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.
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!
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!
Product photography, and especially beverage photography involving glass, is a true melding of technical geekery and artistic decision making. Although the challenges of photographing glassware and liquid can be at times frustrating, the rewards are high. It’s the feeling of building an image, as if building a piece of furniture. You look at examples, lay out a design, start to assemble the parts, and then you invariably will stray from that design in actual practice which produces something unique. I used to hate tinkering for several hours on one shot, but now I can truly say I enjoy it. Using some tips from my friends at Photigy, as well as their Facebook support group, I set out to make this photo of Iron Fist Brewing Co.’s “The Gauntlet” IPA.
This is the setup.
The shooting surface is an orphaned part from Ikea. A gray surface was the closest thing I had to metal to represent “Iron”, but the gray looked a little flat to me so I ended up shifting the color toward blue in post production.
The camera was secured on a tripod so that I could keep everything static for comping together multiple shots in the end, if needed. I used a 5d Mark III, with a Lee circular polarizing filter, and 100mm f/2.8L macro lens.
There are four lights being used. The main light is fitted with a small reflector, as well as a layer of diffusion material, followed by a polarizing gel. The camera was also fitted with a circular polarizing filter. This way we can set the camera’s polarizer for the scene and rotate the polarizer on the light until the reflection of our main light disappears. It didn’t disappear completely, so there were still some light reflections to clone out in the end. However, they were much smaller and darker than they would have been without the polarizing gel.
The second light is a strip box at camera left, shot through a diffusion screen of Rosco #3026 diffusion material. Angling the softbox so that it just touches the diffuser will create a highlight on the glass that has a defined edge on one side and tapers off more smoothly on the other. The trick is spacing the glass and bottle just right so that the highlight is not interrupted. If there are small inconsistencies in the highlight they can be addressed in post.
The third light is aimed at the background, and has a blue gel taped to it to make the white background paper appear light blue.
The fourth light is a speed light (Lumopro LP180) laid on the table behind the bottle and glass. This creates the glow through the glass so that you can see the liquid. This one was re-positioned many, many times by hand until the desired result was reached.
The trickiest element in this shot was the foam. When first opened, the beer was alive with carbonation, but once it settled is was hard to revive. I deployed the Rob Grimm Chopstick Jedi Move, but I really only got one good resurgence of foam, and clicked as many captures during it’s rise and fall as possible. I ended up comping in a modified version of one of the foam spillovers to give the image some tension.
I also comped in an image where the table looked glossy, but did not have the shadows from the backlight, in order to keep the shadows looking natural.
Lastly, I retouched the small highlights off the bottom and off the bottle to make things look cleaner, added some vignetting and color adjustments to the backdrop and foam, and did some global contrast and sharpness adjustments.
Next time, I’ll definitely have more bottles of the beer on hand and a pump to get it in an out of the glass without moving the set around.
I spent a few hours shooting and editing for one final image, but now that I have a workable setup and routine I can prepare and execute much, much faster on future beer shoots. If you’re interested in learning beer photography, the key is practice, practice, practice! I always suggest practicing when you have free time and you’re not working on the clock. This way you have complete creative freedom and time to experiment with your lights without the pressure of a deadline.
It’s no secret that the ‘ol Book of Faces can be a great marketing tool for photographers as well as just a generally fun place to show off some family photos. Facebook, however, has a tendency to compress, convert, or otherwise mangle your photos if you don’t do some image prep ahead of time to maximize their display quality. Here are some steps I’d recommend to optimize your images for Facebook display. I recommend using Photoshop but you could certainly mimic these settings in Lightroom or Capture One, for a more direct export.
The first thing we want to do is resize the image on our end before upload. (go to image>image size.) This will ensure that we have more control over the resize process and will also shorten the upload time. The current max size is 2048 pixels on the longest edge, so this is what I’d recommend. You can leave the PPI (“resolution”) value at 72. PPI is just a tag, and it doesn’t affect screen display.
I leave resample at “bicubic” and I will manually apply some sharpening in the next step. I like to do the sharpening manually, but you may find that a “bicubic sharper” resampling, or one of the other resize options does the trick for you without additional sharpening. Adobe recommends “bicubic sharper” for downsizing an image, but since I like to sharpen manually, I’ll stick with the standard bicubic. More info on that setting here.
Next I use “unsharp mask” to apply some sharpening. (go to filter>sharpen>unsharp mask). I like to do this manually so I can tinker with the sliders. For this type of image, I find that moderate settings are best but, for food or product photos, I may dial the settings up a bit. This is where your own personal taste comes in.
The final step is to save the image. I like to use the legacy “save for web window” – file>save>save for web (ctrl+alt+shift+s). You can also use file>export. I find that PNG format works best for Facebook (especially for images like this one that have a gradient background), but JPG also works just fine for most images when saved in the highest quality (100). Make sure if you are in something other than sRGB, that “convert to sRGB” is checked. Most browsers don’t obey color profiles, so sRGB is pretty much a web standard. I leave my copyright and contact metadata setting on as well. Stripping metadata will make the image smaller and faster to load, but I prefer to keep my copyright info embedded.
You’re done! Keep in mind that this method is for large 2048 pixel images. Cover photos will need to be exactly 851 pixels wide by 315 pixels high and profile photos will need to be 160 pixels by 160 pixels. Here is a guide to all the various image sizes used on social media.
If you prefer to automate the process for 2048 pixel images, you can download my free Facebook Resize Photoshop Actions below.