Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Tweet, Tweet, Tweet!

Next up in the Social Media lineup? Twitter!

I first discovered Twitter shortly after it launched.  Back in 2006, Evan Williams (the original person behind Blogger before Google bought it out) had a little box on his blog with his latest tweets, sharing with the world in a micro format what he was doing.  I immediately went and signed up. Evan is an innovator, and I knew if he was involved it was going to be something cool.

Twitter didn't really start to grow into what it is today until the spring of 2007. There is a large Film/Music/Interactive festival in Austin, Texas every spring called SXSW. At SXSWi, enough of us were on Twitter that we found it really useful to coordinate meeting up with people, making dinner plans, and everything else you can think of. From there, Twitter took off. (You can read a lot more about Twitter over on Wikipedia.)

But what is Twitter?

Twitter is basically microblogging. In 140 characters or less, you share what you are doing at that time. You can use it for any number of things - post where you are at, the funny joke you just heard, ask for help with something, talk about what you had for lunch.

There are no rules.

The best way to start with Twitter is to just sign up. Find people to follow that you might have similar interests with - other photographers (I'm there and so is Anne), people in your city, people you know on Facebook.  Follow people who those people follow. Join in the conversation. If you just sit on the sidelines, it won't make any sense. It will make a lot more sense if you talk with people through Twitter.

Yes, Twitter can even help your business grow, in a lot of different ways. I've often heard people say that Twitter sure seems fun, but really? They will never get business from it. That isn't true. Back on November 10, 2007 I helped rescue a wedding thanks to Twitter.  I had done shoots for a local magazine, along with my friend Mark. He is an amazing concert photographer - and for months, we had chatted back and forth via Twitter. The owner of the magazine was in a wedding where the hired photographer did not show up. He only had the other photographer's phone number in his cell phone. Being a concert photographer, he knew he wasn't up for a 300+ guest wedding - but he immediately thought of me & my second shooter, Elaine. He messaged us both, and within 15 minutes we had talked with the groomsman and we were on our way to save the wedding. We booked at least 3 weddings in 2009 that were a direct result of that wedding (1 of the bridesmaids, 1 friend of the bride's brother, and 1 who just thought it was awesome that we would do that) -- and it is something that would have never happened without Twitter, and networking with people in my city. The whole thing was a Defining Moment for me and my business.

Do you Twitter? Has it helped your business? Has it helped you grow a stronger community of photographers around you?



Christine Tremoulet is a Houston, Texas Hot Mama Boudoir photographer and wants you to have a Business of Awesome. She also runs Wholly Matrimony, a destination wedding blog. She is a creative geek, having blogged since 2000 at BigPinkCookie. When she isn't taking photos or knitting, she is busy devouring all the info related to Marketing & Social Media and its powers that she can find online. Follow her on Twitter.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Venue Love

This ties into my previous post about vendor love. I was inspired by recent brides who would e-mail me and ask if I had a picture of a certain room at the venue they had booked showing it all set up for a wedding so they could visualize how to set it up for their wedding. As photographers we often photograph a particular venue several times and we are used to seeing how it has been set up and can imagine it. I think it can be really challenging for a bride who isn't as familiar with a venue to envision how a room will look on her wedding day and to plan her decor accordingly. I am a big fan of covered chairs at ceremonies or those pretty bamboo like chairs but it is hard to shell out the extra money for those if you can't see what a big difference they make. Brides are often planning their wedding over a year in advance. They may see their venue in winter but are planning a summer wedding and it can be hard to imagine what the snow covered patio will be like in July. My point is our photographs can serve a purpose in helping a venue show a potential bride what a particular site looks like in different seasons and set up in different ways.

I asked the on-site wedding planners at the venue I had photographed if a book showing off the venue during a wedding would be useful to them to show to their potential clients. My question was answered with a loud "YES!".

I recently put together a Couture SOHO book with 200 images from a venue that I have photographed quite a few weddings at. I was careful to choose images that showed off the rooms at the venue throughout the different seasons. I showed pictures of ceremonies with chair covers and those without. And while I focused a lot of my images on the decor of the venue I also felt it was important to show images of the couples, the bride's dress, the cake and all the details that make up a complete wedding so couples could really get a sense of how it all worked together and gain some inspiration from what others have already tried at their chosen venue.

I set up a meeting at the venue with the on-site wedding planners to show them the albums that I put together for my couples
and to present them with the book I had compiled that showed off their venue from a variety of weddings. They told me they felt it will be a valuable resource for them. Especially when a bride comes to see the outdoor patio in winter they can show her the pictures I have of a bride walking down the aisle in the summer so she can visualize her wedding day a little bit better.

Typically most couples will book their venue first and then start looking for a wedding photographer. By giving the venue a book of my photographs that is helpful and useful to them in showing off their venue I also have the possibility of couples seeing my work who may not of otherwise heard of me. It is an opportunity to reach people that I would not of reached in any other way on my own. To me the book I created is an investment in my relationship with the venue and in reaching clients that may not of found me otherwise.

If you are just starting out it is helpful to know that a lot of venues will have lists of vendors that they recommend to their clients. In most cases you will have to have photographed a wedding at the venue previously and proven yourself to be self sufficient, respectful of the venue rules about where you can and can't photograph and handled yourself professionally before they will add you to their referral list. A great deal of my client leads have come from being on those lists. I took the time to go around to all the venues I wanted to work at and introduced myself. When I did eventually get the opportunity to photograph at their venue I made a point of following up and showing them my work from my first wedding there so they could see the quality of my work from a wedding they had worked on themselves.

Think of ways in which your photographs can be helpful to other people working in the wedding industry and put your photographs to work for you! Obviously there are lots of options out there when it comes to creating a book for your venue so pick the book that works best for you, your style and your budget.

Friday, December 19, 2008

How to Confront Someone Who Has Stolen Intellectual Property

If you used the tools that I posted a few days ago, some of you may have found some things that you didn't know were out there. I was recently alerted to another photographer who was using the wording from my website almost exactly as I had written it. When you discover someone using your content without your permission, I suggest taking the following steps:

1. Take a Screen Shot of Copied Content
Before doing anything else, get evidence by taking a screen shot of what you're seeing and make sure you include the complete context in which you're seeing it. For example, if it's on a website or blog- be sure to include the http address and title of the website as seen in your browser. Here are some instructions for taking a screen shot with >Windows< or >Mac<.

2. Take a Screen Shot of Original Content
Same as above, but now you need to capture where the original content appears on your website or blog, for proof that the two examples are either identical, or much too similar to be a derivative.

3. Take a Break
While you're probably infuriated at the thought of someone using your original content, it will be much easier to deal with after you've taken a break to get some fresh air, a hot bath or shower, a nap, a glass of wine, or just after doing something to help you relax and gain a little more perspective. You may have been the first person to see this content and you may not know exactly how long the content has been online- taking a moment to step back and gain control of your feelings will help you approach the situation with a little more control. The worst thing you can do is fly off the handle at someone you don't even know, who may be a huge fan of yours, or who might have made an honest mistake.

4. Evaluate Your Claim
Visit the Copyright Website FAQ: http://www.copyright.gov/help/faq/ to see if your claim falls within the guidelines of US Copyright Law. If someone has copied a unique pose, post-production method, or style, than they have not violated any copyright laws - they have simply been "inspired" by your work. However, if someone has directly taken content that was created by you and claims it as their own, than you may have rights within the system. Before you can know for sure, visit the website above and then seek a second opinion from people you trust to help you evaluate whether or not you're making a fair claim.

5. Contact the Copycat
Only after you've calmed down and determined that this is a direct infringement on your intellectual property, should you think about contacting the person who has copied your work. The best possible outcome is that they feel embarrassed and apologize for what they've done. The worst possible outcome is that they feel vindictive and seek other ways to harm you. Approach this the right way and you'll avoid the worst possible outcome. I suggest first contacting someone via email- that way you have a written and time-stamped record of the point at which you sought to remedy the situation. Simply state the facts that you have found their screen shot #1 to be either a direct copy or much too similar to your screen shot #2.

To make it super nice, I would let them know that I'm flattered they like my content, but that they needed to ask permission before using it. I would then ask that the copied content be removed within 24-48 hours, in an attempt to resolve the situation quickly and peacefully. Let them know that you will check back to make sure the content has been removed. Most people will feel incredibly embarrassed at this point and will want to deal with the situation without ever making an apology or admission for what they've done. If they really have made an honest mistake, they might apologize to you, but remember that the goal here is to simply have your content removed from their site. Anything above and beyond that is just a warm fuzzy for your ego.

6. Follow Up
After the time you've specified (no less than 24 hours) follow up to see that your content has been removed from their site. If it has been removed and/or replaced, I suggest following up with a thank you for their consideration in dealing with the matter promptly- even if you never received an admission or apology from them. This step of recognition and thanks is key to making sure the copycat is acknowledged for the correction so that they will be less likely to perform further damage to your personal brand or content. Remember, this person could very well be your biggest fan, and tell everyone how wonderful you are, so make sure you treat them respectfully. You still have a business to run, and every person who has an experience with you is developing an idea of what your brand means in their mind. Creating a positive impression even in the midst of a bad situation, will help keep your name and reputation clean.

Anne Ruthmann is a lifestyle & wedding photographer from Boston, MA. She spent 10 years in the corporate & non-profit world before pursuing her passion for photography. When not behind the computer or camera, she can be found exploring the world with her husband. Follow her on Twitter.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Brand Management = Who's Talking About You?

Whether we like it or not, our brand is not something we cannot fully control. A large part of our brand is controlled by the perception that others have of our business. So how do we find out what that perception is? We search for it. We find it in places that may not be obvious to us, and places that we may have never known about if it weren't for these helpful brand management tools:

StatCounter
The reason why I love statcounter over many of the other stat analysis programs out there is because of the depth and breadth of stats that it provides for free and in a way that makes it incredibly useful and easy to understand for people who aren't really "stats" minded to begin with. Not only does StatCounter allow me to see who is linking into my sites, it also gives me information about which links out there are the most popular, which has enabled me to take hard data to companies I've advertised with in the past, showing them how ineffective their advertising methods have been. Once you learn how to read your stats, you can use them as one of the most valuable tools in your business to evaluate what marketing efforts are and are not driving traffic to your business. Way back in the beginning of this blog, I gave an online video tutorial on how to use this online tool effectively. Here's a link to that video tutorial so you can get a test-run of the software before signing up for it yourself: http://photolovecat.blogspot.com/2007/02/video-tutorial-tracking-website.html
(Note: other analytics tracking programs are equally valuable for the same purpose- I just happen to have the most personal experience with StatCounter.)

Google Alerts
This is a very simple, to the point method of searching for your name in places that may not be linking to you, or have misspelled your name. I like receiving Google Alerts via email so that I can receive an almost instant alert when someone has mentioned my name on their blog or website. Google will crawl the web everyday and send you alerts for the search terms that you've asked it to find. Here are some of the search terms that Google sends me alerts for: "ann ruthman" "anne ruthmann" "anne ruthman" "anneruthmann" "annruthmann", and so on. This can also be used to track a trending topic, like "Cans for Comments" if you've started a viral campaign and would like to see how it's doing.

TweetBeep
Very similar to Google Alerts - however Google doesn't index everyone's twitter feed as of yet, so TweetBeep can be used to see when and where your name was mentioned on twitter. Remember that twitter is still very young in its development, but is quickly becoming one of the fastest and easiest ways for companies to connect with their customers. The earlier you learn to use it to your benefit, the better off you'll be later on.

Copyscape
I first learned of this tool from my husband, a professor who is concerned with plagiarism of his intellectual property. We know those people are out there - the ones who think you're so awesome that they want to copy everything you write and say, and this is one of the easiest and most effective tools for finding them. Blogs are a great thing to run Copyscape on, since we often put so much into the wording of our blogs. While flash-based websites are not yet searchable by Copyscape, I would expect that as the coding evolves, it will eventually be able to search flash sites as well.

Anne Ruthmann is a lifestyle & wedding photographer from Boston, MA. She spent 10 years in the corporate & non-profit world before pursuing her passion for photography. When not behind the computer or camera, she can be found exploring the world with her husband. Follow her on Twitter.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Easiest Free SEO Analysis Tool Ever

Created by the incredibly talented group at HubSpot.com, this free online tool will evaluate your website's Search Engine Optimization based on the automated methods that they've found to be the most valuable. It will also follow up with tips and links as to how you can improve your SEO. This is just one example of how creating a valuable free or sample product can create viral buzz and collateral for your business. A big High Five to the people at HubSpot who "get it"!!!

The Website Grader



http://website.grader.com


Anne Ruthmann is a lifestyle & wedding photographer from Boston, MA. She spent 10 years in the corporate & non-profit world before pursuing her passion for photography. When not behind the computer or camera, she can be found exploring the world with her husband. Follow her on Twitter.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Vendor Love

This is the perfect time of year to think back over the weddings you've photographed and think about the new vendors you've worked with who you felt did beautiful work.

Last year at this time I thought about a cake designer whose cakes I had seen at several of the weddings I had photographed. Each one was a piece of art involving many hours and I noticed that the cake designer had really paid careful attention to each couple and had personalized their cake to reflect their wedding in some way. It was small touches like the bride who made her flowergirl's dress, the lace that was on that dress was mimicked in icing on the cake. No one but the bride would probably notice that touch but that is what made it special to me. I really appreciated the hard work that went into her cakes and realized that the cake lady never got to see the flowergirl's dress next to her cake or the way the couple smiled when they cut into her cake as husband and wife.

I decided then to make a book for the cake lady. I went through all my weddings for the year that I had worked at where her cakes appeared and chose my favourite pictures of her cake, pictures of the details that inspired the cake (like the lace on the flowergirl's dress) my favourite picture of the couple (I knew the cake lady wouldn't of seen them on their wedding day all dressed up) and if there was a cute picture of the couple cutting into the cake I included that. I put together an 8x8 30 page Asuka book featuring her cakes with her cake company name printed on the spine and my logo placed in a small corner on the back.

I didn't tell the cake lady I was doing this. When the book was finished I was so excited I could hardly wait to give it to her. I went by her shop and presented it to her and she was shocked. She told me it was the nicest thing anyone had done for her. As she flipped through it and saw her cakes next to pictures of the couples she had worked so hard for, tears ran down her face. My heart was aglow, it felt great to give her something that had meaning for her.

What happened in the next few monthes was incredible. Often when I met with couples regarding wedding photography they would tell me that the cake lady had recommended me and she had shown them my book of her cakes. It can be really hard for a bride and groom when trying to choose their vendors because they don't personally know anyone. Having someone other then myself talk about my work made them feel more comfortable in their decision to hire me.

This year I made a folder on my desktop called "cake lady" every time I edited a wedding that had her cake featured in it I would simply pick my favourite cake shots and favourite pictures of the couple and drop them in that folder which made it really easy for me this year to put together another book. I just finished designing another Asuka book for her and I can't wait to deliver it to her. She told me how happy my book made her as it was like a diary of her work and it would be the only thing she has to remember her work by when she retires.

We all know how difficult it can be to work within a church as there can be some strict rules about where and when you can photograph. I have been photographing in a church in town that I think is the prettiest church and the reverend has always been kind and welcoming to me when I show up to photograph a wedding. I noticed that he has a board of photographs of couples he has married proudly displayed in the hallway. I went through my weddings from this year at his church and picked my favourites showing off details from the church, the reverend in action during a ceremony and the couple excited as they exited the church doors as husband and wife. I made him a book and went by on a Sunday afternoon to give it to him. He was so grateful because he was going to visit his son in England who had never seen his church or witnessed his Dad in action.
I asked him about the old church bells and how they worked and before I knew it I was up there ringing the bells myself!!
Again it felt amazing to have given him that book. When I got home there was an e-mail waiting for me from the reverend.
The reverend was thanking me and then he said "Your book has already been of use I had a couple in here who I am marrying in the spring at our church and they were asking me about photographers, I had your book to show them. Don't be surprised if they contact you!"

What vendors can you think of whose work you love photographing?

Take the time to go through your photographs and put together a portfolio book for them to show off. It is possible that when the vendors show off the book you created for them you will be reaching clients that you would of never had access to otherwise. It is a great way to build vendor relationships and to have others show your work to people you would of never met yourself. I can't tell you how great it feels to surprise a vendor with a book of their work, the smile on their face is very rewarding.

I personally chose to use Asuka book but there are lots of options out there for portfolio books you can refer to Anne's post about albums here for ideas.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Meet: Kirstie Tweed

When I first met Kirstie at last year's WPPI Convention, I just thought she was the sweetest person ever! I wanted to invite Kirstie to share here because I noticed that she was giving great, objective, and balanced advice on a professional photography forum but it was often going unnoticed or sliding by so quickly that it wouldn't be long before the same questions were being asked again. So, I hope that this will give Kirstie a chance to archive her thoughts and insights in a more permanent place where she can help even more people! Please take a moment to say hello to Kirstie and ask her any questions you'd be interested in having her write responses for!



Name: Kirstie Tweed

Business Name: Orange Girl Photographs

Websites:http://www.orangegirlphotographs.com
http://orangegirlphotographs.blogspot.com

Location: Banff, Alberta, Canada

When did you start your business? I started focusing on wedding photography specifically 9 years ago. I graduated from art school in 1995 and worked as a gallery assistant in a San Francisco fine art gallery, a photographer's assistant for fashion and commerical photographers, as well as, exhibiting my fine art photography, photographing musicians for CD projects and shooting commercially in San Francisco and New York.

What services do you offer? Wedding and Portrait photography

What products do you offer? I adore Leather Craftsmen for their gorgeous heirloom albums and outstanding customer service. My new favourite is Simply Canvas prints. I saw Cypress albums at WPPI and I am in love with their beautiful details and craftsmanship. I just ordered my first samples from Couture and can see my clients are going to love them. I love giving Kimbra Studios jewelry as thank you gifts to my clients. I absolutely love Asuka book for custom guestbooks and vendor thank you gifts. I love IttyBitty's storyboard actions to create fun storyboard prints for my clients.

Are you home or studio based? I have an office space that I meet my clients in, that way they avoid being goosed by my overfriendly dog and I do all my editing work at home.

What do you enjoy about working from home/studio? I edit in my pajamas and get to have lunch with my husband and my dog.

What have been the challenges of working from home/studio? It is really easy for me to work all the time. When I can't sleep I find myself at the computer. For that reason I wish e-mails didn't have timestamps!

Do you have any employees? My husband assists me at every photo shoot. He is not a photographer and doesn't shoot, he's actually an incredibly talented potter. He helps me by carrying my gear so I can move more freely, helping me set up my lighting, holding off camera flash, and he is an amazing set of extra eyes who watches out for action with me. He is a absolute dream to work with, he knows me so well I don't have to say much and he's right there for me with whatever I need. It makes weddings even more fun for me because I can share them with the person I love. I feel incredibly lucky to have his amazing love and support. It's another reason I love my job.

What do you outsource and to who? I tried outsourcing my editing this summer and I was disappointed in the results, no one knows my work the way I do. I found it to be more stress inducing then helpful in the end. I use Pictage to do my print fulfillment.

How did you acquire your photo skills? My Dad and step mom bought me my first SLR when I was 12 and I knew immediately that that was what I wanted to do in life. I took photography in high school. I attended art school and graduated from the 4 year photographic arts program. Perhaps what I found most useful though was the time that I spent assisting fashion and commercial photographers right out of art school. That is really where I learned my technical skills. Working in a fine art photography gallery gave me a lot of insight into ways of seeing, it was a really valuable experience.

How did you acquire your business skills? I was very fortunate to assist very talented photographers who became my mentors and friends, they gave me a lot of business advice. I learned a lot from my time at the fine art photography gallery,
I had some incredible bosses who inspired and supported me.

What has made the biggest difference in your business? Having an incredible supportive husband and family. On the technical side my new studio software ShootQ. I don't know how I did it before ShootQ.

What do you want for the future of your business? To continue to find inspiration in the people that I photograph. I had one of my dreams come true recently when I photographed a couple's engagement pictures, their wedding, their pregnancy and most recently their newborn baby. I found that really rewarding and I would like to do that more often.

What do you want for your personal future? I would like to spend more time with my husband outside of work and see my family and friends more. I went on my first vacation with my husband since our honeymoon 7 years ago and I think we should do that every year! I'd also like to hire a photographer to take pictures of my husband and I together, we don't have any pictures together since our wedding. Whenever I'm putting together a collection of canvas prints for a client's home I think it would be nice to have something like that for our home.

What are you passionate about other than photography? I live in a beautiful place and my husband and I love to hike, canoe, cross country ski, snowshoe, ice skate, go curling and go for walks where we live together. I'm not in great shape and I'm not skilled at any of my outdoor loves but it still makes me really happy. I also love knitting baby hats, I'm just a beginner knitter but there is something so satisfying about making something with my hands.

Share a little about your home life: I live with my sweet husband and our dog Edith in a small one bedroom condo in a cooperative green building (the building is made from green materials, our toilet water is collected from rain, the property uses native grasses that don't require watering other then the natural rainfall) in beautiful Banff Canada which is a national park in the Canadian Rockies. It's like living in Yosemite. Deer peer in our living room window, we can hear the sound of bugling elk and we have seen grizzly bears while out walking our dog. We find it truly magical here.

Tell us a funny story about one of your experiences:
I was at my favourite lodge with my husband eating lunch when I noticed a sweet couple having lunch near to us. Something in the way they were interacting with each other warmed my heart. I told my husband that I guessed they were at the lodge making wedding plans, she had a beautiful engagement ring on. I told my husband that I wished I could photograph their wedding because they looked so in love and sweet together. We saw them out cross country skiing on the lake later that afternoon and they smiled as they passed us. I thought it would be incredibly tacky to hand them my business card so I said nothing. A week later I got a phone call to meet with a couple about photographing their wedding. It ended up being that same couple! They hired me and I admitted my story to them, they shared my story at the wedding reception and we've become friends since then. I tell everyone that I picked them first.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

How to Plan for a Great Convention & Trade Show Experience

My first convention & tradeshow experience was overwhelming and I felt incredibly under-prepared for the experience. So, for those first-timers out there, here are a few tips to help you get the most out of your first-time industry convention & trade show experience.

TRADE SHOW

This is basically a huge marketplace for all of the suppliers and services related to your industry (well.. all of the ones that were able to afford a tradeshow booth!) Their goal is to sell stuff, get their name out, and get you to sample their products or at least have an in-person experience with their company, brand, and product or service. Tradeshows are often very easy to get into and many companies give away free passes in order to get people in the door. The vendors have already paid to be there, so the price for admission into a trade show is often just to keep the general public out. With a convention badge, you're usually able to breeze in and out of the trade show floor without any problems.

The "trade show floor" as it's often referred to (which is just a big room), is typically a very noisy place with little sound proofing, lots of people walking around, and many, many, many things to look at. When it comes to fairly large conventions, you could probably spend an entire day just visiting each trade show booth. Over the years, trade shows have also become a secondary workshop experience, often with live and useful demonstrations that may or may not be directly related to the product being sold. Service companies used to have a difficult time at trade shows because they didn't have a physical product for people to play with, so now they've resorted to providing educational experiences to pique the curiosity of those just passing by, or for their already loyal clients who are looking to learn something new.

To Get The Most Out of a Trade Show Experience:
Know what you want and/or need before you hit the trade show floor- because once you get inside it's incredibly easy to get distracted- ESPECIALLY when it's your first time! Vendors design their booths to get your attention, so if you go in with a plan, you'll be less likely to be distracted. Before you hit the tradeshow floor, take a list of the things you're looking for while you have a map of the trade show floor and vendor listing in front of you. If you're in your hotel room or enjoying lunch, it will be much easier to plot your course than once you're in the middle of all the chaos. By putting on a set of "blinders" and just going to the booths you want to visit or focusing on the products you want to explore, you'll be able to get in and out much more quickly and have a lesser chance of feeling overwhelmed with information you may not need right now. Of course, this isn't to say that you shouldn't look at anything else, of course you should follow your curiosity, but be prepared to spend a lot of time if you don't have a set plan before walking in the door.

CONVENTION

Generally everything that isn't the trade show, is considered the convention. This often includes classes, workshops, live demonstrations, speakers, and maybe even industry competitions. Many conventions will have multiple speakers and classes happening simultaneously, which allows the convention to attract more people by splitting them up among various different rooms and speakers- that will attract a smaller niche of people. Sometimes conventions will schedule the same speaker to be in different places throughout the day so that if you miss them once, you might have the opportunity to see them again somewhere else.

If you know that a particular speaker is popular, and you really want to see them, than you better plan ahead! It would not be unheard of to arrive 30 minutes early for a presentation just to get a seat. Some people will "stake their claim" on a seat by leaving a brochure or coat where they want to sit and then return later, but of course you risk losing any personal items if you walk away. Most presentations will begin right on time, so definitely plan to be there at least 10 minutes in advance if you'd like to get a good seat. If you sit near the front, you're generally more likely to understand what the speaker is saying even if they move away from the microphone and you might even win some giveaways if you're within easy throwing distance! People who sit near the back generally aren't incredibly interested in the presentation, so there tends to be more chatter in the back of the room, unless it was the only spot left because so many people arrived early!

One thing that a lot of people tend to get turned off by at Conventions is when they go to hear a speaker and then the speaker closes their presentation with a sales pitch to buy one of their products or one of their sponsor's products. It's definitely not the best way to close a presentation, but it's important for the attendees to know that generally speakers at conventions aren't getting paid to present. Usually they agree to put themselves on the spot because they have something to sell or that they want to gain support for. Some people really just like to help others and one hour is just too short an amount of time to provide really valuable information, so they offer DVDs or seminars as a way to get a more in-depth experience. If they sell something, you don't have to buy it, and hopefully their presentation is rich with information even if you don't buy their product. Just know that this is very common and in some places it's expected. The fees that you paid to attend the convention were generally to pay for the space, the convention materials and goodie bags, as well as the salaries of all the people who put the show together and made it run, but not often for the presenters.

To Get the Most Out of a Convention Experience:
Just like the trade show, it's good to start with a plan before you start exploring the schedule. I have a journal that I always take with me to workshops and conferences. It helps me review what I wanted to get out of the last experience and keeps me focused on what I'd like to get out of my next experience. I find that I do best when I start with just three questions that I'd like to know more about or find answers to. These questions then help me filter information BEFORE I start looking at the program, so that I can stay focused on what I really want to accomplish. It's easy to be swayed by presenters who are popular, just to get a taste of their star qualities, but if you make your decisions based on personality and not information, you just might walk away feeling a little like you didn't learn much (although, if they're popular it's a slightly safer bet because they probably have the presentation skills down solid if they get a lot of attention.) You're best off if you bring a water bottle with you since there aren't always water coolers in the room, and even if there are, you might have to crawl over people to get to it. Use your journal to take notes, but to also ask questions during the presentation so that if you get the chance to talk to that person afterward, you'll have the question right in front of you even if it slips your mind.

FINAL THOUGHTS

What I enjoy most about trade shows and conventions is the opportunity to meet other people doing interesting things. Often times I find the most interesting people aren't even on the stage, but sitting right next to me in the chairs. Take your business cards- LOTS of business cards and make an effort to get to know more people by asking for their business cards as well. Everyone likes to feel important! If you get invited to an after-party, always say yes and go! It's a great way to get to know people informally. You never know when someone will have the perfect solution to a problem that's been bugging you for a long time! Sharing your challenges with others is a great way to meet people and find creative solutions. If you go in with a plan of what you want to come away with, your experience will be exponentially more informative and rewarding. For more WPPI specific tips, visit: http://photolovecat.blogspot.com/2009/02/wppi-what-to-pack-bring.html

PS. ALWAYS BE COURTEOUS TO OTHERS
You never know when the person sitting or standing next to you is someone you really should get to know. So, when someone is talking to you, put your phone away and give them your full attention. If you must text or talk on the phone, excuse yourself from a conversation first so that you have given the person you're with an opportunity to do something else as well, rather than feeling ignored by your interest in what's happening on your phone.


Anne Ruthmann is a lifestyle & wedding photographer from Boston, MA. She spent 10 years in the corporate & non-profit world before pursuing her passion for photography. When not behind the computer or camera, she can be found exploring the world with her husband. Follow her on Twitter.

Monday, December 8, 2008

What Can Blogging Do for You?

The first form of social media that most people use and encounter is blogging. Almost every photographer has a blog these days (and if you don't - you should RUN and get one!), and many use blogging effectively.

The biggest point behind a blog is to give you a voice. When people look though your portfolio, they only see the images. These may be very soul-stirring images, but when you give readers a chance to know how you felt about the image - why you captured it, what it says to you - then it brings the reader even closer to the image. It personalizes it.  It makes it about YOU, and your artistic vision.

Blogging gives you a chance to talk WITH people.

More and more brides are using the internet as a tool in finding the perfect wedding vendor. Your blog can help you stand out to them. I can't tell you how many times I have had couples comment to me in our initial meeting about something that they read on my blog, and how that spoke to them. I've had some greet me at our first meeting like we have always been friends - and they normally say that that is how they feel, like they already know me because they have had a chance to read my writing. This is an incredibly powerful aspect to connecting with your clients!

Another great thing about blogs? Search engines LOVE THEM.  Last year, I had a splash page for the entrance of my website, which then lead people to either my blog or my flash portfolio. Having been a long-time blogger, this bothered me. I knew Google and the other search engines were not coming back to that static index page. In December 2007, my blog only had about 800 unique visits.  Superbowl Sunday, while watching the game, I decided to move the blog to the front page of my site. Now when you visit my URL, you land right at my blog.  The impact on my traffic?

Unique Visitors by Month:
December 2007 - 811
January 2008 - 1887
April 2008 - 3911
August 2008 - 5232
November 2008 - 5673

I went from 811 to 5673 unique visitors a month, in under a year!

I still have my flash portfolio site, but it is now the secondary portion of the site, what people see if they choose the Wedding Portfolio link at the top of my blog. Added bonus? Google loves me! Plus potential clients can see my latest work, not just what goes by in my flash portfolio. They can engage with me. We can have a conversation. They can leave comments, and I can email them back - creating that dialogue.

Your blog can truly set you apart. Let your voice be heard!

Do you blog? Have you tried moving the blog to be the first part of your site that people see? How did it work for you?

Christine Tremoulet is a Houston, Texas Hot Mama Boudoir photographer and wants you to have a Business of Awesome. She also runs Wholly Matrimony, a destination wedding blog. She is a creative geek, having blogged since 2000 at BigPinkCookie. When she isn't taking photos or knitting, she is busy devouring all the info related to Marketing & Social Media and its powers that she can find online. Follow her on Twitter.

The Las Vegas Wedding Photo Project!


(image source)

I've always wondered what the Las Vegas Wedding is really like, and I'm going to guess that with the economy the way it is, there may be a lot of other people wondering the same thing! And since WPPI is conveniently (or not-so-conveniently) happening right around Valentine's Day this year, I thought it would be fun to get a whole bunch of professional wedding photographers to document the Las Vegas Wedding experience, in an attempt to satisfy the curiosity of anyone who ever asked the question, "Wanna get married in Vegas?"

WHAT?
The goal is to create a blog featuring Vegas Wedding and related images from photographers with links to the wedding chapels along with information needed for any advance wedding planning, links to the photographers and coordinators who participate, etc. If nothing else, we want this to become a huge image resource full or gorgeous images for what a Vegas wedding really looks like as well as a large resource blog full of Vegas wedding info. It's time to give Vegas Weddings a new look, and with some of the hottest photographers in the industry heading into town for WPPI - I think we can do Vegas a big favor.

When I googled "Vegas Wedding" here are some of the top links that came up and I think we can do way better than these!!
http://www.lasvegasweddings.com/
https://www.vegas.com/weddings/
http://www.lasvegaswedding.com/

HOW?
Each photographer is responsible for their own documentation and contributions to the blog. An editor will be in charge of formatting the posts for the blog and deciding how and when to best display and feature the various blog posts. We will collaborate in advance to find out which chapels are open to the documentation project and to schedule our photographers at certain times in certain places in order to work collaboratively with the Vegas Wedding Chapels and Photographers who are simply trying to do their job in Vegas. Our goal is not to replace them, only to provide an insider look into the how, what, and where of a Vegas Wedding in collaboration with some of the hottest wedding venues, photographers, and coordinators already established in the Las Vegas Wedding market. If you plan to photograph models in wedding dresses while you're in Vegas - those are welcome as part of the project as well - as long as you're willing to disclose the location of your shoot.

POTENTIAL!
I would like to get the Vegas visitors bureau involved, since it could likely bring them attention and added appeal for people to visit Vegas during a recession. The project could be compelling enough to be picked up by a national book company, or we could self-publish with a link to purchase the book on our blog and give any sales profits to a charity. Wedding bloggers will love this project and hopefully our project blog will become the one-stop shop when people talk about wanting to run away to vegas for a wedding!! If nothing else, the mere buzz potential alone will add a significant amount of SEO to the people involved. Sound good?

ARE YOU READY!?
Ready to do it? Drop me an email at photolovecat [at] gmail.com and I'll give you private access to our forum so we can discuss the project some more!! Also, if you're a bride or photographer who has past wedding photos from Las Vegas - please email us if you're interested in having your photos featured on our site!!

Environmentally Friendly Business Practices

As many of you may know, I'm very dedicated to being a greener photographer and business owner. Here are some of the methods and products that have helped make my business greener:

- Home Office
As primarily a wedding photographer, most of my shooting is done on-location. While having a separate studio and meeting space is very glamorous for the business brand, I just don't find it to be a very energy efficient way to run my business. I do have a dedicated office space in my home in where I can meet clients and even shoot stock or portrait work with a backdrop if I'd like. We chose a downtown loft-style location which is overall more efficient than a traditional home due to shared energy and resources use among the community within the building, and the downtown location makes it easy to walk or take public transportation to pretty much anything I need.

- Natural Light
When searching for a place to live and work, I made sure to select a location with plenty of natural light in order to avoid using additional energy during the day. Perhaps if you work from your basement or an interior room in your home, you can consider switching rooms with another location in your home which offers an opportunity to save more on energy usage. Natural light also extends to the times and location in which I choose to shoot as well as a preference toward using reflectors over battery powered strobes. I tend to utilize natural light as much as possible in my images so that I don't have to use extra energy to charge large portable battery systems. Obviously your work will have a very natural look to it without the use of additional artificial light, but that's part of what helps to define a style.

- Virtual Meetings
I try to encourage clients to "meet" me over the phone or via web chat (iChat, AIM, Skype, GoogleChat) as much as possible. If they insist on meeting in person, I try to combine my meeting with them in a location that is mutually convenient and can combine the use of public transportation or mutl-tasking with other meetings I might need to have that day. Sometimes this means having them come to me, sometimes it means meeting somewhere in the middle, and sometimes its meeting at my hotel room in whatever city I happen to be in at that time. The key idea is to use as little energy on both ends as possible while still being accommodating to the client. If I must travel by car, I rely on fuel-efficient vehicles.

- Laptop versus Desktop
I used to work from a desktop 90% of the time because I found it to have the most consistent color accuracy. Since getting a MacBookPro, I've noticed there's a much better consistency in screen color rendition and I can actually calibrate the laptop monitor, which has not always been possible with past laptops. Working from a laptop not only allows for more portability but also for better energy efficiency because I can rely on a rechargeable battery versus constantly being "plugged-in". To help save even more power on my laptop, I reduce the brightness of the screen to match the brightness of my environment which also saves additional strain on my eyes.

- USB External Drives
Most of my works in progress are stored on USB powered external drives (my favorite is the Western Digital Passport 320 GB USB 2.0 Portable Hard Drive). This allows me to only use power to access the data when I'm actually using it. When the data is not in use, it's disconnected and not utilizing wasted energy as some larger external hard drives do. And now that USB 2.0 has pretty much exceeded the transfer times of most firewire capabilities, there's little to no lag time in accessing and transferring data.

- Electronic Documents & Media
There's very little need to do anything on paper anymore. Contracts can be produced and signed electronically. Faxes can be sent and received via email. Receipts can be sent and received via email. Price lists and product brochures can be created and sent electronically. Membership numbers can be stored digitally on your handheld device. Notes can be transcribed from voice messages and recorded into emails. Audiobooks can be downloaded directly to your computer or mp3 device. Magazines and newspapers can be subscribed to electronically. Billing statements from vendors, bank accounts, and credit cards can all be received electronically now. Really, I just don't see the need for a paper lifestyle anymore unless you have an accountant who insists on having paper records of everything (even though it's just as easy to keep a CD or DVD backup of all your electronic receipts and records for the year- in which case, I'd say- get a new accountant.) In order to make signing electronic documents and contracts a breeze, I keep a digital copy of my signature on hand which can be dropped into any document using Photoshop so that there's no need for printing and scanning a document.

- Public Resources
When I'm interested in a new book, I always check my public library first to see if they have it. If they don't have it and I absolutely must read it right away (which is rare) I'll purchase the book and then donate it to the library so that someone else can benefit from it being a public resource. When I need business or legal forms, I always check the library rather than going out and buying a book that might be full of forms I don't need. Most libraries are connected to a large network of resources not normally available to individuals and librarians can be the most efficient way to access exactly what you're looking for- and often times they can provide you with an electronic resource which allows you to only download the forms you absolutely need.

- Electronic Banking
Did you know that there are banks which will allow you to scan checks and deposit them online instead of mailing them or taking them to the bank? Your bank might even offer it and all you have to do is ask! If you haven't started utilizing electronic banking to automatically schedule your bill payments, I highly suggest you start ASAP. You will save money on checks, stamps, and postage- thus saving energy and waste in the environment. It helps you eliminate the worry of missing a bill or being out of town when a payment is due. I really could not do what I do if it weren't for electronic banking.

I encourage my clients to make their payments online via credit/debit card with a secure online billing process which allows clients to keep their information private, rather than sharing it over the phone, which has become one of the least secure forms of communication. The billing system I use also automatically notifies clients when their next payment is due and then automatically bills their card, which is not only convenient, but time and energy saving for both the client and myself. I will still accept paper payments if they absolutely insist, but I always default to sending them an online invoice first and then let them inform me if they need to make alternate payment arrangements.

- Digital Proofing & Downloading
As a visual artist, I am able to share my visual work with clients online instead of needing to print it out and deliver it. While I think most people have moved to digital proofing, I think that digital downloading hasn't completely caught on yet as many of the professional digital proofing sites still do not allow for the option of digital downloads. Many clients simply want a copy of a photo for their computer, or maybe they want a print, but the shipping and packaging is very costly and a drain on the environment. If we can offer digital downloads of our work to our clients than they may be less likely to have it printed, but if they do seek to get it printed- it will likely be done locally or with their resources at home. While it can present some quality issues, we can overcome those issues by simply educating our clients up front that if they really do prefer a photographic print, that the best quality will come from us or a lab that we recommend to them locally. In order for the companies we prefer to work with to start making these changes, they need to see the demand from their clients. A simple letter to the president or CEO of the company you work with, multiplied by 10 or more people can have a big impact on the company's desire to start offering a service or product.

- Drop Shipping
Rather than having products sent to me first for additional packaging, I prefer to work with companies that will drop ship directly to my clients with professional packaging that utilizes reduced waste. This takes a considerable amount of trust in the companies that you've chosen to work with, so if you may need to develop that trust first by doing several test runs with items shipped to you first, but once you're confident with the company, it is much more energy efficient to have items shipped directly to clients. There are some companies whose products I enjoy, but tend not to use because of their excessive packaging policies. I've written emails in support of having leaner packaging and have yet to see this implemented. However, if enough people take the time to ask their vendors to make changes in support of the environment, vendors will eventually get on board in the hopes of meeting their clients needs.

- US Postal
The United States Post office delivers to just about every resident in the country, just about every day. It is far more energy efficient to use a shipping option like the US Post, which is already making deliveries to your clients, than it is to use a service which will need to make a special route just to reach your client. With the click-and-ship option, you don't even need to make a special trip to the post office because it becomes a free pick-up service as well. Unless you're shipping to your client's workplace and you know that they use a dedicated delivery service, it's often much better to combine existing resources rather than utilizing ones which will need to use additional energy to complete the task.

- Rechargeable Batteries
There's a myth out there that rechargeable batteries don't work as well as traditional batteries. Not only do rechargeable batteries have the ability to last longer in use, but they can be reused over and over for a good year or two before needing replacement. It's also easier to recycle rechargeable batteries than it is to recycle traditional batteries. Please see my former post on Rechargeable Batteries for information on how to choose batteries with the longest life as well as how to take care of them properly to ensure that they will remain good longer.

- Analog vs Electric
There are some things which simply do not make sense for me when it comes to energy use. For example - the electronic paper towel dispenser. Paper towel can make its way out of a container without needing electricity. If you're going to electrify it, you should have installed an air hand dryer to save on the paper towel waste. Electric blinds are another one of those silly uses of electricity that isn't really necessary and could be likely to break one day- making it even more inefficient. Are there any things in your business that are being done electronically which would actually be done more effectively and efficiently without electricity?

- Temperature Control
One huge impact on energy use is the cooling and heating we use in our homes and offices. By simply turning the temperature down in the winter to a point where we may need a sweater, or up in the summer where we're still comfortable indoors but not in complete shock once we walk outdoors, we can save plenty of energy and money. Same goes with using hot water in the shower - by turning the temperature just a few degrees cooler, we can save money on the energy required to heat the water.

- Carbon Offsets
While it may be tempting to dismiss the benefits of paying for someone else to offset your reliance on non-renewable energy resources, it's a payment that goes toward providing more clean and renewable sources of energy, which will eventually make their way back into the services that you're using to run your business. If you're like me, and you're restricted to using the energy supplier that is wired into the building that you're using, it may not be possible to install solar panels or windmills on your building, but you can still help by building them elsewhere. To learn more about Carbon Offsetting for your busines, visit http://www.carbonfund.org.

- Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
This isn't just a phrase, it's a way of life. If you start by reducing the amount of waste and products coming into your business, it's much easier to reduce the amount of waste coming out of your business. Start by only buying what you need. If there's an opportunity to save a lot of money on a really large order, but you don't need that many pieces, see if you can get someone else who is interested in the same product to split the order with you so that both of you can benefit without adding extra waste to your business. Stop junk mail from entering your home and business by visiting http://www.41pounds.org to have your name removed from mass mailing lists. Also, when considering packaging options, choose packaging that will not require additional packaging to be mailed. Most of the things I'm mailing these days are DVDs, so I found a DVD packaging solution that functions as archival storage, a presentation piece, and a mailer all in one. This reduces any need for additional packaging, and because the case is so durable, it is very likely to be reused, and the materials are very recycling compatible.

Reusing items in your business is very simple. Set an area aside to store packaging products which can be reused (like cardboard boxes, packaging peanuts, etc.) Shred junkmail and use it as paper shredded packaging (provided it's not sensitive info of course). Keep a pile for scrap paper which can be used to print on when you absolutely need to have something printed on paper which doesn't require a presentation element (my favorite example would be airline boarding passes - which will hopefully go completely electronic in the next year.) Whenever possible, purchase items that are reusable over items that are disposable. Taking a reusable mug to the coffee shop, or a reusable water bottle instead of buying bottled water, tupperware for leftovers at a restaurant, canvas bags for errands and grocery shopping- by simply thinking ahead and refusing to accept items that will only add to landfills you can make a big impact with very little extra effort. If you have something that you can't reuse, before recycling, consider giving it to someone else who can reuse it first. Freecycle.com and Craigslist.com are great places to list your unwanted items with the chance that someone else will want them!! It's more direct and convenient than putting something on the curb or taking it to a recycling center. If you have electronics that you need to get rid of, visit Gazelle.com who may even be able to offer you a little cash for those electronics! If they can't find a way to reuse your electronics, than they'll find a way to recycle them for you.

We could all be better off if we simply refused to buy products which can't be recycled. Once I found out that certain printer inks couldn't be recycled for whatever reason, I simply stopped buying them and switched to other off-brand inks which were recycling compatible. I didn't lose any quality in my prints, but I did help prevent additional landfill waste. If you think about the recyclability of a product before purchasing, you'll be choosing to support companies that understand the limitations of our resources. Recycling is easier than ever and most states have programs that support public recycling, sometimes even for free. If you live in a community that doesn't offer recycling, send an email around to friends and colleagues and then forward it to your local legislators. It only takes a few squeaky wheels to get programs up and running. To find recycling centers in your area for everything from cardboard to electronics, check out: http://www.recyclingcenters.org

A new organization has been founded for photographers to help promote greener business practices. Feel free to check it out and see if you'd be interested in becoming a part of the greener photography community: http://www.greenerphotography.org

I know there are many more ways in which we can be more environmentally friendly within our businesses, and I'd love to hear your ideas or favorite resources for helping live a greener life!! Please share your suggestions and comments with us! Together we can make a bigger difference!!

Anne Ruthmann is a lifestyle & wedding photographer from Boston, MA. She spent 10 years in the corporate & non-profit world before pursuing her passion for photography. When not behind the computer or camera, she can be found exploring the world with her husband. Follow her on Twitter.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Ethical Dilemma

Running a business presents a lot of ethical challenges day in and day out, some obvious and some hidden. Lately I've seen a disturbing trend in business practices among start-up companies and I really want to share this story in hopes that it will help prevent someone from making an unethical business decision.

Over the past year, I've received many different requests from start-up wedding businesses (cakes, flowers, planners, etc) asking to purchase some of my client images to be used on their websites as a representation of their product or branding. I'm OK with this as long as the vendor worked for the event I photographed and has obtained permission from the people in the photograph in the form of a model release or email agreement.

What I am NOT OK with is a business who was in no way related to the event, asking to use images of my clients and someone else's product as a representation of their own work. There are plenty of stock images out there available for these businesses to use, and yet they are contacting me to request images from client commissioned weddings. Not only is this unethical, but it represents the inquiring business as one which is trying to profit off of another person's work.

When presented with this question, I often remind the inquiring business that my model release only extends to my business, and that I would not share images of their work or their clients with another company. If the inquiring business would like me to produce images for their specific product or website, they would need to hire me as a commercial photographer which could include their own models to represent their product or brand. Commissioning photography of their own products and models solves the ethical dilemma and produces unique and original work for their website. It also ensures that the company has a valid product to offer clients and is willing to invest in professional imagery representing that product.

Hopefully you won't find yourself in this position, but if you do, I hope that you can remind the business of the right thing to do as well.

Anne Ruthmann is a lifestyle & wedding photographer from Boston, MA. She spent 10 years in the corporate & non-profit world before pursuing her passion for photography. When not behind the computer or camera, she can be found exploring the world with her husband. Follow her on Twitter.