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Oh My Word!

I just heard a news report about a peeping Tom, who snuck into a woman's home and hid a video camera in her bedroom so that he could spy on and record her and her husband. What does this have to do with the business of photography? The news story went on to say that the intruder had been stalking the woman, stealing "unmentionables" from her bedroom, and he even went so far as to purchase photos of her from her wedding photographer. Yikes!! I wouldn't like to be in that photographer's shoes!

Because you are in the business of selling photography, it would seem perfectly natural to take an order for a few 8x10s from a fellow who showed up stating that he is "the bride's brother," or "the bride's cousin." When it comes to taking orders from strangers, the best policy, in my opinion, is always to work with, or through, the primary client. Otherwise, you are likely to find yourself in the middle of a domestic dispute or worse . . . as is the case here.

Early in my own business, a sweet grandmother visited the studio to order portraits of her high school senior grandson. Something didn't seem quite right, so we placed a call to the senior's mom, and I'm so glad we did. Turns out that Granny wanted the portraits for her son, from whom the mom and the senior were both estranged. Even if you feel sorry that a dad is being denied the opportunity of having a portrait of his son, don't get in the middle, where you'll surely become the next victim of an already bad situation. Make it a hard-and-fast policy to sell images only to the client directly, unless you have her approval to do otherwise.


My iPhone Universe

The night before I left for the California SMS Workshop, my husband, Jim, presented me with a lovely surprise: an iPhone! I had decided to wait to purchase one until I had time to sit down and learn its features. With only 18 hours before flight time, I had to scramble to load everything, including a movie to try out on the airplane. All I can say is WOW! It exceeded my already high expectations . . . not because of the incredibly cool interface and functions (the gee-whiz stuff), but because it is such a powerful workflow tool. To have the key items from my computer right in my hand allows me to keep up with email and a host of other detail issues during those interminable airport waits. And because I had a terrible seat on the plane, it was wonderful to be able to take my mind off of being "entrapped" by watching a movie. What I really didn't expect was to be so blown away by the new functionality of the i-Pod environment. It is so much easier to find and manage your music and videos. Like other iPods, the earbuds are the weak link, but I had my $35 Brookstone retractables with me, and they made my music-listening experience the best ever . . . as good as my Bose earphones, but so much lighter to carry.

By the time I hit Detroit, where I changed planes, I was concerned about how I will keep from
LOSING this wonderful device that had become an instant necessity. So I stopped in at the Brighton store, and discovered their new Soho bag that features a zipped organizer, and a secure front pouch that is perfect for the iPhone and earbuds. It is large enough to hold a point-and-shoot and minimal other necessities, but small enough to fit into a computer bag. What a way to travel!


What a Beautiful New Smile!

In May I wrote about the Operation Smile medical mission to Honduras that was photographed by Dallas-area photographer Angela Weedon. Angie was the top fund-raiser for PPA Charity's Family Portrait Month in both 2005 and 2006. Operation Smile's Lisa Jones just visited Honduras and got to visit darling little Britany, whom Angie photographed as a 9-month-old before her surgery in February. Lisa was accompanied by photographer Marc Ascher, who took the "after" photograph of Britany that you see alongside her "before" photo below. What a beautiful little girl and what a real-life miracle for her loving family!

It literally gives me goose bumps to think that last year's Family Portrait Month donation of $40,000 to Operation Smile made possible 166 miracles for precious children such as Britany. It's not too late to participate in 2007's Family Portrait Month. You can learn more and register by clicking

Learning and Laughter by the Bay

Just returned from a wonderful Studio Management Services Workshop in Oakland, California. Great class and a fabulous location, right on the bay, at Jack London Square.

The fabulous location was suggested to us by portrait photographer Laura Cottrill, of nearby Walnut Creek. Here's Laura enjoying a good laugh and a great glass of wine with my fellow instructor Carol Andrews.

Carol was a bit more serious when it was time for class.

It was a wonderful group — very talented and highly motivated to get the most from their businesses. Carol and I and the staff of SMS look forward to our next workshop, which is scheduled for December 3-5 at PPA headquarters in Atlanta.
Click here for more information.

Designers' Delight

The headline on the previous article brought to mind one of my favorite resources: Before&After magazine, which sports a tag line that says: "How to design cool stuff." Back in the early 1990s, before I knew anything about an upstart company called Marathon Press, I was constantly searching for resources that could help me learn more about good design. I knew that effective design was a key to producing quality marketing materials, and even though I had a local designer to help me out and no desire to learn to do it myself, I wanted to learn more about it so that I would know what to ask for from a designer.

Before & After was just what I was looking for. Every issue that arrives is full of such great ideas that I inevitably stop what I'm doing to dig through it. Early on I was so blown away by editor John McWade's vision and his WONDERFUL column on design, that I summoned the courage to write him a letter (remember them?) to ask how to approach the creation of promotional piece for PPA that I was working on as a volunteer. I really didn't expect a reply, but he answered my question, and in the process changed my life.

These days B&A is available in two versions: printed or pdf. Either is an outrageous bargain for the invaluable info you receive. I urge you to visit their site at
http://www.bamagazine.com. You'll find some free downloads to give you the flavor of the articles. Browse through the list of back issues, as I'm sure you'll find many that you'll want to download, and they are such a good value! And check out their testimonials. I'm not the only one who is hooked on this wonderful resource.

I'm really not trying to turn you into a designer, because most photographers should be spending their time shooting or building their businesses. But in today's world, design — just like technology — is part of everything we do, so you need to understand both. That's what B&A is all about. Here's how they describe themselves in the "Who we are" statement on their home page:

Before & After magazine has been sharing its practical approach to graphic design since 1990. Because our modern world has made designers of us all (ready or not), Before & After is dedicated to making graphic design understandable, useful and even fun for everyone.

They certainly have! Thank you John McWade!

Homeward Bound: Before and After

Thought I'd take a moment to show you two of my favorite products at work:
NIK image-enhancement software and John Hartman QuickMats 3™ custom digital mats.

The perfectly awful original, shown above, is from a bunch of typical stupid seagull pictures that everyone seems compelled to take when they are by the ocean — in this case the west coast of Ireland. Shot with my trusty Canon 5-D, I was about to delete it when I noticed the gull with his mouth open. Apparently he's screaming at the other guys to get out of his way. I decided to crop in on just him . . . then I saw what was in the distance.

I played around with some NIK filters (Color Efex Pro) to add vibrancy and color to the image, used a touch of Nik Sharpener Pro on the bird, then I cropped it to straighten the horizon line. I then created a Hartman mat around it and hung it in my bedroom along with a group of favorite images I'd made in Ireland. I enjoyed it so much — because it really gives me that "land's end" feeling I get whenever I visit the the coast of Ireland — that I decided to enter it in competition. I was thrilled that it received a Merit last month at the national judging. I hung two others, both of which I used filters to enhance, but with those images I had something to work with in the first place — not just a throw-away (almost) snapshot that was hiding a treasure.

My conversion to digital did not come quickly or easily: I've observed the implosion of way too many studios placed under the stress of trying to implement a brand new workflow overnight. Letting go of my beloved Mamiya RZ67 and my fixed-tripod world has been tough. But what really made me embrace the digital world is recognizing that in my film world, I nearly always felt somewhat letdown when I saw the proofs of an image that had thrilled me when I snapped the shutter. But with digital, I can take that same image and bring out the the actual
emotion I was feeling because of what I was beholding. Now, every time I look at "Homeward Bound," I am transported to that magic place that Ireland has become to me, and I am filled with the emotions I have for the exquisite land, fascinating places, and marvelous people I've experienced there. Wow! What a gift digital has given to me.


It's A Woman Thing!

When BellaGrafica was in it's early planning stages, I told my husband, Jim, that we had finally decided on the name "BellaGrafica" for the new company. "It means 'beautiful graphics in Italian," I explained. Jim's reply was: "Then why don't you just call it 'Beautiful Graphics?' " Just like a man!

The male vs. female view of marketing and sales obviously still ripples across our many years of being in business together. I've always called Jim the "King of Plastic Bags," as he believes they are the most practical device ever invented for packaging EVERYTHING. He has strenuously resisted my attempts to look for attractive packaging alternatives.

In an effort to impress on Jim the reason that BellaGrafica is emphasizing packaging as an important product line, I went so far as to purchase the tin of Tea Forte' infusers that you see below. This delightful company sells tea products that are magnificently packaged. This tin contains two of what Jim would call "tea bags." Tea Forte', however, calls them "silken infusers." I pointed out that the product would be nothing without the packaging: a beautifully designed tin, holding two delightful tent-shaped coverings for the infusers. The tin itself is wrapped in a lovely belly-band. "You are paying a few cents for the tea product and the rest for the beautiful container, which sends a message that you appreciate fine things," I explained. Jim inspected the product for a few minutes, then he looked at me like I was crazy.

So I've learned my lesson: The attraction of beautiful packaging is generally a woman thing, but a very important issue if you are marketing to women. Beautiful packaging sends a message to clients that reinforces their choice of having purchased a fine product. It's an inexpensive way to combat "buyer's remorse" and the perfect way to conclude each client's experience with your business.

Take a minute to browse through the
Tea Forte' website. It will teach you a lot about the value of exquisite design and artful packaging.


Meet Another Duck Buddy . . .

I enjoyed the Peabody Hotel's ducks so much that they made me think about another duck friend of mine. You can find him on a wonderful web-based cartoon strip series called "What the Duck" at whattheduck.net. "What" is the creation of artist Aaron Johnson who writes about and draws a struggling professional photographer who happens to be a duck. I've become addicted to What's very familiar situations. There are lots of fun things to look at on the WTD site. When you click on the home page, check out the merchandise (cute), then go to the strip archives to see lots of great episodes, such as the one below.

Before you sign off, make sure that you click on the home page link entitled "WTD TV" (upper right corner). PLEASE DON'T MISS THIS ANIMATED GEM. Every photographer who has ever photographed a holy terror child will love this one. There's even a free download for your iPod/iPhone. What's particularly amusing to me is that the child's voice sounds exactly like my grandson when he was around two and going through the mini-tantrum stage. Thanks to What, I'll never forget Lucas at that age.

Senior Expectations . . .

Yesterday I answered a call from a mom inquiring about senior portraits for her son. Not an unusual ocurrance except that what this mom wanted to know was "does your studio have a senior website where I can get information about your senior photography?" For months I've been advocating that separate websites are appropriate when studios do a significant business in certain specialities such as seniors and weddings. Today's consumers, especially members of the younger "Entitlement Generation," want to deal with specialists — photographers who are perceived as being experts in their field. They like to feel as if they are the ONLY client you have.

So I wouldn't have been surprised to hear a high school kid ask if we had a senior website. But his mom? I guess I shouldn't be surprised. After all . . . it's her generation of parents who are responsible for raising this current crop of high school "Entitlers." Both parents and their children are truly changing the way that all retailers — including photographers — do business. More about the Entitlement Generation on another day.

Attention Parents!

This sign caught my eye while having lunch at a fun restaurant across from the Peabody Hotel in Memphis, during the Make More Money Conference. Wouldn't you just LOVE to post a sign like this in your studio for certain parents to read?

Make More Money Conference . . . It Was Just Ducky!

The Peabody Hotel—was a perfect setting for the 2007 Make More Money Conference. It's iconic ducks—which appeared in or on everything, from the lobby fountain (real ducks) to towels and toilet issue, and even in pastries, which were as delicious as they were beautiful—were a very potent reminder of how important branding is to the long-term success of a business. This famous Memphis landmark has in fact been in business since 1869.

The conference itself drew over 600 photographers who were eager to learn all they could about marketing, management and workflow. It's simply amazing to me how digital has shifted the demand away from classes on technique to classes on how to run a business. In my opinion, the industry is better because of this transformation: There certainly is no shortage of outstanding images being made, and there are lot more profitable businesses because of this shift.

Just like last year, every program was a highlight for me, and the trade show was great as well. Plus it was such fun to see so many great friends. I heard nothing but wonderful comments and appreciation for such a meaningful event.