Thursday, December 29, 2011

Resolve to Be a Better Businessperson in 2012!

First off, I hope everyone enjoyed a wonderful holiday with the people they love the most. After all, that is really what it's all about.

Florida photographer Kevin Newsome has posted a series of YouTube videos with his opinions on different issues within the industry. They're relevant, thought-provoking and mildly entertaining. When a link to one of his videos on "Shoot and Burn" photographers was recently posted in another forum in which I participate, it opened the ever-popular discussion of "should I sell print or files?" While I don't want to get into that one one more time, I do think there were a few important points to be made.

One relatively young and opinionated member chose to point out that selling image files was the only way to make money and that Mr. Newsome was a "relic" and and "artifact" in the industry. This group member continued by stating "This dude is just afraid of losing his rip off of a business that needs to die and I'll be happy to be one of the ones to help make that happen."

Is he right? The fact is, we should all be concerned about losing our businesses, but not because we are "rip offs" or aren't embracing technology and selling files. We should be concerned about the fact that we are underpricing our products and services in an effort to compete with the MWACS and DWACS who enter this field daily. (Just think, there are probably hundreds of new "professional" photographers right now who are still trying to decide what to name their Facebook business page as they caress the shiny new Rebel they found under the tree!)

While I definitely have my own opinion, I'm not going to fuel the files vs prints debate here. What I am going to do is ask you to take a serious look at the amount of profit your studio needs in order to survive.

Photographer and educator Charles Lewis (another "relic" or "artifact") still talks about starting his studio and the number of hats one must wear to own their own photography business. He'd say "all I want to do is take pictures!" Of course, we'd all love that.

However, it takes more than just pushing a button. Those photographers who fail to do the sales, marketing and most importantly, pay attention to the numbers and bookkeeping are doomed to fail. You MUST find a way to make a viable living in this industry by pricing your product (whether image files or physical images) to make a profit.

Those who shoot and burn for cheap rates will be forced to find another source of income to supplement their photography. Those who sell prints for cheap prices will die for the same reason. 

It's not about the technology. It's not image files vs prints. It's not "relics vs young guns". It's each and every one of us vs ourselves and our own reluctance and hesitation to sell our products and services at professional rates that allow us to make a decent living while still doing something we enjoy.

Everything old is not necessarily bad, just as everything new is not necessarily better. Some things got to be old because they stood the test of time and have not crumbled under the pressure of change. Yet, embracing the "out with the old, in with the new" mentality can be a good thing in many ways. Perhaps the New Year is the right time to take the plunge with a new pricing structure. Maybe this New Year will be one in which you eclipse your old sales numbers. What if I told you 2012 would be your breakout year, simply by making a few positive changes in the way you look at your studio; not the photography itself, but the business of photography.

My suggestion for a great resolution for 2012 is to take a serious look at your own business model. Crunch your own numbers (or if that's not your strong suit, talk to a bookkeeper or accountant who can help decipher them with you!) We obviously love what we do and have a deep passion for the art. Make 2012 the year you get passionate about the business side of photography and start making it truly profitable!

Happy New Year!

- David Grupa

Friday, November 18, 2011

Louis Daguerre 224th birthday marked by Google Doodle

Louis Daguerre 224th birthday marked by Google Doodle

A Google Doodle has been created to honor Louis Daguerre, who devised the daguerreotype, the first successful form of permanent photography.

Google marks 224th birthday of Louis Daguerre

The French physicist developed the process for transferring photographs onto silver-coated copper plates.  Photo: GOOGLE

The search engine's home page honors the French physicist, who developed the process for transferring photographs onto silver-coated copper plates.

In the mid-1820s, Daguerre was looking for a way to capture permanent images that he saw in his camera – a large box with a lens on one end that shined an image on a frosted sheet of glass at the other. But nailing the chemistry took a lot of work.

First, he invented the Diorama in 1822, which was used to showcase theatrical painting and lighting effects.

In 1826, fellow Frenchman Joseph Nicéphore Niépce took a photograph of a barn, but the process took an eight-hour exposure. Daguerre formed a partnership with Niépce, according to the Franklin Institute, and ten years later learned how to permanently reproduce the same image in only twenty minutes.

His discovery was made by an accident, according to the writer Robert Leggat, who said Daguerre put an exposed plate in a chemical cupboard in 1835 only to later find it have developed a latent image.

Daguerreotype photography was born. (The name, of course, refers to Daguerre himself.) Each unique photographic image was made on a silver-coated sheet of copper exposed to iodine, developed in heated mercury fumes, and fixed with salt water.

Using Daguerre's photography method, naturally-moving subjects needed to remain completely still because the long exposure would take several minutes to allow the slower process to be able to capture – and focus on – the image.

The new process was unveiled at the French Academy of Sciences in Paris in 1839.

It became the first commercially successful was of getting permanent images from a camera.

The Google Doodle, marking Daguerre's birthday of November 18, 1787, features a traditional image of an early family photograph with the heads of the figures in the image replaced with the letters that spell out Google.



Thursday, November 10, 2011

Make a Difference with PPA Charities on 11.11.11

Every day, thousands of children suffer with facial deformities. Make 11.11.11 the day you help such children smile again!

You can when you help PPA Charities meet its Operation Smile fundraising goal this year by 11.11.11. A unique date like this comes around only every 100 years. So, make it count by designating it your fundraising day—your day to save smiles! If every PPA member donated just $11.11 on that day, we would raise enough money for over 1,000 children to receive the facial surgeries performed by Operation Smile’s medical volunteers (doubling our previous donations)!

Every little bit can help save a smile. Plus, donations of $111.11 and above will receive a PPA Charities t-shirt AND the chance to meet and greet Dr. William Magee, founder of Operation Smile, at the PPA Charities Celebration at Imaging USA! Donate $1111.11 and you’ll receive the above, be recognized as a 2012 Operation Smile Studio and a gift from one of our vendor supporters. The more you donate, the more smiles you’ll help save (and gifts you’ll earn). Go to for details.

Donate now to save smiles on 11.11.11!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Who Really Sees Your Facebooks Posts? What Message Are You Really Sending?

It's a funny thing. A few years ago, many folks were very leery of signing up for an account on the new thing called "Facebook" because they didn't want the world to see what they were doing or be able to pry into their personal lives. Yet a few years later, it seems as if the best possible app that could be developed would be one that warns social media users when their personal filters are completely off.

For example, this post appeared in my feed over the weekend.

It took me by surprise that quite clearly the photographer posting this update failed to remember that the client for whom they had photographed the wedding is one of their friends on Facebook. Yes, the client saw the feed (as evidenced by the comment.)

So . . . what message did the photographer send to the client? Was it a warm fuzzy "wow, I had an awesome time photographing a wedding this weekend" or was it more along the line of "I'm driving home from my stupid out of town wedding and now I'm going to be inconvenienced because I'm running into traffic"? While the photographer did not specifically state either thought, the tone of the message is one that could easily give the client the wrong impression.

Of course, I make it a habit to not use profanity around my clients or on my Facebook page. To me, it sounds unprofessional.

When making Facebook updates, it's a great idea to ask yourself this: if the person was standing right there, would the same words that you're typing on your keyboard be coming out of your mouth?

Of course there's another rule that may even fit much better. Sometimes, when you're angry or frustrated, the best and safest status update is none at all.

- David Grupa

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Are You Unknowingly Referring Your Clients to Your Competition?

Recently in one of the many Facebook groups in which I participate, I was walking one of the members through a somewhat involved process. It got to the point where it was just going to be easier to pick up the phone and talk them through it rather than try to type out line after line of instruction in messages. I clicked on the person's profile and followed the link to their Facebook business page. Since there was no contact information listed, I located the website link and clicked through to that.

Beautiful work. Awesome images. But how do I find them? Oh, here . . way down in the bottom corner, a tiny "Contact Us" button. I clicked on it and all it lead me to was an email contact form. No address or city . . . what time zone are they in? Is it too early/late to call? Ehhh, doesn't matter . . . no phone number listed, either. 

I went back to FB and mentioned this to the individual and left my phone number so they could at least call me. When they called, one of the first questions I asked was "Why don't you have any contact information listed?" The reply? "I don't like to be bothered on the phone. I just want to deal with people through email."

Bothered? Really? Isn't this your business we're talking about? Aren't clients the reason we even have a business? Without them, we don't have much of an income.

If you are running a photography business and using your home or mobile phone as the business number, why not just leave a professional sounding message that identifies your business, thanks the caller for their inquiry and invites them to leave a message so you can return their call at your earliest opportunity? That way, it doesn't sound like they've called a personal number and gives them the impression that you as a businessperson care about them as a client. While a contact email does essentially the same task, it does not offer the personal voice contact that happens during a phone call.

It started me thinking about other ways that people unknowingly drive business away. Beautifully designed postcards, websites, product brochures . . . all lacking easy-to-find contact information.

If you look at product catalogs you receive in the mail (let's say Victoria's Secret, but any mail-order catalog works) what is on each and every page?  

Website. Phone number. 

So . . . now you've gotten them to your website. If it's a national chain, what else is prominent on the first page? Yup it's a . . .

Store locator. 

Why? Because customers want to know where to find you! Even though many of us do not run retail establishments, prospective clients still want to know where to find us!

Think of it this way . . . if you were going to invest serious money in any product or service, don't you feel better having contact information? A phone number to call and an address to visit all instill confidence in a prospective client. To me, a website with nothing other than an email contact form conjures up visions of a photographer wearing dark glasses and a trench coat with a camera and a laptop in a graffiti-filled alley whispering "Psssst . . . over here. Wanna buy a CD of pictures?" 

It amazes me to see so many websites without as much as an address or contact phone number. Sure, some people will fill out an email contact form, but what about those who want to talk to you and are in the market for your product or service RIGHT NOW? You know what happened to them, don't you?

They went to one of the other websites in their search results; one with full contact information listed.

Yup. They called me. 

- David Grupa

PS - Thank-you for the indirect referral!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

When Was YOUR Last Time?

As if I don't already have enough on my plate, I was flipping though Facebook friends today and looking at their profile images and it got me thinking . . . 

We invest a lot of effort and energy (not to mention $$) into convincing our clients why they should use a professional photographer, but what about us?

How recent is your last family portrait? Do you actually have a large print displayed in your own home, or is that just something we show off on our studio walls to help convince clients it's something they* need?

Better yet, when was the last time you updated your own professional headshot? What's the image displayed on your Facebook profile? Are your clients viewing a quality photograph of yourself, or are they seeing something that doesn't accurately reflect your professional reputation?

Everyone knows another photographer that you can pick up the phone and call. Maybe it's time you plan a "play date" with that person and update each other's images. It not only improves your appearance, but puts you in the client's position and gives you an opportunity to see how someone else works!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Prevent Damage to Your Camera and Memory Cards

Here's something that lots of people do and don't even think twice about . . . they put memory cards into their pocket without first putting them into a case.

No big deal? Ahhhh, but it is . . . all of the crap in your pocket (lint, small stuff, sand, whatever) gets into the pin slots on the memory cards and makes life miserable. It can really ruin your day when the card becomes unreadable, or worse, bends one of the pins in your camera!

Before putting a naked memory card into your pocket, use one of those little plastic cases the come with or get a waterproof one that holds multiple cards. They are well worth the investment! 

You can find a case such as this at most photo retailers for under $20. I've also seen them on eBay; popular brands are Pelican and JJC.

- David Grupa 

Friday, August 26, 2011

Ahh, The Art of the Camera Tilt.

There has been an evolution of sorts in the media and photography realm in the last decade or so. One change you’ll notice is tight cropping, which a lot of photographers have incorporated as well as the TV media. When done properly, it pulls the viewer's attention into the subject’s eyes. In the photography world, we have also found that tipping our cameras can lend an artistic flair to an otherwise simple composition. However, there are some simple rules to live by when using this advanced maneuver. Let’s go over some tips for tipping.
Let's start with a simple before and after of a senior guy. As you can see, tilting the composition and reframing the subject adds a lot more interest. Notice that the senior is in the exact same pose, but the photographer is capturing from a higher angle and has tightened up the shot to exclude shoes and legs.

The biggest rule to follow to make this work is having a vertical line somewhere in the image to anchor the subject. Notice where the true horizon of the images really are.

The above rule can be broken in some instances and still lead to a visually strong image such as in this example here.
While this image breaks the rule about tilting, it also follows a number of rules of composition. The subject's face is in the top right power point of the composition which follows the Rule of Thirds. There are also strong diagonal leading lines from her body and the lines of the flooring which pull you into her face.
When done properly, the camera tilt ends up being very subtle and directs your attention to the subject, not the tilt of the camera.

That's all for now!

- Kirsten Holscher

Monday, August 22, 2011

Use a Handheld Light Meter to Nail Exposure Every Time!

It's been talked about here in detail; when you're photographing your clients, you should be utilizing the proper tools to make sure you achieve the proper exposure and color (white balance) for every image you create. Today, I'll show you exactly how easy it is to use a handheld light meter and white balance target and why you should be using them with every session you photograph.

Let's begin with one basic premise; your camera - no matter what brand - is simply a computer with a lens. When we feed it proper information, we receive the results we want. Sure, there are some "AUTO" settings that allow you to concentrate on composition, but because your camera set on AUTO-anything is now "averaging" the results, you may find that you spend quite a bit more time in post-production tweaking files for exposure and color. This will help you get some of that time back!

Why do I not just use the AUTO setting? As stated above, the AUTO settings tend to provide averages in both areas of exposure and white balance. Any of these AUTO settings can be affected by color of clothing, backgrounds, or just the available light source; all of these will influence how your camera's internal system reacts.

Every time I change lighting or location in a session, I pull out the meter and the target. (I wear my meter on my belt and the target around my neck, so it's not like I'm digging through gear to find these items.) It takes just seconds to check exposure and adjust the settings on my camera for a perfect exposure. The same is true with the white balance target (which can also be used to check exposure via the histogram on the camera's display); for info on how to use the white balance target for color calibration later, CLICK HERE.)

The images below are SOOC (straight out of camera) and show the difference taking a few extra seconds on the front end makes.

Many people first beginning in photography feel as if lighting, posing and composition are the #1 things they need to master. In order to take your photography to the next level, you need to learn to properly expose your photographs so that they don't require extra tweaking in Photoshop. Every minute you save by NOT having to "Fix it in Photoshop" is a minute of your own life that you get back.

Grab that light meter and save yourself time and headaches later on!

- David Grupa

Monday, August 15, 2011

To Meter or Not to Meter . . .

Oh, how I love Facebook groups. They have become a great place to share, network and socialize with other people who have similar interests. They can certainly be a source of entertainment. On occasion, they also become the source of material for debates.

Don't get me wrong, I love a good back-and-forth as much as anyone. I don't enjoy, however, when these take place in an environment where someone is soliciting advice and the people giving said advice are leading in the wrong direction.

A recent example is a discussion surrounding the use of a light meter; a number of folks felt that it is a necessary piece of equipment, while others deemed it outdated and not relevant. One commenter even went as far as suggesting that "there are loads of awesome photographers . . . that don't use a light meter." Really? I suppose if you want to get out your calculators and determine your exposure based on a guide number and distance, that's up to you. If you're one of those who just "guess and go", so be it. To me, however, the light meter is an essential tool in my everyday work; one that I'd feel very uncomfortable without. I'm also guessing that even though many of the other "awesome photographers" know their setup and equipment well enough and could probably get by without one, most of them still use a meter to determine their initial exposures and settings.

Am I just old-fashioned? Maybe it's the fact that I date back to the Collodion Wet Plate Process (okay, back to film days, anyway) and I constantly had a Gossen Luna Pro around my neck for ambient light and another flash meter in the studio. I just never photographed without checking exposure.

I realize that today's cameras have a lot of this "built-in", but until I find a system that's 100% infallible, I'm gonna keep my trusty Sekonic L-358 strapped to my hip. It takes seconds for me to pull it out, check exposure and photograph a target for WB purposes, allowing me to concentrate on my subject rather than hope I'm not in a position where the in-camera metering gets fooled. (But that never happens, does it?)

Besides, I honestly believe it gives me a more professional appearance than someone who's just happy-snapping with their DSLR. (Don't believe me? A few weeks ago I had a client who was coming to me after an unsuccessful visit with a "faux-tographer" who gave them disappointing results from a senior portrait session. The mom and girl both commented that "the other photographer never used one of these." I explained that it's just a part of the set of tools I need to do the job well and create awesome images. During the viewing as they were oooohing and ahhhhing over the finished images, mom asked "Why don't all photographers own the right equipment to do the job?"

A necessary tool? I think so.
- David Grupa 

(Check out for some great tutorial videos on creating better portraits and why a light meter is crucial to the process!)

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Is Your Studio Website Helping or Hurting Your Business?

We all know that one of our key marketing components in the computer age is a website. It has become our portfolio that can be viewed from anywhere with internet access (this includes your phone!)

Navigation should be simple and information easy to access. Clients don't want to play hide-and-seek looking for your contact info; email address and phone number should be readily visible. (Pet peeve: websites with "contact us" forms that do not show an email address. If it's so secret that you can't share it with me, what makes me want to do business with you?)

Anyway, I was reviewing a website last week for a newer photographer who had applied for Certification. This was a follow-up call in which we were discussing why she didn't pass. I asked her why she didn't have the images she submitted on her website, as the ones on her site were weak at best and showed minimal evidence of her knowledge of the craft and use of lighting techniques. The ones she sent for judging were far better! Her reply? "I like to keep my old images on my website as well as my new ones so I can see how far I've come."

While it's always nice to have a visual reminder of "Before and After", your clients don't care about how bad you were at the beginning. All they want to know is that when they invest money in portraiture from you; the resulting images will ROCK. Keep your reminders on your personal computer.

Take the time to clean the old stuff off your website often and replace it with fresh images; we're all guilty of letting it slide. Think of it this way - how much business are you losing because even a few of your images are less-than-stunning? If this is the case, then less is more. Show a few great images instead of lots of average ones.

- David

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Q & A: More Simple Marketing Tips For Emerging Professionals

From time to time, readers send in questions or ask for help. In the coming weeks, I'll try to answer a few of them here.

- Do you have any other marketing suggestions to give to those who are in their first year (or so) in the photography business?

RAISE YOUR PRICES! Seriously . . . there is nothing more difficult than starting at a low price point and experiencing difficulty raising prices at a later date because clients balk. Start them out expecting to pay for what you are worth.

UNDERPROMISE AND OVER-DELIVER - There is nothing worse than getting a client's expectations up and then disappointing them with low-quality or late delivery. Just because your lab turns things around in 3 days is not a good reason to tell them that their images will be ready in a week. Take into account the fact that you have to prepare the images along with all of the other things that go into running your daily business. It's much better to tell them to expect 3-4 week turnaround and actually deliver in 2 weeks . . . that makes you a hero rather than a goat.

WORD OF MOUTH CAN MAKE OR BREAK YOU - The biggest problem is, you never hear the bad things until it's too late. Set your expectations up-front and then stick to your deadlines. After delivery, make sure to thank your clients with a card and give them an opportunity to refer their friends.

- David Grupa 

Do you have a question you like a member of the Camp David team to answer? Send your questions to !

Monday, July 25, 2011

Beat the Competition By Outperforming, NOT Underpricing - Part 2

In the first part of this article, I talked about how so many of us got into the industry because of our love of photography and the desire we had to create beautiful images with our cameras. It was so completely enjoyable, we may have even thought we'd do it for free! (Sadly, by under-pricing, many photographers do work for little or nothing.)

While desire, energy and passion are great, those qualities alone will not be enough to make you a successful photographer or run a profitable business. You must set yourself apart from the competition. Many photographers realize this, but few actually understand what it means.

In this segment, let's discuss how to put some distance between you and the other photographers who are competing for the same dollar. Since we know don't want to slash prices (and profits) to achieve this, we have to find better methods. Not surprisingly, almost all of them are centered around education.

Last time I talked about some of the biggest mistakes I made, so this time (just to prove that I wasn't a total idiot) I'll share some of my best decisions.

  1. Become an active member of professional associations.
    This is easily the single smartest and best thing I ever did; my only regret is that I didn't do it sooner in my professional career.

    - Why it was a great move: Membership in professional associations - specifically PPA and my state and local affiliate groups - provided me with the resources I needed to position myself as a professional studio. Especially now, in a market where every digital SLR owner prints 250 free business cards online and brands him / herself as a "professional", membership in PPA and affiliate groups add an extra level of credibility and accountability to you as a professional.

  2. Take full advantage of the opportunities offered by these associations.
    When I said to become an "active" member, I mean get involved. It does you minimal good to pay the dues and not take advantage of the benefits, educational and networking opportunities that these memberships offer.

    - Why you should "go for it all": This is where I really started to blossom. When I began attending meetings and seminars, not only did I learn from the presenters, but it seemed I learned equally as much from my own colleagues who were in the very same room. Here were the very people I was thinking were my "competition" sharing their own tricks and secrets with me, the new guy! I couldn't figure it out. After accepting an invitation to visit a nearby (within 2 miles of my studio!) colleague, I asked why they were sharing all of this information with me. His both response surprised me and stuck with me to this very day. "If I help you learn the proper way to run a successful business, we're not really competing with each other. We're just raising the bar for photographers everywhere and showing the public what they can expect from a professional studio." No matter which group I got involved with, my experiences were similar.

  3. Challenge yourself by entering print competition.
    I know, you're thinking "I don't need to enter print competition. Why do I care what another photographer thinks? My work is just fine!"  The truth is, if I had a dollar for every time I've heard this, I'd be wealthy. (And that's just from my former business partner!)

    - Why you should enter:
    The truth is, participating in print competition IS scary, but it will ultimately make you a better photographer. Seeing the work of other photographers and hearing the critiques of experienced professionals will give you ideas and background on what makes a great portrait. Seeing the actual image and listening to the reviewers' commentary often drives home the need to step outside of your own comfort zone. Print competition has challenged me to stretch my personal limits and has made me a better photographer.

  4. Roll up your sleeves and get involved.
    A number of years ago, a photographer friend was telling me about a new member in their group who had come to him with the complaint about the group being "cliquey". The member went on to tell him "I really don't know what to do . . . it's almost as if there's a secret password to get to know people." My friend smiled and replied "Well, there is sort of a secret phase. To meet new people, walk up to anyone who's busy and say "How can I help?"

    - Why you want to do this: Did you ever notice how some people walk? They avert their eyes downward or only look straight ahead as they walk. While they end up getting to their destination, they often miss all of the wonderful experiences around them along the way. The same is true for your involvement with any group. Roll up your sleeves and help take down equipment after a seminar. Don't worry about making a long-term commitment or being elected president. Simply hang around after the meeting to help put away chairs, roll up cords, whatever is necessary. I guarantee people will learn your name and you will instantly become better acquainted with a greater number of people.

    If the group goes out afterwards, join them! Grab a bite to eat, or have a soda or a drink and join the conversation. Some of the best learning experiences happen outside of the actual classroom and who knows . . . you may even make a new friend or two. Some of my closest friends are people I've met through professional photographic associations.

  5. Step outside of your comfort zone by pushing yourself to achieve new heights.
    Become a Certified Professional Photographer. Work toward a PPA degree. Set a goal of creating one new image per session by not following the same "mental checklist" you always use.

    If you're feeling really adventurous, single out one area where you feel really proficient and participate in a discussion or <gasp> give a program on that subject.

    - Why?: Why not? it's all about learning, growing, paying it forward and setting yourself apart from the crowd.

David Grupa, CPP, M.Photog.Cr., AFS-MNPPA owns David Grupa Portrait in Maplewood, MN. A true believer in the power of professional associations, he is a Past-President of both the TCPPA and MNPPA and serves PPA members in Minnesota as a Councilor. In his desire to "pay it forward" in the photographic industry, he founded Camp David Photographic Education.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Q & A: Simple Marketing Tips For Emerging Professionals

From time to time, readers send in questions or ask for help. In the coming weeks, I'll try to answer a few of them here.

- What is the best low-cost marketing idea a beginning photographer could implement?

Partner with people you do business with to take advantage of their client base as well as your own. How cool is it for them to be able to offer a free portrait session as a thank-you gift to their clients? It puts your name in front of an entirely new group of people for a minimal cost on your part. Get involved with business groups and get your name in front of other business professionals.

Discount your sessions, not your print prices. I made up business cards that I gave to just about everyone that offered them a no-charge basic studio session. I still ask my clients for referrals and offer them a referral credit for each person they send to my studio.

Rather than discounting print prices, offer rewards or incentives for reaching a certain order level or placing the order within a specified time-frame. Cutting your print prices only encourages clients to ask for print discounts in the future and ultimately, brings you more people who are looking for a "deal" or "cheap photography".

- David Grupa

Do you have a question you like a member of the Camp David team to answer? Send your questions to !

Monday, July 18, 2011

Beat the Competition By Outperforming, NOT Underpricing - Part 1

Photography is a funny industry. If you talk to someone who's been around, they may sound a bit bitter regarding the state of the profession, saying something like "digital is the worst thing that ever happened to photography. Nowadays, everyone thinks they are a photographer just because the can see an image on the back of their camera and hand over a disk of files for a few dollars. And they call themselves professional."

On the other hand, you may also run into someone who looks at life with more positive view. "Digital is the best thing to ever happen to photography! I can finally create the image I had envisioned because of the incredible tools we now have at our disposal. Better yet, I can charge more for my product because it's something that nobody else can duplicate!"

Of course, there is also the group of new photographers who are excited to create, eager to learn, thrilled to have the opportunity to make a living doing something they love . . . and desperately need someone with experience and knowledge to point them in the right direction.

When I think about it, I'm really not that different than any of today's new photographers. You see, when I began in this business back in 1976 I was a 17 year old kid with a new camera, a fistful of business cards and a dream to make my hobby my profession. I had the desire, I had raw talent (which needed serious refinement) and I had the energy and blind courage to succeed as an entrepreneur.

However, I just needed something more to get me over the hump.

While desire, energy and passion are great, those qualities alone will not be enough to make you a successful photographer or run a profitable business. You must set yourself apart from the competition. Many photographers realize this, but few actually understand what it means.

When I began photographing "professionally" (ie: when I began charging for my photos) I was working with a friend I'd met in high school. We became business partners and put ourselves through college shooting weddings. Things were going well (so we thought) and we soon rented retail space for a studio location. It was at this point that some of the worst decisions ever were made. Rather than explain them in every sordid detail, I'm going to make a list of the biggest errors (and tell you why they didn't work.)

1.      "People will choose us because our pricing will be less expensive than other studios."
In theory, this sounds great. Everyone likes to save a dollar and as is the case today, we were also in the throes of a recession at that time.

- Why it didn't work: Because we were new and inexperienced, price was not the deciding issue for many clients. While some clients were fine with "good enough", many opted to use competing studios who charged more because of the quality of their final product. Average photography at any price is still just average photography. Since we were operating on a low price-point, there wasn't enough profit to use top-shelf materials and still make money, nor was there enough funds to attain the education we desperately needed in order to do it right.

2.      "If we charge less, we can book more clients and make up the difference in volume."
This is great for stores such as Target or Wal-Mart, where they can lure you in with a low price on one item, knowing that while you're there you will most likely "stock up" on other items you regularly purchase. Clothing, food and other products all carry a significant markup that allows a retailer to sell certain specific items as a "loss leader".

- Why it didn't work: The strategy was wrong in many ways. Yes, more weddings and portrait sessions were booked because of lower prices. They turned out, however, to be clients who came in only for the low-priced items. Additional sales on these were virtually non-existent because the low price on the initial investment was what caused them to book in the first place. There was no love of our work or photography in general. Coupon-clippers (Groupon users) are not going to spend extra money and add-on sales are what was needed to make this strategy work.

3.      "Since I'm just starting out, I can't charge as much as everyone else."
This is perhaps one of the biggest mistakes made in the industry today. When you begin, the bulk of your client base comes from friends and family, all of whom expect "a deal". Others will feel that because you are a new photographer, they can pay less because you "need the business."

- Why it didn't work: By pricing yourself low from the beginning, you are essentially training your clients to believe that you will always be cheap. Rather than start with unrealistically low pricing, set your numbers where you want them (higher!) While you are "building your portfolio" you can then offer a discount from your "regular" prices, but only during the time you need that specific type of subject for sample images! For instance, during the month of October you'd like to increase volume for outdoor family portraits. Run a special offering a reduced rate on family sessions. Want more kids? Do an Easter or Spring portrait session special.

The bottom line is this: once you've photographed enough sessions of that particular subject at the discounted rate an d have the sample images you need, end the sale and go back to your regular (higher) pricing!

4.      "I can't raise my prices. All of my clients will complain or leave!"
Once you get established and realize that you actually want to start keeping more of the money, you will find that you have two choices; raise your prices or photograph more sessions. Since there are only 24 hours in a day, increasing the amount of work you take in can only be done to a certain level. You can't add hours to the day.

- Why you just need to bite the bullet and do it: Ultimately you will be forced to raise prices, either due to increased product costs and fixed expenses, the need to purchase new and updated equipment, the desire to take home more money and a long list of other necessities.

There's an old saying that goes something like "If your clients aren't complaining about your prices, you're probably too cheap." The fact is, people often determine value based on a price. If you're too low in your prices, there may be an entire group of people who never give you a second look. Many people equate "low price" with "poor quality". My former partner would say things such as "I'd never pay that much for photographs." If he didn't think his work was worth it, how would he ever be successful at the sales table?

The truth is, when we increased pricing we lost some of the low-end clients. What also happened is that we gained clients in an entirely new group. To these folks, we were now "affordable" in a higher price-point category.

Be fearless and move forward. Continue to make this industry an awesome place to make a living!

David Grupa, CPP, M.Photog.Cr., AFS-MNPPA owns David Grupa Portrait in Maplewood, MN. A true believer in the power of professional associations, he is a Past-President of both the TCPPA and MNPPA and serves PPA members in Minnesota as a Councilor. In his desire to "pay it forward" in the photographic industry, he founded Camp David Photographic Education.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Finally, You Can Comment as Yourself (Not Your Business!) on Your Facebook Business Pages

One of the biggest frustrations among Facebook Business Page users was the fact that there really wasn't a way to comment on your business page as anyone other than your business. For sole proprietors this probably wasn't a huge issue, but for pages with multiple admins or a business with more than one employee, it could be confusing.

Be confused no longer.

With all of the tweaking and upgrading happening at Facebook these days, it was only a matter of time before they adjusted the settings to allow you to comment on your business pages as yourself from your personal account and not just under the business name.

It's a simple adjustment; here's how to do it:

- Go to the business page on which you want to change the settings.
- Click the "EDIT PAGE" button in the top right hand corner of the page.
- On the Left Side of the page click "Your Settings"

- Uncheck the box that says "ALWAYS POST AS your page name

That's it! Now, your posts will show up as your personal name. If you want them to show up as posted by your page/business name, simply click the link on the right hand side of your business page that says "USE FACEBOOK AS your page name". Once you're done, click the box again to go back to using Facebook as yourself.
I hope this settings adjustment helps you out in your postings!

- David Grupa

Monday, July 4, 2011

A Great Day To Celebrate For So Many Good Reasons!

Every year on July 4th, Americans everywhere celebrate the birthday of our nation. We do it in many different ways, with picnics, parades and fireworks. There was always something deeply special about this day; from the time I was a little boy all through adulthood and watching my own boys celebrate. I love the excitement.

I'm also a lover of quotes, so today I've selected a few lines to share from various people in all walks of life who - in my eyes - have really shared what Independence Day is all about.

"You have to love a nation that celebrates its independence every July 4, not with a parade of guns, tanks, and soldiers who file by the White House in a show of strength and muscle, but with family picnics where kids throw Frisbees, the potato salad gets iffy, and the flies die from happiness.  You may think you have overeaten, but it is patriotism." ~ Erma Bombeck

However, we also raise our flags proudly and celebrate the brave men and women who, for the past 235 years, have stood in defense of this freedom. The sacrifices they have made - many giving the ultimate sacrifice - allow you and I to enjoy our days and live our lives without fear. We don't constantly have to look over our shoulders or worry about the oppression of radical governments. Life in this country is pretty darn awesome.

"How often we fail to realize our good fortune in living in a country where happiness is more than a lack of tragedy." ~ Paul Sweeney

And finally, I think back to a moment I shared with my sons during the 7th-inning-stretch of a ballgame. After we finished singing our traditional "1-2-3 strikes your out", the following verse of a familiar song played on the stadium speakers. My boys both stood and sang out loud, after which one said to me "Dad, I really like that song."

"And I'm proud to be an American, where at least I know I'm free. And I won't forget the men who died, who gave that right to me." ~ Lee Greenwood

God Bless the USA!

- David Grupa

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Q & A: What Helped Your New Business The Most?

From time to time, readers send in questions or ask for help. In the coming weeks, I'll try to answer a few of them here. 
- What do you see as the best thing you did your first year or so in business?

I have always been a self-promoter; I printed up business cards and handed them out like candy. Everyone I met knew that I was a photographer and was interested in working with them for their wedding or portrait needs. I only wish the internet had been around back then, because I'd have jumped into it with both feet.

I also realized that other photographers were not my competition, but my best allies. They became a source of referrals, made me look more professional by having someone to refer to when I was booked and ultimately, became a huge source of support.

- David Grupa 

Do you have a question you like a member of the Camp David team to answer? Send your questions to !

Monday, June 27, 2011

Q & A: What Early Mistakes Did You Make In your Business?

From time to time, readers send in questions or ask for help. In the coming weeks, I'll try to answer a few of them here. 

- What are some of the mistakes you believe you made in marketing during your first years in business?

I think that my early marketing mistakes were very common ones; new photographers tend to price their work at what they can afford rather than what they need to keep a business operating in a viable manner. The thought that "I'll get more business if I'm cheaper" does not translate into "I'll make more money doing volume" for most new studios. I was excited at the thought of selling an 8x10 for a few dollars over my "perceived cost", thinking I was "doubling my money" and not realizing that I was actually losing money with every sale.

Since I was concentrating so hard on the present and not the future, I neglected important things like staying in contact with my current and past clients. With today's email and social marketing techniques, there's no excuse for not keeping your name in front of their faces.

It's also an awesome idea to say thanks to your clients with an "old-fashioned" hand-written thank-you note. Odds are good that your lab produces a press-printed 4x5 folded card with envelopes; choose one of your favorite images from a trip or a fun scenic or seasonal image for the front. Since you can order in 25s, you can change these up at random. Five minutes to write a short note thanking them for their business and a first-class postage stamp can go a long way toward building a strong relationship.

I also spent too much money buying new "toys"; we all love gear and lights and props. (These days, we spend tons on money on Photoshop actions and templates, too.) The problem was too much on gadgetry or props but not enough investing in myself by gaining the education I needed to learn proper marketing techniques and skills. At that point, I also had a 50-50 business partner (never again!) who made making decisions difficult when we were not on the same page.

- David Grupa 

Do you have a question you like a member of the Camp David team to answer? Send your questions to !

Monday, June 20, 2011

Q & A: If You Got a "Do-Over", What Would You Change?

From time to time, readers send in questions or ask for help. In the coming weeks, I'll try to answer a few of them here.

- If someone gave you a “do-over” for your first year in business as a photographer, what are the changes you would make to the way you marketed yourself and your business?

There are two things I would have done differently that I believe would have made a huge difference in my photography and my business.

First, I would have become active in professional associations earlier. Not simply "joined", but truly gotten active in the educational events and opportunities. The networking gained from professional memberships has proven to be invaluable.

Given that knowledge, I feel that I would have been able to approach marketing in a more confident, professional manner. I was very young (only 17) when I began my photography business and really flew by the seat of my pants for the first couple of years.

Secondly, I would have had a plan. Most of my marketing at that time was done without any type of plan in mind other than to "get more business". I didn't care what type, just anyone who wanted a photograph at any time. I needed to plan events based around the busy and not-so-busy times of the year and truly prepare for promote them better. 

- David Grupa

Do you have a question you like a member of the Camp David team to answer? Send your questions to !

Friday, June 17, 2011

Your Photographic Talent is an Awesome Way to "Pay It Forward"

People ask me all the time how I got involved as a photographer for Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep. It's a bit of a long story, so I'll try and summarize . . .

I had gotten involved with photographing a National Guard unit through a colleague of mine and as a result, got to know some of the girls after their husbands deployed through the various projects we worked on together.

One of the couples got pregnant shortly after they unit returned from duty (actually, I'm guessing more than one ;-P). It was someone we'd gotten to know well; they already had one little girl and were pretty excited that #2 was a boy.

One afternoon, I received a call from my colleague as she was "on her way to the hospital to photograph a NILMDTS session." I cringed, because I knew I'd NEVER be able to do anything like that. Just the thought of it made me nervous.

She continued to tell me that the baby belonged to the couple we knew. My heart sank. I knew how long they'd waited for him. There was no medical problem; a 35 week healthy fetus that got tangled in the cord.

I saw her images. They made me really sad and I wondered how anyone does this kind of work. When I talked with mom, she told me how much those few photographs meant to her . . . they would be the only photographs they'd ever have of that little boy.

My youngest was a preemie; actually, so was I. My son was in and out of the hospital for the first few weeks of life until things stabilized. They told me that my son would probably take a while before he caught up (he's 6'4" now). My mom was told I'd probably have brain damage (explains a bunch, doesn't it?) This couple would never know those things. Their daughter and future children would ask questions about what he looked like . . .

So, I signed up. I went to the NILMDTS website and became a volunteer. A few weeks later, the phone rang and it was a mom calling from the hospital. She would give birth to a 20 week baby that evening which had a brain condition and wouldn't live.

I was petrified. I called another colleague (who'd never done this either, but was also considering volunteering) and she offered to come along. My ex-wife is a neo-natal nurse, so I called her to find out what to expect.

My heart was racing as I walked through the hospital parking lot. Once inside, the smell of the hospital almost knocked me over. I began to think of all the reasons I couldn't do this, but it was already too late.

When I walked through the door into the labor and delivery area, the doctor was still in the room. She's a longtime client. Pulling me aside, she asked softly how long I'd been doing this . . . I whispered "this is my first time."

As the doctor left the room she said out loud how nice it was to see me again. She then turned to the couple and said "David is a very talented photographer. You're in good hands."

I exhaled, opened my camera bag and went to work. My colleague joined me at the hospital shortly afterward. The couple was sweet. The family was very nice and grateful for our presence. The resulting images were much easier to photograph than I initially expected.

In the past 5 years I can't count the number of sessions I've photographed. Some really stand out for one reason or another, while others blend together. This past Christmas day, I photographed 3. Yeah, bad things happen on holidays, too.

In my heart, I like to believe that all of the sessions made a difference to the families and the healing process.

Do YOU have what it takes to make that difference? You may not think so, but I'm willing to bet that you're wrong.

- David Grupa

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Does Your Website Give Potential Clients a Positive First Impression?

We all have websites, blogs and other electronic venues that we utilize for our business on a daily basis. For many of our clients, this is their first (and maybe only) contact with our studio.

So . . . when you click on someone's website and notice issues, do you tell them? I'm not talking about technical "your site isn't loading" issues, but rather, things such as repeated spelling errors and use of popular music that is copyright protected.

Do you say something? Do you drop them a note out of the blue saying "Hi, you don't know me but I'd like to let you know about a bunch of problems . . . "

If you get one of these emails, are you offended? Do you spend more time wondering why some random photographer was "creeping on your page" rather than being grateful that someone pointed out mistakes?

As someone who visits a lot of websites reviewing applications for volunteer groups, I have seen the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to this form of marketing. Here are a couple of things that I notice immediately when visiting the websites of other photographers:

1) Loading Speed - How long do I have to sit while the little bar moves slowly across the middle of the screen, or the wheel spins for eternity? If it takes too long, how many of your potential clients get frustrated and click out without viewing your site?

    - Take a few minutes to resize your images before uploading. Web-resolution only requires about 4x6 @ 72ppi for a reasonable viewing size and fast loading.

2) Music - This is one of my personal pet peeves about websites. Since it's been discussed elsewhere on this site, suffice it to say that if clients are browsing from work, the last thing they want is to have loud music suddenly blaring from their speakers. This causes them to quickly exit your site, perhaps never to return.

    - Is there a way for the viewer to easily turn off the music without having to hunt for a hidden toggle? Are you able to lower the volume preset so it's truly "background" music?

    - Do you have the proper licensing rights to use the music on your website? Just because you bought the CD or downloaded the song does NOT mean you may use it in a commercial setting. (Yes, your website is considered a "public performance".)

3) Spelling and Grammar - Face it, this is an area where some people are just plain weak. Others get so wrapped up in the fluffy wording they will use that they forget to re-read what they have written to see if it makes sense or contains errors. While it may not seem like a big deal, you should know which is the correct word to use when you want to say there / their / they're or are / our / hour. Things like using an apostrophe unnecessarily on words ending in "s" doesn't add to your credibility as a professional.

    - Before you click the "publish" button on your blog or website, take a minute to look over your piece one more time. If you truly are not confident in your abilities to spell and punctuate correctly, have someone who is look it over as well.

4) Format - We are accustomed to working on large monitors, but that's not the case for everyone who visits your page. Are important navigation tools or items not visible unless the viewer scrolls up, down or sideways? Some never do, leaving your page because they "couldn't find what they wanted."

    - Make certain that your page formats well on laptops and non-widescreen monitors as well. Taking just a few minutes to make sure important items are easily visible will save headaches later on.

5) Contact Information - Finally, how easy is it for people to find your contact info? Can they contact you immediately by phone, or do you have email information listed as well?

    - I've heard from a few clients who told me "I called you because you were easy to contact. Your phone number and email is listed on every page of your site, so I never had to waste time trying to find a number or fill out a stupid 'contact form'."

    - Yes, you read that correctly. "Stupid Contact Form"; many potential clients want to be able to send an email from their computer or pick up the phone and talk to a live person (or at least leave a voicemail.) How much business are you losing because you make it difficult for someone to reach you?

Take a peek at your website today and look at it from the client's perspective. If you don't give a positive first impression, you may never get an opportunity to make a second one.

- David Grupa
(Enjoy "What the Duck"? See more of Aaron Johnson's work at