Lenses: What Do You Need?

As we review our curriculum for Unleashed VA we often look over our “most asked questions” list.  Lens choice is always on that list. Especially for photographers who are just entering the pet photography market.

Through the years I’ve found that I have 1-3 “foundation” lenses.  Those that, if every other thing in my bag malfunctioned, was lost or stolen, I could complete a session, give the client depth and variety, and still expect a good sale.

Those lenses will differ for everybody -depending on your style, whether you’re a studio shooter or location photographer, and your client base.

For me, my go to lenses are the Nikkor 70-200mm 2.8, Nikkor 85mm 1.4 and the Nikkor 17-35mm 2.8. These are my “base” lenses. If I wasn’t shooting pets I probably wouldn’t use the 17-35mm but it’s the perfect lens for “hip-shooting” and while I’ve found that style isn’t necessarily a big seller for me, it allows me to deliver a really well rounded and thorough session.

Please note, all of my lenses are FIXED APERTURES! I’d rather see you save for a fixed aperture lens rather than buy less expensive variable aperture lenses just to round out your kit.  You can do a lot with a 50 mm 1.4 lens!

After the set of base lenses I think it’s up to you. Give it some time. Develop your style and see what you like to shoot. And what your clients like to buy.  I’ve bought and sold many lenses through the years. Sometimes I’d try a lens because I liked a certain look, only to find my clients weren’t as enamored as I was. Sometimes I tried a lens, such as a perspective control or “tilt-shift” to find it really fit my style and added a touch of uniqueness to images I delivered.

The good news about quality lenses – you can sell them! I bought a fish-eye lens years ago because I liked the quirky distortion the lens rendered. I found, while it made my clients laugh, my client base, known for purchasing large fine art canvases, wasn’t really buying these shots.  So, I sold it for about 90% of what I paid.

Of course, renting is always a great way to go. Many Unleashed attendees rent a specific lens for the workshop. What a great way to try out a lens and get some great shots in the meantime!

Wherever you are in your pet photography path I recommend you go slowly, develop your style, and build a kit of quality lenses that will help you be a better photographer.

Below is one of my images, shot with that fish-eye that left my bag about 8 months after I purchased it!

June Bride
June Bride

 

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Virginia – Are You Ready to Get Unleashed? Registration is OPEN!

We’ve finalized our plans for Virginia Unleashed 2013 and we couldn’t be more excited!

We start early and go late so book your flights accordingly. And bring your running shoes for some non-stop action!

DATES: June 8-10

Where: Northern Virginia (Dulles [IAD]), Leesburg and surrounding area

Cost: $1395 (see Workshop and Agenda tabs for more info on what’s included!)

Email us through our contact page here for registration links.  Hotel links will be available in the registration packet.  See you in Virginia and come ready to be Unleashed! There are only 15, 14, 13, 12,  11, 10, 9, 8,  7, 6, 5,4,3, 2 spots remaining so make your decision soon!

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Photographing pets | Unleashed Workshops

Are you ready to start photographing pets?

Let’s pretend that you are an experienced photographer shooting babies, kids and families. There are only 100 of us per square mile these days.  How do you set yourself apart from your competition? Start shooting pets, right?  They’re cute, everybody’s got one –how hard can it be?

Think about a few of these scenarios before inviting pets in to your studio:

  • What happens if Max, the black lab, refuses to look at the camera and chooses instead to take off after a squirrel?  Chaos follows.  Now you’re watching your profits go flying out the window as everyone takes off after him, messes up their hair and clothing, scaring the baby who erupts in to tears.
  • A 50ish couple calls and books an appointment for a session with their elderly Schnauzer. After they arrive, they announce that he’s deaf and almost blind – but that’s okay, right? How do you get his attention, where do you seat the three of them and how do you make all three of them look younger, healthier and blissfully happy?
  • Your favorite clients want you to photograph their new baby with their old baby – a 9 year old Golden Retriever. How do you set up the shot?
  • The Smiths show up with their three Jack Russell Terriers and want great portraits but they forgot to tell you they didn’t want to be in them.  Now what?
  • The young couple down the street wants shots of their Australian Shepherd catching his Frisbee in mid-air, in the park, in the middle of the day on a Saturday. Are you ready?

You’re laughing now because you KNOW one of these things is going to happen to you (or already has) and you know you were unprepared.  So back up a few steps. There are lots of great reasons to photograph pets and it WILL increase your sales and it WILL bring new clients in your door –but be a professional and do it thoughtfully. Take a workshop, buy a book, get some practice and build a great pet portfolio that will actually BRING in new clients.  Find out what Pet lovers buy and what you have to charge to actually make a profit. Then update your website and start marketing to pet lovers. Adding pet photography brings all sorts of benefits to your existing business –not to mention puppy breath!

Unleashed dog photography workshop

Unleashed – The Fine Art of Pet Photography Workshops – Virginia Registration is Open!

Well, we’ve brushed ourselves off and recovered quite nicely from Dallas – Unleashed.  The surveys are in and we had some lovely testimonials:

I say keep up what you are doing. You 3 are a wonderful combination of energy! There is no way that you can cover everything, but you have remained so available for further contact and that has been invaluable. I have taken other workshops where that was not a possibility. The other thing that I really appreciated is that you provided what you said that you were going to provide in the workshop. I also feel that by offering the possibility for all attendees to connect prior to the workshop really provided an awesome atmosphere of cohesiveness right from the get-go!

And now, on to Virginia! Registration opens today. You can find more details throughout this blog by clicking on the cost tab.

After much consideration, as well as receiving feedback from our Unleashed – Dallas attendees, we have made a few significant changes.  We feel these changes will make the workshop experience even better for you.

First, we have a conference hotel! Due to the amount of information packed into our workshop we’ve found the need to simplify everything else as much as possible.  In the past,  attendees were required to shuttle between locations for breakout sessions. This ate up valuable time and we felt, in some ways, it took away from the overall workshop experience.

No longer! Unleashed- Virginia has secured meeting space and rooms at the beautiful AAA 4-Star Lansdowne Resort & Conference Center. All shooting will take place at the Tranquility Farm & Barn Studio of Bev Hollis Photography. However, when we are not shooting or doing lighting lectures, we will learn in the comfort of this beautiful meeting place.

Second, it can be difficult to coordinate travel between lecture sites and location shooting. No longer! We will provide transportation from Lansdowne Resort to the Tranquility Farm studio for all sessions. You are welcome to drive yourself but it is not necessary.

Third, some attendees do not like the added expense of a rental car. No longer! Lansdowne Resort will provide transportation between Dulles (IAD) Airport and the resort for all attendees who are staying at the resort.  There are ample restaurants within the resort complex. A town center is also about a mile away for more dining choices.

Last, Don Dechow’s sales presentation rocked! So we are bringing him back for a longer session in September to include a walk-through sales session.

We are thrilled to be putting together what we know will be a truly amazing learning experience.  We’ve worked with Lansdowne Resort to secure pricing that we feel will continue to make Unleashed a great value for attendees.

For more information on pricing and how to register click on the COST tab above.

Plan your 2010 marketing strategy

It’s never too late to bang out a marketing plan. Yes, it would be great to have a constantly evolving 5 year plan, but realistically, it just doesn’t always happen that way. You are probably looking at the end of the year numbers and shaking your head — many photographers were thrown a few curves in ’09. Surprisingly, my dog portrait business is 20% ahead of last year – and even though there are many people who would argue that dog portraits are a luxury – it is still a very profitable niche market.

Set goals for 2010 that involve new displays in high traffic locations, new partnerships with non-profit organizations and most importantly, education for yourself. It’s critical that YOU continue to grow your skills and nurture that creative streak. Don’t get stale! One of the best investments I made last year was a DVD on RAW processing from Software Cinema. Ironically called ACR: Unleashed with Jack Davis, it made a huge difference in the amount of time I spend processing my RAW images, which increased my profits. Sometimes education allows you to offer new products and increase your target market – like adding dog photography.  Be sure you’re ‘brand consistent’  and you’ll love the results. For many of our attendees, dog portraits are an addition to an existing business, but for some, it’s their one and only.  Either way, you’ll be doing yourself a favor if you map out your marketing strategy on paper and work your plan. The people who invest in themselves have a much better product to sell!

Where do you belong?

Life these days looks like a bowl of alphabet soup –everyone knows their acronyms!  In this complex society we are defined in part by our associations. Your business as a photographer can also be shaped largely based on your affiliations – are you PPA (www.ppa.com) or WPPI (www.wppionline.com)? As independent small business owners we are responsible for our own continuing education and often that means travel and expense, so we choose carefully and look for the best value. One of the best pieces of advice I give new photographers is to affiliate with the organizations that have members with similar interests and start learning from them!

Teresa Berg Unleashed pet photography workshops

Back in the day,  you could open your doors in a community with a few solid community contacts like Rotary Club and the Chamber of Commerce. Just get to know your neighbors and voila’ your photography business was on it’s way. Just change your props once a year and invest in some of those lovely wrinkled muslin backdrops and you had your “look.”  The lab was in charge of making your images look good and things just didn’t change much from year to year.

The internet and digital photography changed all that, of course. Now you must stay on top of the latest trends and to say there is a lot more competition is putting it mildly. You have this thing called workflow to think about and all these tools that cost lots of money –so you better know how to use them because that’s what people expect from a professional. The point is, we all rely heavily on our forums, trade organizations and fellow photographers to stay on top of it –the days of getting it all from a book at a library are over!

So where do you get your information? What forums do you belong to – do you lurk or contribute? Do you search out new groups? Every organization I join has something to offer. Let’s start with photography forums –there are so many it’s hard to know where to start- and they are all a bit different. I joined ProPhotogs (www.prophotogs.com ) a couple of years ago specifically because they had a pet photography forum. It was absolutely the best $100 I ever spent. Besides, it’s where I met my fellow Unleashed instructors!

A great free forum with lots of serious amateurs and great technical articles is Photo.Net (www.photo.net) For every 15 minutes you spend contributing something in a forum, I’ll bet you get 10 times the amount of time back in shortcuts and information you don’t have to dig up yourself.

Since I also shoot people, I have also visited or joined:

I love Photography  www.ilovephotography.com

Pro4um  www.pro4um.com

and the Digital Wedding Forum www.digitalweddingforum.com

Some forums that have professional pet photographers are:

The Nature, Wildlife and Pet Photography Forum (www.nwpphotoforum.com)

Check out the great interview they just did with our own Bev Hollis!

PhotoCamel (www.photocamel.com)

PhotoTalk (www.phototalkforum.com)

Finally, since the labs have put us in charge of our color correction, image editing and special effects, we have to get smart on Photoshop. Each new version brings a dizzying array of books, tutorials and DVD purchases. To stay even halfway current a photographer needs to spend a few hours a week just memorizing shortcuts! One of the best resources is the National Association of Photoshop Professionals:  www.photoshopuser.com

Become a member for $99 and watch training videos, get their magazine, and get juicy discounts on all sorts of things. And please use this link to join, so they’ll know we sent you – plus you get a free DVD

http://www.photoshopuser.com/register.html&aid=qzgqzv&code=friend

The moral of the story is join an organization of professionals you admire, then contribute and learn. You and your business will profit enormously. Photography as an art form has never been more exciting, accessible or more wide open for your creative ideas.

What is Fine Art Pet Photography?

We refer to ourselves as fine art photographers but what does that really mean?

 According to wikipedia (www.wikipedia.com) fine art photography “refers to photographs that are created to fulfill the creative vision of the artist. Fine art photography stands in contrast to photojournalism and commercial photography.”

So the question I often ask myself is “am I fulfilling my creative vision?” Some days I feel like I’m just creating-to-sell, in other words, creating a product instead of a work of art.

To help ease my conscience and to continue my growth as an artist, I spend a few minutes of every session doing something experimental –I really strive to make it something I’ve never tried before. And I’m the first one to admit that at times it’s very difficult. When it’s the third or fourth shaggy white dog that I’ve shot that month and I KNOW the shortest route to a good sale is to shoot from a certain angle – well – you know what goes through my mind. The temptation is pretty strong to just do what I’ve done before and call it a day –but I rarely give in. I’m almost always driven to try something new.

 Which is why I really really like difficult subjects. The dogs that just don’t want to settle down, or won’t look at the camera no matter how many crazy noises I make.  You do have to know their body language to know what to do and when it’s okay to do it.  I photograph a lot of dogs for a local rescue organization and many of them have been traumatized by abandonment, abuse, or health issues. By the time they arrive at my studio they’ve really been through a lot. These and other difficult pets are the ones that force me to think outside the box. I’m exhausted when they leave – but excited by the new things I’ve learned.

And just in case we make it look easy? I want everyone that’s considering our workshop to know that being a pet photographer is physically and mentally demanding and if I didn’t love dogs and cats I wouldn’t be successful at it –no matter how good I was with my equipment. I do it because they are perfect little works of art, I adore them and anything that loves so completely and unselfishly deserves to be cherished forever as a work of art.

 When people tell me how lucky I am to have a job where all I have to do is play with dogs all day — I just smile.

Teresa

fine art pet photography rescue portrait