Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Abandoned Photography - Consider Uncovering the Past

Personally, this has become one of my favorite subjects to photograph. While out shooting abandoned properties i started talking to other enthusiasts. From these conversations I have collected a few useful tips that I believe will help you get the most out of shooting in these environments.

Since the world we live in has been largely mapped and explored, we, as explorers turn our sights toward the old and the ruins of urban and rural life. If this is you, you’ll want to read on.

But Before You Go
See if you can get blue prints for any urban warehouse or factory ahead of time. It will prove extremely useful if you get stuck in a situation you don’t want to be in. You should know where the multiple exits are.

I am not condoning you break the law. But if you are going into a building illegally, scout the location first for the presence of police and security. I would bet you would rather spend that $700 on a new lens rather than a trespassing violation and a criminal record.

If you see security, or think you may be getting busted, carry two memory cards. If you get caught they may make you wipe your memory card (they cannot legally do it, but they could intimidate you to do it in teh situation.) Take one or two shots on a second memory card and then carry it with you. If security comes, do the ole switcheroo with the cards, and if you are made to delete the photos, you won’t lose your shots from the day.

Clothing and Safety Items
A long sleeved thick t-shirt or sweatshirt and a pair of tough jeans, not the flimsy designer clothes either. You will be getting dirty and rubbing up against some rusty surfaces; you want to make sure you are fully protected. A hard hat is also a good idea for places that look like they could be buckling, or where there is an obvious danger of falling objects.

Wear thick shoes or boots. I cannot stress the value of this. I have been in abandoned places many times and you nearly always see broken glass, rusty nails and discarded needles. Anything less than a thick boot is a bad idea.

Get a painters dust mask or better. Some buildings will have asbestos, or at least a LOT of mold. Wearing a dust mask will help protect your lungs. If you see a sign for asbestos, I recommend not going into the building. It’s not worth the risk of cancer.

The single most important tip I can provide anyone planning on visiting an abandoned building is to bring a flashlight and a buddy. Most of these locations are without electricity and will have limited natural light. As such, you’ll need a flashlight to help navigate the dark rooms and corridors that you will encounter. Abandoned buildings are also perfect locations for shelter for the homeless. Visiting these places with a partner will help ensure a safe outing.

A Tripod Is Really Not an Option
Because of the lighting conditions, it goes without saying that you will need a tripod. More than half of the photos I take at these locations are shot on a tripod with a long exposure of anywhere from a couple of seconds to as much as 20 or 30 seconds.

For those instances when I don’t have my camera on a tripod, image stabilization and fast lenses help. My favorite lenses to use are my 14-54mm f/2.8 and my 11-22mm f/2.8 when combined with my cameras stabilized sensor. Wide open, I can usually get a relatively sharp image at 1/10th of a second. More often than not though, the best results will come from shooting on a tripod.

Control the Exposure
I am not one who believes that all serious photographers should shoot in manual 100% of the time. There are plenty of times I am using aperture or shutter priority. Unfortunately in an abandoned building, that tactic will not work. The high contrast between light and dark will play havoc with your images.

Because of the harsh lighting conditions of these spaces, you’ll need to control all aspects of the shot. In the photo shown here, I needed to control the aperture (I wanted this fairly sharp from front to back) and I needed to control the shutter speed to ensure proper lighting due to the sun rays coming from the right. So, in this case I shot for 15 seconds at f/11. This particular image is also another example of a light painting technique. I used a LED flashlight to highlight and bring attention to the end of the hall while leaving the side walls to be lit by the light coming from the windows.

Emphasize the Mood
Use creative angles and perspectives to play up the natural character of the buildings is what will separate your images from the others. Get your camera low to the ground or high up towards a ceiling and shoot to emphasize the vastness of a room, or shoot an angle to heighten the sense of disorientation. As a photographer you are telling the story of the place you are in and even a subtle shift of the camera’s perspective can make a huge impact on the mood of the photo.

Go Wide
A wide angle lens can really add to the sense of emptiness in these buildings. This lens will alter the perspective and allow you to capture more of a room. Real estate agents use wide angle lenses when taking photos of homes they are listing, so apply the same principal here.

Focus on the Details
While it is easy to get caught up in the architecture, try to also pay attention to the discarded items and details in the area as well. Chairs, books, phones, peeling paint or wallpaper and other remnants from days gone by can provide a powerful centerpiece to the image. Focusing on a single object can also act as an anchor in an otherwise busy environment.

Post Processing
Your abandoned photography experience shouldn’t stop in the camera. You should consider taking advantage of the different techniques offered to you by a myriad of software programs. Post processing can give you the possibility of getting different effects out of a single shot.

You can try an HDR technique which will provide you with intense colors and stunning details. HDR ( High Dynamic Range) consists of taking several different exposures of the same scene and then to merge them into one single photo in an editing software, in order to get details in the highlights as well as in the shadow areas. For a software program idea check out www.HDRsoft.com or look at CS5’s HDR capability.

You can also convert the photos to black and white to get more of an eerie and dark mood. Although, you can take the photos directly in black and white in the camera, my advice is to avoid that and to do the conversion in post processing. By converting the photos on your computer , you will have more control over the photo and on how each tone will be rendered in B&W. You will also maintain a color version of the photo in case you didn’t like the B&W effect after all. My personal preference is to do the RAW conversion in the RAW editor of Photoshop. This will offer you richer blacks than any other method I have found.

My final tip is for you to be careful while exploring these buildings. No photograph is worth endangering yourself, so take care whenever you enter an unfamiliar location.

Be safe and happy shooting!


Monday, 28 November 2011

Picasa versus Flickr versus 500px versus SmugMug

I had a few people contact me wanting to discuss photo sharing sites... so I grabbed as much information from the web, from as many places as I could and came up with the following. I hope this helps...

OverviewWhether you enjoy simply sharing photos of your crazy Uncle or you’re a serious photographer that requires a professional level of features and capabilities, you will want to pick a service that best fits your budget and needs. There are many options available out there for you, but when you narrow your search down to what you believe to be the best fit for you; chances are that one or more of these three services will likely be among your considerations.

So, I wanted to take a look at each, including the options, applications and other add-ons services that they have to offer.

Flickr is perhaps one of, if not the most popular photo storage and sharing services available right now. It is owned and operated by Yahoo!. The strength of the product comes from its community driven features, ease of use and flexibility to meet the needs of users ranging from beginner to professional. Flickr however, does require you to open a Yahoo! account.

Picasa is a popular alternative to Flickr, offered by Google, requiring a Google account. Picasa’s strength lies with its storage and feature integration with other Google apps, affordable and flexible storage pricing, application simplicity and lesser known features. Picasa does have a community aspect but nothing as in-depth as you would use on Flickr.

The quietly growing alternative; 500px sits in the middle of Flickr and SmugMug. Offering a free service that would satisfy any hobbyist yet has a paid service at $40 that offers the functionality that rivals the most sophisticated SmugMug.

The strengths on the product are the social aspect, yet one cannot ignore that the images are far superior to that found on flickr and Picasa. This makes the site the perfect choice for the growing photographer looking to be more inspired.

SmugMug is the lesser known service of these services. This is likely due to the fact that it isn’t an add-on service offered by a multi media giant such as Google and Yahoo!. Don’t let that discredit SmugMug though, as it’s an incredibly powerful service aimed at those a little more serious about their own photography. SmugMug does not focus on community as much as Picasa or Flickr, but instead concentrates their resources to provide very desirable features serious photographers simply won’t find with the other free services.

PricingI’ll go through each service’s pricing options but will only mention a quick overview of the basic features involved in each level. More in-depth features will be reviewed later in the comparison. Or to do the research yourself, I encourage you to visit each website and look into all the features you can acquire for what price.

Flickr is free. Free is hard to beat and this Yahoo! owned service attracts many of its users using that price point. Yahoo!, being such a large company, gives Flickr the resources necessary to reach the free price point with the app design quality to make this service a top choice for those unwilling to pay for photo storage and sharing.

There are drawbacks to free services though, namely advertisements. Flickr does have advertisements if you are on the free service. Of course, this is something we’re all used to and Flickr doesn’t go overboard. The free level account also restricts users to 2 videos and 100 MB of photos per calendar month. You’ll also only have 100 MB of bandwidth available for photos, with “a little leeway for video“. We’ll get into more specific features like photo size limits a little later.

Want to go ad-free? Flickr offers a Pro account, for $24.95 per year. That’s still pretty cheap and gives you unlimited uploads, storage, sets and collections. You’ll get access to your original files, stats on how often people look at your account and the ability to upload HD video.

As with Flickr, Picasa is free. This is no surprise as nearly all of Google’s services are free, a large reason why Google is so incredibly popular today. You might think Picasa’s free price point has held back the app’s design and feature set, but that’s simply not the case. Picasa is uses a simplistic interface by choice and offers many great features, although a little more hidden.

Picasa makes its money by selling storage instead of features or advertising. For free you’ll get all the same features as someone paying a premium, except a lower storage limit of 1 GB. Recently Google reduced Picasa’s storage pricing and increased the number of plans. Remember, purchasing storage for Picasa is shared among your other Google apps because you’re purchasing Google Storage.

At a similar price to Flickr’s Pro, $20 per year gets you 80 GB of storage space. Most users won’t reach that limit and likely won’t even need it for quite some time. Starting at a $5 per year gives you 20 GB of storage space, which can be upgraded (or downgraded) at any time. So upgrade as you need and save money over Flickr!

500px is ad-free and is available in 2 flavours: Free and Awesome. Awesome if $50/year, and offers the following features:
• Unlimited uploads
• Unlimited traffic (bandwidth)
• Unlimited collection in portfolio
• More design layouts for portfolio
• Ability to use custom domain (e.g. username.com)
• Ability to use Google Analytics
• Control over SEO/metadata
• Ability to white-label it (remove any 500px-branding)
• And more.
Free accounts are limited to 20 photos a week, and have fewer options and design themes in portfolio.

In essence, awesome accounts gives an ability to create custom great looking portfolio without worrying about anything else.

SmugMug offers no free plan. This is probably a large reason why it’s much less popular than Flickr or Picasa with novice photographers and weekend warriors. With plans starting at $40.00 per year it’s like purchasing an expensive Flickr Pro account with some advantages and some disadvantages.

You get a free 14 day trial, enabling you to try any plan you would like for the duration of your trial. So, no free plan but you get to try the best SmugMug plan for 14 days to determine if it’s worth your money.

At their base plan, $40.00 per year, you get unlimited storage and traffic with absolutely no ads (or spam). You don’t get video upload capabilities and you have a 24 MB file size per photo, unlike Flickr and Picasa who offers a 20 MB limit (Flickr Pro) and at least basic video upload options.

From a feature POV, this is where Smug Mug accelerates from the pack for more advanced photographers. At $60.00 a year you get DVD quality video uploads, limited to 20 minutes and a 24 MB file size per photo. Right click protection on your images and the ability to customize the look with a custom URL also make this a superior offering against flickr or Picasa.

At the $150.00 PRO level you’ll get all the options of the $60 level, a file size limit (24 MB) and 20 minute HD video uploads, full e-commerce and third party printing capabilities and custom watermarking to further protect your images online.

SmugMug’s real advantages lie with its customization capabilities, giving you greater photo gallery and album theme customization options. Clearly SmugMug isn’t the best choice for those on a budget or looking for something basic to get the job done and store the family vacation photos. But for more serious photographers, IMO, SmugMug should be the choice.

Pricing update on SmugMug... rate increase http://www.petapixel.com/2012/08/31/smugmug-pulls-a-netflix-raises-fees-for-some-customers-by-67/

Interface ComparisonComparing interfaces is difficult and will ultimately come down to your choice of design style and interface features.

Flickr is clearly designed with community in mind and sports a relatively clean and minimalistic overall design. It’s somewhat text heavy (aside from photos) but easy to navigate.

Your account page includes recent photos from your photo stream, contacts, community photos and other general information in the sidebar. It feels a little cluttered a busy to me but going with the Pro account would remove the advertisements and alleviate some of that.

Exploring community photos is definitely one of the best features of these three photo services if that’s what you’re looking for.

Editing and organizing in Flickr very simple and enhanced with JavaScript to create a more seamless experience for users. Creating photo projects to be printed is incredibly easy (and affordable) with tons of great options.

Picasa, however, takes a much different approach with barebones simplicity focused more on your photo albums overview than community or other major features. Picasa feels more directly in touch with your photos and feels better than Flickr for photo storage.

Picasa’s interface is more “folder” oriented, viewing your albums overview, then album photos, then individual photos. With each view, related information is available in the sidebar, most of which can be changed inline. Ordering prints is simple but not nearly as intuitive as Flickr with much fewer options and capabilities. The same applies to photo editing and organizing.

Exploring the Picasa community photos is really quite limited and, although entertaining to a certain degree, it just doesn’t compare to Flickr.

500px has very good social aspects for the photographer to use. Their interface is simple to use and all available options are easy to find. You can easily find photos you post and from your contacts. You have a blog, an area to view all the activity on your images and a wall, reminiscent of facebook.

Customization is easy and the platform is global, making contact with photographers half way around the world is simple and definitely beneficial.

I found SmugMug’s interface to be an entirely different beast than Flickr or Picasa. SmugMug’s account page was quite lacking in overall aesthetics. I was quite concerned that this would apply to the rest of SmugMug’s interface, but I was pleasantly surprised that this was absolutely not the case.

Viewing albums and photos may not be quite as sexy as Flickr but it does have its advantages. For example, instead of viewing a single photo, navigating through the album, you can view a grid of the photos to the left of the main image. Expand the browser window and the page expands to fill the available space, maximizing space utilization, creating a much better navigating and viewing experience.

In SmugMug, you’re able to quickly and easily view the largest size of the photo available that fits within your browser window. Click the image being viewed in an album and a sleek overlay smoothly pops into full browser view, loading the image.

Albums can be individually themed, and there are quite a few to choose from. You can even completely customize themes, even to the point of providing your own custom HTML and CSS. This feature really allows users to customize nearly every detail of their albums, a huge advantage over Flickr and Picasa.

SmugMug is definitely focused on your photos, almost completely leaving out the social aspects aside from comments. You can, of course, easily share photos but exploring community photos is incredibly limited.

While some aspects of SmugMug’s overall interface could be further refined, the important aspects (your albums and photos) is very well designed. Not to mention that Picnik’s online photo editor is integrated for fast and easy photo editing, a feature Picasa lacks (Flickr also includes this). I have to say that I’m impressed with the interface features SmugMug provides, especially in its flexibility to customize it so greatly.

Photo Web UploaderAn important aspect of these services is the quality of web-based photo uploading. While all three services offer desktop tools for this task, I expect a quality web-based uploader that I can reliably access, anytime, anywhere, without issues.

Flickr’s uploader is straight forward, enhanced with JavaScript, showing each item’s progress with an overall progress bar below. The uploader handled small groups of 10+ photos with ease and uploaded photos at a relatively quick speed (not quite utilizing my full bandwidth though).

Picasa’s web-based uploader is… well, it’s not to user friendly to put it nicely. Apparently you’re able to select and upload multiple photos at once using Internet Explorer. In other browsers, however, you’re limited to selecting each photo individually, up to five. For me this is simply unacceptable. Using their desktop software is an easy way to upload and manage your photos, although that’s not really what I want.

500px has a web uploader that allows you to upload multi photos at a time. You simply choose your images, add keywords and descriptive text and the upload is fast. A real positive here is the lightroom plug-in to quickly and efficiently transfer your images right from adobe lightroom.

SmugMug’s web-based uploader is fantastic, featuring drag-and-drop capabilities, incredibly fast uploading speeds (utilizing my full upload bandwidth), individual image progress, time remaining and even actual upload speed. If you do need a plugin or desktop uploader, there are several to choose from.

Features and SpecificationsIf you’ve made it this far, you’re definitely interested in the lesser known capabilities of the three services. These will be the details that will likely be the deciding factor for those more serious photographers. I’ll do my best to include the pertinent information clearly compared.

Max Image File Upload Size
[Flickr] Free: 10 MB, Pro: 20 MB
[Picasa] Free and Paid: 20 MB
[500px] Free and Paid: 30 MB
[SmugMug] Standard and Power: 24 MB, Pro: 24 MB

Max Image Resolution
[Flickr] Not listed, approximately 30 Megapixels
[Picasa] no limit
[500px] 50 Megapixels
[SmugMug] 48 Megapixels

Accepted Image Formats
[Flickr] .jpg, .gif, .png, .tiff (all images converted to .jpg and compressed after upload)
[Picasa] .jpg, .gif, .png, .bmp
[500px] .jpg only
[SmugMug] .jpg, .gif, .png

Max Video Upload Size
[Flickr] Free: 150 MB (Standard Definition, 90 second length), Pro: 500 MB (High Definition, 90 second length)
[Picasa] From Picasa software: 1 GB, from general uploader: 100 MB (Standard Definition)
[500px] Not Supported
[SmugMug] 600 MB (Power users: DVD quality, Pro users: High Definition), 10 minute length

Accepted Video Formats
[Flickr] .avi, .wmv, .mov, mpeg, .3gp
[Picasa] .3gp, .avi, .asf, .mov, .wmv, .mpg, .mp4, .m2t, .mmv, .m2ts
[SmugMug] Unlisted, they claim “99% of the time we can convert from whatever you upload to the h.264 format”.
[500px] Not Supported

Flickr Pros and ConsDue to Flickr being one of the most widely used photo storage and sharing services, there is a large variety of tools, plugins and addons for everything from uploading and downloading to viewing and integrating. Flickr provides their own desktop uploaders and many third-party upload tools are also available via Flickr’s tools page.

If you need custom integration of your photos in your website or somewhere else, Flickr will likely be the easiest way to accomplish that. Although, all these services offer an API.

Flickr converts your images to .jpg and compresses them once uploaded, not something I want done to my photos.

Flickr does provide a pretty decent selection of settings and options, although not at the level of SmugMug.

Picasa Pros and ConsPicasa provides a high quality free desktop application for photo library management that even supports many RAW formats. Picasa offers a standalone uploader for OS X along with plugins for apps like iPhoto. Although images appear to be compressed after being uploaded, it’s only when viewing them. You’re able to download your images in their uncompressed format.

Picasa’s uploaders all seem to have issues at times uploading and downloading large sets of images. On more occasions than I can remember I’ve uploaded 50+ images, sometimes getting upload errors, and then later when I try to download the full albums it misses a few of the images. It’s quite frustrating and even happens in their dedicated software.

Unfortunately, images viewed at Picasa Web Albums look terrible. Most images, especially high resolution images, are blurry and oftentimes dull. If you have a huge number of photos, you should be aware that you’re limited to 1000 albums and 1000 photos per album.

500px Pros and ConsIt’s a personal pet peeve of mine; 500px does not have a right click protection tool. Anyone can right click and save your images right from the site. The only other con I could find is that they are not under the umbrella of a large media company. Flickr has the edge here. It will levy the social networking success of the company.

Your images however will be displayed in excellent quality and facilitated by a slick uploading tool that I enjoyed using. Another huge advantage over other basic services is that you can completely customize your look.

For us in Canada, they are a Canadian company. If SEO and privacy are high on your priority list, unlike USA based services that will have your images reside on their servers in the USA, the images on 500px are not subject to the USA Patriot act. – I suggest you look that up to learn more. Big Brother is watching.

Another advantage to using this Canadian company is as follows. When someone using BING searches for only Canadian search results your photos will be found… unlike the other three services… if a web browser is using BING and searches for Canadian search results, the images of Canadian photographers using Flickr, Picasa and SmugMug will not be seen in the search results.

SmugMug Pros and ConsIt’s more expensive. Simply put, SmugMug is going to be a deal-breaker for many people due to the fact that it’s outright more expensive. With that being said, if you’re really interested in photography and ensuring your library doesn’t suddenly vanish along with your computer one day, it’s hard to beat SmugMug.

While it is more expensive, it’s also the most feature filled of the three services. Smart galleries, theming, enhanced and customizable security and privacy, and even customizable image sharpening are included in each album independently. You’re able to add custom water marks and even sell your own photos (Pro only). You can even setup your own custom domain for your albums.

Your images are displayed at top notch quality, looking simply fantastic. It’s a night and day difference in comparison to Picasa. With the optional and customizable image sharpening, photos that would be otherwise slightly blurry end up looking like they should.

They also offer what they call SmugVault, a backup service, along with their regular SmugMug photo service. These are tied together so you can upload large format images such as RAW, TIFF, PDF and PSD.

In addition to all this; if customer service is important to you, SmugMug delivers the best customer service out of any photo sharing company I have ever used. “Support Hero’s”, an actual person on the other end of a phone are extremely helpful and seem to live by the mantra, under promise and over deliver. The fact that SmugMug has a real person available to answer technical questions is a PRO that trumps and CON in my book.

Final ThoughtsConsidering there are so many features and aspects of these major services, I obviously couldn’t cover everything. They all have their strengths and weaknesses and will appeal to each person differently. With that being said, here’s my short evaluation of each.

Social, easy and with many integration options, Flickr is your Facebook of photo storage and sharing services. It’s super affordable, very well designed and, from what I’ve experienced of the web interface, functions very well. While it will do the job for professionals, there are other options available that would offer more power, control and features.

Barebones and minimalistic, Picasa might be best suited for those looking for something basic or an easy and affordable location for photo library storage. For Google users, it might just be an easy choice, especially for those who’ve already purchased additional Google Storage. Of the three services, Picasa would have to be placed in last place. The strength of Google has made it a contender but it has many weaknesses that will need to be addressed before it will be on par with Flickr or SmugMug.

500px is the web company to watch. It is positioned to grow. Their product suite is excellent, their service feature rich and the image quality is superior to Flickr and Picasa. 500px should be, if not already, for the serious hobbyist that wants to become better. It reminds us that we are a small fish in a sea of talented photographers... it is inspiring to browse through the global pool of images.

SmugMug is a top choice for anyone serious about photography. It’s definitely not a service that outpaces Flickr for beginners or intermediates but it’s clear that SmugMug isn’t focused towards people looking for a free or really cheap solution. Lacking the impressive community integration of Flickr or even the mediocre community integration of Picasa, you’ll really only want to choose SmugMug if you’re more focused on your photos than sharing them with millions of strangers. Photo viewing, customer service and album customization are the areas SmugMug really shines.

Here are my personal thoughts and what I use and have used
I have a flickr account, I also have a Picasa account, albeit just used for my storing photos for my other Google applications like Google+ and Blogger and I also have a SmugMug PRO account that has been fully customized, complete with a custom URL. The only thing I have not deployed is my e-commerce capabilities, but that is in the works as I currently use PayPal and want to transition that properly in the new website environment that I have created.

If you are like me and you are trying to build a photography business, you need a website. Flickr and Picassa are just not going to do that for you. These two online photo sharing destinations are a social medium where you can share photos with communities and discuss techniques with other photographers, get feedback on your images, and they will offer you beneficial residual search engine optimization goodwill for your company name and your company website. The more photos you put up, and add links to your photography website, them more SEO goodwill you create, the higher you will show up in search rankings.

For me Flickr was becoming more about socialization, I was spending more time on there commenting on other photographers images than making images of my own and growing my own photography business. Don’t get me wrong, it has its place to help you become a better photographer, it’s just not where I would suggest you spending a lot of your time. The feedback on your images, while is an ego boost and can direct you in making better images, is not the most technically correct. Don’t think I am being a negative Nelly about flickr and the people on there; I made some great friendships on Flickr, learned a lot about photography and Flickr was significant in getting me to where I am today.

I still have the account but do not really use it anymore. I feel it served as a valuable tool while I was still growing as a photographer and looking for an online presence… but now that I have found my tool of choice, I do not leverage Flickr as much anymore.

SmugMug is now my web destination of choice. It is my website, my blog, my photo collection tool and I still have the opportunity to look at other images and be inspired by what others are posting, plus I get more insightful feedback from the professional photographers in the SmugMug online community.

The money I spent on SmugMug has paid for itself tenfold since I launched my new website, www.kpepphotography.com six months ago. I have sold more images since this website has launched, had more articles published since this website has launched, and at the end of the day, have made more money in the last six months than I have in the last 3 years. I do not regret the decision to switch to SmugMug for a minute.

SmugMug allowed me to integrate my blog, leverage my social media tools like DIGG and twitter, run my website both on the web and through mobile devices, plus have a photo sharing tool all into one easy to use web destination that I use to market my products and services, showcase my images and blog my reviews, tutorials and opinions.

SmugMug even allows me to post client images online, password protect them in specific galleries, and only allow who I want to see them, access them. So, not only am I making more money with SmugMug, I am saving valuable time by allowing clients to view photos on their own time, right from their own home.

But the real winner for me in this exercise is 500px. After originally reviewing SmugMug, Picasa and Flickr I was directed to 500px from a few people. After registering and going through the sites capabilities and features I was thoroughly impressed. 500px offers users an abundance of capabilities, the photoraphers on there are a few notches above what you will find on flickr and picasa and they offer just a bit more of the social aspect than SmugMug.

Let me relate the strength of 500px in terms of benefits if you are trying to generate traffic to your website. I registered, posted 20 photos on my profile on a Wednesday night between 10pm and 11pm. I added some basic HTML coding in my listings with a few deep links to my website and put my website URL and blog URL in my profile. On the Wednesday the traffic from 500px was 5% of my daily traffic, on the Thursday 500px had accounted for over 25% of my daily traffic to my website and blog.

The plethora of options like the Adobe lightroom plug in tool, the built in blog, api's, your own discussion board, very user friendly uploader and the ability to build a custom looking website with your own URL aside... 500px is a very solid online tool that you seriously need to consider.

I just considered it, I joined and it is now a very important part in my social networking platform and web strategy to grow my photography business.

If you have any questions about one service vs. another, please ask in the comment section below. I will do my best to answer any questions as fast as I can.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Want to market your photography business better? This is a must read posting…

Are you looking for ideas on how you can market yourself, your photography, and your business? The tips below will give you plenty of ideas on how to grow your business. Remember, just as with photography, you need to find the marketing techniques that fit your style and personality. So read the list I have below and look for other tips from photographers. Once you have done that, pick a few that you feel fit your business model. After you implement some into your photography business, evaluate their effectiveness and adjust as needed to optimize success.

To make it easy, I have divided the marketing tips into categories. “Getting Visual”, “Thank you and gifts”, Get Out there”, “Pricing” and “Motivation and other ideas”. You will notice many of these tips could be in more than one category. It just depends how you choose to look at them.

I hope You find value in some of these suggestions and it helps you succeed in your photography business endeavor.

Get visual
Google Places - When you search on Google and include a location in your keyword, such as “Madison Wedding Photographer,” Google is now putting their Google Places listings BEFORE the organic listings in their rankings. These listings are free, so go and get one now! Go to Google Places and fill out as much as you can on the page. Make sure to upload some photos as well, as they sometimes show up there in the search results. It’s a great way to improve your chances of being found on Google when people are searching for a photographer.

Use Facebook to promote your images - Uploading images to Facebook and tagging your clients in them is a really fantastic way to get the word out about your business as all their “friends” may see the photos tagged of them. I highly suggest creating a “Page” instead of using your profile, as that’s how Facebook prefers you promote your business, and change your settings (in Edit Page -> Apps -> Photos -> Go to App) to allow fans to tag themselves in your photos. I find this is a great way to get exposure from wedding guests and their friends as well.
I also post links to my blog on my page and send out behind-the-scenes announcements to the people who have liked my page from time to time.
Do be aware that Facebook has strict terms of service about not using it to promote contests. You can require people to like your page to enter a contest, but you can’t require them to comment, like, or post anything else to their profile in order to enter or win. Definitely read their terms of service before promoting a contest on Facebook.
There’s lots of different ways to promote your business using Facebook – share a comment below on your favorite way to promote your business on Facebook. I’d love to hear some more ways you are using it.

Blog as often as you can - Having fresh content on your site is one of the best ways to let Google know that your is site active (which gives you better rankings) and shows your customers that you are busy. When I visit a site that hasn’t been updated in a few months, I often wonder if they are still in business. If you don’t have many shoots, spread out your posts (do a few images one at a time instead of all in one big post) or show some personal work.
It’s also extremely valuable to blog about things that your clients want to know. For example, wedding photographers may want to put out a series on their blog with tips for brides for having better wedding photography (such as hiring a professional lighting company or not getting ready in a church kitchen) whereas portrait photographers may post about what to wear to a session. Providing information to your clients helps them to value you and see you as an authority about the subject.
You’ll also want to make sure that your blog is optimized for search engines so that you can attract search engine traffic.

Start building an email list right away - The more I learn about email marketing, the more I realize that I should have started an email list right away from the very beginning. I’m not talking about buying some random list that people are trying to sell you. I’m talking about people who are interested in your work and opt-in to receive emails from you.
The beauty of the email list is that these clients already like your work enough to give you their email address. They want to hear about your business and about the products you are offering. They may even love your work enough that they want to receive an email every time you update your blog with new photos. These people are priceless.
Want to do a day of mini-sessions? Tell your email list and give them the opportunity to sign up a day before you open it to the public. Have a new product you are offering? Tell your list about it and entice them to buy it.
The opportunities that are out there with an email list are so vast that I’m planning on talking about this more in-depth in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.

Network with other professionals - Get involved with other professionals in your local area. It’s amazing how loyal business owners can be towards each other when you really hit if off. Make sure you’re promoting their businesses to your clients, and they’ll be sure to reciprocate.
If you shoot weddings, it’s especially powerful to network with other wedding professionals since you share clients but don’t have to compete for them.

Get featured on photo blogs - There’s a ton of wedding blogs out there that feature photography, and there are portrait blogs such as Inspire Me Baby that feature portrait photographers as well. Get featured if you can, then promote it where your clients can see it. There’s nothing wrong with reminding them how awesome you are. It’s simply good business.

Use images on your business cards

Have a website with best examples of your work, and keep it updated periodically.

Have different business cards for your different specialties. If you do more than one type of photography, have cards for each type, so you hand out cards specific to the interests of the person asking.

Show your best images on your business cards.

Show it to sell it! Have samples of wall portraits to show clients. When they think an 8×10 will do it, “wow” them with a 16×24 standout mount or 20×30 gallery wrap, and show it on the wall so they can see its value as an art piece.

Have samples of any products you wish to sell, whether it is a gallery wrap canvases to albums, to photo jewelry. People need to touch and feel in order to buy.

Create branding that is unique to you. Make it memorable.

Control the process – and even if you’re a studio photographer and offer DVDs of the session, also give them lists of places to get images printed with a high quality that represents you well.

Thank you and gifts

Keep your customers happy!

Reward past clients with discounts and referral incentives. Give them more reasons to remember you when they are talking to friends and family.

Thank you cards – send one to each client after your studio session, workshop or after they purchase an image from you.

If you are a studio photographer, give customers a set of wallets with their order to use as referral cards. Pick your favorite photo from the session; put your studio/contact information on the back. If you run workshops, send them a few photos that they took while on your workshop that you edited for them.

For studio photographers, include bonus, surprise prints with the customer’s order. For people that run workshops, go above and beyond the clients expectations. A handwritten note explaining how much you loved working with them and value their support.

Offer a unique gift before the session, during or after – it could be a small gift certificate, refreshments or fresh baked goods, or any other small token of appreciation.

Get out there {for more word of mouth and visibility}

Deliver an excellent product and experience. Your customers will talk about you.

Show up at local events, and with permission from the organizers, shoot photos. Get your website address out there by handing cards and posting the images online.

Have a contest/drawing for a free photo session or workshop. This way you can collect names, addresses, and emails for all the non-winners for future business.

Use Facebook ads to target local customers.

Start a Facebook fan page to share images, communicate photography specials, and interact with your customers. Invite all your local friends so they can help get the word of mouth underway.

Post customer images on Facebook, and tag them – this is especially effective for senior photography.

Give free artwork and photographs to coffee shops, banks, doctor’s offices, hair salons, baby boutiques, etc. Include a small sign and/or stack of business cards. Stop by occasionally to leave more cards for sharing.

Blogging – blog each session our workshop that you do. Write about how much fun you had and post some images. Those photographed will spread the word so friends and family can see the images on your blog. This will increase traffic to your website.

Use referral cards – hand these out with every order so your past customers can spread the word easily for you.

For children’s portraiture, join a “Mom’s group” and get to know the parents, who may end up your customers and/or refer people to you.

Take your camera everywhere. It is an easy way to start a conversation. And always have your business cards ready!

SEO – if you come up on specific photography searches for your area, potential customers will find you. A good thing to do here is to work with google and find out what the most relevant search terms are for your specific type of photography.

Donate a free session for a fundraiser auction – include a sample of your work and stacks of cards.

Don’t be shy. Hand out cards to people when you are out – for example if a mom is at a park with their kids, give them a card and tell them about you. If you see a photographer out taking photos, pass them a card about your workshops.

Network with a group of local small businesses – and help each other market.

Get your name, website and email listed on all the free photographer databases online and register your business on local directories


Volume discounts for large orders

Packages and bundled pricing

Give coupons to your friends to pass out to their friends.

Offer mini shoots or workshops as an introduction loss leader as an introduction to your sevices.

Work for free – not often – but donating time to a charity can go a long way.

Offer occasional deals – for example, “If you book with me in January, get a free 8×10.

Figure out how much money you ultimately want to walk away with from a shoot. If you have, say, three packages available use that amount as your mid-priced package. Then, for your first package (the package you want the customer to see first) price it much higher. The third package will be your lowest priced package, but will be bare bones. This way you sort of subconsciously funnel customers to the package and price in the middle.

Don’t list prices on your web site. If you do, you’ll just be another photographer in the list for them to choose from and they’ll likely go with the best deal. You want the potential customer to call and connect with you. Have them select you because they want “you” to be the one to take their pictures. (I know some will disagree – but it is something to consider) Personally I am a proponent of giving as much information as you can on your website to inform your clients.

Motivation/Other tips and ideas…

Believe in yourself! If you have confidence in yourself and your photography, so will others.

Share with other photographers. Be generous with ideas and tips to help others – and they will give back to you.

Be genuine – give people reasons to trust you to take their photos. People do business with people they like and trust.

ALWAYS over deliver!

Marketing is about being in a marathon, not a sprint. Rather that just one big marketing campaign, provide steady, consistent, and quality photography and service.

Be available! Do not use out of office replies that say you are so busy that it will take 24 hours to get back to them. Make your customers feel important. Communicate in a timely fashion.

Stay positive – never write anything negative about clients, a client’s preference or another photographer on your blog or Google+ or Facebook page. You may just be “venting”, but a new client would be less likely to choose a photographer who has negative posts like that.

KNOW your target market. Determine the ages, sex, marital status, income level etc… and then determine where you can communicate with them.

Good luck with your business,


Monday, 21 November 2011

Five ways to monetize your nature photography business … with a focus on running workshops (where the big bucks are)

I find it flattering. I probably get one or two emails a month from aspiring photographers asking for my advice on building a successful nature photography business. While, I am nowhere close to running one of those, I do have some thoughts on the subject as I strive, like them, to become a recognizable, respected nature photographer.

The answer I do have for people that contact me is probably not a satisfying one. The bottom line is that it is very difficult to build a successful business as a nature photographer, and getting more and more difficult all the time. In my business life I have run divisions of companies, and I would probably sum up the current state of nature photography as follows: “the supply far exceeds the demand.”

In other words, there are too many people taking nature photos and not enough people buying them; the world is flooded with cheap or free nature photographs. As you can probably imagine, the words “cheap or free” are not a sound basis for a flourishing business. That said, the opportunities do exist to make a living wage from nature photography.

So, what does it take to succeed as nature photographer in today’s world? Well, I have summed up the TOP 5 things I believe are key. Please note that this is merely my opinion; others have their own business models that may differ from mine.

DON’T SUCK. Although this seems self-evident, it really needs to be said. Because the competition out there is so good, there’s only room for success at the top. Be ruthlessly self-critical of your own work, and always strive to get better and to do something that hasn’t been done a million times before.

Shoot Big. Although you can build a successful business shooting your local landscapes and wildlife, if you want to make a name for yourself nationally or internationally, you probably need to photograph charismatic mega-landscapes and mega-fauna. That means extra expense and time traveling to exotic locations, but it is an investment that pays off in the long run. Of course, it helps if you happen to live somewhere that is really cool, but if you live in Cambridge, Ontario like I do, you really have to crack out the credit card and sign up for a frequent flyer program.

Get Noticed. These days, if you are not big on the Internet, you don’t exist. Heavy participation and promotion online are vital. You should have a good-looking website and a blog, but neither will help you if you don’t have visitors. Lots of traffic to your site means nothing if you can’t make any money from it. Your site needs to offer products and services that will keep your finances in the black and help you pay your mortgage every month.

As for me, I monetize my site primarily through Adsense and currently talking to corporate advertisers to be on my site.

You should also promote your work by participating on a number of online photo sharing forums and social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Get Published. Even though traditional print publishing is on the decline, it is still a hugely vital source of potential business. Submit to magazines and other publishers as much as possible. It helps if you can write well; magazines are usually looking for articles first, photos second. If you can provide both, you’ve got a good chance of making a big paycheck. Articles in magazines are also a great way to promote your website.

Run Photo Workshops. Almost without exception, every professional nature photographer I know makes a majority of his or her income running photo workshops. The digital revolution has flooded the world with aspiring photographers with money to spend. There are literally thousands upon thousands of people out there who want to learn more about photography, visit beautiful scenic locations, and enjoy a good time doing what they love in the company of like-minded individuals. If you really want to make a living as a professional nature photographer, be prepared to spend some time teaching. But before you decide to start running those photography workshops… do some research by attending some workshops on your own to learn how to put on one by yourself.

I know people who think that running a workshop is easy and try their hand at it. Very fast, they realize it’s not as easy as it appears. To be successful you have to make your attendees happy, and that’s not always as easy as it sounds.

Conducting a successful workshop requires you to be like a chameleon. No two workshops are alike. Things always come into play that have to be adapted to; weather conditions, subject availability, group size, the level of proficiency of the attendees and more. I like take the time to prepare and send out two pieces of information before an attendee come on a workshop. The first is information regarding what to expect from each workshop PRIOR to the attendees leaving home for the workshop. This not only gets everyone excited with anticipation, but it educates them on things such as weather predictions, what to bring, as well as a complete outline of a typical day is so there are no surprises when they get to the workshop location. The second is a reminder notice. I remind them that it is their responsibility to know how their camera, lenses and accessory basic functions work. There is nothing worse than leading a workshop and one person does not know the difference between F/2.8 and f/18. That person will take more of your time, leaving the more proficient photographers on their own more than they deserve.

Usually groups will vary in skill level, more will be beginner photographers. I totally encourage this. Getting off on the right foot and developing good habits in the beginning is really important. It’s also interesting to see customers who have $5000.00+ cameras, along with expensive lenses using their equipment in the wrong way. Unfortunately, this is not unusual and it is my job to correct this situation, while not insulting or offending the customer. Again, I try and keep the surprises to a minimum however, there always are a few. Like everything else in photography, preparation is mandatory to avoid too many surprises. There is nothing worse than looking out at 3AM to see cloudy rainy conditions, when the prediction the night before was for a great sunrise. But, it happens!!!

Running a successful workshop is not easy. Late spring and summer feature long days. 16 hour days, and for some workshops, 3-5 days in a row are typical for attendees. That easily transcribes into 18-20 hour days for me. So, eating at abnormal times and getting little sleep throws your body clock off, yet you have to stay fresh when you are teaching the paying customers. It is also important that everyone get the nourishment they need and stay well hydrated, so not only do you have to worry about the photography elements, making sure your attendees needs also have to be top of mind. This is just as important as getting to prime locations at the right time.

Another factor is making sure that all the attendees are happy and are getting the attention they paid for. The bigger the group, there is a greater chance that different personalities can affect things. Also, different needs and expectations all have to be taken into account every hour of the day.

For the most part I am quite sure that everyone gets what they come to my workshops for. In a large group, there are always one or two people that for one reason or another don’t seem to be as happy as everyone else. All I can do is continue to work hard and do my best to get them to quality locations and try and help in making them better photographers. I tell everyone in the beginning that I am here for as much or as little attention that they want. It is also not uncommon for one or two folks who wander off by themselves, and that’s fine, as long as they know I am there for them if they want my help. In essence, I am a photographic instructor, tour guide, and psychoanalyst, making sure everyone is happy and getting along with each other.

Over the years, I’ve seen other workshops run haphazardly. I see instructors doing more shooting than their customers offering them little or no real attention. In these circumstances, I can only hope my customers realize the difference between what I offer and others offer.

No two workshops are alike and Mother Nature has her own agenda. Trust me, I have seen this hundreds of times... the forecast at 10:30pm shows a perfect sunrise... then you get everyone up at 4:00AM and to the location by 5AM and having a non sunrise, but that’s life in nature. I’ve also been in situations that upon arrival early in the morning the chances for a great sunrise was nil, and in the last minute the clouds parted and we had spectacular light. You never know and you work with what you get.

Another factor you must remember is that most folks don’t spend 3-4 days partaking in intensive photography. By day 3 or 4 everyone is tired. Motivation becomes important. I plan an itinerary for every workshop but remain flexible to weather and light conditions.

Scouting the area prior to the beginning of the workshops is also something that has to be done. So a 3-4 day workshop for me is actually a 5-6 day event. Where will the sun rise, when is optimal light, where should we stand to have the light at our backs, what will the wildlife be doing? You have to consider, bugs, pests, spiders, and creatures that want to eat you... Do you have enough power to power laptops, charge batteries, is the GPS working and make sure the emergency kit is packed properly.

You have to think like this, “The attendees well being is in your hands. They are relying on you to keep them safe. But they also expect you to put them in the right place, at the right time, just as Mother Nature wants you to be in order to click the shutter”

If you do this all right, positive word of mouth will spread, and the busier your workshops will be. The more money you will make.

Click here to see some of the animal photos taken on my photo workshops

Click here to see some of the landscape photos taken on my photo workshops

I wish you all luck in building your nature photography business,


Friday, 18 November 2011

So you want to start a photography business...

Whether you are a talented amateur photographer, or have a great deal of experience working professionally, starting your own photography business demands that you make important choices about the market segments you will serve, and how you sill serve them. These choices will determine what kind of operations you must develop and how to direct your marketing and the services you will offer clients. As I will explain later, it is increasingly difficult to cover all types of photographic work due to the competition from specialists and other external factors, so do your homework on what your business should be...

You should also keep in mind that because of modern technology in the form of DSLR cameras, you do not even need the room for a dark room. You need only to have a personal computer and a photo-editing program. The standard is Adobe Photoshop. There is no need to clutter yourself with equipment you do not need; you can rent equipment when you need it. You even have the freedom to work part time until you can devote yourself full time to photography. All you need to be is a serious photographer and a dedicated business person.

While the technical skills needed to make a successful photographer have never been easier, other aspects have changed our business. The market for photographs of virtually every type has widened, the world seems to have an insatiable appetite for photographs. However the price has fallen as the marketing net has broadened. Sites like shutterstock have sliced into our profits like a hot knife through butter. The good news is, photographers are needed in many more fields. For instance many people now, mor ethan ever, remember special occasions with photographs and more people are taking photos of their kids, and as the number of people that own cameras increases.

Another way to generate an income is to teach photography. With the growing number of amateur photographers out there, the need for people to run workshops and teach photography is also growing. In my opinion, it seems to be recession proof. Photography is an escape, and during a recession people need an escape more than ever. They will therefore find the money to invest in themselves. Taking photos that one can be proud of does wonders for a person’s ego! And while the economy and investments twist in the wind, who doesn’t want to give themselves an ego boost.

So you see, it can now easier than ever to turn your dream into reality and create a worthwhile business out of an engrossing passion. However in today’s modern world there is more to than simply pointing a camera and shooting a picture. You need to be aware of marketing techniques, and here marketing simply means growing the potential of transferring ownership of a product, in this case an image from a buyer to seller. You also need to be aware of any local gaps in the market in your local area, understand the power of the internet and know your competition. You should try to always be aware of your competitor’s prices. To undercut an existing photographer is one choice, but to neglect to value your skills and not charge enough to cover your overheads is another matter entirely. Remember this, it’s an important point. Reduction in price to gain business is a slippery slope. Sell your value to justify your competitive price.

Writing a business plan is a great place to start. It helps to keep you focused on the areas you specifically want to exploit. A business plan helps you to define your goals and strategies, it will be changed and updated, but it will help you to keep things in perspective and keep you focused. You should always refer back to it when things become confusing or complicated. Everyone’s business plan will be different, as every objective will be different, but there are certain common factors that make up a good business plan which will help your business grow. It allows you to develop a professional attitude to your business, which not only helps you to increase your earnings, but also help you to finance your business when needed.

For the photographer a business plan should include your business name, or your own, with full details of the proposed location of the business, a copy of your logo, as well as details of your copyright notices. You should also consider what is the form of your proposed business is going to be (sole ownership, partnership, Limited Liability Company or Corporation). This should be followed by a table of contents, which focuses on a logical order. Included after this should be the type of business you intend to pursue, in a fair amount of detail, and it should contain the services you intend to offer. This section should include any future goals or avenues you would like to explore, stating your clear objectives. This is so you can check at a later date whether your objectives are on course, or if you have got sidetracked. If you envision at any time you may need financial help, then you should include your personal business history to show how viable you are as a business person.

You should also state a clear and concise marketing plan that should demonstrate how your business will differentiate from the businesses of your competitors. You should be able to establish who your customers will be, how large the potential market is, as well as where your market will be, as in wholesale or retail or a combination of both. You should also be able to determine how long this type of market will be available to yourself.

The next section should clearly define your opposition, as well as their strengths and weaknesses. This should include the ways you may be able to exploit any gaps in the market in the specific area where you live. A section should follow this on how you intend to market and promote your individual services. This is called a SWOT analysis. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. You should apply this to your business and your competitors.

A financial segment should be included as to how you intend to manage the day-to-day bills of the business. How you intend to price your services, and what factors influence this pricing structure, which includes a section on your competitor’s financial structures. This means a fair amount of detective work as well as homework. Get your friends to ask from quotes from the local competition. Or try an even more direct approach, tell your competitor’s that you intend to start a new business, and that you do not want to undercut them, as this reduces the cake for everyone. They may well offer to help you construct a pricing structure that ensures everyone’s livelihood. It is in their interests to help. Not everyone will be cooperative, but it may mean you can get a truer picture of the market factors that govern your area.

Make a list of all the equipment you will need in your first year, as well as how and where you intend to purchase. Note any difficulties that may arise in obtaining your supplies. Note whether the prices of your supplies have a seasonal fluctuation, which may help you influence you when to buy. You should make a note of any local licenses that will be necessary, as well as any zoning restrictions that may restrict the growth of your business. You should also conduct a study of all your business insurance requirements.

The final segment should be devoted to how you intend to finance the growth of your business, as well as isolating what your financial needs will be. This should include a projection on your future earnings, as well as an accurate assessment of your outgoings. This should be assessed on a monthly basis for the first year and on an annual basis for the following three to five years. An important aspect of the financial statement is an assessment of the break-even point of your business, in other words the minimum you will have to take to pay your expenses.

Financing your photography business can come in many forms. There are numerous small business loan avenues through local and federal government agencies and there is the route of a business/personal loan or line of credit. You can also build the business slowly, rent equipment as you need, use your own money and credit and build the equity over time.

You can also approach government agencies and companies to sponsor specific initiatives. If you are a landscape or nature photographer, maybe there are local and national dollars available to sponsor a book etc.

The opportunities for aquiring money is out there, its just not easy to aquire. If it was easy, everyoen would be getting it. My advice, believe in yourself and your abilities, dig hard and talk to everyone. You will find the money if you are passionate enough and believe in your abilities.

Once all this has been done, take action. Planning is important. But planning isn’t enough. You have to take action on your plans and put them into place. Follow through and make sure your business is always moving forward.

Good Luck,


Sunday, 13 November 2011

The Great Lake Basin

From the snow covered Atlas Mountains framing a red desert in Morocco, to the Eiffel tower glistening in a pool of water at night, to a breathtaking sunrise over the mountains in Switzerland, I have viewed some breathtaking scenes that will stay with me for a lifetime. Yet, I overlooked a world renowned geological formation that has the ability to give us some jaw dropping images. That geological formation would be the Great Lakes...

The Great Lakes comprise over 21% of the world’s fresh water supply; the lakes have close to 20,000km’s of shoreline and contain approximately 35,000 islands. Three of North America’ s largest cities are situation on the Great Lakes, Toronto, Chicago and Detroit, and the total population surrounding the Great Lake basin is approximately 34 million.

For the scenic photographer, the shoreline of the lakes has the highest concentration of lighthouses anywhere in the world. In fact, the lighthouses that dot the Michigan coastline are part of the largest collection of maritime landmarks in the United States. Michigan alone boasts 116 lighthouses and navigational lights.

If shipwrecks and underwater photography is your thing, there are literally hundreds of shipwrecks scattered throughout the Great lakes. Locations to key in on when researching are, Thunder Bay (Michigan), beneath Lake Huron, near the point where eastbound and westbound shipping lanes converge. It is here is where the greatest concentration of shipwrecks lies. You should also consider the Lake Superior shipwreck coast from Grand Marais, Michigan to Whitefish Point. This area is now known as the "Graveyard of the Great Lakes". More vessels have been lost in the Whitefish Point area than any other part of Lake Superior.
In addition to shipwrecks, Georgian Bay and the East coast of Lake Huron on the Canadian side photographers can also enjoy spectacular underwater geological formations, including underwater caves, rocky overhangs and ancient corals.

When it comes to shoreline differentiation the Great Lakes offers photographers an abundance of opportunities. From the wetlands along Lake Ontario's shoreline, to the sand dunes along Lake Michigan, the rocky shores of Lake Superior and the geological wonders of Lake Huron and Georgian Bay, the Great Lakes shoreline abounds in diversity and opportunity for photographers. Whether seascape is your passion, birding, under water, nature or architecture, taking a trip to the Great Lake basin is a “must do” on your photography bucket list.
For birders, the Great Lake Basin is a mecca for your style of photography. Whether it’s during the summer months or during migration, the area offers the avid birder thousands of species of birds to photograph. Migration periods especially produce an incredible opportunity; both the Mississippi flyway and that Atlantic flyway cross over the lakes. It is said that there are 462 known species of birds in Canada. While some of these are year-round residents, many fly south for the winter to more favorable grounds for feeding and breeding. From Point Pelee west to Windsor, the area is known for their bird migration.
For landscape photographers, the choices are endless. The Georgian Bay rock formations such as Flowerpot Island or Tobermory’s grotto that seem to transport you to the southern Atlantic Ocean are an absolute breathtaking view.
Or there is the shoreline of Lake Ontario and Erie that offer the avid photographer beautiful sunsets and sunrises, and turn around with your back to the water after the sun has peaked the horizon to find deer, birds of prey and other photographic interests.
As with any photo outing, do your research first, identify what you want to achieve, look at local area photographers work, talk to people that have visited the area, and travel at the right time of year to suit your needs.
Personally, my favorite locations to shoot in and around the Great Lake Basin are as follows:
Spring – Canadian shores of Lake Huron and Georgian Bay for the spring storms crashing on the geological formations and rebirth of life along the Great Lake basin.
Summer – Coastal shores of Lake Ontario and Lake Erie for the calm shorelines and abundance of birds.
Fall – Northern shores of Lake Superior for the fall colours and incredible fall storms.
Winter – Along the shoreline of the St. Lawrence River in Quebec. This is where the snow is abundant and the local people still get out and enjoy the season.

Regardless of when or where you go... i would put this area on your bucketlist.

Happy Shooting


Friday, 11 November 2011

A Few "Search Engine Optimization" Tips for Photographers

As a photographer that wants to build a presence online you have it tough when it comes to achieving a noticeable ranking in search engine results. There are so many competitors out there trying to get to the same clients, if you are not doing the right things to be seen… you’re sunk. By that I mean, if you are not on the first page of a search return, chances are you will never be found by that potential client.

As a photographer that has worked in the online community for the better part of the last decade I have seen the advancements in search engines capabilities in ranking websites based on relevance to the search term entered. And I even scratch my head at times, so, I cannot imagine the frustration some of you out there are feeling.

I thought I would post this blog entry to help you look at the basic things you can do today to help your images be seen by more potential clients.

Image Keywords
Search engines do not see images; they read descriptive text that describes what a photo is. Therefore it’s important that you make sure you give your images three things when describing the image. Detail, location and relevance. Place yourself in the shoes of a searcher looking for something. Be as descriptive as you can. Here is a photo and a few samples of keyword phrases to show what I mean
a) Falling down pier – short tail, hard to rank for
b) Falling down pier on lake Ontario – longer tail, added location
c) Falling down pier on lake Ontario at Fifty Point Conservation area at sunrise – extremely long tail, but covers three phrases

For the first keyword, the chances of being seen are going to be difficult. For the longer tail keywords, you can expect less traffic, but more relevant searches, and thus lower bounce rates for potential visitors to your site, and people are more likely to actually want to buy the image they find. For the third example you are covering a couple of bases: “falling down pier”, “pier on Lake Ontario” and “Lake Ontario at fifty point conservation area at sunrise”.

Once you have worked out the keywords to use, it’s time to work out where on your web page the keywords should go.

Your URL
This is often over looked, but can have a positive impact on your SEO initiatives. Take a look at the company you registered your URL with. See how long you can register the URL for. The longer the better. Don’t do it a year at a time. The longer you register the URL the search engines will give you the benefit that they interpret your long term commitment to the site.

Remember, they want to return the most relevant results when someone searches on their site. If you can show them that you intend to operate your site for a long time, chances are they will determine that your content is more relevant to the search performed.

Page Speed:
Much has been talked of regarding how to improve page speed of a website and there are thousands of useful articles available on how to reduce page loading time. You need to set expiry date against the images and other files known as leverage browsing cache, use CSS Sprite, compress JavaScript, externalize CSS files and other different sort of things to speed up the website. There is a remarkable tool there to help you in this process. It is known as GOOGLE PAGE SPEED ONLINE. Just put in the exact URL and you will get all the details you are looking for and it offers a quality score to improve on.

How to name the images
It’s been recognized within SEO that file names can have an impact on results. This is reflected too within search engine optimization for images. Use dashes rather than underscore to separate keywords in the file name. This comes straight from Google. Follow the same strategy for your image naming convention. Don’t go overboard with the number of keywords in your image, otherwise it’s going to be considered spam by the search engine crawlers.

I wouldn’t put any more than five relevant keywords built up as a phrase in an image name. If you need to describe it more, use the ALT or title tags to do so.

Tagging photos is something that many of you will be familiar with. If you are using WordPress for a photoblog, then the natural thing to do is to tag the photo with “falling pier”, “lake Ontario” etc.

Flash is not a good idea if you are trying to get your images properly indexed. If you must use it, I’d recommend offering an alternative for Google, but if you can implement your site using jQuery for the flash type effects instead, you stand a better chance in the Search Engine Result. Standard issue HTML will always win against a site which uses Flash, simply because even though Google can read flash content, it can’t parse out ALT and TITLE tags while flash is enabled.

Cross site linking
You can’t really talk about SEO in any capacity without talking about cross site linking strategies. If you can link heavily within your site to other pages using the keywords as the link text, then this will improve your images chances of being found. For those of you who don’t know already – link text is the text which is underlined e.g. falling pier

Don’t be tempted to link directly to the image itself, remember that no tags exist when you link to an image directly, so Google isn’t able to work out what the image is about.

Basically, a blog is a website with content arranged in chronological order. Once set up, a blog is easy to publish as you don't need any HTML / web coding skills. Blogs have a fill-in-the-blank interface where you enter your content. Then you click a "Publish" button and presto, your new content is automatically converted into HTML code and published to a viewable page.

Here's where search engine optimization comes into play. By default, blogs do many things well that can help them earn search engine ranking. In many cases, blogs can achieve solid ranking faster than regular websites. A blog is easier to publish than a regular website, so you can post content to it more often. Search engines like websites with frequently updated content.

A general rule of thumb is to publish something to your blog at least once a week.

Enjoy watching your website traffic grow!


Thursday, 10 November 2011

online marketing pointers for photographers

Most photographers seem to be aware of the potential of social media for their photography business but most don’t know where to start. Because there is this confusion, people either skip it entirely or do the wrong things. Either way, it just doesn’t work for you and you are left feeling that you missed a huge potential. Sound familiar?

Most of your social media marketing is going to be about engaging with your potential and existing clients so it's best to pick just one or two services and concentrate on those to maximize your efforts. Joining a multiple of sites will leave you exhausted trying to keep up with the communication and posting… you will have less time for actually making money and taking photos.

The first thing I would suggest is a Blog for a long term strategy. Plan your posts to ensure you are posting a minimum of one thing a week. This has long term search engine benefits and if done at the same time each week. Your followers will also be able to form a habit of knowing when your posts go online.

The second thing I would suggest is a micro-blogging platform like Facebook or Google+ for short updates. These sites are an online destination where you can post your products and services and join communities to have fun. I would not be doing any hard selling on these sites, that’s not what they are for. Just join post and have fun. A friend of mine runs a few companies, some are posted on Facebook. One in particular is an "Event Management" business. He has all the information of his services on the Facebook profile but never sells… but rather sends out videos and posts humorous comments and polls that people watch for. He is building his business on his perceived knowledge and likability… and it works. People hire him because they like him and he is perceived as a trusted expert. There may be better "Event Managers" out there but Steve proves that people buy on trust, emotion and relationships.

Whatever platforms you decide on, give yourself a schedule and allocate a specific amount of time to post updates. BUT STICK TO IT. A regular update on what is going on, a few tips here and there, put up photos that you have recently taken should take you 15-30 minutes once each week to post to your blog, and 5 minutes a day to check your Wall on Facebook or Google+. And if there are any comments on your wall, make a response to any comments and post your own update.

Never go to your Blog or your social media page without a clear idea of what you're going to write about! Turn off the e-mail alerts when visitors post to your blog or wall and don't fall into the time sucking mistake of checking it continually like email! Instead, focus on what’s going on over the last day and just comment on that.

Always remember the goal is to make your social marketing page a hub where your clients can connect with you, so you have to keep pushing them to go there and keep encouraging them to join the conversation! Effective methods of pushing people to your social media efforts are Twitter, links to your social media accounts on your website, QR codes on your business cards and marketing materials and cross marketing your social media initiatives.

Twitter is a great way to post your blog posts, recent photos taken and Facebook updates to a different group of people. I now have 400 people that receive my Twitter posts each week and it generates 12% of my website traffic.

A QR code (abbreviated from Quick Response code) is a type of matrix barcode (or two-dimensional code) first designed for the automotive industry. More recently, the system has become popular outside of the industry due to its fast readability and comparatively large storage capacity. The code consists of black modules arranged in a square pattern on a white background. The information encoded can be made up of any kind of data (e.g., binary, alphanumeric, or Kanji symbols). Here is the QR code I use to get people directly to my website.

Now that I said all this and possibly got you thinking a little more about social media, you should also be tracking what is generating leads and revenue for your business. There is no use spinning your wheels in the mud and not getting anywhere.

So, let’s look under the hood of KPep Photography for a second and see where my business leads come from.

I have a website, http://www.blogger.com/www.kpepphotography.com.

I have business cards with my email address, twitter account, QR code on the back

I have a Google account with a place page

I have a Twitter account where I follow almost 900 other photographers and various other people. There are almost 900 followers of this account. I use the account to post out my blog entries, new photos I take and any other photography information.

I have a LinkedIn account where I make sure my twitter posts show up. I have a couple hundred contacts on LinkedIn and they will see my twitter posts, be able to access my website and see any conversations I have in the photography groups on LinkedIn. On LinkedIn I belong to 6 photography groups and will post tips, tutorials and post up Polls for other members.

Facebook... I have three pages... a personal one with over 1100 friends, a page for the Photographers Lounge with now almost 300 LIKES and a page for our podcast that has just about 200 LIKES...
My website is posted on six directories, I am registered and occasionally post on 6 photography blogs.
I also write for http://www.blogger.com/www.photonews.ca, http://www.blogger.com/www.canadiannaturephotographer.com, and Photo technique magazine. Each has a website where links to my website and twitter account exist when they run one of my articles online.

I have a flickr account that I rarely use anymore. I have over 600 photos posted on there that have links and proper keywords that associate those photos with my name and website.

All the images on my website, all the blog posting, and anything I do online have had meta tags applied that will increase my chances of showing up in local searches for the initiatives that I want to promote.

Here is the breakdown for website traffic on http://www.blogger.com/www.kpepphotography.com because of my marketing initiatives.

Twitter sends me 15% of my monthly traffic and I get contacted 30% of the time from potential contacts through here.
LinkedIn sends me 8% of my monthly traffic
QR codes generate 2% of my monthly traffic
Google searches generate 10% of my monthly traffic
Facebook sends me 20% of my monthly traffic
Traffic from grips website is 3% of my monthly traffic
The companies I write for account for 7% of my monthly traffic
Bing searches account for 4% of my monthly traffic
Flickr still accounts for 6% of my monthly traffic and I get contacted 30% of the time from potential contacts through here.
Direct traffic generates 25% of my monthly traffic and I get contacted 40% of the time from potential contacts through here.

• I have seen increases in my traffic from direct Google searches over the past 30 days due to increased focus on meta tagging and other SEO initiatives.
• I have seen a decline in traffic coming from flickr, probably because I stopped posting recent images on the site.
• My direct traffic has also started to increase. Although I find it hard to believe that is top of mind awareness, but rather friends and family looking to see what photo they want as an X-Mas prezzy ;-).
• Social marketing accounts for over 50% of my total traffic

I am going to start focusing more on SEO and key in on what’s called “Longtail SEO” and attempt to drill down to get more qualified clients. An example of longtail SEO is tagging items on your site with terms like, “Canadian landscape photography workshops Kitchener Ontario”

For social marketing, I will continue to work on Facebook and linkedin and see how far twitter can take me and I am looking at Pinterest and have registered an account to start to see how to maximize that online venue.

I hope this article helps you. I will post more on the subject in the coming months.

Happy networking,


Wednesday, 9 November 2011

HDR Photography Tutorial

You either love “High Dynamic Range (HDR)” photography or you hate it. There seems to be no middle ground when it comes to people opinions. My thought is that the mention of HDR conjures up thoughts of grungy, high contrast, unrealistic photos that look more like an artistic rendering of a scene rather than a photograph.

When I decide to use HDR in a photograph, the purpose is to produce a quality photo which is better than that of a normal photo. I use it to attempt to overcome the limitations of my camera and allow for a full range of exposure and colour to “POP” out of my image. The result is a more vibrant image.

The real advantages to HDR photography are as follows:

HDR photography captures higher dynamic range
Let's imagine a situation where one photographs (without a flash) a high contrast scene where the subject is against the sky. Typically there is a problem in the result. Either the sky is over exposed, or the subject is under exposed. This end result does not produce a scene that your eyes actually saw as you stood there behind the camera. Your eyes can clearly see details in both the subject and the sky. However, the digital camera isn't able to see as high contrast as a human eye does. Enter HDR in post processing…
Awhhhh, my son, God luv him. We had climbed up Mount Dumyat in Scotland and he had to pee. So, he decided to pee right off the side of the mountain versus going over in the bushes.

In photography, the goal is often to capture the view and the mood that was seen and experienced. Unfortunately, because of the limitations of digital cameras, some details are often missing in photos. In high contrast scenes, a digital camera isn't able to capture both the brightest and the darkest areas simultaneously. HDR photography offers a solution to this problem.

The high dynamic range and the way HDR photo saves image information, give new possibilities to digital image processing. One can do very strong digital image processing operations to an HDR photo without losing any image information. A properly created HDR photo can include very large amount of image information and therefore give the photographer a possibility to create exactly the kind of photo he or she wants.

HDR photography Can Produce Noise Free Photos
An HDR photo is created by merging several photos that are taken with different exposures. If there are enough exposures, each part of the photo has optimal exposure in several shots. I don't know the merging algorithms of HDR programs but presumably they take best parts of the photos and / or do some averaging between the pixels in different shots and therefore noise is reduced effectively. Anyway, according to my tests HDR makes it possible to produce photos that are noise free even in the darkest shadows.
This is an HDR photo taken at night on Michigan Ave in Chicago. This was one of the first HDR images I ever did. When I saw it I was hooked, minimal noise, nice colours and the detail was impressive.

For the landscape photography the process can really enhance an image and separate your photo from the others. The software options are abundant. Personally, I use Photomatix. I have used NIK software , Topaz Adjust and used HDR in CS5, but I always find myself reverting back to old faithful, Photomatix 4.

Here is a list of HDR programs that you can consider:
HDR Express
Topaz Adjust
Lightroom Enfuse
Photomatix 4
Nik HDR Efex Pro
HDR Darkroom
Adobe Photoshop CS5 HDR Pro
To see a complete review of each program please visit HDR Software’s website once you finish reading about the possibilities of HDR photography here.

OK, now on to the process of creating an HDR image. In this tutorial I will be using a combination of Abobe CS5 and Photomatix 4.0 to get the end result.

The original images
You can use anywhere between 1 to 5, 7 and sometimes 9 photos. It all depends on you really, and occasionally it will depend on the scene. The harsher the contrast, the more photos used seems to produce a better image.

I tend to shoot 3 to 5 RAW images in the field and range the exposure by +/- 1EV. If you shoot one image and decide when you get home that you want to produce an HDR image from the single photo. Your choices are to do HDR rendering on the single image, or, produce 3 to 5 images from the original in jpg or TIFF with a range of exposure. I simply RAW edit the original and use the exposure slider in the RAW editor to produce photos of varying degrees of exposure.

Here are the original images we are going to start with for this example. I tend to shoot a balanced photo and then over expose a few images and then under expose a few images.
As you can see there are 5 images down the left. To the right is the minor RAW edits I made. The larger photo is the original photo I took before I over and under exposed the other four images

RAW Editing
The RAW editing is just simple color adjustments, eliminate any sensor or lens dust, a few tonal adjustments, minor clarity adjustments, a bit of balancing and that’s about it. I do not sharpen the images or prepare them for printing just yet… this is just a cleanup of the original 5 images before I open them up in Photomatix.

Please note that sharpening the images too much in this step will lead to issues once you perform your HDR editing. Leave that to the end when you import the Photomatix document back into CS5.

HDR Processing
Here you have the photomatix screen when you first load the original images. Make sure you check off the box to eliminate ghosting if there is moving objects like clouds in the image.

As you can see down the left side of the screen shot, my settings are there. I generally do not deviate too far from these settings when I am applying HDR on a landscape photograph.
for this image i chose exposure fusion. You can also set the editing mode to tone mapping. I tend to do that with a photo with less contrasting foregrounds adn backgrounds.

Final Processing in CS5
Once I have finished the final editing in Photomatix I reopen the jpg or TIFF document in the RAW editor one final time. This time I run through my final steps of checking balance, colour, clarity, saturation, camera lens correction etc.

I then open up the image in CS5 and perform my final edits to finish the photograph. For this image I felt I had to perform some cloning for the bad ghosting in the clouds, I colour adjusted the green to make it pop a bit more and i played with the exposure levels to get the overall tonal look I wanted.

Final Image
As you can see below there are two images, the first photo is the original properly exposed image and the second one is the final HDR image.

Now, here are a few more HDR Images from that morning on Puslinch Lake near Cambridge, Ontario.

Everyone has their own method of producing an HDR image and they may use different software than I do.

Find out what works for you, master the technique, and enjoy the end results.

Happy Shooting,