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Results tagged “professional photography association” from PPA Today

By Sarah Ackerman

We are literally counting down the days until we get to the Gaylord Opryland for Imaging USA 2015! (As of Wednesday, November 12th - it's 80, in case you were wondering!) Here's a quick video to show you the ins and outs of the home of #ImagingUSA and give you some tips to help you make the best out of your trip. 

Have any tips for newbies? Tweet them at us @ImagingUSA or post them on our Facebook page!

 

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Sarah Ackerman is known around PPA as #Sarah in part because she handles all things social media and in order to differentiate herself from the other Sarah's in the office. Sarah loves improv comedy (think "Whose Line") and routinely performs with Witless Protection around the Atlanta area and at Dad's Garage Theatre Company. When she's not tweeting/instagramming/facebooking all of the action at PPA, she can be found gallivanting around the world or wandering around the woods with her pup, but more than likely she's on stage making people giggle.
Every year, hundreds of photographers submit their best work in the International Photographic Competition (IPC) to see how they stack up on the world's stage. It's an opportunity to showcase your creativity, skills and work, while learning and shining some light on areas you can improve (because we all get better when we know what we need to work on). 

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The best way to learn is by ordering a critique of your image(s). An IPC judge will record a video of your image, reviewing every detail. They will explain your score, what you did well, and of course, what you need to work on for next year. There is no better place to get some one-on-one feedback on how to improve your work!

And this year, PPA's working on a solution to help the IPC judges going a step further. For the first time ever, judging will be streamed live from the comfort of your own home. Closer to the date, we'll release the access information and you'll just have to hop online during judging (August 4-7). You'll be able to see what images make it and which fall short. 

You'll even hear the judges' rebuttals and see how they challenge each other's evaluations of some images! Remember, the best way to improve your skills is to hear the judges' comments on your work, so you'll want to listen closely as they discuss your entry! And for those who entered images in IPC this year, you will even get an update via text message, as to when your image will be presented and judged so you'll know immediately if you merited! 

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If you're still hesitant to enter a professional photographic competition, checking out the live judging from your computer will be  great way to see what it's really like. In the meantime, below you will find some great PPAedu videos that will also help give you some perspective:


Or if you'd like a refresher on the 12 Elements of a Merit Image, you can get them here with some excellent videos from Michael Timmons, M.Photog.M.Artist.Cr., CPP, F-ASP, an IPC Judge. 

Entries for the IPC opened on May 26 and will remain open until next Thursday, June 26. But don't worry, if your images aren't quite there yet, late submissions will be accepted until July 10 with an additional fee. 

If you're still asking yourself why enter - here are the 10 reasons photographic competition will help your business.


And we should mention - if you're in the Atlanta area and want to see the judging live and in person, IPC Judging at Gwinnett Technical College

(Top Image © Professional Photographers of Iowa, Lower Image © Jim Sanders, Harrisonburg, VA)


If you weren't watching R Street's Hangout about copyright reform last week, you were missing a seriously concerning conversation.

The question of the day was "Has copyright gone too far?" 

R Street invited Tom W. Bell, author of the book Intellectual Privilege, Derek Khanna of R Street, Mitch Stoltz of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Ryan Radia of the Competitive Enterprise Institute to express their opinions. The discussion began with each of the panelists introducing their take on modern copyright law, and what he thought should be done about them. 

While each panelist agreed that modern copyright law needed to be worked on, they disagreed on what needed to be fixed - Bell argued for "the founders' idea of copyright," in reference to the Copyright Act of 1790 and soon the discussion turned to upholding outdated laws and applying them to modern society. Those in the online audience who asked questions about how this was working against the little guy - i.e., freelance writers, e-book authors, small creative business owners - were largely ignored, and their plight in fighting infringement was only briefly acknowledged. Some of the panelists even suggested that they shouldn't have property-like protections for their work because it would stifle others' creativity.

Um, excuse me?

But the talk ended on a note that everyone could agree on: "We can do better than what we have," Bell said.

Yes, indeed! But it's up to us to initiate this change. And when we say 'us', we mean all of us image creators, photographers, artists at large! As you know, PPA is representing photographers on Capitol Hill, month after month, advocating for small business copyright owners. You should join the movement for copyright reform so that things CAN move forward sooner than later. How? Simply letting your opinion known to your local representative (this hyperlink will help you identify who's yours!) You may think that your impact is a small water droplet, but if we ALL take a moment to tell them why it's important to protect our works, we'll be that much more. If you don't quite know what to say, you can check back to the blog for a template letter you can use. After all, what is an ocean but a multitude of drops? In the mean time, here are some easy ways to help you contact Congress!


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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!

Is your bookkeeping up to date? 

It's important to stay on top of this small but crucial task. It means not only entering your income and expenses but also reconciling them to your bank and credit card statements. Remember, the key to your success is in the numbers. Both keeping your financial records up to date and interpreting your numbers on a consistent basis are critical to running a successful business. 

All too often studios don't know that business is down or that they aren't meeting their financial goals until their cash account is impacted or they quite literally run out of money. Don't let it happen to you!

Do you have a clear idea of where your income is coming from? 

In other words, do you have a clear picture of what products your clients are buying and which product lines are profitable? It is vital to your financial success to know the answers to these questions. For example, you may choose to raise the price of a product everyone is buying to make it more profitable. You might also consider eliminating a product line or not offering certain products if they're not helping you achieve the financial results that you need to reach your goals. Your marketing plan and sales strategy are a direct result of this assessment. You need to know who your ideal client is, what they like to buy and then determine what your sales average needs to be for a given number of sessions. 

How can you clearly understand who you are marketing to and what they are buying if you aren't clear on the current number of sessions you are photographing by product line and your average sale for each? This is another huge reason to keep your financial records up to date.

Do you know how your business compares to the Benchmark? 

PPA's Benchmark provides you guidelines for running a successful business. If you keep your cost of sales and overhead percentages within the guidelines, you are guaranteed to make more money. 

Even better, set your goals higher by following the Top Performing Studios' guidelines you'll find in the Benchmark resources. PPA works with high-performing studios that achieve 60-65% bottom line percentages. You should know how your bottom line measures up against them every month! 

If you're using financial software it will be easy to analyze this data but the key is keeping it up to date. Every year a studio should look back at where they have been and then set goals for where they want to be. Studios that do annual goal setting have a better chance of meeting their goals than studios that don't. 

By staying on top of your numbers and consistently understanding how your current state analysis compares to your goals, you can quickly make the necessary adjustments that will move you to the next level. Making adjustments to overall spending, assessing the return on investment (ROI) of marketing dollars and tracking sales averages by product line are just a few more things that make a good studio great.

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Remember picture day back in high school? You'd dress up in your "coolest" clothes and the photographer's assistant would sit you on a stool, tell you to smile and sit up straight, and then a blinding flash. Done. Your pasty, zit-dotted face was then frozen in that awkward moment forever, for all to see in the school yearbook as a representation of you. Hey, are your eyes even open?

Cringe no more; you're done with those terrible times! You're a part of a great organization that's helping you and nearly 27,000 other members be better photographers. And we all want to see you.

In our Faces of PPA campaign, you've been getting to know other members through creative self-portraits and quotes on their journey through photography with PPA. The best part is that you can be yourself! It's not a generic yearbook shot on the same backdrop as everyone else--you can really let your creative flag fly. 

A few quick things to note:

1. Think of your marketing, people! This can be a piece to show to your potential clients on your web and social pages. That means put some camera equipment in the picture. Then anyone who sees the photo will say "Hey! That dude/dudette must be a photographer!"
2. No collages of your work. The focus is YOU and only you here. 
3. THERE IS NO DEADLINE. Take your time. Have fun. 

Let's get to know you and your unique brand. Visit ppa.com/faces, answer a few questions and submit an image of yourself that you can be proud of.  We've got over 27,000 members but have only seen a few hundred of your faces. We need to see yours too! 

Step out from behind the camera for once. You better not be behind the bleachers!


Written by guest blogger, Danielle Brooks

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As an incoming freshman at Flagler College you have to attend the annual convocation. When you enter the auditorium, members of the staff and faculty hand you a railroad tie. During the assembly, students are told that today is the first day in the journey to building their legacy.
Flagler College, located in St. Augustine, Florida, was originally the Ponce de Leon Hotel built by Henry Flagler. It became a college in 1968. Henry Flagler is most famous for founding Standard Oil. He was also the mastermind behind building the East Coast Railway. It runs all throughout Florida and up the East Coast. 

Flagler, being a businessman, decided to build a hotel along the railroad, so the elite in society had a place to vacation. He didn't want them to stay for the weekend, because then everyone could do that. His hotel was exclusive. In order to stay at the Ponce de Leon Hotel, you had to stay all season. 

Before he made it big in the oil industry, Flagler originally went into business with his brother-in-law to form the Flagler and York Salt Company. With the American Civil War, the demand for salt drastically decreased and they eventually went out of business. Flagler lost $50,000 he borrowed from his family as well as another $50,000 he saved from years of working. Because Flagler didn't let that failure stop him, he went on leave a legacy that is still standing and impacting thousands of students every year.

I graduated from Flagler College in December of 2009 with a degree in Communication. I got a job straight out of college working as an Associate Producer at Channel 4 in Jacksonville. After a year, I determined journalism wasn't for me. All my life, I wanted to be a journalist and I found I didn't like it. It was crushing. 

Broken and a little lost for direction, a former teacher offered me a job writing press releases part time at Flagler. After a month or two, the Web and New Media Services Department decided to take me on as a contractor for a couple of video projects. Once that work ran out, my boss asked me if I knew how to use a camera. 


Entering into the International Photographic Competition (IPC) can be intimidating, even if you know the 12 elements of a merit image like the back of your hand. It's easy to speculate what the judges are looking for in an image before they consider granting it a merit, so down below you'll find resources to clarify all this. You'll also find some tips on things to really avoid. 

There's a PPAedu series with IPC judge, Michael Timmons, M.Photog.M.Artist.Cr., CPP, F-ASP about all things relating to photo competition! Who better to tell you what the judges are looking for than... an actual judge? 

There's also a 3 easy-to-digest, 20-minute videos that break down the 12 elements. Watch them one at a time or back to back--however you learn best! They are must-watch for those who are newer to photographic competition, and an excellent refresher for those already preparing their entries this year. And because it's all on PPAedu, you can watch them as many times as you'd like. It's just one of the many benefits of your PPA membership

In the first part, Michael walks you through 4 of the 12 elements: Impact, Creativity, Style and Composition

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And to round things out, the 3rd piece focuses the last 4 elements: Color Balance, Technical Excellence, Technique and Storytelling

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Now you're well on your way to submitting a merit-worthy image at this year's International Photographic Competition! Entries are open May 26 - June 26 (or July 10 with a late fee). If you want to get the full experience, be sure to order a critique of your image. A judge like Michael will record a video showing you what you did well and what cause the image to fall short for a merit. It's a very effective way to find out what to work on and there's no better way to improve your craft!

These three videos and over 250 more are available to PPA members and PPAedu subscribers! Not a PPA member? Join now or subscribe to PPAedu to get full access to all the PPAedu on-demand videos.

Want to work less and make more? Awesome! Have a plan on how to do that? Don't worry--PPA's got your back (and it's not as complicated as you'd think). 

Every few years, PPA invites studios from around the country--from home studios to brick and mortar locations, weddings to pets and everything in between-to complete the Benchmark Survey. This survey gets stronger with the more studios that participate. (Hint, hint - sign-up here to be an integral part of the upcoming survey! The information isn't difficult to obtain, in fact you'll have plenty of it readily available since you just completed your taxes!) 

Here's another way to look at the Benchmark survey: 


Once the survey is complete, PPA's CPAs and industry experts create an all-encompassing photography business guide and compile other resources that will show you where to increase your own business' profitability. And if you don't want to wait for the results of this year's survey, check out the new tool that  helps photographers plan for a profitable business model by beginning with their/your end in mind. How? Easy! 

  1. First, you'll start by deciding how much you'd like you're annual net income to be each year, then the tool works its way back to show your cost of sales and overhead and how they impact your profitability from get-go. All of these calculations come from past Benchmark Surveys, so you know they're based on real life examples of what's worked and more importantly, what hasn't. 

  2. Second, the survey will help you sidestep common mistakes many photographers unknowingly make. It will help you understand  how to determine or adjust your pricing (and it's not based on what the guy down the street is charging)! You'll also be able to determine if it's financially realistic to hire an employee or if it makes sense to move into a retail space. And the best part is, you'll be able to make sound calculated decisions, not just based on your "gut" feeling!

  3. And third, we understand you don't know what you don't know. That's why there are additional Benchmark Resources--resources, tools and guides that can quickly impact your bottom line! You'll get things like a comprehensive guide to the results. This will allow you to get the most from the survey by breaking it down to plain English and extrapolating the results into things you can do to change your business for the better. It will also give you access to comparison tools that allow you to size your studio up to the top performing studios in the nation (and learn from how they do business), along with how to see where you fit in the bigger picture of the photographic industry. 

It might sound too good to be true, but we assure you it isn't! You just fill out a few simply questions and you'll be ready to see how many sessions you need to book and at what prices to make the money you want. Get started at square one today! 

And there's a bonus if you participate in the survey: you'll get side-by-side results (personalized just for you!) from the 2014 Survey for free! This is HUGE! Best part: If you're a PPA member, this is included in your membership. If you're not, join today to improve your bottom line now! 

You can't afford to wait. Access these great resources today and sign up to participate in the 2014 Survey!
Spring has sprung! The birds are singing, flowers are blooming and these discussions are hopping on theLoop! Here are the top discussions happening on our safe and secure online community:

If you had a time machine and could go back and tell yourself one thing as you began your journey into professional photography, what would it be? This is a great conversation for veterans and newbies alike!

Are you into commercial photography? Talk tech and debate between Lightroom 5 or Creative Suite 6 for software! 

How much are you worth? Not how much do you charge per session, or how much you have in the bank--but how much are you (the photographer, owner, operator, visionary) of your business worth? Learn how to come up with an answer here.

This is always a popular question! We all have limited resources--so how do you use them effectively in your marketing? Google AdWords? LinkedIn? Facebook? There are an overwhelming amount of options! See what your fellow photographers are doing successfully here.

For all of you Do-It-Yourselfers out there! Save some big bucks by performing your own sensor cleanings, but be sure to read the whole thread. There are some horror stories of DIY gone wrong. Weigh in with your personal stories of successes and failures (there's no judgment here!) 

If you ever have clients that refuse to order at an ordering session--this thread is for you! How do you deal with customers that just don't want to purchase in the studio and only want to do it online? Join the conversation (and learn a few tricks in the process) here!

Sometimes it's nice to not worry about all of the equipment and just focus on the subject matter. Do you have a favorite point and shoot? What do you use it for? Get back to your photography roots with this great thread! 

Don't forget, theLoop is PPA's safe and secure online community where members can discuss various photography topics! Not a PPA member? It's easy: join today!
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Written by PPA Member, Michelle Kaffko of Organic Headshots, Chicago, Illinois
Read more of Michelle's blog at organicheadshots.com/blog/

During the last 9 years working as a headshot photographer I estimate that about 95% of the people I've taken a headshot of have made some kind of self-deprecating comment during the photo session.

Such as:

"I'll try not to break your camera."
"I've got a huge nose- just warning you."
"Try not to get my 18 chins in the photo."
"Well it's a good enough photo for what you've got to work with."

I spend about 5% of a headshot session going over clothing options, 5% adjusting lighting, 20% posing and coaching, and 10% actually snapping the shutter button.  And then 60% telling people they're not as ugly as they say they are.

But I get it.  I completely understand.  Because I hate photos of myself too.  Sometimes I look at a photo of me and think I look like a stunt zombie wearing earrings.  And it wasn't until about year 6 as a headshot photographer that I finally gathered the courage to get in front of the lens and book another photographer to take my own professional headshot.

I love being behind a camera, looking through the lens, and capturing fractions of a second of our short time on earth and sharing that with the world.  I love images, imagery, telling stories through photos, and using a camera to paint the perfect portrait of amazing human beings who deserve dignified images of themselves that say, "look people!  I'm here!  And this is how awesome I am."

But if you ever point a camera at me, I will punch you in the neck.
You want to improve your business, make more money, but work less, right? Well growing your operations can now be done from the comfort of your favorite set of pajamas and fuzzy slippers with a live streaming option of the PPA Business Basics March 29-30, 2014. Not only will you be able to participate from the comfort of your own home--you'll save time and money by skipping the trip to Atlanta (although we'd love to see you in person here!).


What's more, when you register you get an additional virtual seat to share with anyone in your studio. More learning, not more spending! And you'll get all of the downloadable materials and the bonus of being able to (re)play the workshop back to pick up on things you may have missed.  

This two day intensive business program will give you the tools you need to improve your business's bottom line. What can you expect to walk away with? Veteran instructor Jeff Dachowski, M.Photog.Cr, CPP explains:

"The top five things you'll walk away with are--(1) you never stop marketing yourself, (2) pricing is key, (3) bookkeeping is not optional, (4) your business is always ready for a change, and (5) marketing is more than having a twitter account."

Whether you've been in business for ten days or ten years, this class can help you turn over a new leaf.  

"Anyone who is in the business of photography, or considering it should think about taking this class. Whether you own your own studio, or thinking about making the leap, this class will help you get ready to be profitable from the start, or correct the course if you are not where you want to be. I think this class is important for any studio to take, because it allows you to focus on the systems and underlying issues that newer and seasoned studios either don't know, or got wrong when their studio was formed."

So what are you waiting for? Register today to be more in 2014! Your business and your bottom line with thank you. Seriously!

This year is flying by - so quickly that Daylight Savings Time is already coming up this weekend. Remember to 'spring ahead' on Sunday! So what are some top posts you may have missed this week? We have the 10 photography blogs from March 2 - 7, 2014, that we hope will inspire you to be more!

Imaging USA speaker, Rachel Stephens talks feel-good inspiration with CreativeLIVE. Go forth and conquer your fears (and your weekend) after reading this one.

Nature photographers often get an unfair rep. PhotographyTalk would like to put an end to it. Here are the 5 myths about pro nature photographers. 

How about a little flash back Friday? Here are 40 photographs that will make you appreciate today just a little bit more and will put the value of your work as a photographer in perspective. Documenting history is one of the reasons why photography will never go away!

Long exposure photography has started to gain popularity over the last few years - here are Digital Photography School's top 8 tips to consider before venturing out to try this approach. 
 
Ryan Williams and SLR Lounge got together to talk specifics when doing portraits in the beautiful golden hour. Talk shop, settings and post processing to get this magical, natural look.

We've all been there--you're contacted by a bride-to-be and all goes swimmingly. You're on the road to a great working relationship when (out of nowhere) she stops returning your calls. SLR Lounge has the four things you can do to fix the situation.  

Thanks to Ellen (and her famous friends), the Oscar selfie seen round the world raises some interesting copyright questions. Who has the copyright on the most shared photo on Twitter? 

This crowd-sourced movie is coming to a theater near you (schedule to be released at the end of the month!) Check out the trailer of this private photographer's work--or if you live in Portland, check it out now!

Getty Images announced they are dropping their watermark from the bulk of its collection this week--and to many WordPress bloggers with no budget, it's looking like a free stock imagery field day! Get the full story from the team over at the Verge here. 

Want to better you black and white photographs? Skip the grayscale button and go for the Zone System! Get a review of it here from Photofocus.

There you have it, our favorite blog posts of the week! Don't forget that you can share your own blog posts, or others that you have enjoyed, on theLoop
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Written by guest blogger, Danielle Brooks

It has only been 34 days since Imaging USA and already my business looks completely different. 

I knew going to Phoenix would radically change my business, I just didn't know how. I hate change, but I know it represents progress. My last article addressed the fact that Imaging gave me whiplash. Now that the pain has subsided, what would my next steps be? I decided to focus on what my business needed most: print products. 

While at Imaging, my main goal was to find a print lab to offer products to my clients. When you start out as a photographer, no one gives you a road map. No one sits down with you and says, "Here's a great print lab. You should start offering these products to clients at this percentage of markup in order to make a profit." And truth be told, even if they did, it would only be a jumping-off point. Only I can know what my market will bear in terms of pricing. So the thought of finding a lab, selecting my products and figuring out markup was a little stressful. 

I visited every single lab that had a booth at Imaging. White House Custom Color met my needs completely. I know everyone has a lab that they advocate for and WHCC is mine. Their representatives in the booth were so helpful and friendly. I appreciated that when I asked a seemingly basic question, they didn't look at me like I was stupid. They answered them in the best way possible. Making sure I had a grasp on their products and how to offer them to clients. This was such a huge help to me as a beginner. 

Next on the list was finding a way to showcase my products to clients and whether or not I wanted to do an in-person ordering session. Since I do not have a studio, I have decided to offer online purchasing. I know many of you will say I'm leaving money on the table, but for me, right now, it works. I would love to do in-person ordering, but you have to start somewhere. 

So at Imaging, I stopped by the Shoot Proof booth. They offer a great option for online ordering. I can select from their partner labs, or add my own and self-fulfill. Their interface is super easy to navigate. I can literally select products I offer, and then add the price I offer them for. 

Another big change to my business is partnering with other businesses. At Imaging I was challenged to look for ways to make connections that would help word of mouth. About a week after the conference, I visited my husband at work and as I was leaving, I noticed a gymnastics place across the way. I went home and thought about ways I might be able to partner with them. Here was a business that caters to children, and their parents are waiting in the lobby for an hour or more a week. What better way to get my name out there as a family photographer than to put my materials in their lobby?

I quickly found their website and Facebook and noticed that they had a crazy amount of photos, but none of them were particularly good. The next week I was able to schedule a meeting with the owner. I explained to her that I was a new photographer to the area and wanted to get my name out there. I told her I would be willing to photograph an event for free in exchange for letting me leave some information in their lobby. Some might frown on the idea of giving away photos, but let me tell you it has come back to me tenfold. 

After the event, she posted some of the photos, and she immediately told me she had parents wanting to buy proofs. She also wanted to know if I could do team photos and sports photos of all the kids. What a HUGE opportunity! It will be so easy for me to talk to the parents about a family session while I'm photographing their kids. If there is ever a way to invest in your community, do it. The results might surprise you.

As things stand now, I am not generating enough consistent business to leave my "day job" but I'm hoping that by planting the seeds now, I will reap a harvest in the future. This year holds so many possibilities and I'm glad I started 2014 off right by attending Imaging USA. I cannot wait to see where my business will be this time next year. 

Happy Valentine's Day!  Here at PPA, we love (Get it? Valentine's Day? Love?) helping you be more as a professional photographer. With that in mind, here are 10 photography blogs from this week, that we think will help make you fall a little bit more in love with the industry.

For the do-it-yourselfers, pyro and light painting fans out there - this is a great how-to for steel wool photography (along with some pretty nifty examples).  Just remember, PPA doesn't condone lighting yourself or your neighborhood on fire.  

Afraid of heights? You might want to skip this one. Two Russian climbers summited the second tallest building in the world (Shanghai Tower) without safety equipment or ropes and caught it all on film. (Please don't try this at home!)

Jim Richardson, accomplished National Geographic photographer, gives you the basics on panning motion photography. Take these simple tricks to the next level.

Ok, we don't love this at all. Facebook made a video saying "Remembering the big day is easier with friends" (you can check the video out on the link). But one creative photographer did come up with a beautiful parody video. 

The article above brought us back to thinking about an infographic from Buzzfeed. If you missed it earlier this week, it's worth the chuckles. (If you have some of your own, post them on our Facebook page!)

Adventure photographer Lucas Gilman talks social shop with the team at Photoshelter. See how 14,000 Instagram followers (and 9,000 on Twitter) has helped his career, creativity and business strategy. 

SLR Lounge has the tip of tips to help you drastically improve your black and white images from bland and boring to (dare we say) majestic. Get the details here, you're sure to find a couple of nuggets for your own business. 

Sochi has caused quite the hubbub leading up to the Winter Olympics- so what's it like now that the competitions are underway? Sports photographer Robert Hanashiro checks in with an up close and personal look at the games. 


Max Jackson, a Florida Atlantic University student, allowed the Color Run to use one of his images on their Facebook page. When he found that image in their print and marketing materials, he asked for some compensation. What happens next will blow your mind. Read on! 

We're not kidding. Make sure to clear the room of children, or adults with sensitive ears because you might be spewing four letter words (and we don't mean l-o-v-e) after reading this post from PetaPixel. Oh! and the comments will be worth your while too!

There you have it, our favorite blog posts of the week! Don't forget that you can share your own blog posts, or others that you have enjoyed, on theLoop

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Written by guest blogger, Christine Walsh-Newton

When I began my journey to being a professional photographer, I was determined to do it right. I wanted to find ways to measure my capability and skills. Ways that would keep me in check and provide me the opportunity to continually learn and improve. 


Through my membership, I may enter the district and international print competitions sponsored by PPA. Through my state affiliate (Professional Photographers of Ohio), I also participate on a local level. 

Each spring, I compete at my state. There, I am allowed to enter six of my best images. Then I choose the four best from that group and send them on to the Northeast District competition. Depending on the results of that competition, I may forward all four images to the international competition in the summer, or I may elect to do some more work on them first. I may even decide to replace them with a different images.

One of the delightful benefits to competition is that you can order critiques of your images recorded by the affiliated judges that were at the competition. I always purchase the critiques and generally follow the advice of the juror who recorded it. I feel fortunate that PPA offers this service. What a wonderful way to get input on our images!

What competition means to me:
Each year that I've participated in print competition, I've learned and I've grown. Sometimes I get decent scores or an award, but the important part to me is that I improve. I listen quietly during the judging and take notes. Even if the judges speak about an image that isn't mine, the knowledge they impart is applicable to my work. Through judging I'm learning the intricacies of lighting, presentation and composition. I learn what color combinations work and which ones are best left alone. I learn the subtleties of posing and body language.

I've learned all these things in a general manner through my own education and study and have refined them through use, but listening to judge after judge make a quiet comment here or point out a flaw there has trained me to look hard at the details. Little by little my work has improved. The subtle differences and changes I have made have started to add up and my work has shown tremendous strides in technical competence in just a few short years of competing.

Scoring is important to me and the fact that PPA has a standard scoring system that is consistently maintained gives print competition the credibility that I need in order to trust that it is a valid evaluation of my work. The judges are thoroughly trained and vetted and must also use the scoring system in a manner that provides consistency. My scores show me where I'm at in relation to standard expectations for photographic quality. In the beginning it took awhile for my work to reach the "deserving of a merit" range of scores, and with hard and consistent work, I've been given the pleasure of watching those scores rise over time.

A benefit of competing that was surprising is the inspiration I've gained from viewing images from other competitors. Over the last few years I've probably watched several thousand images go through judging. The amount of talent exhibited is enormous and overwhelming at times. Other competitors have been generous with their time and advice, assisting me along my journey. Sometimes I think "competition" isn't quite the correct term as my fellow competitors and I seem to have bonded into a beneficial family of sorts. It's rare for there to be competition between competitors that I know and some of my best competitor friends and I share ideas, techniques and images with each other while preparing for competition. Sometimes we find ourselves cheering and commiserating with each other, depending on our results. 

How it helps me grow: 
At my first competition, I volunteered in the print room. After a few hours of unpacking print cases and viewing a large number of exquisite images, I was afraid for my own. I tried to figure out how to "unenter" and hide my print case in my car. I was unsure of my skills and my talent. I was scared. And I was embarrassed to show my work. I was not confident and those first few rounds of critiques were difficult to digest.

Progressively, through competition, critiques, judgings and just plain old networking with other competitors, I am now more sure of what I'm doing and have a higher level of faith in my work. Competition has given me the confidence to recognize when I'm creating nice work. And the humility to realize it when I'm not and ask for help. And when I receive that help, I can now view it objectively and embrace it as part of my learning and growing process. 

Once upon a time I only dreamed of doing well in competition and of learning from photographers who were leading the way. For awhile I thought it was a goal well out of my grasp. Through competition, I've learned to set goals and work towards them progressively so that over time I'd get there. The journey will never be complete, but with the help of PPA competition, it has been a progressive and positive one.

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Written by guest blogger Danielle Brooks

Last night my husband, Rich, and I were lying around reading when he suddenly asked, "Do you know what you're wearing?" 

"To what?" I replied.

"To Imaging USA. It's less than 10 days away now. Do you know what the weather will be like? How about what classes you're going to take? Do you have a plan for the expo floor?"

"Well I have a general idea but I want to be open."

"If you want to make the most of your time there, you've got to figure these things out, Danielle." 

Crap. I knew my husband was right. The time had come to make some definitive decisions. I have been so caught up in the holidays and business that I haven't stopped to plan my course of action, let alone pack. I needed to decide on what to wear, courses to take, and what my plan for the expo floor was going to be.

Last time, I came to the conclusion I needed to take courses related to lighting and posing. But how will I choose when a lighting or posing class is offered at the same time? What about clothing? Will this Florida girl need to bring a coat? I immediately put down my book and did a quick search for "weather in Phoenix." I found that Phoenix is bipolar in that it will be in the 70s during the day, but low 40s at night. How am I to dress for that? 

One of my biggest dilemmas in preparing for IUSA was deciding what to wear. I want to be fashionable, yet comfortable. Professional, but not over dressed. And any outfit I pack needs to be potentially ready for a night on the town with new friends. 

With those guidelines there is a very slim margin of clothes I can bring. I settled on a nice pair of jeans, several three-quarter length sleeved polo shirts, and of course my IUSA15 shirt. I can wear my jeans more than once, and the shirts will help keep me warm in a potentially chilly expo center, yet cool enough to be out and about in Phoenix during the day. Of course tennis shoes are a must. 

But what about the parties? Do people dress up for those? I decided I would make time after I tour the expo floor to go back to my hotel room to change into something a little more fancy. This would allow me to regroup and write down any thoughts about the day. Since it will be cooling off in the evening, I'm packing a nice coat to go along with my outfit. 

Now that my clothes were packed, I started making a game plan for the classes I wanted to take. I methodically went down the list of classes with my husband and decided which ones would be the most beneficial. If two classes I want to take are offered at the same time I checked to see if similar class is being offered at another time. That way I could have the best of both worlds. I seriously love the Imaging USA app. If you don't have it, do yourself a favor and download it. You won't regret your decision. I love that you can star which vendors are a must see and it highlights where they are on the expo floor. You can also select your classes and it will show up on a calendar so you don't loose track of where you're supposed to be. 

Last on the list was planning my strategy for the expo floor. I came up with a list of items I will need going into the New Year. My focus will be on packaging and offering print products to my clients. I was able to use my IUSA app to star the companies that I was interested in learning more about. My first day at the expo will be spent focusing on my needs. That way, I can enjoy focusing on my wants later in the week. I was also able to sign up for the IUSA Alumni Program. They pair off newbies, like myself, with veterans of IUSA. I was paired up with an Imaging USA veteran who will be able to walk with me through the expo floor on my first day. I'm sure he will have a bunch of great tips for talking with vendors to get the best deals. 

Now that most of my plans are set, all I have to do is wait to put them in motion. What's your IUSA plan? If you have any tips or tricks for me, please feel free to share in the comments! Until then, IUSA here we come!

Gmail recently made some pretty nifty changes to their layout, but you may have noticed you've been missing your updates from PPA.  It turns out that many of our messages are now landing in your "promotions" tab.

But don't worry - we're here to fix this!

All you need to do is open the "promotions" tab, click and hold your latest PPA (or Imaging USA) email and drag it to your  "primary" tab (check out this quick video for an example). A yellow box will pop up asking if you want to do this for future messages from PPA? Just click yes!

 

 

Now all of the great membership benefits, educational resources and updates from Imaging USA will be front and center - not to mention available on your mobile devices!

We're thrilled to announce a new member benefit coming your way! Effective November 1, PPA will be making the switch from FedEx to UPS®.

Shipping & logistics are a vital component to every business, so we know this discount is important to you. Rest assured, the new discount from UPS is the best we have ever been able to offer. As a PPA member, you'll save up to 34% on a broad portfolio of services, including air, international and ground services. Plus, savings begin at 70% on UPS Freight® shipments over 150 lbs. UPS understands how important reliability, speed and cost are to meeting your business goals and your customers' needs. Put the power of logistics to work for you. (For the details, log into PPA.com!)

What makes these even better - the discount with UPS will not only offer great rates, but also host a user-friendly interface, saving you money and time. 

Remember to visit the Year-Round Discounts page to see other companies PPA has partnered with to help lower your costs of doing business! 

Not a PPA member? Join today to take advantage of this discount, along with the rest of the PPA member benefits

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You know the social media lingo, where to find your prospects or clients, how to set a strategy and how to plan your posts. This week we're diving into the world of best practices!

Here are top 25 best practices for social media, ranging from the super technical (like where to place a link in a tweet) to general guide lines. 

Twitter
  1. Put links 25% way through the tweet. You'll gain more retweets that way!
  2. Share links to gain more retweets. Share your blog, share your Facebook page, Instagram feed or YouTube videos! Share interesting articles of what's happening in the photography world or new things in your area. Remember, you can't talk about yourself all the time or folks will stop paying attention.
  3. Tweet around 4 PM. Really. It's the magical hour that gets the most retweets! Use HootSuite (free!) to schedule your posts around that time and gain the most traction.
  4. Ask for the retweet! Including the phrase "Please Retweet" or "Please RT" in your tweets will dramatically increase how many of your followers will spread the news (but don't go overboard and use it on every single tweet. Nobody likes that guy.)
  5. Retweet regularly from folks you follow. Paying it forward that way improves your Twitter karma. It may sound like a joke, but it works. Just ensure you keep it relevant! 
  6. Participate in #FF. Find your top followers and throw them a solid by including them in the #FF every week or so. If you're included in a #FF, retweet it and say thank you (mind your manners!)
  7. If you get picked up in an aggregate paper, say thanks and retweet their link. They'll continue to showcase your stuff and you'll continue to expand your reach. 
  8. Use hashtags that are applicable to your business! #photography, #your city, #behindthescenes, etc.
  9. Use the bio section to your advantage. Use keywords (in a logical manner) to turn up higher in the search function! Its Twitter's special way to use SEO!

Facebook
  1. Use questions that start with "should", "would" or "which" for more comments and answers.  Ask questions for more comments and to get input from your clients and respond to them so they know you're listening. 
  2. Enable the "reply" feature to keep the stream of comments listed in an orderly fashion!
  3. Use Calls-to-Action on Facebook. Posts with the word "Like" in them are twice as likely to receive a like. We all love likes, but similar to asking for the retweet, do this sparingly.
  4. Take advantage of your skill set and often use a photo! Stats show that posts with a photo are nearly twice as likely to get more likes, and any page looks incomplete without a cover photo.
  5. Use Facebook as a medium for giveaways or promotions. Discounted sessions or free prints. Don't break your bank, but offer your fans something that makes them feel special. 
  6. Use the milestones to tell the story of your brand! Mark studio opening, major events

Google+
  1. Share the love and +1 other people's work. Ask questions and be a part of the conversation. There are hundreds of photography communities, get involved, even for just a few minutes a day.
  2. Link your Goolge+ page with your website and other social networks. Use the +1 or share button so your content can be easily spread throughout the interwebs!
  3. Share your work often and give details that entice a conversation: talk about your equipment, your lighting, your creative process to bring other photographers in on the conversation. 
  4. Be the author! Google+ will help you increase your SEO with AuthorRank! Not only will it help you get noticed on Google+, but that blog of yours will also get some major attention. (You can find out more here.) 

Instagram
  1. Utilize hashtags on Instagram in the same way you would on Twitter. They will get more engagement since people can actually find them. 
  2. Make behind the scenes videos of all your office fun, current projects and assignments! You can pack a lot of punch into 15 seconds!

LinkedIn
  1. Gain credibility with recommendations. Ask some of your best clients (not every client) to write a quick recommendation on LinkedIn and you'll be three times more likely to get inquiries through the LinkedIn searches! 
  2. Look for your next gig through the LinkedIn jobs search! This probably won't be your top lead generating tool, but it will add to your bottom line. 

General
  1. Stay positive. If you beg for business, complain about how it's a tough year or write anything that could be perceived as negative you will lose business. Your content helps define your value, and if you devalue your brand with less-than-positive posts, your clients will go elsewhere. 
  2. Respond to negative comments and don't delete them. If you delete them, you will look a little shady, no matter how crazy the comment is. Kill them with kindness, offer to talk to them offline and ask them to private message you their number (or if you already have their number, call them immediately). 

A bunch of new things to keep in mind as you navigate your social media plan, but soon they will seem like second nature (we promise!) courtesy of HubSpot, Photoshelter, Yahoo! Small Business Advisor, SocialMedia Today, Webmarketing Group, Socially Stacked and Media Bistro. Next week we will talk about the things to avoid on social media - these are the things that will make your customers run for the hills (or at least to your competitor).

- Sarah

This is post 5 of 7 in the Be More...Social series. Read the other posts in the series using the links below:


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:









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