21 ways to improve your photographs

This article was written by Brooks Jensen of LensWork Magazine. Highly informative: for the new photographer it will be a source of information; for the seasoned pro, it will be a good reminder of the things you know but occasionally forget.

While we’re talking about LensWork Magazine: While it looks like a great resource for professional photographers, I’m embarrassed to admit I’d never heard of it before. I purchased a sample subscription today. When it arrives, I’ll let you know if it is worth it 😉

Capture the mind of your customers

I went to a marketing seminar entitled, Capture the Mind of your Customers by Tony Rubleski, and thought I would share the notes I took. If you need any more details on any of these ideas, I encourage you to purchase Tony’s book or attend his seminar.

1. Focus on referrals. This was a big part of the seminar. Tony reminds us what we already know: the best marketing is an unpaid endorsement by a trusted source (think testimonials). A referral is a tacit endorsement by your customer to one of their friends. They should be the logical conclusion of every sale. My notes include:

a. Ask for referrals

  • Call them “introductions” and ask for one whenever you get a complement from a customer.
  • Your customer’s friends and relatives have a relationship with them, piggyback off it.
  • Ask for specific introductions to your customer’s friends, relatives, customers, 2-3 at most.

b. Network

  • Go places your customers will be
  • Send referrals to your clients business (called B2B or businee-to-business)
  • Make a list of your “famous” clients to show to potential customers

c. Reward customers who refer others to you – a free something makes a direct cause-effect relationship in their mind.

d. Cheat – collect kid’s address, send them a card or a coupon to hook mom/dad.

  • Kids love snail mail and to win something
  • Example: color a picture to win

2. Be fun. Make working for you fun, not boring. Tony showed examples of business cards with caracatures instead of photographs to add a note of whimsy to his business. Anything to make people happy or smile is positive for your brand.

3. Collect and share great stories. If you have a story about a bride who’s wedding you saved or an impossible order you were able to get out for a charity, memorize that story and tell it to your customers or anytime you talk about photography. The story will subtly tell people why they should do business with you.

4. 87% of potential home buyers Googled their realtor before they called. Where are you in Google? If you aren’t on the first page for your keywords, either learn how to make it happen or hire someone who can. Marketing online is no longer an option.

5. Great website content. Your website has to showcase the very best work you do. Quantity is not important. Quality is.

6. Use special mailings, offers, promos. Tony’s research tells him that the most likely mailing to be opened is a lumpy, red envelope with handwritten labels and a real, first-class stamp. Although this may cost more up front, it will result in 2-3 times more of your mail being read.

7. “Cause” marketing. Pick a charity. Volunteer time, your skills, and a little money. Feature them on your website. Mention that a portion of each sale goes to the charity. Customers want to feel good about spending money with you, and sharing the glow of a popular charity is a great way to do it. Charities expect this and know how to promote your business along with their cause, which is why so many large corporations have a charity tie-in. Also, every time you give a charity money, get a photo and use it on your website.

8. Survey your customers. You need to know what your business is doing right and wrong. Send customers a letter asking how they were treated after the sale. Reward people for their time. If you staple a dollar bill to a survey and include a stamped, return envelope you’ll be amazed at how many people will feel obligated to complete the survey.

Do you rely on “word of mouth” advertising?

One of the best parts of my job at JD Photo Imaging is that I get to talk to photographers — lots of them.  Some have been in business for many years, while others are just starting out.  But regardless of experience or type of work, most photographers have one thing in common: they trust word-of-mouth advertising to build their business.

When I visit a studio, I usually ask “How is business?” If the photographer says “great” we talk about new products.  If the photographer says “rotten” I ask about their marketing plan.  Most of the time their answer is “I don’t spend a lot on advertising – my business relies on word-of-mouth.”

My experience tells me that this answer can spell trouble for a studio.  If you rely on word-of-mouth to advertise your business, you are limiting your ability to grow and profit.

I like to use JD Photo Imaging as an example.  Our lab has served Mid-Michigan for over 35 years.  We’ve printed thousands – perhaps millions – of wedding, senior, and underclass images, and yet at local trade shows I am regularly approached by photographers wanting to know what it is we do!  Even large corporations like GM, Ford, FedEx and Coca-Cola continue to advertise long after everyone in the country knows their name and what they offer.  Why should a smaller business like a photographic studio be any different?

I understand the aversion people have to advertising.  We all see a thousand advertisements a day – many of them are cheap and tasteless.  In the best possible world, we shouldn’t even have to advertise.  Customers should hear other people talk about the great products and services we offer, remember the conversation, and find us later when they need us.

It isn’t that simple.  The truth is, some customers will be influenced by a phone book ad, some by a flyer or coupon, others by a web site, and some will depend on a recommendation from a friend.  Therefore, one of the goals of advertising is to make sure our name and phone number is available to every customer – no matter where they look for us – when they are ready to buy.

But being easy to find is only part of advertising.  The best ads don’t try to sell something – instead, they present a solution to a problem the customer is trying to solve.  For example, some of my customers became frustrated trying to create unique, one-of-a-kind wedding albums using Photoshop.  So I introduced a service that uses our lab’s in-house graphics department to custom design each album.  Telling my customers about this service with a postcard is advertising, but because I’m trying to solve their problem it’s the kind of advertising I’m proud to do.

Here’s another example.  If I was a senior photographer I’d imagine a teenager standing in front of me asking, “Can you make me look pretty/handsome/cool even though I think I’m not?”  Isn’t that a real problem teenagers have?  To solve it, I could promise to take many more shots than average to ensure that they would find a pose they were happy with.  But having a solution to their problem isn’t enough – I need to let my potential teenage customer know about it.  Again, that’s the kind of advertising I would be proud to do.

I’m not saying that word-of-mouth doesn’t work – it does.  It’s cheap, powerful and cuts through all the advertising clutter we see every day.  Recommendations from others are always more valuable than advertising alone.  But having customers advertise for you should only be one part of your total marketing plan.

White balance made easy

We recommend you manually white-balance your digital cameras in the field every time the light changes. A custom white balance has several advantages over the automatic white-balance feature in your camera:

  • It helps you correct for over or under exposure.
  • It makes it easier to shoot the full dynamic range of white to black without muddiness or hot spots.
  • It makes it easier to achieve good skin tones.
  • It allows you to shoot JPG instead of RAW, so you can save smaller images on your camera’s PC card.

If you don’t know how to manually white-balance, you can start by reviewing the instructions on our website or the instructions in your camera’s manual.

However, since you’re going to need a calibration target anyway, I recommend the one from Photovision. Each target comes with Ed Pierce’s free Instructional DVD. The information on the DVD is worth more than the price of the calibration target – it’s like getting a private training class for free!

From the DVD you learn – step-by-step – how to insure that you have consistent color and density on every photograph, regardless of camera, lighting conditions, or type of photography.

You can order the popular 24″ target with instructional DVD directly from the lab at the same price they charge at Photovision. We’ll drop it in your next shipment of photographs and bill your lab account.

Is Online PhotoShop Training Right for You? – Updated

PhotoShop CS3With the huge growth in high-speed Internet connections, there are now virtually thousands of free on-line tutorials to teach Photoshop. After having reviewed several of them, below are some recommendations:

-If you are brand new to Photoshop, you should start with a class that starts with the basics like menu options and keyboard shortcuts and builds step-by-step into using Photoshop for everyday tasks. A good example of this training can be found at www.lynda.com. They have hundreds of Photoshop training videos broken into 5-7 minute downloads. Many of the basic videos are free – if you want to see videos that are more advanced, a membership ($25 per month) is required.

-A slightly more expensive alternative is to use Adobe’s official online training at adobe.elementk.com. For $129 you get a year’s worth of access to over 30 courses in Adobe Acrobat, Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, and GoLive. Adobe has partnered with ElementK (the top supplier of online education to Fortune 500 companies) to produce these videos, so you can be assured of their quality.

-If you already know your way around Photoshop and are looking for a specific advanced technique, go to www.tutorialized.com or www.pslover.com. Both of these sites are collections of thousands of free tutorials submitted by Photoshop professionals. These sites assume you have a good working knowledge of Photoshop and are just looking for a “trick” to accomplish a specific special effect.

UPDATE: Siyab over at listfied.com created a list of 75+ advanced techniques for Adobe PhotoShop and Adobe Illustrator. Check them out. If their is anything here you’ve always wanted to do, click on the technique an in 5 minutes you’ll have a new skill.

Will PhotoShop Express work for pro photographers?

Adobe recently introduced PhotoShop Express, an on-line image-editing program. PhotoShop Express is designed to compete with Google’s Picassa and Shutterfly’s Picnik: two free, yet powerful image-editing programs used by millions of beginning photographers in the consumer market. Since young photographers grow up to become professional photographers, PhotoShop needed a product like Express to maintain relevancy to the next generation.

The PhotoShop Express beta is also a test to see if a single browser-based program could replace both PhotoShop CS3 and the $99 Elements. The plan would be to offer basic photo-editing for free, then encourage users to purchase a subscription to enable premium features. Many future programs (including the next versions of Microsoft Vista and Office) are slated to be totally browser-based. Adobe must certainly be considering this option too as it develops CS4, CS5, and CS6.

Here’s the question: will PhotoShop Express (and the subscription-based model) work for professional photographers? On the one hand, I like the idea of only paying for the functionality I need. On the other hand, I like holding the program CD in my hand. With the CD, I can postpone purchasing the latest upgrade until I’ve got the free time to learn the new features and where they are on the new menus. I don’t want Adobe forcing me to update in the middle of an important project.

It will be interesting to see how the software as a subscription model plays out. I’m willing to keep an open mind, but my gut reaction is that I’m not going to be happy about it.