Friday, September 7, 2012

Our Candid Side... is it fading away?

I started Natural-Beauty Photography in August 2004 by going to local community and school events.  I wasn't sure how well it would take off, but quickly figured out a lot of people really liked it.  It grew quickly, but it has fallen even quicker.  It's time that I take a fresh look at it and either do something to bring it back to life or lay it down to rest.  I've got a few ideas to try, but overall... it depends on you, my customers.

I really enjoy doing the candid photography that I do, getting to meet everyone and attend & promote events, but I am literally losing money doing it.  I realize that we're taking longer to get photos on our website - this is because we can't spend prime time working on our candid photography when we aren't getting orders.  We are also taking longer to get orders to our customers because we have a minimum order of 80 photos (we pay for the equivalent of 80 4x6s whether we order 80 or not) plus a minimum shipping charge.  We used to get 100 - 250 in a week, now we're barely getting 100 in a month.

What am I asking?  I'm wanting to know if people still like our candid photography well enough to support it.  We haven't raised our prices in over 4 years and we're cheaper than most others who do this type of photography as a business.  We aren't currently planning on raising our prices either.  Maybe you have some suggestions as to what we could do to help improve our sales - what you would like to see us do.  Are there any suggestions or comments out there or has our candid side of photography run it's course and is time to call it quits.

Here are my sales:
Aug 04 - July 05  $3450
Aug 05 - July 06  $6600
Aug 06 - July 07  $7850
Aug 07 - July 08  $8475
Aug 08 - July 09  $8950
Aug 09 - July 10  $6150
Aug 10 - July 11  $5250
Aug 11 - July 12  $2425

In the past year, August 2011 - July 2012, our sales have been lower than ever, even our first year.  What did I do to get those $2,425 in sales?  I looked through the events I attended in the past year and estimated that I spent a little over 200 hours at events (not including travel time, Humboldt, Auburn, Tecumseh....)  On average, it takes at least twice as long to go through the photos, resize, watermark, upload and add the photos to the website.  That's about another 400 - 500 hours of work.  When orders are placed, I then go through to find the photos, edit them, upload & order them, receive & check them and e-mail or call the customer.  All of this also adds more hours.

Figuring just 700 hours for the $2,425 gross sales we had last year, it figures out to less than $3.50 per hour.  That  does not allow anything for the direct costs of the photos & shipping, entry fees to a few of the events, gas to get to events, or credit card & web page fees.  Plus, I have an employee who looks through all the photos taking out the bad ones before we add them to the web site.  She also sorts the orders and gets them prepared when they come in.  She makes more than minimum wage - I probably actually paid her more for the work she did for Natural-Beauty Photography last year than the sales I made.  Then there is always all the other indirect costs - equipment, software, electricity, insurance, etc.  I'm not expecting to make a living off of our candid photography, but I can't actually be losing money to do it either.

What are we doing to try to fix it?
I'm not just giving up.  I have a few things in mind to try, but I am always open to your suggestions as well.  The first thing I'm changing is that we will start requiring payment when you order - no paying when you pick photos up.  We have between $3,000 - $4,000 worth of photos sitting at our store that have never been picked up or paid for.  We can't keep purchasing product for people when they aren't actually going to pay for them.  I hate to take away the convenience of being able to pay when you pick photos up, but it's something I have to do.

Another thing I've just started is trying to bring more attention to our business.  When you order photos now, we will use a less intrusive watermark and upload them to our facebook candids page.  We encourage you to tag yourself and family in these photos, share them with your friends and family, encourage everyone to purchase photos of themselves or their families. 

Any other suggestions you may have, we're interested in hearing about!  If you used to purchase from us and don't anymore, let me know why - other than graduation of course, I realize this takes families away each year, but I would expect others to take their places as other students come up through the years.  If we're doing something wrong, I can't try to fix it if I don't know about it.

Please, if you like our candid photos... consider ordering more pictures.  Be sure to tell all your friends about our photos and encourage them to order as well.

Thank you to all of our past customers... I truly do appreciate your support!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Sandy Puc Hands-On Photography Workshop

As you probably know, I am always trying to learn more when it comes to the ins and outs of photography.  I go to classes in person and online all the time.  This past Saturday, I had another great class in Omaha.

I had to take mom to Omaha to catch a plane, so we left home at 4:00 a.m.  I had planned on going home earlier Friday night to get to bed early, but of course that didn't happen.  I got home about 10:00 like usual, ate supper and got to bed around 11:00 - up again by 3:30.  I had dropped mom off at the airport and drove all the way across Omaha to the La Vista Conference Center by 6:45.  As I pulled in the parking lot, I saw a big bus in front as though it had just gotten there.  I figured it was probably Sandy's bus and later I found out I was correct.  I thought about going in and offering to help setup, but I was tired and I had planned on taking a short nap in the car so that I would be awake enough during the day to actually soak in the knowledge.  I did just that and woke up about 8:15.  I went in and worked on some editing I had to do until class started at 10:00.  I felt kind of bad about not at least offering to help earlier since they were running behind and didn't get their registration table setup at all (which was supposed to be up by 9:00).  I don't know if they would have accepted help or not, but I could have at least offered.

I have attended several of Sandy Puc's tours before and they have always been very informative.  This tour was quite different from her others - not that it wasn't informative, but that it wasn't just her teaching us.  Sandy brought several other great photographers together to show us, hands-on, many different ways to get great portraits.

Brian DeMint's Booth
Taken with simple incandescent lights

The first photographer that I was with was Brian DeMint.  If you look at his work, you may wonder what he would teach a basic portrait photographer because his work is definitely... different.  However, he is a very funny speaker and has great fundamentals and ideas.  He uses a lot of things in ways they aren't meant to be used.  When he saw our first model come in with tattoos across her chest, he immediately knew he wanted her to model for him and how he wanted her made-up.  His wife does his makeup for him and they got their gothic model ready.
Brian DeMint's Booth
Taken with the exsame lights as the
other just positioned differently

One of the biggest things that I took away from Brian's booth was that it doesn't matter what you use to get the portrait, it's the end result that matters.  Although he had multi hundred dollar lights provided for him to use, we used 3 chicken warmer style lamps with regular incandescent bulbs in them to do our lighting.  This acutally worked really well because it is so much easier to control and move the lighting where you want and need it.  Do these portraits look like they were taken with $10 chicken lamps?  I've already incorporated this idea in to a portrait session I had Sunday - I didn't use chicken lamps, but I did use the general idea and it worked great.

Brian also gave us tips on working with and talking to the models.  Another setup he did later in the day was using some plexiglass he found somewhere in the hotel and making a 'rainy day' scene with it.  There are a few other things that he told us about that I plan on trying just to see what they do.

The second photographer that I was with for the day was Jordan Chan.  Jordan was teaching us about off camera flash and using them to overpower the sun.  He can take portraits in the middle of the day in blazing sun and still get an awesome exposure with beautiful background and sky color as well as a well lit subject.  This is something I just started figuring out how to do a few months ago and have got the general idea of - I first used it for individual / team ball portraits this summer.  Jordan showed us a much faster and easier way of doing what I have been doing, plus a few more tips.  He also showed me a setting on my camera that I didn't realize was there.

I didn't take any photos at Jordan's booth, although thinking back I should have just to have them.  I'm glad that I didn't skip his booth because it really helped me with one of the biggest techniques I've been working on the past few months.  Now it's just more practice, practice, practice!  Again, I have already implemented his technique in a second portrait session I had yesterday at the swimming pool.  Great color for the pool in the background while still having a well lit subject.
Travis Gadsby's Booth - Fundamentals
Taken with 1 light

The third and final photographer that I worked with was Travis Gadsby.  Travis is the owner of Silverlake Photo Accessories and also does portrait photography.  I'm guessing that he took most of the portraits on their site showing their products.  Travis's booth was on the fundamentals of lighting, posing, etc.
Travis Gadsby's Booth - Fundamentals
Taken with a main light, a reflector,
and a seperator light

We had a beautiful ballerina for our model at this booth when I got to it.  We started out taking portraits of her with just a single light.  We then added a reflector in the front and finally we added a seperator light on the opposite side in the back.

Having a ballerina for a model, we also got to have some fun learning how to catch jumps in mid air.  She was very patient and willing to jump over and over and over for each of us to get a chance and capturing her in mid air.

I believe all the backgrounds that were used on tour were provided by Travis with Silverlake Photo Accessories, so if you like the backgrounds you see, be sure to check out his page.

Overall, I was not disappointed at all with this educational day.  Sandy always puts on a great show and bringing all of these great photographers with her just made it that much better.  It's not too often that you find an affordable hands-on workshop - usually it's just sitting and listening.  I would definitely recommend this workshop to any aspiring photographers - it runs through October 19th.  The schedule can be found on Sandy Puc Tours, and it includes a stop in Kansas City on September 21st (just as close to us as Omaha was).  She has different photographers with her at different stops, so you may not get to learn from the same ones as I did, but I'm sure it would still be well worth the money.  If you do go, be sure to tell her I sent you. :)

To see a few more of the portraits I got during the workshop, be sure to check out my Facebook Photo Album.