Inspiring Photography Projects That Build Your Reputation

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Have you lost your mojo because you work so hard that you don’t have time to ‘waste’ on your own photography projects? The kind of project that made you fall in love with photography in the first place.

Have you ever wondered why some photographers seem to grab all the fame and adulation, without necessarily being any more talented than you? Often the ‘rock star’ photographers become famous because of their projects more than anything else.

The ideal solution is to find a project that doesn’t just excite you, but also helps you grow your business.

The right kind of project benefits you in many different ways:

  • It shows off your creative talents
  • It helps potential clients get to know and like you
  • It gives you exposure through articles in the press, local radio and exhibits

Here’s a project idea to consider:

Photograph your town’s unsung heroes

  • Use the local paper, community websites and social media to research and track down the people in your neighborhood who are doing great things.
  • Offer to photograph them free of charge so you can build a portfolio of the great and the good. This gives you a chance to write engaging press releases for the local paper, interesting blog posts on your website and even exhibits. It also gives you a chance to mix with the movers and shakers in town.
  • The reason it’s so cunning is you’re getting good coverage without having to blow your own trumpet – you’re blowing theirs. It also positions you as a kind person who cares about their community. As a photographer your personality and the way you make people feel is your brand. People hire people they like, trust and respect, particularly if you can build an emotional connection with them.

 

Inspiring ideas in action

The basic premise behind the whole idea is to think of a project that inspires you, pushes your boundaries, engages people, helps people, creates publicity and enables your target market to feel they know and like you.

 

Here are some touching and imaginative projects that embrace the concept beautifully.

  • The Least of These is a project by Steve Paxton, a wedding and portrait photographer in Seattle. He has been creating stunning images of the “homeless, destitute and precariously in need’ for years. Not only does he highlighting important social issues with a thoughtful and sensitive stance he comes across as a kind person who cares about his community. Not only that, his work has got him countless inbound links to his website, which in turn will have helped his Google ranking.
  • There are many examples of photographers who have photographed the underbelly of their home town and The Humans of New York is a powerful example of how it can build a strong name for the photographer.

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  • A more sensitive and less publicity driven example of a worthy project is the Kindred Spirits Hospice project. Amanda Reseburg offers free family portrait sessions at her local hospice as a wonderful way of giving back to her community. It’s also the perfect example of why family portraits should be more highly valued.
  • Finally, my own mission is the ManKIND project where I’m helping someone from every country on earth. They’re just little random acts of kindness that hopefully spread a little joy in the world. It opens my life up to fascinating people and experiences I wouldn’t have had otherwise. The fact I receive lots of wedding and portrait enquiries where people say I ‘sounded really friendly’ on my website doesn’t hurt my business either.

As photographers most of us want to embrace life but many of us hold ourselves back. Shyness and lack of self esteem can be a slow slipknot to living the life we want to live.

In the competitive world of ‘me-too’ photographers  you stand the risk of boring yourself as well as potential clients if you don’t stand out.

Dan Waters is one of the leading wedding photographers in Peterborough and has photographed for CNN and the BBC. He also blogs about photography marketing at Get Pro Photo.

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Using Photoshop Actions for a Subtle Edit with Big Impact

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Before and After Step-by-Step Edit: Using Photoshop Actions for a Subtle Edit with Big Impact

The MCP Show and Tell Site is a place for you to share your images edited with MCP products (our Photoshop actions, Lightroom presets, textures and more).  We’ve always shared before and after Blueprints on our main blog, but now, we will sometimes share some favorites from Show and Tell to give these photographers even more exposure.  If you haven’t checked out Show and Tell yet, what are you waiting for?  You’ll learn how other photographers are using our products and see what they can do for your work.  And once you are ready, you can show off your own editing skills using MCP goodies.  You might even make new friends or gain a customer…. since you get to add your website address right on the page. Bonus!

 

Today’s Featured Image:

By: Veronica Smith

MCP set used: Inspire Photoshop Actions

This was a very quick edit as the starting image was close to perfect.  Veronica used the Color Carousel Photoshop action from Inspire.  Set the base to 25%, Vitality to 50% and Enchanted Rainforest to 25%. In just one “play button” and sliding the opacity of a few layers, the photo now has more contrast, color, a 3-dimensional feel, and  more vibrance.  Super easy.  What a great stylized image!

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The Pro Photo Lab VS Consumer Photo Lab Battle

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Not all photo labs are created equal.  From ink quality, to colors, to the paper they are printed on, results vary drastically from every print lab.

When you become a professional photographer you need decide if you will offer prints, provide digital files, or both. Either way, you need to be educated on what print lab offers the most consistent, realistic results for your photos.  If your customers order from you, you’ll want to balance quality prints with variety of offerings.  If you only offer a CD/DVD or digital files, it is best to refer your customers to the best consumer lab so they get good-quality prints.  There are a lot of choices – so I am breaking down some information that will be useful to both you and your clients in regards to prints.

The testing process

When I was in the process of starting my business, I decided that I wanted to use Shootproof for my customer proofing and ordering.  Shootproof partners with three labs (Bay Photo, Black River Imaging, and ProDPI). I decided to get test prints from each of those labs, as well as from WHCC, which was another lab that I had heard many good things about.  Pro labs offer you five free test prints (8x10s).

  • I ordered the same five prints from each pro lab.
  • I ordered two of the five prints (one color and one black and white) from two of my local pharmacies (Rite Aid and CVS)
  • I had prints that I had recently gotten from the consumer version of Mpix that I compared with the same photo I used as one of my test prints.

So, let’s begin!

Some information

You will see a number of photos below that are photos of my test photos.  Even with proper white balance and exposure, it is nearly impossible to take a photo of a photo and have it turn out digitally the way it looks in real life (and see how it matches my monitor).  The only black and white example I have posted here is a sharpness example, because black and white photos by design cannot be photographed to show their true color.  That said, I have presented a number of comparison photos to try to showcase color and quality differences as well as possible.

Also important: make sure your monitor is calibrated.  This is probably the most important thing to do when you are getting test prints, because you will be comparing your prints to how your monitor looks, and they should match.  I don’t ever choose color correction for my prints, as my monitor is calibrated and I want to see which printer is matching my calibrated monitor correctly.  For the purposes of this article, I have used the following three of my test prints for comparison.  Last, all the pro labs I tested provided quality product.  The differences between the prints are subtle but recognizable to a photographer who knows what they are looking for.  It all comes down to what prints match your monitor.

And as you will see, there is NOT one best lab.  Each photographer will likely have a preference.  If nothing else, I strongly advise you to do some tests of your own before you order your prints. 

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Images used for testing

 

Now for a breakdown of the pro labs:

ProDPI

  • Uses Fuji paper (Fuji paper is a “cooler” paper than Kodak but also tends to have more detail, especially with luster).  They are the only lab that I tested that uses Fuji paper with the exception of the consumer version of Mpix.  Fuji paper seems to be thicker.
  • Were the prints that matched my calibrated monitor the best, sometimes by far, and especially for black and white, where the Fuji paper comes into play the most.
  • Had the slowest shipping, by a day.
  • ROES system is easiest to use.
  • Had the sharpest prints by a LOT
  • Included candy in their order!
  • Have amazing and helpful customer service (one story:  they actually now send me three of what I told them my favorite candy was for every order I place, because I told them how much I like that variety.  They’re also extremely helpful and friendly.)
  • Have a very easy to use ROES system.

Black River Imaging

  • Fast shipping!
  • Uses Kodak Endura paper, which is a “warmer” paper.  The Kodak paper seems slightly thinner/more flimsy.
  • Color prints match my monitor, and ProDPI prints, almost exactly except for a little more red in one photo.
  • Black and white prints are noticeably warmer.  They look like black and whites when viewed alone but when compared to monitor or ProDPI, they have a definite warm tinge.
  • Luster not quite as nice as ProDPI.
  • They are one of the two labs tested that do not mark on their prints that they are test prints.
  • All prints are less sharp than with ProDPI.  It is most noticeable on portraits on the eyes and lips.

Bay Photo

  • Another vote for very fast shipping!
  • ROES system is so-so
  • Also uses Kodak paper.  Their black and whites are not as warm as Black River but not as cool as ProDPI’s (which are on Fuji paper).
  • Photos are sharper than Black River’s, which appear strangely soft, but not as sharp as ProDPI’s.
  • In my still life photo, the lemon is almost light orange (see comparison photo below).
  • More blacks in their photos than Black River and smoother transition from dark to light.

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WHCC

  • You do not need to use ROES for their test prints; you can upload them online.  ONE CAVEAT:  As you are uploading them online, you do not have the ability to crop your photos to 8×10, as you do in ROES, so they need to be cropped to this size beforehand for your photos to properly print as 8×10′s.  I?  Forgot to do this!
  • However, WHCC’s customer service is really awesome because they immediately contacted me to tell me this, so I could fix if necessary.
  • Luster on photos very nice.
  • WHCC also does not mark their test prints as test prints.
  • Kodak paper used.
  • Black and whites match my monitor (and ProDPI’s) almost exactly.
  • Marked green color shift in photos.  Not noticeable in all, but you can see it in some (example below).  Also most likely the reason that b&w’s are cooled down enough to match ProDPI’s.  Photos are also darker than any other pro lab.
  • Candy also included in order!

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Now onto the consumer labs.

These are the labs that clients may use if you provide them with digital files but no prints.  Or, if you are not a pro yet (or even if you are, and do not meet the order minimums for some pro labs) you may be considering ordering from these places for personal use.  Shortly before I got my test prints from pro labs, I had ordered some prints from the consumer version of MPix.   One of those prints was the same as one of my test prints.  I also ordered two 8×10 prints each from CVS and Rite Aid, my local pharmacies.  I was very interested to see how these would compare to the pro labs.

MPix

  • Website fairly easy to use for anyone.
  • This is the lab I would recommend to non-pros or any client who is not ordering prints through you but still wants a good-quality print.
  • Shipping not the fastest.
  • Fuji paper used (as does ProDPI)
  • Luster coating can be added, like pro lab luster prints.
  • Photos are cheaper than pharmacy, even with luster coating, but you do pay for shipping.
  • My choice for consumer prints.
  • Colors match my monitor colorwise but Mpix prints tend to be darker and somewhat more contrasty than some other pro labs (see example photo below).  I have also ordered black and white portraits from MPix for friends and their portraits are very similar to ProDPI’s but are a little darker and somewhat more contrasty.
  • I have used Mpix for metallic prints which have come out awesome, and for photo books which are very good quality.
  • Yes, I have a yellow and white kitchen floor.

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Rite Aid

  • Prints available in an hour if you wish.
  • No luster prints available; only glossy
  • Unknown paper type.  Not indicated on paper.
  • Photos cost more than MPix; however you will not need to ship.
  • Black and white photo has extreme purplish-blue cast.
  • Color photo colors are not as bad as expected, though still not close to perfect.  Blacks are way off (see example).
  • Photos are too warm.

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CVS

  • Their photos can also be obtained in an hour if you like
  • Photos also are available as glossy only.   No luster option.
  • Photos cost more than Mpix; however you will not need to ship.
  • Their photos are printed on Kodak paper
  • Black and white does not have the purple cast of Rite Aid but also does not match my monitor at all.  Also, their black and white in particular is EXTREMELY soft (see example below) and also has random color flecks throughout it.
  • Color photo is also off, not as much as I would’ve expected but also has the same issue as Rite Aid where blacks are not even close.
    prodpicvssharpness 600x327 The Pro Photo Lab VS Consumer Photo Lab Battle
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Notice how soft the second photo is above?  That is NOT  a focus issue with my photo-of-a-photo.  That is actually how soft the print from CVS is.  Compare it to how sharp the photo from the pro lab is!

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If you becoming a professional photographer, I highly suggest doing a similar comparison to the one I have done so you can see which lab matches your monitor the best.  They will all be close, but each photographer has one they love (and for me, it’s ProDPI).  Also, if your clients are printing their own photos, feel free to use the examples above to demonstrate how the color and sharpness of drugstore prints is not even close to what a pro lab can provide you.

If you have done similar print lab tests, we’d love to hear and see your findings.  Add any results or impressions in the comments below.

Amy Short, the author of this post, is a portrait and maternity photographer based out of Wakefield, RI.  She always has her camera with her, even if she is not shooting a session.  You can find her here or follow her on Facebook.

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How to Deliver Critique That Makes Photographers Better at Photography

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With the ease of the digital age and the internet, posting and sharing photos almost instantaneously, it is easy to critique photographs from other photographers. Proper constructive criticism can help a photographer grow and get stronger. When delivering or receiving critique know that many comments are opinions not facts.  When critiquing, be helpful and detailed, not rude and insulting. When reading the evaluation and feedback on your images, don’t get defensive.  Try to step away and take it as a learning experience.

So how do you offer critique that helps improve photographers without hurting their feelings?

Critique photographer who are asking for feedback.

Nothing is worse than posting a photo somewhere you think is fantastic and then another photographer swoops in and points out your imperfections when you did not ask for help.

When giving criticism and critique:

  • Make sure the person asked for critique/constructive criticism (often referred to as CC). If  you have something you want to tell them, and they did not ask, politely ask them if you can point some things out to help. Maybe they’ll say yes, and it will help them. Other times, they won’t want to know because they like it the way it is. It all depends on the person, but you should be the photographer who respects boundaries. Also remember every photographer is at a different stage and skill set.

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If someone says: “I love how this photo turned out, and I hope you guys do too!” This is not the time to point out that this person underexposed their image or the horizon is crooked. They aren’t asking.  They are just sharing.  Even if you are ready to pounce on it, they may not want your feedback – not matter how helpful.

If the poster wrote, “I’m not sure how to properly expose this image because of the harsh sun. Can someone please tell me how to make sure that in this poor lighting situation my images are exposed properly? I would also like to know how to lighten this up in PS.” There’s your cue – you can jump in and let them know the specs of a properly lightened image, how to achieve it in low light situations, and how to fix the current image in Photoshop. Look for cues such as the photographer asking for advice, CC, etc.

 

Follow the  “Rules of Conduct” by MCP. Click the NO MORE MEAN LOGO to read these:

Delivery: Be honest and helpful.

Make sure your feedback teaches the photographer something they can work on.  Also, focus on the positives and things that have room for improvement.

  • If your first thought is “I don’t want to hurt their feelings, but…” Then you probably need to rephrase the way you are talking to them. When you say a critique with an opinion that can be construed as negative, not only will the photographer not listen, but they could become defensive, or even feel you are wrong, even if you are right.
  • Make the critique helpful and educational. Don’t just point out what is wrong. Tell them how they can improve.
  • Highlight what you like about the image too.  Most images have something good about them, so make sure to mention those along with the areas for improvement.

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Don’t attack: “I don’t like the way you cropped this, it makes the whole photo look funny. It needs to be to the left.”

Instead explain, teach and encourage: “This may look better if it followed the rule of thirds. Perhaps if you cropped it to the left it would have more impact. In the future, try to encourage the mom to wear something that doesn’t have graphics on it as that is taking away from the baby.  And I agree, that smoochy baby is just precious. Keep it up and come back and show us as you work on these or your next session.”

 

Draft your responses.

If you are dealing with a heated discussion, or someone has started to hurt feelings, draft a critique response first.

  • Have a cup of tea or visit a funny website. Come back, and see how your response looks afterwards. You will have a clearer head and feel less emotional about it, and probably want to change your response.
  • Whether it comes to giving or receiving CC, try to put yourself in the position of the other person.

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When responding to rude feedback,  try not to get defensive like this. “You’re really just an arrogant, mean, egotistical person. I doubt when you started out your images were perfect! How about you get off your high horse and show us one of the first photographs you took?! Bet they wouldn’t be so perfect then, would they?!”

Instead, remain level headed and try something like this. “Everyone is allowed to have their own opinion; however, could we please keep this to constructive criticism only? I’m just starting out and could really use some help on how to improve my photos. I am sure you understand.”

 

Don’t take images and alter them without permission.

  • One of the biggest things we like to do, especially with the ease of software like MCP Actions, is to do a quick “fix” of other photographer’s photos. Unless the person has asked for it, don’t take their image and edit it. You may think you are trying to help the person, but your editing software may be something they don’t own, or they may not know how to follow your manual processing steps. If you feel you could help add to the image, let them know. Even when you say things like “I hope you don’t mind” or tell the person it’s something you like, that doesn’t always mean they are going to like that you edited their image without asking.

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Don’t edit without asking. ” I took your image and played some of my own favorite edits on it, hope you don’t mind. They are in Photoshop and from Action Sets X and Y.”

Instead ask “May I show you a quick edit of this photo?  I have an idea that would make your subject pop.”  Then make sure when you post the image to explain how you got to the end results.

 

Realize that you are not the master of photography.

This is one of the most important parts. We ALL could learn more about photography, even if we have been shooting for several decades. It is important not to let your ego get a hold of you and to remember that even the newest photographer can sometimes humble people. Take your time, and choose polite, nice and even loving words when critiquing. It’s okay to point out a flaw in a photo – as long as you do it in a helpful way, you will be doing the right thing.

Where to go for advice, feedback and critique on your images.

If you are thinking, “all of this is great but where can I get helpful critique?” Come join the MCP Facebook Group here.  The MCP Group is a large community of photographers who use MCP Products – the photographers love giving and receiving CC to grow their photography and editing skills using MCP products.  All levels of photographers all welcome to request an invite and join in the learning.

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Photo Studio Tour: Behind the Scenes Look at a Small Studio Space

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You know how sometimes, things just feel right?  That’s how I felt the first time I walked into the space that I now call my photo studio. It’s an old cottage building (situated among other cottage buildings for businesses in northwest Houston, TX) with a front and back porch and outside stairs to my second-floor space.  Sloped walls, reminiscent of an old barn, along with the cheerful pops of color from the furniture and pillows make clients squeal with delight upon entering the space.  Natural light pours in through the windows on both sides of the room, bathing the 600-square-foot space in gorgeous, soft light that is perfect for the way I prefer to shoot images.  Even on a cloudy or stormy day, there is ample light to shoot.

 

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Dreaming Big

Almost exactly a year ago, I caught the Sue Bryce bug and realized that despite about a million on-location, natural light photographers in business in the northwest Houston suburbs, no one in my area was specializing in contemporary, fashion-inspired portraiture for women. I kept wondering how I could better serve one of the most significant shopping demographics in the world (women fifty-plus) while at the same time generating additional revenue on a more consistent basis throughout the year. I knew I didn’t want to run a studio from my home (it’s against our deed restrictions anyway), so I began crunching the numbers and looking for a suitable space that would meet my shooting and budget requirements.  A few months later, armed with Sue’s CreativeLive workshops and a huge amount of faith, I took the leap and signed on the dotted line!

Below is one of my lovely 70-something clients.  In her pre-session consultation she told me, “I want to do this before I get too old!”  Funny that I have 40-year-olds tell me the same thing.  In the “after” shot, she was posed on the wall next to the window (main light source, which was camera-right) with a large white reflector camera left for fill.

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A Place of My Own

The studio is divided almost exactly in half by a staircase from the first floor (I only lease the second floor).  One side of the studio is dedicated to shooting, while the other side serves as the hair and makeup area as well as my consultation space.  This is where I meet with clients prior to their shoots and where I host my viewing and ordering sessions, if they have opted for an in-studio ordering session.  I also offer in-home ordering sessions; all ordering is done in person at the time of viewing.  One thing I love about having a studio – it is ALWAYS exactly how I left it (which cannot be said for my home!).

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Simply Beautiful

All of my images are shot in a small space using only window light and reflectors.  I use painted polystyrene boards as my backdrops, which I spice up in post with my processing and textures.  I can get lots of different looks with this setup, from a moody and contrasty black and white (which I achieve by almost completely covering the window and only letting a small amount of light through with no reflector) to a luminous backlit shot (using white foam core reflectors on either side of the model to bounce light back to the face) to classic loop and Rembrandt lighting patterns.  I love the flexibility that I have, given the simplicity of my setup.

All of the following images were shot in a five-foot area around the window, using either the white wall, backlight from the window, or painted polystyrene boards.

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Here is the shooting space.  Not a lot of room, but the resulting images are well-loved.  My Canon 24-105/f4L lens is my go-to lens for this space, but I often use the 85mm/1.8 for tighter headshots and the 50mm/1.4 as well.  I shoot with a Canon 5D Mark ii.

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It’s all about expression

The next image is one of my favorites.  I love the soulful expression in her eyes and the beautiful shadowing across her cheek.  To create this image, I stood one polystyrene board (painted a medium/dark gray) against the wall camera left, partially covering the window.  I stood another painted board directly behind the model, so that the two boards form a 90-degree “V”.  I then asked the model to stand inside this “V-flat” with her body turned toward the window, and to look at me without smiling.  I used the 50mm/1.4 lens at f/2.5.

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Showing Off

The sloped walls in the studio present a challenge for hanging multiple large prints.  A 24×36 canvas gallery wrap hangs over the makeup table (see makeup area photo above), and a 20×24 framed print is featured on a floor easel.  My goal is to sell either a wall portrait and folio box to every client, so I keep a folio box (from Finao) filled with beautiful sample images on the coffee table in addition to canvas and float wraps.  More matted images are on display with tabletop easels on top of the credenza.

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I found that having the studio and opening up the contemporary portrait/glamour genre in my business has really struck a chord with my clients.  Many of my shoots have been mother/daughter “girls’ day out” experiences in which they not only get to be pampered for a day, but also enjoy a fantastic day of making memories together.  I’ve had so many clients tell me that their session gave them a boost of confidence and really made them feel beautiful, which is better than any financial reward.  It has also benefited me financially though – I hit my total 2012 revenue at the end of June this year!

The image below was created next to my main window, using polystyrene painted boards behind the models and camera left with a large white reflector for fill.  I used the 24-105L lens at f/4.

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I think the things that have contributed to my success with the studio this far have been:

  • Knowing what I wanted in a studio space.  I knew I didn’t want a strip center or office building.  Knowing exactly what I was looking for helped me be efficient in my search for a space.
  • Understanding all of my business costs and knowing how much revenue I would need to generate to pay myself the salary I needed as well as cover all of my additional expenses.  This is a critical step – taking on the additional overhead of a studio without fully understanding the financial implications can spell disaster.
  • Really working with the clients to ensure they are posed in the most flattering way and are giving me natural, beautiful expressions.  Gorgeous expression and connection through the eyes is truly what makes the portrait.

Working in this space has been a dream come true, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds!

 

Amanda lives in Tomball, TX with her husband and two kids, whose social calendars put hers to shame.  She is in her fourth year of business as a portrait photographer, but just launched the new fashion-inspired portrait genre, www.femmeportrait.com, in January of 2013.  Amanda loves photographing women; enjoying wine, chocolate and fine cheese; and buying new makeup. You can see more of her work on her Femmé Facebook page, her babies/kids/families Facebook page and www.amandafaucettphotography.com.

 

 

 

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