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Techie Talk

Using Technology to “Make it Easy”

By | Jobs with PWP, PWP-ism, Techie Talk | No Comments

When a daydream or happy event captivates us, we’re said to have “our head in the clouds”… the reality is, unaware as we may be, clouds are always around us. Businesses send out memorandums via email, students type and save research papers on laptops, and families use internet sites like Facebook and Photobucket to keep up with children and friends in faraway places. Documents, contacts, and images are all things that can now exist solely in the cloud, a technology safehouse. When we can trust that our emails will be sent, our papers saved, and our images are stored, our minds can rest easy that our work and memories are safe.

Everyone has heard of and likely dabbled in the could by now, but many are still curious – how can a business run in the clouds? Where are the workers, the product, the interaction? Why even go there? How does the cloud solve problems?

Having a business in the cloud is not as difficult as it seems. In fact, that is what PWP Studio strives to do to not only save on the green, but to make it easy for employees and clients alike. Here is an overview of what I have done with PWP Studio-and why!

A little background first: in 2010,  I was running a ‘typical studio’ (one man show with a couple of part-time helpers – struggling to manage cashflow and processes), I cut my business in half by leaving weddings, and my largest corporate client made internal/leadership changes that eliminated half of my remaining corporate business! By January of 2011, we were in serious trouble!! I was rebuilding and numbers were headed in the right direction, but not quickly enough – I needed waaaay more!

I was half-buried in the ground – my head in the clouds of “what could be” – dreaming of a better life, but not too sure how to get there.

The challenges:

1. I needed an easier way to do business when out of the office traveling + shooting.

2. It had to be as easy as possible for partners and planners to secure my studio’s services – no faxes, scans, or paper to send back and forth.

3. I had to have immediate + significant + sustained growth to replace the wedding business I intentionally left behind and the corporate business I lost.

4. I needed the model to scale – handle the load if/when the business grew as fast as I needed and as big as I wanted!

I needed a totally new way of operating, but we were in a bad place; there are only so many hours in the day and I couldn’t do it all or know it all myself. Oh, and I was broke. I brainstormed ways to streamline processes, make booking and service easy and consistent, enable remote access to documents and images, and in the process – gain labor hours with as little investment as possible. Interns were not the answer; short term help would not work for long term goals and gains. Hiring locally and custom coded software solutions were not an option because there was little to no budget.

I pulled my head out of the sand and looked up, way up. I envisioned how my business would look and operate if it satisfied all my requirements. The answer kept popping up: it was cloud time…

Piece by piece and solution by solution, we began moving to the cloud. It started with using the Google apps suite for email and document management (spreadsheets, user manuals, and tasks) and ShootQ for studio management (online paperless contracts, invoicing, calendar, and CRM) to solve #1 and #2. With the improved internal and client-facing cloud-based solutions in place, it was time to find (cheap) help for #3 and #4. I used Odesk to find remote contractors to help manage these solutions and implement the next cloud-based solutions: Quickbooks Online for the bookkeeping piece, Manymoon for project management, FTP for large data transfer, and Evernote for idea capture.

The studio’s continued use of the cloud not only enables efficiency between offices, but has also enabled speedy delivery and turnaround time for clients. By utilizing FTP, we can transfer images captured in Las Vegas last night to the production in the Atlanta studio today. With solutions like Dropbox and ShootProof, we upload images for clients to have in just minutes. We elminated the wait for that delivery truck that may or may not arrive in 3 to 5 business days (twice), and can revise a contract while someone 1000 miles away is watching!

With efficient processes and great contractors, the ‘move to the clouds’ also positively impacted the our core challenges of growth and scalability. In 2011 we were 90% overseas and 10% stateside – paying an average of $3.00 per hour for our ‘back of the house’ labor for everything from contract-writing to retouching – while I invested every dime we saved to grow the business. These days it looks much different – 75% stateside and 25% overseas with everyone making a fair wage. Our internal team ranges from its base in Atlanta to Philadelphia to the Philippines; more is getting done faster with lower overhead – which means I can afford to do less of the busy work and more development.

I have always endeavored to find better, easier, and faster ways for my business WHILE being more of a planning asset to my partners. We have to make it easy because our target clients are always on the go – with lists of tasks a mile long for each program they are planning. We provide the easiest booking, the easiest delivery, and extremely consistent and reliable service.

The results speak volumes: PWP photographers captured more than 300 events in 2013 versus 70 in 2010 – with a 99.8% “arrive on time” rate and a 98% “deliver images on time” rate, and I can make that happen from a shoot in spain… or a beach chair in Panama City 😉 We’ve become an incredible work force that proudly stands on the promise, “the only thing better than our images is our service.

I hope this post helps you in some way – understand who we are, how to tackle challenges in your own business, or just gain a glimmer of hope when ‘all seems lost’ because we have been there! There IS a happy ending when you start daydreaming in the clouds!!

It’s 2013: What is your time worth?

By | Event Industry, PWP-ism, Techie Talk | 2 Comments

I’ve been talking to a lot of meeting planners lately – because that is what I do – and it is funny how many DON’T have New Year’s resolutions! I mean, c’mon, how will anyone get anything done in this business without planning?

I digress.

A frequent theme for New Year’s resolutions that seems to come up quite a bit in my conversations with events industry professionals is time management: working less, working more efficiently, getting more things done, focusing, and the list goes on and on. The bottom line is: people in the event industry have a lot to do on a day-to-day basis, and are constantly looking to find ways to get more done and get back to LIVING! Well, I get it too – I am secretly working on cloning myself – moo-whah-hahhhh!!!!

One of the ways you can guard your time is to start doing business with other industry professionals who respect their own. When someone is doing ‘good business’ consistently it shows, whether it be by organizing themselves, replying to correspondence promptly, or updating their technology and systems to keep up with today’s tools.

This is where we come in. Our entire brand/business/identity is set up for people in the events industry with 1 million things to do and limited time. Sound familiar? So, instead of trying to create a photography studio that offers some sort of unique whizbang technology solution, or claims to be the best at a myriad of different services – we set ours up to be easy and efficient. Period.

We believe we are the best (after 20 years in the industry and multiple awards – I better be!!), but our focus is on being the most efficient. Our booking process is quick and easy (and all online!), and our contracts can be completely executed in an office or on the road while traveling. In fact, the average time our clients spend dealing with us and all of the details of the photography for their events is usually less than 30 minutes!

Stop and think about that for a second – and the experience you may be having with your current vendor(s). A total of 30 minutes of your time will cover all aspects of booking photography for your event or your client: initial contact, discovery conversation, contracting, invoicing, AND deliverables! No faxing. No printing. No email follow-ups. No jumping through hoops. Everything is smooth, efficient, online, and accessible from anywhere – because we designed it to be quick and easy.

Rarely do our clients have to call or email us to check up on things because we follow-up on the front end and we keep a tight schedule on the post-production. You get what you need from us before it occurs to you to follow up! Even in our peak of peak times, our image delivery might get stretched to four business days (normally three business days for every event we capture!) Can your photographer consistently maintain a three or four day delivery schedule? Based on what we have seen of our industry peers, we hear that window for other photographers approach two to three weeks on a very frequent basis. When you think about it, imagine the delivery delay and how it affects your personal time – that means a lot of back and forth emailing between you, your client and the photographer about the images, repackaging the images for your client, and not to mention all the waiting for replies. What if all that craziness went away?

Here’s another thing you may not know: “we” is actually a we – not just a “me” saying “we” to seem bigger and better than one person can be! Our business is not a one-man operation. We actually have a studio manager, a graphic designer, and an image production manager – that means things are getting done and emails are getting answered even when “the photographer” is traveling for a shoot or buried in shoots in peak season!

All in all, if you have read this entire piece, it is clear that saving time appeals to you. Let us help you with your next event and see how easy it can really be. Our rates may not be as cheap as your current provider, but I bet our team can consistently do it better! Not to mention this little ditty, what is YOUR time worth??

 

You Are Not A Photographer.

By | Personal Favorites, Techie Talk, Uncategorized | No Comments

One of the great things about technology (other than it helping us run our studio more effectively) is how accessible photography is to the general public: any average person can pick up a digital camera at their local electronics shop, snap a few photos and upload them online to share with the world.  However, this has created a culture wherein everybody thinks they are a professional photographer! Now, we LOVE sharing our knowledge and talking shop with other folks in the photography industry, whether they’re complete newbies or seasoned pros. And we’ve been known to hire and help total beginners– that’s how you learn! But we’d be lying if we said we never snicker and cackle at the expense of  certain wannabes. Hear us out!

We recently stumbled across a hilarious website called You Are Not A Photographer. They troll the internet (especially Facebook) for photos posted by folks who are charging money for their photography services, but lack some of the very basic skills (or basic gear…you know, like an SLR camera?) of the art!! These photos are re-posted (anonymously) for your amusement. So are we sharing this website just so that we can all point and laugh at the Fauxtographers? Not exactly. There is some truly legitimate advice, and lots of lessons to be learned from these photos. Pursuing your lifelong (or maybe week-long?) dream of making money from taking pictures is not a decision that should be taken lightly. It certainly shouldn’t be as easy as registering for an Official Fauxtographer’s Facebook Page. In fact, you should take all of the same considerations that you would take with any independent business. What product are you selling? What is it’s worth? Does your pricing accurately reflect your offering? Do you have any professional experience in this field? Is your business a worthy competitor for others in the same category? When starting up a business, it is a good idea to take a long, hard, critical look at yourself…because Chances Are You Suck.

(This is Patrick’s setup for his son’s first day of school. Kid you not. Pun intended.)

Photojournalist Kenneth Jarecke who indeed, does not suck, wrote this very insightful article about social media and the culture of praise that creates Fauxtographers. Although these budding businesspeople may have a lot of strengths, it is their inability to examine (and improve!) their weaknesses that will stop them from becoming Real Photographers. Jarecke makes an excellent point: “If nothing is bad, can anything be good?”

Now, after checking out You Are Not a Photographer, and hearing that Chances Are You Suck…you’re probably a little paranoid. Am I (or someone I know) a Fauxtographer!? Here’s a link to a few questions to ask yourself, and some advice on How Not to be a Fauxtog. Some other things to add on to that list:

  • Educate yourself! Whether you take classes, read books, watch tutorials online, or ask good photographers great questions, you always have the opportunity to learn more about the craft of photography. And with technology improving and changing everyday, even the old school (shooting with film, developing in a darkroom) can learn from the new (culling techniques, digital post-production).
  • Work! You are not above volunteering, assisting, or second-shooting. This puts you in a prime position to learn from folks who have been doing this for years. In fact, our own Patrick was recently a second for a shoot in London. It’s fun, it’s low stress, and a great way to get even better at what you do.
  • Be Prepared! Know where you’re going, what you’re doing, what you’ll have available to you when you get there. Although you won’t always have a perfect photoshoot condition (in fact, it’s likely you won’t) you need to be able to handle yourself. You may have seen the recent scandal over some poorly posed and lit Olympics pictures. Now, the photographer claims that it wasn’t an ideal situation– but as a professional, you need to be prepared for that.
  • Listen! Though praise and admiration will make you feel great, some good ole fashioned critiquing can make you BE great. There are undoubtedly people in your life willing to tell you the cold, hard truth about your work and what you can do to improve it. In fact, the PWP crew is known to be brutally honest with each other…we can be brutally honest with you, too!
  • Practice! You need to be consistent. If someone hires you based on a portfolio of images you’ve shown them, you need to be absolutely sure that’s what you can deliver. If you are poor at posing people, get a friend and help them get comfortable in front of the camera. If you aren’t so great at extreme lighting situations, visit a dark museum or a bright garden and mess around with your settings. And if you’ve never taken pictures at a live event before, well…get out there and do it! Don’t wait until you have a check in hand before you realize you’re in over your head.

(This is what Patrick brings as carry-on on the plane when flying to an on-location shoot. We won’t talk about the 2-3 other suitcases he checks.)

 

If you, or someone you know, might be in danger of being a Fauxtographer, please share this blog post on Facebook, Twitter, or your social network of choice.

In all seriousness, everyone with the interest and the passion has the ability to become a good photographer. It’s a lifelong learning process, and we’re grateful to those that shared their knowledge with us, and proud to pass it on.

 

Need more advice? Check out our article on How to Choose a Wedding Photographer. Want more snarky photography industry humor? Why We Don’t Do Weddings.

 

 

“Today I’m doin’ business like it’s 19-9-9.” Err, not.

By | Event Industry, Green Things, PWP-ism, Techie Talk | No Comments

Yesterday morning, it hit me like a brick wall just how much of a tangible impact being a cloud-based work environment has had on my studio, and I wanted to share. I started typing this in Facebook and 30 minutes later…I guess I had more to share than I thought – it evolved into much more than just a blurb!

Here at PWP Studio, providing fantastic images is the baseline we build on – not the sum total of our goal. Internally, we talk a lot about doing better business via green practices, the global workplace, and technology; leveraging those pieces to increase our line of products and level of service. We fly in the cloud. We recycle. We directly hire wonderful people stateside AND overseas – our 10 employees are equally split here and there. We are constantly evaluating new technology in and outside the scope of photography!

With all of those areas of exploration, nothing seems to be more relevant in our current super-competitive small business environment than cloud-based technology. I have been sitting here [in pajamas] at my desk in Atlanta transcribing interview notes for a production manager candidate I interviewed via Skype – a candidate whom will be managing gigabytes of data on a daily basis and likely not have to ‘come to work’ more than once a month. These interview notes can be viewed by my studio manager *as I type them* – did I mention she’s in UK for a friend’s wedding? Meanwhile, at this same moment there is a PWP employee in Manila creating a contract in our booking system that a prospective client in Cali will have access to view and sign on her mobile phone 30 seconds after it is ready. Finally, RIGHT NOW there is a PWP photographer shooting an event in Seattle with a shot list on his phone I can modify while he captures the keynote.

This is all possible because of cloud-based apps like Google Apps, Quickbooks Online, ShootQ, GQueues, Dropbox, Skype, and Evernote – and those apps have allowed us to grow, thrive, and overcome some pretty significant obstacles (we will call those obstacles “2009-2011”!)

Although much bigger than you probably thought, my business is still just a small business. We embrace technology like a big business. We embrace a global workforce like a big business. We do this to serve our clients better than is expected from a small business – because every single one of our clients is important to our survival!

Are YOU taking advantage of what technology can do for your business?? If not, what is it costing you in lost revenue, unnecessary workplace overhead, training, faxing, etc.? Never mind lost revenue – how much of your LIFE is being wasted on inefficiency? Get onboard, leave the 90’s and join me here in 2012!!

If you are a fan of the “how it looks”, but are curious (or even a bit scared) about the “how to get there” in all of this, call me. I can be available to directly help you accomplish your goals, or even speak to your colleagues or group.

Camera Buying Guides for ALL the Santas Out There!

By | Personal Favorites, PWP-ism, Techie Talk | No Comments

Frequently throughout the year – and especially here around the Holidays – friends, business partners, family, and even complete strangers ask us over here at the studio what kind of cameras we recommend. Where I can discuss and debate the subtle nuances between the $5000 Nikon D3 and the $3000 Nikon D700 all day long – because we use those models every day – I really don’t have a clue what is going on with consumer-targeted [entry level] cameras!

The conversation usually goes something like this…

“I love the D700; it is the most portable of the cameras I use, has an amazing sensor for low-light shooting, fast autofocus, and uses FX lenses.”

“How much is it?”

“The body is $2500 and you can usually get it is a bundled kit for around $3000.”

*Gasp* + silence is generally what I hear the other end of the line… (don’t worry, it’s me not you 😉

After the silence breaks, there is a moment of sharing to follow, “My budget runs between $500 and $1000 for the camera, the memory card, and accessories.”

I reciprocate the sharing, “I am happy to help and certain there are some wonderful cameras in that category, but I don’t even know what the model numbers are…”

Once the sharing is complete and everybody knows my ignorance about their need, the conversation almost always shifts to the topic of whether I would recommend they purchase an entry-level DSLR (digital SLR camera with removable lenses) or a point-and-shoot (uh, point it and shoot).

The bad news: I travel with 150 pounds worth of gear at almost all times, so OF COURSE I am going to recommend top-of-the-line point-and-shoot!
The good news: it is totally a personal decision you have to make, and if you like the way it feels in your hand and you can see yourself toting it on vacation, you probably won’t regret your decision one way or the other.
The REALLY good news: most of the major manufacturers have just recently come out with a MILC; a hybrid type of ultrasmall point and shoot camera with an interchangeable lens system!

Technology… isn’t she beautiful?

In the spirit of being helpful on a subject I know nothing about, I thought I would share a couple of links that came my way just today. I am on the e-mail list for Adorama – camera and technology shop out of New York. They are a very reputable retailer online, and really do a good job of evaluating equipment when it comes out. They provided a great “buying guide” list in their recent e-mail blast, and I’m posting a few of those links here. Reading through all of their information you should gain a great understanding of the differences between the point-and-shoot, DSLR, and the new MILC (Mirrorless Interchangeable-Len Compact) cameras and models. Using the DP Review link below, you can probably find more reviews than you could ever want!

Adorama’s Buying Guide Home Page – look about halfway down the page in the left margin for the buying guide links:
http://goo.gl/d1TjZ

DP Review – a great resource for camera reviews from other users just like you:
www.dpreview.com

Are you the kind of person who likes to buy your equipment in person from a brick and mortar store with real people? I am, and Showcase (in Atlanta) is a local photo store where I buy all of my gear:
www.ShowcaseInc.com

I hope this helps the Santa in you!!

Techie Talk – The Nikon Flash System’s Secret Weapon

By | PWP-ism, Techie Talk

I don’t often post technical help articles here on the blog, but I took the time to type this to one of my fantastic photographers – and thought maybe just maybe one of you fine folks out there in the interwebbiesphere might enjoy reading it as well…

Aperture automatic is Nikon’s secret weapon that makes its flash system superior to Canon’s (IMHO)!

With TTL the camera takes a meter reading of light reflecting off of the subject to gauge how much light is needed from the flash. When you are shooting a subject that is dressed in all black, that black will soak up a lot of light thus sending back an incorrect reading to the camera. The result: too much light is provided by the flash and the face/skin tones in the frame are over exposed. Similarly, when the subject is dressed in all white (highly reflective), the camera receives back too much light and shuts down the flash prematurely leaving the frame overall underexposed.

With aperture automatic (noted by “A” or “AA” flash mode), the flash puts out a standard amount of light based on the focus (distance to the subject), the ISO, and the aperture – no matter what kind of light reading comes off of the subject. That means it does not matter what the predominant color of the subject happens to be – the flash will be consistent and automatically changed when those three variables are modified on the camera.

Aperture automatic is the step in between manual and TTL – it takes be often incorrect “thinking” out of the camera and eliminates that variance.

When I shoot with gels on my flash, I will