Category Archives: E-Learning Sessions

Tonight I had the pleasure of speaking with Lindsay Horn of Lindsay Horn Photography. What a great hour we had! Lindsay is a great photographer in Texas and does family photography. You can fan Lindsay on Facebook here.

For future reference…. One of the things about the e-learning sessions that make it harder to blog is that a lot of the questions are similar to ones I’ve posted to my blog before. So I may not post 3 questions from each session a week.

1. How do you handle pricing for family, friends, or people that you know? Do you give them a discount?

I’m going to answer this question from a blogging standpoint instead of just saying what I said to her, because I think there is more to it that the outside world may not understand is implied if I only type what I said to Lindsay.

For family, friends, and people I know pricing… I DO NOT DISCOUNT MY SERVICES! Here’s why. I have found that they will not take you seriously or respect you as a professional photographer if you’re always discounting yourself. So instead I will do one of three things. If I am very close to someone and feel compelled I will gift my photography services. I never gift wedding photography services because no one else (except maybe the parents of the bride or groom) is giving a gift worth as much as my wedding packages so why should I? If you are someone I know but I am not close to I will negotiate a deal so I am getting just as much out of it as the other person. For example: A friend of mine has a boyfriend who needs head shots done. Instead of charging her my portrait rate of $250 I negotiated a deal with her so I get something out of the deal that is close to my portrait rate. This is not something I do for everyone I know. Lastly if it is someone I know, if I feel compelled I might add a value added service to their package but I will not discount my prices. For example: I might add an extra hour of coverage or throw in a trash the dress session, but I do not discount my prices.

One thing I’ve said over and over again (feel free to use this) is I AM NOT WORTH ANY LESS JUST BECAUSE I KNOW YOU! If someone I know asks me for a discount or expects it I will not do any work for them. That’s a classic sign of someone that doesn’t respect what you do. Ultimately I will not do any work for people I know unless I am gifting it or getting something that has just as much value as my charges out of it. It’s not right or fair to expect someone who has built something from the ground up to work for free or cheap just because they know you. There is so much work that goes into each session/wedding. It’s not just a “show up at this location and shoot for an hour then send me a disc with the images” kind of thing. I went into detail about this in an earlier blog post that you can read about here.

2. It’s sad that so many photographers charge so little and include the disc of images with it.

While this wasn’t a question, I thought it was a statement worth talking about. So we spoke about it. Any regular consumer has access to a digital camera, a cd burner, and a printer. Because of this they think a disc of images shouldn’t cost them anything. Here’s the problem. We spend hours upon hours and days upon days editing your photos and creating artwork. If you bought a canvas and some paint and created a painting that took hours/days to create would you turn around and sell it for the cost of the canvas and paint? No. Photography isn’t any different. Photography is an art form. Even though we are taking pictures of your family, we are still creating art so you are purchasing the art from us, not just point and shoot pictures printed on your quick printing HP printer at home. You’re paying for skill, quality, experience, and artwork. This is a very hot debate in the photography industry among photographers and the photographers who give the discs or images away are hurting the industry.

3. Do you shoot in RAW or JPEG? Why?

I shoot RAW. RAW files are more forgiving on over and under exposed images (even professionals have a few of those). It also makes color balancing easy. I’m not the type of photographer that likes to worry about white balance issues on the front end. If something ends up not being color balanced properly I can take care of that very quickly on the back end and apply it to all of the images affected. It’s easier for me to worry about controlling the ISO, aperture, and shutter speed on the front end and color correct on the back end.

Jen Shannon Photography, Chicago Wedding Photographer


Last Wednesday I got to talk to Erica May of Erica May Photography. This was a different e-learning session for me to host because Erica is not a brand spanking new photographer, which is the type of photographer I’m used to talking with in my e-learning sessions. You can visit her website by clicking here, follow her on Twitter here, and fan her on Facebook here. I’m super jealous that she has the beautiful D700! I totally can’t wait to have one someday! Erica primarily does family photography but will be doing some wedding photography in the near future and had some good questions to ask. I’ve posted a couple of questions from our e-learning session below. Enjoy!

1) Do you use Lightroom or Photoshop?

I use both. For bulk editing I use Lightroom because I can apply my presets to all of the photos. Then I select my favorites and do some further editing in Photoshop and post those to my blog.

2) I’m new to using Lightroom. How do you create a preset?

To create a Lightroom preset, edit the photo the way you want it to look. I suggest NOT playing with the brightness or exposure because that will vary from shot to shot. You want to apply the preset first then adjust the exposure. To create a preset in Lightroom, once you’ve edited the photo to the effect you’re trying to achieve, go to “Develop” and then “New Preset.” A new window will appear. I suggest creating a folder for all of the presets your create. For example I have one labeled “Jen’s Presets” and another labeled “Jen’s Mix.” Once you’ve created the new folder, name your preset, choose your folder from the drop down menu and save. A helpful hint for those who don’t know, to apply the same effect to multiple photos, select the photo you already have the preset applied to then hold the shift key and select the last photo you want to apply the preset to and under the “develop” mode, select “sync” and press ok.

3) What is your lighting set up for receptions?

I use one of my backdrop stands and attach a flash to it and use Pocket Wizards to trigger them. I also use another flash for my camera to get more even directional lighting. Because equipment is really expensive and I don’t believe in going into debt for more equipment when you have what you need to start with I rent extra flashes for the events. Until I have the extra money to spend on really expensive equipment I’ll continue to rent.

Jen Shannon Photography, Chicago Wedding Photographer


Tonight I had the pleasure of speaking to Natalie Bartelme for one of my virtual coffee e-learning sessions. We had a FABULOUS time! Natalie was super organized and knew exactly what questions she wanted answers to. Natalie is brand new to starting a photography business. She has a background in journalism from college and tons of experience with studio photography from back when film was the only option. She does not yet have a website but I can’t wait to see what she does with it when she gets it all set up. Natalie lives in Wisconsin with her husband (who gets brownie points in my book for being a pastor!) and her fabulous kids (who I caught peeking their little heads through her closed office door, haha!). We had a blast getting to know each other and talking photography.

As a new photographer, I completely understand how hard it can be to figure out how to get into the business and the most economical way to do that. Start up costs are not cheap but it can be done without breaking the bank. More importantly, it can be done over time. Here are some Q&A’s from tonight’s session. Again, these e-learning sessions are FREE via Skype. If you’re interested in an virtual coffee e-learning session use the contact us form to send us an email with your information. Again, this is all just my opinion so take it or leave it.

#1) What types of equipment and programs are essential when you’re starting out?

Here’s a myth buster for you. You don’t need all sorts of fancy equipment to start a photography business. If you are passionate about being a photographer and you  have the drive to do what it takes you will succeed. You don’t need a D700 or that Nikon 2.8 70-200mm lens. I started out with a D80 (which I’m still using) and two Quantarray lenses. You don’t need popular name brand lenses to make good images. I have the 18-55 and the 70-300, all for just under $200 at the time I purchased them. You need solid branding so make sure you have a clear vision before you invest in a designer for your logo. Again, I’m lucky that I have a design background so I can do all of my own work but that doesn’t mean you can do the same thing. Hire a pro! Lastly you should have either Lightroom or Aperture. You don’t need Photoshop to start off with. Lightroom is my preference. It makes life so much easier and will run you about $200. You DON’T need Photoshop actions like Totally Rad Actions or Kubota Actions. Define your style before you buy these then use these to make your life easier. Don’t let these actions define your style like so many other photographers do. Then your images will look like everyone else’s images that have purchased these actions. Instead learn your style then learn to manipulate the actions to suit your style. Also, while a Mac is nice, you don’t NEED a Mac. A PC will work.

True story. Many photographers are under the misconception that they have to have all this fancy gear to be a good photographer but in actuality I can hand my fancy hear to you and your pictures won’t look any different than what you’re used to shooting. It’s the skill behind the lens that makes an image great, not the equipment. I know someone who was under this misconception, went out and racked up over 10,000 in credit card debt for fancy gear, a computer, etc. Now this person is facing working at their full time job for a VERY long time to pay off the debt and won’t be able to be a full time photographer because they’ve been swallowed in that debt. I’m very lucky to have started out with what I had and not racked up any business debt but it’s sad to watch your piers drown in their bad decisions. PLEASE don’t go rack up debt.


#2) What’s in your camera bag?

I’m a bit embarrassed to say that I still shoot with a D80. That’s right. My camera back has two D80’s, my Quantarray 3.5 18-55 and 3.5 70-200, my Nikkor 5omm 1.4D, my Nikon 3.5 18-200mm, my macro rings, a Lensbaby, and an SB800. When I shoot weddings I rent pocket wizards and a couple of additional SB800’s. I also carry a bunch of spare batteries, sometimes my Lightsphere (though not really necessary for weddings), and my ShootSac! Who can leave home without a ShootSac?


#3) I see a lot of logos that are just a graphic, some that are a graphic with text, and some that are just text. What do you recommend?

In all honesty I don’t have a preference. Either way your logo will be your face to the world and, like every good brand, will be recognized over time. The Nike swoosh is something everyone recognizes but has no text. You have to decide what fits best for you and run with it. Hire a good designer who will understand your business and create an amazing logo for you. PLEASE DO NOT go to Vista Print or Overnight Prints and do one of their logo designers…. You’ll be doing yourself a favor. I recommend Into the Darkroom and Infinet Design.

Ok, so I wasn’t going to do this, but I decided to anyway. I’ve had a lot of people email me, specifically recently, showing interest in my workshop but not living close enough to come to it or can’t afford it. They’ve all asked if they can either take me out for coffee to pick my brain or talk on the phone to pick my brain. So I came up with a solution. Virtual coffee. That’s right! I decided to start hosing E-Learning Sessions via Skype chats for anyone who wants to take me out for “virtual coffee” and pick my brain. It’s totally free so you don’t actually have to buy me a cup of coffee, unless of course you feel so inclined… lol! Anyway, so tonight I spent some great time with Lisa Burgess of Lisa Burgess Photography. She asked me some great questions and I hope I was able to help. I am completely honored that people feel comfortable asking me for advice. I wanted to recap a couple of really great questions she asked and how I responded. I hope this can help those of you who are reading it. Here goes.

#1) Can you specifically name some of the things you wish you knew starting out?

This is such a great question because I feel like people say this all of the time and never specifically answer. So I’m going to give you specifics. First, I wish I had solid branding down before I tried making a name for myself. I wish I would have sat down, made a list of adjectives that I wanted my logo/business to portray to the world and designed my logo off of that. Now, I have a graphic and web design background as well as a business management and operations background. Because of this I can do most of my stuff myself, but if I could, I would have spent the time and good money on a fabulous designer to get my branding solid from the get go. Second, I wish I would have started using Photobiz from day 1. I spent a horrible amount of time trying to do a website for myself where if I would have just knew about Photobiz I would have shaved about 4-5 months off of my design time and focused on business. Third, I wish I would have read Dane Sanders’ book Fast Track Photographers awhile ago. Now, I don’t know when it was written, but if it was around two years ago when I started the business, I wish I would have read it. I did a blog post on this book that you can read here if you are interested. This book really helps you to clearly and easily define your goals as a photographer and business owner. I can’t rave enough about it, so definitely go buy it. Fourth, I wish I would have signed up for Pictage and The [b] School earlier. Pictage has the best photography forum/community ever. I can’t speak highly enough of what an amazing community of photographers they have. The Pictage community has helped me for a year and has been a huge help in getting me where I am. The [b] School I’ve only been a part of for a couple of months and while I don’t think the community is quite as strong there (I don’t know that it’s been established for long enough to be a really strong community like Pictage) the videos are top notch. There’s a great video on branding that I would recommend everyone watch because it changed my entire outlook on it.

#2) Do you need Photoshop and Lightroom?

Technically speaking you don’t “need” them, but I don’t work without them. I use Lightroom for mass editing and put my final touches on my photos in Photoshop. I will warn you to NOT define your style based on premade or prepurchased actions or presets. Instead define your style and either purchase or create actions to complement your style or make your editing life easier. I CAN’T STRESS THAT ENOUGH!!! There is nothing worse than a photographer that buys Kubota or Totally Rad Actions, slaps it on their photos and then calls that their style. Their photos end up looking just like everyone else’s photos that does that and it doesn’t help you to be unique. It doesn’t do you any favors. That’s not to say those aren’t useful tools. They are useful tools if you know how to manipulate them to complement your style.

#3) At what point do you start charging?

This was an awesome question. It’s not going to be the same for everyone but we had a good, long discussion about this very thing. The problem is that many times (I went through this too) your friends and family don’t take you seriously as a professional photographer because you’re always doing work for them for free. They are never going to take your seriously or see you as a professional until you start showing what you’re worth. That’s not to say you shouldn’t do free work to build your portfolio, but at some point your friends will start talking to their friends and their friends will talk to their friends and before you know it you’re known as the “cheap photographer” because you cut everyone a deal since they “know” you through someone else. My advise was if you’re going to give discounts then give them to everyone. If someone approaches you asking for a discount, then the answer is no. I heard this on the [b] school on the branding 101 video and I’ll never forget it. There is nothing worse than a photographer who hands a client a price sheet and starts apologizing. You need to be confident in your pricing. So if you’re going to give discounts, then give them to everyone. Run a special so that when your prices go up it looks like the “special” is over. Make sense? That way they know the cheaper price is the special price and isn’t going to last for forever. If someone approaches you for a discount because you know them, then add value to their package but make them pay the full price for the package they want. I’m not worth any less because I know you so why should I get paid less just because I know you? Instead I’ll throw in a print credit, an extra session, or an album upgrade.

Anyway, I hope if you’re reading this you got some helpful tips out of it. I love these e-learning sessions because I love helping people, especially newer photographers who don’t quite know where to start. I’m certainly not an industry expert and what works for me may not work for you and what’s worked for other people doesn’t always work for me, but I hope my what advice I can offer is of value. Also my thoughts and opinions are just that. They are subjective. I know people will disagree which is ok. Again these are just my opinions.

If you want to schedule a learning session with me, remember they are FREE as long as you use Skype, you can contact me through the “Contact Us” link on my blog or send an email to jen@jen-shannon.com. I’m available most week days after 7pm central standard time (that’s one hour behind eastern time, one hour ahead of mountain time, and two hours ahead of pacific time). If you need a weekend day let me know when you’re wanting to do it and I’ll see if my schedule accommodates it. Since the wedding season is going to start ramping up soon I will have less time on the weekends.