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How to Prepare Your Business for Vacation

How to Prepare Your Business for VacationAs much as we all love our businesses and taking photos of awesome people, we still also love vacation. Everyone needs a vacation, even people who love their jobs. However, it’s really difficult to go on vacation when you’re a business owner. It’s even more difficult when you’re a sole business owner as most photographers are.

I think the most difficult part of going on vacation with your business is keeping up a consistent online presence while you’re gone. There is a delicate balance between ensuring your business runs while you’re on vacation and actually enjoying your vacation. You don’t want to have to work on your vacation, right?

In this blog post I put together a few tips for everyone about what I do to prepare my business for a vacation while I’m gone. My goal is for it to seem like nothing has changed for my clients and potential customers. I want to keep a consistent social media and blog presence. I want my emails to have responses of some kind. Most of all, I want everything to be automated so I don’t have to worry. There’s nothing worse than a vacation where you end up actually working. We all need that time to feel recovered and refreshed.

Automated Email Responses

When you’re gone set up an automated email response that lets anyone know that you’ll be out of town for these dates and when they can expect for you to return their email. There are a few tips for how to create an automated email response that doesn’t annoy your customers. First, only send it once per email address. Do not set up your email response to send after every single email someone sends. If you’re gone for a couple weeks you may often get a couple of emails from one person and it looks careless to send the same automated response to them every time they email. Once is more than enough. Second, make sure you leave enough information in the response so they know exactly what to expect. It’s one thing to say  you’re out of town, but make sure you leave dates.

Schedule Social Media in Advance

Use a free tool like Hootsuite and schedule photo posts, and other social media updates regularly for when you’re out of town. By doing this you are putting out a consistent presence. Your social media dies when nothing is posted. You don’t want to post only vacation photos. Mix in some of your photography portfolio to show people how awesome you are.

Schedule Blog Posts in Advance

My favorite feature in WordPress is the ability to schedule blog posts to publish in advance. When I’m getting ready to leave for a vacation one of my biggest goals is to get lots of blog posts written in advance and scheduled. Whether they’re tips for my clients so their weddings and sessions go more smoothly or they’re posts featuring recent shoots and weddings, it’s always helpful to have consistent content being released on your blog while you’re gone.

You can also write a blog post letting people know that you’re out of town and when to expect responses via email, social media, or phone calls. I love to put this information out in as many ways as possible (email responses, blog, voicemail, etc.) so I feel I’ve done everything possible to ensure people know what to expect.

Change Your Voicemail Message

Finally, the last thing I do is change my voicemail message. This is not just for clients, but also for anyone who calls me. I let them know that I’m out of town for these specific dates and to expect a return call when I get back, or to send me an email if there’s something more urgent.

Finish Editing

When you’re preparing to leave on vacation one of the best things you can do for your clients is schedule enough time to finish all of your editing. Don’t make your clients wait for photos if the vacation extends the time frame in your contract. If you can’t get everything done before you leave it may be good to send out your photos to be edited by someone else so you can meet all your deadlines. I prefer to have all my editing done before I leave so I don’t feel like I’ve got something on my plate waiting for me when I get back. It allows me to fully relax.

There’s usually one thing I still do on vacation once a day because it’s incredibly difficult to escape. That’s answering emails. Even if I have an automated response I still like to respond to inquiries and do my best to get them booked. If they have to wait a couple weeks for a response from me they may lose interest. I’m still a business owner so I like to respond to my clients as often as I can.

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What to Wear to Photograph a Wedding

What to Wear to Photograph a Wedding

What to Wear to Photograph a Wedding:
Balancing Being Creative, Professional & Comfortable

It’s wedding season again. I was looking through my closet to pull out my go-to outfits and…. wow. Fraying seams. Strings hanging off. Pilling. Cracks in the soles of my shoes….. Crap. I had worn all my favorites to death and need to actually shop.

I am totally picky about what I wear to weddings. I want to be comfortable, but also look the part of a trustworthy, creative, professional business owner.   I am always struggling to find this balance. I muddled my way through finding my new go-to “uniform” for this year and thought I would share some tips for finding those perfect shooting outfits.

This list comes from years of trial and error and discovering the hard way what DOESN’T work for me (like dresses). Your list might be different, but here are some tips to get you through if you are like me and dread shopping for shooting attire.

  1. SHOES:

    Creative Professional - wedding photographer
    Feminine and romantic-inspired clothing to wear to a daytime wedding.

    It is so worth it to invest in a really good pair of comfort shoes.  I have a shoe fetish and love fun shoes, but when it comes to being on my feet ALL day, I have to wear comfort shoes with good arch support or I literally won’t be able to walk by the end of the night. A couple brands that I like are Sofft and Dansko. Style-wise, I dig mary janes or dress flats, but my second-shooter-sister can rock a pair of leopard-print Dansko clogs like a boss. We watch for clearance sales on them. (I got really lucky and found killer deals on Zulily and 6pm.com this year.)

  2. PANTS:

    I look for slacks, “ponte” or “ankle pants” made with stretch fabric so I can get up and down, crawl on the ground, bend over, lie down and climb stuff. This year, I was able to find comfortable stretchy slacks to fit my body type at Target, but I’ve also heard great things about the Betabrand “Yoga Dress Pants” – yes, you read that right. I totally have these on my wish list.

  3. LEGGINGS:

    Creative Casual - photographer
    Earthy-inspired clothing to wear to an informal garden or beach wedding.

    Leggings are meant to be athletic wear, not professional wear. If I am going to push the professional boundaries and pull off leggings to photograph a wedding, I want to make sure to choose a well-made pair in a heavy weight knit. I also pair them with a long tunic or short dress, nice jewelry and nice shoes. Basically, I try to up the formal ante on all of my other clothing items to overcompensate for the casualness of a legging-type pant.

  4. TOPS:

    A blouse or nice collared button down shirt is always a safe bet. Again, I consider how the fabric moves and breathes. I try to be aware of necklines and cutouts to make sure I will be comfortable moving in all sorts of ways. I love tops with embellishments like lace or beading, but that means I also have to watch out for stuff that might catch on my camera gear.

  5. COLOR:

    Not only do black and dark grays look instantly classy, but wearing black is also very practical in that it helps us to blend in and be less distracting during the event, it won’t cause color casts, it won’t show up most dirt or spills and it also will help make cheaper or lighter weight fabrics appear dressier. I know there are some who will argue with me on this, but really, you can’t go wrong with black. When incorporating other colors, I prefer subtler tones that don’t attract too much attention or cause color casts. Bonus points: colors that match business branding.

  6. LAYERS:

    There is so much variation in weather and venue temperature, I like to layer to prepare for comfort. I tend to get hot while shooting, but may also freeze in a heavily air-conditioned venue. A pretty typical look for me is a lightweight, sleeveless or short-sleeved blouse with a cardigan and stretchy knit blazer – this way I am prepared to add and remove layers as necessary.

  7. CONVERSATION PIECE:

    Creative Professional - wedding photographer 2
    Classic and tailored inspired clothing to wear to a formal evening wedding.

    I choose to wear statement accessories to offset my very neutral black and gray wardrobe. I pick accessories like a funky necklace, pretty wrap, or off-beat shoe pattern that fit my personal style and brand. Restricting the personal styling pieces to accessories also makes it so much easier to get different looks out of the same outfit.

  8. APPROPRIATENESS:

    It’s always important to talk to our clients about the venue, how formal the wedding is, and any dress-code requirements (especially for cultural or religious ceremonies) to ensure that your attire is appropriate for the event. I’m located in Seattle so we’re a little more laid back here. If you are on the East Coast or in certain parts of the South you may have higher expectations for formal wear than those of us on the west coast.

This is not intended to be a guide to say that every photographer should dress the same way. My hope is to help others who are trying to find that balance of being comfortable enough to shoot, looking professional and being true to your style and brand. Remember that it’s not just our pictures, but what we do and what we wear are also reflections of our brand and our business.

 

 

 

Shooting Fireworks, part 2 – Tripod

Shooting Fireworks(1)Today is Independence Day in the United States and fireworks displays are a huge part of the national celebration. They also happen to be one of my favorite things to capture in my camera. Not that I do anything with the images – I just love capturing them. Here are a few tips I’ve learned over the years of shooting these gorgeous light displays. (And if you are out without your tripod, see my post from last Friday about shooting fireworks handheld.)

  1. Use your best lens. I use a prime lens because it’s my best glass. My nifty-fifty is my favorite because it allows me to get a great overall image.
  2. Use a tripod with a super steady mount. You don’t want camera shake because your photos won’t be as crisp.
  3. If your camera has a timer that allows you to set it to take X number of exposures over a set period of time, use it. My Pentax allows me to do that and this is the bulk of what I use it for. The last Saturday of June I attended a fireworks show and set it to take 40 pictures 4 seconds apart with a 3 second exposure at f/11 and 100 ISO. The image above came from that shoot.
  4. Your settings are super important – for me, the best shots come when I shoot at 100 ISO, f11, for 3-5 seconds. Practice and check your camera screen for results to see if you like the 3 second shot better or the longer shot. I like both for different types of fireworks images. The shorter ones give me a sweet definition while the longer ones give me a better idea of the total explosion. So I really like the longer exposure for the grand finale (5-6 seconds). The shorter exposure (2-3 seconds) works really well for the individual explosions.

So go out and have fun! Enjoy your local fireworks shows tonight and don’t forget your tripod.

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Shooting Fireworks, Part 1 – Handheld

Shooting Fireworks

Most everyone will tell you that shooting fireworks handheld is a mistake. And I’m not entirely disagreeing with them. But I also don’t think it’s really a mistake. You can still get some incredible images you will love and enjoy as long as you pay attention to a few details. Things like shutter speed and ISO are super important. So here are a few lessons I learned in shooting fireworks over the last several years.

1 – Timing is everything. You need to be very aware of your camera and how it performs. It’s especially important to know how long it takes for the shutter to release. This will help you with knowing how far in advance of what you want to capture you need to press the button.

2 – Burst mode is very helpful (might be called continuous on your camera). This will enable you to capture several images very quickly and then you can stitch them together in Photoshop (or a similar program) to create more depth to your handheld image.

3 – Adjust your ISO, not your shutter speed. Especially when handheld, it’s important to leave your shutter speed fairly fast so you don’t have camera shake. I’ve gone through my images from last year when I handheld my only fireworks images and they are pretty shaky. They would be less shaky if I had bumped my ISO instead of changing the shutter speed.

4 – Capture part of the background to give depth to your images because you won’t have as much depth to the actual fireworks. Even if it’s just a tree or a roofline, sometimes having something else in the image gives a perspective that wouldn’t be there otherwise.

For the image above, my settings were as follows: ISO 100, 50 mm, .5 second exposure, f8. Looking back, I should have left the shutter speed at about 1/125 and bumped my ISO to 800. I think it would have created a stronger image. On the other hand, it was fun hanging out with family and lighting off fireworks in the street (yes, it’s legal here). And sometimes, fun is more important than perfect.

If you’re preparing for the holiday weekend in the U.S., don’t forget your camera. And take time to enjoy the fireworks displays with family and friends.

 

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The biggest mistake I’ve made | You’ve been warned

The cinematic vlog

The cinematic vlog

When we blog here, we are often talking about gear, concepts, and techniques to help you all further your craft, but this time it’s going to be a bit different. You see, I want to talk about something that had really been weighing on me a few weeks ago, and how I got over it. In order to set the story properly though, you need to know a bit of background about me (Bobby). I always loved taking photos. Since as far back as I can remember I had my own camera that shot those rolls of film that sorta look like the profile view of a telephone. I probably didn’t take one good photo with it, and I don’t think I was able to use it whenever I wanted, but taking photos was always a part of growing up. The first time I remember making a video was early in grade school. We had to do a book report, and we could do it however we wanted.  My family had just gotten a new video camera and I really wanted to play with it, so making a video seemed like a great way to accomplish both tasks at hand. Through that project I found what I consider to be one of my only creative outlets. You see, my entire family is artists, My grandma was an artist and documentary film maker, both my parents went to art school, and I just recently found out my grandpa was an avid photographer. However, I could never keep up in anything even remotely artistic, and quite frankly I didn’t enjoy it. That is until I made my first movie. Fast forward a few years, I had probably made a few other things when I was allowed to use the camera, and my brother and I had also made some movies together for fun. A few years beyond that was high school, which offered a couple video project opportunities, and I had continued making some things on my own. In my senior year I started an internship, which eventually turned into a job in the film world, and then I left for college to pursue a degree in cinematography. Making videos has been a part of my life for the better portion of the parts I can remember, and it had always brought such joy.

 

When I started college I started shooting weddings for a few companies in California (I had already been shooting them for maybe 2 years or so). Around the same time I started booking my own shoots, and that quickly took off. It is absolutely amazing to get to film weddings, commercials, and many other things for a living. I was literally living my dream. But something happens when you start to do what you love for a living. It becomes work.

 

We have ALWAYS limited the amount of weddings and other projects we take on per year, and that has been mostly put in place to protect us from burning out. We love what we do, and we want it to stay that way. We know far too many people who shoot 60 weddings a year and then leave the industry after just a short while because they just can’t take it anymore. We wanted to do everything we could do to keep that from happening, and it’s done well so far. This is my 9th year shooting weddings and I still love it. However, loving what you do for work is not quite the same as doing what you love for fun, and I was made abruptly aware of that just a few weeks ago.

 

We were at a wedding, and a guest came up to me and asked if I did video work. Being that we shoot DSLR for video and often get mistaken for the photographer, I politely responded “yah, we are actually shooting the video today!” The man explained that he knew that but was curious if I did any narrative films or anything like that for fun. I kid you not, my direct, word for word response was “no, not anymore.”

 

The minute those words left my mouth I realized that somewhere I had lost the drive to do what I love. Sure I love what I do, but again, it’s not the same. Creating stupid videos, documentaries, and even large narrative projects was something that brought me immense joy. Now, that’s not to say that wedding films and commercials don’t bring me joy. There is rarely a greater feeling than when a film just comes together perfectly, or completely captures the couple in the few minutes you have to do so, but it’s just not the same. When you are shooting for work, you certainly express yourself, and your fingerprint is left on the project so to speak, but you also have to express the desires of your client. When you do something purely because you want to, you are able to enjoy it completely.

 

I didn’t take that exchange lightly, and thought on it for a few days. Around this same time I had, through a series of connections, found a vlogger by the name of Casey Neistat, who is pretty well known around the world for his daily videos. With his, and a few other vloggers videos fresh in my mind, I decided to try my hand at putting together fun videos of my day / week / weekend / whatever timeframe I felt I had enough content to do so with, and it has been amazing. I truly feel I have recaptured that feeling. It allows me to do what I love without any of the stress attached. If a shot is a bit overexposed or shaky but I still like it, who cares, I have nobody to please but myself, and that is the freedom of doing what you love.

 

So, the cinematic vlog was born. I’m not really sure what shape it will take, and I’m not committing to daily videos at this point, but I have loved having my camera with me almost everywhere I go, and putting together videos of all of our adventures! (example of one of the first ones below)

 

Not only have I found enjoyment through making these videos, but I also think it has had a positive effect on the videos we do professionally. When I am doing something completely for me, I can do whatever I want with the camera. I can test out shots, settings, color grades, anything I want, and that was something that I found less and less time for over the years. I didn’t want to take my camera out when I had free time because that was “work.” Now, I am shooting more than ever, editing more than ever, and in turn finding more techniques, settings, etc, that lend themselves well to continually growing in our paid work as well.

 

So, I realize this was more of a personal post, especially compared to other blogs we’ve written on here. I just feel that I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to make sure you do what you love, and don’t just love what you do.