Posing Outdoors Part 2

•September 9, 2013 • Leave a Comment

0001Outdoors, in the middle of the day, you often have a limited number of backgrounds to choose from.  With backgrounds being in such short supply you must first locate a usable background, then pose within the background and then finally create a main light source that appears natural.  When it comes to posing, I have seen veteran photographers struggle to pose clients effectively, even in “traditional posing”.   Posing and composition work together.  You pose to make the client look their best and to achieve the overall look you are trying to IMG_3200achieve.  You also pose to fill the composition and achieve the proper facial size for the portrait size that will be viewed.

The single most common mistake made by photographers is to pose the subject or subjects too far from the camera.  Studies have always shown that expression and facial size sells photographs.  This doesn’t mean you can’t take full length images, but you need to pose the subject close enough to the camera to see the detail in their expression.  A simple test is to look through the camera, can you see catch lights in the subject’s eyes?  If you can’t see catch lights in their 1eyes, they are posed too far from the camera, because you can’t see the life in their eyes or personality on their face.  Too many photographers use their subjects as a way to capture an interesting background.  People buy photographs of people, not backgrounds.

For years I have increased sales of my full length senior portraits by basically compressing the body.  I use the IMG_3002pose and camera angle to show the body, but with the face closer to the camera to increase facial size.  This not only allows me the ability to create full length images with a larger facial size, it also gives me the ability to hide areas of a client they would not want to see.  Standing full lengths in a wedding dress make sense, the bride wants to see her dress, however for the average client, too many standing full lengths do not make sense and will reduce the final sales in most portrait sales.  Time after time I see senior clients and their parent order their portraits and then only get 8 wallets of the standing full length poses.

The important part of this style of posing is to use the body, arms and legs to fill the frame and add interest to the pose.  If you simply bring the face closer to the camera, it looks like a Facebook photo.  I see some of the high school seniors who are cheerleaders on Facebook, I think they are better at posing that many photographers.   When you create the image in your mind use the arms or a bare leg to fill the blank areas of within the composition.  Posing this way is very effective and profitable.

IMG_3035IMG_3096lab-sample-02 lab-sample-04DVD Cover


Isolate a Background, Pose Within it and Create the Light! Part 1

•September 8, 2013 • Leave a Comment

facebookphotoTimes have changed, our clients have changed.  Clients used to be willing to spend IMG_3thousands of dollars on photography of their loved ones.  For the average client that spending has fallen into the hundreds.  With the average client spending less, the average photographer doesn’t have the luxuries that very high sales afforded him.  You simply can’t travel to remote locations for a single session and especially not at the perfect times of natural light (just after sun rise, just before sunset).

This change in our business has caused most photographers to be photographing during the middle of the day, a time which has the worst, most harsh lighting and the fewest usable backgrounds.  In outdoor photography, you have three elements to consider, lighting, posing/posing-aids and the background.  Young photographers often don’t make the correct choices because they don’t follow a simple rule in the order of importance that each part of a photograph has.  Light I can create, posing I can adapt to almost any situation, but the background has to be pleasing to the eye.

I often see photographers use the branches of trees to pose a family or child in, because it does provide a interesting posing opportunity, however the background that is behind the subjects and the issue in lighting each person properly is going to make the photograph look like an amateur did a snap shot of people playing in the tree.  You have to isolate a background first during the middle of the day.  The background is the only thing that is out of my control and why we must start first with it.  The second mistake that younger photographers make is becoming so attached to an idea of posing someone in a tree or beside a bunch of flower…etc. that they continue with the idea even when you know it will not work for a salable photograph.  We are not paid to take photos of flowers or interesting trees, we are paid to create portraits of people that make them look their best against a background that work IMG_1with overall look of the image.

The selection of background at this time of day is simplified by softening the backgrounds as much as possible.  I use a 70-200mm 2.8 lens wide open at around 150mm to 180mm (it provides the look I like while still being at a workable distance).  The second step is to look for backgrounds that are completely in shade or most in shade.  Sometime this means you have to isolate a small section of a larger background and use it.  You then pose the subject and select the camera angle that works within the background and then create the light.

All of these photos were taken just yesterday in the middle of summer at 1:30 in the afternoon daylight savings time!


Trying To Sell What They Want To Buy!

•August 23, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Photographers have always had a problem realizing that what they like creating the most isn’t always what the client buys.  With Photoshop, the opportunity to create more photographs that clients don’t buy has been greatly increased.  It is now possible to create stunning skylines and sunsets, so much so that photographer create beautiful landscapes and end up putting a bride and groom or senior into the beautiful landscape.  You can see the photographers likes the scene so much they keep the subject’s in the scene incredibly small, after all you don’t want to cover up too much of that sunset!

The problem we are in the business of create portraits of people, not sunsets or landscapes and while you can combine the two, people buy portraits they can clearly see the faces in.  The smaller the facial size, the less likely the portrait will actually sell.  It is really easy to determine the saleability of any portrait just go by your first reaction.  Do you notice the subject or subjects first, or do you notice the background first.  This determines whether it is a portrait with a beautiful background or a landscape that people stumbled into and portraits clients won’t buy.

Photographers need to practice taking portraits styles that sell.  We keep track of the sales of all portrait style in the studios and one fact we can not escape is that the sales average increase with the facial size of the portrait.  I am not saying don’t take scenic full lengths, just keep the facial size larger and the primary focus of the portrait the subject’s, not the background or scene.  This is simple to accomplish, set up the shot to capture the scene as you want it, then bring the subject’s closer to the camera until you can clearly see the faces.  I look for the catch-light in the eyes. If I can see the catch-lights in the subject’s eyes, the portraits will have a large enough facial size to be salable.

Balancing the facial size with scenic backgrounds is a great way to increase the size of wall-portraits a client will buy for their home.  In a portrait for the wall you want a wall portrait that has a minimal facial size of 30% to 60% of life-size.  The actual size will be determined by the size of the room/viewing distance.  The point is that ultimately your sales process start in the session and creating portrait that will sell, as well as make selling a wall portrait possible.

As important as it is to create portrait that sell from a business perspective, it is just as important for photographer to avoid the frustration of creating images and practice taking images in a style that no ones buys.  This leads to photographers trying to sell clients portraits they don’t want to buy.  In art, art is in the eye of the creator, as a portrait or wedding photographer, art is in the eye of the buyer!  Learn that one fact and save yourself a great deal of grief and frustration.




Knowing Who To Trust Your Future To!

•August 21, 2012 • 1 Comment

When I was a young photographer, there were only few sources of continuing education, which I thought really sucked.  Once or twice a year there would be a larger name photographer/speaker tour through our area.  Beyond that, I would have to go to a larger convention or out-of-town seminar if I wanted to learn new ideas and concepts to become more successful in my studio.  I really wished there were more opportunities to learn more about photography and business.   Wow, you have to be careful what you wish for!

Back in the day, opportunities seemed to be limited, but the quality of education was high.  Speakers didn’t get to be speakers without operating a high successful studio or studios.  Their photography had to win awards and they had to be recognized as not only a success in the portrait or wedding industry, but also in their ability to teach and convey the principles of the program outline.

Times of have changed.   Today, there are webinars, workshops and seminars happening all the time.  The problem is the quality of some of these workshops, or at the least the quality of the information given.  There are  photographers who aren’t even full-time photographers offering workshops and programs.  How can you learn how to be a successful, full-time photographer from some one who hasn’t accomplished it themselves.  While these photographer might display some photographs that are interesting without knowing that they successfully sell the images they create on a large enough scale to support themselves really doesn’t speak well for the information you are going to learn.

The bottom line here is that a student rarely surpasses the teacher.  Learn from a master of what they do and you have a chance to surpass a master.  Learn from a student and you have the opportunity to surpass a student to become a better student.  That is setting your sights high!


The Greatest Career In the World!

•August 17, 2012 • 2 Comments

As Photographers, most of you clicked on this page thinking I was going to talk about photography or things that have led to my success and long career, but I am not (not completely at least).  The greatest career in the world is being a parent and if you take the few seconds to read this blog it might improve your day more than any photo tip I could give.  As a career, parenting gives the ultimate respect;  the love and admiration of your family.  The rewards are the joy and fulfillment of doing your job well, so those little human beings that look like us can have amazing lives and give the gift we have given to them to our grand children.

The reason I talk so much about money, success, selling and profit in my second greatest career (photography), is that many photographers  are willing to suffer and live without money to able to continue in photography.  They think that because there is  a lot of competition and that competition is focused on giving the most away for the cheapest price, they must follow this ridiculous path to self-destruction.  Photographers often forget that they are not the only ones that suffer.  Our children shouldn’t pay the price for our passion, they should enjoy the profits of our passion.  I see so many children in today’s world dealing with the stress and worry of their family’s financial situation, which isn’t somethings that children should have to do.  Children will have to deal with this as adults, they should be allowed just to be kids. I realize that many Americans are unemployed and having to live without the comforts they used to have, but the majority of these people have no choice.  Photographers that decide for their families to live poverty do have a choice.  They could learn how to make money in this profession by learning the business of the photography business or they could pick another profession.

And before I get emails from the hostile few, let me explain something about my career.  Yes now I am successful, but I started out with nothing just like many of you.  I had a super small store front studio, which I was behind on the rent, barely able to pay for the phone and power.  My lab was in San Diego and they were nice enough to start shipping my orders to me COD cash, since a few of my checks had bounced.  They added 25% to each invoice to pay back the amount of each bounced check.  Oh ya, and this was  the day I brought my first child home from the hospital, which was another bill I couldn’t pay.  As we were driving him home, I went through area of town which there were those old hotels you could rent out by the day, week or month.  I saw a small child in a diaper playing in a mud puddle in the parking lot of one of these hotels.  The child was dirty and all alone.  I thought of my situation in the photography business and a tear came to my eye.  I thought to myself is this the future of my son?  At that moment I vowed to myself that my son would never live in poverty.  I don’t care what I have to do, what job I have to take, my son will never know poverty.  He will have a normal, happy life where things like shelter, the lights being on and the next meal aren’t his concern.  I loved photography and I wanted to keep my studio, but  I told my wife we would either turn the studio around or I would do something else.  I started studying sales, marketing, merchandising and the business of my business.  For those of you that don’t have any extra money, the library is free!  I purchased a cassette tape set from a photographer named Charles Lewis who talked about projection proofs into an empty frame to sell larger portraits.  I was scared but I tried it.  The first order I did after learning this information was of two children.  When the mother saw her children’s portraits in a 30×40 frame she didn’t want to go smaller than a 20×24 for the two of them together, then she ordered a 16×20 of each child alone.  That one order paid for the tape set and what was left on my son’s hospital bill.

The moral to the story? don’t sit in poverty and accept it (and have your children have to endure poverty).  There is always a way to get where you want to be and it has nothing to do with a new camera or flash, but the knowledge you have about the business of our business, the second greatest career in the world!  So hug your kids, get off your ass and give them the life they deserve.

SENIORS……what happened?

•August 16, 2012 • Leave a Comment

I am hearing from a lot of photographers who are talking about the number of seniors either not doing senior portraits or at least doing them somewhere else.  The senior market has been affected by the economy just like every other market in that each senior has less to spend on their senior portraits and that some guilt has to felt by asking for premium senior portraits when dad is worried if he is being laid off!  With that said, there are still huge numbers of seniors buying senior portraits, provided you adapt to the changes in the market.

Getting seniors to come to your studio is more complex than it used to be.  Slick ads and expensive mailers can actually work against you with so many seniors working with smaller budgets.  You advertising must appeal to everyone without scaring anyone off.  We get many seniors in that will spend $1000 or more once they see their images that are very price conscious when the call for information.  The Boutique experience is slowly becoming a thing of the past.  Senior moms don’t want to sip champagne and have a manicure while their daughter is being photographed while realizing that her $3000 prepaid package is funding her pampering.  While there are few seniors like this still around, times have changed and even people with money are a little less flamboyant with their purchases.

Selling to seniors is just like selling any product to anyone.  You offer a range of packages that fit into people’s budget. You then offer add-ons, like wall portraits, folios and collages to the basic packages to increase your sales to a respectable amount.  Under normal circumstances you can’t sell a $1500 package over the phone to the average senior or senior’s parent (in today’s market), although you will be able to “sell” a $1500 package to a senior or parent who was quoted that packages start out at $400.  Before any hostile photographers email, explaining that you still selling $1500 packages over the phone, I am talking here about creating a volume of work to keep you busy, not photographing 2 senior a month!

Once the structure of what you offer is set to appeal to a large base of senior clients, then you have to market to these seniors to get them to call.  Seniors don’t respond well to mailers as they have in the past.  Seniors also don’t respond to small discounts on senior sessions with packages set at a very high price.  They have all, “been there…done that”.  To attract seniors with discounts, the discounts have to be tangible, but can’t include a portrait from the session.  If you offer a session with 8×10 as a special, you will spend your day photographing seniors who select their 8×10 and leave.  Include an image CD/DVD with that offer and it would be easier to just shoot yourself in your foot, or stay home watching tv, because you don’t have to work to break even!  While discounting a session 25% will not even get noticed a 70% discount on a session will and some photographers have even advertised a $1.00 sitting fee to increase response.  If you are not into discounting, good for you, but discounts can fill the books on slower times or start senior coming in early to extend the season.

Selling to seniors today requires “SELLING”!  It is a process that starts with your marketing, how you answer the phone, how you shoot the session and finally ends with how you present the images once the sessions is done.

False Praise Can Kill You and Sharks are NOT PURPLE!

•August 14, 2012 • Leave a Comment

It starts basically the first the day of school.  As little kids we get crayons and a piece of paper.  Being we are only 5, we draw a “God Awful” mess of different colors and shapes which no one can tell what it is, but everyone who sees it says it is beautiful!  Our parents want to encourage us so much they put our little mess on the refrigerator, which encourages us to draw more crappy drawings which our parents continue to display.  It is usually not until one brutally honest classmate says that he can’t tell what you have drawn, questions if sharks are supposed to be purple and finally says you suck at drawing that you begin to question your artistic ability and your parent finally get to put normal stuff on their refrigerator.  Many Mom’s look at this day as being so sad, but think of how the art world would change if there wasn’t that one brutally honest kid that posed the question, are sharks supposed to be purple?

This encouragement is vital when we are children.  Most of us have a balance of praise from adults in our lives and reality from classmates in school and siblings at home.  But what happens if you are home schooled (no honest feedback from classmates) and/or you are an only child (no honest feedback from brothers or sisters)  We would spend our whole lives thinking everything was easy, because the first time we did anything it would seem to be a success!  The first time we cooked anything for the adults in our lives, they would have us believing we were a gourmet chef, the first time we played with clay or made a mud mountain we will believe we were gifted artists!

As a child, we need a whole lot more encouragement than we need honesty when it comes to the things we try, so we actually try them again.  As adults however, we need honesty to base our decisions on that will shape our futures.  If you are thirty-five and sleeping on your mom sofa, you probably need someone to tell you, “SHARKS ARE NOT PURPLE!”  If you a 40-year-old model that has always been overweight, short and some say unattractive, you probably need someone to tell you, “SHARKS ARE NOT PURPLE”.  As adults we need to understand reality, more than we need constant false praise (much more).  If you are a great chef, but suck at business, you shouldn’t go into the restaurant business, you should probably work for, or partner with someone else who runs the business while you run the kitchen.  If you are a photographer with a family and the only way your family survives is your wife has a great job, maybe it’s time to realize that Sharks are Not Purple!

In the business world we are all not cut out to be everything.  To be a successful photographer, you have to be a really good photographer, a shrewd business person as well as hugely determined to make it in such a competitive profession.  It can be done, there are successful photographers in every town still working and making good money, but you have to be suited for this profession, just like a the chef, the model and the 35-year-old guy on his mothers sofa.  Sharks are not purple, but they will eat you alive if you can’t see them coming!