Tuesday, January 19, 2010

WPPI 2010: Finding Cheap Airfare

After you score a great deal for the hotel stay, your next greatest expense is going to probably be the flight to get to Vegas. Airfare can be al over the place and often it is hard to make sense of why some flights are certain rates. Here are some tips to get you to and from Las Vegas cheaply!

Things to Know

Each site and airline has their own way of presenting things and it’s good to know the game before getting really excited about a deal that really isn’t a deal. Each site has it’s own method of showing price, some show the full price after surcharges, taxes and fees and others do not and choose to tack them on at the end. Often the cost can change in upwards of $75. Also keep in mind that if you are checking any luggage, there is going to be a fee to check it both ways - often an additional $60 or so dollars per bag (unless you are using Southwest). Finally you want to find out if the airline charges for EVERYTHING on board or just food. The $5 waters add up when in air for 3+ hours.

Days Are Important

One thing that will change your prices dramatically is what days of the week you choose to fly in/out , how many days in advance you book your ticket and what days of the week you book on. If you are not set to a schedule, it is best to always choose the option to see days before and after you selected dates so that you can see the best prices. Typically Monday - Thursday are going to be your best rate days to fly in but each airline, location and sale will vary. Always remember that even if it’s a ‘steal’ to fly in 2 days before that’s an additional 2 days you will be paying for lodging and food. You also need to consider the days of the week you book for getting the best discount. Typically fares reduce about 45 days out, 30 days out, 14 days out and then sometimes 7 days out. It isn’t a hard rule but something to keep in mind when keeping an eye on fares. Finally, booking Tuesday - Thursday will provide you with the best prices typically.

Choosing Your Airport

While there is only one airport to fly into Las Vegas, there is usually a selection of locations you can choose to fly out of to get there. Often, different local airports can vary by a hundred dollars or more. When searching make sure to choose the option that allows the search of nearby airports as well as your preferred airport. You may be surprised.

WPPI Discounts

WPPI has negotiated discounts of 5-10% with certain airlines. Go here to find the discount code and book directly with the selected line for the best deals.

Surf the Web

The first site I always hit when booking airfare is Kayak. It does all of the searches for you and saves you a LOT of headaches. Just be prepared that there is going to be a lot of pages opening. It is however the quickest way to get an idea of what fares are and where to find them. Trip.com also offers a similar service in searching many sites at once.

Find a flight that suits your needs but want to get your best deal on it? Go to Yapta and sign up for their alerts so that you can find out when the fare drops. Yapta doesn’t allow you to purchase the flight through their site, but allows you to find the fares and purchase through the airline directly.

Orbitz also has a great deal by promising that if someone books your same flight for the same dates you get the difference back if the fare is cheaper.

Keep in mind that one of the cheaper airlines, Southwest, does not participate in any of the deal websites. Their fares are often very reasonable so make sure to hit up their site when surfing the web for the best deal. They also have an alert system that will tell you when a flight that you enter is on sale.

Finally if you are not picky about the times of day that you arrive and leave, always hit up Priceline and Hotwire and try to name your price. I always suggest finding what the lowest airfare is and then making educated guesses from there. Often $25 below is the sweet spot but sometimes it can go far below that.

Hopefully this helps you navigate the friendly skies a bit easier and the end result is a cheaper flight!

Corey Ann is a wedding & lifestyle photographer from North Canton, OH. She is a mix of everything - fashionista, travel guru, deal hound and geek rolled into one. She's had a website online since 1997 and a blog since 1999. When not plotting world domination or her next trip, she can be found reading one of the 100+ books she reads a year. Follow her on Twitter.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A Strategy for Data Backup

Backing up your data is a must. Since image files are the lifeblood of any photographer's business it only makes sense to invest in a backup solution that protects the business' most important assets.

Q: What kind of solution is the best?

A: It depends!

For a commercial photographer who maintains a library of images that can be sold for stock, licensed, etc., a backup solution has to be about as bulletproof as possible. On the other hand, a wedding or portrait photographer is unlikely to do any work on a finished session from two years ago and would only need to keep the finished jpegs and album design files from a client job. If they want to be a little more thorough they could keep the RAW files and Lightroom catalogs.

Keep in mind that the cost of any solution increases exponentially with the amount of complexity involved. So if you want a mirrored system that includes offsite backup, RAID servers (never just one), and the ability to restore in a few hours -- you're talking serious dough.

Over this post and a follow up I'll outline what I think is a solid, cost-effective, and reliable solution for wedding and portrait photographers.

First I'd like to offer the tenets of my backup strategy:

  • Figure out what you need
  • Redundancy is not a bad word
  • Storage is cheap.
  • Duplication is key.
  • Complexity is the enemy.
  • Keep your data moving.
  • Take it off site.
  • It's cheaper to buy a lot of drives than to recover one
  • Test your backups

Figure out what you need

Answering some basic questions about your business will shape your backup strategy and help you prioritize your efforts:

What kind of photographer are you?

How likely are you to use the images again for licensing or sale?

What is the data retention policy for your business?

What is the retention policy in your contract?

What is your shooting format (RAW, Jpeg, DNG)?

What is your output format (Jpeg, PSD, Tiff)?

Redundancy is not a bad word

The desire of any good backup system is to be redundant. You want to have your data in a pristine state in multiple locations, preferably on site and some off site.

Storage is cheap

Hard drives are ridiculously large, very reliable, and incredibly cheap. There is no excuse that you can make for not having backups. Hard drives and physical media (DVD, Blu-ray, Flash drives) are getting cheaper, smaller, and more dense all the time. As of January 2010 it's possible to get a 2 terabyte (2 x 1000 gigabytes) drive for less than $200. Blu-ray discs are about $30 for a 50 GB per disc, which is easily enough space to back up a single job or RAW files. This low cost leads to my next tenet...

Duplication is key

I don't think I know anyone who hasn't had a hard drive fail or accidentally deleted an important file, so having a *relatively current* backup of important things is a must. These aren't the old days, where you tucked the film negatives into protective sleeves and put them in a file cabinet. In the digital age there is no quality loss from making copies of your files, so buy multiple hard drives and make copies of those important files! It's a great way to guard against catastrophic data loss. Adding in Blu-ray discs or traditional DVDs is a great way to diversify the duplication process for even more redundancy.

Complexity is the enemy

You may or may not have heard the phrase "RAID is NOT a backup" (It's worth a Google search) That argument about RAID notwithstanding, the important point is that most photographers are not IT people with years of experience working in data centers, troubleshooting hardware issues, and restoring mission-critical data from failures. In general,dealing with proprietary RAID controller cards, striping, configurations, and the like is almost guaranteed to end badly. Software RAID is also a bad idea from a performance and reliability standpoint.

If you're a wedding or portrait photographer it's unlikely that you're dealing with large databases or massive single files. Image files just need to be catalogued decently (so you can find the images you're looking for if you have to restore) and stored in multiple places (redundancy). Keeping it simple may mean having more drives but it also means you'll have a much better chance of having the files you need when that day comes.

Keep your data moving

When new technology comes out and hits a reasonable price, like the newer hard drives or Blu-ray discs, it's a good idea to move your old backup data into the new format. That way you've moved your data to a newer location, effectively increasing redundancy and the life expectancy of that data.

Take it off site

Off site backup just means not in one physical location. It doesn't need to be at some data center or in "the cloud" necessarily. If you can afford to do the Enterprise-class off site backup and your needs are heavy duty, then by all means go for it. At the same time the combination of large RAW file sizes and the bandwidth limitations of even broadband internet limit the effectiveness of going off site over the Internet.

If you have a studio separate from your home then it can be as simple as just having copies of your data at your home. If you run a home-based studio then simply storing a stack of hard drives in a safe location, say your in-laws or a friend's house, can be an effective solution. There's also the option of safe deposit boxes at your bank as well.

It's cheaper to buy a lot of drives than to recover one

The question is: Pay now or pay later?

If you don't have a backup strategy it's likely you'll pay quite a bit at one time when things do go wrong. The high cost of data recovery services is a reality you should be able to avoid (most of the time) with a good backup strategy. I've seen the cost of restoring one drive of client files be over $2,000 -- and that was for a drive that the company couldn't fully restore.

And then there's the awful possibility of litigation for losing important client files if they haven't yet been delivered.

For $2,000 a photographer could easily purchase a bunch of large hard drives, protective cases, a Blu-ray burner, a stack of Blu-ray discs, and DVDs. Considering the value of your data it's foolish to trust a single hard drive or single disc when there is no downside to having additional copies of your work saved in multiple locations.

Test your backups

A backup is only good if it can actually be used. Even though it's a boring exercise it's absolutely crucial to test your backups to make sure they actually work.

It's worth it to simulate a disaster scenario every few months (or at least once a year) to ensure all that backing up is actually effective.

Damon is the technical (and bag-carrying) assistant to Agnes Lopez, a commercial and wedding photographer who works primarily in Ponte Vedra Beach and Amelia Island, Florida. When he isn't standing still as a lighting test dummy, setting up a c-stand, or holding a reflector, Damon works as an IT Business Analyst, where he gets to solve technical problems on a daily basis.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

WPPI 2010: Hotel Deals

WPPI is always a great time - lots of learning, lots of networking but also spending lots of money! I'm all about saving where you can and here are some tips and deals for saving a few extra bucks for your hotel stay.

MGM Grand

The MGM Grand is where everything happens and is where 80% of the people going to WPPI stay. I highly recommend staying on site as by the time you are done going to classes and/or the tradeshow, you are barely going to have enough time to change before needing to be somewhere for an event, dinner or party. Having your room, shower and bed in the same hotel is a value within itself and there is also the savings to be had by not taking cabs, renting a car or taking the monorail. There is also the added perk of the networking that you will be able to do in the elevator lobby and when roaming the hotel.

The WPPI rate is $149/night + taxes for a standard room (click here to book at that rate) in the grand tower which is a decent deal but keep your eyes out on deal sites, particularly Smarter Vegas and Easy Click Travel, for up to the minute deals on rooms. Sometimes you won’t be able to find cheaper room rates but will be able to utilize promotions such as free buffets, dining credits and more. Currently using code INB307 on the MGM website will get you the same $149/night rate but you will also get 2-for1 daily buffets at the Grand Buffet, $25 credit at the Grand Spa and 2 free passes to the Fitness Center. Lately it seems that about a month out is when the rates tend to start drop and the deals are available for the rooms so keep that in mind when booking. Also sign up for the MGM emails and follow them on Twitter for special sales that don’t make it to the public.

The Signature at MGM Grand

The Signature is the 'elite' hotel of the MGM Grand, much like THEhotel is to Mandalay Bay. The rooms are all suites, set up like condos and are individually owned. The hotel is non-smoking and non-gambling so it is a quieter resort like stay. It also offers its own Starbucks (the ones at the MGM are PACKED during WPPI), lounge, fitness center and pool so you'll always have a quiet place to retreat to that isn't packed with people. They are located just behind the MGM with the entrance into MGM Grand by the spa - closer to the convention area than the main hotel bank. Here’s where the deal comes in. I have negotiated a discount rate for Photo Lovecat readers with Blue Chip Vegas (a condo management company for The Signature). Use code WPPI as the Rate/Corp code for 25-30% off the MGM website rate (which takes you currently to $103.55/night). ** The discount code is now invalid as all the rooms they had available booked up, they may reopen closer to the show if rooms reopen. Until then, check out VRBO.com for other condo deals for The Signature**

Offsite Hotels

You can find ridiculously cheap hotels in Vegas ($30/night for some of the lesser known hotels on The Strip, sometimes even cheaper with hotels off The Strip) but make sure that you take into planning that you will be renting a car, walking, taking a taxi or using the tram to get to/from the convention. Often it doesn’t pay to save the few bucks a night when you have to shuttle back and forth and spend a lot on transportation. If you want to stay close, check out NYNY, Tropicana and Hooters for the closest hotels to MGM. They are within walking distance (MGM has an elevated bridge that connects to NYNY) and typically have reasonable rates (currently NYNY is $84/night, Tropicana $59/night). Otherwise you may want to try and stay at hotels that are along the monorail route for quicker access to the MGM (Bally's, Paris, Flamingo, Harrah's, Hilton).

Rent a House

Got a lot of friends but don’t want to sleep like sardines? Think about renting a house through VRBO. The housing prices can run the gamut from cheap to expensive but when you consider that everyone will be splitting the cost it can turn out to be cheaper than staying in a hotel and with many perks that hotels do not offer such as kitchens and private pools.

Hopefully this helps you navigate finding a better deal for booking your stay for WPPI.

Corey Ann is a wedding & lifestyle photographer from North Canton, OH. She is a mix of everything - fashionista, travel guru, deal hound and geek rolled into one. She's had a website online since 1997 and a blog since 1999. When not plotting world domination or her next trip, she can be found reading one of the 100+ books she reads a year. Follow her on Twitter.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

How to Quickly Improve Client Meetings

When I was a teacher, the best feedback I received was often the feedback I gave myself after watching a video of me teaching in my own classroom.  There are so many things that happen in the moment, but when we're focused on what we need to do, it becomes easy to overlook all of those little things that may be making a bigger difference than we think!

Now, I have to admit that watching a video of ourselves is a bit painful at first.  The camera adds 20 lbs, we get to see all of our little physical oddities and habits that are usually easy to ignore, and for some people, hearing their own voice on a recording is like scratching fingernails on a chalkboard.  It's not easy to watch, but you really should do this as often as you can and no less than once a year.  I suggest setting up a camera in a part of the room where you can see both your own body language and the body language of the client.  Notice their reactions, their hesitations, how they look through your images, what they seem to gravitate toward and what they push away from.  Listen to how quickly you talk, how much you listen, how you come across - does it match what you thought you were doing?

There's soooo much insight to be gained from watching just that ONE video because you'll see things you've NEVER seen before even though they were right in front of you!!  As long as you don't share your video with anyone else, there's no need to disclose that you're recording, it's just a personal evaluation for yourself.  If you have a red recording light on your camera, just cover it up with some tape.  I would be really interested to hear back and see what you learned from this one simple step!!  I GUARANTEE it will help you improve your meetings with clients!!

Anne Ruthmann is a lifestyle & wedding photographer from Boston, MA. She spent 10 years practicing marketing & management in corporate and non-profit businesses before pursuing her passion for photography as an independent small business. She loves helping others find creative and low-cost solutions to business problems. Follow her on Twitter to see her daily adventures and thoughts.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Meet: Corey Balazowich

Don't let her blonde hair and high-pitch voice fool you, because the minute you underestimate Corey is the minute you'll begin to regret ever doing so. On the outside she might appear to be your stereotypical midwestern blonde fashionista with expensive shoes but on the inside she's lived through some hard life lessons and knows how to deliver a punch when someone tries to take her for granted. It's probably because she looks so unassuming and innocent that people reveal their true colors around her and she gets to see a side of people that they otherwise wouldn't show anyone.

Corey has been to A LOT of the photography workshops offered in the wedding industry over the last 2-3 years and she's also been to most of the major conventions. Because of this, she can give you the inside scoop on who to drop the big bucks on and who you should just avoid. However, we have an agreement here at Photo Lovecat: that we won't say anything negative about anyone, because we're LOVECATS!! So, if you want the inside scoop, you're going to have to talk to her directly! All of that wisdom she's acquired over the last few years needs an outlet, which is why I've invited her to be a Photo Lovecat! Please welcome her with some love by leaving a comment or asking a question to inspire her for future posts!

Name: Corey Balazowich

Business Name: Corey Ann Photography

Websites: http://www.coreyann.com

Location: North Canton, Ohio

When did you start your business? September 2007

What services do you offer? I focus on Wedding and Portrait Photography.

What products do you offer? Currently I offer Finao albums and I use Pixel 2 Canvas for my canvases.

Are you home or studio based? Home based.

What do you enjoy about working from home/studio? Editing in my pajamas by far is the biggest perk of working from home followed closely by the ability to sleep in!

What have been the challenges of working from home/studio? I know EVERYONE says this but having set hours kind of goes out the window when you work from home. It's all too easy to "quickly" reply to one email, that turns into a blog, that turns into editing and so on.

Do you have any employees? Nope, just me. However I do have an assistant - and hopefully more next year - that is a contractor for me. My husband also shoots when he's not working on the weekend.

What do you outsource and to who? Me, myself and I.

How did you acquire your photo skills? My Dad had a Canon SLR from the 60's (I think the first one?) and I learned from him. I was very much a Daddy's Girl and would mimic him all the time so I was always right behind him taking pictures. When I was 13 I had a picture I took of Wild Horses in Corolla made into a postcard and after that the photography bug was firmly seated.

How did you acquire your business skills? To be quite honest, I don't know. You learn as you go, you learn from those smarter than you and roll with it. I also use and love ShootQ which has helped tremendously.

What has made the biggest difference in your business? My Mac Pro. Seriously. I was the BIGGEST PC cheerleader. I used to do tech support. I could fix anything that broke on a pc pretty much. It was a comfy blankie to me and I didn't want to give it up. Then I bought the thrid desktop in 2 years because yet again, I killed one editing on it. That computer died in 3 days. That was the final nail in the coffin on my PC. I haven't looked back since (although my bank account may disagree with that!)

What do you want for the future of your business? More and more happy clients!!! Honestly though, someday I would love to be a wedding and travel photographer.

What do you want for your personal future? I would like to have kids sooner-rather-than-later but of course I have to plan it so that it doesn't clash with wedding season.

hat are you passionate about other than photography? I am an avid reader and read over 100 + books a year. I literally have been reading a book of some sort since I was able to read. The rest of my passions are (in no particular order): New Kids on the Block, fancy shoes, Louboutins, chapstick, bath products, bubble lights, freshly fallen snow, animals, cats, hugs, lilacs, candles and my husband.

Share a little about your home life: The house that I live in was built in the 50's and I'm the third generation to own it. My grandparents had it built, my mom grew up here, I grew up here and now I live here. It's kind of nice to live in the same house for almost 30 years! I live here with my husband and my two cats, Kitty and Sage.

Tell us a funny story about one of your experiences: I have this strange knack for getting hurt in the weirdest ways possible. I think I could get hurt sealed in a bubble. If there was a talent competition in injuries I could totally win. Anyways, during my first trip to WPPI I did a day-long shootout with a lot of other photographers. We started off at the Neon Graveyard and then continued out to a ghost town about 40 minutes away from The Strip. Two locals were with us and said that at sunset the way the rays backlight the cacti in a field right by the abandoned mine is almost magical and we really should all try to at least nail one shot from it. They warned us to be careful when around the cacti though because they hurt and the needles are really hard to get out once they go in the skin. I was following the crowd into the cacti field and someone stepped back and my instant reaction was to step back myself. Well in backing up I swung my hand into a cactus. Hard. It wasn't pretty... and it hurt. Bad. Luckily one of the guys had a knife on him to pry my hand off the cactus (but NO ONE TOOK PICTURES!!!) and eventually I got most of the spines out. However the rest of the trip, it hurt. It kept hurting all week. When I got home it felt like I had arthritis in the hand, it was the strangest thing. I tried EVERYTHING to get the remaining spines out to no avail. Eventually I went to my doctor and finally a dermatologist and was told that the scar tissue that formed over the spines/spine holes were permanent. It took about a year for me to stop having random pains in the hand but I still have the 'spots' from where they all went in. Lesson? Beware of the cactus and no matter what you do, don't slam a body part into one. They bite.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

How to Find Free Local Professional Photo Resources

When I was starting out, I remember how difficult it was to find local resources, which is why I relied so heavily on online forums. It wasn't always easy to find local photographers to shoot with because all of the professional resources seemed to be secret or hidden from public view. While that's a great thing for professionals who need a private place to share, it also makes it a little more difficult to find a local mentor to work with. So, here are some ways to learn more about the local resources in your area:

Local Camera Gear Shop
Even if you live in a small town where there isn't a professional gear shop, your local camera shop will likely have the names of a few photographers in town, know what kind of work they do, and can give you an idea if those professionals are open to mentoring others. Local camera shops are also a great resource for finding out if there are any workshops or classes locally available (since they may provide supplies for them) so don't hesitate to get on their mailing list. If they don't provide high end photography equipment, ask them what the next closest place would be to find professional gear. There's a very good chance they know who keeps the professional equipment in house.

Local College
Even if you don't have a full-out photo school nearby, your closest college probably has a photography department or instructor of some kind. Teachers are often natural born helpers, so they can be a great resource when it comes to finding assistants or finding someone who is willing to take on an assistant. While photography in school is most often dedicated to fine art, it's still great to get out and see the work that today's photo students are creating in order to keep up with what is influencing the minds of the future.

Local Photography Groups
These are often a little more difficult to find, but if you've talked to someone in the area who knows a lot of photographers, they should be able to point you to at least one local photography group. Often times you'll find local groups listed on Flickr.com, Meetup.com, Yahoo Groups, etc. There are also several professional labs that provide free local workshops and opportunities to meet other photographers, such as Pictage PUGs (I currently host the Boston, MA one) and newly forming Smugs.

Getting to know my local photography peers has been one of the greatest assets to my business because individually we may not know everything, but collectively we can figure out anything! While online forums are excellent for learning at your own pace and getting lots of feedback, having a local offline network of support may be the only thing that can save you in a pinch when you need it most!

(This article was also shared on Photo.net where you might find more responses to this topic.)

Anne Ruthmann is a lifestyle & wedding photographer from Boston, MA. She spent 10 years practicing marketing & management in corporate and non-profit businesses before pursuing her passion for photography as an independent small business. She loves helping others find creative and low-cost solutions to business problems. Follow her on Twitter to see her daily adventures and thoughts.