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PPA is proud to announce a HUGE agreement the Nickles Group to help us out on Capitol Hill. This will put us front and center during the ongoing copyright discussion at the most critical time. Momentum is really building toward that Next Great Copyright Act and we will now be more plugged in than ever.
In fact, with the Nickles Group, we're now the only photography association with a full-time presence! This agreement is a really big deal and you need to know about it.
Here is the press release in its entirety:
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Professional Photographers of America (PPA) announced today it has reached an agreement with The Nickles Group, LLC, to represent PPA on Capitol Hill. The Nickles Group will help the association's lobbying efforts for photographers' copyrights.
Through the Nickles Group, one of the preeminent lobbying firms on the Hill, PPA will be at the center of the action on a daily basis. Using the Nickles Group's extensive network, PPA will make introductions, build relationships and arrange meetings with key players and also create opportunities to testify at Congressional hearings. The partnership looks to build upon the strong foundation PPA has established in Washington over the past 15 years.
Founded in 2005, the Nickles Group brings together an accomplished team of public policy advocates and experts to provide strategic advice, policy development and political navigation for clients seeking to engage in the federal legislative or executive process.
"We're pleased to join forces with the PPA to be an important advocate for the rights of photographers and other creators," said Don Nickles, chairman and CEO of The Nickles Group. "With copyright issues becoming more complex as Congress reviews the laws that govern rights, we look forward to partnering with PPA and impacting policy for the better."
Nickles, a Senator for the state of Oklahoma from 1981 to 2005 certainly knows his way around the Hill. In his tenure, Nickles built a legacy of advancing free enterprise causes, from natural gas deregulation and repeat of the windfall profits tax in the 1980s, to repeal of onerous ergonomics regulation and the fight against federalized healthcare during the Clinton Administration. He was the author of the Congressional Review Act and the Child Citizenship Act, and the principal sponsor of President Bush's economic growth package in 2003, which cut capital gains and corporate dividend taxes to 15 percent.
Thanks to this agreement PPA now has the ability to put its members front and center, a coup for PPA given the recent discussions on orphan works and the U.S. Copyright office's push for the Next Great Copyright Act.
"This could not come at a better time for us," said David Trust, CEO of PPA. "We are entering one of the most critical eras in the history of copyright law. This relationship with the Nickles Group will ensure that PPA members, and photographers in general, will have an increased position in the copyright discussion on Capitol Hill."
The Nickles Group represents the likes of the Comcast, Eli Lilly and Company, Exxon Mobil and now PPA. The agreement makes PPA the only professional photography association with a full-time presence on Capitol Hill.
In addition to having the photography world's only copyright and government affairs department, PPA provides a wealth of resources for photographers online, including sample contracts and model releases. For more information, visit ppa.com/copyright.
Of course, as the Nickles Group reports back to us, we will forward the info on to you! Things are really cooking up there in Washington. BE MORE!
Yesterday, PPA's board of directors visited with key staffers and senators on Capitol Hill to voice their concerns on copyright protection. You can view yesterday's post on their visit to get caught up.
Maria Matthews, manager of PPA's copyright and government affairs department is back with an update on what went down!
We talked, they listened!
On behalf of PPA members and professional photographers everywhere, an excited PPA board of directors spent their Tuesday in our nation's capita. They met with chief counsels, judiciary aides and senators and told their story. They explained the impact copyright theft can have on their business and families--as well as the potential economic impact for their state--and light bulbs went on.
The board asked staffers and senators to deliver this message to the senate: Copyright affects more than just big industry; it impacts mom-and-pop businesses in every corner of their state. Many of the offices we met with agreed that strong copyright laws are essential to ensuring a thriving creative community. They also admitted that most of their efforts on the intellectual property front as of late have been focused on patent and not copyright reform--something they will be looking to remedy!
This visit was great progress for the copyright debate. Next up: Keep lobbying to get the talk moving toward action on the senate!
The board had a great time in D.C. and shared their visit all over social media. Check out their posts below.
(Click the images to view the original posts.)
Want a copyright update? You got it!
PPA's board of directors is back on Capitol Hill today to visit U.S. Senate offices. They're returning to drive home a message--that strong copyright laws are critical to the small business photographer.
The board takes to the Hill during a very active period in the copyright reform efforts. While there have been a number of recent roundtables hosted by the U.S. Copyright Office and regular copyright themed hearings held by the House of Representatives, activity on the copyright front has been relatively quiet on the Senate side.
But no longer! Each board member will meet with at least one of their home state's senators and offer firsthand insight on what it means to be a professional photographer in today's world. Hopefully hearing about the importance of strong copyright laws directly from working photographers that are among their constituency will urge these senators to champion the cause within the Senate. And from there... some new legislation!
And don't forget, while the board is on the hill advocating for your copyrights, you can take action too! Sign up to participate in Copyright Awareness Month and spread the word.
Look for a recap from the board's visit to Capitol Hill soon!
with Bridget Jackson, CPA and PPA Business manager
Say hello to your newest guest column! It comes to you from none other than Bridget Jackson, resident guru for all things numbers and profitability. Bridget is the manager of PPA Business and also a CPA. She's helped hundreds of photography studios be more profitable and will address some common questions each month. Heed her advice folks--this lady knows her stuff!
Hopefully you've filled out your taxes for 2013 by now, but if not, Bridget's got your back! She's got some advice on how to get the most out of your 2013 tax return. Here are some last minute tips for you slackers.
There's plenty to be on the lookout for in these last couple weeks of tax season!
1) The first tip is a big one for you photographers! Are you familiar with Section 179 of the Internal Revenue Code? It allows a taxpayer to elect to deduct the cost of certain types of property on their income taxes as an expense, rather than requiring the cost of the property to be capitalized and depreciated. This property is generally limited to new or used tangible, depreciable, personal property which is acquired by purchase for use in the active conduct of a trade or business. This means you might be in line for some tax breaks on your photography purchases as long as they were done for your business. The deduction is limited to the taxable income of the business.
2) How about even more money coming your way? Bonus Depreciation means you can take an additional 50% special allowance for new qualified property placed in service in 2013. The allowance is an additional deduction you can take after any Section 179 deduction and before you figure regular depreciation under MACRS for the year you place the property in service. There is no taxable income limitation. If your 2013 business income is low, opt to depreciate equipment purchases over time rather than all at once.
NOTE: You can't depreciate more than you purchased! For instance if you buy a computer for $3,000 and you take section 179, you only get $3,000. You would not get any additional depreciation under bonus deprecation. Talk to your accountant to ensure you file these purchases correctly!
3) Think ahead! Effective for tax years beginning on or after Jan. 1, 2014, the De Minimus Safe Harbor Election can elect to treat amounts paid to acquire, produce or improve tangible property costing $500 or less as an expense, rather than capital. The election is made annually by including a statement with the taxpayer's timely filed original tax return for the year elected.
4) Do you have a home studio? Home Office Deduction is for the 100% business use of a portion of your home. Determine whether you can use the simplified home office deduction, which allows you to write off $5 per square foot of home office space, and up to $1,500 for 300 square feet. There is no home depreciation deduction or later recapture of depreciation for the years the simplified option is used. However, due to the maximum deduction of $1,500 for the simplified method, it might be more tax advantageous to use the regular method.
5) The business use of your automobile is based either on the standard mileage method or actual expense method. Keep in mind, once you elect to use the actual expense method you cannot switch back to standard mileage method. The standard mileage rate for 2013 and 2014 is 56.5¢ and 56¢, respectively.
6) Pay estimated taxes. If you're self-employed, don't forget your first 2014 estimated tax payment is due April 15. One way to avoid penalties is to take your 2013 tax liability and pay 100 percent of it (110 percent for high-income earners), split into four installments.
7) Fund your retirement. Yes, it's 2014, but you can still contribute to an IRA for the 2013 tax year through April 15. For tax year 2013, you may deduct a maximum contribution of $5,500 to a traditional IRA if you are less than 50 years old. Those 50 or older may deduct up to $6,500. Contributions to a SEP or 401(k) are required to be made by the due date (including extensions) for filing your federal income tax return for the year.
8) Avoid penalties. Failing to file your tax returns on time or failing to pay taxes you owe will cost you. The corporate tax filing date was March 17, so if your company is organized as an S corporation, every shareholder will be charged $195 a month, for a maximum of 12 months, until your return is filed, if an extension was not requested.
9) Healthcare! In 2014, the Affordable Health Care Act requires that you will either need to keep your current insurance plan, purchase coverage, face a penalty tax or get an exemption. The requirement to have insurance is known as the Individual Mandate. The March 31 deadline has been extended two weeks. The penalty for failing to obtain coverage will be inputted on your 2014 tax return due April 15, 2015. The penalties for 2014 are 1% of taxable income or $95 per adult and $47.50 per child for a maximum penalty of $285. However, the maximum penalty for 2015 increases to $975, and $2,085 in 2016. Beyond 2016, the penalties are adjusted annually for cost of living increases.
By Danielle Brooks
About a month ago, I started the Insanity workout program. If you have no idea what Insanity is, look it up. You will legitimately think I'm insane. I break a sweat just watching the infomercial.
So why would I choose to put by body through such a rigorous workout every day? I wanted to get out of my comfort zone and push myself. I needed a challenge. Shaun T, the creator, is always encouraging you to, "dig deeper," and push yourself to your limits.
Part of Insanity is mental. You are training your mind to imagine yourself doing the impossible. When I'm working out and I am completely exhausted, I start saying, "You can do this, Danielle, just a little bit longer. You love working out." By replacing the negative thoughts with positive ones, I am able to stretch myself beyond my comfort zone and I get stronger everyday.
There are a couple of life lessons I've learned from Shaun T. that I have been able to apply to my photography business. One of them is tracking my progress. As you do Insanity, Shaun T. has you do a fit test every two weeks. This way you can track how your cardio has improved. There are eight moves, and you do each one for a minute. In that minute you do as many reps as possible. It serves as a constant reminder that your body is changing even if you can't see the external changes. One of the ways I track progress in my business is by blogging.
Right after Imaging USA, I wrote about how I was going to start a senior rep program. My goal was to have 1-2 senior reps. The thought of having more seemed slim since it was my first year running the program. I ended up with 5 reps and had to turn girls away! That's insane!
When I have a goal, I blog about that too. I keep my followers interested by posting my progress. Not only is this good for creating a community of followers, but I also now have a record of my improvement. When I am discouraged I can look back and see where I started. No matter how small the progress, you are still moving.
Another lesson I learned by doing Insanity is to push yourself to your limits and, as Shaun T. says, "Dig deeper!" The last time I wrote for PPA Today, I mentioned I had partnered with a local gymnastics business. I had a meeting with the owner, and she started talking about her need to have sports photos taken of all the kids. I'm not a sports photographer and I have no idea how to set up a shoot like that. She wanted to do the photos in the gym with backdrops and studio lights. As a natural light photographer, I didn't have any of that equipment. The thought of doing a shoot like that terrified me, and yet I found myself saying yes and setting a date for photo day.
I am not saying you should say, "Yes," to every job that comes your way. Sometimes it's best to let your client know your limits; I knew I could handle the situation. As Shaun T. says, "It's a stretch." I was pushing myself out of my comfort zone.
My list of obstacles was long. I needed backdrops, lights, a lesson on how to use the lights and order forms for parents. I already knew someone who had backdrops and lights that I could borrow. Thankfully I had stopped by a booth that specialized in sports photography at IUSA and picked up some info just in case. They were able to help me organize my thoughts and get some order forms for parents to take home. I am certainly stretching myself, but I'm growing and am a better, more experienced photographer because of it.
Sometimes I get overwhelmed thinking about the shoot and how I'm a fish out of water. Cue photo day nightmares. But this leads me to my next lesson learned by Shaun T.: stay focused. Throughout the workouts, Shaun walks around and encourages those working out with him. He does the moves next to other people and corrects their form if they are slightly off. Shaun is always shouting out encouragement to keep going. At one point he looks into the camera and say, "Keep going, you can freaking do it." Normally by that point, I am so tired and want to just stop, but Shaun's encouragement calls me back to reality and I recompose my focus on my workout. I am able to push harder and hang in there just a little longer.
The same goes for my business. It is easy to get distracted by the obstacles in front of me and sometimes I just get worn out, but we need to constantly refocus ourselves on the task at hand. Make sure you have a couple people you can call if you need encouragement. It's always helpful to have some cheerleaders in your corner who can spur you on when you are stalling. For me, it's my husband. He can always motivate me to keep going and he helps me to grow.
I do Insanity because I want my body to change. I want to be the best version of myself I can be. It is a lot of hard work, which is why most people don't do it. The same can be true for photography. To grow and develop is a lot of hard work. To truly excel in this industry you need to push yourself. Getting out of your comfort zone is a good place to start. So get up and get moving. In the words of Shaun T., "You can freaking do it."
When I returned to Virginia, I took Bridget's advice and returned to "Square-One" by identifying my prices. The Business Basics workshop taught me that you have to know the value of the service you provide and then target the audience you want to market. Imaging USA allowed me to develop a twelve month action plan that first focuses on developing a brand, building an audience through relationships and then growing the brand.
While at Imaging USA I developed a relationship with Mark Weber from Marathon Press and we were able to develop my branding and marketing strategy. This month, Pashion Photography is sending our first direct mail advertisement to pre-screened targeted brides!
It took meeting Carrie, Bridget, Mark and Bruce to get the idea that working as a photographer is more than working countless hours, but developing a business model that focuses my talents. I am humbled at their patience and willingness to continue teaching long after class.
Since Imaging USA I keep in regular contact via email with Bruce, who has so much advice and guidance. Mark spends time talking on the phone with me to help identify what type of marketing I am able to do. Carrie created an SMS Superstars Group on Facebook and I am not only continuing to learn from her, but she has introduced me to a whole new level of professional networking. I now have a team of professionals to help me make business decisions. I'm not all alone anymore!
Thanks to their mentorship I've been able to bring my marketing and networking to a new level. I have developed new partnerships and a highly effective constant contact email program that targets newly engaged brides.
We are now offering a "No Obligation" engagement session. It might sound crazy, but we don't charge the couple. And instead of following them around for hours, we now have them come to our studio. We even formed a relationship with a makeup artist and hair stylist to assist with the session.
After the couple arrives, she goes upstairs gets pampered and he gets to hangout and watch sports, relax and learn about our shooting style. By the time she is ready, the "Wow!" on his face says it all, and we start an intimate portrait session.
Once we are finished shooting, the images are edited in about 15 minutes. Yes, 15-minutes! Using what we learned at Imaging--consulting, getting the lighting right and stylized editing--our workflow is incredibly streamlined. We then give the couple a Sticky Album and Animoto Video--products we acquired at Imaging.
We tell the couple that they owe us nothing because this is our interview as their wedding photographer. And believe it or not, we have not had one couple leave without making our minimum purchase of $400. It is a modest amount, remember we are just starting and we are using this as an interview to become their wedding photographer. We are still making money and developing relationships. The whole purpose is to educate and excite the couple to hire us for their wedding.
As my journey as a CPP continues, I am carving my niche and working toward my master of photography degree. I returned to school to finish an MBA program in Project Management and Marketing. I will also teach my first Super 1 Day class on May 18. My talent as a public relations, marketing and social media analyst is allowing me to educate other photographers on the power of developing a marketing and social media management program. The class will help them manage their social media instead of having their social media manage them.
I'm even entering competition! The Southeast District print judging is happening this month and I am hoping to achieve my first photographic merits. I have a lot to learn in this area but learning is the best part! I learned so much about what the judges are looking for at the VPPA print competition and am feeling confident!
When I made the commitment to stop everything and attend Imaging USA I didn't know how I was going to afford the travel, hotel, food and all the cool photographic toys I required. Now two months later I am kicking myself for only seeing a monetary value to Imaging USA. The value is returning home with a list of quantifiable objectives coupled with the motivation to achieve and a network of mentors that want to see you succeed as a professional photographer.
The value that Bruce, Carrie, Bridget and Mark have brought into my life is nothing short of amazing. I now know what it means when I hear other say, "You can't afford not to go." I have been a member of PPA since February 2010 but it wasn't until January 2014, nearly four years later, did I realize that I am part of something bigger. I'm part of a family.
Before Imaging USA I was just happy to get a phone call from someone who wanted to hire me because they believed I could take pictures. But Imaging opened my eyes to the fact that I am part of a profession that is bigger than taking pictures. I am an artist that has a choice in what I create.
Two months later I have established a full-time, home-based studio with a consultation room. Our phone is ringing and we are booking because we are able to develop a product and service that is different from other wedding photographers in the area.
We are building the business from a brand point of view and it's working. We've created a network of vendors and a marketing program that is effective. I've been able to grow my Facebook audience from zero to nearly 1,200 people in about five months and am up to 600 Twitter followers in the same time period. In fact we just decided that we are able to grow and are now looking for a new home that will better support our photography business. I estimate that I will be able to switch over to photography full-time in the next 3 months.
We've already passed our original goal of making $50K and our new goal is to double it. We hope to book 30 weddings and photograph 100 couples for engagement sessions. I can't wait to show Bridget the books when I attend the 3-day business course.
I'm already blocking out time for Imaging USA 2015 in Nashville!
Ty Swartz, MBA, CPP, USN (Ret.)
Ty Swartz, owner of Pashion Photography, is an award-winning, internationally published Certified Professional Photographer (CPP). After serving 20 years in the U.S. Navy and traveling to more than 60 countries, Ty retired as a Public Relations Officer/Mass Communications Specialist Chief Petty Officer in 2011. He is a native of Greenville, Ohio, and currently lives in Chesapeake, Virginia, with his wife Nicole.
Ty Swartz, a veteran of the U.S. Navy, had great plans for his "retirement." After more than 20 years serving as a photojournalist in over 60 countries, he came home with a goal of joining PPA and becoming a full-time professional photographer. He joined upon his return in 2010 and recently took things a step further when he achieved the status of Certified Professional Photographer last November.
With his status as a professional firmly solidified, Ty took on his next challenge: building a business he could be proud of. This part of his vision included attending his first Imaging USA in Phoenix. As is his nature, Ty went for more and departed his Virginia studio early for some pre-convention classes.
Ty highlights his experience at Imaging USA in the first of this two-part series below. On Wednesday, he'll update us on how he is already implementing what he learned into every aspect of his business.
Folks, this is how you Imaging USA.
My Imaging USA
By Ty Swartz, MBA, CPP, USN Ret.
The first class I attended was the two-day Business Basics for Wedding Photographers workshop taught by Carrie Wildes, CPP, and Bridget Jackson, a CPA and manager of PPA Business. This class is designed to help identify what I need to do to establish a profitable business.
Carrie took the lead Thursday and we learned about competitive advantage among other wedding photographers, business models, marketing, sales and pricing structures. Friday's class was mainly taught by Bridget. She discussed a variety of business-related items that helped us focus on setting our prices and business strategies. It helped me create a profitable solution to many of our initial start-up circumstances.
If you operate as a professional photographer, then this is one class that you must attend. The knowledge and guidance you receive is simply amazing and you leave with the knowledge that you are a small business owner who happens to do photography.
Instead of exploring Phoenix Saturday, I decided that attending another pre-conference class was more important. The course that I selected was Getting Schooled with High School Seniors, taught by Bruce Berg. Bruce spent the first part of the morning talking about a variety of marketing plans and how he implements them.
Just before lunch, Bruce had two high school seniors come in and showed us his senior portrait techniques. The class was small enough that we were able to get involved and use our cameras and the studio lights provided. It was a great hands-on class and really helped me understand this market. Although I am a wedding photographer, it was a good learning experience in case I decide to dabble in seniors in the future.
From the time I arrived at Imaging there were so many things to see and do relating to photography. I spent most of my time taking notes and meeting some really awesome people. Saturday night had so many events happening that you really had to choose what to attend.
I attended the Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep informational seminar with Sandy Puc'. We spent most of the evening doing hand- on photography with Sandy--a very rare one-on-one opportunity with a PPA great. Afterwards I caught the end of the PPA Charities event and bid on a couple of items. Thankfully, I was quickly outbid. I wasn't really committed to spending my "new equipment" money just yet.
Before I knew it, it was Sunday and Imaging USA was officially in full swing. I started my day with The Subtle Art of Persuasion taught by Jon Allyn. This was a great class on building client relationships and how to differentiate from other studios.
It was hard to choose just one out of the mid-morning classes. I'd even recommend making friends to trade notes from different classes with. I selected Prosperity & Purpose: The Photography Business Through a Different Lens, taught by Jeffrey Shaw. He had a really good perspective on how to look at your business so you are moving forward and not staying stagnant--takeaways that I can easily implement.
In the afternoon I was able to attend The Fundamentals of Photographing High School Seniors, taught by Kibbee Walton. He was very focused on engaging the parents and grandparents. You create an emotional experience and through that experience you build lifetime relationships helping your sales and customer loyalty. Great tips for me!
For me, Sunday's must-attend event was Getting it Right in the Camera, with Sandy Puc'. She spent the program going over how to manage lights and build your studio setup from a single light source all the way to five lights. This way you can create amazing in-camera images that require zero editing. Amazing! So if you're spending any time on color or exposure correcting after your shoot, you need to go back and learn how to get a perfect exposure.
Later that day I headed over to theLoop Up and had an opportunity to meet many of the photographers around PPA that I have communicated with using theLoop. If you are a member of PPA--get connected with theLoop! There are some really smart people there and they want to help you when you're stuck with a question.
After mingling for a while it was time for the Imaging USA Welcome Party! They had the red carpet rolled out and everything. I really liked the food and it was great to meet some more photographers.
Monday morning came too quickly, but I arrived to see Jared Platt teach his class on Post-Production Speed in Lightroom 5 and Photo Shop. It's always great to learn tips and tricks to speed up your workflow!
Next I attended My 10 Favorite Money Making Nuggets taught by Kimberly Wylie. This was a great class to gather additional sales tactics. I was starting to see an overall theme as a small business owner: Building relationships is key to success!
The final class that I attended was Steve Kozak's session for new Certified Professional Photographers. He provided his insight about photography, where it is going and how to leverage our certification to stand out from other photographers. The big take away from Steve was don't just Facebook and send emails, but actually pick up the phone and call people! He was right. I had recently sent emails to potential brides and right after his class took the time to make some calls. I wound up booking three right away! Who would have thought the phone works for business?
I then headed over to the Grand Imaging Awards and was stunned by the work presented for competition. Since I have a goal of achieving my master of photography degree, I really need to step up my game and start entering photographic competition!
I was scheduled to fly out and return to reality Tuesday afternoon but not before I was able to sneak in one more class: Maximizing Your Senior Sales with Kent Smith and his wife Sarah. They were very motivational and helped me visualize how I want to set up my consultation room and present my brand as an experience, not just a sale.
I would be remiss if I didn't discuss the Expo floor! There were tons of vendors there demoing and selling new products and I was able to buy new photographic accessories. Remember that money I saved at the Charities auction? I used it on soft boxes, another pocket wizard, custom USB thumb drives, a ring light along with backgrounds and a floor from Silverlight. The Expo really has everything and more you could have on your photography shopping list.
After three full days of education I was ready to jump on a plane and head back to Virginia and dive into building my business the right way...
Check back Wednesday to see Ty's progress since the convention!
The healthcare insurance open enrollment period under the Affordable Care Act closes March 31. That means you only have a couple weeks to enroll in a qualified health insurance plan and avoid tax penalties! After March 31, everyone will have to wait until 2015 to enroll in a qualified health plan. You don't want to have to wait a whole year!
Read more about the plans offered by Pallay Insurance Agency below:
Are you familiar with the health insurance options available to you as a PPA member? That's right! PPA can help you and your family find the best medical and dental insurance in your area, with several different plans available.
PPA partners with Pallay Insurance Agency, Inc., to assist members in securing affordable and quality medical and dental coverage.
Ross and Scott Pallay are both very knowledgeable about all the options available to you and are very open to speaking with you. They can answer any questions about the new healthcare structure, open enrollment, fines for not having coverage (you read right, you can be fined for not having coverage) and more. They are also able to quote members on policies if you live in any of the 50 states except the ones listed below.*
Make sure you check out all of the insurance options available to you and reach out to Pallay Insurance Agency with any questions or to receive a quote.
*coverage not available in AK, HI, ID, MA, ME, MT, NJ, NM, NY, RI, SD, VT
P.S. After open enrollment ends, Pallay can still offer Limited Benefit Fixed Indemnity AND Short Term Medical Insurance Plans to members looking for some form of health coverage. While these plans are not qualified health plans, they do provide members and their families with benefits to assist them with medical expenses which can help them get by until the next open enrollment.
By Mariah Ashley
Last night I photographed a wedding that I had been dreading. Unfortunately, the actual day turned out every bit as disastrous as I had imagined it would be. Actually, it was worse.
The day before the wedding, the bride called to talk to Trish and me about the groom and his attitude about being photographed. To put it bluntly, she said, "He loathes being photographed, doesn't value wedding photography, and really doesn't care for photographers in general."
Apparently, every conversation they had had about the wedding-day photography had ended in an argument. They had finally reached a compromise with him conceding to a strict twenty minutes of allotted time for wedding portraits. She told us to anticipate him walking away when we'd used up our time regardless of whether or not we were finished. She also told us we should stay far away from him during the rest of the day and shoot with a powerful telephoto lens in "compression mode" (whatever that means) so he wouldn't know we were taking his photo. We briefly debated returning her money, but it was the day before the wedding so we felt we couldn't leave her in the lurch without a photographer.
The next day things went from bad to worse. Trish and I arrived early at the first look location, a pretty, but crowded park. To our horror, we discovered that the videographers and the couple had also arrived early and the first look was happening at the opposite end of the park without us. We hadn't even unpacked our camera bags!
I ran toward the couple in a desperate attempt to stop the action. Trish scrambled back to the car to grab our things, leaving one of our bags momentarily unattended. As she wrestled with the lighting equipment, some lucky thief promptly made off with the bag that held all of our cameras and lenses.
Meanwhile, the groom sauntered over and told us our twenty minutes had just begun. I told Trish to assemble the 22-person bridal party while I searched the trunk for anything I could use to make a photo. The only thing I keep in my trunk is an old Hasselblad medium format camera and three ancient of rolls of unused 220 film that I intended to sell at the local camera shop.
I ran toward the bridal party, who by this time were all waiting impatiently and staring daggers at me, and desperately tried to remember how to load the film. The first roll I tried to load popped out of my fingers and rolled to the feet of the groom who glanced at his watch and said, "ten minutes." I unwrapped the second roll and discovered it had melted in the trunk. The third roll came lose in my hands but I managed to get it loaded in the back of the camera with guaranteed light leaks.
I stood up and turned around to face the crowd, posing myself to take the first and possibly last shot.
I pressed down on the shutter, it wouldn't fire.
I pressed again, nothing happened.
The lens was jammed and I was out of time. The groom was absolutely disgusted and the bride was panicking.
As we stood apologizing, a man with a camera and a tripod rushed over and offered his help. He stepped up to the bridal party and began shooting the group Trish had posed. The groom yelled out, "We should have hired this guy, he has equipment that works!"
We were absolutely defeated and completely horrified. I took out my checkbook and offered to write the photographer a check in the amount the couple had paid me. As I made out the check, I glanced at the back of his camera and saw that every photo he was taking cropped the bridal party at their chins and the background wasn't a pretty tree we had posed them under but some type of green screen with lasers and the Milky Way imposed behind them. My jaw hit the ground.
And then I woke up.
I shot my first wedding in 1996 and every spring these dreams start. Yes, it's been eighteen years of wedding day disaster dreams.
In one of my dreams I didn't have a camera at all. I just stood in the aisle as the bride and her dad walked toward me, making a square with my fingers and a clicking noise with my mouth. I remember hoping the photos would come out, but wondered what kind of cable could transfer the photos in my mind to the computer. And then there's the reoccurring dream where the ceremony is about to begin and I'm at the wrong church in the wrong state. Whomp.
I'm not alone in my worry-filled nights either. Trish has even stranger dreams. Once her camera was a shoe box covered with sea shells and another time she opened the camera to find that the film in the back was covered in wedding cake and frosting. Yet another time, finding herself with no camera, she speedily built one from her sons Legos.
Maybe these dreams are just our subconscious way of preparing us for a worst-case scenario. Or perhaps it's the brain's way of reminding us that photographing a wedding is a huge responsibility not to be taken lightly.
Still, the longer I shoot weddings, the easier it gets. I no longer feel nervous before a wedding like I used to, because I've handled so many real life disastrous scenarios and lived to tell the story. Besides, we take so much time preparing before the wedding with shot lists, photo plans, and getting to know our clients that there are rarely any more surprises.
It wasn't like that 18 years ago. Back then I would just show up to the wedding with no information about the couple. No shot list. No plan. No clue.
The bride's father was deceased? Didn't know that until I asked the bride if she'd like a photo with him. The groom's parents divorced and hate each other? Didn't know that until I tried to put them in a photo together and caused a scene. Being ill-informed and insensitive doesn't have to be as dramatic as all that though, sometimes it is much more subtle.
Last week I got an unusual phone call. A trembling female voice asked, "I have kind of a strange question. When you shoot a wedding do you ask the client what shots they want and who the important people are?"
I said, "Yes. We always work out a shot list and we ask our clients to provide us with a who's who. We don't ask for obvious shots like bride walking down the aisle, but we do want to know if there is anything special you want photographed that we might miss otherwise. Why do you ask?"
The trembles turned to sniffles, which turned to restrained crying as the woman explained that her photographer had never asked her those questions or created a shot list. She said that her photographer had missed some photos that she felt were obvious and very important, such as a photo of her grandmother and shots of her mother at the house helping her dress. She said it made her so sad that she couldn't look at her wedding photos at all even though there were some nice shots mixed in. The photos she was missing spoiled the whole experience for her. In her words, it had turned her happy day into a "nightmare".
Between sniffles she said she didn't realize she should communicate her specific requests to her photographer because, after all, she had never planned a wedding before. Even worse, she had tried to request a few shots and they were dismissed by the photographer as too difficult to make happen. All I could think as I tried to console her was, I never want to get this call from one of my clients!
This is my 19th wedding season, and it might be easy to get complacent but I don't ever want to dial it in on someone's big day. Getting that call was an important reminder of how emotional people are on their wedding day and how emotionally attached they are to their photographs after the wedding. It's not enough to take pretty photos for ourselves; we also need to be sensitive enough to take the right photos for our clients. We need to prepare and then prepare some more to try to insure that we understand what those important photos are.
Then, when the big day comes, we need to take out our
covered in seashells cameras and
shoot that wedding like there's only one chance to get it right. Because that's
the reality--the alternative is a nightmare.
About the author:
By Mariah Ashley
Last week we had a meeting with a bride, her mother, and her sister. Somehow we got on the topic of the book "Orange is the New Black" and its author Piper Kerman. The mother of the bride mentioned that her friend had met Piper Kerman at a party and that she was a real disappointment. According to the friend, Piper Kerman wasn't dramatic or interesting at all, just a regular person with nothing engrossing to share.
I felt myself blushing and looking down at my hands and notes when she described the author this way, and not because I spent the night in jail when I was fifteen either (that's a story for another day). I felt nervous because I wondered if like me, Ms. Kerman sometimes feared she was perceived as more fun on paper than in real life. I felt really rattled by the conversation but couldn't quite figure out why.
Similarly, last summer Trish and I arrived at a wedding and were greeted by a very enthusiastic bridesmaid. She gushed that she had been following our blog for a year and loved reading all of our hilarious posts. Trish graciously told her that I was said hilarious blog writer. The bridesmaid turned to me and told me that meeting me was like meeting a celebrity. Huh? This did not make me feel good.
In that moment I absolutely wanted to evaporate. I immediately felt a crushing pressure to be fabulous and simultaneously felt every shred of interesting, witty, and clever in my body dry up and blow away like dust. Poof.
I had shrinkage, not the physical kind, a-la George Costanza takes a dip in the cold water and his "inadequacies" are revealed to all, but the personality kind. It was like she threw my brain into a bucket of ice water and my brain was all like, "Sorry, I got nothin'. Shrinkage!"
In that moment I became the most boring person on the planet and for the duration of the event was unable to recover from it. Just like George my social inadequacies were revealed to all. How very disappointing.
Have you ever felt like that? Well, you may be an introvert like me. I'm reading a book now called "Quiet, The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking" by Susan Cain. She poses a 20 question quiz for identifying yourself as introverted.
See if you answer yes to any of these questions:
1. I prefer one-on-one conversations to group activities.
2. I prefer to express myself in writing.
3. I enjoy solitude.
4. I seem to care less than my peers about wealth, fame, and status.
5. I dislike small talk, but I enjoy talking in-depth about topics that matter to me.
6. People tell me that I am a good listener.
7. I'm not a big risk taker.
8. I enjoy work that allows me to "dive in" with few interruptions.
9. I like to celebrate birthdays on a small scale with only one or two close friends and family members.
10. People describe me as "soft spoken" or "mellow".
11. I prefer not to show or discuss my work with others until it's finished.
12. I dislike conflict.
13. I do my best work on my own.
14. I tend to think before I speak.
15. I feel drained after being out and about, even if I've enjoyed myself.
16. I often let calls go through to voicemail.
17. If I had to choose, I'd prefer a weekend with nothing to do to one with too many things scheduled.
18. I don't enjoy multi-tasking.
19. I can concentrate easily.
20. In classroom situations, I prefer lectures to seminars.
Well, I'm 20 for 20. You?
I've always felt "less-than" in this world that prizes extroverts. Introverts get a bad rap. They are often perceived as shy or weak.
But according to Cain,
A few things introverts are not: The word introvert is not a synonym for hermit or misanthrope. Introverts can be these things, but most are perfectly friendly. One of the most humane phrases in the English language - "Only connect!" - was written by the distinctly introverted E.M. Forster in a novel exploring how to achieve "human love at its height." Nor are introverts necessarily shy. Shyness is the fear of social disapproval or humiliation, while introversion is a preference for environments that are not over stimulating.
That's me! I can be super friendly but then I need time to myself to recharge my batteries. Being around people is fine for a while but it doesn't fill my tanks, it depletes them.
Recently though, I have found a way to really make my introversion work for my business: phone Conversations. Seems counter intuitive doesn't it? For a while now I have felt that I have been letting potential clients slip through my fingers. Email inquiries pour into my inbox and I respond in kind with personalized friendly emails (love expressing myself through writing) and attached price list.
Then I wait.
Some people book, but many others are never heard from again. Our ratio of leads turned to bookings seemed out of whack to me. Deep down I knew that although I preferred to express myself through writing the email, the real me would actually be more fun and effective in person. Ugh, my worst nightmare.
Then I remembered something I heard at Jeffery Shaw's seminar at Imaging USA. He promised that if we would face our limiting beliefs that our biggest fear could become our greatest joy. Shortly after when I watched a lecture from photographer Susan Stripling and she talked about calling her leads, I decided it was time to pick up the phone. The next time I got an email I responded with a friendly greeting and a request to chat on the phone.
Later that day I found myself deep in conversation with Marion. She told me all about her partner, Erin, and how they were so thrilled to be able to be married in Rhode Island. We talked about marriage equality, the blending of their families (Erin had children from a previous marriage), and the importance of their family and friends being bearing witness to this amazing day in their lives.
Marion expressed that they were both camera shy but understood the importance of documenting the day. I told her how at my own wedding (a second marriage for me) the most important photograph for me was the portrait of my blended family, and how I hung it proudly in my living room. I thanked Marion for taking the time to tell me about herself and her plans and encouraged her to call me with any questions.
Later that day she emailed me, she didn't have any questions but she did have this to say:
I just spoke to Erin about our conversation and SNAP as a good option for our photography. We did not intend initially to invest this amount into photography, but it is an important day and lasting memories will be important and a source of enjoyment for years to come. As we discussed--we don't have many photos of the two of us and so this alone is of great value to us. Finally, photos of the four of us on this day are also of great value and I suspect may be the photo of the day for us. Your work is clearly exceptional and so booking leaves me comfortable that this part of the day will be well covered.
I never would have booked this wedding had I not asked Marion to chat with me over the phone. Had I just sent my standard email she would have disappeared into the internet abyss. I didn't realize it at the time, but I was using 5 of the 20 traits cited in the introvert "quiz" above.
Trait #1: I may not be great in group activities, but I am really good with one-on-one conversations. When I called Marion, I didn't sit at my desk, I curled up on the couch and even threw a blanket over my lap like I would do when chatting with my sister. This put me in the mood to talk to Marion like someone I already knew.
Trait #4: Introverts care less about wealth and fame. I feel uncomfortable talking to my clients about money for this reason: I will never be able to "hard sell" or "close the deal." That's just not my style. I gave Marion a range of prices on the phone, but told her I would email her the specifics after our conversation which made it easier to focus on connecting with her.
Trait #5: It's also true that I dislike small talk, but enjoy talking in depth about subjects that matter to me. I was able to skip over the small talk and focus on meaningful topics like marriage equality and the importance of documenting Marion's new family--both subjects that I believe in strongly. For this reason I believe Marion felt connected to me and comfortable that our ideals were in line with each other.
Trait #6: People tell me I am a good listener. I used to think that calling a potential client meant that I had to do a lot of talking and that's why I avoided it. What it actually means is that I should do a lot of listening. I asked Marion a few leading questions such as; "What kind of photography are you drawn to?" and then I just let her talk.
Trait #14: I tend to think before I speak. This ties into trait #6. Because I am listening intently, it's easy for me to deliberately add sensitive observations and insights to the conversation.
Marion felt heard and we made a personal connection. For her, hiring us became a no brainer. I felt rewarded and energized by our conversation. I tried my new approach on the next five inquiries. Within 48 hours, four of them had emailed to say they would like to book with us. Now that's the kind of lead conversion I'm talkin' about!
Introverts of the world! Hear my words! Did you know that Rosa Parks, Eleanor Roosevelt, Bill Gates, Dr. Seuss, Steven Spielberg, J.K. Rowling, Barbara Streisand, Gandhi, Warren Buffett and Albert Einstein all identified themselves as introverted? We're in good company my friends.
Your perceived weaknesses are actually your greatest assets! Harness the quiet power within you and reach out to potential clients who are looking for a personal connection (i.e. reason to hire you over your competitor). You can do it, curl up on the couch and have a nice old fashioned conversation with someone you don't know.
Your business, but more importantly your heart and your clients will thank you for it.