Friday, December 19, 2008
Here is an abridged thread from a discussion currently taking place on the [b] school.
The original question: “Ok do any of you guys outsource your photoshop work? If so who do you use? Do you like, love or hate them? …”
“I do not outsource anything, I do not feel ok with it...I want to do everything, I want creative control over it and when you out source I believe that you lose that control.
I know a lot of photographers who outsource the processing and the album design...if you want to do that, they should just get in touch with many of the affiliate/assiociate studios and just do shoot and burns for them, get a decent amount of money and not have to worry about anything else...
With that said, I have heard good things bout ShootDotEdit …”
-- From Brandon Perron www.brandonperron.com
“Your business is like being the captain of your own ship. You have a variety of duties above and below the main deck. So if you are in the engine room or mopping floors you can't navigate your ship! Whoooo...that was deep. ;) Im a firm beliver in outsoucing to other professionals! People who are better then I am and like doing that stuff! You should work ON your business and not so much IN your business.
Of course you need to be comepletely comfortable with who you outsource to! It may take a while to "let go" of certain duties but it will be worth it in the end.
“Ive been using ShootDotEdit for 2 years now! Love them! Are are a bit pricey but believe they are worth it! I recently had a chance to sit down with one of the owners during my San Diego trip and chit chat. He is one hell of a guy and believes in what they are doing. “
-- from Rob Nicholson www.humbledeyes.com
OK, so we have two different views on whether to outsource post-production or not. In case you aren’t familiar with the [b] school, it is, among other things, a social network for professional photographers, at all different levels in their business careers, but primarily concentrating on weddings.
So, here’s my take – and since, I believe, the original question was asked in a business context, that’s how I will approach.
First, some personal history: My first paid job, in photography, was as a darkroom tech, back in 1970. From there, I began teaching the darkroom process (developing and printing). Over time, I added classes in basic photography – how to get the most out of your SLR.
For the first 30+ years, I rarely made a full-time job out of photography, but still managed to rack up about 600 weddings, all on film, prior to converting to digital, in the early 2000s.
Toward the end of the 1990s, I closed the small advertising agency where I was managing partner. The agency had a camera room/studio and I did a fair share of commercial photography, but it was not a full-time job.
Faced with, one more time, needing to decide what I wanted to be when I grew up, I turned to my standard fall-back position: Wedding photography.
Wedding photography had several ‘advantages’, in my mind. First, I didn’t have to have the overhead of an office, conference room, studio – reasoning that very few people dream of getting married in a studio. Having a studio seemed to indicate that I’d need ‘business hours’ and that might mean having a full-time receptionist. OK, so that might not be valid, but coming from the ad agency world, that was my thinking. Second, working directly with brides seemed a lot simpler than dealing with corporate clients, account executives, art directors, stylists, etc.
At the same time as I was considering shooting weddings full-time, the world was changing – digital had arrived. Coffee table, art book style albums where getting very popular. The mat/print, thick leather album was taking a back seat, and many of the old standard album binderies had not caught up.
All of that meant the workflow was changing. No longer did I set the canister on the counter, go back the next day, and retrieve the work of the lab tech. Also, designing an album was not as simple as selecting mats and sending in the prints.
This was going to take a new business model. Wedding photography, if it wasn’t going to rule my life, was going to have to fit into a more streamlined process.
I began to think back to my first days in the ad agency. When we started, my partner handled sales – getting the accounts. I did the rest – accounting, design, copywriting. Then, one day, he ‘sold’ a TV commercial. Holy crap! I couldn’t even draw storyboards. We had to contract with a ‘producer’. I learned a lot from the producer – he hired and coordinated all the people that needed to be involved in the production.
As we grew, and got larger jobs and bigger contracts, I became a ‘producer’. We would have died, very early on, if my partner and I had to do everything – even if we knew how to cast actors, run cameras and editing suites, schedule TV commercials, blah, blah ….
What I learned was simple: If you want to be successful in business, do what you know and enjoy – but more importantly, do only those things that no one else can do for you – then outsource everything else.
When I was doing a dozen weddings a year, it was no big deal. By the time I was shooting 40 weddings a year, I would have had no life if I were still trying to do everything.
I couldn’t outsource the photography – that, I had to do. (Yes, I realize there are agencies like Bella Pictures, or Jim Kennedy in Huntington Beach – we’ll have an interview with Jim, next month).
I also enjoyed the Photoshop work and album design, so I tried to do that for a long time. Eventually, I realized that, if I was going to still enjoy the photography, I had to get some help with the post-production. We averaged 40 weddings a year, along with model portfolios, portraits, corporate events, and a smattering of commercials jobs. For a while, my wife was a big help, but her heart wasn’t in it, so that wasn’t a permanent option for me (I envy those husband & wife teams who can do this business, together).
After more than five years, I experienced several minor strokes – not from the workload – probably from bad wedding cake :-).
Fortunately, I had a couple really good interns and second shooters and we never missed a beat, but I decided to go into semi-retirement. Now, I shoot just a few wedding and do a lot more sunsets and little league baseball games (still love the model portfolios!!!).
I love having full creative control. However, as a business case decision, it is not so wise. Do what only you can do. Maybe add a few other things that you enjoy. After that, outsource the things that someone else can do. Otherwise, your business cannot grow – or your personal life will suffer.
For another opinion of this, check out Dane Sanders and Fast Track photographer (interview with Dane also coming in January).
If you'd like to see the full discussion, come join us at the [b] school.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Sunday, December 14, 2008
The first few where shot, in Program Mode - full automatic - and the camera chose f2b.8 at 1/100. All where at ISO 6400, so you can see a lot of noise. In the first one, White Balance was set to Auto. In the second, WB was set to Tungsten, and in the third, I did a custom WB, by taking a reading off the Inverted Dome of a Gary Fong Lightsphere.
Auto White Balance
Now, none of the above where shot with a flash, and certainly aren't what I would want to show anyone. The next image was shot with a flash, synced at 1/250. ISO was lowered to 800. You will see a big improvement. The final image was shot the why I described in the article form a couple weeks ago. Notice how much more visible the tree lights are.
f:2.8, 1/250, SB-900 on TTL, Gary Fong Lightshpere-Universal
f:2.8. 1/30, SB-900 on TTL, Gary Fong Lightshpere-Universal
Dragging the shutter allows more ambient light to register -- especially the tree lights. The lights from the kitchen make the image very warm. In the last image, most of the room lights where turned off, to make the tree lights more noticeable.
Sunday, December 7, 2008
Last week, I got up early and went to the Bolsa Chica wetlands, about 6AM -- that's half an hour before sunrise, this time of year. There was one other photographer, but by 7AM, there where about 30 guys with cameras. When the photographers outnumber the birds, it's time to go back to bed.
f:8, 1/100, 6400
On this one, I reduced the grain "noise" a little, but shooting wide open and lowering the sensitivity to ISO 3600. f:1.8, 1/250. The white spec, on the left of the image, is a small airplane.
We met Donny and friends, visiting from Indiana. I should have shot at a higher shutter speed, to prevent the people from blurring, but decided that the back ground was more important. The foreground was lit by street lights, so I did some minor color (white balance) correction in Photoshop, to save the sunset, but take out some of the orange tint on the foreground. Otherwise, all of these images are straight out of the camera, except for resizing for the web.
Exposure was at 1/5. f:1.8/ ISO 6400.
Thursday, December 4, 2008
This is an answer that I posted to a question on the [b] school. Mine was only one of several responses to the original question. If you aren't a member of the [b] school, you might want to check it out.
Point your flash at the subject like NEVER:-) Bounce the flash. Better yet, diffuse the flash. There many diffusers available, including simply putting some tissue over the flash. I use the Lightsphere. It allows you to both diffuse and bounce the flash. -- www.garyfong.com
Shoot as wide open as possible, while still keeping the depth of field that you need. Others have said to drag the shutter -- that's to allow more of the ambient light (tree lights) to register. You see, the shutter speed is not part of the exposure calculation in this shot. Your flash is putting out a blast of 1/1,000 of a sec -- maybe much faster -- so that replaces the shutter speed in the exposure calculation, but keeps the shutter open to allow the tree lights to register. I'd start at 1/30.
Gregory mentioned to turn Auto ISO off. That's important. Take a some shots at 400 and 800.
You will have to experiement, but I'd start something like this. Camera on Manual, f 3.5 -5.6, shutter 1/30, ISO 400. Flash on TTL. Use a diffuser.
Finally, get the flash off the camera, if you can.
Saturday, November 22, 2008
OK, so I have a beautiful woman in front of my camera and I blow it. Check the shadow that her nose is casting -- onto her eye -- yikes! All I had to do was raise the fill light to lower the shadow. I could have caught that simply by checking the LCD. I'm not a big fan of using the LCD, but when lighting with flash, it can provide useful information.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Yesterday was a great day. First, it was Veteran's Day (in the US). My cousin called to wish me happy Veteran's Day - that was kind of cool. It's not one of the 'major' holidays. Most people don't get the day off, no one gives gifts. Well, no one give gifts, except for the vets -- whom give us the most precious gift of all. THANK YOU.
Monday, October 13, 2008
Saturday, October 4, 2008
The Lightsphere, currently, comes in two models -- the Lightsphere-2 and the Lightsphere-Universal. Both also come in Clear and Cloud versions. Previously, I've done videos showing the differences and giving my recommendations.
The differences between the Lightsphere-2 Cloud and Clear:
First, I should say that the above videos reflect my opinion and are just guidelines -- your goals and shooting style may lead you to other opinions.
I'd like to share two group photos.
This image appears on Gary Fong's website and was shot by Anne Ruthmann. Here is a post that Anne made, in answer to how she captured the image.
Anne Ruthmann , Aug 07, 2006; 11:36 a.m.
I'm pretty sure my settings were manual mode, ISO 800, Shutter 1/60, f2.8 on a 5D with at 24mm.. handheld. The flash was pointed straight up with no dome on the Lightsphere and the flash on E-TTL. However, because I was leaning downward toward the guests, the flash was actually pointed at a spot on the ceiling over the guests (think: angle of trajectory). It really was fairly dim lighting and I believe I was slightly underexposed without the flash.
Why f2.8? Because of the lens angle of the subject distance, this was really all I needed... plus I wanted to allow the maximum breadth of light in order to reduce vignetting. ISO 800 with flash doesn't show any noise to speak of, and the shutter speed was for hand holding. Getting everyone into the aisle and taking the shots took about 5 minutes. :-)
The second photo comes from a really talented landscape shooter, making his first foray into wedding photography -- Tom Vadnais.
Hi, Paul –
I had never shot a wedding before, and was more nervous than the bride and groom. To make matters worse, I was faced with a large wedding party in dark church with can lights in a black ceiling on a rainy day. I used my Lightsphere II for every flash shot over two days. The attached image was made with the Clear Lightsphere II on my SB-900 on my D3 at ISO 2500. The only things I have done to the Raw file are a slight increase in contrast in the shadows and a little bit of sharpening. I have done no lightning or darkening of any portion of the image. I am blown away with the uncomplicated even lighting.
The D3 camera settings were: 1/40 sec at f/5 at ISO 2500. I used the
Clear Lightsphere II with the white dome, pointed straight up on a
Finally, I'd like to share an album -- it was shot with a Lightsphere-Universal-Clear, on a Nikon SB-800 (some shots may have been with a SB-600), and a Chromedome -- the Chromedome was generally used when the light was about 10 fee, or more, from the subject -- on the indoor shots.
OK - you can buy Lightspheres directly from garyfong.com -- of course, I'd appreciate it if you bought from Adorama -- links are in the right margin :-)
Friday, October 3, 2008
Also, check the archive on this blog - about April or May of 2007, for some ideas on how to get your photography business on line.
Friday, July 4, 2008
We got up this morning and walked down to the beach for coffee and a muffin. There was a heavy marine layer, so it was cool to the runners and walkers.
This was shot with my wife's Nikon Coolpix P5000 point and shoot, on program mode. I fired the built-in flash through a Gary Fong Delta Diffuser. I really didn't need the flash, but had it turned on from some previous shots, where I wanted some fill, because of the overcast.
I love the P5000. Actually, I'm a big fan of P&S cameras for casual use. There was no way I was going to carry a DSLR and lens on an early morning walk, but the P&S just goes into a pocket. I'll paraphrase, but someone once said that the best camera is the one you have with you when the image appears. This was about 7AM, and getting myself to the PCH (Pacific Coast Highway) was hard enough, without carrying a heavy camera.
About mid-morning, I decided to shoot some of the local parade. I was mainly interested in shooting narrow depth-of-field portraits of participants, as well as viewers alone the parade route.
I love to have the image jump off the blurred background. For those who don't know, long focal lengths and wide apertures are the key to limited depth-of-field photos.
In most of the above, I shot at f:2.8 and near 200mm. The lens was a borrowed 80-200 -- non-VR. On a few shots, I closed to about f:11. I put the camera on Aperture priority, because I wanted to maintain the wide aperture, to guarantee the narrow DOF. The sky was nice and sunny, by about 10AM, so I knew that my shutter speeds would be very fast. I put the camera, a Nikon D70s, on a monopod. The monopod was not needed to steady the camera. It's just that I knew I'd be standing along the street for a couple hours, and the camera and lens would be getting heavy.
When you click on the image, bellow, you'll be taken to a Picasa Album. There are a couple photos of helicopters and jets flying by. You will probably notice some spots on the image. That's an indicator of a dirty sensor, so cleaning it will be my next project.
Happy 4th of July!!
|4th of July, 2008|
Wednesday, July 2, 2008
If you've been droooooling over the Nikon D3, but couldn't get one without your significant other noticing that you skipped a couple mortgage payments, then this is for you. Nikon, yesterday, announced a full-frame camera using the D3 sensor, but in a D300 body - sort of.
Retailers don't expect to have them in stock until the end of July, but you can pre-order your, here.
Here's the DPReview.
Get yours here, and help me keep this blog active.
The above is for the body. If you want it with my favorite lens - the Nikon 24-120 (It's my main lens), go here.
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
On the weekend of May 2-4, 2008, I had to go to El Paso. The main reason was to cover a Quienceañera. If you are familiar, this is a coming of age event tied to the 15th birthday, in the Hispanic community. Living in Southern California, and traveling to Texas, most of my experience is among Mexicans. These are beautiful events, much like a wedding: A religious ceremony, photos in a park, dinner, and an evening dance/reception.
In this case, we went early to spend a day shooing the birthday girl, then some evening photos with family. On Saturday, there was the service at a church, followed by the other events, mentioned above. The result was an album, at link to which I'll provide at the end of this article.
Since I was flying, I had to pack everything into a hard-sided carry-on case. That meant, I couldn't just run out to the car to get another piece of equipment. I decided to take the LSU-Clear and the Chromedome insert (I had my wife pack as LS2 Cloud and Clear, just to be safe, but I didn't use them).
Here is a little video, where I talk about the Universal.
This is the link to the album -- all images with LSU-Clear.
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
Wednesday, June 4, 2008
Optimizing Flash Results for Nikon Cameras from GARY FONG on Vimeo.
Wednesday, May 7, 2008
Thank you for the time you put into the education of your fellow photographers. I have a question that I think is on the minds of a lot of professionals today. That is how to approach the subject of escalation of photographers giving in and giving away their images on a disc to the client. I have stood firm on this point with my clients, I don't give them a disk but post their images online and give them a set of proofs in a binder to view.
This year alone I have lost several sales to competiors who are giving a disk to their customers that they can print from. This practice is much more widespread than I thought, after speaking to my pro lab, they tell me that the only thing keeping their lab afloat was the fact that they started to design and make albums. When a client gets a disk they take it to Costco or Walmart and have pictures made there, cutting the photographer and the lab out of the loop. After listening to my client's reasons for not booking, and research that I have done in the market I am calling into question my stance on the issue. Do you have any suggestions for incentives can we offer our clients so they don't leave our studio in favor of another that will give the images so they can print their own pictures?
The issue that you raise is something that new, as well as,
established photographers are facing, every day. Often, the potential
customer views us as a commodity -- they think that anyone who calls
themself a 'photographer' and is technically competent to remember to
remove the lens cap is the same as any other photographer.
They key is to build your 'brand'. While you can't do it overnight,
it can be done. You have to separate yourself -- distinguish yourself
-- from the 'shoot & burn' guys who are not only failing to maximize
their business, but who have the potential to destroy yours.
"Do you have any suggestions for incentives can we offer our
Dan, this is the heart of the predicament. Each of us
has to educate our clients. They think that they are hiring a
photographer -- someone to take pictures. Many of use think of
ourselves as someone who 'takes pictures'. Oh sure, sometimes we say,
capture images, preserve memories, but we still mean 'take pictures'.
So long as we think that way, and allow our customers to think that
way, we are doomed to shoot & burn.
As professional wedding photographers, we are STORYTELLERS. This is
really why people hire us (even if they don't realize it). Dan, who
can best tell the story of someone's wedding: The bride or the
photographer? Assuming the photographer understands the flow of a
wedding, along with the emotions, the beauty, the stress, the humor,
the expected and the unexpected, and is prepared to capture all of it,
then the photographer is more than someone who takes the pictures.
The photographer is the storyteller.
When a bride asks for a hi-resolution disc of the wedding images, she
thinks that she is going to save money. What she is really doing is
cheating herself of her memories, because she is ill equipped to tell
the story in a way that will depict the emotions, the beauty, etc.,
The first rule of building your brand is to be prepared to turn down a
job -- or risk even not being offered it, and being okay with that.
Early in my conversations with a potential client, I simply tell them
that I may or may not be the best choice for then. Then I explain
that statement. I tell them my philosophy: I tell them who I am
working for -- and it is NOT the bride and groom. Let me expand on
I don't, initially, discuss the photography. Instead, I talk about
the album that I will produce. The conversation goes something like
this: "When you first receive your album, it will be exciting, but it
won't have much value. I mean, it was just a couple months ago, you
were there, and you probably remember some of it. Your album begins
to have value when a ten year old climbs on your lap and says, 'Mommy,
you we so pretty.' But, when that ten year old looks up at you and
says, 'Grandma, you were sooooooo beautiful -- well, that's when your
wedding album has real value. So, you see, I'm not shooting your
wedding for you -- I'm working for your grandchildren."
That's it -- that's my wedding photography philosophy. If that isn't
what they want -- in fact, if someone doesn't have a tear in their
eye, when I finish, then we aren't a good match. Better to end the
conversation at that point.
However, if they truly understand what I've just said (what you've
just said), then I know that I have a client who values what I do,
well beyond a shoot & burn guy who is just going to take pictures, but
has no real investment in the outcome -- they way the story is told.
Once you have a customer who values you for what you do, then you have
to give outstanding service -- make them go 'WOW". Make them rave
about you. That's how you begin to build your brand, and distinguish
yourself. Certainly, if you already have a reputation, you have a
head-start. If you are new, then you may have to accept 'market-rate'
jobs, to get started.
Dan, do you have a blog? What is the address?
Go back to my blog -- mentioned above. Look at the archives and about
April or May of last year, I posted the first of a four-part series on
getting your photography business online. Read those articles. Make
note of Gary's 2-DVD set, called "Getting Rich as a Photographer".
If you don't have it, get it.
Obviously, there is much more to say, but I hope this gets you started
- or, at least, believing that it is possible. The DVD set is
Saturday, April 19, 2008
If you’ve spent anytime on this blog, you know that we talk, regularly, about using flash. In particular, we explore how to get studio lighting results, in relatively small spaces, using one or more hot shoe type flashes.
Today, we are leaving the flash behind and we are getting out of the studio (living room, garage, family room) and into the wide-open spaces of a baseball diamond, soccer field, and stadium.
Actually, we are going to do it in reverse order. We are going to the Surf City Invitational Track & Field Meet, in Huntington Beach, California. I’ll explain how I took a few representative photos. At the end, I’ll display a series of other images, from other sports, using the same techniques that I describe in the track & field samples -- and also illustrating that it is important to capture more than just 'action' when shooting sports.
Track meets are great places to practice your techniques because of the wide variety of events and challenges in capturing them. As in any image, the quality of the exposure is determined by the aperture size and shutter speed. In most sports photography, you will be concerned with stopping the action – capturing the image without the blur caused by the subject speeding past you.
We’ll talk about some of the techniques for capturing action, but first, let’s begin with shutter speed. The faster the shutter, the greater chance you’ll have of getting a sharp image. Normally, when I arrive at the location, I will take a meter reading. If you don’t have an external meter and/or gray card, simply position yourself in the same light as your subject, and take a reading off the palm of your hand. While this isn’t perfect, it will give you a fairly accurate starting point. Place your camera in Shutter Priority, set the shutter to 1/000 or faster, and take a reading. Depending on how much depth of field you think you’ll want, decide if the metered aperture is appropriate. You can then dial in those settings in Manual Mode, or leave the camera in Shutter Priority.
In the first image, I was shooting a discus thrower. I was able to shoot toward the subject, from the area to where he would be throwing the disc. His technique would be to stand in a designated circle, spin to gain momentum, and then let go of the discus as he was facing in my general direction. I wanted to have sufficient shutter speed to capture his motion, without a blur. I also wanted to have enough depth-of-field (DOF) to capture the disc as it left his hand. A rather ugly chain link fence in the background complicated this. I would have liked to reduce the depth-of-field, to blur that background, but then I would have sacrificed the opportunity to capture both the athlete and the disc.
I decided on a shutter speed of 1/2000 and found that I could get a good exposure and reasonable DOF at about f4.0 to 5.6. ISO was 400.
In the following five images, I was able to capture great facial expressions. Only in the middle one, did I get both the athlete and the disc. To me, the faces make up for not getting the disc.
For me, some of the most exciting and picturesque events at a track meet are the hurdles. Rather than having the runners speed by, perpendicular to the camera, try to position yourself at about 30-45 degrees, so that the runners are coming toward you. For this series, I focused on one of the hurdles, and keeping my left eye open, used my peripheral visions to see the hurdlers approaching. While your camera’s buffer will determine how many images you can capture, most cameras should be able to capture, at least, three images per second, in Continuous Mode. Pick the best image, don’t show anyone the other two, and you’ll look like a pro!
Exposure was 1/2000 and from f4.8 to 6.7. ISO was 400.
Notice that the second and third photos, above, are from the same sequence. Zooming in can significantly increase the drama of the image. With some practice, you will be able to do this in camera. Otherwise, use an image manipulation program, like Photoshop, to crop your images for maximum effect.
For most sports, select your camera’s Matrix Metering mode, instead of center weighted or spot metering.
In the above examples, we selected a shutter speed, and then allowed the camera to decide on the appropriate aperture. However, in the next example – the pole vault – we are faced with a small figure (the pole vaulter) on a large, light colored background (the sky). In this case, I took a spot meter reading on the uniform of the athlete, while he was on the ground. I placed the camera on Manual, and dialed in the settings. Then, I focused on the crossbar, and used the same left-eye-open technique that I use when shooting the hurdlers, to anticipate when to begin shooting.
Exposure was 1/000 at f8-9.5.
Now, for some random images - there is much more to photograph at a sporting event, than just the action.
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Thank you for your question. I have covered 175 weddings with the Lightspheres. I use the Gary Fong Lightsphere Cloud about 80% of the time and the Clear for the balance. Generally, I use the Cloud when I am within 10 feet +/-. The Clear is most useful at greater distance, or in dim light.
In March '07, the Whaletail became available and I have used it for 12 weddings, and dozens of other jobs.
While I love the Studio model for in studio work, as well as on location portraits, I think the the Reporter is sufficeint, and more practical for weddings.
The above assumes a single, on-camera flash. Since the introduction ofthe Whaletails, I have been doing more work with multiple, off-camera flashes. In this case, I use the WT Studio as the main light and a combination of Lightspheres and the WT Reporter as slave lights.
Currently, I think the Lightspheres sell for $40, the Reporter for $80, andd the Studio for $110. You could have two Lightspheres (Clear and Cloud) for the price of a Reporter, and a LS Clear and a Reporter for just a little more than a WT Studio. The LS Clear and Reporter would be my choice for the most flexibility.
I hope this helps.
Monday, January 28, 2008
(I didn't write this. It was written and first published by Gary Fong, on his blog, yesterday -- there is a link at he end of the article)
I've been in business through two recessions. Business proceeded in a healthy way and my numbers continued to grow. I had to do some adaptation and what really saved me was getting prepared before the pullback arrived. Here's what I did:
1) Photography-related services - relationships are recession-proof. In fact, in hard times the referral base became even more loyal and devoted. Rocky Gunn gave me the simplest, best advice I have ever gotten in a single sentence... "nobody needs another salesman knocking on their door, but everybody could use a good friend". In rough economic times, good friends are even more valuable. My transcriptionist is really good. And I just wrote her an email and it said, "you're so good, I'm going to use you FOREVER!" Customer supersatisfaction is recession-proof.
Family is even more valuable. It is SO easy for a photographer to make a huge increase in revenue by simply adding new revenue streams to an existing business. Here's a great example:
I have a friend who is an amazingly successful photographer here in Los Angeles. His name is Joey Ikemoto. His business does close to a million a year. He has an unbelievably loyal clientele among the Japanese American community. He has been in business for probably 25 years and went through the same recessions I did.
One day I was visiting him at his former little studio in a strip mall, about 23 years ago. He had a huge staff of photographers, and he was doing something like 200 weddings a year with a healthy average. He shot many of these himself, and his business was all referral. While all this was going on, he actually had a full-time job as an x-ray lab technician at the local hospital! He was making something like $30,000 a year working this job, while his business was grossing in the many hundreds of thousands. I asked him why he had the job, and he said, "security". So I got out a calculator and said - OK, let's just assume you sell one additional parent album to each of your weddings. Say you had a $195 special for parent albums, and include some of the unused proofs in your orders. There's $40 grand right there.
It was wild, but that suggestion really registered with him. He quit his job, focused his energy full time on his studio instead and expanded it greatly with intensely higher profits. He now has one of the largest, and most beautiful studios in California.
If I were a photographer today, I would simply add new relationship-sensitive low-initial-cost portrait sessions to my offerings. If you have a loyal clientele anyway, who love you as a person as well as a photographer, then it is a super easy thing to collect them in front of your camera again. Missy brings her Canon with the L lenses to horse shows, and a lot of people come up to her asking to see the images online, which result in sales, completely out of nowhere.
I remember when I did children's portraiture. I did it differently, we would just go to a park with the mom, and I would make it a point to not shoot right away, and just talk to the mom. Ignoring the child at a playground is a guarantee that this kid is going to be a performer. The more I acted disinterested, the more they would go, "Hey Mom! Look at me go down this slide!" Then they would try harder and harder to show me how awesome they were. This is when I would start shooting, and I would get the most awesome photos of the kids.
While at the playground, I'd show the LCD of the image to the kids, who would go wow, and the mom would go wow, and the next thing that would happen is another parent would come up to me at the playground and ask for my card. I would give them my website address, and a link to today's session on Pictage. This would turn into another session - so long as the shoot fee was low. Then I would let the prints sell themselves.
In a recessionary economy - remember that people become very negative and careful with their wallets. So having a large up-front fee is most likely going to result in an empty calendar. I would much rather shoot on spec than with a large upfront fee. While that may work with the ultra high-end customer with a lot of discretionary dough, it's still risky. I remember that I used to do engagement sessions for $15. That's right, fifteen bucks. And I always sold nearly $300, and it took me not even half an hour to do. Same with weddings. Having a low up-front fee and selling a large volume of images once I 'owned' the right to sell them exclusively was my ticket to prosperity. Later, I would do high-end stuff, but that took years to earn that clientele. I had it great from the very beginning by starting with a low fee, predesigning albums, and selling reorders. My calendar was completely full, and my average sale was multiple what other studios were getting.
Another thing I want to add, I never paid to advertise my studio. I never did ads or bridal shows. Those are so expensive and what they do is bring you a skeptical prospective customer. They're skeptical because they found you through advertising. So not only are you spending money on attracting the wrong kind of client (the client you REALLY want is the one who heard that you are the best friend they never had, with a camera and a smile!) Who would you rather meet with? The awesome person who shot your best man's wedding, or someone who you saw in an ad in a magazine? Exactly!
When things got hard for me, I put extra effort into improving customer satisfaction. If every client who uses you drags two people by the ear into your business and insist that their friend use you, your business will grow regardless of the economy. Think about it - we all know a business or service that we swear by- tell all of our friends about, right? BE THAT BUSINESS! And you will have a clientele that will remain solidly, stable and growing.
I know how to play a recession, even a deep one. The first thing I did in my products business was start to develop lower-cost products like the $19 Puffer or $29 Origami. Sales were up 194% YOY for GFI because of this. I knew that there would be a risk with higher-end pro lighting attachments like the Whaletail or Lightsphere, so I started preparing to market smaller trinkets.
I would do the same with photography. I'm not saying lower your prices in response to a recession, I'm saying buffer up the consumer fanaticism (loyalty) by endearing yourself to your clients. Foster that referral, and then have products which have a low-cost entry point. Once you produce beautiful images, sell the images and not the session. Increase the volume, diversify your offerings into more types of portraiture, and you will be fine. In fact, overall I would say you could prosper in hard times.
With all sincerity,