Saturday, October 22, 2011

Guest Post: Kristen Duke Photography

I am so excited to have Kristen from Kristen Duke Photography guest posting today! A couple weeks ago I saw her guest post on my really good friend Rachel's blog-  Family Ever After. So I wrote Kristen and begged her to share the same post with you all! It is amazing!! :)

Take it away Kristen-

Hello friends! My name is Kristen, and I love to create over on my site, Kristen Duke Photography.
  I started my ramblings on my blog, sharing pics of the fun I have taking portraits of others, but I also love to share tidbits of my family life, my hand at craftiness, and our home projects. I just finished a month long series with lots of amazing contributors called Decorating with Portraits, and you can see all of the posts on my sidebar.
When I asked Rachel what she would be interested in me posting about, she mentioned walking you through my photographic process. From booking a session to delivery of prints. I know lots of people are starting their own photography businesses and it would be helpful, but I also thought this would be of interest for the non photographer because a) we all desire beautiful pictures, right? and b) Most of us have hired photographers and this will give you a sense of what you are paying for.
I do consider myself a custom photographer. I want to be a part of the creative process before, during, and after to truly customize a unique experience for everyone that I photograph. You know what that translates into for most people??? Expensive! I hear it a lot. I recognize that I charge more than the average "mom with a camera" and I have finally (after years) come to terms with that. You see, I am a TOTAL do-it-yourself-on-a-budget kinda girl. I'm SUPER frugal and I felt guilty charging for my art that is mostly my time. But after years of hair pulling, late night computer reading tutorials, many tears, trial and error, personal defeat, practice, workshops, camera gear, photoshop instruction, and time away from my family, I have placed a value on that time.
{THIS is an interesting article written on the cost/time of a professional photographer.}
I never planned to "work" outside of raising my family. I still deny that this is work. I just happen to get paid to do something I love. Photography is something I adore...I crave...I need, but it takes time away from the people I love the most, and I have to check my priorities hourly. I am a stay at home mom whose hobby/business is photography and that is how I want it to stay. I mostly schedule my shoots when my husband is home with our children, and I generally conduct about 2 sessions a month...except during October and beginning of November when I tend to shoot 1 a week (you know, we all love those Holiday cards;) Then the majority of my work is on the computer (my vice) and it's mostly during naptime and late at night when everyone else is in bed. I am perfectly content that some will deem that investing in my artwork is not in the budget for their families.
That being said, the ONLY time I am face to face with most of my clients is at the shoot, and to quick drop off their order. Lots of photographers conduct "in person" ordering sessions, and that is just one other appointment I don't want to fit into our busy family schedule.
Booking a Session:
I get 90% of my inquiries via email and that's the way I like it. I can answer when I need, and if my kids are yelling in the background, no one will know;) I put a lot of my pricing info on my site in the hopes that it will weed out those that don't have it in their budget, to not contact me.
I now have 2 types of sessions. My petite sessions are on a specific day every other month. A Saturday morning where I book up to 5 groups for a 15 minute session each. This is the option for those that just want a few pictures, mostly posed. I then have my Custom Portrait session. More time, more energy, more of an investment. I send out a questionairre before hand, set up opportunities for great candid images. It's fun, its an experience, and I am envisioning a storybook album and a variety of images as I take them. For more info and details, see my pricing page on my site.
A lot of people will still email and ask pricing (even though it's on my site), and I will copy the link to that pricing page and maybe ask a question that generally requires getting back to me either way. I also often suggest a few available dates I have coming up for them to think about, so that when they get back to me, they have that in mind. I generally get one of two responses:
a) I'm so sorry, it is out of our budget
b) Great, I'd like to book the 25th of October
If they answer "a", I generally refer them to a dear friend of mine starting her business in the area, and has priced herself at a starters level. I believe in helping people out, even if I gain no benefit;) If they say "b" I will ask if they'd like to book their session date with a check in the mail or credit card via paypal. I give them 5 days to get it to me, or they forfeit that time slot and I'll begin to offer it out to others. Now, I'm not really a stickler on this, but at the 5 day mark, I'll generally send a friendly reminder and say that the date is now open if not paid. Though I get a paycut with Paypal (3%), its my preference because it's just easy.
Once the date is booked, I share a link with my clothing suggestions. I emphasize choosing 3 colors to work with, coordinate/not match, and layers/accesories. I am currently having a discussion about this on my facebook page, encouraging people to ask me how I would dress their family when showing me one piece of clothing to work around. Come check it out, it's lots of fun!
I'd say my business is 60% families, 20 % High School Seniors, and the other 20% is Maternity, Newborns, and Couples.
My favorites in order?
Family, Seniors, Couples, Maternity, Newborn
I used to photograph weddings, and though I love to gift my family/close friends wedding portraits, I no longer want to schedule my life around weddings for those I don' t know. My rule is, "If I'll already be AT the wedding, I'd love to do it." I do love to photograph Engagements, but only get a few of those each year because usually couples book the same photographer for their wedding and engagement. I get that. I really don't love to photograph newborns. Doesn't that sound horrible? I LOVE to see, cuddle, kiss, and adore newborns. For my good friends, I do love to photograph that beautiful time for them, but I do so in a photojournalistic way...I want mom and dad and siblings in the images. But newborn photo shoots take a LOT of time. Newborn portrait sessions are at least twice as much time away from family. You'll often see photographers charge more for a newborn session.
At the Session:
I will plan most of my sessions for a Saturday morning at 8 or 9am or a Thursday evening at 6pm. My most FAVORITE time is that lovely evening light when the beautiful sun creeps just below the treeline, and I can get the heavenly evening glow. I'm actually pretty sad on overcast days because it just brings a haze to my images and darkness under eyes that I know I'll have to touch up later. I LOVE that sun, but I've spent years learning how to love it properly, and have it work to my advantage vs. being a pain;)
In the morning sessions, the sun is low enough that I generally get good even light in the shade of a building or in a tree lined field. I am generally looking for that open shade. Where the light is even and consistant. I definitely shoot in full sun, but making sure the light is behind my subjects. If its noon day and the sun is high in the sky, unpleasant shadows will fall on the face.
I shoot in full manual mode. When I started out (8 years ago), the auto setting was all I knew how to do, so that's what I did. I look back and cringe. I was afraid to try and fail, so I didn't....for a while. Then a friend urged me to take the plunge, move my dial to "M" and I've never looked back. Let me tell you this (put on your thick skin) in order to obtain truly beautiful photography, you must turn it off of auto and learn how to use your camera functions properly. It takes practice, but it's a very worthwhile goal. I've got a little something to help you out....it's called Say NO to Auto. I'll talk more about it at the end of this post.
For my custom sessions, I get all of the posed/expected out of the way. Formal-family-all-looking-and-smiling-in-my-direction. Everyone wants them, it's standard. I do individual shots, shots of just mom and dad, just the siblings, just boys, just girls...all sorts of combinations. I often bring smarties for the 2 year olds that want to do what they want to do. Smarties are awesome. They are a light color, gone quickly, many of them, and kids don't drool or get messy from them. I also suggest parents have an "after pictures" activity for their kids to look forward to at the end.
Then I do the fun stuff. Depending on what they shared with me in their questionairre, we'll set up a scene or a game or an activity to capture--fun! This tends to be where I get the most relaxed and happy smiles. Just recently, this cute family told me they often play "sock wars" and they brought a bunch of socks and I snapped pics of them playing--LOVED that!
This little girls mom told me that her favorite treat is watermelon, so I brought along a watermelon to surprise her with after we got all of the shots we wanted (I knew it would be messy).

I generally wrap up the shoots in 45 minutes to an hour. Any longer, I've got all sorts of cranky people on my hands (including myself) so that's why I make sure I take the expected shots right at the beginning.
When we part, I say, "I'll be in touch in a few days with a sneak peek."
After the Session:
My goal is to have a handful of images posted to my blog within 5 days of the shoot. It used to be 2 days, but that got crazy for me. I believe fully in getting it right in camera and then enhanced with editing--mostly color enhancement. You can't "fix" a badly taken picture to look as good as a great picture, enhanced. But there are ways to make that bad picture look better...
I use Photoshop CS2 exclusively. I don't feel a need to upgrade and I don't use Lightroom at all. I have heard that Lightroom is quite user-friendly, but I can do the same things in Photoshop. I shoot all of my images in RAW. I don't have a great definition for that, but the files are much larger, but you can tweak them without losing any detail (unlike a jpg image). I then edit and convert to jpg. From what I understand, editing jpg's in Lightroom is the same as editing RAW's in Photoshop. Lightroom just came out big after I'd already had my workflow down with photoshop, and I don't see any reason to mess with it. With both, you are tweaking the exposure and color temperature of an image.
For example, lots of photographers shoot on Auto white balance, and whether they are shooting in full sun or the shade, they don't change the white balance. When they get into post processing, they will then quickly slide a scale in their editing program to change the color temperature--warm or cool. Warm is more orange/red skin tones, and the slider will even that out. And color temperature is an artist's personal preference. Some photographers work whom I admire prefer warmer skin tones than I do and that's ok! But sometimes I'll think, "I would have cooled that down a little bit."
Photoshop has all sorts of cool tricks that can't be done in Lightroom. Once I finish my basic editing in RAW, I will convert my images to JPG and can do a quick blemish removal, erase back a tree limb, add in clouds in the sky (on rare occasion), slim out a double chin, and every once in a while, do a head swap where I deem necessary. Some of these are more time consuming steps though. I will fully edit the 7-10 images I share on my blog for their sneak peek, but then the images I share in their gallery later are only "partially edited."
For a family session, on average I will shoot about 300 images. When I come home and dump them on my computer, I will look at each one and if they are blurry (yes, I still get some of those) eyes closed, or just not WOW images, I delete them (ok, I don't actually delete them right away, but I don't look at them again). Photoshop has a rating system with stars and colors and I will go through and give 5 stars to my fave's and then from those I will select 10 "super wow" shots for the blog. I will then convert about 150 to JPGS and then I try to scale down the duplicate or similar shots and pick the best to show, as to not overwhelm. People get overwhelmed. It may sound better to show 150 images, but really...50 is just as good. My goal is 50 to show, but it's genenally at about 60-70 that I show. It's hard for me to be objective and not show "this face" of Johnny's individual shot when "this face" is also cute and I don't know which one mom prefers. After 7-10 days, I post a gallery online, email the client the gallery info and give them 7 days for them to order.
Social Media:
This is big. If you are trying to promote your photography business without a blog and or facebook, it will be tough. You can't count on your client praising you while they are at their play group, you need to show their friends their images yourself. Facebook rocks for this! For my custom sessions, I have started making a DVD set to music for that major WOW factor when sharing online. I have a seperate facebook page, and I used to tag my clients images with their name (have to be a personal facebook friend to do this) but I've found that posting on my business facebook page and asking THEM to "share" it allows their friends to comment, whereas before they would have to come to my facebook page to do so.
Ordering, Packaging, & Delivery:
I didn't originally want to do this. I wanted to give the disc away and be done. Really, it's so much easier (except that I have to fully editing every image I give). But I found several things happened.
a) I'd give the disc and a year or two later, they never printed anything. That made me sad. I recognize, it's a process to organize, decide, and print. People get complacent and figure "I'll do it later" and it never gets done. Not in all cases, but over half, I found did this. Made me sad that my work wasn't being enjoyed as it was meant to.
b) The order/deadline really makes people sit down and be decisive and select their favorites
c) I would get embarresed when I'd see my work presented with awful printing quality. I know that hour labs have the potential to print decently, but too often I would get blamed (and not even know it) that the skin was orange or the faces were washed out or that the pictures printed dark. The customers just assumed it was on my end that "messed it up" and not the printer. I like being able to fully examine each print to make sure the quality matches what I took. I also don't sell an image on disc without a professional print to accompany it.
So, I print and package. I got some colorful bags, ribbon, clear packaging, photo boards in my colors to wrap like a present, so that when clients receive their order, it brings a little more joy. Depending on how busy I am, I'll either hand deliver an order to my clients door, or have them come to my home office to pick it up. We don't look through it together, I just hand it off!
Any questions? If you have specific questions, come to my facebook page and ask because comments below will be for the giveaway.
NOW, for a little giveaway. I mentioned, Say NO to Auto above. Well it's my little beginner's photography book that I sell right from my site. I started selling the e-version in January for $10 each, and just 2 months ago, I've started to sell the hard copy for $20. I've got some amazingly wonderful feedback on how my little book has helped people understand manual settings more than any other book or tutorial they've seen (blushing). It really makes me happy to hear, because I am SO not a book learner. I wanted to keep it basic and simple. It is just 17 mini pages (4 full pages) and small enough to go in your camera bag on excursions. To read more about out, click here. I am giving away a hard copy today!
To enter, simply comment on how much you'd LOVE to figure out your camera.
For an extra entry, LIKE my facebook page.
GO!

17 comments:

  1. I would love to figure out my camera! My next big goal!

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  2. Kristen, this post was beyond amazing. I loved how truthful you are!
    I really enjoy photographing for friends and family, purely on a "I-have-a-pretty-good-eye-for-composition,etc.-and-I-love-you-and-taking-pictures-so-why-not," as opposed to "I'm-a-professional" level, but I would like to get to know my Canon more intimately. :) I want to learn Manual!

    I am on my way over to your FB page to like it and learn more!

    Thanks again!

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  3. I adore Kristen & her work. She has mad skills that one. :) This was a great post!

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  4. I have tried to figure out my camera, but it seems like once I 'think' I know what I'm doing and then I try to capture something my kids do and it turns out poorly and then I get discouraged because I missed the moment. Ugh! I would LOVE to have your book and try to figure it all out!

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  5. My picture taking ability has much to be desired. I need help!

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  6. I already like you on Facebook!

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  7. Love this post. My husband loves photography and I can't wait to let him read this. I know he'd be stoked if I won the giveaway! Thanks for all of this info, your work is beautiful :)

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  8. I have bought the expensive books & they are way over my head. I read your reviews & they are awesome. I think this is just the book for me. :)

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  9. Well since I can't win this on my blog I might as well try on yours! I would love to have this book sooo much. Kristen is amazing, and I follow her fb page.

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  10. Wow thanks for all the information. I am a stay at home mom and photographer like u so I would love to read your perspective on camera settings. Thanks for sharing.

    Jess
    Acoupleofcraftaddicts@yahoo.com

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  11. Thanks for the post. I enjoyed reading what goes on behind the scenes.

    I'd love to make the switch from Av and Tv to full manual mode.

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  12. Is it too late to comment on this? I want to do better at photography and get mysfelf off auto! Help!!

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Thanks for taking the time to comment. I honestly love reading every single one! If you have a question you would like answered- be sure to include your email so that I can get back to you!

Thanks so much for stopping by! Have a great day!
xoxo, Ashley