what they’re saying—without judgment. Another really awesome way to move past the posts that seem to be dragging you and the group down? Start a positive-themed thread. Ask people to share pictures of their furry animals! Tell them to share their favorite picture from their last shoot! Ask them to engage in an epic GIF battle (if you don’t know what it is, Google “Epic GIF Battle” and thank me later). Bury the Group in Joy and Motivation. Keep the conversation moving upwards. Graciously redirect conversations that begin to spiral back down into the mucky darkness of frustrations. And always try to remain open to people who are looking for someone—anyone, to talk to.

2014-07-08_0004_largeIt’s been a hard, rough few weeks for most photographers that are part of the Facebook community. We’ve been hearing a lot of things, tempers are frayed, people are taking stands, and it can be so overwhelming at times. I get it, No Drama Llama. I totally get it. And I don’t think you’re out of line for feeling like everything is less than awesome right now. But perhaps, if you extend that proverbial hand made of 1’s and 0’s to that other person, in a faraway place, who at this moment is full of relief at finally having a place to speak, and a lingering fear of rejection, you’ll find that you’ve just strengthened what it is we’re all driven towards, that Holy Grail of a community of photographers that thrives and supports one another ambitiously, and without hesitation.

C’mere, you. Let’s hug it out.

Gift Certificates and the Federal Credit Card Act

Gift-Cert_largeLet me start off by saying I am not a lawyer. It is very likely you are not a lawyer. Checking with a lawyer on legal things is helpful. But hopefully, this can help you see what questions you might need to ask or give you a way to find out what you need to know without having to pay for one.

Under the Federal Credit Card Act of 2009, it is unlawful for any gift certificate issued in the USA to have an expiration date of less than 5 years from the date of issuance unless the gift certificate is issued pursuant to an award, loyalty or promotional program. So if anyone paid cash for a gift certificate to give to someone else, that gift certificate can’t expire for at least 5 years. There is a nice little exception tucked in there though. If you donate that same gift certificate to a benefit auction or non-profit fundraiser, it can expire as long as it says it clearly. You can read the text of the act by clicking here if you want to read it for yourself.

Even though the Federal Act makes it so you can’t have a gift certificate that expires in less than 5 years, there are some states which say those same gift certificates can never expire. Those include Washington, California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island (as of May 2014) who have written legislation in place specifying only a few instances where gift certificates can expire and the passage of time is not always one of those instances. There is a nice summary provided by the National Conference of State Legislatures which can help you figure out where your state stands.

Super important to know your state’s laws and how they work with the federal laws. Do know and understand that where the federal law is more customer friendly, the federal law will be chosen by the courts and where the state law is more customer friendly, the state law will be chosen. So if your state says a gift certificate can never expire, it can never expire. But if your state says it can expire, double check and make sure the federal law doesn’t apply before you issue one with an expiration date.

Are there exceptions to the rules? Of course! It’s the government. The main exception, the one which I use most often, is for gift certificates donated to charitable organizations for fund-raising purposes. In that case, you are allowed to have an expiration date on the gift certificate provided no cash/money/credit card/profit made it to your hands for the gift certificate. Notice what I just said? The organization you donated to can receive money in exchange for the gift certificate as long as YOU don’t. A nice little benefit for me has been that I have sold prints from every session I have donated that has been used. So yes, you can still sell prints from your images that are a result of the gift certificate and make a profit off of those and that doesn’t make the expiration date invalid. Just make sure you are selling at your normal prices for prints (you can’t bump up your prices and try to recoup your session fees in your print profits).