Ok, ok, this post should probably have been titled, “6 things I repeatedly F’d up over the past ten year period and sometimes still do, and regret” but that is a little wordy for our purposes. So read up and start learning from my past mistakes!
Not Having a Contract
Probably the top answer to any photography business dilemma is “put it in the contract next time.” A contract for all jobs large and small can prevent almost all conflicts and misunderstandings. I prefer to use Blinkbid to combine my contract and estimate into one document which I can easily email and request a digital signature on.
If a certain item is REALLY really important to you, don’t bury it too far down in the fine print. For example, if you never ever give out RAW files under any circumstance, and you are willing to die on that hill, make sure that verbiage is in a prominent place near the top where the client can read it. People tend to glaze over contracts.
Suggested items to include: deadline, deliverables, fees, possible additional fees, usage/copyright, deposit and refund policy, reshoot policy, client approval work policy, payment schedule, late payment fee, early payment discount, overtime rate.
Agreeing to Bad Contracts/ Not Negotiating
Despite what people will tell you, there’s no such thing as a “standard contract.” A contract is an agreement between two parties. So you want to make sure its agreeable to you. Just because the terms may be “standard” to the hiring entity, doesn’t necessarily mean they’re wise for you to agree to.
Don’t be afraid to negotiate copyright terms, fees, and liability. Ask for revisions until both parties are satisfied. If the terms absolutely suck, don’t be afraid to turn the work away, you may miss out on a few dollars, but you’ll be doing our industry and yourself a solid over the long haul.
If the terms are bad but would perhaps be acceptable if the fee were higher, don’t be afraid to ask for a higher fee!
Not Following Up
Follow all leads. Check the voicemail, return the email. Set up an auto reply if you think you’ll be out of touch or slow to reply. Small leads I thought would be a horrible fit for me over the years have sometimes turned into big jobs or big referrals. If they called or emailed, they are already interested! Don’t waste that intial contact.
Not Giving Enough Referrals
The best way to get more referrals is to simply give more referrals. Be sure to follow up on any jobs you cannot handle with a list of local photographers who can. The prospect will appreciate your help and the other photographers are likely to return the favor down the road.
Buying too Much Stuff
As all photographers know, CreAmY BokEh is the most important thing in our lives and also our main driver of profit. If we just had MoRe CrEamIEr BokeH and even faster autofocus, we’d book 16.2 times more clients, be more recognized in our industry and have 2.5M followers on Instagram.
I was not being serious there in case you’re sarcasm sensor is off. Here’s some reasons not to buy gear- I’m here to talk you off the ledge. In fact, come back here anytime you’re about to buy gear and read this again.
- Gear doesn’t make your work any better and in fact, it really shouldn’t.
- Buying gear frequently and/or changing systems every few years is not environmentally friendly. More stuff ordered means more trucks hauling stuff to you, means more packaging, means more junk ultimately in landfills, more fuel burned etc, etc. Reuse it. It’s still good.
- Gear depreciates like a MOTHER. We like to rationalize purchases with stuff like “a good lens is always a good lens.” Good lenses do have a long service life, but there will be a “MARK II” version of that lens in a year or two or the new mirrorless mount version, a stabilized version, etc etc. Lenses are tech and tech improves all the time, making old tech more worthless on the resale market.
- When to buy new gear: My new criteria for new gear
1. Does it make my life significantly easier/more efficient?
2. Is it something I already have a regular need for, or could I simply rent it for an occasional need?
3. Can I buy it for cash?
As a product photographer, a quality macro lens, a great camera stand and a great laptop are necessary, but for the occasional use items like a long telephoto for sports, I’ve learned to be honest with myself and rent for the day.
If its going to speed up my workflow more than 10% and allow me to earn more income in a much shorter time or use less cuss words throughout the day (my camera stand, for example) then it may be worth investing.
Side note- if you must buy some gear, please shop local and pay cash.
Not Investing in Continuing Education
Buy tutorials instead of gear! Not only is it more environmentally friendly, you’ll be supporting your fellow photographers and improving your skillset instead of supporting big business.
One of the first questions I ask a new potential client is “Do you have a shot list?” I’m happy to work with them either way but it helps me gauge how much they may have thought about the details and logistics of their shoot. Generally, when clients come to me with a list of shots, it means they’ve done some prep work, have a good idea of their brand identity (or brand identity they aspire to), and may already be working with a designer or marketing person either internally or externally.
What is a Shot List?
It is exactly as it sounds, a list of photographs that you or your company needs to walk away from a shoot with. Usually they come to me in spreadsheet or PDF form and they work best when they have a brief description of each shot. Here’s an example: Shot #1: Horizontal (landscape) shot, waist up, of female model holding green smoothie product with beach/coastal element in background.
This is a great (and more than sufficient) description in my opinion because, although it is brief, it allows for creative freedom and still covers all the important bases: layout, crop, background, props/environment. It may seem confining, but the photographer can still play with angle, lighting, depth of field, posing, styling and much, much more while remaining comfortably in the confines of that description.
Why do I need to provide a Shot List?
There are several benefits to developing a shot list prior to requesting a quote or at least prior to the photo shoot.
Getting an Accurate Quote
I can’t speak for all photographers, but my quotes are based on a multitude of factors including how many final deliverables will be needed from the shoot (most of the work I do is commercial, so usage is important). I also base the quote on anything needed in terms of production costs (talent, makeup, set design, props, wardrobe, travel, studio time, crew) and how difficult the shots are to execute, and of course retouching time. For example if the shot is: “Whole loaf of bread, eye level, white background” that will take a lot less time to shoot and edit than “High end dive watch, moody lighting, splashes of blue water coming in hitting watch from left and right, gradient yellow background.”
Getting the Most out of your Budget
The biggest reason is obviously to get the most possible bang for your buck. The more you can plan ahead and describe what you need, the more likely you are to get the desired outcome in terms of long lasting usable material.
A shot list also helps me identify shots that are not as necessary as a client once imagined. IE: “donut top view” followed by “donut 3/4 top view” and “donut front view”. Perhaps we can pare that list down and show your audience the needed information for a lot less money! Quality over quantity is always the best choice.
We Make it Look Easy
Some shots are more complex than they look and a shot list helps your photographer determine the shoot time required to complete your list. Do you recall the the above behind-the-scenes photo for the “simple” shot of sunglasses below? If you need an additional angle, it won’t be a simple matter of just moving the camera. For the loaf of bread, it probably will be, but for reflective objects, adding a few more angles can significantly extend a shoot day.
Efficiency on Set
For a moment let’s go back to:
Shot #1: Horizontal (landscape) shot, waist up, of female model holding green smoothie product with beach/coastal element in background.
Of course we’re going to take loads of photos of this scenario to create options for a client, but the ultimate goal is to walk away with one “winner” which we can retouch and finalize. Once the photographer and client look at a laptop or back of a camera and agree that the shot has been achieved, we can comfortably and confidently move on to the next shot, making the most of our shoot day.
You might think more freedom=more creative freedom, but In the absence of a shot list, we can shoot “models with product” on the beach all day and not really have much sense of when we’ve “got it.” This can waste enormous amounts of time and effort on the wrong things and limit creativity rather than encouraging it.
How to Create a Shot List
Honestly, I’ve received all type of lists from Excel sheets to Word documents, to PDF’s to everything crammed into an email. All work just fine but here’s some tips that in my opinion really help out the photographer and crew.
Put it all in one document. If you have a creative brief or general guidelines as well as layout request from potential vendors and your own shot list, it best to consolidate everything into one document so it can all be quickly and easily accessed on shoot day. This is especially true if your layout requests are general IE: “horizontal shot” but your potential retailer’s requests are highly specific IE: Target requires square cropped images of exactly 2000 by 2000 pixels.
Make sure your spreadsheet is printable
I like to carry old fashioned paper on shoot day in case my phone goes out of service or low on battery. I usually like to hand a copy to an assistant or tech if I have one too so they can help track what we’ve completed. For the final shot list, its nice to convert to PDF or at least make sure your spreadsheet will print on a page without getting wonky.
Include printable Reference Images
If you’ve done a photo shoot in the past, and can provide reference images or links to reference images this is extremely helpful!
This is a super simple shot list for product shots on white, but not much info is needed because the client provided reference images. Part numbers and SKU’s are helpful for tracking product shoots. Please include the name/description of the item though, as we may not really know what a MNG-47-47B is.
This is a more specific list, dropped right into an email and easy to print! I like these.
If you’re new to photo shoots and need my help developing your shot list, I am here to help! In Many cases, we can collaborate on a quick call or sit down in my studio or your office to get something planned out.
I didn’t select these photos. There was around 500 of them. Todd Gloria selected these images with the input of his trusted friends and San Diego-based team. I thought it would be cool to show Todd’s selects here instead of mine. Often the head shots the client chooses are quite different than what I would pick for them. Here we actually aligned pretty closely on the choices. Maybe we can attribute that to the frequency with which public figures are photographed- they’re used to seeing pictures of themselves and may have a more objective viewpoint.
I photographed Todd a few years back when he ran for state assembly and was honored to see him still using my headshots for loads of different media, up until his team recently contacted me again for a refresh. Although the goal was “a new head shot” I wanted to produce things that felt more like environmental portraits as well, a bit more zoomed out and contextual.
A location was secured near Petco Park where we could get some indoor portraits as well as walk a few blocks to some nice outdoor backgrounds and clean afternoon lighting. Shoot time was scheduled for just 3 hours around golden hour. This would give us time for makeup/equipment prep and wardrobe selection and about two hours to actually shoot and 30 minutes or so for loadout/strike. Overall a nice tight, small production to execute during our current situation, mostly outside.
Indoor and balcony shots have to be planned out so lighting can be in place and balanced mostly before our subject steps into the scene. For the outdoor shots, I prefer not to limit myself by choosing exact places and setups. Instead, I like to plan a “lighting and backdrop radius” based on weather and time of day, then go for a walk and shoot what catches our eye as we go.
Although I had Katie Kilkenny along for light makeup/grooming as well as photo assistant Wade Steelman , we used simple natural light with no reflectors or supplementary lighting for all outdoor shots.
For indoor shots we used a simple combo of bounced speedlight flash and natural light. For the balcony shot over Petco, we decided to go a bit crazier and set up a 4 foot octabox with an AD400 strobe for softer light. Photos from my EOS-R were run through Capture One Pro for color and exposure stuff and then through Adobe Photoshop for more refinement. Retouching was kept very light and natural. As I try to avoid political discussion on the interwebs, (and mostly in real life settings too), we kept our discussion mostly to candy preference. Todd and I are both big advocates for the consumption of purple Nerds.
All photos ©Rob Andrew Photography, Inc., 2020. Unauthorized use prohibited.
Interactive product images that show your entire product in a 360 can be a cool way to showcase your products! This is something I recently started doing as I’ve noticed them on different sites and they seem to increase engagement and sales. This works especially well with items like shoes and sunglasses where the user would want to see around the entire item and get sense of how it feels in person.
The way I’m doing them now, they can be exported as a standalone HTML folder, are mobile compatible, and can be self hosted by the customer on their website of choice. While they are compatible with a plethora of website CMS’s, there is a dedicated plugin for WordPress (my CMS here) that allows for shortcode embedding. They will work with any type of website.
Try it for yourself below (click and drag to spin it)!
If you can use this service, please give me a shout!
When I learned this simple trick for simulating the look of “golden hour” sunlight with flash, my life as a photographer changed for the better. Suddenly those overcast days were just an extended golden hour, providing the benefit of soft front light with the always-welcome golden back light. I’ll give you the simple breakdown so you can start using this to get that sunny look when weather doesn’t cooperate.
All of the images were made on an overcast day with no real sun. San Diego is known for good weather but we have a lot more overcast days than you would imagine, especially through May and June, so as a San Diego lifestyle photographer this trick comes in super handy.
All you need is a CTO (color temperature orange) color gel and a flash. For working on the go, I prefer to use a speedlight and a small gel fitted with velcro (try a Honl Speedstrap and a set of Honl gels, which already have the velcro.) If you’re feeling thrifty, just use any brand of gels cut to size and Scotch Tape to attach them to your light. I use a 1/2 CTO because I feel a full CTO would look too orange. You can go with your own preference here, but I recommend buying them in 1/2 or 1/4 CTO and you can always stack them if you want the light to look more orange.
You want an assistant to hold this light for you if possible, that way you can have them move just out of frame for simulated lens flare or farther out of frame for a more high contrast edge lighting.
Here is an accidental BTS with my assistant, Dave, creepin’ in the background. Nice thing about speedlights is they are lightweight enough to position at all kinds of crazy heights quickly and easily. We used a lighting pole instead of a traditional light stand because the legs of a light stand get in the assistant’s way. It’s also easier to remove the light stand in post if you happen to catch some of it in your photo.
In the above, the light stand was removed in post with a quick shift+click of the spot healing tool in Photoshop.
These are pretty much shown “as shot” but there are things you can do in post to make the effect even stronger. Experiment with color overlays, photo filters and color balance layers to warm the background areas in post production.
By using a smaller light source from a distance we can get the shadows going toward camera much like a back lit golden hour shot. Experiment a bit with distance and diffusion.
In most of these shots, I expose for the ambient exposure and simply add the flash at relatively low power, and then play with the position. The key is to keep your shutter speed slow enough to sync with flash. If this isn’t possible, try adding a two stop ND filter to your lens to achieve a slower shutter.
Thanks for reading!
Something from the #protip category today. I had an opportunity to photograph some golf clubs (putters) for Ashdon Golf this morning and discovered the Manfrotto Putter Holder (aka Justin Clamp). It’s intended to hold a small flash, maybe an umbrella and/or other items, but its rubber bushings work great for holding the shaft of a golf club. As you can see its pretty easy to get a consistent club angle like this as well. This setup allowed for astonishingly low cuss rates for a product shoot.
For the lighting setup (above) you can see the two diffusion rolls providing extra softness in front of the boxes. They also allow for a little more flexibility since I can redirect the lights at different areas of the material for different types of clubs without altering the look of the two highlights on the club shaft much. The goal of the lighting is to achieve a clean dual highlight look on the shaft without blowing the metal out completely, maintain lots of texture on the club face and create some interesting gradients on the rest of the club. We want the gradients to transition fairly smoothly from highlight to shadow while still saying “metal” very clearly to the viewer. This setup allows me to pretty much achieve it all in one shot with minimal post production. The piece of foam core leaning under the club serves as my backdrop, and although its very close to white, I will still need to dodge it up to a pure white background in Photoshop. Yes, I could light a pure white background, but its going to splash light toward my lens and decrease my contrast, so its better left to post for optimal results with smaller items like these.
As far as workflow, I shoot tethered to a 15″ Macbook Pro running Capture One so I can view the results, check for dust and fingerprints, etc. as I go. It wasn’t possible to zoom in as close as I wanted and get the whole club in sharp focus at f/16 so I decided to do focus stacks. I shot 3-4 images per item at various focus points using manual focus. I have a focusing rail but for something this size, I simply eyeball it and turn the ring by hand on my 100mm macro lens. After the shoot, I export my RAW source files to TIFF and do my stacks in Helicon Focus. (Helicon seems to like TIFF files, at least it plays nicely with them for me and I prefer to do the basic color work before stacking). After all this, I’ll do my clipping, dodging of the background and final retouch in Photoshop and save as PSD which is more convenient than TIFF for agencies, designers, etc in the Adobe world.
This is a simple clean lighting setup you can do on almost any color of backdrop including clean white knockout with minimal swear words! Thanks for reading.
Meet Mary Katherine and her best friend Atti. Over the years I’ve had the pleasure of doing some work for Paws’itive Teams, a top notch service dog organization here in San Diego. I’ve been able to photograph their teams at annual events and also get involved with their website development. More recently I’ve decided to photograph some of their teams as a personal project and hope to do more with them this year. It is pretty amazing watching a highly trained service dog improve the life of its owner!
As it turns out, Mary Katherine’s mother, Kathy Milburn is a far better writer than me so I will let my images and her words come together to give you some background on the pair:
Mary Katherine was born with a rare condition called sebaceous nevus syndrome that starts out looking like a birthmark and comes with a long list of possible challenges. While she has had many, the most present day to day issue for her is rickets, or soft bones.As a result of Rickets, Mary Katherine’s mobility is affected and she uses crutches to walk and a wheelchair for long distances. Her left arm and hand are also involved and are weak.Imagine your day with legs that don’t work so well and hands that are busy with crutches, one of those working at about half capacity. That’s where Atti comes in.
Atti is half golden retriever, half labrador retriever and was trained by Charli King at Pawsitive Teams. She came to us at nearly 3 years old, highly skilled as a mobility assistance dog. Now 5, she serves as a balance and brace dog as well for Mary Katherine, wearing a harness and providing stability for her.
Some of the tasks that Atti performs on a regular basis for her include getting her crutch or stick as we call it, opening doors, picking things up, putting clothes in a laundry basket, and getting me and leading me back to Mary Katherine. While these are the tasks she assists with, Atti really does so much more.
Because of Atti, Mary Katherine now has a whole new circle of friends through Pawsitive Teams. She has become quite the dog trainer and does demos teaching people about service dogs. When mobility is limited, some of the typical hobbies are not available. Dog training certainly is.Atti is an ice breaker and comforter. At doctors visits or school, Atti presents opportunities for conversations and new connections. As Charli taught us, just looking for the smiles Atti brings to people’s faces changes the attitude of a whole experience. Mary Katherine has also had to learn about care for another being, rather than being the one cared for.
Paws’itive Teams clients include a broad range of people from combat veterans to youth like Mary Katherine and its been truly moving to see them come together and share a common bond at annual events. Once again, photography provides a window into some very interesting places and lives. As Joe McNally says, “It’s not a camera, it’s a visa.”
Making things with your hands is remarkably addictive. The tangible, tactile and often useful finished item is naturally highly rewarding but many have also posited that the “unfinished” nature of more technical handmade projects keeps one’s subconscious mind actively pursuing the project, creating constant stimulation and a nagging desire to get out to the workshop. There’s also the “legacy” aspect (at the risk of sounding morbid), the underlying desire to extend one’s existence far into the future by leaving a body of work behind.
I caught up with my buddy Mikki Suvia of Lambs Mandolins to start a new personal project, photographing people who make things with their hands. No rules, minimal retouching and just going with the flow. I’ll ask a few questions of the people I photograph and the questions are based on my own hobby of building custom kitchen knives, something that’s consumed a good amount of my time and taught me a lot of hard lessons in craftsmanship.
Hours of being bent over a workbench and breathing dust makes caffeine critical.
Rob: Favorite energy drink?
Mikki: Rockstar, Watermelon, ALWAYS!
Rob: Favorite part of the build?
Mikki: Believe it or not, making sure that the inside of the Rib Set is perfect, and Carving the Scrolls.
Mikki noted that improvisatory, artistic nature of this part of the chiseling process was the reasoning- must be why we get along.
Rob: What percentage do you do by hand vs. machines?
Mikki: 75% hand, 25% machine. I prefer to build using traditional “old era” methods, and simply love the “hand built” aspect.
Unfortunately, getting a little frustrated and destroying things is sometimes a necessary evil. In making knives, the knife can often simply become a smaller knife (save!). With musical instruments, this is definitely not the case.
Rob: Most expensive piece you’ve ever destroyed?
Mikki: A fully built instrument that was basically ready for finish. Many hours of time lost and some very expensive Figured Maple down the drain.
If you’re a maker of things and would be interested in having a portrait made (and perhaps a few working shots), don’t hesitate to reach out to be part of my project!
With social media outlets representing a big chunk of brands advertising these days, there’s a need for nimble, quick lifestyle photography on mid sized budgets. My friends at Wonderful Machine have even coined a new genre for their listings called “brand narrative.” Photographers in this category are known to produce a series of lifestyle images to tell the story of a brand rather than the one or two “hero” shots of a more traditional ad campaign.
Capturing a large amount of usable images in a short time frame while keeping the setup mobile and simple is more and more, what mid sized brands are asking us to do.
Sometimes a scene just comes together if your eyes are open- in the shot above meant to sell board shorts, two surfers walked into our out-of-focus background with complimentary colored longboards to help drive the message home. Bonus!
For this shoot for Forged Clothing, we met early to have the models styled (pre-shoot) by Jen Bueno and I headed to Carlsbad Village with lightweight gear- camera bag, a few primes and a reflector. For larger productions we may have kept a wardrobe stylist or MUA on set all day with us or added a photo assistant or two. All of these things contribute to the refinement of the outcome, however, I have to admit that working with just my camera, client and models can be a very “free form” way of working that has a different kind of creative appeal. It is location scouting, shooting and styling on the fly that results in an easy going dynamic which can yield some really fun images.
Recently I had an opportunity to shoot a portrait of one of my food photography clients. Bliss and Baker is a mother-daughter team in North County San Diego making some really delicious crispie treats that you can find at local retailers and restaurants around town.
Just looking at the behind the scenes iPhone snap above of our setup, one can instantly recognize the challenge with shooting a portrait in a home kitchen. In most cases you’ll be presented with multiple light sources varying in color cast and intensity. The light sources native to the environment may or may not be usable for the story you’re trying to tell or even able to be utilized at the desired camera angle. In this case, we opted for a relatively tight crop (still loose enough to tell the story, but tight enough to not have any light sources showing in the frame.)
I wanted to mimic natural light more or less while maintaining an “indoor” mood. Since none of the natural light sources really worked at our desired camera angle (toward the kitchen using it as a backdrop), I opted to set up something akin to the light that would normally be there.
For the main light, I used the PCB Einstein flash with 4 foot octabank attached. This would give us a nice catch light in the subject’s eyes while providing some soft directional shadow.
For the fill light, I wanted a nice blanket of light that would fill the room and provide a bit of hair light to our dark-haired subjects (just like ceiling lights in a kitchen would do). So I went for a ceiling-bounced light with barn doors attached. The barn doors help contain the spill of light so you don’t end up with reflected hot spots, lens flare or other lighting weirdness from light spilling everywhere.
Finally, I dragged my shutter just enough so that the natural light from the window could add a bit of fill to the background elements. We shot various shutter speeds for varying degrees of background brightness but this is the portrait the client settled on.
Over the past year or so we’ve also photographed quite a few food shots for this duo- here’s a little sampling, all of these are from our San Diego photography studio –
Shout out to Wade Steelman for the photo assisting and BTS photo!