Culling and post-processing your first photo shoot – Your First Customer Series, Part 8

by Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor on February 17, 2010

in This is Art,This is Business

(Click here to visit the summary post for the Your First Customer Series!)

The hardest part is truly over.

You’ve booked your first client, gone through a well-prepared and methodically-conducted photo shoot with them, and now you’ve got a few hundred images that you need to turn into a sales presentation.

Here’s where you get to admire your work and start making notes on likes and dislikes and what-to-do’s and what-not-to-do’s for next time and what to practice before your next shoot.

Assuming you’ve backed up your images to a second or external hard drive (I’m partial to Iomega and Seagate options myself), let’s start culling the shoot down to a digestible set of your most salable images and then give them some Photoshop love.

Culling your shoot

This is going to be painful. Gird yourself.

No matter how many photos you took during your shoot, no matter how many subtle nuances captured, no matter the number of seemingly equal variations, we’ve got to cull your shoot down to the very best.

How many? The number 50 has always been a good fit for me. If you primarily push large wall prints, a smaller and more purposeful set may be appropriate. For those of us in the digital age, selling digital files, 50 gives your client a good set to choose from. You’ll hope that your client asks “How much for all of them?” or that your client will cull your set down by half to around 25 and buy that many. If they buy less, they are usually on a strict budget and weren’t going to buy more anyway.

Nothing wrong with that at all – some clients buy more, some less, and 95% of the time you’ll more than have your time well paid for. When you don’t, you still gained experience and additions to your portfolio.

The best way to go about culling is to do an initial run and pick all your potential keepers. If you shot 400 images, by the time you toss all the bad expressions, half-closed zombie eyes, unflattering outtakes, and of course, utterly crap and/or out-of-focus images, you will end up with around 100 shots to concern yourself with.

Here’s where we take up the sage advice of two great thinkers of modern times, Steve Krug and Blaise Pascal:

“Get rid of half the text on your page, then get rid of half of what’s left.” – Steve Krug, Don’t Make Me Think

“I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.” – Blaise Pascal, Lettres provinciales

The point being, of course, that your first edit should not be your last.

If you don’t cull your shoot down to the very best, you’ll get two results:

A) Your client will be overwhelmed with so many photos to choose from and you’ll just end up wasting your time and theirs trying to whittle down their selection. You will likely frustrate and exhaust them in the process; and,

B) You will include too many “meh” photos, too many fair-to-middlin’ shots, and your client will be less impressed with your work. I shoot often with a fellow sports photog, very talented, whom I have long criticized (to his face, so I can talk smack here) for posting sooooo many images online. Backs of heads, no action, bad expressions… I tell him, “John Doe, you take some really good shots, but nobody’s going to wade through your 400 mediocre images to find your 40 real keepers.”

Fifty. 50. That’s the number to aim for.

Don’t kill yourself to get there, and have confidence in your artistic impression. If you feel you’ve got 80 really good shots and variations, show’em. If you feel you only have 25, then show only those. Give yourself some credit for knowing your art.

Many photogs will tell you that 50 is a loose cull, that you should get it close to 20 to show. I’ve found with portraiture, often my clients will go gaga over images that I wouldn’t have shown if I went with a tighter cull.

There’s art I shoot for myself and there’s certainly art that I shoot just for my clients; my art creates my style, but always, you want to balance style with salability. There’s something to be said for old standbys that sell every time.

If you’re having trouble finding 25-50 good images from your shoot, don’t stress – you’re early on in your transition to being a paid part time professional photographer, so give yourself some leeway. Try to find at least 20-25 images and let the client choose what they feel is worth trading their money for. Maybe they’ll drop $20 with you – just maybe they’ll drop $200. Some clients will spend as much on one big print of one favorite image as others may spend buying 20 digital files. Never underestimate your art or your clients. Give them the power of choice and get out of their way. Let’em buy what they love.

Post-processing

During your initial run of post-processing on the images you’ll present to your client, you want to stick to the 80-20 rule: 80% of the results from 20% of the effort.

You want to make your images look as nice as possible in the smallest amount of time. You don’t know what your client might buy, but you want to make a nice presentation so they are more inclined to purchase. Here, in the endless exploration that is Photoshop or your chosen equivalent, is where you can waste as much time as any marathon Facebook or MySpace session.

Don’t do it. Get in, make the proofs pop, and get out.

When I prep files for client proofing, I load them into Camera Raw in Photoshop CS4 (adjust my instructions to fit your digital darkroom of choice) and make universal adjustments to the entire shoot. I adjust white balance, brighten to taste, add a bit of contrast, bump the vibrancy, add a vignette if it’s warranted, and add as much fill light as I want to pull detail from the shadows.

I then quickly go image-by-image and fine-tune those changes I made universally to best fit that image. Sometimes I’ll grab a group of images, such as a set shot in shade, a set shot indoors, etc., and edit them together before making image-by-image adjustments.

What you adjust and where you take your image artistically is your call; it’s your art to create.

What you do in camera is only half the battle; what you do in post is almost as important as nailing the shot in the first place.

You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, but showing your decent-and-better images some Photoshop love (without going hog wild…ha!) will only multiply their impressiveness and salability.

Once you’ve given each image a few seconds of attention in post, go back through and pick a handful (3-5) of your very favorites to do some extra post work on and add black-and-white versions of these. Use your spot healing brush to clean up blemishes and lines, soften skin, even out skin tones, dodge and burn to make the image pop where it should, then save a color version and black-and-white copy.

These will be your marquee images that really ring with clients during your sales session. Even if a client doesn’t buy one, they will see what you’re capable of doing with their favorite picks.

I’ll go into further detail on post-processing ideas and techniques in future articles; for now, just do what you know, do your best, and make those photos look nice. Just like learning to take great portraits in camera, learning to do good post work will take time and practice. Enjoy the fact that you’re getting paid all the while!

Take notes on what to improve

Want to multiply the rate at which you improve as an artist? As I mentioned in my Your First Photo Shoot article, taking notes on what you like and don’t like from your shoot will give you some real guidelines for how to improve your work.

When you’re done culling and post processing your shoot, make another pass through the images with notepad (physical or digital) in hand and write down another set of notes:

  • What are your favorite images from the shoot? Why? Go into detail, explore your own artistic vision and preferences. Be verbose. You want to identify what to repeat next time.
  • What are your least favorite images? Why? Be detailed here also. Is it the background? Lighting? Expression? Pose? Moment? Weather? Angle? Aperture?
  • With this in mind, what are you going to do on your next shoot to create more favorites and fewer least favorites?
  • What images do you think your client will love and buy? Do they differ from your own favorites as the photographer? Why? How can you balance the two styles? Step outside your own biased perspective and look at the images as a parent, senior, or bride.
  • What resources (books, magazines, web sites, tutorials, forums, practice) can you draw on between now and your next shoot to better your best shots and bring your worst up from the trash bin? Try to identify at least one area of your art to better your knowledge in before your next shoot. Define a path to improve your photography.
  • What will you do on your next shoot to create a better experience and better set of images for your client? This is a repeat from the last article, but worth doing again to both reinforce and introduce new ideas gained after post-processing.

In Part 9 of what is turning out to be a 10-part series, I’ll walk you through your first proofing and sales session. You’ll learn how to sell ethically and easily, letting your art and business policies do the hard work for you.

Next Steps

{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

Ginger March 26, 2010 at 12:59 pm

I was reading your encouragement to the guy wanting to be a wedding photographer and everyone was so negative.. It was refreshing to not have a no it all attitude when its obvious you know what your’e talkin about.

I have a quick question, I putting together a bid for a dance studio. I have a small studio, but I am doing this on location. I will be doing groups of dancers as well as singles. Groyps around 12 girls, not side by side but posed in stacks. Does that make sense..lol I have my own photo lingo…lol..I need to buy some equipment. What size backdrop stand do you recommend. Also lights. I really dont use lights in my studio, because I edited them to the look I want, but with this job I wont have enough time with each photo as with a family or senior.. Any suggestions? Thanks, Ginger

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor March 27, 2010 at 1:11 am

Thank you for your kind words and readership Ginger! I hope you get a lot of enjoyment from the site.

Dance studios, martial arts academies, daycare classes and similar are all great ways to break into the group/school/team and individual photo market. It also gives you some great face time with, and a natural introduction to, a new set of potential family clients.

Re: background stands and lights: when I do location T&I shoots that don’t offer their own nice background naturally, I’ll take my portable studio setup. This consists of a portable background stand (I use a cheap Interfit setup from Amazon), a 9-foot roll of seamless paper, some clips to keep the paper from unrolling itself, a couple of weights to keep the unrolled paper on the floor from curling up on itself, and one or two lights.

For lights I love AlienBees. My most basic setup is just two B800 strobes on stands, one with a big ol’ 5-foot rectangular softbox, one with a medium-sized umbrella. This gives me an easy way to do nice, attractive, soft light on one, a few, or many subjects. Depending on how much space you have to work with, you may have to shoot a wider than you want and crop or Photoshop out the edges of your studio setup for the big groups.

The last shoot of this kind I did was for a little girls’ athletic academy for cheer and dance. Around the same number of people you mentioned, including two coaches. I used this exact setup with white seamless and the parents were thrilled – said their girls looked like supermodels. Print and file sales weren’t amazing, honestly, but it was a great intro to all the parents whose girls I shot. Landed some good family shoots and repeat clients that proved the real lucrative result of the T&I shoot.

AlienBees might be a bit pricey if you only plan to use them once in a while. You might look at a bargain-priced set of strobes, a hotlight setup, or renting lights from a fellow photog for these shoots. You might even could get away with a single strobe, but you’ll have to get creative and artsy in your lighting to pull it off. Having that extra light does make it twice as easy to get good lookin’ photos.

Best of luck on your shoot! Feel free to ask any questions I didn’t answer, and let me know how the shoot turns out for you. I’m sure others in the same situation you’re in would love to read about your experience as well.

Thank you again!

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Hans September 29, 2010 at 3:59 am

Firstly,

Awesome work on the contributions, really gave us upcoming photographers that much of needed advice, otherwise not shared by others.

I enjoy reading such insightful tips, priceless mate.

Have a good one!

Hans Andersen

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor September 30, 2010 at 11:15 pm

Thank you so much Hans! So glad you’re benefiting from the site.

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Darby Sager May 6, 2011 at 12:32 am

James, what is T&I?
I was just wondering how much post processing to do and you answered it. Pick 4 or 5 best and do more post processing on them.
I was kind of beating myself up for some “mistakes” I made on this recent shoot but after reading this article and your questions on what I did right, what I’d change for next time, etc., I see all shoots as a learning experience and my art will just get better over time.
I second Ginger’s thanks on your positive, helpful attitude!

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor May 7, 2011 at 12:54 am

Hey there Darby! T&I is Team & Individual photography, the group and single shots of sports teams (mostly youth sports). Could also translate to school photography, daycare photography, membership directories, and so forth.

You’re entirely right Darby, every shoot is an opportunity to practice what you know, to do just a few specific things better than your last shoot, and try something new. You only get better each time, so each client always gets the best of you. It’s a win-win for all involved.

Thank you for your kind words! I truly appreciate your readership. Please do keep us posted on your adventures in professional photography!

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Daune, pronounced Dawn June 22, 2011 at 5:13 pm

Wow! I stumbled on your site while attempting to find help about naming my photography business and am amazed we’re so close in proximity…normally, when you read someone’s blog, etc., they’re a thousand miles away!
I live in San Antonio, but am originally from Buffalo, NY.
Right now I use Daune Smith Photography, but I don’t really dig being called ‘Duane’. That’s JUST not cool…
I wouldn’t say I know what the heck I’m doing, but I love photographing things and people. T
hings are beginning to open up and I’ve been asked to do different pix for people, so I want to get ‘serious’ about this thing! (And yes, I’ve been wracking my brain on a name…)
I really appreciate your advice. Looking forward to purusing more of your site.
Thanks so much.
daune, pronounced Dawn

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor June 23, 2011 at 3:22 pm

Hey there Daune, thank you for your kind words! And so awesome that you’re just a short ways away! We’ll definitely have to get together to shoot around and talk shop. :-)

I can see how the Daune-Duane thing could make things a bit hard. You could go with D. Smith Photography, or if you have a middle initial, D. X. Smith Photography. You could also get a DBA and use Dawn’s Photography, or a play off of Dawn in some creative fashion. Truly, the name of your business has a minuscule long-term effect on your brand – it’s just a name – so don’t sweat it, and just go with something that speaks to you. Try J.P. Winklebottom’s Philanthropic Photography – it’s all just fun and games. :-)

Without a doubt, not knowing what you’re doing is nothing to fear. Everyone starts there. Everyone can grow beyond it. And always, if you have people asking you to do photos for them and even offering you money to do so, you’re already creating a salable level of art. We artists are insatiable, we always are our harshest critics and we always see art that we love so much more than our own. But that’s how great artists become great artists – that need to improve with every shoot. It’s also how great businesses grow, as well – have as much a need to serve your clientele with a fantastic photography experience as you have a burning desire to better yourself as an artist.

You’ll reap great rewards in this adventure, financial, creative, and social. Enjoy – and thank you for your readership! Please do keep me posted on your decisions and how they turn out!

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Lotus Flower August 30, 2011 at 3:26 pm

Hi James, I have been reading your blog since yesterday after coming across it in another photo forum, and I am thoroughly amazed and refreshed to hear your perspective. I went through photo school, have heard plenty of grognard input (not all without merit), and bought into it myself up until fairly recently watching another small business (unrelated) develop in the family “against the grain”. I look forward to learning even more from this awesome resource!

RE: Daune’s naming conundrum . . . what if she changed the spelling of her name to “Daun” and use that as her professional name? The “dawn” pronunciation would be more apparent and less likely to read as “Duane”, and the unusual spelling will catch people’s eyes and make it more likely to stick in their minds— a sort of guerilla psychological marketing tactic.

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor September 4, 2011 at 5:20 pm

Thank you for your kind words! Great advice as well for Daune. :-)

Please keep me posted on your adventure into professional photography!

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Daune September 6, 2011 at 9:40 am

Thanks so much for your insight and encouragement!
Didn’t use my name at all. T.H.E. Images is what I went with.
Thanks again.

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor September 9, 2011 at 11:04 pm

THE Images, that sounds cool! Can’t wait to see how your brand your business now that you have a name to put on it!

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sheri January 29, 2012 at 11:47 pm

your site is amazing.. its everything i have been needing, asking, and hunting for over a year. where have u been????
no words to explain. im sure u hear it daily..
W O W .
THANKS for improving, empowering, and encouraging as well as teaching……
i cant get enough..
sheri

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor January 29, 2012 at 11:52 pm

Thank you so much for your kind words Sheri! I really enjoyed visiting your site this evening – what a fun mix of art in your portfolio, from sweet babies to rodeo! And plenty of lovely portraits between, your clients are blessed to have you to work with.

Please keep me posted on your successes and adventures! I’d love to hear how your art and business grow in 2012. Thank you for your readership!

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Katja July 21, 2012 at 10:52 am

Thank you for this website! Like most people here, Im just starting out and found your site by accident when researching business name ideas a few months back. Ive been coming here regularly ever since, and have learned so much! My sister is a photographer but she lives overseas and while Im sure she will eventually teach me a lot about the business, your articles are helping me get started so much faster.
I just finished my first shoot (and it was PAID!) and boy did I learn a lot. Luckily, I gave them a 50% discount that when I handed a disk with images that were horrible quality (who knew about exporting for gosh sakes) they didn’t even complain. My suggestions to anyone else out there, is that they really do a free shoot from beginning to end, including all those things like making a CD you think you know how to do. this is when you realize you haven’t made one in years and there are kinks all along!
So, now I actually feel like a photographer. The one problem is that I have very little (like almost zero) budget to keep it going. I would love to buy a better lens, reflector, actual photoshop software, props, a traveling studio, magnets for my car for advertising…. well, the list goes on. So my question is, where should I start when I can buy very little? What would be your absolute 1st purchase if you only had $100?
I also made collages for my clients using gimp (i know its pathetic) and was wondering how I should charge for those specialty products (one photo was the background, two smaller ones layered on top of it.) I did charge $15 for an 8×10 (half off my “normal” $30 price) but am not sure where to price things like that. Do you sell CDs on a disk, and if so, what do you charge for that? I set my price at $100, which I know is cheap, but I figured a great starting point.
Well, anyway, I wanted to thank you for helping me through my first real photo shoot! Im sure Ill have plenty of other posts and questions. Just wanted to tell you, you’ve helped someone else out. :)

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor August 12, 2012 at 5:48 pm

Congratulations on your first paid shoot, I’m so happy to hear of your successes!

When it comes to spending decisions, I almost always lean toward marketing instead of gear. Even a point-and-shoot or decent camera phone can make salable photographs in the hands of an attentive photographer – certainly better gear makes for better photos, but most photographers don’t struggle with their gear so much as they struggle with an understanding and masterful use of location lighting, backgrounds, posing and expressions, interacting with clients, and of course, marketing their services in their community.

If I had $100?

- I would set up a Facebook page for my photography business and post the best of my portfolio there, and set up a schedule for posting new photos and content to that page, probably once per day. (free)

- I would buy a web domain for my business and point it at a free photo blog I set up at Wordpress.com or similar free blogging service. I would update my photo blog once or twice weekly, with the emphasis of the site encouraging visitors to A) call or e-mail to book their shoot; B) sign up for my monthly e-mail newsletter chock full of fresh photo tips, links, contests and reader-only specials; and C) Like my page of Facebook (where I would also run tips, links, contests, and specials). (~$8 for the domain)

- I would visit MailChimp.com and set up my e-mail newsletter. (free)

- I would invest in a small run of business cards that encourage recipients to A) view my portfolio online, and B) Like my page on Facebook. ($10-$20)

- I would invest in one book on location portraiture and one book on small business marketing. ($15-$20)

- I’d fold the remaining $50 over and put it back in my pocket.

A new photography business will be successful based 98% on hustle and only %2 on everything else combined. You want to be doing free portfolio-building shoots, then inexpensive client-building shoots, then full-price, full-service shoots; you want to be practicing your art and perfecting your business skills through trial and error; you want to ‘fail forward’ as expeditiously as you can so you can grow past the awkward toddler and preteen phases of your business and into the exciting teen and robust adult phases; you want to be out shooting, taking photos, reading books on lighting and posing and marketing, and practicing Kaizen – little daily improvements to result in major gains over time; you want to be volunteering your services to local non-profits, donating shoot packages to silent auctions, being active in groups that are comprised of or serve your target market (kids, families, high school seniors, or whomever it is you wish to shoot); and so forth.

If you forced me to spend the remainder of that $100 bill, I might invest in:

- A small weekly ad in my community newspaper (my paper sells 1×1 ads for only $8 per week – a small price to get my web address in front of 7,000 people a week).

- A Google or Facebook ad campaign at the minimum monthly investment ($30 last time I ran one).

- A package of CD/DVD printable stick-on labels for client CDs, which will feature a great cover image from their shoot. ($15)

- A large piece of foam core board to use as a reflector. ($20)

In essence, my goal with any money I spend on my business (especially in the early stages) will be to help my business either reach new potential clients (advertising, exposure, marketing books), earn those clients’ business (good art, marketing, offers), provide my clients a better and more remark-able experience (custom CD labels), or provide my clients a better end product (good lenses, camera bodies, light modifiers, workshops, photography books, etc.).

When it comes to bodies and lenses, what you have is more than what you need at this point, most likely. Start where you are, start with what you have, invest in what will make you money (marketing), then use that money to invest the myriad things that can and will help improve your business and art. By the time you’re making hundreds of dollars with your work, you’ll have earned all the money you need to invest in a better gear.

To answer your other questions:

- For a collage, assuming you’re not doing a lot of fancy editing or borders, just charge your typical rate for the size of the image, but charge per image – so if a collage has four photos on it, all the same size or smaller than a 4×6, charge your 4×6 price per image. Always press the idea that the client is buying the art, not the paper it’s printed on.

- I do sell CDs of photos, both by the image or full sets – by the photo, I sell digital files, hi-res, fully processed for the same price as I sell my least expensive print; by the set, I sell sets of photos on CD for slightly more than my per-client average – that way I’m almost always guaranteed to make more money on the CD than I would have if I hadn’t offered it or overpriced it.

Thank you again for your comment and your readership! Please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures, and if there’s anything more I can do to help, please don’t hesitate to let me know!

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Katja September 12, 2012 at 11:02 am

Thanks again James!
I feel so much better after your comment. I do have a website, and a facebook page. I am planning on starting a blog too. I have gotten business cards too, luckily waiting a bit got me a buy one get one deal so I got 500 cards for $20 including shipping! Also, I did a free photo shoot, and got lots of positive responses on facebook and ended up doubling my “likes” in a week. Facebook claims I reached some 1700 users that week, lol. I just love that its free advertising at this point. Oh, and yes, I have CD labels from some 15 years ago. The software is beyond old, but I was able to find an online program to make some, and the clients have been pretty impressed that I used those.

I will put the foam core on my next shopping list too.

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Roseann March 12, 2013 at 2:19 am

This is the best advise I have ever read. Thank you again!

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor March 12, 2013 at 8:03 pm

Thank you ma’am! Keep up the great work!

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Ali September 8, 2012 at 1:54 am

Just wanted to say, I googled “culling” because I read it on another photographers site and had never heard the term before. Ended up stumbling upon your blog by complete accident and I have to say, I kind of feel like I hit the jackpot with this post and can’t wait to read more.

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Lisa February 24, 2013 at 2:01 pm

It takes me FOREVER to post-process photos. I think I do a good job at it, but it’s super time consuming. I know about actions and should set up a few more of my own. In part, it’s wanting each image to look perfect that sucks me down the rabbit hole and, before I know it, I’ve spent a WHOLE DAY editing one shoot. But mostly, I also try to create variety while shooting – dark, moody images, sun-washed, etc. So when I get to post-processing, I can’t just apply a few actions to everything and be done with it. How do you plan the post-processing BEFORE/WHILE photographing to make sure that you don’t set up more work for yourself?

While we’re at it, I’m driving myself mad figuring out whether to “crop in camera” (which I prefer) or to crop after (which I’ve wished I’d done sometimes b/c I crop tight and then have no room to reshape the photo to a ratio other than what I’ve already got 3:2). Sizes like 8×10 are very common, but I have to crop after shooting to get that. I seem to be spending too much time lately cropping after the fact. Ugh.

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor March 11, 2013 at 10:58 pm

Thank you for your comment Lisa!

Great questions, this is something I struggled with big time earlier in my career.

I definitely went through that perfectionist stage that I think many, many photogs go through. We want to impress, we want to create the best art we’re capable of, we want to get our images juuuust where we want them before we let them loose in the world. We invest so much of ourselves into our art, it’s hard to let it go with even a hair out of place. I’ve done the same thing – spent a full work day just processing one photo shoot.

Eventually you have to make a distinction between processing to sell and processing to impress – certainly the latter benefits the former, but a balance has to be achieved. Until you’re shooting multi-thousand-dollar clients on the boutique end of the industry, you just can’t afford to invest one hour into shooting and five into processing – you’ll kill your per-hour income for your work, and burn out because you’re not getting paid what your time is worth.

You know what? Let me take part of that back.

Part of my philosophy as a businessman and business mentor, is that only you know what your time is worth. If you want to do a $60 shoot and invest six hours between prep, shooting, post, sales and follow-up – that is wholly your business. I always at least encourage folks to walk away, after all expenses, with minimum wage in their pocket. I don’t care how bad your art is or how awkward the experience was for your client, you’re always at least worth as much as the teenager taking your order at the fast food joint (there is no shame in working for honest, if humble, pay – even as an artist).

And a part of maturing as a business owner and professional artist is to ever-improve that profit-per-hour number. The better your art, the more valuable your service, the easier it is to market yourself, the more bookings you’ll get, the more you deserve to be paid for your time. It’s a reasonable progression.

Some folks love shooting. Some folks love processing. Believe it or not, some folks love selling. All of us part time photographers are built differently.

I love efficiency – Paretto’s Law, the 80/20 rule, seeking the perfect balance that produces the greatest output from the perfect, usually minimal, input. So my initial advice is to seek that balance – where you’re doing the least post-processing required to get the best reaction and best sale from your client.

But that advice only applies in general – in being efficient – if you truly, truly love post-processing photos, then reevaluate. What is your time worth? What is your time worth if you love what you’re doing? Is your time investment into post-processing producing an equal return in the form of sales? Would you feel better if you better balanced the work versus the reward? Or would you feel worse for cutting yourself short in Photoshop?

Most photogs I visit with over-indulge in post processing because of an obsession with perfection – not because they love it so much they can’t think of anything else they’d rather be doing. Most have families, kids, spouses, significant others, hobbies, projects, household and life chores, and so on. They sit in front of their computer, fire up Photoshop, and then momentum and perfectionism takes over and hours later, they suddenly realize half the day is gone. Not really out of adoration for the work, but for their natural gravitation to get lost in it.

For these folks, I definitely preach efficiency to – almost to the minute, I’ve found that one hour of post processing for one hour of shooting gets you the most results for the least input. Now, this is working in an efficient program such as Camera Raw via Bridge or Lightroom. If you’re opening every image, one by one, and adjusting the white balance, brightness, shadows, contrast, vibrancy, etc… You’re doing it in the slowest manner possible. Unless you take a Zen-like joy in this level of meticulous work, I’d suggest trying new ways to get more work done in less time.

To get off my soap box and actually answer your questions:

For planning processing before/while shooting, I just try to take good photos – and that’s a pretty broad spectrum of possible factors. The bright blue trash cans at my city park are my sworn enemy. I have learned to spot the buggers in the background of my shots while I’m shooting, so I can reframe, or move the blasted trash can. It’s a hundred perceptions and decisions like this that leave you with more or less work in post. Clean background, great light and color, attentive prep and posing of the client, and perfect exposures leave you with very little to do in post. Creating such a scene – much less carving it from nature on location shoots – is no small task. The vision and knowledge to do so comes with good old fashioned practice. Focus on improving a little bit, every single shoot, and you’ll get there.

For cropping in camera, I sell almost exclusively digital files, so I don’t have to worry about the good old 8×10 crop factor very often. When I know a client is going to want prints, though (you are asking what your client wants to end up with, right?), I just keep that horn blaring in my head the whole shoot so I know to back off a bit and leave room to crop. Again, it gets much easier with practice. Set up some freebie shoots with friends and focus completely on shooting 8×10 photos. Cull and crop after each shoot, and see how you did. With just a little practice, you’ll be able to switch in and out of that mentality whenever you need to.

If a client wants an 8×10, and I know a shot I’m showing them in the sales session is going to get cropped badly, I say as much. I offer an 8×12, or an 11×17. Never forget, you’re the expert providing guidance for your client. If an 8×10 is a bad choice for a certain shot, don’t be afraid to make alternative suggestions.

I hope this helps! Thank you again for your comments and readership!

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Carolyn April 3, 2013 at 3:43 pm

I am loving reading all of your fantastic posts about part-time photography!

I have been photographing my friends and family as an amateur for about 4 years now, and obviously, I figured it was time to become a “professional.”

I have an engagement shoot booked for this summer, and I just had a few quick questions!

In this post you mentioned doing prints, but I am not exactly sure where to send them. Are one-hour-photo places an option, or is it better to do a mail-out kind of thing? I worked in a chain studio for a little bit this past year, and they sent out their photos. The photos returned to the studio within 2 weeks.

I just don’t know if it is better to show a presentation of the capabilities of the editing software (in the studio we showed the customers a couple of edited photos and the original 15 shots taken in the 30 minute session via slideshow then allowed them to order prints at that time), or if I should just hand/mail them a disk with all the narrowed down raw and edited photos from the session.

Let me know your thoughts!

Thank you,
Carolyn

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor April 27, 2013 at 11:33 pm

Thank you for your comment and kind words, Carolyn!

I’m partial to Miller’s Imaging, the consumer division for which is Mpix.com – you can set up an account and test them out to see if they’re to your liking. They usually have 48-72 hour turnaround – so if I place an order Monday and pay for overnight shipping (very reasonable price), I can expect my client to have their photos by Wednesday – sometimes, Tuesday!

I do not prefer one-hour photo kiosks, I don’t think their business model allows for or is even concerned with great quality. I put a lot of work into my art, so then sending it out to the lowest-priced vendor for prints does not in my mind honor my work or my clients.

I’ve become a big fan of in-person proofing / sales over the past few years. For the longest time, I just posted proofs online and sent clients the link – it’s the cheapest, fastest, easiest, least hands-on way of doing it.

The bad part is, it’s the cheapest, fastest, easiest, least hands-on way of doing it!

I talk a lot about ‘touchpoints’ in my writing, all those opportunities you have to either thrill or bore (or worse, annoy) your clients. The more (within reason) touchpoints you can add to your clients’ experience, the more chances you have to make a really great impression.

Consider a car dealership: when you’re looking at buying a car, does the salesman hand you a brochure and tell you to leave and call or e-mail him when you’ve made your choice?

Oh heck no.

He’s got the stats, benefits, features, and prices of every automobile on the lot.

He’s got years of experience matching customers to The Car For Them.

He asks lots and lots of questions, learns about the client, studies their personality, finds out what’s important to them, and serves as a gentle guiding hand to help his potential client into the best possible car for them.

Why should we serve our clients any less?

Sitting down with clients and flipping through proofs – on a computer, a laptop, an iPad (my preference), a projection screen, printed 8×10′s, printed 4×6′s, whatever you like – is a wonderful way to extend your clients’ great experience with you. It gives you a great opportunity to continue to listen to them, discuss options, provide guidance to help them make the best possible decision about their photography purchase.

When I cull and prep my proofs for a client, I just do basic processing – color and exposure, some very light touch-ups, and pick out my favorites to give the full touch-up treatment to and produce black and white versions of. If I do a one-hour shoot (most typical for me), I’ll plan on about an hour of processing.

When I’m showing those proofs, I let the client know that I give every purchased photo a full touch-up before producing their CD or prints.

I hope this helps! Let me know what path you decide on, and how it turns out for you! And please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures!

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Rich April 9, 2013 at 6:17 am

Hi from the UK!

Just wanted to take the time to say thanks for sharing your knowledge and advice. You are helping a lot of people here! I am going to tweak my business model and post production time based on your advice and see how it pans out. Some great ideas.

Recently had a beautiful Son which spurred me on to take some good photos and now have a baby and pet portrait business! If you have a few moments to kill, pop on by, I would love to know what you think!

keep up the good work (and i will keep coming back!)

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor May 28, 2013 at 8:31 pm

Hello from across the pond, Rich! Thank you for your comment and kind words! Your portfolio is so awesome, you have incredible talent. I can’t wait to see where this year takes you in your business.

Interestingly, my wife is creating a new line under our photography business specific to babies and pets – looks like that makes up most of your portfolio as well! I’m sure she’d love to visit with you sometime.

Have you made any changes and seen any results from those changes since you posted?

Congratulations on your newborn son! How awesome! I have three kids myself, my youngest 2 years old – she’s a complete doll. My boy, 6, is just like me in every way – we are great buddies.

I really love your web site – you’ve got all the bases covered in a great way. Super easy to navigate. And of course, beautiful art. I’d only suggest adding the market you serve (I see Bristol in the browser title, but not on your general pages), and adding your preferred contact method to every page and make it obvious – usually phone number, but E-mail or Facebook if that’s where your clients prefer to reach you. I see you have a contact page, but three things I love to see obvious on every photographer’s web page (or any business, really) are: geographic market served, niche, and best contact method.

Thank you for your readership! Please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures.

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Rich June 6, 2013 at 2:17 pm

Wow, Thanks for taking the time out to look at my site and give your considered opinions – real valuable to me – especially your mention of the locale. Sometimes we can be so in the middle of something we cannot always see it from an outside perspective!
Truth be told, I am fairly new to the world of photography so hearing your kind comments has given me a massive boost!
I can honestly say that I have done a LOT of research online about photography and how to survive in this sometimes difficult economy ,but your site has some really great info. The best I have found in fact – please keep it up :)
Sounds like you have a great family – I bet they keep you busy clicking your shutter :) Do you post any pics online?
Anyways thanks again from over the pond. Will let you know how it goes!
Rich

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor July 20, 2013 at 10:13 pm

Rich, thank you so much for your kind words! I’m glad you’re enjoying PTP! I truly appreciate your readership.

I have a poorly-maintained photo blog at http://www.outlawphotography.net, and most of my work goes on Facebook. You can find me there as BanderaOutlaw (I’d provide a link, but I’m on ye olde iPad tonight!).

Thank you again! Please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures!

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Teraesa January 2, 2014 at 10:08 pm

Hi James, I came across your site when looking at outsourcing my editing, I didn’t know what cull meant, thank you! I started out taking photo’s for friends and family and opened a small studio this summer. I really don’t know what I am doing but I do know I am tired of “shoot & burn” but do not have the time to edit everything on my own. I have only been using Photoshop for a short time, I love to edit I wish I was better at it and was faster. Anyways just wanted to say thanks for the advice and I will continue to visit your site and learn more!

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Lori Eggert July 15, 2014 at 10:17 am

Hi James, i just cant say enough good things about your site, i love reading your articles. I have been trying to start up a photography business lately and have had tons of questions, thank you so much for helping me out, i wish i had seen it sooner!
I have people wanting me to shoot a wedding and i am not sure what to charge them, any suggestions? I have done photography as a hobby for a long time, but only recently decided to turn it into a career!

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Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor August 2, 2014 at 11:03 pm

Thank you Lori for your comment and kind words!

Feel free to comment here or e-mail me anytime with your questions! I’m happy to help any way I can.

I highly suggest against startup photographers taking on wedding photography. While the financial rewards are great, the risks for the photographer are many – not the least of which is the potential of being sued if the photos get lost. I shoot maybe one, two weddings a year, and only with the absolutely perfect client.

I highly suggest cutting your teeth professionally on portrait photography, where the risk is minimal and the rewards are still great over the course of just a few photo shoots. Unlike many wedding clients, these will be repeat clients and a great source for referrals and more business.

Now that said, if you’re one of those special people who loves wedding photography and thrives on the high-pressure that comes with it, by all means – jump in head first. No matter what you charge, have a rock-solid contract to cover your butt and manage the expectations of your client.

I’d suggest working as a second / assistant photographer with a good local wedding photographer before you take on the lead photographer role. And when you do shoot your first wedding, hire a good second photographer for good insurance that every moment will be well-covered.

If folks want to hire you, you’re on the right track – that’s the big motivation that many amateur / hobbyist photographers receive when they start to think, “Wow, do you think I could do this professionally?”

Chase your dream, stick your neck out there and make great things happen – but be wary of the hidden risks that come with high-stakes work like wedding photography.

There is, as always, no perfect price to charge. I’ve shot 30 minute ceremonies for $200, I’ve shot daylong weddings for many multiples of that with three assistant / second shooters. If you do take on the job, let your client know exactly where you’re at with your photography, that this is your first wedding, and pitch a price about double what you think you’re worth – when they aren’t so enthusiastic about the price (if they push back at all), come down a bit – again, reiterating that you have no experience with wedding photographer.

Truly, I wouldn’t do it! But I’m nobody to hold back a thoroughbred ready to bust out of the gate!

Let me know what you decide upon, and how it goes!

Thank you again for your readership! Please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures!

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Linda Berberich August 20, 2014 at 3:13 pm

Hi James,
Thank you Thank you Thank you for your website! Like so many others, I stumbled upon your site accidentally. I have just recently decided to take the plunge and turn my passion into a real business. I will be DBA YourStory Photography. Right now am waiting for my new business cards to arrive, and have already secured my domain name (Tellyourstoryinpics.com – website almost ready to launch). Finding the ‘Your First Customer’ series couldn’t have come at a better time! Just completed my first “real” shoot of three siblings a few days ago and going by your advice, was happy to see that I actually did a reasonably good job managing the client and the shoot. Well, I didn’t throw up on their shoes or send them running away screaming – a good start, right? Seriously, I have been super excited that the client I worked with has already referred someone else to me when they have only seen their proofs! Your positive attitude towards a newbie to the business of photography is so refreshing. Your advice is great, you have a grateful new fan.

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Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor August 20, 2014 at 4:56 pm

Linda,

Thank you so much for your readership, comment, and kind words!

Ha! Hey, if you kept your lunch off your client’s shoes, you’re already doing something right!

I’m so glad you’re getting benefit from PTP, it’s a real blessing to me to get to work with so many awesome photographers excited to go professional. You’ve got a great business name picked out, you’re obviously already making art folks want to show off and share, and so be proud of yourself – you’re way ahead of everyone else still on the couch wishing for success instead of working their butts off for it.

Thank you again for your readership! Please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures!

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