Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Become a Certified Professional Photographer and Set Yourself Apart!

It's that time of year again; school is almost out, seniors are graduating and high school juniors are preparing for "Senior Year". For parents of a junior, odds are their mailbox is beginning to fill up with all sorts of info from colleges across the country, encouraging them to visit. It's a major choice and they'll want to help their student choose wisely.

Also in their mailboxes are lots of offers from photographers. Senior portraits are an important part of the year as well; it's the image which will be forever remembered in places such as the school yearbook, given out in the form of wallets and also occupy a place on the family room wall. There are lots of photographers to choose from, ranging from trusted studios to the upstart "friend of a friend who just bought a nice camera."

How do they decide? What separates you from the pack? The choice is a lot simpler than you think.

Become a Certified Professional Photographer.

Think of it this way; just because your friend owns a good scissors, would you let that person cut your hair? To be able to cut hair professionally in Minnesota, you have to take 1550 hours of training, perform multiple services on customers while supervised by an instructor, take a comprehensive written test and do a practical demonstration of your ability to perform your tasks in a professional manner.

Yet a bad haircut grows out in a couple of weeks!

So . . . do you think they really want to trust their families' memories, their once-in-a-lifetime events, their most important special occasions to someone who just picked up a new camera kit at Wal-Mart or Sam's Club, printed a handful of business cards online and now calls themselves a "professional?" Of course not!

To earn the designation of Certified Professional Photographer you will have to pass a comprehensive written exam measuring your technical expertise, successfully submit your work to a panel of judges for review and approval, and abide by a professional code of ethics. A CPP must re-certify through the Professional Photographic Certification Commission every 5 years to show that you are maintaining a high level of technical and artistic competency, assuring that your clients' expectation of the standards of excellence are consistently being met.

Your clients want quality portraits for their investment. Make sure they realize that they are getting their money's worth by becoming a Certified Professional Photographer.

For more information on becoming a Certified Professional Photographer, visit www.CertifiedPhotographer.com

- David Grupa

Friday, May 27, 2011

Who's Your Hero? Whose Hero Are You?

For as long as I can remember, I've always loved baseball. When I was little, my dad bought me a plastic bat and ball and we'd play in the backyard. We'd watch the Twins on our old black and white TV and root for Bob Allison, Camilo Pasqual, Tony Oliva and of course, Harmon Killebrew.

When I was 5, Dad took me to my very first Minnesota Twins game at the old Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington. I can still remember my excitement when I first heard the PA announcer's voice over the stadium speakers; "For the Twins, Number Three, Harmon Killebrew!"

At that time, the Twins would host an annual "Camera Day" promotion during which fans were allowed on the track surrounding the field while the players would walk around and pose for pictures. My dad and I went to one of these games one year; I must have been about 8 or 9 years old. Mom had loaded a roll of black and white film into a 35mm camera for me and after some brief instruction, Dad and I left for the stadium. We found our seats, then Dad sat in the stands and let me go onto the field to take pictures of the players. I found a spot in the right field corner and waited while the players made their way around the grass. As Harmon Killebrew approached, I re-checked all of my settings and practiced focusing so I'd be sure to get a great shot. Right about the time he got to my spot, a man from behind pushed in front of me with his kids to get them in a photo. I was panicked! As the players were walking away, I began to think I had missed my chance.

Suddenly, I heard a voice - Harmon Killebrew's - say "Sir, would you mind stepping to the side so the gentleman behind you can get a picture?" The man who was in front of me moved over and Harmon looked right at me and said "That's a pretty fancy camera you have, young man!" I replied softly "it's my mom's."

Harmon posed for me with his hands on his hips, smiled and said "She must trust you very much to let you use it!" I got my photograph and left the field feeling pretty special.

Years later, he'd share a similar magical moment with my own son while at Twinsfest. As we waited in the autograph line, he looked at Joseph (who was wearing his Twins cap with a Baseball Hall of Fame pin on it) and said ""That's a pretty neat pin you have on your cap! Have you been to the Hall of Fame?" Joseph told him that he hadn't, but that he and I were planning a trip there later in the year for Kirby Puckett's Induction.

Harmon looked at him and said "You're going to love it; it's a very special place. I hope I see you there." Needless to say, a few kind words made the entire day for a 9 year old boy (along with his dad!)

Harmon Killebrew died from esophageal cancer this past Tuesday, May 17th. Last night, the Minnesota Twins hosted a Memorial Service at Target Field. Former teammates, family and fans were in attendance to fondly remember the man whose nickname "Killer" contrasted his calm, gentle demeanor. From his welcoming smile to the autograph that has become known as one of the best in baseball, Harmon Killebrew was not only the face of the Twins organization, but an ambassador for baseball to fans all over. It was an awesome tribute to a man who meant so much to so many people over the past 51 years of Minnesota Twins baseball.

To me, it was a fond farewell to a man who earned his status as a childhood hero early, then proceeded to add to his Hall of Fame legacy as time went on.

Over the past week as tributes poured in from former teammates, opposing players, sportswriters and fans, I paused to think of how many lives this man touched over the years. And at times such as these, I always wonder what I will leave behind. What will be my legacy? What will those, whose lives I have had the opportunity to touch with my craft, remember about me?

What's your legacy? What have you done to make someone's day?

I don't want to wait to find these things out. I do have the power to affect these things, beginning today and every day until I leave this world.

Thanks for all of the great memories, Mr. Killebrew. You will be missed, but never forgotten.

- David Grupa

(Double-click any image to enlarge.)

Monday, May 16, 2011

Separating Yourself From the Crowd; Part 2

With DSLRs available to everyone, it seems as if every day we run across another "faux-tographer". You've met them as well; they're the ones with a fistful of brand-new business cards claiming they are available to photograph just about anyone or anything with a dollar. We can sit here and whine about it, but as my high school coach always said, "our best defense is a good offense."

Let's look at a recent scenario. Last weekend I was invited to photograph a formal benefit event at which there would also be other "volunteer photographers" (ie: dads with cameras) taking pictures. I packed gear, dressed appropriately for the work I'd be doing, arrived early for setup and was ready to roll when attendees came through the doors. Sounds pretty basic, right?

To my surprise, the volunteer photographer working next to me showed up in sweat pants, a t-shirt and sneakers! I was a bit shocked, given the fact that many of the attendees were wearing formal attire, or at least dressed up for a night out.

This really got me thinking . . . I've always been aware of my outward appearance and the professional image I portray to my clients, but does everyone else feel the same? What are you wearing when you are working?

Here are a few guidelines I use when choosing my attire:

1) I want to blend in with the bulk of the crowd. If I'm at a formal event and the only one NOT wearing a tuxedo, I'll stick out. The same holds true if I'm in a casual atmosphere; I don't want to be overdressed and attract attention.

2) Comfort is important, but not at the expense of my professional image. If I'm photographing a senior, I can wear nice jeans and a graphic shirt. When I'm photographing a family, a business portrait or meeting with a potential bride, you'll find me in Dockers and decent shoes (yes guys, women notice your shoes!) Women need to remember that their ability to move freely is to be considered . . . and footwear needs to be <gasp> practical.

3) When in doubt, err on the side of professionalism. Very few people will ever find fault with you for looking good.

Put yourself in your client's place; what impression are you making on them? Are your choices helping or hurting your cause?

- David Grupa

Monday, May 9, 2011

Three Things You Can Do Today To Separate Yourself From The Crowd

Yes, we've all been there. Someone who meant to pay us a compliment referred to the gear we use as the reason for the images we've created. Sometimes, we can laugh about it. Other times, it just kinda sits there and bothers us. We know it's the photographer, not the camera. Of course it is!

But do your clients know that? In an age where digital cameras have become simple to use and every mom and dad who has purchased a DLSR kit is now printing business cards and calling themselves "photographers", have we taken the time to educate our clients as to the reasons we stand out from these "Camera Mommies and Daddies"?

Here are 3 things that you can do today to begin educating your clients:

1) Rewrite your personal bio. This should include a bit about your education in photography, so make sure to include any professional memberships and credentials that will make you stand out. Talk less about how "photography is my passion" and more about how your focus is not only on outstanding images, but also on great customer service. If you need a new professional portrait, visit a colleague or photograph each other and make sure it's updated and current.

2) Display your professional membership certificates and awards. Save space among your gallery wraps and display images to also frame your current membership certificates or plaques. Any awards you've received should also be displayed prominently. Be proud of your accomplishments; your clients want to know they are dealing with someone who is active in their profession. On the flip side, too many people don't do this and worry about it looking like they are "bragging". You are a professional who is taking the time to keep yourself on the cutting edge of the industry by continuing your education through these organizations. Brag, dammit! ;-)

3) Take a peek at your work. Are you overusing Photoshop actions and Lightroom presets? Is your "style" dependent on an action that you purchased from another photographer? Remember that these effects are available to anyone who pulls out the money; make sure your photography can stand on its own without the crutch of special effects.

And always remember, it's not your camera that created great images; it's your knowledge of how to use that camera!

- David Grupa
(Enjoy "What the Duck"? See more of Aaron Johnson's work at www.WhatTheDuck.net)

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Need an Affordable Solution for Accepting Credit Cards?

We all know that accepting payment via credit card is a smart business decision. The ability to "pay for it with plastic"

Would you like to accept credit cards in your business, but haven't been able to find an affordable solution? Your answer could be right in the palm of your hand, in the form of your Android device or iPhone.

SquareUp.com offers a simple solution. A widiget that plugs into your smartphone and a quick app download and you're almost there. Simply complete the banking information in the application data and your credit card transactions will be processed quickly. The client acknowledges the sale with a quick fingertip signature on your phone. SquareUp will email or text them a payment receipt. Could it get any easier?

Best of all, fees are reasonable; just 2.75% per transaction. No per-swipe fees, just a simple 2.75%. Pretty minimal when you consider the convenience of being able to carry your credit card terminal in your pocket and bring it to any job site.

How many sales do you lose because you can't accept a credit card? Find out more at SquareUp.com today!

- David Grupa

Monday, May 2, 2011

Are You the Holdup in Preventing Better Sales Averages?

It's been said that if your customers don't complain in some way about your pricing, you're probably too cheap. Many photographers - especially newer ones - are even afraid to charge "market rate" for their photography, often time giving it away at what can be perceived as a loss.

The excuses given by photographers range from ridiculous to absurd. "I want to be affordable for everyone!" "I want all of my clients to be able to own my work." "I price my work at what I'd be willing to pay." "It was a beautiful image and I really wanted them to have it."

Photographers get nervous. We're just jumpy. We go out and invest money in top quality gear and the best education and think we're ready to tackle the world. Then that first client walks through the door and balks at our pricing, so we do the only logical thing.

We panic.

At a recent event, I was having dinner with a few colleagues; one of them was newer in the industry than the rest of us. We were having a discussion about pricing and my new friend said "OMG! How do you tell people that your 8x10s are $100 each?"

My more experienced colleague answered "With a straight face."

But we're in panic mode, remember? Clients make one little statement about our product being expensive and we start discounting prices and handing things over as if they were pointing a gun at our heads. It's almost as if the total sale reaches an amount that we personally feel uncomfortable with, we start apologizing for what we charge.

STOP IT! Total up the order, slide the invoice across the table and ask how they'd like to make payment. At that point - SHUT UP! First one to talk loses. Seriously.

If you can't handle the pressure of the salesroom, you have a few options. Take a class in "need satisfaction selling." This type of sales technique has been used for years and is also referred to as "value-added selling."

One misconception of customer-oriented selling is that the sale is only about the customer. Wrong. It must be a good deal for the buyer and the seller. If it were not a good deal for the seller, why would the salesperson pursue the client? If it were not a good deal for the buyer, why would the buyer want the product?

If you still feel queasy at the thought of asking for money, go out and find someone else who can do it for you. Ask someone you've met who is working in a decent retail store if they'd be interested in working for you part-time as a salesperson. Offer them a basic wage with a handsome commission. Let them sell your work for you while you do what you love; create awesome images. It's a win-win for everyone.

- David Grupa