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Thumbnail image for photo (2).JPG"There is something seriously wrong with the teenage brain," states my 16-year-old son as we sit in my warm car in the pouring rain waiting for his bus.

"Agreed." I nod, watching his fellow high-schoolers trudge up to the top of the street in flimsy hoodies. Every single one of them is standing in utter misery without a coat, an umbrella, or common sense between them. The rain is beating down on them cold and relentless.

"They look like a bunch of wet lemmings," adds my son.

They do. Pathetic wet little rodents with plastered hair, every last one of them. Pride surges for my son for having the good sense not to join them in their damp collectiveness. (When you have a teenager it's important to celebrate the small things.)

But then again, if you follow my posts you know that my son is a six-foot-one, cowboy-hat-wearing original. Don't forget, we live in a New England suburb, and the cowboy hat is not commonplace in these parts.


Need your weekly photography blog fix? You're in luck! Here it is...

1. What Tuesday's Elections Mean for Photographers

COPYRIGHT: PPA was all over this one so we're giving ourselves a little pat on the back. If you have followed the ongoing discussions for copyright reform, you might be interested in how the election results will affect the movement. Well here you go! Who wrote this by the way? That guy is good...

2. Making a C-Section Beautiful

NEWBORN PHOTOGRAPHY: You might have seen this one from the Huffington Post making the rounds on Facebook among your new mom friends. A C-section might not have the glamour of a traditional birth, but Canadian newborn photographer Jessica Bender was up to the challenge. She captured beautiful images and is now helping to debunk some fears about photographing of C-section births. Now that's a win, win!

3. This Is How You Fake It

EARNING POINTS WITH YOUR CLIENTS: Surely you know those "before and after" photos hawking the latest diet or nutritional supplement are the product of clever lighting and posing tricks (granted, a lot of Photoshop actions too). But what's cool about this video is how confident and happy the subjects of the experiment seem after they see the difference working with a pro who knows how to work with lighting and any body type. This is a cool piece to share if you want to show people what a difference it makes to hire a pro. Plus, you might get a few ideas from the shoot itself too ;-)

4. Give Back with Help-Portrait

PHILANTHROPY: Help-Portrait is only a month away! Past Imaging USA speaker Jeremy Cowart co-founded Help-Portrait to empower photographers, hairstylists and makeup artists to use their skills, tools and expertise to give back to their local community. It's your chance to use your talents to help someone in need of a smile. This year's event is December 6th. Click through to learn how to participate!

5. How to Tell a Story with a Drone

TECHNIQUE: Drones... so hot right now. Drones. A lot of you already have had clients ask if you use one by now. And while it might just seem like a cool toy (and it is), how can you use one to effectively tell a story? The folks at photofocus offer some tips.

6. Tis the Season for... FOOD!

TECHNIQUE: The Holidays are approaching, which = happy, happy bellies. Gear up for your Instagram feed to blow up with everyone's tasty, Pinterest-approved creations! But you're better than Instagram--you're a pro! Check out these tips on how to make that turkey or fancy pinkies-out cocktail drink the envy of all your friends.

7. Results from the San Diego Photothrowdown

In part two of the San Diego throwdown with Levy Moroshan and Dan Hughes, the photographers battle it out under high pressure situations. Check out the video and see who won!

8. Frank Doorhorf and Joel Grimes Podcast

PODCAST/HELPFUL HINTS: Got 30 minutes? Actually, just 27! photofocus sat down with two of the industry's best, including past Imaging USA speaker Joel Grimes, Cr.Photog., for a chat on their lives behind the camera. It's not just a fluff piece, they dig pretty deep! 

9. Advice from Renowned Photographer Steve McCurry

INSPIRATION: Looking for advice on how to be a successful photographer... from a truly successful photographer? Then check out this video featuring Steve McCurry, one of the best portrait artists in the business. The video also shows his new exhibit in Italy coming together, showcasing some of his best work from all over the world.

10. Time-lapse from the International Space Station

INSPIRATION: Let's wrap things up with the most rad time-lapse this blogger has ever seen--from SPACE! French photographer Guillaume Juin put together this video from hundreds of thousands of images taken from the International Space Station. The results are out of this world! Enjoy.

That's, that y'all! The top 10 photography blog posts from around the web this week. What photography blogs have you been enjoying? Let us know on theLoop!



John Owens is PPA's resident wordsmith. Know how they say a picture is worth a thousand words? That's where he comes in. The Connecticut transplant and (still) avid Hartford Whalers fan is an aspiring adventurist/novelist/racer on a lifelong quest to find the best trails, brews and burgers and wishes Taylor Swift would just stop.

By Mariah Ashley

You know that feeling when you act really badly and you're ashamed of yourself?

In the words of Grumpy Cat, I had that feeling last week. It was awful.

Allow me to set the scene...

It's the end of a long week, Friday evening and it's past my bed time. My daughter returns from the middle school dance complains that she isn't feeling well. She's prone to low blood sugar, so I insist rather unsympathetically that she eat something. She feebly protests that she can't eat because she's nauseous. I bark, "You're nauseous because you haven't eaten!" and send her whimpering to her room. I begrudgingly prepare a snack of orange juice and a granola bar.

Meanwhile, my sweet, concerned husband enters the kitchen and asks what's wrong with our daughter and why am I slamming the orange juice around? I have no answer for why I am angry so I just rant about no one listening to me.

"Why are you yelling at me?" he asks.

To which I reply, {in a demon voice} "Because I'm a {blank}!" I knew that was a mistake as soon as it left my evil little lips. "Good night," says my husband with hurt and disgust and then closes the door to our bedroom, and is not seen until the next morning.

Incidentally, my child with "low blood sugar" actually has a hideous stomach virus that keeps her vomiting for four hours straight and me stripping bedding and holding her hair out of the toilet right alongside her. These many hours on the bathroom floor give me plenty of time to think about my bad behavior. Truthfully, I am shocked at what came out of my mouth and I honestly don't know why I feel so mad.

Around four in the morning I have my answer. While my daughter is sleeping, I go downstairs to my office, and with one sleep deprived look at my desk, my mini rage episode makes sense. Piles of notes on ideas and projects I want to start cover the entire surface of my workspace. Grandiose-itis, brought on by my recent trip to Imaging USA has reared its ugly head once more.

Grandiose-itis is a hereditary disease which was passed on to me from my father, a farmer and part-time mad scientist. A person suffering from Grandiose-itis is compelled to take any spark of creativity he or she has and immediately mentally turn that spark into a grand money making or life-changing scheme.

The victim is then compelled to incessantly and obsessively work to make the grandiose idea into a reality, regardless of whether the idea is even a viable one. Generally people who suffer from grandiose-itis juggle dozens of these ideas/schemes at the same time, inadvertently sucking the people around them into their vortex of crazy. Because I had filled two notebooks with ideas and to-do lists while I was at Imaging in Phoenix, my vortex had reached cyclonic proportions.

When you have Grandiose-itis you are incapable of doing anything small. For instance, when I was growing up my dad decided it would be fun to throw and annual Labor Day party. Then he decided it would be fun to make it a fish-fry. My family lives in Cape Cod where Fish & Chips is a big thing. My father built a fish fry shack (think Tiki bar meets sea shanty), bought an industrial restaurant fry-a-later, vats of oil, sacks of batter, 50 pounds of codfish, 75 pounds of French fries, and then invited the entire town to partake.

Of course, the kiddos need something to do so he built them a wooden waterslide lined with plastic. The top of the slide came out of the top of our barn and the bottom of the slide ended in an inflatable boat filled with water. A hose running at the top kept everyone from plastic friction burns. Epic fun, but hitting the bottom of that rubber boat at 10 miles an hour is probably the reason I have a flat butt to this day. Ouch!

And that was just the first year of the fish fry, every year the party got bigger, live entertainment, a fishing contest, a Ferris wheel he purchased from a defunct amusement park (this grand idea ended up rusting behind the barn, probably vetoed by my mother).

The fish fry was a successful example of Grandiose-itis, and there are many other examples of my father's ingenious ideas that solved the constant problems of farm life. Once and a while though, my father had less than successful ideas. For instance, the day my father spread two tons of chicken manure on our property and singlehandedly killed any chance of popularity for me at the bus stop on my first day of middle school. Then there was his all pickle diet.

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Pickles (a natural superfood haven't you heard?) were apparently all my dad thought he needed to ingest for survival. For weeks my mother made constant trips to purchase oversized barrels of dill pickles for my father. Then there was the all fruit diet, this idea ended badly... in the hospital. Another slimy idea that thankfully never made it past the drawing board: the "frog-leg" farm.

The last time my own Grandiose-itis was this out of control it nearly resulted in my own death... by cow. I was on a tropical vacation with my husband and children on a remote island in the Grenadines. After an already adventure packed day I insisted my husband drive us up and over a mountain in our rental jeep so we could take the "scenic route."

A harrowing thirty minutes of rutted, washed-out road later we were off-road for real with a flat tire and no spare. Nighttime was approaching and rain threatened and it was all my fault. Determined to make things right, I set off running in flip flops down the jungle road to find civilization. That's when I heard it. Jungle cow stampede.

Running at top speed I glanced over my shoulder to see a hulking brown beast bearing down on me. So naturally I stopped. Surprisingly the beast stopped too. It's no fun to chase a flat butt if it's not running I guess. The beast lumbered off, shaken I limped back to my traumatized family. Later that night as the kids drifted off into recurring cow induced nightmares, my husband asked me, "Why when we were already in OZ did I need to go looking for hyper-OZ?" Grandiose-itis that's why.

So now here I find myself again suffering from a bout of Grandiose-itis. Only this time, much like the deranged jungle cow I am mowing down my own family. This madness must stop! I sat, realizing in the still of my pre-dawn surrounding that I might not be able to stop myself from generating ideas but I need to figure out how to wield them. I don't ever want my big ideas for business to interfere with caring for my family or even for my clients. I don't want to be the kind of mother who is unsympathetic to her sick child or the kind of wife who is cranky to her very patient husband because I am stressed from self imposed lunacy. I don't want to ignore the needs of my clients because I am busy with yet another new business venture.

Just then, a thought hit me like a runaway cow. The thought was a mission statement for my business. A small business with a big heart.

After tending to my child and begging my husband's forgiveness I went to work the next day to rid myself of some of the Grandiosity. Trish and I decided that any project or idea that didn't fit our new statement could be immediately discarded. A book idea, two inventions, a few educational goals, a marketing scheme and a partridge in pear tree left my desk and went into the trash. I felt much lighter and much less cranky. After slicing and dicing the grand idea list we ended up with several ideas for charity, a few ideas for caring for our clients and a big project that will help our fellow photographers. All grand yet doable projects that fit our new mission statement of big heartedness.

Does any of this tale sound uncomfortably familiar? Do you think that you too may suffer from Grandiose-itis? Take a look at your desk. If it looks like the photo of mine, then you might. Do you feel constant pressure and crankiness like I did? Are you ready to explode? Are you drowning in your own ideas? Stop suffering needlessly! All those pickles ideas can drive a person to madness.

Break the awful chains of Granidose-it is! Save yourself and the ones you love. It's great to have grand ideas, it means you are a visionary! Remember though, you are only one person. You can't do it all. Stop and ask yourself about your vision for your business. Don't let your ideas carry you away like a bovine on the loose.

Do you have a mission statement? A simple guideline that you can weigh all those big ideas against? That's step one. Once you have your statement, start making room on that desk. If the big idea doesn't support the mission it doesn't deserve to take up real-estate on your desk or in your head. Good luck!

P.S. Love you dad. I'm a chip off the old pickle.


About the author:

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Mariah Ashley is co-owner of Snap! Photography in Rhode Island. She is blonde, loves to bake fruit pies, wears flip flops way past the summer season, should have been born in the 50s, paints and writes when the mood strikes her, is mother to Jacques and Vianne, vacations on Block Island, is vegan, never has proper or stylish outerwear, fears frogs and toads but loves turtles, has really skinny legs, personal Style- Bohemian Chic, wants to own a VW van,  grew up on a cranberry farm and is happiest when snorkeling is happiest when sipping a rum punch under a palm tree.


I think we can all agree that if there was such an award, Kanye West would be in contention for the prestigious "Most Obnoxious Person on the Planet" honor. Yet, if there's one thing this year has taught me, it's that there is valuable insight to be gleaned from even the most insufferable sources. Don't think Kanye can teach you anything about your photography business?  Well, hold onto your leather jogging pants people because you are about to get schooled.*

* A reference to Kanye telling the press that it was he who brought leather jogging pants to Fendi six years ago and was flat out denied. To quote Kanye directly, "How many [expletive] you done seen with a leather jogging pant?" Too many to count, Kanye, too many to count.

Last week I had two objectives. The first was to create welcome boxes for our four new clients. I figured I would complete that task by lunch time, freeing up my afternoon to dive into my second priority which was blogging our last wedding of the season. Sadly, when 4 pm rolled around I found myself making a dash to the post office with my four boxes just in the nick of time. I felt so frustrated with my slow self! The urgent voice in the back of my head (born of one too many lectures about maximizing time and streamlining workflow) makes me feel like I am always playing  beat the clock.

Could I streamline my welcome box assembly? I considered the steps...

1. Bake (from scratch) a batch of our signature Snap! Vegan Salted Oat Cookies. Sprinkle in a few choice swear words when you realize you are out of vanilla, craisins, almond milk, etc.-- take your pick because there's always something missing! Run to the grocery store for said missing item.

2. Cool cookies on racks, beating back family and business partner as they attempt to consume the cookies that are supposed to be going to clients. Keep one eye on your computer screen and one eye on the cookies while you attempt to complete step 3.

3. Go to the PPA charities website and start donating. (We donate $240 for every wedding we book to Operation Smile).  A separate donation form has to be filled out for each new client. Print out a receipt for the donation to include in the welcome box.

4. Hand write a note to each client explaining the awesomeness of Operation Smile, and the awesomeness of them booking us so that we can donate to the awesome cause.

5. Wrap the gift (a set of pewter heart shaped measuring spoons) with fancy wrapping paper and ribbon.

6. Package the homemade cookies in a bag with luxe ribbon and custom cookie recipe tag.

7. Assemble boxes with confetti paper, spoons, Operation Smile card and cookies.

8. Hand write (another) thank you note on our special letterpress thank you cards and nestle it on top of the presents.

9. Tape the Box and fill out a mailing label.

10. Run to the post office to mail the package--fresh baked cookies need to be eaten straight away after all!


Ideas I came up with for trimming some time from my welcome box assembly included; store bought cookies... out of the question! I'd sooner eat Kanye's leather jogging pants. Besides, the snap cookies are addictive, they've been tested. On the scale of addictiveness you have cigarettes, then heroine, and next Snap's vegan salted oat cookies. I guess I could skip the hand written note part, but I really love receiving a handwritten note. Doesn't everyone?

Putting the cookie conundrum on the back burner, I dove into my next project, blogging our last wedding of the season. Surely I'd crank that right out.

Wrong, this took me two days. Is taking two days to blog a wedding an outrageous waste of time? There's a popular "blog every day" movement among some photographers, but I wonder how to create a quality post if you have to churn them out daily. Again I considered my steps.

1. Carefully choose 85-100 photos. That's a lot of photos for sure but that's what it takes for me to successfully tell the story. I am VERY picky about what shots make it onto the blog. They must be flattering to the client, flattering to the other vendors involved and flattering to us because if everyone is flattered than everybody wins.

2. "Jazz" the photos. That's a technical term we use around here for photoshopping. Every single photo is retouched, jazzed with an appropriate photo shop action, sized for the blog and watermarked.

3. Rename the photos for SEO and upload them to the post.

4. Write the post. I find a clever or sentimental quote and share some personal thoughts about the couple and the wedding. Then I mention the other fabulous vendors. Finally I tie it all together neatly with some expert advice or a funny behind the scenes peek.

5. Post the blog, share the link on Facebook, and notify the bride and the other vendors involved that it's up. Hurray!

6. Take a nap before my head explodes.

Maybe there are some things I could trim here too. Less photos? No jazzing? Skip the personal writing which takes so much time? I suppose... NOT. Doing so would feel like sacrificing quality.

I'm really happy with the QUALITY of my cookies and I am happy with the QUALITY of my blogging. More importantly, so are my clients. Here's the thing about quality: most often it takes a long time to achieve. This is where our friend Kanye's valuable lesson comes into the story. Kanye was recently schooled himself by the Association of French Bakers in what can only be described as the most sarcastically perfect reprimand in the history of lambasting.

It seems Kanye wrote a song that really pissed off the French. The offending lyrics were from the song, "I am God" (no, actually that's not the offensive part).  The part they took umbrage with was these lyrics,

"In a French-ass restaurant
Hurry up with my damn croissants"

I know! The nerve, right?! The scathing letter from the bakers to Monsieur Kanye West was lengthy, so I'll just give you a few of the more biting and poignant bits.

Certainly, you are not a man to be satisfied with pre-made croissants from the baked goods case reheated and tossed out on a small platter. No -- you had demanded your croissants freshly-baked, to be delivered to your table straight out of the oven piping hot.

The croissant is dignified?--?not vulgar like a piece of toast, simply popped into a mechanical device to be browned. No?--?the croissant is born of tender care and craftsmanship. Bakers must carefully layer the dough, paint on perfect proportions of butter, and then roll and fold this trembling croissant embryo with the precision of a Japanese origami master.

For us mere mortals, we must wait the time required for the croissant to come to perfect fruition, but as a deity, you can surely alter the bread's molecular structure faster than the speed of light, no?

Hee-Hee, that last line was my favorite! You've got to hand it to the French, they really know how to sling an elegant insult. Much like the treasured croissant, the Snap! experience is multi-layered;  flaky on the outside, tender in the middle and worth waiting for.

It may take me all day to send four welcome boxes to new clients, but every one of my clients sent a thank you email for the delicious cookies and gift. Every one of them said they felt warm and fuzzy about donating to Operation Smile. I even had a bride tell me recently that she makes Snap! cookies once a week for her groom because... you guessed it... he's addicted to them. That kind of feel good customer loyalty and branding is priceless.

I feel the same way about blogging. We don't post everyday but I've had clients tell me they look forward to the posts and savor reading them, just like a good book. Would you feel compelled to savor something that you could have every day? I know I wouldn't. I've never been there, but if I do ever make it to Paris, I plan to savor me a few croissants and I'll wait patiently to get them.

The next time you find yourself beating yourself up about how much time you've spent on designing your website, networking with vendors, or creating a kickass album design remember that quality attracts quality. Take another page from Monsieur Kanye West's book because, after all, he attracted Kim Kardashian. Guess it works in reverse too.

Just sayin'.



Guest blogger, Mariah Ashley, presents the second of her three-part series, "THE TRIFECTA OF TROUBLE - How Three Big Mistakes Created the 'Perfect Storm' and Almost Sank the Snap! Weddings Ship." Make sure you read part one, The Tale of the Tin Pig, A Cautionary Anecdote first!

Part Two: Guts: Hate 'em, Spill 'em, Trust 'em.

My son is a freshman in high school this year, which is weird because it feels like just yesterday I was the one in high school. Maybe that's because last night I was in high school... my son's high school... for parent's orientation. Whomp.

A throng of anxious parents, including yours truly, all got our children's schedules. Then we proceeded to wander the halls like thoroughly disoriented, frightened tourists looking for Period A class. I finally found Biology I, Room 451, though not in the allotted four minutes because I took a wrong turn at the cafeteria and ended up in the janitor's broom closet. 

Finding my seat as the bell rang, I noticed myself breathing a little irregularly (and not just because I was sprinting away from an angry janitor). It seems like I was having some kind of I'm-back-in-high school-and-it's-not- a-terrible-reoccurring-dream-it's-actually-happening anxious episode.

As you may have guessed, I did not peak in high school. I was not homecoming queen. I was not the most popular girl. I was not friends with the most popular girl. I did however have the unfortunate privilege of sitting next to the most popular girl in home room for four years. We'll call her Shauna Dee.

For me, every morning subjected to the luminescent wonder of Shauna Dee was a depressing downward spiral of impossible comparison followed by dark self-loathing. Okay, maybe it wasn't really that bad, it was only 720 days of cheerless despondency but who's counting?
In those days, a.k.a. the stone ages, a.k.a. 1986, when I was in high school and no one really cared about a child's self esteem, the PTO would offer carnations for sale on Valentine's Day. Student's (the expectation here being the boys) could purchase red carnations to be delivered to the girl of their dreams in homeroom. Yes, you know what's coming next. 

Every year some poor volunteer would have to lug a wheel barrel full of red carnations into my homeroom and empty them adoringly on Shauna Dee's desk. Every year like a dope I would hope that one of those scraggly red blossoms would have my name on it. Every year it didn't. Double Whomp. One year Shauna Dee took pity on me and gave me one of her flowers (because she's an angel) and it promptly snapped leaving me with a long stem in one hand and a stubby bloom in the other. Whompity whomp whomp.

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Don't be too sad for me, wipe those tears! This tale has a happy ending. Senior year Shauna Dee, beloved by faculty and students alike, was caught cheating on a History exam! Gasp! Her fall from grace was a sound heard round the world (although it just sounded like tinkling bells because she's an angel, remember?). Now, now, don't get all, "That's not nice to revel in Shauna Dee's misfortune on me." That's not the happy ending, I haven't gotten to it yet. 

One day soon after the fall of Shauna Dee I was walking along in the hallway minding my own business and guess who said hello to me? That's right! Shauna Dee! Not only did she say hello but she also asked me a question. It was the strangest and saddest question that anyone has ever asked me. A question that completely changed my perception of myself, Shauna Dee, and the value I had placed on the social ladder of high school.

She asked, "Mariah, do your parents hug you?" just as matter-of-factly as you can imagine!


I said, "Yeah, they do. All the time. It's kind of annoying." Very cool.

Shauna Dee just looked at me and nodded a little nod and turned down another hallway. 

What a monster you are thinking! Mariah rejoices in this poor girl's lack of intimacy with her parents. Calm down, that's not the happy part either. The happy ending is the lesson that Shauna Dee taught me which is this, If you think the grass is always greener on the other side, maybe you just need to water your own lawn.

You may be asking yourself what does watering one's lawn and the tale of an angel fallen from grace have to do with a mistake that almost sank the Snap! Weddings ship, Part Deux? Well I'll tell you.

GUTS, more specifically hating other people's (Haters Gotta Hate) and not trusting my own.
There have been times this year when much like sitting next to Shauna Dee in homeroom all those years ago, I have felt envious of other's photographer's (fill in the blank here with any of these words; success, skill, talent, popularity, shoes)... you get the green eyed picture.

Sometimes it is hard to watch others seemingly rocket to the top while you are left plodding along. What I found was that the more time I spent looking over the fence at what my neighbors were doing, the less time I spent creating my own brand, cultivating my own style, and watering my own lawn. I'm never going to have Shauna Dee's awesomely bad 80's wardrobe. I'm just not that girl, but I am a girl who has guts.

From fear and desperation I recently pulled a Shauna Dee, i.e. copied off another photographer's paper. I'm not proud of it, but fear can do crazy things to a photographer. The cheating incident involved a seminar with a photographer who offered their price list for sale. I had been reworking and struggling with my pricing recently. I felt in my gut that it was cheating to purchase the pricing and I debated it for oh... about one second before I shelled out the $200. 

Excitedly (the kind of excited where you are getting away with something you shouldn't) I opened the PDF document to discover the secret pricing magic recipe of the Shauna Dee of wedding photography. What I found was shocking. The pricey pricelist was exactly the same as my newly reworked price list. Not kidding. The philosophy, the structure, the actual prices...the same! Almost to the penny. Except I just flushed $200 down the drain because I didn't trust my gut. Whomp.

Moral of the story? Stop comparing yourself to others and don't look at your neighbor's paper for the answers. Do these two things and you too can have G.U.T.S. (Gigantic Unbelievable Total Success). I no longer waste my time stalking other photographer's blogs, I spend that time crafting my own. I'm not paying anyone for their cheat sheets either. I studied the material myself and I'm confident I know what's best for my business. 

A side note: I didn't have to go as far back in the time machine to learn a little about guts. I could have learned something about guts this very morning when my naive freshman son went off to school wearing a cowboy hat. We live in Massachusetts. Not Montana. Now that's some guts.

Epilogue/ A Future Screenplay

A high school hallway circa 2013. The camera pans past a closet and a trash can to a lone janitor, broom in hand sweeping up the scattered shards of self esteem left behind by some naive teenage boy. The janitor adds the debris to the contents of the trash can, one newly purchased yet recently discarded cowboy hat. 

Fade to black.

This is the first entry in a three-part series, THE TRIFECTA OF TROUBLE - How Three Big Mistakes Created the "Perfect Storm" and Almost Sank the Snap! Weddings Ship, by guest blogger, Mariah Ashley.

bouncy pig.jpgThere's a few things you should know about my husband. He drove the same car for 17 years, we called it "The Rattler" because of the tortured noises it made on the highway. Every week or so, it would have a new rattle. One day it sputtered a symphony of rattles and then promptly died. 

My husband doesn't go to the eye doctor and get proper prescription glasses, instead when things start to get fuzzy(er) he buys a new four pack of reading glasses from BJ's for $19.99. He just can't see spending the money on prescription glasses. I say he just can't see, period. 

My husband has a favorite pair of "hang around the house" shorts. He got them at a folk-music festival. They are corduroy with an embroidered star on the back pocket. He wore them every night for six years until they finally disintegrated and then he bought an identical replacement pair. The second pair is still going strong after four years. 
My husband would argue that he is not cheap. We have settled on the word frugal to describe his spending style.

So imagine my surprise when returning home one evening I was greeted by a cartoonish tin pig inhabiting our flower garden.

"Where'd the tin pig come from?" I asked half expecting him to say, "the neighbor's dumpster."

"I bought it," said my husband happily. 

"You what?!" (my shock and disbelief masked by a nervous smile)

"I bought it at the antique store. I love it."

"You love a tin pig?" 

"Yes. I love a tin pig. And his name is Bouncy Pig. He bounces when you push on his hat."

"What did Bouncy Pig cost?"

"Thirty eight dollars."

I don't remember the rest of the conversation because at the divulgement that my cheap frugal husband had spent $38 on a tin pig I fainted and hit my head on the kitchen table. When I came to, I decided to do the dishes. Standing at our kitchen sink looking out the window affords me a nice view of the flower garden and Bouncy Pig. Watching Bouncy Pig springing happily in his new home, I decided I didn't like him much. He's too cheery and he's tacky. He looks junky in the flower garden. Yucky pig.

Strangely, I was alone in my hatred of Bouncy Pig. My teenage son likes to bounce him, my pre-teen daughter likes to bounce him, nieces and nephews love to bounce him, random neighborhood children adore bouncing him, and of course there's my husband who never fails to give him a loving little bounce as he passes by. People see something in Bouncy Pig that I did not see. Bouncy Pig gives them joy and that naturally got me thinking about wedding albums. Naturally.
It's week three of our "Be More...Social" series! In week one, we covered why on earth you need to be on social media (and what's the proper lingo) and last week we discussed the top six platforms to consider utilizing in your social media strategy. Social media strategy you ask? Welcome to week three!

Social media strategy is the thorough process that goes into your posts, tweets, and shares. Think of social media as something that needs to continually be optimized--how can you improve your efforts when you have no way to track or measure them? That's where strategy comes in!

There are some pretty simple steps to create your strategy, and numerous websites to help you track your successes and opportunities for improvement (let's avoid the word "failure").

1. Determine Your Goals

What do you hope to get out of social media? What goals do you want to accomplish? 
If you're not sure where to start--here are some common goals and objectives small businesses usually turn to social media for:
  • Branding: General company/brand recognition is huge, especially for photographers. You don't want to be "that guy over on Main Street...you know...what's his name?"--You want to be you! You want (and need) to build a brand identity to get word-of-mouth recognition going. 
  • Attract new clients: Utilizing social media to drive traffic to your pages or website/blog will help attract new clients and customers. Also, by listening closely (we covered that week one) - you can see who is in the market for your work and seek them out. By handling social media in a professional manner, it will allow your personality and your work to shine. 
  • Build a following: By creating dynamic content, you'll be giving your customers a reason to talk (positively) about your brand! They will share your content and voila! Their friends become your fans and followers and you become a likeable, recommendable, in-demand photographer. 
Pro-tip: Make your goals as measurable and reasonable as possible. It would be ill-advised to say your goal should be to double your Twitter followers in a week (unless you only have a handful)--but increase by 5% over a month's time might not be a bad place to start! Or you can equate your goals with more inbound inquiries--more phone calls, emails or requests from your website can be tied back to building your brand and attracting new followers! Give them a reason to follow you. Peak their interest with behind the scenes shots or stories, promotions or special offers, color or dressing tips, etc. 

As time goes on, track your progress with spreadsheets or fun (free) infographics from places like www.visual.ly! They allow you to see how your Facebook content has reached the masses, or how you're stacking up to your competition on Twitter. 

2. Know Your Clients (Both Present & Prospective)

Last week we discussed who is on what platform - and hopefully that directed what sites you're planning on leveraging. Now, drill deeper to see who your audience might be!
  • Understand your target market's point of view and activities: Think of your target demographics--age, gender, income, location, as well as interests and priorities. When you post on Facebook, you can segment by many of these demographics and really hone in on who your post reaches. 
  • Consider influencers, buyers and end users: This is key--especially with senior portraits! You have the senior (end user), buyers (parents) and influencers (senior's friends/social circles) to contend with! 
  • Consider your audience's social media behavior: Do they lurk? Do they share? Do they create? Each type of social media user can be engaged in a different way. Know your market to see how you can best leverage your reach.

3. Choose Your "Hot Buttons"

These are your studio's main content topics. Keep it to three - five different themes depending on your studio's product offering. They will differ from studio to studio, but remember to keep them relevant to the work you do so they are optimized for your market. 
  • Create an editorial calendar: We'll go into this more next week, but know you should have a place to create content in bulk so it's less work on the fly. 
  • Brainstorm ideas: Using these themes, bring in your most creative thinkers and collaborate how you can best utilize these themes in fun, interactive ways!
  • Offer a variety of content formats: Text posts are not nearly as popular as images. You're a photographer -use your work! Also consider utilizing your Instagram images on Facebook/Twitter or creating a YouTube video to share "behind-the-scenes" action. 
By sticking to your themes, it will help your pages develop a rich content source that will help you more dramatically achieve your target goals.

4. Set Your Limits

If you're not careful, social media can be a black hole of time. Ever start looking through your newsfeed to see what you're clients are up to and end up 15 pages deep on Buzzfeed? Don't worry, you're not alone. Set time limits and stick to them! Maybe set aside 30 minutes, twice a day to start. Or utilize services such as Meltwater an RSS feed--they scan the web for your company's name (or other key words) and bring the results to you!  It eliminates the time-suck that can happen when you hop over to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, but it also costs a pretty penny. 

5. Plan Your (Human) Resources

Next (big) question: who will handle your social media? If you're in business by yourself, with no additional help, this is a really easy answer! If you have a bit bigger of an operation, it's important to set clear expectations of who has access to the admin rights, how those rights are to be used and what happens if they blow it (they won't blow it, but just in case). It's usually not the best idea to have the intern running your image, so pick someone who knows you, knows your business and can handle some nonsense (FYI: people can be jerks on the internet). 

It's usually helpful to set some social media guidelines and rules for etiquette. We have our set of rules for PPA and if folks violate them there is a clear expectation of what happens. Same goes for your page! If someone is making inappropriate comments, don't be afraid to boot them off. Creating a process on how you handle these situations is key!

Note: If someone has something negative to say about your business that has some truth behind it, leave it and respond to it. Kill them with kindness, but try not to delete those comments. That will take away the transparency of your business and you will come across as much less authentic. 

6. Measure. Improve. Repeat.

We talked about creating measurable goals in step one. Make sure as you're implementing your strategy, you have all of the tools to make these measurements. Set aside time the first of the month to see how your number of fans/followers have grown, or make sure you ask how people heard of your company when you get a new client calling. 

There are also great free analytics on Facebook (click your "Insights" box in your admin panel) to see what posts reached the most individuals, gained the most likes/shares and worked the best. Explore what made those posts great and keep it up! You can also see what needs some help and tweak it for the future. 

Last, but not least, you can set up a special landing page on your website to see how many clicks convert from all of your social platforms. Talk to your web developer to set this up for an easy way to see what platforms are working and what needs some love!

So there are the six easy steps to create your strategy from the Social Media Examiner! They may be simple, but they can take some time to implement. Dedicate an hour a day to working through this list and see where the week takes you. Next week we'll cover the planning of your posts (think content types, timing, etc.)! 

How have you implemented what's been covered thus far? What questions do you have? What troubles (if any) have you run into? Leave them in the comments!

- Sarah

This is post 3 of 7 in the Be More...Social series. Read the other posts in the series using the links below:

hillenga_jennifer_blog.jpgJen Hillenga, M. Photog. Cr., was kind enough to join us in the PPA Studio to film some upcoming PPAedu segments. While not wowing us with her endless creativity and knowledge, Jen took the time to answer your questions submitted to us @OurPPA (Twitter) or /OurPPA (Facebook). From practical advice on photography to the best sno-cones in the world, we learned all about the oh-so-creative Jen Hillenga.

Mary Lou Guinn asked: Studio management software - any recommendations?

Keep it simple. We use a combination of Quick Books and Google calendar. It has color coordination and a quick glance feature that makes our lives so much easier. It's also really great for marketing plans and counting out from deadlines. We haven't had a need for a big system, but use additional things like PhotoBiz to see who viewed images and incorporate that into the sales process. Pro Select is also great for sales. We're kind of old fashioned with client traveler, but it works for us. There's no "one stop shop" for what we do, so we put together our own system with a variety of software.

Denise Hasty asked: Having trouble with lighting, especially with darker subjects. What is the best setting for my camera when shooting in the studio and how do I avoid grainy and shadowy photos? / I have a Canon XSI450d

To create the best image, it usually works best to use a low ISO to minimize the grain and make sure you're using enough light. It helps to utilize the best equipment and tools to capture the best image. If you're in an indoor setting with limited light, investing in a camera that can go to a low ISO setting will greatly reduce the granularity in the image. In the outdoors with plenty of light, it's not as important, but you definitely need it in darker situations.

OurPPA asked: What are your thoughts on digital backgrounds?

I think there's a great place for digital backgrounds! I use them more for composite images. For example, we will photograph individuals on white, create the composition and drop in the digital background when working with a group setting. They can be nice with the right situation, but it's not a fix-all. It can be easy to get carried away and the digital can be overdone, not as natural.

OurPPA asked: Favorite color?

Black! It's the absence of color with light, and all of the colors with pigment.

OurPPA asked: Chocolate, vanilla or strawberry?

Mint chip.

OurPPA asked: Early bird or a night owl?

Night owl.

OurPPA asked: Favorite food:


OurPPA asked: Favorite (clean) word:

Clean? Oh man. Probably "Yes."

OurPPA asked: Where did you attend college? What did you major in?

I graduated from Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa. I double-majored in Fine Art and Graphic Design, with a double-minor in Art History and English.

OurPPA asked: What was the worst job you've ever had?

I worked concessions at a stock car track one summer. I did the sno-cones and nachos and it was a mess. It was the worst combination of salty and sweet--just the worst.

OurPPA asked: You love to travel - What's your favorite place to visit?

I spoke to the Photography Association in Denmark a few years ago, and that was wonderful. I also enjoy going to Hawaii--they have the best shaved ice! I also did the first trip down to Ecuador with Travis Gugelman and Lori Nordstrom with Dando Amor, photographing orphans.

Jen Hillenga, M. Photog. Cr. is the co-founder of Jen's Fabulous Stuff and a PPAedu contributor. You can find her educational videos, along with many industry greats on PPAedu. PPA members can easily access PPAedu by logging-in and watching the 150+ online videos. Not a PPA member? You can create your own personalized educational program by completing the Self-Assessment tool and subscribing to PPAedu!

brokencamera_blog.jpgAs a professional photographer, you know that the unexpected can (and will) happen during a photo shoot.

We asked you to share your stories of some of the strangest occurrences while photographing on theLoop, the social network just for PPA members! Ten of our favorite stories are below. While these stories can be hilarious, they also highlight the need for things like equipment and malpractice insurance for your photography business (both of which are available through PPA as part of your membership!).

Fainting brides! Fire ant attacks! Mother Nature! And excrement! You'll find all these situations and more in these stories.

1). "I managed to break my camera and my 35mm three minutes before the bride walked down the aisle. I have no clue what happened to cause it either. The top plastic grid thing of the mirror fell off. Literally broke and just fell off. It was like a quantum leap into suckdom! I almost cried. Thank GOD (or a brain) for insurance AND backup equipment. Being without my 35mm was so hard though. Sigh!" - Jessica Williams Dorris

2). "While taking photos of Girl Scouts at a farm, the peacocks started mating. We were so happy that the male peacock was showing his beautiful feathers for our photo shoot. Well, he was trying to attract Mrs. Peacock and it worked!" - Karen Hoglund

3). "I stepped in dog poop! Matter of fact, It was a dog photo shoot. I'm usually careful about such things but I backed up to get a shot and...squish. I didn't have another pair of shoes either. Needless to say, I took off my shoes when I went in their house later!" -  Karen Hoglund

4). "I was on a shoot outside a decommissioned Air Force (Loring AFB) in northern Maine. On the base is a place where old military vehicles go for upgrades and repairs. I used to do lingerie or swimwear photos on the old trucks that were placed just outside the gate and were either scrap or awaiting repairs. The model went to change and I informed her I would be waiting on the back of one of the trucks, it had been a long day of shooting and I was not watching where I was going, I also did not see the pipe that the cable of winch went through nor did I realize that it had been welded in place.  

"As I jumped on the back of the truck and turned I rammed my left temple into the end of said pipe. I didn't think much of it until I felt a bit of blood on the side of my face... Yep, I drew blood... That caused the saying that 'No one but me is allowed to get injured during shoots', although I have learned to make sure of where I am going before I leap to it." - Jason Grass

5). "I had a bird poop on my face while shooting an engagement once. Not fun...right down my face." -  T. Blair Wright


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