It’s All About Light

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I am really drawn to portraits that are lit in such a way that the light doesn’t draw a whole lot of attention to itself.  In other words, I like photos that are well lit but not over-lit.  In the photo above, the quality of the light is nice but you have to look around for a moment to really “see” how it was lit.  There was a good balance between ambient and flash and they blended together well.

Once you learn some of the basics of lighting and you have a good handle on the technical side of it, you should challenge yourself to step up your game a bit.  Learn to light a photo so that it looks naturally lit.  The old “key light with two kickers at a 45 on either side of the subject” has been played out.

When you put a little thought into how you’re going to light a photo so that it looks like something you just walked upon you will be amazed at the results you can achieve.  After all, it is all about the light.

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Nikon D7000 – My Thoughts

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Yep, that’s right – Nikon has dropped it’s newest and hottest DX format DSLR on the world as of Tuesday night!  Today I’ll share with you my thoughts on this new camera and what I like and don’t like.  So let’s get started!  (All images are courtesy of Nikon USA.)

The D7000 is the replacement for the D90 which was announced in the summer of 2008 and began shipping in October of 2008.  The D90 has been a great camera body and it’s worth more than it’s weight in gold as far as I’m concerned – but it did lack a few things.  I’m happy to report that some of those things that I had hoped would be on the D90 and weren’t, are now on the D7000.  Thank you Nikon for listening to your customers!

PROS

Megapixels don’t really matter, so I could care less that the new sensor has 16.2.  What’s really impressive is that it handles ISOs up to 6400 and I’m sure the files will look as good (or better) than the D90’s do at ISO 3200.  That’s exciting!  Extreme low noise performance out of a DX format body.  That just rocks!

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The new magnesium alloy body is something that I wasn’t expecting at all!  I’m really happy that Nikon saw that there were a lot of pros who were shooting with the D90 and decided to make the D7000 capable of putting up with a little more abuse.  You will also note that the camera strap eyelets are the same as the D300s, D700, and D3s/D3x camera bodies.  A subtle, but nice touch.  The D7000 body will also be weather sealed like it’s pro-level counterparts, further enhancing it’s usefulness in the field.

There are some other nuances about the D7000 that scream to those experienced with Nikon equipment that the company is marketing this camera body towards pros.  The shutter release button is the same style that is on Nikon’s pro-level cameras.  They upgraded the in-camera light meter, changed the max shutter speed to 1/8000th of a second, and the max flash sync speed to 1/250th of a second.  Oh, and did you notice that you can now selected your shutter release mode (Single Shot, Continuous Low, Continuous High, Timer) from a dial right below your mode selector?  And how about the 39-point auto focus and the continuous auto focus while shooting video?  Did I mention that the viewfinder is now 100% too?

These are all little things that may not sound like much, but to the working photographer mean a lot.  It’s important to be able to change settings in your camera without the hassle of going through a menu to find what you’re looking for.  We would rather be able to know where the dial or button is and change a setting without removing our eye from the viewfinder.

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I mentioned video above.  The dual SD card slots allow you to be able to select the function of the second card – say… for videos.  Being able to shoot in 1080p is also nice, although the 720p HD of the D90 and D300s is nothing to balk at either.  Nikon also changed the format of the videos too.  Video is now captured in .MOV format vice the .AVI format of the D-Movie mode cameras.  Very nice touch.  The dedicated video record button will also be helpful when shooting video.  For someone like me who’s starting to really get into shooting video, the D7000 is a huge improvement on the video features available on the D90, D5000, D300s and D3s.  I’m really excited about it!

CONS

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It wouldn’t be fair for me to write about all the things I like so far about the D7000 and leave out the things that I don’t like.  I am not a fan of the new battery – the EN-EL15.  Yes, it’s a technology improvement but it makes all the current models that used the EN-EL3e battery (D80, D90, D200, D300, D300s, D700) obsolete.  If I wanted to use the D7000 as a primary camera body and one of the older bodies as a backup, I would have to carry separate batteries and separate chargers.  I’m not a fan of carrying gear that I don’t need to be carrying.  On the upside, I think that Nikon’s future bodies (D400 and whatever else they release) will use this new style battery.  The D4 will likely use a battery similar to the one that is in the D3/s, but I think it will get an upgrade too.

I would also have liked to see Nikon add 7 or 9 frame exposure bracketing to the D7000.  But alas, I guess you can’t have it all.  If I really want those extra brackets I can shoot them manually if I have the time for the particular shot that I’m making.  That feature will mainly appeal to those who wish to shoot HDR images, but even if you’re not shooting HDR it can still be useful.

I’m also not a fan that there is a new battery grip, but with a new battery it was going to happen regardless.  It’s another accessory that would have to be purchased to maintain my current configuration.  However, even if I upgraded to a D300s or a D700 I would be in the same boat.

What Does This Mean to You (or me)?

If you’ve known me for any length of time, you know that I’m not a gear head.  I like to review gear that I buy and use and try new things, but I don’t believe that great gear makes great pictures.  All great gear does is make our job of making pictures a little easier.  So don’t think for one second that going out and buying this new camera is going to have a dramatic impact on the quality of your images.  Think of it from the perspective of buying a better tool that will make your job easier.  Will I upgrade?  I’m not sure yet.  I’m perfectly content with my D90 and even if I did sell it, I would probably get $800.00 at best for the camera, the MB-D80 grip, and the batteries and charger.  (I even still have the box!)  So then I’m spending another $400.00 for the new D7000 and probably $250.00 for the new grip.  Are the new tools going to make that much of a difference to justify the expense at this point?  Likely not.

With it’s high ISO performance, I think you will see a lot of wedding shooters forgo the D700 for this camera though.  It’s got everything they need and nothing that they don’t.  Especially if they are beginning to shoot video for their weddings too.  Portrait photographers, photojournalists, and maybe even some sports photographers will find this camera useful due to it’s greater durability, 1.5x crop factor, and 6 fps shooting speed.  Overall, I’m happy to see my camera manufacturer of choice stepping up their game and putting out such a great piece of gear.  And you can bet that if I get my hands on one, I’ll be reviewing it here on the blog.

That’s it for today ladies and gents.  I appreciate you coming along and hearing me out on my thoughts of the new D7000 from Nikon.  If you’re going to be in the San Diego area on October 2nd, 2010 (or know someone who is), don’t forget that I’m teaching my Portrait Photography Workshop that day.  Come out and learn about portrait photography, lighting, workflow, and more.  Here’s the link for more information and to register! Have a great day and happy shooting!

Style and Photographic Simplicity

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Alright, today’s post is completely a rant but I think it’s a very relevant one.  Lately there has been lots of talk about vision and style on the interwebs, both of which are excellent subjects that are very important to photography.  But what’s bothering me is that I think there are a lot of folks (especially newer photographers) that get caught up in what they think is style, but actually isn’t.

Photoshop and Actions
Photographic style is so much more than a way that you process a photo in Photoshop or run a particular Action.  Those two have nothing to do with style.  As my fellow photographer Don Giannatti said, “If you’re buying [Photoshop] Actions, you’re buying a ‘look’ in a box.”  He couldn’t be more right.

People go on Flickr and they chase around the latest trend or current lighting technique or processing style and then set out to emulate it.  While that’s a good way to learn how to do something, it’s not something you want to put in your book.  In the technical age that we live in, there are plenty of smart folks out there who can pick up technique quickly.  Again, it’s a very good ability to have in order to learn.

There are even particular photographers whose work has been aped more than I care to talk about.  Everyone wanted to make their work look like his or hers because it was what was really hot at the moment.  (The operative word there being ‘moment’.)

There is so much work out there that is so heavily processed (and often by someone else other than the photographer) that by the time the image is finished, they can barely call the work their own.  Some commercial photographers take the shot and then don’t touch the image again.  Some don’t set up their own lighting.  Hmmm….

Getting Back to Basics
So whatever happened to the simple, well-lit portrait?  You know, with the kind of soft light you would find from a North-facing window.  It’s the kind of light that people crave and a lot of photographers covet.  It’s soft, pleasing, and really makes your subject look their best.  Where are the portraits that draw out emotion in the viewer?  And I’m not talking about the “hey that lighting looks badass” kind of emotion either.  If you look at some of the work of photographic masters like Richard Avedon or Annie Leibovitz you’ll see those kind of portraits.  If you have no idea who I’m talking about, you need to head to the library and do some studying!

My Own Style
I’m really drawn to portraits – it’s a large part of why I love to photograph people.  I like to shoot other subjects for fun, but people are it for me.  I enjoy the interaction and bringing out personality in my subject.  It’s what makes me tick as a photographer.

As far as my own lighting, you will typically find me putting one light into a 60″ shoot through (sometimes reflective) umbrella.  I will also use a 24″x24″ softbox, but it’s almost always one light on my subject.  One of the reasons that I think I prefer to shoot this way is because I don’t really pay attention to the gear.  I really just need a camera, a subject, and good light.  I love light.

Is my own style complete?  Ha!  Hardly.  I’m still working on it every. single. day.  My goal is cohesiveness and consistency in my work and it can become awfully hard to repeat something perfectly every time you press the shutter release.  Nonetheless, that’s what I’m after.

Rant Over

Thanks for joining me on my little rant, and please feel free to leave comments and thoughts below.  Constructive comments are always welcome.  SPAM and other BS won’t be tolerated.

Also, don’t forget that The DSLR Workshop kicks off on October 1st and you can follow the show on Facebook and Twitter, as well as subscribe to the podcast in iTunes as well.  It’s a free photography show to teach folks how to use DSLR cameras and make better pictures.  Join us, won’t you?

I hope you’re week is going well!  Get out and shoot!

Friday Photography Roundup

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For today’s Friday Photography Roundup, I wanted to point you in the direction of a photographer who’s work I really like a lot.  It’s simple and clean and provides quite a bit of inspiration.  The photographer is no other than Robert Wright.  He’s got a really great portfolio book that you have to check out! (Here’s the link)  I’m sure you’ll find his work just as inspiring and refreshing as I did.

As we head into the weekend, I hope you get a chance to get out and shoot a bit.  I’m off to Phoenix, AZ for the weekend to shoot some portraits and also visit some family while I’m there.  I hope you guys have a great weekend and don’t forget that my San Diego Portrait Photography workshop is coming up on October 2nd and The DSLR Workshop launches on October 1st!

Have a great weekend!  🙂

Anatomy of the Sales Call (Part 4 of 4)

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We’ve made it through parts 1 – 3 so far, and now it’s time for my favorite part of sales – closing.  I’m going to talk a little about when, how, and why to close.  Anyone who’s ever been involved in sales has likely seen the movie: “Glenngary Glenn Ross”.  It’s a classic for sales junkies.  In the movie, Alec Baldwin has a line: “Put that coffee down!  Coffee is for Closers!” So if you wanna drink the coffee, you gotta close!

Closing
This is the part of sales that’s otherwise known as “sealing the deal”.  The purpose of closing is to complete the sales call.  This could mean that your customer purchases your products or services or it could simply mean that you have agreed to move ahead to the next step in the process.  If you’re a wedding photographer, it could mean that your customer has agreed to an engagement shoot prior to committing to booking you for their wedding.  That’s just an example, but not a way that I would personally go about doing business.

Know When to Close
It’s important to know when to begin closing as you don’t want to close to early or wait too long to close.  One of the easiest ways to do this is to look for buying signals from the customer.  Buying signals are indications in statements of the customer that they want to buy your product or service.

Here’s some examples:

  • “So exactly what would you be shooting on the day of our wedding?”
  • “Do you offer any other print products besides regular photo prints?”
  • “I really like your work and I can almost see myself if your photos!”

Those are a few things that you might hear your customer say that indicate that he or she is ready to buy from you.  At that point, the supporting stops and you move to close.

How to Close
This is the part that excites me the most about sales because this is the moment of truth of your entire sales call and is a testament to how good of a job you have done this far in the sale.  In order to close, all you have to do is ask for the sale.  What do I mean by that?

Let’s say that I have been discussing shooting an annual report for a corporate client and we have talked about what her company needs for her report and I have shown how I can meet those needs.  When my customer has indicated that she is ready to buy, I would simply say something like:

“We have discussed the headshots and environmental portraits that you require for your report and how and when I’ll be able to have those ready for you.  So what I would like to do now is take a look at your calendar and mine and find a time to book the headshots in the studio and the location shots at your company’s building so that we can get your images started for your annual report.  How does that sound?”

Did you notice how I asked for the sale by asking the customer to commit to booking the shoots?  That’s not so bad, right?  It doesn’t seem so, but there are a lot of people who are afraid to close – afraid to ask for the sale.  If you can’t do that, you’re probably not going to do well in any job that involves sales.

What Next?
There are couple of caveats to closing and I would be doing you a disservice if I left them out.  Sometimes customers have concerns that you need to address.  Other times they may just be indifferent and not ready to buy right now.  In order to make the sale, you have to overcome them.

There are three types of concerns: skepticism, misunderstandings, and drawbacks. Skepticism is pretty straightforward.  It simply means that a customer isn’t completely sure of what you’re telling them.  In other words, they aren’t positive that you can deliver what you say you can or that it will benefit them in the way that you described.  You can easily handle skepticism by showing the customer relevant proof of whatever they may be skeptical about.  Misunderstandings are also very easy to handle because they just mean that you and the customer didn’t have a clear, complete, mutual understanding of something that you discussed.  You can overcome a misunderstanding by confirming the customer’s need behind the concern and then support the need with relevant features and benefits.  Drawbacks, on the other hand, are the worst of the three concerns.  That means that one of your products or services doesn’t completely meet a need of the customer or it will cause some sort of sacrifice on their part.  Drawbacks are the toughest concern to overcome but can be countered by having the customer take a step back, look at the bigger picture, and review previously accepted benefits.

Indifferent customers are harder to handle and aren’t a lot of fun unless you enjoy a good challenge.  This is usually caused by the customer being disinterested in the product or service.  With the indifferent customer it’s important to acknowledge the customer’s point of view and try and uncover ways to improve their indifference with the product or service and present the consequences of leaving the situation unchanged.

Summary
Over the past four days, we have broken down the sales call and attempted to demystify it just a little bit.  By no means was this meant to be all-inclusive, but rather a look into some ways that you can improve your sales skills.  If you want to get really good at sales you just have to go out and do it.  There’s no magic script or secret recipe that will guarantee that you’ll close every single time.  You have to have some thick skin and be willing to accept that not everyone is going to buy from you.

If you enjoyed this little bit of business info, be sure to let me know in the comments.  If I don’t have the answer for what you’re looking for, I will certainly find someone who does.  Thanks for coming along and I’ll see you back here tomorrow for Friday’s Photography Roundup!

Anatomy of the Sales Call (Part 3 of 4)

Anatomy of the Sales Call (Part 3 of 4)

Welcome to Part 3 of this 4-part series on the Anatomy of the Sales Call.  I hope you’ve enjoyed the series thus far, as we’ve covered opening and probing.  From there, we’ll move on to Supporting today and talk about how you’re going to show the customer how you can meet their needs that you uncovered during the probing process.

Supporting
This is the second-most important part of the sales call.  Now, they’re all very important to the overall success of the call – but it’s critical that you discover the clients needs (probing) and then show them how you can meet their needs with your product or service.

The purpose of supporting is to demonstrate to your customer how you can meet their needs with relevant features and benefits.  To do this, you have to provide information to your customer that helps them make an informed buying decision.  You also have to know when is the best time and way to talk about your product/service or organization.  If the customer doesn’t feel confident that you can handle their needs, they will take their business elsewhere.  Even if you’re the best closer in the world, there’s no chance of you getting the sale if you don’t have the confidence of your client.

How Do I Know?
I’ve told you that you have to know when the optimal time to start supporting is and you’re probably hanging on the edge of your seat.  (Ok, maybe not.)  The time to start supporting is after you have uncovered and confirmed all of your customer’s needs.  Once you know what their needs are, you can start to discuss how you and your company can meet their needs with relevant features and benefits.  Notice that I keep going back to “relevant features and benefits”.

Relevance is King
It seems so elementary that you would only want to discuss how you can benefit your customers with something relevant to their needs.  The truth is, I’ve seen way too many salespeople start supporting with features and benefits that are nowhere near what their needs were.  It’s a quick way to lose a customer.  If you’ve got a customer that comes in for family portraits and says that they want to order lots of prints because they all kinds of frames in their home, you don’t want to try and sell them canvas gallery wraps.  You want to tell them about all the different types of prints, papers, and finishes that you offer in your prints.  Make sense?

Features vs. Benefits
Yes.  There. Is. A. Distinct. Difference.  Features simply tell the customer what your product or service does.  Benefits tell the customer what those products or services will do for them.  Human beings are all about the W. I. I. F. M. (pronounced “whif-em”).  It stands for: What’s In It For Me?  When you begin supporting, you need to remember to offer benefits over features and you’ll see your sales go up drastically because now you’re customer knows how what you sell or do will benefit them.

Full Support
Remember when I mentioned to take notes?  This is where it really comes into play.  If you wrote down all of your customers needs that you were able to uncover during your probing, now you know exactly what you need to support and you won’t miss one of their needs.  You have to show that you can support all of the needs that you uncovered in some way, shape, or form.  If you forget something, your customer could wind up feeling unimportant and take their business somewhere else.  Make sure that you are providing all the support possible.

So there’s part 3 of 4 covering the Anatomy of the Sales Call.  Tomorrow we will talk about the final (and my personal favorite) portion of sales – closing!  So come back and join us tomorrow for the last piece of the puzzle.  Thanks for joining me on this sales journey and I hope that this information has been helpful and informative!

Anatomy of the Sales Call (Part 2 of 4)

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Welcome to part two of a four-part series on the Anatomy of the Sales Call.  As I mentioned yesterday, it does one absolutely no good to get a customer in front of you if you don’t know what to do next.  Your sales skills need to be effective and genuine in order to convert that lead into a client that will continue to come back again and again.  Sure, the ‘Used Car Salesperson’ approach might get you the sale this time – but they’ll never be back again.  It’s much easier to market to the client that is familiar with you and has utilized your services than it is to market to and find new ones.

Probing (Part Two of Four)
The second part of the sales method I use is called probing.  In probing, you utilize open and closed questions to establish a clear, complete, and mutual understanding of the customer’s needs.  Now, this sounds fairly simple but it often isn’t quite so.  It is critical to uncover the circumstances that drive your customer’s needs in addition to simply knowing what their needs are.  This is so you can support the customer’s needs (and circumstances) with relevant features and benefits.  In some cases, there is even a need-behind-the-need that needs to be supported.  If you aren’t able to uncover all the needs of your customer it could end up costing you the sale. More on that later.

Open Probes
Open probes are a question that elicits an open and free response.  An example of an open probe could be, “You mentioned that you really would like to shoot your new ad campaign in the studio as opposed to on location.  Why is that important to you? Now think about how the customer would answer.  They would most likely explain why they want to shoot their ad campaign in the studio vice on location.  Open probes allow the salesperson to obtain more information from the customer as they reveal their needs.

Closed Probes
Closed probes are questions that elicit a Yes or No response.  They are extremely useful in confirming your understanding of the customer’s needs.  An example of a closed probe could be, “You would like to shoot your new ad campaign on a white seamless background and that is why you want to shoot in the studio.  Is that correct?”  At that point, the customer would answer with either ‘Yes’ or ‘No’.

Combining the Two
By using open and closed probes together, you can drive the sales call in the direction that you would like to go by striking an appropriate balance between the two.  Once you think you have uncovered a need, you can confirm the need as well as your understanding of the need.  After all of the customer’s needs have been uncovered it’s time to move on to show the customer how you can support those needs, which we will cover tomorrow.

A Note of Caution
If you only use open probes, you will never really get anywhere with the customer nor will you discover what their true needs are.  Use too many closed probes and your customer will feel like they are being interrogated and they will shut down on you.  Neither one of those situations is a good one to be in.

Helpful Tip
Have a pen and paper or something to take notes.  It serves two important purposes.  First, you won’t miss anything critical that your customer has to say in terms of their needs.  Second, it shows your customer that you sincerely care about them and that you’re interested in what they have to say.  Be sure and let them know that you’re taking notes about the discussion so that you don’t miss anything.  It will put them at ease.

Thanks for joining me on part two of this journey down the sales call path.  These posts are by no means intended to be all inclusive, as there are a lot of things that go into sales and the sales call itself.  I’m simply trying to explain the basics that you can have a good idea of how to conduct your sales calls so that you can convert more leads into sales.  And just like photography, if you want to get good at this stuff you have to practice, practice, practice.  I can’t stress how important that is.

Join me again tomorrow as we cover the next part of the sales call – Supporting!  I can’t promise that it will be fun, but it will be informative!  See you then!