Keep On Learning, or How To Improve the Craft

I’ve spent most of my professional life in the (computer) tech world.  That is an environment  where change is constant and the need to enhance existing skills and acquire new ones is never ending.  I’ve gotten pretty good at identifying what new skills to gain and resources for enhancing those I have, so I figured doing something similar with my photo skills would be similar…WRONG!

While many of the computer technical skills are also a craft, all you need is the right code (and don’t get me started on what constitutes “right”) to do what is needed.  At one level, this may apply to photography where the “how” of camera mechanics doesn’t change although the terms used by different manufacturers may.  To a certain extent the same applies to the software for getting the most out of your images.  Where it differs is that photography is also about the art of the image.

If I am going to put together a website, I (or someone who has actual graphic art talent) can do a layout from which the web page can be built.  From there, it’s just a matter of fine tuning of colors, spacing, etc.  With a photograph it just doesn’t work that way.  Take a dozen photographers, show them the same subject and ask them to photograph it, you will get twelve very different images.  Angles, lighting, composition, colors, post processing, etc. will allow each photographer to show how s/he sees that subject.  Having said that, there are still a lot of things about what makes a good photograph that apply to all images.  That is where things get different for me.

Having started the photo website, I looked into a number of photo clubs.  I settled on two, one because it meets very close to my home and the other because it is just about nature photography, something I really like.  Both clubs are very open and welcoming.  What is really helpful to me is that in both clubs, the people are open and friendly, willing to share what they know about something that we are all passionate about.

I know that there is only one way to improve a skill, practice and lots of it.  Unlike software development, working with images requires constructive criticism and feedback from both typical viewers and knowledgeable critics.  With a little coaxing and disclaiming getting offended by honest input, family and friends can be a great source for the former.  Finding the later is not so easy.  Yes I could enroll in a formal program to improve those skills and get feedback from the instructor, but I don’t have the time or inclination for that.

Through the Hillsborough Digital Photo Club, I was fortunate enough to meet Jim Roselli of Artistic Efex.  Jim’s knowledge of photography, from setting up a shot to actually getting the shot as well as post processing and printing seems to be limitless.  What’s more, he has been incredibly generous in sharing his knowledge with me.  So far I have only gotten a small taste, but it has made a significant difference in how I am seeing and capturing images.  I’m still learning the post processing tools, so I haven’t been able to take advantage of all his pearls of wisdom in that arena.  Jim and his partner Jim LaSalla produce incredible images across various media.  Take a look here to see what I mean. (P.S. the website doesn’t really do justice to many of the images!)

One nice thing about digital photography is that it is much easier to manage images, both in the camera as well as post processing than was the case with film.  Having said that, with the myriad of options available, digital photography has become its own discipline.  I still have a lot to learn and I’m hopeful that as I gain more knowledge and experience my images will reflect that.


Getting Started In This Business – Getting Things Going, Keeping Things Going

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If you have been following this series of posts, you should be set to do business online.  Now comes the hardest part, doing business online!

One of the really hard parts about getting your business going is getting customers “in the door”.  With a traditional brick and mortar business your physical location will start attracting customers even before you open.  People will walk by, see the construction and your name so they know what is coming.  Opening online just doesn’t work that way.  You need to do a lot more work via your family, friends, social networks, professional organizations, etc.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a good networker.  Even so, I’ve made it a point to send email to family and friends letting them know about my new business (including a link to my site!).  I’ve also posted notices on my Facebook page and started a page for my business.  I’ve also promoted businesses that I work with.  In some cases they have reciprocated.  I’m not on Twitter.  Call me old fashioned, but I don’t get that whole idea.  If you use Twitter, or any other networking/communications tool, be sure to broadcast the news about your business through all of them.  If your business plan includes an advertising budget, be sure you get your ads going the day you launch.

When you talk to people you know, or meet at social events, the question will likely come up “what’s new” or “what do you do”.  Don’t be afraid to tell them.  One of the tips you get when conducting a job search is to develop an elevator speech.  An elevator speech is a short introduction to something, you, your business, etc, that can be delivered while riding the elevator in a commercial building.  Such speeches are usually no more than thirty seconds long.  Develop your elevator speech for your new business.  Practice it until you have it perfected.  Once delivered, if the other person is interested, they will lead it into more of a conversation.

Along the same lines, have business cards ready.  Even in this digital world, they come in handy.  If you are at a party and in the first half hour someone tells you about a website how likely are you to remember enough to find it the next day?  (Yes, I know you could go to the site on your phone while talking to the person, but most people won’t!).  Because I started a photo business I considered it to be important that my business card really show off that fact.  I used one of my images as the background on the card and then added the necessary text.  Remember, you don’t necessarily need to put your name on the card!  My business is John Feist Photography, so I would hope the recipient can figure out my name!  You do need to include your url (your website address e.g.  You also need to provide an email address.  Do you include a physical address and phone number?  That’s up to you.  I think phone numbers are good.  They give your prospect another way of contacting you.  Strange as it may seem, we all have different communication preferences.  Do you really want to miss a potential sale because a customer couldn’t text you or get you on the phone?  Physical address is a different question.  Most eBusinesses don’t really need one unless you are doing fulfillment from your address.  If you are doing fulfillment you need to give people a way to return things, hence your address.  Also for now, many people expect to find an address on a business card.

Next you need to think about updates.  There’s a commercial running on TV lately that starts out saying in technology if you are not moving forward, you are moving backward.  Think about successful websites.  The basic layout may remain the same, a good thing as customers know how to find things easily.  The content and merchandise will change very regularly.  Develop a plan for how and when you will change your product mix or add/remove items.  If you are opening a clothing site aimed at North America, are you going to be selling many down parkas in July?  Don’t be in constant change either.  If I buy a new offering from a website and tell a friend about it a week later, we’d expect it to be there!  This also ties back to an earlier post about inventory management.  You should only display merchandise you have, or be very clear when you will be able to ship.

Part of updating your site is keeping your customers coming back.  Most hosted sites will give your customer the option of receiving email updates from you.  There are numerous ways you can get the email address of your customers and prospects.  Sending email updates is a tried and true mechanism for keeping visible to your customers.  Remember, getting a general purpose update once or twice a week from a website is fine, getting several a day is spam.

Another mechanism for getting customers back is via loyalty rewards.  Not all hosted sites will provide you with the capability to run a major loyalty program like the airlines and credit card companies do.  I don’t know too many small businesses that want that.  You should be able to offer coupons/discounts pretty easily.  A very good way to get repeat traffic is to send your customer a coupon for maybe ten per cent off their next purchase as part of your follow up on the initial purchase.  If you do that be sure that the offer has an expiry, otherwise someone may decide to use it in five years!

Another tried and true mechanism is having a sale.  Sales are held for a variety of reasons.  The two you should initially focus on are getting people to your site and moving inventory that you’d like to discontinue.  Functionally, running a sale on line is no different than doing it in a physical store.  Decide on the items, decide on the markdown and let people know about them.

Finally, find ways to be visible in the real world.  If you are located in a smaller community and offer a somewhat unique service or product, let your local media know.  You never know when the local newspaper, radio or TV station will need a filler piece.  Another good avenue can be teaching.  Most communities offer free adult education courses.  If you are opening a site that sells tools, offer some classes on using tools.  You can get some easy plugs in for your site, perhaps giving your students a discount.  Be creative and know your market.  A friend of mine recently launched a line of yoga clothing.  Her sales are via her website  Kira knows the business.  As part of her launch, she got glowing reviews from fitness and yoga publications.  She also goes to yoga studios and conferences with trunk shows so that more people see her line.  All of her appearances are publicized via social media.  Take a look at the site and you’ll understand why I don’t use the product (hint it’s womens yoga clothing).  I do tell my friends who may not know about her when she’ll be in their area and not just my yoga friends.

This will be the last entry in this series for a while.  As I get more into this business, I’ll share my experiences and learnings.  Please check back as I will continue to blog on some other topics going forward.