Going It Alone: 4 Great Resources for Starting Your Photography Business

Here’s a joke: What’s the difference between an amateur photographer and a professional? Answer: An amateur photographer also has a full-time job. A professional photographer is MARRIED to someone who has a full-time job.

(cue laugh track)

That’s not always the case, obviously, but it certainly has a ring of truth: for most of us, photography is an avocation, not a vocation. But haven’t you at least dreamed of having a business card that reads Your Name Studios and included the title “Photographer”? Because that’s what we are, right? At the end of the day, no matter what we may do to pay the rent, in our hearts we’re first and foremost photographers.

The idea of owning a studio or even being a freelancer is definitely romantic. On the other hand, it takes more than just a good eye to grow a successful business. One of the most consistent mistakes I see photographers make when they try to go out on their own is believing they can do it all themselves. Anything’s possible, but it’s highly unlikely.

This is the case with any sole proprietorship, but it seems especially true for those in creative fields: Music, theater, design … and yes, photography. Maybe we’re too in love with the image of the “starving artist” to really consider our art to be a business … but if you’re going to make a living at it, you can’t afford not to think of it that way.

Having said that, running a business requires an entirely different skill set than taking pictures. That doesn’t mean you can’t do it, but no one says you can’t ask for help. A good place to start is John Harrington’s excellent resource, Best Business Practices for Photographers. Now in its third edition, the book is a comprehensive guide to starting and growing a successful and satisfying photography business.

Harrington’s book touches on legal issues, but for a more in-depth and experience-based view, check out photoattorney.com. Carolyn Wright is both an attorney and a photographer, and she does a great job helping you navigate contracts, copyrights, and legalese.

Getting paid can also be tricky for a creative … but not getting paid can be catastrophic. This article from Photo.net lays out a number of good tips and technique for making sure you get compensated for your work. It’s also good to cultivate a relationship with a representative of your bank to help deal with risks like bounced checks or chargebacks.

Finally, it sometimes helps to remember that you’re not the first person to do this: look into joining a community of professional photographers like Professional Photographers of America or American Photographic Artists. Being able to converse with others in the business can be invaluable, plus you’ll gain access to resources, critiques, networking, and more. Not only can an association be a source of support, it can also be a source of personal validation.

Starting and maintaining any small business can be challenging, but running your own photography business means wearing a lot of different hats: artist, accountant, office manager, sales agent, and more. While it may not always be as glamorous as your dream, with skill, careful marketing and a professional reputation, you can build the rewarding career you’ve always wanted.

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How Can Photographers Adapt to Mobile Commerce?

As commercial photographers, we are increasingly being asked to optimize our images for digital implementation. First it was for websites, then for tablets; now, customers are demanding images that feature hi-res clarity (ideal for sales) at ridiculously low file sizes (for faster load times.

From the retailers’ perspective, this makes perfect sense: on average, mobile now accounts for more than half of all online traffic around the globe. More and more, people are browsing and shopping online stores through mobile devices, even on the weekend. To leverage this trend, e-commerce sites need to be able to convert on mobile … and that means optimizing their sites for speed, aesthetics, and ease-of-use.

It is essential that mobile sites offer customers the necessary resources to make quick, informed purchases. Users are accustomed to the process that already exists with desktop machines; intelligent, responsive design ideally provides that same experience for shoppers, regardless which device they’re on.

While it makes sense for merchants, this need for responsive design can pose challenges for photographers. The stickiest part is reducing file size while maintaining image clarity. There are multiple ways to do this, but photogs are better off handling the size reduction personally, as opposed to letting programmers solve the issue.

Too often, the programmer simply places the largest image on the webpage, then “shrinks” the dimensions through the source code. Images become blurred and colors fade, making the product unviewable; worse, load-times are still dangerously long.

It has been shown that most consumers will give a website about 2 seconds to load on a desktop or laptop. They are slightly more generous on mobile devices — allowing 5 seconds – but that still leaves an incredibly small window for capturing their interest.

To alleviate this problem, photographers should provide programmers with at least two sizes of every picture. The site can have a smaller image for lists, with an option to view a larger image in a pop-up or on a separate webpage.

This also allows the photog to make sure that the images all have the best color balance and sharpness. This can sometimes be as simple as selecting the most appropriate file format. Normally, JPEGs will be the most logical choice for ecommerce use, as they offer the highest quality at the smallest file size.

For thumbnails or extremely simple images, GIFs are another option. GIFs should never be used for large images, however: the file will be huge with no way to make it smaller without obscuring the picture.

PNGs are sometimes an acceptable alternative to either JPEGs or GIFS. For simple decorative images, PNGs’ smaller file size can be an advantage; PNGs also allow for transparent backgrounds.

Most image editing programs can save images to any of these file types. Adobe Photoshop is obviously the industry standard, but there are other good programs that exist.

All trends are pointing to mobile commerce as the future for online shopping. Commercial photographers should embrace this rapidly changing medium and develop techniques to profitably fulfill the image needs of digital merchants.

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Do Photographers Need Professional Chargeback Help?

credit cardsAs a professional photographer, chances are you don’t have an immense wealth of knowledge when it comes to payment industry regulations. However, that subject is one in which what you don’t know can hurt you.

What is a Chargeback?

These days, chargebacks are most commonly associated with online transactions, but they do still occur for card-present businesses.

A chargeback is essentially a kind of bank-enforced refund. The practice is based on old payments industry infrastructure dating back the early 1970s and intended as a way of encouraging consumer confidence in credit cards. Essentially, a chargeback gives the cardholder the right to request that a transaction be overturned either because of criminal fraud or an error on the part of the merchant.

Technically, those are the only two justifiable reasons why a cardholder should be granted a chargeback. Unfortunately, cardholders often attempt to dispute chargebacks without proper justification—a practice known as “friendly fraud.”

It’s important to distinguish between these loss sources so as not to lose funds unnecessarily due to groundless and excessive chargeback claims.

When is a Chargeback Justified?

Practices which fall under the umbrella of criminal fraud are relatively straightforward. This could mean that the customer used stolen cardholder or account information, or in some other way managed to impersonate a cardholder. There is little one can do to avoid a chargeback if they process a transaction which is later found to be the result of genuine criminal fraud.

So, what does it mean to receive a chargeback due to merchant error? There are several different potential chargeback triggers here:

  • The customer didn’t receive the correct number of proofs.
  • The proofs arrived late / did not arrive at all.
  • The customer was billed for the incorrect amount, or is accidentally billed twice.
  • Services did not represent what was contractually promised.
  • Customer attempts to contact you to resolve any above issue, with no response.

If any of these are applicable, you might find yourself facing a chargeback resulting from merchant error.

When is a Chargeback Not Justified?

You might assume that most chargebacks fall into one of the above-mentioned valid categories. However, the data suggests that more than 80% of all chargebacks may be friendly fraud cases.

Any of the below-mentioned situations would be an example of an unjustified chargebacks, and therefore, friendly fraud:

  • The customer doesn’t like how they look in the picture.
  • The entire process costs more than the customer expected.
  • The customer didn’t actually read and understand their contract.
  • He or she was just trying to get something for free.
  • The customer failed to contact you to try and resolve their issues first.

What Can I Do About Chargebacks?

Fortunately, there are steps you can take that will help insulate your business against these largely-avoidable loss sources:

  • Create a fair and easy-to-understand customer contract, and have customers sign-off on this before providing any paid services.
  • Provide top-notch customer service, ensuring you live-up to the expectation of service outlined in your contract—this means appointments, pricing and shipping dates.
  • Keep documentation of all interactions you have with customers. Save all emails, and keep copies of all written material on-file.

Of course, these preemptive strategies won’t be enough to counter every chargeback case; by its nature, there is no way to really prevent friendly fraud from happening. The only really effective way to deal with a problem like friendly fraud is to consult with a professional chargeback mitigation service.

If you’re in the market for a solution to fight back against friendly fraud, as well as to help prevent chargebacks resulting from other loss sources, we recommend you check out Chargebacks911. As this Chargebacks911 review points out, they are widely established as the industry experts regarding friendly fraud prevention.

Just remember—if you’re facing a real chargeback problem, fighting back is not a lost cause. With the right tools and insight at your disposal, you can quickly make chargebacks a thing of the past.

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Best Places to Shoot Landscape Photography in Arizona

arizonaArizona has breath-taking scenery and draws thousands of photographers every year. Both professional and novice photographers set out in search of the perfect shot and spend weekends traipsing through backroad territories trying to find it.

Before you head off chasing the light, assemble the equipment you need.

  • Your camera. It seems self-explanatory, but double check your camera bag and make sure the camera is there. Check the memory card (and bring a back-up!). You will never regret having an extra, but will always regret having to stop shooting when your card is full.
  • Extra battery pack. Better safe than sorry. The day you don’t bring an extra will be the day your battery dies.
  • A tripod. Setting the camera up to catch the light as it moves through the desert, filters through the leaves or crests over the mountain range will be easier with a tripod.
  • A notebook. Make notes of when, where and other details of the day. Jot down your thoughts about the pictures you’re taking, so you can refer to them later as needed.

Be Cautious of These Locations

Not all Arizona landscapes are easy to capture. When planning your adventure, be cautious of these locations.

Bryce Canyon

Photographer Terry White cautions photographers about the drive to Bryce Canyon. Consult a map and carefully plan your route before venturing to this location.

Show Low

Monica Cardone warns visitors about potential fraud issues in Show Low, Arizona. While credit card fraud isn’t usually an issue for photographers, it is a danger readers should be aware of.

Best Places for Landscape Photography

Wondering where to start in your search of Arizona’s perfect scene? Try one of these.

Horseshoe Bend

Overlooking the Colorado River, Horseshoe Bend is breathtaking at both sunrise and sunset. A short 15-minute walk from the parking lot will put you in the perfect spot for a panoramic view of the Grand Canyon and the river. The terrain is filled with loose rocks and sand, so wear appropriate footwear. The weather can be vastly different, moving from extremes in both directions.

San Rafael Valley

Outside Patagonia is the remote area of San Rafael. Cattle ranches and farms abound, but the valley is filled with a quiet beauty that provides you views of the sweeping landscapes Arizona is known for. If you’re lucky, you can capture some shots of the raptors that winter in Arizona. Make sure you bring your telephoto lens for capturing every angle.

Cochise Lake

Juxtaposing the beauty of the desert with the expanse of Cochise Lake gives photographers the chance to take photos in vivid colors. As a watering spot for migrating birds travelling through Arizona, you can catch some wonderful scenes of nature’s highlights. Monsoon season offers stunning views of lightning storms, so use both a standard and a telephoto lens.

London Bridge

London Bridge, purchased by Robert McCulloch, was reassembled in the city in 1971 and has drawn the attention of thousands of visitors. The best time to capture images at the bridge is during the blue hour –starting 55 minutes before sunrise or 15 minutes after sunset.

Finding the perfect shot is easy when the landscape is as beautiful as the ones offered by Arizona. Perhaps the most difficult part of capturing the best scenes in Arizona is trying to decide which one is your favorite.

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Best Online Portfolio Sites for Photographers

photography_portfolioAs a photographer, one of the most important tools you have is your portfolio. The ability to showcase your work to potential clients, while building an online presence is essential to growing your business.

Fortunately, these tasks can be easily handled by today’s web technology. Building an online portfolio no longer requires specialized coding knowledge or extensive web training. The platforms available today make it easier than ever for even the novice photographer to create a stunning portfolio of work in very little time.

Not sure which portfolio platform to use? Check out this list of some of the leading applications available to find a platform that meets your needs.

Foliolink

This online portfolio building tool is perfect for photographers who wish to sell their work online. An easy to use interface means your site can be up and running quickly (no coding or CSS needed), and with a free 7-day trial, you can find out which plan will best meet your needs.

Each plan is Search Engine Optimization (SEO) ready, and has e-commerce and customization tools and is mobile responsive.

Zenfolio

Similar to Foliolink, Zenfolio’s online platform is user-friendly, with point and click customizations.  Included in Zenfolio’s program are e-commerce options that allow artists and photographers to sell their work online effortlessly. Low annual subscription fees ($30 per year) and a free trial account make this a smart choice for photographers who want to grow their online business.

Folio Websites

WordPress based Folio Websites offer users clean, crisp sites to display their work portfolio. Mobile capability, SEO standards and customization options are all included in the low monthly account fee (accounts may be as low as $14.60 per month), which makes having a professional website easy and inexpensive.

500px

With unlimited photo uploads, an advanced visitor tracking system and custom domain names, 500px is an excellent choice for photographers looking to build an online portfolio and photo store. Easy customizations, a virtual marketplace and gallery builders make this platform user friendly for both the photographers and customers.

SmugMug

On online photo-sharing gallery, SmugMug allows photographers to share their work with a community of thousands of members. Easy customizations allow photographers to build a custom portfolio to showcase their talent. Social media tools are embedded in the platform, giving photographers the ability to publicize their portfolio for maximum exposure.

Pixpa

Offering photographers hundreds of beautifully designed templates to create a customized site, Pixpa is an elegant portfolio builder. Customization tools include color, font, background and layout selections giving the photographer complete control over their site. Pixpa accounts also include an integrated platform for e-commerce, allowing photographers the ability to sell their work online easily.

Contently

Contently is a platform most commonly used by writers. It allows users to upload articles that have been published on various sites around the internet. This portfolio site would be perfect for photographs who want to showcase their art in use. Monica Cardone’s Contently account features published articles, like most users, but she shared a tip that would be appealing to photographers too: “It’s free! You can’t beat free!”

Selecting the right platform to create a portfolio doesn’t have to be complex. Using a quick and easy interface allows you to focus on your photography, while leaving the coding to someone else.  Establishing a web presence offers clients the opportunity to browse (and purchase) your work and helps you build your reputation for your services.

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From Fashion Photography to Professional Portraits

My friend Leah was always interested in photography, and she has a knack for bringing out the best in clothing through her photos. She is a part-time photographer for a local clothing boutique, though recently she got into doing professional portraits after another friend asked her to do headshots for her LinkedIn profile.

Recently we had lunch and I asked her how it feels to go from fashion photography to corporate portraits, which is my inspiration for the post today. Listed below are some tips she shared for photographing professional portraits.

1. Make sure the client dresses for success.

Clothing is important because it affects the confidence of the client as well as the eventual outcome in the photograph. Women should wear a minimal amount of jewelry (if at all) because shiny jewelry can reflect in the camera. Dark, classic fashions are best for men and women. Bold colors and patterns should be avoided as they distract from the focal point of the portrait: the client’s face and personality.

2. Photoshop is your friend.

People go to photographers with skill in handling a camera and Photoshop for a reason: to make themselves look their best. Give people what they want and remove blemishes, wrinkles, and shiny bits from the image. Help your clients help themselves by dissuading them from using too much make-up.

3. Have an appropriate background.

A solid, neutral background is absolutely necessary for corporate portraits. You can’t go wrong with gray or black, though a neutral shade of brown or blue can be acceptable. Depending on the situation the client may want a background with more texture, such as a brick or wooden wall. Discuss the effect that your client is looking for and be prepared to do off-site photography with the background of their choosing. Be sure you do sample shots before the actual photo shot so you can adjust for location-specific challenges.

4. Lighting is everything.

For a professional portrait, the lighting is key. You want your subject to be flattered by the light, not be in the shadows or washed out by too-bright light. Photographs can be taken indoors or outdoors, so you will have to adjust your lighting accordingly. If you are serious about taking corporate portraits, then you will have to invest in some lighting. Softboxes and umbrellas work great as lighting modifiers; which one you choose depends on your preference and the effect you hope to achieve.

Leah went from bringing out the best in clothes to bringing out the best in people. She still works with people as models, though her models are now professional in other ways. She enjoys working with corporate photography because she can make her clients feel relaxed and natural, which is key to creating strong professional portraits.

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