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Photobiz, Photobiz Blog, Photobiz Contributor, Photobiz Community, Photobiz Trending Topics

I was really excited when David from Photobiz contacted me regarding being a contributor to the Photobiz Community. I think every photographer has something to share that benefits others. Whether they are brand new, somewhat new, experienced, or well seasoned, we all have something of value.

As a contributor to the Photobiz Community, one of the things that I love to talk about, more than anything, is image. Not branding or how fancy your business cards or website are, but what other people see when they experience you as a professional. How about Uncle Bob or that videographer that at all times has to be within 2 feet of the bride and groom? Or the person that sees you with a “fancy” camera and wants to talk shop or says they are a photographer too and they pull out their mini guns… The point and shoot. How do people experience you and what do people see when they think of you and your business? These are some of the things I can’t wait to talk about as a contributor to the Photobiz Community.

For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Jen Shannon. I’ve been practicing photography for 7 years and have been in business for almost 3 years. I am currently working on my BFA in graphic design and have completed my minor in film photography. I have my AA from FSCJ as well as several certifications from FSCJ and Notre Dame in business operations, advanced negotiations, conflict management, etc. I shoot weddings and lifestyle portraits but would someday like to do fashion. I recently became a full time photographer and relocated back to Jacksonville, FL (from Chicago) due to being laid off from Aetna, my “day” job, because of the loss of the Tricare contract. I was a contract negotiator and worked for Aetna for 6 years. I am married with no kids but have 3 dogs that I just ADORE and frequently donate my services to pet charities.

Read the article on the forums here and become a Photobiz Community Member.

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.

As many of you might have read on my blog I am currently in the running to be voted photographer of the year with Photobiz! I would LOVE to have the honor of being voted photographer of the year! PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE go vote for me! If I win, I’ll receive free hosting on a Photobiz Diamond plan for one year! And of course, the recognition would be AMAZING! So please go vote for me! You can vote here.

As most of you have probably seen on my twitter or facebook page, my husband and I went to Colorado to visit family this past week. We had SUCH a wonderful time! I’ll be doing a much bigger blog post later but I wanted to get a photo up first and make a couple of announcements. First I will not be doing any Rock On Photographer installations until after the first of the year. I am going to take a little break and regroup because next year is going to be a busy year. Second I was invited to be a vendor at a wedding show for the Metro Club in Willis Tower, previously known as the Sears Tower, on January 23rd from 2pm-6pm so if you’re a bride in Chicago or you know a bride in Chicago please encourage them to come to the show! It’s a very formal cocktail party style show. The address is 233 S. Wacker Drive. Pre-registration is going on now and is $10, it’s $15 at the door and children 12 and under get in free.

Lastly, I was recently selected to be in the running for an amazing award of Photographer of the Year for Photobiz. If selected I would win one year of hosting and a 12,000 photo allotment for my website, plus the recognition of course! PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE GO VOTE AND TELL YOUR FRIENDS! To vote, visit the below website and vote for me. I was the November photographer of the month. You can only vote once.

http://bit.ly/869o2D

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite photos of our trip to Colorado. More to come on that, probably tomorrow.

Jen Shannon Photography, Chicago Wedding Photographer

I wanted to say thank you again for selecting me as Photographer of the month. Here is the video they posted. I’ve also pasted the interview below. I hope that someone can benefit something from this and am happy to answers any questions you have!

1. What equipment you do you use?

I’m a loyal Nikon user all the way :) I currently shoot with a D700. I also use an SB800 for my flash, when I use a flash, (usually rent a couple more for weddings) with a couple of pocket wizards. For my lenses I LOVE LOVE LOVE my 1.4D (wish they had a 1.2), a 3.5 18-200 VR, my LensBaby Composer and I’m planning to get the 2.8 70-200 before the end of the year. I do my main edits in Lightroom then I sharpen and add my finishing touches in PS4.

2. How long have you been shooting?

I’ve been shooting for 6 years total, but one year professionally.

3. Where are you located?

Joliet, IL (suburb of Chicago) but will soon be relocating back to Jacksonville, FL.

4. What type of photography do you take?

I take a photojournalistic approach, though I know it is not true photojournalism. I really don’t like “say cheese” photography though I do think some photographers are really great with it. It just isn’t my style. My focus is on wedding photography but have recently taken a big interest in fashion photography, mainly bridal glamour. When I started professionally, I was doing pet photography. I still do some pet photography, but mainly of my own pooches (I have three). I love landscape photography, though I don’t do much of it because there isn’t much to see around here (unless you like smoke stacks and run down buildings… hahaha).

5. Price range of events?

For pet and lifestyle portrait sessions it starts at $500 and includes a DVD of images. For weddings I start at $2400 and go up to $4600 (4-12 hour packages). All of our packages include an e-session, usually a second photographer (we don’t guarantee a second photographer unless it is specifically paid for), a DVD of the images, and online proofing. We also offer A La Carte items that they can add to their base package such as custom guest books, albums, extra hours, slideshows, folios, etc.

6. When did you notice that you had passion for photography?

I’ve had a passion for photography since about 6 years ago. I wanted a digital camera really bad and my husband surprised me with one (he was my boyfriend at the time) for Christmas. It was a little 3 megapixel Kodak EasyShare. When it became more than a hobby was one evening when I lived in Florida, a rain storm had come through and I noticed the blinds, which were shut, were glowing pink. I looked outside to witness the most amazing sunset. I ran outside with my camera and took a few pictures. The pictures were amazing without any adjustments. The sky was just glowing. That’s when it turned into a passion. I later upgraded to a Canon Powershot (not a DSLR) and ended up with my first DSLR a little over two years ago. I switched to Nikon when I bought the DSLR. I bought a D80. It’s been a great starter camera but I’m ready for the real deal!

7. Is there anything unique about what you do?

I think every artist has something unique about them, it’s bringing that unique side out that is difficult. You see so many people doing so much of the same that it’s hard to think of how YOU as an individual are unique. What separates me from others is my business knowledge and customer service. Many photographers don’t understand how to run a business, so they become a photographer, blow their money and end up out of business in a few years. Coming from a business background and working a corporate job helped me to get it right from the get go. Keeping straight books, yearly and monthly goals, targets, scorecards, etc has helped me to stay on track and run the business, not just be a photographer. I also think my personality goes hand in hand with my customer service skills. My focus is not to always land the job, but to make the people who do work with me remember me for how much they enjoyed working with me. This way they walk away happy and end up referring others to me.

8. Have you had to changed anything to adjust in current economic times?

Something I learned very early on is great customer service goes a long way. One of the things I love to do is make the experience my customer has with me unique so that they refer other people to me and become walking advertisements for me. Although I’ve had to keep my prices fairly conservative for my area, I’ve found people are willing to pay for quality.

To give you a few examples, for every wedding I book, my Client gets a “Thank you for booking with us” gift. You can view an example of it on my blog. They are always so thrilled with the gift. You can choose what you want to put in there but I chose a couple of things that I know every time they look at them they will remember that I purchased those as a thank you for them and they are more likely to refer other people to me. Also, for all of my wedding Clients I give them a really nice package for their DVD. It’s called a DVD folio that I order through Cypress. You can also see an example of that on that same blog link above. I have swatch samples for them to choose which colors they’d like.

Ultimately customer service is a big driver. People are willing to pay for a better experience and more people are willing to come back for other things when they had a great experience with you. One example is I have a bride who’s wedding I photographed that has booked me for her baby’s 6 month photos.

9. Describe your shooting style?

As one bride wrote on her questionnaire, “Jen Style!” Ha! Love it! I think editing style also goes hand in hand with shooting style. When I shoot, I am always looking for a vantage point that most people don’t see because most people are only looking at things from eye level. I like to create an interpretation of something, someone, etc that everyone can see but that has show them from a different vantage point and something that is different and unique. I try to get up higher than everyone or lay on the ground. It also all depends on what I’m photographing. I also do whatever I can to use natural light. I don’t like shooting with a flash so most times I won’t shoot with one. If I can avoid it than I do. I think natural light has a beauty that flash doesn’t do justice to, although I do think flash can help in certain situations. So much of today’s digital photography is defined by the photographer’s editing style too. I like bright, contrasty images, which I think my work reflects, that really pop when you look at them.

10. What are your goals for the future?

Great question! Aside from the business aspect of it with meeting numbers and targets, my goal is to develop my style and focus on specializing in one type of photography. Since I really enjoy glamour and fashion I’d like to develop my eye for that type of photography and incorporate that into my wedding photography. Let’s face it. The bride is THE one to please. She feels the most beautiful and exotic that she has ever felt in her entire life and she wants photographs that will reflect that. Why not mesh that with bridal glamour so every time she sees her photos it invokes the feelings she felt on her wedding day?

11. Do you have a Facebook Fan Page or a Twitter account?

Yes! You can become a fan by going to Facebook or follow me on Twitter. My Twitter name is JenStarlight.

12. Do you have a blog, and if so, how have you found it has enhanced your business?

Yes, I do have a blog. I would love to see Photobiz come out with a blog for us to use that is incorporated into the control panel (hint hint Dave!! haha). I have found it has helped my business tremendously. Aside from being able to show my personality through my blog entries, potential clients are able to go through my blog and view photography in my daily life, view photos from jobs that don’t necessarily go into my portfolio, and it’s a great way to take the formality out of the business website and really put my personality into it so they can determine if I am a good fit for them.

I recently had a wedding Client (who booked with me) that my husband, Colby, and I met with at Starbucks to sign the contract and as soon as we walked in she said, “Happy belated birthday Colby!” He said, “Thanks. How did you know I just had my birthday?” She said, “I read it on Jen’s blog. I love her blog. I follow it all the time!” It was good to know and hear.

13. What advice would have for someone starting out?

Don’t quit your day job! At least not yet. Seriously, I’ve seen a million times where someone gets a business idea, they quit their day job to pursue it, their business goes under and before they know it, they are out of business with no job, no income, no way to pay next month’s mortgage payment, etc. A business takes time to build. You have to be willing to put in your 8 hour day job hours and then another 8 hours a day into your business. If you happen to be one of those lucky people who is supported by someone else and your income doesn’t matter, well, then you are lucky, but most of us have to have day jobs when we start out. Eventually I hope to quit my day job (corporate job) but not today!

Advice on a photography related note… I would really recommend finding a photographer that inspires you and try to practice underneath them or pick their brains to find out what worked for them. What worked for them may not work for you and vise versa. Don’t be afraid to ask questions because that’s the only way to learn and if you’re asking someone who makes you uncomfortable because you asked, then find someone else. There are great places/forums where you can excellent advice for seasoned experts in the industry. The Photobiz fan page on Facebook is an excellent resource. Also check out the Photobiz blog because they periodically post videos that are super helpful.

I’ll make this my last piece of advise… There is more to running a photography business than just taking pictures. I would recommend taking some business classes to make sure you run a successful business (success being defined as an organized business that is profitable, not necessarily achieving “rock star” photographer status). Be sure to watch the video on the Photobiz blog about creating a business plan. You NEED a business plan. Make reasonable goals for your business. Hold monthly meetings with yourself/your associate(s) and go over your numbers and make sure you are doing everything you can to improve yourself and your business. I make monthly goals for myself. I don’t beat myself up if I don’t achieve those goals but it helps me look at where I am and decide what I need to be doing to achieve those goals next time. I also keep monthly Google Analytics reports to direct my business to the appropriate geographic location/audience. Keep a running record of you inquiries (I use Quickbooks for this) and which ones result in bookings. There is so much to know and so much I could tell you but it would take a REALLY long time (aka my college degree!) to give you all the info. I hope this helps. The irs.gov website has great resources for small businesses that you should take advantage of if you haven’t already.