The Model: Fashioning a Niche in Celebrity Portraiture and Beauty
Name: Matthew Jordan Smith
Company: Matthew Jordan Smith Photography
Location: Los Angeles
Market: Fashion/Celebrity Photographer
Bragworthy Factoid: Having a client list that reads like a People magazine table of contents (Oprah Winfrey much?)
SmugMugger Since: 2011
- Publishing his first book, Sepia Dreams: A Celebration of African-American Achievement Through Words and Images
- Appearing as a guest photographer and judge on the hit TV show, “America’s Next Top Model”
- Teaching at Manhattan’s prestigious School of Visual Arts and the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops
- Portfolio display
- Safe, secure archiving
- Full-res back-ups
- Privacy, links and secure passwords for each client
All photos by Matthew Jordan Smith Photography
A Beautiful Beginning
Scanning Matthew Jordan Smith’s subject roster, which includes such luminaries as Halle Berry, Jennifer Connelly, Michael Jordan, Vanessa Williams and Jamie Foxx, the last word you would ever apply to this explosive talent is humble. Nevertheless, the high-profile fashion and celebrity photographer traces his success to a simple yet formative beginning: an involved father and a basic camera. “My father taught me how to process film. It was a hobby until I read a book by [photographer] Gordon Parks,” he says. “That was the first time I saw a photographer making a living. From then on, I wanted to be a photographer.”
Want a Unique Look? Cultivate a Vision
Smith, whose specialties are magazine editorial and beauty advertising, attributes his success in part to knowing who he is and where he comes from—to cultivating his own vision. “Whoever we are, it has a big impact on our work,” he says. “What pulled me into fashion and beauty was that it was one of the few industries where I could tell my story. You see that in my images.” Smith says having a clear vision of what you want to communicate with your work is key to developing a unique style. “Everybody can become a photographer,” he insists. “It’s more important to work on your vision. You can take a great picture on an iPhone and have no idea how you did it—the camera does everything for you. But once your vision is clearly defined, people will come to you for that.”
How SmugMug Helps
Smith’s focus is laser-guided when it comes to getting the most out of SmugMug. “My site is very clean,” he says. “I can make changes easily. It loads fast, so clients can see what they want and jump off — I love that about it.” Smith says the compliments he gets on his site design “changed everything,” increasing interest in his work. His other favorites? Secure archiving, privacy and display options. “All hard drives eventually fail,” he cautions. “Backing up is every photographer’s nightmare. Storing my work on SmugMug is a big plus for me — I can’t express how important that is.” Finally, Smith enjoys the ease SmugMug’s gallery features have added to his routine. “Once the images are up, I send the client a link to SmugMug – it’s a vital part of interacting with the client and keeping everyone in the loop,” he says. Often, his client is an advertising agency that turns around and sends the link to their client. Maintaining privacy and controlling feedback and versioning is critical.
Getting Behind the Beauty
Smith is an expert on working with models . Before shooting a subject, whether celebrity or CEO, Smith researches her extensively—and not all the research takes place alone at a computer. “A lot of the digging happens in hair and makeup. Find out what books they’ve read, movies they’ve seen—ask about them as a person. Get to know them before they get in front of a camera so you can pull out that knowledge later,” he advises, pointing out that this type of casual data collection also makes models more comfortable with you once the lighting goes up.
Don’t Just Talk; Get Visual
Smith is a big proponent of using visual aids to communicate a concept to models and clients alike. “Give them something they can hear, see, touch,” he advises. “Then they become part of that idea. They’re all looking for direction and it’s your job to give it.” Smith cites a shoot based on the film From Here to Eternity, in which he showed models sketches and storyboarding of movie scenes while describing the mood he sought (“romantic” and “musical”). The models in question hadn’t seen the film, but, with props, he was able to bring alive the iconic image of Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr kissing in the crashing waves. Another time, he guided actress-singer Vanessa Williams through a successful shoot by pulling her aside mid-shoot and showing her a tear sheet of the look he wanted, which she was then able to replicate. “It’s not enough to just tell someone your idea,” he says. “Always show some them something tangible.”
We’ve tapped tilt-shift photographer Richard Silver on the shoulder because we’ve long been inspired by his ability to miniaturize pretty much any beautiful location on Earth. We asked him a few questions about what it’s like to be a pro in this genre of landscape photography, and how he turns the mundane into something totally unexpected. Here’s what he said.
All photos by Richard Silver Photo
Do you have a past life in other careers, or have you always been behind the camera?
I have a varied professional background from owning a beer distributor, stock broker and a real estate agent. In real estate I would photograph the apartments that I had for sale so photography played a role in that area. I have always traveled and photographed all of my trips which my friends would make me take all of the pictures for them too. In early 2011 I got the itch to leave real estate and pursue my photography career full time.
A few years back I was fascinated by this photographer Olivio Barbieri, who became my inspiration to do Tilt Shift in the first place. He would travel the world and do this effect using an actual Tilt Shift lens. I figured out how to do the effect using Photoshop only in post production. To me it is such a fun way to see the world, it gives a different perspective to seeing in a way that plays tricks on you. In the big picture we are just a small blip of what the world truly is.
What are your tools of the trade?
I have always been a Nikon guy. Currently I have a Nikon D800 a full frame camera, Nikon 24-70mm 2.8 lens and a Sigma 70-200mm 2.8 lens which I use mostly for my Tilt Shift shots. I have 2 different tripods, one for travel which is carbon fiber and one that is heavy duty, my Manfrotto 055XPROB. Daylight is extremely important in my shots as shadows add so much to the final image.
Do you ever create or enhance the miniaturization in post?
All of my work is done in post production. Photoshop and Lightroom are my go to programs. Using digital gives me the freedom to make any changes needed to achieve the Tilt Shift effect. When I take the original photograph I already have in my mind what the image will look like. I do not do anything other than the few steps needed in Photoshop to create the effect.
With the new PS6 there is a single filter that I can apply but in the older versions it took me about 5 moves to achieve my effect. I go back and forth between using the new single filter and the older way, it all depends on the image that I use.
What makes the ideal tilt shift miniaturization?
At first I would only shoot iconic places such as the Eiffel Tower, Great Wall of China, Acropolis in Greece but then I started to shoot more nature locations. Now I try and mix the locations up depending on where I travel to. I need to be in a location that is higher than what I am shooting. Mountains and tall buildings work great for me. I also need people in my photo for me to get the perception part to work. For the best results I need a good sunny day, people lined up in rows, me to be on top of a skyscraper shooting down to the streets or shooting from a helicopter which I find exhilarating.
What other types of photography do you shoot?
There are two new types of output I am working with now. One is called “Sliced” where I take photographs of buildings at sunset for about an hour and sliced them together creating an effect of day to night in one image, each image consists of about 30 individual photos. I have shot so far almost 40 buildings in New York and plan on doing that all over the world. I also perfected a new way to shoot churches. I do a 180 degree panorama from pew to exit of the church shooting the ceilings in the photos. I received so much play on the web from so many photography websites it was an amazing feeling to be recognized.
You’ve achieved great commercial success, although your images aren’t the traditional client-photographer sort. How did you build your business and brand?
I am honored to be represented by Yellowkorner Gallery, a photographic company with locations all over the globe. They represent 9 of my images, we recently did a book together called Portfolio 9 of my Tilt Shift images. In New York I have representation by two local galleries also. One with my Tilt Shift and one with my New York Sliced images. I am not the type of photographer hired; I aim to sell my photographs of my travels through my SmugMug sites or through some of my physical galleries.
What SM features get you through the day?
Since I travel so much I am constantly updating my Galleries at my SmugMug sites. I love how simple it is to upload, arrange my photos and make any other changes so easily to my site. Having 2 separate sites with Smugmug, both being slightly different in look but both having the ease of use to work with. I work with the guys over at Fastline Media, they helped me design my sites exactly to my specs. I get so many compliments on my images and layout of the site.
Love being inspired? Check out our other Success Stories and stay tuned for more perspectives from great SmugMug photographers!
The Sportsman: Kicking Off a Second Career and Having a Ball
Name: Kent McCorkle
Company: Kent McCorkle Photography, LLC
Location: Metro Atlanta, GA
Market: Sports (professional, college and high school), plus local news and company-sponsored events
Bragworthy Factoid: Earning back his initial investment in his SmugMug site within a few months of launching his business.
SmugMugger since: 2004
- First time being accepted by a media wire service to cover sports.
- Breaking into Division I college and professional sports.
- Seeing his work published in Sports Illustrated, on ESPN and in other national publications.
- SmugMug’s shopping cart for print sales
- Percentage-off Coupons
- Choice of print labs
- Proof delay
- Dgrin community
- Digital downloads
Making the most of a moment
Kent McCorkle knows the exact moment he became a photographer. After more than 30 years working in the corporate world, raising a family and flirting with image-making, everything changed with a single email. Although he had enjoyed capturing youth sports, vacations and other personal moments for years, he hadn’t thought seriously of working for profit. Then he was contacted out of the blue by an architectural design firm about photos he’d shot and posted of antebellum homes during a family holiday. Interest sparked, McCorkle quickly sold them the images for publication in a book. Fast-forward to today: McCorkle has settled firmly into sports photography, fashioning a second career out of his passion for capturing exciting moments in youth athletics. Riding the digital photography wave and fueling his interest with online support resources, he honed his skills and bided his time. “The idea of selling photographs had never crossed my mind…[but] after the surprise of selling my first photographs, I began to wonder if parents might be interested in purchasing the sports-action photographs I had been taking of their kids.”
Fit to print
Along with technical mastery, McCorkle has acquired a deep knowledge of the byzantine world of sports photography. His advice for the aspiring and uninitiated? Get your feet wet covering youth sports before attempting Division I college and professional athletics, both of which require extensive credentialing. “The first step is to gain lots of experience photographing sports at lower levels,” he says. “Develop a portfolio that shows your best work. Standards for acceptance by wire services are very high. Compare your work to what you see in major sports publications. You can also visit media wire service websites and see examples.” Photographers must be affiliated with approved media companies to shoot higher-level sporting events; the sports governing associations license the images for distribution. McCorkle suggests honing your craft by connecting with other photographers. “Even at high school games, you may have opportunities to pick up tips and learn techniques from more experienced photographers.”
SmugMug and sports
Citing SmugMug’s “remarkable” customer service, continual innovation and “flawless” order processing, McCorkle considers the service foundational to his business model. From the outset, SmugMug helped McCorkle streamline his burgeoning business needs. He especially likes the one-stop shop aspect. “I started with SmugMug because it offered the ability to create a gallery-based photographic website and sell photos. Order placement and fulfillment were the clinchers for me,” he says. He continues to add SmugMug features to his arsenal, sometimes evolving his workflow to take advantage of SmugMug’s conveniences. “I was slow to get on the Proof Delay bandwagon because every image uploaded to my galleries had been fully post-processed and I considered them print-ready,” he points out. “But then I started using it in order to allow me one last chance to make sure everything is right.”
Pounding the pavement
McCorkle’s business acumen has proved invaluable since his transition to photography. Underscoring the importance of building multiple revenue streams and diverse customer segments, he has cultivated clients ranging from athletes’ families and high school booster clubs to local news outlets and national publications including Sports Illustrated and ESPN. “In all but one case, my freelance work with newspapers resulted from my making initial contact with either the editor, sports editor or publisher,” he says. “Sometimes a simple email expressing your interest in working with the paper is all that is necessary to get the ball rolling.” McCorkle adds that persistence and patience are key. “Each time that I’ve expanded the types of sports I photograph or my customer base, I’ve followed a simple principle from my corporate career. Stated simply, it is ‘gentle pressure, relentlessly applied,’ ” he says with a smile. McCorkle markets his business in creative ways, ranging from hardcopy business cards he passes out while shooting games to requesting links to his portfolio on booster club sites to emailing booster officers gallery links and asking that they forward them to coaches, parents and fans.
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The Master: SmugMug Helps a Seasoned Pro Adapt to Cycles of Change & Finish Strong
Name: Graham Watson
Name of Company: Graham Watson Publishing, Ltd.
Location: Lives in Hampton, Middlesex, UK, but works globally
Market: Professional Cycling
Bragworthy Factoid: One of just 4-5 pros worldwide who cover cycling at this level
Website: www.grahamwatson.com and gw.smugmug.com
SmugMugger Since: 2009
- 30-plus years photographing cycling
- Apprenticed to society photographer Leonard Green as a teenager (Green, AKA “Lenare,” was the UK’s leading mid-century celebrity portraitist)
- Authored or co-authored 20-plus books
- Offers online, same-day race coverage of more than 160 racing days/year
- Quick and easy file uploading
- High-quality print fulfillment through EZPrints
- Full fulfillment; overall time-saving
- Super-fast customer service, 365 days/year
Portrait of a master
Watson attributes discovering his life’s passion to impoverishment. Signing on to study photography as a teen in 1970s London and unable to afford the train, Watson invested in a bicycle to make the 15-mile trip into the city each day. He points to the 1977 Tour de France, his first as a fan, as pivotal in his journey from portrait to cycling photography. “It’s one big adventure. The photography purists would be horrified if I said that. My passion, if anything, is the adventure.” Purists aside, Watson clearly had the chops: Following the event, he won a photography contest sponsored by Cycling Weekly and his career took off at a sprint.
Blocking with the best
Watson’s business includes magazines, books and online print sales for race fans. He brought his online business to SmugMug in 2009 after it was recommended by a developer with knowledge of both cycling and photography. Watson relies on SmugMug to leave him free to do what he does best — take brilliant photos. He likes leaving printing in SmugMug’s capable hands and concentrating on other areas of his business. Citing cycling’s worldwide following and the need for quick turnarounds — globally, fans number in the millions — Watson takes his role in fan appreciation seriously. “You entertain people. It means a lot to see pictures of the sport they love. It’s a responsibility.” SmugMug’s platform has allowed him to make prints available to a bigger audience at a more competitive price; it helps him stay in touch. Watson links to SmugMug from social media to deliver a race-day postmortem, tracking the day’s happenings through pictures. He loves focusing on his commentary while SmugMug takes care of post-race ecommerce, enabling fans to order directly from the site.
Riding the pegs
Like a lot of seasoned pros, Watson initially had mixed feelings about the industry shift to digital. Now, they’re gone. “Digital prints better in a magazine than slides ever did. Digital photos go straight to press (no 15 minutes sending one image!). The romance is gone, but it’s efficient.” Watson says the increased competition enabled by digital technology has changed the game. “Most of us thrive on the challenge of staying ahead of everybody. It’s very expensive and [digital] has more people getting involved, so I try to find extra ways to keep pace with my rivals.” He points to SmugMug handling print fulfillment as a benefit that allows him to focus on his core competency: capturing exciting sports moments. Watson’s studio relies on SmugMug for every aspect of order processing, from selection and payment to delivery and customer service. They are pleased to have had exactly zero issues with fulfillment since they became a client. One favorite feature is the ability to link directly to an individual order with full details after payment is received, via the Tools button on their homepage.
Bagging the peak the smart way
Because digital is making access easier for non-pros, Watson says it’s important to move with the times. This means recognizing what’s good about digital. “Even 10 years ago working with film, the day never ended. It was eight hours of shooting cyclists and another eight getting film scanned and emailed. With modern tools, you’re in bed by midnight.” He likes that clients can get their images very quickly following events, view their full archive and choose what they need, without having to contact him and wait for source images. “I use Twitter as a way to entertain and promote my work,” Watson says. “It’s proven to be a commercial tool. You get low-res pictures on the website, and, true, it’s not the same as being published in print. [It’s] a different medium, but a very important one.”
Interested in seeing more SmugMug Success Stories? Look here!
The Hybrid: SmugMug Smooths the Way for a Dual Focus on Design & Photography
Name: Susan Sidoriak
Name of Company: Silverbox Creative Studio
Location: Lederach, PA
Market: Graphic Design, Branding & Photography
Bragworthy Factoid: Growing enough to hire freelance photographers, a graphic designer and an office manager
Websites: silverbox.smugmug.com and www.silverboxcreative.com
- Expanded globally throughout the US, Europe, Australia, and Africa.
- Within the last two years have become a go-to source for branding in the photography industry.
- Ranked #1 for invitations in the Philadelphia region for the last several years.
- Escalated photos prices while growing a customer base.
- Reliable, unlimited hosting for photos, drafts and finished cards
- Managing design reviews using virtual galleries
- Great customer support
- Seamless integration with Blurb.com (for selling lucrative Mother’s Day photobooks)
- Quick sharing via social media
Career by design
Sidoriak is a graphic designer by trade who came up via the traditional corporate ad agency route, settling into a freelance career after her first child was born. Her interest in photography was born out of necessity: unhappy with the cost of the stock photos she worked with, she decided to create her own photographic images. After buying her first camera and editing initial batches of holiday photo-cards and family pictures, she thought, wow, I could do this for other people, too. Silverbox designer-photographers now spend half their time in each discipline, most often melding the two as they produce photo-based materials like cards, booklets and invitations.
Designing a custom solution
This dual focus led to Silverbox’s most innovative application of the SmugMug tool set: creating virtual photo albums for presenting graphic design work to clients. “We’d used SmugMug for our photography services for years,” Sidoriak says. “One day we had the bright idea to upload our design ideas, much like a [physical] photo album. Suddenly, showcasing our thumbnails and initial concepts was easier. All designs are numbered and communication via phone and email is seamless. The option of clients typing their thoughts in the comments section is a tremendous asset.” Clients can also use one-click sharing to send their preferred designs to other stakeholders. Version control is easy, as Sidoriak stacks the newest iterations at the beginning of the album. If the client needs high-res jpegs, they can simply download them from their link, negating the need for Sidoriak to create another file for finals. Her other favorite time-saver? Designing logos in Adobe Illustrator, taking a screenshot of each design and quickly uploading them to SmugMug. “I can compile an album of 20 logo ideas in less than a minute — it’s the perfect combo! Clients can say, ‘I like the colors in #3 and the font in #7’.”
Counting on coupons
Learning how to use SmugMug coupons effectively has been key to growth. For example, Sidoriak realized that offering a free photo session with a retainer-like cart coupon did not yield as much profit as charging fair market value for a sitting and letting clients buy what they want. The coupon is used to discount the sitting, not for print shopping, where it can be viewed as a natural “cap” to spending. “I never had confidence that I was a good photographer—I was the designer,” Sidoriak says. “I once offered a free photo session and used coupons for $450 to spend in your cart, but I think it shot me in the foot—everyone was spending $450 and that’s it. This year I charged $225/hour for the sitting plus buy-what-you-want, my print prices are up, and we averaged in the $600s.”
Seamless with SmugMug
SmugMug has helped Silverbox bring agency-level professionalism to its customer relationships. And unlike traditional photographers, Silverbox’s crew thinks about embellishment from the start. “I can take photos a step further than a regular photographer would,” Sidoriak says. “We’re designers first. Do you want a collage? Do you want a monogram? What color is your living room? I want to hear all about it to modify the photos and design.” For example, SmugMug’s Blurb.com integration has helped Sidoriak do a lively business in Mother’s Day photo books, for which she shoots original photos, embellishes them, designs a book around them and uses Blurb to publish a high-quality memory book. Citing site customization as a major part of a high-quality user experience, Sidoriak relies on SmugMug to get her through peak times, including the holidays and Mother’s Day. “I love everything about SmugMug. They are so on it when I have a client issue; they’re on it well before me. I’m out shopping or something and I come back and it’s resolved. If I could hug them I would.”
Weathering the recession
Counterintuitive lesson #1: placing a fair (high) monetary value on your work does not decrease profit per se. “Moms and young kids out of college are opening up shop down the street. The new freelancer charging $50 per session has taken some of my clientele,” Sidoriak says. “Yet I have raised my prices throughout the recession, and the economy hasn’t really hit my business. During bad economies people are slower to commit…I’m the person who can help modify your business a bit visually—branding and business-to-business work has actually increased.” Sidoriak actually got a little pushback when she fairly upped prices on 4×6 and 5×7 holiday photos last fall—but, instructively, not one customer jumped ship. Sidoriak generates business mostly by word-of-mouth referrals. To network and build her skills, she participates in weekend seminars and conferences with other photographers. The shift to servicing a nationwide customer base took her by surprise when she was recently hired to photograph a batch of products the client shipped to her studio in rural Pennsylvania. Finally, she uses SmugMug’s quick-share to Facebook frequently. “What better advertising than to share your photos to the world? I have received many new clients because of that little blue button!”
Interested in seeing more SmugMug Success Stories? Look here!
The Phoenix: Rising Again to Capture the Beauty of the Build
Name: Connie Anderson
Name of Company: Connie Anderson Photography
Location: Houston, TX
Bragworthy Factoid: Having one of her images featured on the homepage of HGTV.com for several days
Market: Interior & Architectural
Smugger since: 2008
- Being named Hawaiian Style magazine’s architectural photographer of record for the islands
- Realizing she was shooting multimillion-dollar properties on a daily basis
- Bringing revenues nearly back to where they were before the housing crash of 2008
- Site customizability
- Image quality
- Customer service
- Mobile presence
- Search engine optimization (SEO) tools
- Quick-share to social media
Movin’ on up
Anderson never intended to become an interiors photographer. Living in exotic Hawaii, she had always loved photography and simply fell into shooting editorial for a local magazine with an international audience. The magazine did not survive the recession, but her contacts did; before long, realtors were asking her to photograph high-end properties. “I discovered that I really loved doing editorial work because it told a story,” Anderson says. “Shooting interiors and architecture can also tell a story. You have these gorgeous properties to shoot. I was excited to get back and pull images off my card and work with them. I decided to make it my specific goal in my work.” Before long, she’d schooled herself in the necessities of her specialty, including optimizing interior lighting. In addition to commercial work, her images have been published in Hawaiian Style, Luxury Pools and other national publications.
SmugMug in the house
Anderson’s passion for SmugMug can be summed up in two words: esthetics and marketing. “Before moving over to SmugMug, I was being hosted by another site, where my images lacked life and luster,” she says. “On more than a few occasions, people have said how clear and crisp my images look, and this is because of Smugmug.” Her work to customize her site also paid off. “When I first joined, I knew I wanted plenty of customization,” she says. “I perused [forum] threads for a solid week looking for tweaks. The heroes were always helpful and I got my answers quickly.” Reaching out to her client base of home builders, architects, landscape architects, interior designers, pool folks, restaurants and pretty much anyone in hospitality or with a business they want to market professionally also requires a strong command of Google SEO. “Smugmug helped get my site [indexed] faster on Google and gave me the tools to expand on what they’d done by easily allowing keywords on images.” Anderson recommends naming the images you post instead of using generic file numbers to help boost your search results. When she relocated from Hawaii to Houston recently, she changed all her images’ tags in her SmugMug galleries, a move Google Analytics has shown was successful. In fact, optimizing her tagging using SmugMug features like captioning and keywords has helped Anderson appear in the top three or four Google results when potential clients search for such phrases as “Houston Interior Photographer” and “Houston Architectural Photographer.”
Animating the inanimate
Like photographers who shoot live subjects, Anderson enjoys creating images that prompt an emotional response in viewers, pointing out that all photographers love creating beautiful images, regardless of specialty. “I love the inanimate part of photography,” she says. “Lines, color, décor…I find them all appealing. It’s creating beauty—creating something that one wants to walk through.” She credits SmugMug with making her shots look equally striking on her site, monitor and in print. “It’s a consistency that I appreciate—SmugMug is so focused on the look, the best quality, the best sharpness you can get.” Citing image display as one of her most-used features, Anderson points out that you save time using galleries for proofing. “The ability to view them in the larger size is extremely helpful.”
When the bubble burst
The recession hit the real estate industry hard. Anderson was caught in the resulting tidal wave. “After almost nine years in Hawaii, I made a move back to Houston and started over. SmugMug was right behind me. I was fortunate to have a good portfolio; it just took some marketing effort on my part.” Anderson hasn’t changed her focus so much as her tactics. “I’m doing mostly interiors and architecture and I really enjoy that. I was working with a lot of realtors in Hawaii. When I got back to Texas, I realized that was a mistake. I quickly switched gears to focus on builders. They have the budget and were building consistently.” After landing some steady clients, Anderson’s business has thrived, mostly via word-of-mouth and Google. She emphasizes that social media is one of the best ways to get your work seen by potential clients, and uses SmugMug’s quick-share tool often. “When I’ve uploaded new images, it’s great to be able to share the link on my favorite social media sites in one click,” she says.
Building a future
When it comes to futures planning, Anderson believes technology’s where it’s at. “SmugMug has given me a mobile presence. I was reading about that last year, that ‘if you don’t have one by end of year, you’re missing out on ‘X’ percent of business,” she says. “Once again, SmugMug had my back. I depend on that. I wear a lot of hats; I appreciate that they are on top of this.” Excited about future site customization she has planned, Anderson looks forward to continuing the partnership. “Images will always be needed. We just need to figure out how they will be used,” she says. “My images are used mostly online, and I need to stay on top of what’s coming in technology.”
Interested in seeing more SmugMug Success Stories? Look here and stay tuned for more.
The Romantic: A Wedding Pro’s Love Affair With “Events”
Name: Andi Grant
Name of Company: Andi Grant Photography
Location: Hampton Roads, VA
Market: Weddings, Engagements, Bridals, Boudoir
Bragworthy Factoid: Broke $100,000 in sales her first year as a pro
SmugMugger since: 2007
- Quitting her day job at 911 to do photography full-time
- Shooting her first destination wedding (did three last year!)
- MOO cards
- Security and archiving
- Ease of use
- Customer service
- Editing proofs/proof delay
- Speedy turnaround
From alarms to ardor
Grant was raised in a photo-friendly household, often hanging out in her father’s dark room in their Long Island home. But she never thought she would make her living shooting real-life love stories. During her first career as a 911 dispatcher, she bought her first DSLR. “I was the one at church taking all the family pictures,” she says. “Even when all I had was a point-and-shoot they’d ask, because I always had a good eye. But my business escalated with better equipment.” She apprenticed to a local pro, eventually shooting six weddings under her mentor’s tutelage. A mere year later, she left her emergency job to pursue photography full-time. People told Grant she was crazy to quit her government job during the worst of the economic downturn. She took a chance anyway, initially accepting any work she could find—weddings, engagements, but also corporate gigs. “I started my business during the worst possible time,” she says. “But it didn’t matter because I still had my clients. People were still getting married.”
Happy wife, happy life
SmugMug’s focus on customer care frees up Grant to do what she does best—keep brides happy. “I can only think of two or three instances where clients had issues with images,” she says, explaining a smudge that wasn’t and a so-so color-to-B/W conversion early in her career. “SmugMug emailed me immediately. They were so quick to react. They even offered to help with the unedited file, which I thought was amazing. At first the lack of a phone number was frustrating, but only once did someone have to call me—and the [hero] called me from his house!” Grant appreciates that SmugMug’s attention to detail matches her own. “I’m a perfectionist. Details are everything,” she insists. SmugMug’s proof delay feature helps Grant maintain her high standards. “I love proof delay because I do very little editing to my proofing galleries — none for boudoir,” she says. “So when a client orders an image I then have the opportunity to make sure it’s perfect. I especially like to be sure their cropping is correct.”
Powering her through events
Calling SmugMug’s Events feature “a dream come true,” Grant explains that she uses the tool in a number of ways to streamline her business. “Before, after my brides chose their favorite images, I’d have to go in manually and download each file. That was such a pain. Now I go into an event, download all and the client has a separate folder to work with for her event.” Grant uses the separate gallery function for all types of events, from weddings to engagements to boudoir sessions. “It’s especially convenient to build the gallery before the wedding to have the link,” she points out. “You can get the link from the event guest gallery, go over to Moo cards, [get] QR codes business cards, and make it super high-tech for your clients’ guests to link to the gallery.” Grant suggests having URL cards available for smartphone-less guests, and saving assets like extra engagement photos to hand out at weddings as stealth promotional material. “It’s a great way to get more people seeing your images.” She also suggests that colleagues who use email marketing take advantage of event-linked mandatory guest login to send newsletters and coupons.
More features to love
SmugMug archiving is Grant’s saving grace. Citing an example of a bride who emailed Grant the night before her second anniversary with a fatal computer crash in which she lost all her wedding images, Grant explains that she was able to resurrect the bride’s memories in a mere five minutes. “Most photographers would need to dig up the external hard drive and burn them a new disk. Instead, I went into her galleries, used the Download All feature and emailed her the link to her four galleries zipped into an easy-to-open file. I have a deep sense of security knowing my images are nicely organized and stored,” she says. The self-proclaimed perfectionist is also grateful for the seamless design integration between her site and SmugMug’s ordering, sharing and back-up functions. “SmugMug has done a great job over the years making customization very easy,” she says, expressing pleasure that her own storefront and SmugMug site match exactly. “I’m thankful to have my cute look on SmugMug and it was super affordable.”
It’s a family affair
Admirers have called Grant’s work “traditional,” a label that used to amuse her until she began to grasp the implicit compliment. “It’s interesting because I don’t come from a classical photography background,” she says. “Now I want to be considered timeless. My images are very clear—sharp, well-exposed images that are not over-manipulated. Very organic. People see that and like it. So many wedding photos are worked over to give them that contemporary vibe, but that can take away from the image itself.” Grant is assisted at shoots by her daughter Zoe, a photographer in her own right building a specialty in pets. “It’s wonderful having someone who knows everything I want and need. She’s amazing to work with and she’s my comic relief. When I shoot a wide angle, she gets in nice and close, so we have different images of the same thing.”
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The Realist: Making It Fun, Keeping It Real
Name: Monica Toohey-Krause
Name of Company: Studio KYK Photography
Location: Newcastle, California
Bragworthy Factoid: Used coupons for a special-occasion sale that generated $600 in past-shoot sales on a single day
SmugMugger since: 2006
- Transitioning from amateur school documentarian to owner of a brick-and-mortar business averaging 2-5 shoots/week
- Successfully using Facebook for 99% of her marketing
Studio KYK Photography is a thriving photography business just outside of Newcastle, California. Born out of a passion for photography that was reignited when Monica was asked to be school photographer for her daughter’s preschool, the studio has grown from a home-based business doing 10 or 15 shoots a year, to a brick and mortar studio, doing about three shoots per week. Monica’s specialty is capturing real moments with real people. “I love taking photos and don’t really care much what the subject is, as long as I am capturing a real moment,” she says. “In a month I may shoot anything from weddings to births, babies to seniors, headshots to everyday fun playing in the rain. My clients are real people who want natural, fun photos.“
Soup-to-nuts with SmugMug
Monica’s clients were looking for studio-quality prints of her beautiful photography, and it was during the search for a professional print lab that Monica found SmugMug. She was thrilled to learn that not only could SmugMug serve her print fulfillment needs through Bay Photo, but that it could be her complete website solution. SmugMug provided Studio KYK with a fully customizable and brandable website, an image archiving service, a shopping cart and centralized print fulfillment. SmugMug’s shopping cart handles all of the aspects of print order fulfillment, from payment collection to customer satisfaction.
Making it hers
Monica used SmugMug to help establish and grow her brand. She maximized SmugMug’s customizability, first working with a designer to develop her logo, later designing her SmugMug website to best represent her brand, whimsical attitude and individual style. Her SmugMug hub showcases her gorgeous photography and shows how much fun it will be to work with her. “I’m so proud of my site and having a place to call home,” she says. “I wouldn’t be where I am without you; I’d be scattered all over the place and wouldn’t be able to do what I do.”
Monica markets her business through word of mouth and social media; she was an early Facebook adopter. She uses SmugMug’s new Facebook album tool, which allows photographers to publish a selection of SmugMug gallery photos as a Facebook album. Those photos lead back to her SmugMug gallery and shopping cart, but behave like a Facebook album, complete with photo-tagging. Monica also uses SmugMug coupons, in conjunction with Facebook marketing, to hold studio specials, and to encourage clients to buy their prints. She holds spontaneous Open Studio Days, when a $25 deposit earns a $25 print credit to purchase prints from the session. She has held special occasion sales (e.g., Super Bowl) via a coupon for 30% off orders placed on that day.
Interested in seeing more SmugMug Success Stories? Look here!
Goooaaaalll! Glossy Finish Scores With Assists From SmugMug and Social Media
Name: Haim Ariav
Title: President & Founder
Company: Glossy Finish
Location: Jacksonville, Florida
Market: Youth Sports
Bragworthy Factoid: Official swag-maker for the Florida High School Athletic Association
SmugMugger Since: 2011
- Services 250,000-300,000 customers annually
- Shoots 40,000-50,000 gorgeous images per event
- 5 million+ images generated over last 5 years
- Client list includes AAU, AYSO, Babe Ruth, Cal Ripken, Pop Warner, Triple Crown Sports, United Soccer Leagues USSSA and ESPN Wide World of Sports
- Customer service
- Extreme customizability
- Ease of use for customers
- Order branding
- Digital watermarks for Facebook and Twitter distribution
Born of a brain fart
Glossy Finish was born five years ago when Haim Ariav was suddenly inspired to build a mobile photo lab in a trailer and cart it to sporting events, enabling families to view, purchase and retrieve photos on-site. Ariav, a classically trained photographer, saw an unfilled niche: recognizing that, as a “want” industry, photography was taking a hit in a rough economy, he set out to re-brand memorializing athletic moments as a “need” by making it easier to enshrine kids’ sports glory. Redefining how images are delivered on-site is the foundation of Glossy’s business model, unique in the sports photography vertical.
The post-game show
But on-site sales aren’t Glossy’s sole revenue stream. After an event, Ariav’s team uploads its treasures to SmugMug’s cloud and follows through with additional distribution via SmugMug’s labs. Online sales, a significant supplement to Glossy’s revenue stream, run smoothly on SmugMug, along with back office functions. “We rely on the website for 100% of our revenues for events that don’t utilize the mobile lab,” Ariav says. “Using the SmugMug infrastructure, reliability and scalability are key for us. Having access to the various products offered by the labs is a huge opportunity for us to carry out our online strategy.” Ariav’s team uses online proofing to boost non-mobile sales. “Different events may not warrant the use of our patent-pending mobile lab,” he points out. “The success of those depends on customer satisfaction with images and ease of purchase. SmugMug allows us to deliver a successful experience.”
Scoring points with social media
Ariav endorsed SmugMug’s decision to allow digital downloads to have watermarks. “We felt it would facilitate our ability to brand ourselves on social media,” Ariav says. “We wanted to have a presence on social networks like Facebook and Twitter, where so much photo sharing takes place. We know how important printmarks and watermarks are to both our business and our creativity.” Ariav milks every branding opportunity he can out of SmugMug’s tools, even while focused on image protection. “Printmarks turn images from just a photograph into a memory,” he says. “Our logo is also typically part of the printmark. Watermarks deter people from stealing, but we also use them as a way to show what [clients’] prints will look like with the printmark. We are always marketing and trying to keep up brand awareness.”
Owning it from field to check-out
Outlining a strong customization strategy for site design and gallery organization, and a reliance on SmugMug’s advanced customization tools, Glossy also has the Cart Branding feature firmly in the “on” position: “Branding is a huge part of what we do best, which can be seen in our website customization. We [use] Cart Branding so our customers know they’re getting a great Glossy Finish product. We also use the box sticker. We want customers to know who they are getting a package from and, most importantly, thank them for their order.”
Less work, more profit
Ariav used to blanket events with trigger-happy shutterbugs. Now, by sending sales teams to pre-sign customers, he may only capture four or five kids out of 20, but the average order has increased from $25 to $125. “It’s okay not to photograph every player on every field at every game,” he says. “We focus only on those that want and love our photos. It works better for the customer and us.” With SmugMug’s help, this focus on time-saving extends to online sales: “We try to keep pricing as uniform as we can to lessen confusion on our end,” Ariav says. “With the introduction of pricelists it is much easier to organize pricing throughout the site. Now I can set up pricelists for sales and simply move galleries around once the sale is over.”
Making friends with the moms
After cutting overhead and moving from the flea-market, on-spec approach to a more profitable, streamlined system scaffolded on a $20 deposit credited toward purchase, Ariav saw opportunities to reach a larger audience without snapping a photo. Envisioning his business as “an exclusive entertainment club,” Ariav created custom lanyards customers could don at soccer tournaments, showcasing that their kid’s athletic prowess was immortalized by Glossy Finish. The result? A flood of visitors to his trailer.
Taming the technology beast
Photographers didn’t used to discriminate when it came to capturing contacts; Glossy worked hard to collect home addresses and emails. Now, Ariav plays smarter, relying on texting select targets for marketing blasts. His on-site blitzes are wildly successful. “If we have a slow period, we can ping them and—boom!—the trailer fills up. We have a direct connection to our customers. And when we’re done with an event, we have more contacts in our database for future direct and instant marketing.”
Interested in seeing more SmugMug Success Stories? Look here and stay tuned for more as we have them.
HoofClix Gives Creative Ambition Full Rein
Name: Mark Lehner
Location: Greer, SC
Market: Equine photography
Bragworthy Factoid: HoofClix trotted out 606,705 SmugMug photo-views in February
- Shot 2,500 unique riders last year
- Takes 75,000 photos yearly; team shoots about 7,500/weekend
- Whoa! – 33,000 pictures in four days at Nationals
- Photographed the US, Canadian and British Olympic teams
- Snapped some of Three-day Eventing’s biggest names, including Philip Dutton, Boyd Martin, Becky Holder and Leslie Law
- Image display
- Publish to Facebook beta
- Proof delay
- Price lists
- Image protection and watermarks
- Branding and customizability (especially gallery hierarchies)
- Stats and traffic data
Bridling at the artist label
“I don’t consider myself an artist per se. I consider myself a technician and an athlete. I recognize athletic moments and know how to find the spot on the course where an athletic moment will take place,” says leading equine photographer Mark Lehner, whose work has been featured on the covers of Eventing and Practical Horseman. Lehner’s being modest—he’s a member of an exclusive group of equestrian pros who have the deep knowledge and creative instincts needed to capture vibrant, unique shots of horses and people in action. (To clarify: This involves facing huge animals with hooves.)
Spurred to shoot
Lehner, who started college intending to be an architect but was counseled out of the program after professors told him he had no “artistic” talent, segued into amateur photography after taking an undergrad course. With no formal program available, he evolved his hobby into a passion, later marrying it to his lifelong work with horses. Bequeathed a legendary family tack shop by his horsewoman mother and the father of equestrienne daughters himself, Lehner invested in several digital Nikons in 2003 after witnessing the labor-intensive nature of using film to photograph horse shows. Web-based HoofClix took off at a gallop.
Knowing Lehner’s habit of posting pics quickly following events, HoofClix’s customers frequently opt to review photos later offsite. “SmugMug’s gallery hierarchy really fits into the way I organize my shows by venue, show date and rider,” says Lehner. “If someone organizes his workflow in that manner from the start, equestrian or not, he can help his customers quickly find their images once they land on SmugMug.” Lehner makes the most of SmugMug’s website and gallery customizability. “It’s the simplest way I know to let people get right to what they are looking for–pictures of themselves,” he says. Other SmugMug features that help streamline Lehner’s business are proof delay and price lists. “[Proof delay] has changed my whole workflow. I used to edit every image before uploading, which caused delays. Now I upload only low-res batch-processed images, set each gallery to proof delay and correct only purchased images.” Lehner also likes the improved price lists: “Now I can create a new list and apply it to a gallery, and, in reverse, see which galleries have a pricelist assigned to them.” Calling SmugMug’s shopping cart for print sales “the simplest way there is to purchase,” Lehner says its design makes “intuitive sense,” all of which spares him time better spent shooting and managing higher-level business concerns.
Sharing the love
Lehner has used SmugMug’s Facebook publishing tool extensively. “I am really involved in social networking, so I enjoy [it]. It’s easy to use, and I already know that it’s brought people back to buy.” Typically, after he shares a SmugMug-hosted gallery via Facebook, he checks for a spike in traffic using Insights metrics. He likes that you can even place a “Buy” button in the Facebook image flows. “People are always in the mood to look at pictures,” he says. “This is a much friendlier way to get them to visit your site than a stream of nagging reminders to look at proofs.”
Reining in photo theft
In a time when copyright infringement is epidemic, Lehner contains it by limiting proofs to medium size and using a variety of elaborate watermarks for different situations, one with strong language detailing legalities and inviting witnesses to report theft if it is discovered somewhere other than Lehner’s site. He uses a different watermark to indicate that an image has been purchased for online use. SmugMug’s watermarking functionality gives him the range of options he needs. “In the digital age, the biggest challenge is a catch-22,” he says. “If you don’t put your photos online, they can’t purchase. If you do, people will use screen capture, upload them to Facebook and steal them. My online [watermark] and print mark are different, so I can see instantly if an image was bought in print form, for instance, then scanned without permission and uploaded to the Net.” Lehner, who spearheaded an industry effort to prevent theft, emphasizes the importance of features like right-click protection and watermarking. “SmugMug has done all it possibly can short of engineering a way for me to reach through the screen. I also do a lot of social networking to help find stolen images, reach out to coaches and trainers and try to educate new riders on how they should treat proofs.”