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By Mariah Ashley

Aaah, the elusive tropical destination wedding.

The question always asked is: "How do I book one?"

I think the more important question might be, "How do I survive it once I book it?"

Booking a destination wedding is relatively easy. Executing one, well... that's a different story altogether.

Come along for an adventure while I break down the most difficult wedding we've ever shot in the prettiest place we've ever worked. A destination wedding can be broken down into 10 separate categories: Travel Arrangements, Packing, Traveling, Arriving/Acclimating, Scouting, Relaxing, Shooting, Networking & Making Friends, Relief and Debauchery, Dragging Your Butt Home, Regrouping and Recouping.

Travel Arrangements: Setting yourself up for success starts before your flip-flop ever hits the tarmac. As a rule, Trish and I always make our own travel arrangements. We've arrived at one too many mildew-coated hotel rooms, sending Trish into anaphylactic shock, to rely on our clients to set up our accommodations. We've stuck to this rule for ten years--that is until last week when we traveled to the Dominican Republic.

The bride and the wedding planner assured us we'd have a lovely villa to stay close to the wedding in a swanky, exclusive, gated community. We were asked if we wouldn't mind sharing the villa with the female videographer and her husband/partner, female singer for the band and female wedding planners. That was all cool with us. They also chose our flights based on our preferences, scheduled a shuttle to get us back and forth from the airport, and agreed to provide us with a stipend for food and a car for getting around to the various event locations.

*Tip: Whenever possible make your own travel arrangements. If it's not possible make sure that your travel arrangements are clear and written into your contract. Things to consider: flight, airport parking, shuttle to location and back to airport, meals, customs fees, baggage fees, tipping.

DR Vendors0083.JPGPacking: We had to pack light for our trip so that we could fit all the equipment we needed into two backpacks that we would carry onto the plane. This meant leaving behind much of our backup equipment and peace of mind. After some creative packing we managed to squeeze 3 camera bodies, 70-200mm lens, 24-70mm lens, 60mm macro, 85 mm lens, 35 mm lens, 3 flashes, 3 battery packs, a large video light, a small video light, a reflector, a monopod, a rogue flash bender, phototix transmitters and receivers, lots of batteries, compact flashcards, and a lens cleaning kit into our two backpacks.

*Tip: Take only what you need, but have backups. Pack, unpack, and repack. Don't forget battery chargers (we did). Camera equipment arises suspicion and almost always results in your bag being searched at customs, usually when leaving the country you just shot in. Arrive early to the airport to allow for this. You don't need to panic if you have the right documentation and work visa if applicable.

Traveling: We breezed through security and customs with our backpacks and arrived in the Dominican at... 2 a.m. The flight the client booked for us was a redeye; it was... you guessed it... cheaper. But, it was also a direct flight which we were thankful for.

I assumed the airport was not too far from our villa but I was mistaken. By the time we got to bed it was 4:30 a.m. Lack of sleep=bad. Luckily I had the foresight to insist we arrived at least two days before the wedding. This gave us an entire day to ourselves before we had to shoot any of the festivities.

*Tip: Definitely allow for time to yourself. In this instance the wedding was on Saturday but we arrived early Thursday morning. Delayed flights and unforeseen circumstances can put you behind right from the beginning and you don't want to be running to the wedding having just landed.

Arriving/Acclimating: We spent the morning catching some Z's but were driven out of bed by a possessed woodpecker determined to drill his way into our villa. Waking up in the light of day we discovered our villa was all the bride had promised and more. The villa had 6 bedrooms, each with its own bathroom, a pool and hot tub, a maid and a cook! Our friend Dave, one of the videographers, dubbed us the 1 percent (of wedding vendors)!

Reading the itinerary we discovered that we would also be sharing the villa with the band. (Say what?) Not quite how it had been sold to us, but at least we arrived the day before them so we could stake out the bedrooms we wanted, relegating the band to the bottom floor of the villa where they could stumble in late and do whatever musicians do in the privacy of their own floor. We had been told there would be a stipend waiting for us, but there were no pesos in sight so we set out in search of food with credit card in hand. In addition to the car we also had a golf cart for exploring so naturally we opted for that mode of transportation! Golf cart antics=good.

*Tip: Be self-sufficient, arrive with cash and credit card. Exchange some money at the airport for local currency, just in case your all-inclusive... isn't.

Scouting: After procuring some grub we decide we better scout our locations. We needed to find the beach, the villa where the groom was getting ready, the first look location and the house that the bride's family owned where the ceremony and reception would be happening. We took our time, (partly because our golf cart only went about 2 miles an hour, and partly because we didn't have a schedule to keep).

Our mission started at 11:30 a.m., we found the first look location and scouted the area that we would use for formal photos. By 12:30 we were scouting the beach and I discovered... a beach bar! Eureka, rum punch and lunch! After about two hours we spent the afternoon relaxing. After dinner we went out again for another two hours with the videographers to take some atmosphere photos of the scenery and sunset. Keep in mind, none of this time is technically "on the clock," it's us using our own time to get prepared so that we could do a great job the next day. Because we were leisurely and there was rum punch and palm trees involved, I didn't feel weird about "donating " my time.

*Tip: Familiarize yourself with all the locations you'll be shooting at, preferably at the time of day you'll actually be there.

Relaxing: We had most of the second day to relax because we didn't have to be at the rehearsal into late afternoon. We took a nice walk, went to the beach, swam, ordered 11 a.m. mojitos, ate a big salad and took a little nap. After about six hours to ourselves, we were refreshed and ready to photograph the rehearsal. Turquoise sea, palm trees, beach bar, and bathing suits... balmy.

*Tip: Eke out a little time for yourself. This is the perk to all the other headaches!

More Scouting: I had included 2 hours of rehearsal dinner coverage in the contract but we went an hour and a half early so that we could watch the actual rehearsal at the bride's home. The set up was a little unorthodox, with the bride walking over a platform serving as the aisle for the ceremony, built above their pool so we wanted to make sure we understood the set up and we also wanted to touch base again with the wedding planners in case any changes had been made to the schedule. Again, this is time we "donated" so that we would be prepared for the wedding day.

Shooting: The whole reason we've come... the wedding day! Is there a personality type that is more intense than type A? Is there an A++? We give our lovely little bride an A++. She weighs about 85 pounds soaking wet, but she's a force to be reckoned with. She had expectations and requests--lots of them. We knew we'd be working our butts off but we had no idea the level of effort and energy we'd be exerting over the 10 hours of shooting that ensued.

To begin with, the very tight, very strict schedule (in 15-minute increments) prepared by the bride went flying out the window when she and the groom ran an hour later than planned. Guess what that means? Less time for photos, that's what. We needed to keep the bride happy by getting her 100 requests filled, the planner happy by making up an hour of lost time, all the while fulfilling a 100 more spontaneous requests from the bride as we went. I can say with cramped trigger finger that I have never shot more images at a wedding, at least twice as many as our normal 2500-3000 shots. Between the locations we guzzled water, blasted the air-conditioning and scarfed down peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Oh, and just to keep us on our toes, sprinkle in a rainstorm just as we were about to start family formals. Change-of-plan. The first bathroom break I took was at 8:30, 6 hours into our day. Luckily for me I was sweating so much I didn't have much liquid in me to begin with. We left no guest unturned (200 guests to be exact), as we fired off table shots (aargh), college group photos, high school friends photos, neighborhood friends , work friends and commuter -train friends (huh?). The evening was a blur of groups shots that we snapped happily knowing that our bride's high expectations would be met.

At 12:30 when the band finished playing and the party ended we packed our cameras away and made our way over to the bride to say our goodbyes. Only she had one more request. So we wiped our tears and reassembled our cameras and shot one more group of her college friends. We were finally finished.

*Tip: Dig deep. Your clients are going to have very high expectations of you because they feel they are doing you a favor by bringing you to a tropical location for a mini vacation. They won't have any understanding of the amount of preparation you have made for their event. That's okay. You're a professional and you don't need to toot your own horn. Just make it happen for them.

Networking and Making Friends: I've heard that after people go through an intense event together they form a deep bond. I guess that's what prompted me to pick the wedding planner up around the waist and spin her around with a big hug at the end of the night. She had spent four days of battling customs, managing the bride and the families, keeping track of the vendors all flown in from the Boston area, overseeing the event set up, and praying for good weather.

She had also watched us keep calm under pressure, never waiver in our upbeat and positive attitude and get done every shot that needed to happen. She rewarded us with a couple bottles of wine for winding down and a reciprocated hug. Hopefully having this experience with the planner will lead to many other confident referrals from her and her company.

*Tip: Photograph the vendors. Everyone working at the wedding is probably pretty excited to be there. A destination wedding is a big deal for most vendors. Take photos of them! Share on Instagram, tag them on Facebook, blog about it after. Make some new BFF's, and be REALLY easy to work with.

Relief and Debauchery: Maybe it was the dehydration, maybe it was the elation that we had made it through the event. Maybe (probably) it was the wine, but 2 photographers, 2 videographers, and 6 band members all ended up in the pool at 1 a.m. Enough said. What happens in the Caribbean...

*Tip: Ignore Relief and Debauchery and go straight to bed.

Dragging your butt home: Only ten more hours till we were home in our beds which included: a ride on a Muppet bus (some of us hungover), 2 bag searches in customs, pouring rain on the tarmac, less than ideal aisle mates on the plane and a dead car battery waiting for you in the airport parking lot.

*Tip: Don't get too used to the cook and maid service. It will make you soft. And don't leave the dome light on in your car at the airport.

Regrouping and Recouping: Conservatively, it will be two days before you feel human again and take two days to return all the emails and phone calls you received while away.

So, is a destination wedding worth all the trouble? Hard to say. I guess it depends on you. I can tell you that it's a lot more work than you might imagine. Over the course of 4 days Trish and I spent 19.5 hours traveling, 6 hours scouting locations, 15.5 hours shooting the event, and about 10 hours "on vacation."

Over the course of 91 hours that we were away and not in vacation mode, I've calculated that Trish and I made roughly $34 per hour each to go and shoot the destination wedding. Because we priced ourselves properly, I feel like there's a lot of worse things we could be doing making a lot less money. The ten hours I got to have to myself for "vacation" were priceless after a long, cold, grey, New England winter.

The connections we made with the coordinator and the friendships we forged with the band and the videographers? Also priceless. Does that mean I am ready to start marketing myself as a destination wedding photographer? No. Well, maybe. Visions of palm trees sway in my head.

To see a behind the scenes look at our tropical tribulations go here: http://www.snapweddings.com/blog/wedding-photographers-ri-head-caribbean/

 About the author:

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Mariah Ashley is co-owner of Snap! Photography in Rhode Island. She is blonde, loves to bake fruit pies, wears flip flops way past the summer season, should have been born in the 50s, paints and writes when the mood strikes her, is mother to Jacques and Vianne, vacations on Block Island, is vegan, never has proper or stylish outerwear, fears frogs and toads but loves turtles, has really skinny legs, personal Style- Bohemian Chic, wants to own a VW van,  grew up on a cranberry farm and is happiest when snorkeling is happiest when sipping a rum punch under a palm tree.
Here are the 10 photography blogs from March 30 - April 4, 2014, that we hope will inspire you and professional photographers around the internet to be more!

Since April Fool's Day was earlier this week, and hopefully full of tom foolery - here's one of our favorite cartoons, What the Duck to give you a giggle

First things first, don't try this at home. Check out how Katerina Plotnikova used some furry (and some not so furry) friends to make beautiful, dream-like portraits. 

Sometimes your skills need a bit of a workout to make sure they are where they need to be. Digital Photography School has your top three moves to sharpen your skills and up your game. 

Tax Day is right around the corner and the folks at PhotoShelter want to help you keep every penny you can! Check out their top 10 common tax deductions that could save you a bundle! 

That's right--it's a whole month dedicated to educating the greater photography industry on copyrights! What do they mean to you, your clients and your vendors! See you how you can get involved here. 

This is amazing! Instead of just guessing if it's going to rain (or snow), there's a website that predicts cloud cover! This is perfect for landscape, night, or nature photographers, as much as for outdoor portrait image makers! 

Andy Smith took the helm of Rick Sammon's Photography blog and talks about all of the beautiful ways you can capture a sunburst effect. Not only is it great information, but has some beautiful examples! 

The CANIKON is here! Well--not exactly. Get the quick and dirty on why this new M15P-CL is making an impact on the market from PetaPixel. 

The man behind the images of Jane Goodall sits down to talk to National Geographic about his experiences behind the camera, interacting with the scientist and the natural habitat around them. 

If you want to get into the world of making videos from your images, but don't know how--PhotographyTalk has a wonderful first step in using your photo booth images! Get the details on how to expand your offerings here.

There you have it, the favorite blog posts of the week from your PPA team! Don't forget that you can share your own posts, or other stories you have enjoyed, on theLoop.

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!

By Danielle Brooks

daniellebrooksphotography.com

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.

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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." 

Did you read part one of Ty Swartz's Imaging USA blog on Monday? If not, check it out! Otherwise part two (below) won't make any sense! On Monday, he gave us a day-by-day breakdown of his Imaging USA. Now, learn where his business is at today thanks to what he learned at Imaging.

Afterword:

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!

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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!

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.

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.

lego camera.jpg

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 box 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:

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

 

The International Photographic Competition is quickly approaching! 

Participating in PPA's International Photographic Competition is one of the best ways for you to grow your craft and skills as a creative, professional photographer. It gives you a unique opportunity to engage with others who are just as passionate as you are about this crazy world of photography, along with a chance to improve on your finest work (your best will become even better--how exciting is that?).  

By pushing the limits of your creativity, you allow yourself to grow as an artist. 

"My fellow PPA friends have proven priceless in mentoring me to take my artwork farther so I can create art in a sustainable business," said Heather Michelle Chinn, M.Artist.Cr. "Print Competition alone has continually challenged me as an artist to grow and get out of my comfort zone. When we're uncomfortable, that's when the biggest growth occurs. Without, we stay stagnant or wither away."

And it's not just about you--it's about your clients too! 

"Image competition has made me strive to be a better photographer while challenging me to create better and more unique images for my clients," said Damon Fecitt, Cr.Photog., CPP. 

If you're curious to know or want to brush up on what the IPC judges are looking for, check this post on the 12 elements of a merit image. It's not easy as it might sound... are you ready for the challenge? You can also go full-on behind-the-scenes and see what motivates others to put themselves in such a vulnerable position. Read Christine Walsh-Newton's post about why she competes here.

So what are you waiting for?

The rules are currently online, and entries open May 26th and close June 26th (if you need a little more time, you can enter by July 10th, but there will be a late fee). 

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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