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Lightpainting Tips

Happy 4th of July!

Here in the US it’s time for the Forth of July, which means sparklers, fireworks and other fun things! So I thought I’d put together a post with a few tips on doing light painting for you guys. All of my images use a flashlight for light painting instead of sparklers, but the concept and instructions are exactly the same. We just aren’t legally allowed to use sparklers here in Colorado, although the government has allowed them for today only.

So here are a few tips about doing light painting for you guys since it seems to fit the season today!

Supplies

1. A Flash
2. Flashlight, iphone light, sparklers, etc.
3. A camera body that can do a long exposure (think a 20 or 30 second exposure)
4. A wide angle lens (35mm lens or wider is absolutely ideal, but you can work with a 50mm too).
5. Tripod

Tips

1. You will want to be doing a 20 or 30 second exposure so you have enough time to write or draw with your light and so your camera gets enough light to the sensor to make an evenly exposed image.

2. It’s best to wait until it’s very dark out.

3. When you are writing out words or drawing a design make sure that your light is facing your camera directly. If it moves slightly at an angle the light can get cut off (see the heart image below). You can see where there is no line on the edge of the heart because the light started to face a different angle, but it did happen to work out in this image. As long as the light is facing straight forward and you are standing behind it you won’t be able to see yourself in the image. If the light shines on you at all you might see “ghosting” where you see the one body part (foot, shoe, hand, face) where the light hit you for even a moment in your final image.

4. Don’t worry about spelling backwards. Stand behind your light and write forwards as you would any time. The image will appear backwards in your camera, but you can flip it in photoshop. It’s easier to flip than write backwards.

5. Use a high aperture. Focus is difficult in these images so shooting wide open isn’t ideal. All of my images here were taken between f3.5 and f5.

6. Use manual focus. Before beginning I had our subject stand in place and hold a light up (cell phone works). Then I used manual focus on that light source before we started. Your subject will have to stay very still in the photos once you start your long exposure.

7. To have your subject be lit, but not show you writing the words, use a flash either before you start writing or after and do a little pop of light on your subject.

8. If you use sparklers you’ll have to consider how long they burn, blow them out when you’re done writing or start off to the side of your photo, write and then drag the sparkler off the other side so you get a continuous look, like with the heart photo below. If you want a word or drawing to only be in the middle of the photo, you will have to light the sparkler or turn on the flashlight where you want to start writing.

9. Using a wider lens will give you more room to write and draw, that’s why a 35mm is ideal. lf you use a 50mm just make sure you stand further back so you can see a wider scene.

10. You must have your camera on a tripod or a steady surface during these long exposures, so you don’t get camera shake. For the heart photo my camera was on the ground, propped up on some jackets and for the word photo it was on the tripod. Sometimes camera shake can come when you press the shutter button too, so it’s great to set your camera up to do a 20 or 30 second exposure and set it up with your timer on a 2 second delay for the shutter to go off. That way you can press your shutter button and if that shakes the camera at all, it gives it a little time to rest before the shutter goes off. It’ll help keep things sharp.

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How to Start Selling Prints

When it was suggested to me that I write a blog post on getting into print sales it didn’t dawn on me that maybe there are some newer photographers who don’t even know where to go to begin setting up this process for their business. I forgot what it was like to want to sell prints, but not even know what the options were, until you guys reminded me. So here’s a basic step-by-step, how-to guide on starting with prints.

1. Make the Decision

First of all, you have to decide if selling prints is the right choice for your business model. Adding print sales can add a lot of profit and extra opportunity for you to deliver great customer service.

2. Decide What You Want to Sell

I think it’s best to decide what you want to sell and make a list prior to visiting all the options at the photo lab. Sometimes all their extras can get you overwhelmed and you forget about what your clients may be interested in and start getting distracted with all the cool fun little things you can sell. You don’t want to offer too many products. Offering too much will overwhelm your client into not being able to choose what to purchase. Offering too little might be limiting and they may choose to print elsewhere. It’s so important to find the right balance. I used to sell more options, but I found there were so many things clients didn’t want or need. There were also certain items that just didn’t fit my business model that I stopped selling as I got more in touch with finding my ideal clients and what they really wanted. Traditional albums, birth announcements, graduation announcements, and save the dates used to be big sellers for me, but are something I’m no longer interested in offering.

Here’s the list of the items that I currently sell. These are the print and canvas sizes that seem to sell the most with my clients and they’re the ones I’ve stuck to. However, if a client had a special request for a certain size I wouldn’t hesitate to price it out for them, but these are the items I list on my price sheet.

Print Sizes: 4×6, 5×7, 8×12, 11×14, and 16×20
Canvas Sizes: 10×10, 12×12, 16×20, 20×30
Other Products: Albums

3. Understand Professional Labs

One of the things I didn’t “get” early on in my business was the big difference in quality between a professional print lab and a Walmart print lab. Even professional labs have differences in quality and customer service. If you’re going to be offering prints for sale to your clients make sure you’re offering them something they can’t get on their own. Service from a professional print lab is usually only open to professional photographers and your account with a professional lab has to be approved before you can start putting in orders with them. Offering professional print services is something clients can’t always get on their own.

4. Find the Best Professional Print Lab For You

Professional labs have varying degrees of quality. I’ve ordered from many of the big name ones in the industry. Many print labs have options where you can order sample prints to see how they look and if they are a lab you’d like to use. A lot of you guys ask me for recommendations on the best print labs in the industry. While there are many good ones, here are a few things I can speak on about my experience with some labs. Millers Lab is my printer. I offer printing services through my online gallery system, Shootproof. If you’re looking for an online gallery, they are the best. You can use the code SWAILS25 to take 25% off any annual plan with them.

For canvases I use CGPro Prints. Again, this company is local to Colorado and I love supporting my local economy.

I’ve had some not-so-wonderful experiences with the customer service from Simply Color Lab and ProLab Express that I won’t go into. I’ve also found that no matter how much I calibrate my monitor the colors from Mpix’s professional lab and non-professional lab are always bluish and don’t match what my photos look like.

5. Price the Products You Are Going to Sell

The next part of working with prints is the controversial one…pricing your products. There tend to be lots of different ways that people price products. There’s the shoot and share method where a photographer prices higher up front, includes the digital files in that price and prices products low. There are also other methods where people price low upfront, but require an investment in products. People also price high on both ends. Really there’s all kinds of different ways to decide where you want to price. The important thing is that none of these pricing models are wrong, they are just different. There are amazing examples of success with each of these business models and you just need to figure out which one will work best for you. I’m a “shoot and share” business model. I price higher up front, include digital files and then sell my prints for prices that can compete with my clients printing at a cheap lab like Walmart. It works for me, but other methods have also worked in the past and other methods also work for many successful photographers.

My best advice to you is to price according to what you would look for as a consumer. My best sales have always been easiest to make when I really believe in what I’m selling at the price I’m selling it for. It’s easier for you to market a product and price when you would buy it yourself at that price. Again, every consumer is looking for different things when they purchase products and services. Defining what type of consumer you are will help you define what sort of business model best aligns to your personality.

6. Find a Selling Platform

Once you’ve researched your favorite labs, figured out how much you want to charge for the products you want to sell – the last big step is making it happen. You need to find and set up a system for what you’re selling.

Your decision should come down to whether you want to spend the time fulfilling orders yourself or whether you would prefer a more automated process. Each has its benefits and downfalls. Fulfilling yourself can be more time-consuming and time is money, but it can help you ensure quality products and order accuracy. Using an automated system to fill orders can save you tons of time, but if you have an order mishap it can be more difficult to figure out later.

So, here are some options for you and some products I’ve used and tried. You can take what you will and try it out yourself.

Smugmug – this is an online gallery and ordering system. They allow you to set prices, chose products and give you different labs you can have orders go through. You can have their system be fully automated to handle orders for you.

Shootproof – this is another online gallery system where you can show your photos to your clients and they can order. You can set prices, use their labs and have everything automated or you can set prices and self-fulfill orders too.

Zenfolio/Bludomain – I put these two websites together because they are similar services. You can get a website with an entire online gallery and built in car system with either of these websites. You can set prices and self-fulfill orders.

PASS – pass is an online gallery system that is geared toward digital downloads as a product. Although they do offer print sales they are on a limited basis with sizes, set pricing and a set lab. The print prices option is entirely automated.

In case anyone is interested, Shootproof is my online gallery system of choice. I’ve used Smugmug, Bludomain, PASS, Pixieset and others in the past and they were not a good fit for my business model. 😉

7. Make Your Clients Aware

Your final step to starting your print pricing journey is making your clients aware of your new product sales. I find the best time to introduce products to clients is at your initial consultation. It gives them ideas of what they can purchase and helps them save up for those items to purchase later.

Include a print/product price sheet in your welcome materials too!

The Ultimate Wedding Emergency Kit

Last week we had a blog post about wedding bride/groom hangers (Here) and someone asked for a post where I talk more about what’s in my wedding emergency kit! So here it is…the ultimate wedding emergency kit! My wedding kit is still a work in progress – I’m always adding to it. One thing my mom suggested was to have a ‘something blue’ in it. I think that’s a brilliant idea (thanks mom!). This year I just went out to Ikea and bought some fun boxes, which are getting labels too so everyone knows where to find everything!

I’ve got stickers ordered in the mail to label the box and small round stickers with my logo and website in case anyone manages to not put something back when they’re done – then, hey! It’s free marketing!

You might be asking yourself, why go to all this trouble? I realize that bringing a big kit to the wedding is completely unnecessary, but I feel that it’s part of providing top-notch customer service. I even bring this to portrait sessions – you never know! I know that my job as a photographer goes beyond simply taking photos and getting paid. I want to provide my clients with the best experience ever and not let anything ruin their wedding day.

So…here it is, there are little tips and tidbits in the captions of each photo.

Oh P.S. I also bring a leatherman with me too, but it’s always in my pocket!

Lily (#thelily) decided it was very important to be in these photos. These are all boxes I bought at Ikea. I have stickers for the top of the box to say it’s mine and feel free to look inside and use what you need. Each individual box has a theme with a label of the items inside.

The infamous bride hanger. I have a groom hanger too. I do not allow my clients to take these.

This pink box has a lot of odds and ends in it. Straws – so the bride doesn’t ruin her lipstick. Antibacterial hand gel. Mentos – for yummy breath! A paper and pen. Girly things – need I say more? Snacks – just in case. Sometimes people forget to eat on the day of the wedding.

This is the green box with all the hair and makeup things you might ever need. It has 3 tiers.

Inside the hair and makeup box we have: hairspray, hairgel, bobby pins, face wipes, makeup remover wipes, nail polish remover wipes, tweezers, nail file, nail clippers, chapstick, sunscreen, deoderant, lotions, vaseline, razors, and baby powder. These are all little $1 travel-size items.

This box is the ‘medicine cabinet’ with: pepto, claritin, benadryl, advil, tums, contact solution, and eye drops for red eyes.

2 Little Pink Boxes! One has a first aid kit and the other has extra phone chargers and batteries (AAA an AA).

The big black box has items used for fixing things, fixing dresses, clothes, buttons, decorations and tissues for fixing happy tears.

Inside the big black box of ‘fix-it’ tools there are mini tissue packs, duct tape, a mini sewing kit, static guard, wrinkle release spray, a bleach pen, lint roller, and clear nail polish.

These four little jars are in my big black box to carry all the smallest items.Inside the little jars which are inside the big black box are q-tips, safety pins, straight pins, super glue, and jewelry parts (extra earring backs, necklace fasteners, etc.).

How to Get Your Photography Published

Emma and Josh are photographers who get featured a lot on weddings blogs online. I don’t have a lot of experience in this area so I invited Emma to come and write a little bit about how it works for her. It can be a great marketing tool. If a wedding blog choses to feature your photos they will link back to your website, which can help your SEO!

There are a couple different ways to connect with blogs and submit your photography to be featured. One is the old-fashioned way – emailing them a link to a gallery or just emailing them photos. However, many blogs are now using an online service called Two Bright Lights to submit their photos and connect with blog owners. Emma has been featured many times by using their service so I’m super thankful she’s taking the time to tell us about it!!

By Emma Smith
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Two Bright Lights is a website/service that helps you streamline your submission process to blogs, as well as gives you an option to share your photos directly with vendors. I personally only use it for submissions to blogs and share my photos with PASS for clients.The amazing thing about this system is everything you need to know is right online. They list ALL the blogs/Magazines and Editors ( that accept via Two Bright Lights, not every blog accepts submissions with this online service. ) They have information on who is accepting what. If you want to read more about each blog you can and Two Bright Lights gives you information as to the blogs’ publication schedule, how often they post, and how many images they post. It’s really great information.The submission process is very simple. After creating an account you can first upload photos into an album on the website. Then list all the vendors involved in a wedding or photo shoot so they are credited accordingly. A vendor you worked with might already be listed, so you can search the database to see if they are on there. If not, add them manually. Then you can move to the actual submission process.Two bright lights walks you through the submission process using various filters to narrow down who you can submit to. For example you’ll want to decide between exclusive and non-exclusive blogs. An exclusive blog will expect that you feature a certain wedding or shoot only with them and with no one else. There are categories to submit weddings/engagements/ parties/lifestyles/pets…you name it. There are also filters such as location, style, and budget. When you are finally done Two Bright Lights filters out so you get a list of blogs/magazines who are accepting those types of weddings and shoots. You can choose where you want to submit. Finally, you use the categories to break your event down with colors, cultures, themes and add in any additional information and ‘SUBMIT.’

Submissions might take as quick as 24 hours or up to 2 months. Each publication lists the time it might take, and you wait until you hear back. Two Bright Lights also shows you when your submission is under review and you will get an email if it’s accepted that includes a publication date. If you’re not accepted you may receive an email saying, “sorry not at this time.” Sometimes they list reasons and sometimes they don’t. You can then resubmit to another publication if you wish.

If you’re selected to be featured, when the publication date hits, you get an email saying your feature has been published and right from that email you can share directly to Facebook or tweet about it! THAT’S COOL!

A few tips to keep in mind…

1. Make sure you follow instructions. Most blogs want non-watermarked, single images and they request a certain amount of images. If a publication wants 100 images and you submit 40 odds are you won’t get accepted due to failure to follow instructions. So, always read up on who you are submitting to and know the rules.

2. Dont take it personally if you’re not accepted (which is hard – I speak from experience), but there are many blogs and sometimes they just have a different vision. Try, try again…

3. Being published doesn’t make you a rock star and it wont get you 10 bookings. However, it gives you exposure.

Some of my features for you to check out:

http://www.ceremonyblog.com/2013/02/20/real-wedding-katherine-sean/

http://theeverylastdetail.com/2013/03/18/modern-glamorous-pink-wedding/

http://www.societybride.com/2012/09/03/sunstone-winery-masquerade-styled-shoot-by-emma-jane-photography-edit/

My Print Pricing Journey

I’m a shoot and share photographer. My favorite part of the job is photographing and I want to share my digital photos with my clients. I’ve discussed it quite often on this blog. However, at the same time I want to find a balance to offer professional print options to my clients.

I’m a big fan of doing a gallery review with my clients after their photo session or wedding and have always used this as an opportunity to make print sales, offer discounts and ensure that my clients have great archival memories of their photos after all is said and done. I do want their photos to last both online and offline. I want my clients to have their digital files stored for a lifetime online, which is why I use PASS, but I also want them to walk away with heirlooms to pass down to their family, like an album.

So, I wanted to tell you guys a story about something I’ve learned lately. It doesn’t matter how far you’ve come in business – I’m always learning and trying new techniques to try to be better at this job. When I learn something new and find out what’s working for me I like to share it here with you. Of course, my techniques are not always right for everyone, but they work for me and that’s why I share them.

The story goes that I was talking to a photographer friend of mine over the phone. We were talking about how the demand in the industry is getting higher for digital photos and we want to be able to provide that, but how we also believe they need to have something hanging on the wall. Somehow pricing products came up and it just dawned on both of us how much the photography industry marks up print products. We mark up our products more than most any industry in the world. I was telling my friend that for some reason the last year I’ve noticed my print sales decreasing and I couldn’t figure out why. I was still selling, and I wanted to provide the digital files, but I wanted to find a balance to do so.

That lead me to last December where I started thinking about how we, as photographers, not only have to compete against each other in this industry, but how our print prices now have to compete against the likes of Walmart now too. I wanted to check out some of these crappy print options for myself and compare them to some of the professional labs I’d been using and see if I could use that as a marketing tool. I had done the same thing years ago, but with how fast technology grows I figured it was about time to check it out again.

I have to tell you that Costco’s print lab beat out several of the professional labs. A lot of the other labs like Walmart, Shutterfly, etc. (I tried them all) didn’t look great and had color problems, but man Costco caught me off guard. Of course I doubt that Costco uses the same sprays and tools that a professional lab does, but it makes for some legit competition.

The big question was, how can I compete against the likes of Walmart’s prices, still sell high quality prints, and meet the demand by my clients for digital files? So, I’ve been sitting on this idea for several months, researching, thinking, and planning.

I realized that we as an industry don’t have any set standards for professional print prices. They are all over the place. When I first priced my products I did so by looking at what other photographers were pricing for theirs. I have learned that I may be over valuing what I thought my prints were truly worth.

That led me to experiment. I wondered what it would be like to drop my print prices a little bit to compete with the likes of Walmart, but still make sales and a small profit off of what I sell. So the last several months I cut my prices on my prints a lot. I was surprised because I worried that no people would still print elsewhere or that I was devaluing my own work. However, my print sales have increased hugely. My clients are loving the new prices and the ability to get professional quality prints, and products at affordable prices.

I guess I didn’t expect it to work well, but I was willing to try it out. I’m making more off my print sales then I ever have before. I think my clients are happier. I’m happier too. This is an experiment I’m going to continue throughout this year to see where it leads me as wedding season begins.

I just wanted to share this story, and my thoughts with you. I think one of the most important things we can do as a business owner is stay current with what is popular with our clients and find a way to do what works for them in a way that we can also still benefit and be happy. Like I said, there are so many methods that work for different people in different ways. Mine isn’t always the right path for everyone, but I’m here to share and help if I can.