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

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

White Balancing Made Simple

Since the dawn of digital, many new term were born that had never even previously existed. One of these such terms is "White Balance".

As simple as it sounds, this one area of digital photography seems to mystify photographers at all levels. While some photographers have a tried-and-true method of nailing the white balance with every exposure, others seem to struggle no matter what tools and devices they employ. Worse yet, others simply set the camera to AUTO and end up having to open and tweak each individual file, wasting time and effort on something that can be managed easily.

While I don't profess my method to be "the only way", it is definitely the easiest I have ever used to streamline my workflow and get great, consistent color. Here's a step-by-step of what I do using the White Balance Targets from Photovision Video:

Part One - In-Camera

1 - Set the WB on your camera body to 5000k and lock it in. Leave it there, don't touch it . . . ever.

2 - Once you've determined your exposure using your hand-held light meter (yes, you really do want and need one of these!), photograph your subject holding the target with the white stripe closest to your light source.

3 - Photograph that outfit / set as you normally would until you either change lighting, outfit or background again.

4 - Each and every time you change lighting, background or outfit, repeat Steps 2 & 3.

There you go. These simple tips will speed up the pace of your session, because you're not constantly going in to redo a "custom white balance" or worse yet, setting your camera to AUTO WB.

Part Two - Post-Production

Once you have copied the images to your hard drive and made appropriate backups, now you can make all your color-corrections with a few simple clicks in Bridge..

1 - In Bridge, open the files from a specific outfit or background. I always look for the target as my first image, then highlight all of the images until I come to my next target.

2 - Using the White Balance dropper, select the white area of the target. You may then tweak your settings for saturation, vibrance, etc. using the sliders in the Camera Raw window.

3 - Click Select All in the upper left-hand corner, then click "Synchronize". Click "Done" when sync is completed.

4 - Continue until your images are all balanced to satisfaction. Once you've tweaked everything, you may edit and process the files you wish to work with as JPGs.

Consistency is the key; if your white balance and exposure are all over the place, your final images will look the same. Strap that light meter to your hip and wear the target around your neck during every session and you'll be amazed at the new look of your images!

- David Grupa