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Posts Tagged ‘photo tips’

Photo Tip: 5 Reasons Why We Fell in Love with Lightroom

June 4, 2014 113 comments

It’s been a while since we’ve talked about our love for one of the best photo tools on the market, Lightroom. We’re going to share some of our favorite things about it that knocks our socks off and why we hope you’ll give it a try, too. Plus, if you’re just scared about diving into the Adobe pool, we’re giving away 4 (signed!) copies of Scott Kelby’s fantastic instructional book, The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5 Book for Digital Photographers, at the end of this post.

So keep reading to see how you can win yours!

Now, here are our top 5 reasons why Lightroom’s awesome.

1) Keywording Is a Breeze

Keywords are a small, but important part of getting your photos properly searchable. Whether you’ll be looking through your own galleries or hoping to cash in on sales sparked by Google, keywording is how you get there.

While SmugMug has great bulk keyword and caption tools, adding them during your Lightroom workflow is a step saver and has the added benefit of adding the keywords to the photo’s metadata.

You can enter keywords using the Library module, and even apply them to batches of photos all at once. The best part? Lightroom will automatically suggest keywords you’ve used before when you start typing.

And yes, these keywords and captions will transfer over to SmugMug when you publish.

2) No JPGs Required

Unless you’re new to SmugMug, you probably already know that we’ve got a free Publish to SmugMug plugin available in Lightroom. (You can download it here.)The fact that it doesn’t cost a cent is pretty great, but even better is that you can easily Publish your photos to new or existing galleries on your SmugMug account, all without needing to create — or store — a separate JPG file on your computer’s hard drive.

Try the easy, one-click syncing between your Lightroom catalog and your SmugMug folder structure. We’ll worry about your JPG storage so you don’t have to.

3) Everything’s Better in Bulk

The greatest power of Lightroom is how easily it lets you do sweeping changes to swaths of photos at once. Presets, flags, and anything you can think of — you can add them with just a few clicks and get your event photos out the door and into your clients’ inboxes in no time.

Check out this post that Adobe educator Matt Kloskowski did for us to help sift through your massive photo piles with ease.

4) Easy-to-Replace Proofs

Pro photographers, this one’s for you: When your client orders prints from your SmugMug galleries and you’ve set up Proof Delay, did you know that you can use Lightroom to quickly polish, edit, and republish only those photos back to your SmugMug galleries before sending the order to the lab?

We think this is the biggest lifesaver for any photographer who knows their clients will buy only a few photos out of thousands. Rather than editing every single photo from the shoot, simply upload your proofs and let them make their choice.

Tip: Take it a step further with Events & Favorites. Lightroom will sync their Favorites galleries and pull their choices back into your catalog, making it even easier for you to edit (and republish) just the ones they love best.

5) It’s Always Improving

Adobe’s always making their products more powerful and better for you, and we are, too. Both Lightroom and the SmugMug plugin check automatically for updates, and you’ll notice this when you open up the program and see that window.

What we’ve added recently: The ability to choose your gallery’s Featured Photo via the plugin, and the ability to create/edit/delete Quick Settings, Watermarks, and Printmarks. And lots more.

You can always check to see the updates we’ve made to the plugin on the dedicated page in our help pages.

The Book Giveaway

As promised, we’ve got 4 signed copies of Scott Kelby’s best-selling Lightroom 5 bible to give away, The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5 Book for Digital Photographers:

This comprehensive book covers everything from basic sliders to Scott’s own workflow, and is the #1 Lightroom book on the market (with good reason). So if you’re ready to get this into your hands and begin your journey to becoming a Lightroom wizard, simply leave a comment below and include these two responses:

1) What are the biggest stumbling blocks in your photo editing workflow?

2) A link to your SmugMug website (so we know how to reach you if you win)

We’ll choose 4 lucky random winners on Wednesday, June 11th, 2014, and announce them right here.

Stay tuned, good luck, and watch this space!

UPDATE 6/11/2014: Winners! We randomly picked 4 winners who commented here and here’s who we drew:

We’ll be in touch with you individually to deliver your books. Congrats!

How to Photograph Lava Without HDR or Photoshop

May 28, 2014 4 comments

CJ Kale and Nick Selway long ago fell in love with Hawaii and founded Lava Light, a photography gallery focused on capturing the ever-changing landscape created by an active volcano and crashing waves—and sometimes both together when the conditions are just right.

And if swimming with fire and dodging lava bombs weren’t challenging enough, these photographers believe in creating their images completely in camera. Balancing exposures between sky, water, and lava can be incredibly tricky.

Luckily, Lava Light has shared some tips to help you get the shot without combining exposures or using HDR.

Photo Tip #1

To capture lava and stars together, put a neutral-density (ND) gradient filter on your lens upside down to balance the extreme exposures between the lava and stars.

Photo Credit: Nick Selway/Lava Light Galleries

Photo Credit: Nick Selway/Lava Light Galleries

 

Photo Tip #2

When photographing lava in the daytime, use the ND grad right side up to balance the light from the sunrise, because the sun will eventually be brighter than the lava is.

Volcano images Kilauea Hawaii

Photo Credit: CJ Kale/Lava Light Galleries

 

Photo Tip #3

For front-lit scenes, a hard ND grad balances light from a bright sky and a dark foreground, allowing you to darken the sky and deepen colors. For example, in this shot I used a polarizer to intensify the rainbow, but it left the sky a fraction too bright. So I added a 1-stop hard ND grad across the entire sky to darken it and get its depth and color to match with the lava and everything that’s front lit below.

Volcano images Kilauea Hawaii

Photo Credit: CJ Kale/Lava Light Galleries

 

Photo Tip #4

To capture the little curvature of a wave, a shutter speed around 1/3 of a second is usually enough to get a little light blur to the water but keep that shape in the wave.

Photo Credit: CJ Kale/Lava Light Galleries

Photo Credit: CJ Kale/Lava Light Galleries

 

Photo Tip #5

If you’re trying to capture a really misty feel, where the water almost looks like fog, use a 2- to 3-second exposure.

kona_sunset

Photo Credit: Nick Selway/Lava Light Galleries

 

Photo Tip #6

Since we capture everything in camera, sometimes we have to compromise on exposures and accept some clipping of highlights or shadows. So maybe a rock by the lava won’t have any detail in the shadows because I want to capture the detail in the lava instead, and I prioritize my exposure for the lava.

Photo Credit: Nick Selway/Lava Light Galleries

Photo Credit: Nick Selway/Lava Light Galleries

 

Photo Tip #7

Prepare the right gear for the day. My normal, hike-out-to-the-volcano kit includes a Nikon D800e, Canon 5dMkIII, 16–35 L lens for Canon, 14–24 for Nikon, a 50mm and an 85mm prime, and a 50–500 Sigma telephoto. Because sometimes you want a wide-angle shot, like the rainbow and lava, and others you want to zoom in on the drip, which requires a telephoto.

Photo Credit: CJ Kale/Lava Light Galleries

Photo Credit: CJ Kale/Lava Light Galleries

 

Want more?

Check out the SmugMug Films artist profile of Lava Light below. Thanks for the tips, Nick and CJ!

Find Lava Light online:

Photo Tip: 4 Tricks to Get Your Photos Done in Record Time

May 19, 2014 Leave a comment

Procrastination gets the best of us, but what’s the point of taking photos if they’re going to die unseen on your hard drive? Most of us can blame “time” as the reason we don’t sit down to edit our photos, but with a little foresight, you can kick that habit to the curb.

Here are 4 tips we recommend to make processing less of a process.

Get out and take pictures. You’ll capture great memories, and using your camera will become second nature.

1) Do Your Homework

Did all-nighters work for you when you were in school? Maybe, but the majority of us would probably admit we got better grades when we completed regular assignments.

The same goes for photography: staying up to date on techniques and shooting regularly will keep your brain (and hands) in tip-top shape. Also, look around for inspiration and techniques that fellow photographers are using, so you keep pushing your boundaries. The more experience you have – and the more often you take in new info – the better prepared you’ll be for when things go awry.

Downpour on the wedding day? Did your strobes conk out? No problem!  Being able to adjust in the moment will help your exposures come out right the first time—requiring less tweaking once you get them off the camera and onto your computer.

Knowing how to properly set up your strobes and camera settings pays off when you get back to your computer!

2) Get It Right Straight Out of Camera 

If you’re doing the above, you’re that much closer to getting this trick done, too. Getting the perfect shot in-camera (often shortened to “SOOC”) will drastically reduce the amount of time you have to pixel peep, polish, and tweak.

You’ll probably need to do final adjustments in post, such as adjust white balance, contrast, or sharpening, but you’ll save time with the big stuff.

And this is the beauty of digital – unlike film, you can take as many shots as you need to get it right without accruing additional costs.

Lightroom does everything from one place: organize, edit, keyword, publish, and more.

3) Use Lightroom

It’s no secret that we seriously love Lightroom. Why? You can use it to import, organize, tag, and edit all your photos and seamlessly publish them to your SmugMug galleries. In short, it does everything.

We’ve posted a couple of how-to’s about Lightroom in the past, and we won’t stop now. Take a look at one of our most popular articles with Kelby Media educator Matt Kloskowski, and this brief video by CreativeLive teacher Jared Platt that shows you how to publish directly from Lightroom to SmugMug.

In short, doing all your work in one program and being able to publish and sync between your local files and your online archives is a true time-saver we can’t recommend enough!

Quick Settings: Just one of many “set it and forget it” features you get at SmugMug.

4) Let SmugMug Do the Rest

Once your photos are safely in your SmugMug galleries, you can make us organize your photos with virtually no extra heavy lifting by you. Here are a few of our favorite “set it and forget it” features that speed things up and get you on your way:

  • Quick Settings. Create “templates” for gallery settings, like watermark style, largest size, and whether or not viewers can purchase your photos.
  • Smart Galleries. Automatically curate new photos into existing galleries as you upload them.
  • Price and Sell. Choose products and set a markup so fans can order prints direct from your website.
  • Events & Favorites. Share these with clients to let them tag favorites and display them all in a personalized, private gallery.
  • Our 30-day Print Guarantee. For everything else that can possibly go wrong with wowing your fans, leave it to us. We have a fabulous 30-day guarantee on all of our print and gift orders, meaning that  we’ll replace or refund the order if you (or your clients) don’t love it.

We hope these tips ease your worries and get you shooting, sharing, and digging right in to your backlog of photos.

Happy editing!

Link roundup:

The Art of Copy Work: Photographing Artwork Accurately Without Glare

May 14, 2014 6 comments

Today’s guest post is part 2 of a series of tutorials on how to light reflective subjects and surfaces from BorrowLenses.com. Alex Huff is a staff photographer and copywriter for BorrowLenses and has photographed for Sotheby’s, Google, X-Games, and more. In this post, she gives a few beginner’s tips on avoiding glare and maintaining color fidelity when photographing artwork.

All example images were lit and shot using the following:

Artwork courtesy of Code and Canvas, which brings artists and technologists together in shared spaces to foster creativity and innovation.


When photographing reflective surfaces, lighting becomes a game of billiards. In my last post on photographing people in eyeglasses, we relied heavily on this following rule:

Angle of Incidence = Angle of Reflection 

To review, the angle at which a light beam hits an object will reflect light out at that same angle. Ignoring exceptions involving certain textures and refraction, we can depend on light to travel in a straight and predictable line.
You may find yourself in a position of having to photograph something behind glass. The rules are largely the same as when you’re photographing someone wearing glasses but you also need to be certain that the colors are being represented accurately as well.

Copy Work

Copy work, or a copy job, is when the photographer is reproducing a piece of artwork such as paintings, illustrations, and antique photographs. The conditions under which you have to shoot some of these things can be tough (stuck on walls in small rooms, leaning against something and under fluorescents, etc) but knowing the most basic copy work setup and remembering your family of angles will get you out of most glare binds.

Family of Angles

What the camera can see will determine our family of angles. In a typical copy work lighting setup, you will have 1 light on either side of your subject but the angle is very important.

Placing my light heads anywhere within that circle will likely result in glare because it is inside the danger zone of angle of reflectance. Our instinct is to put lights in front of the thing we want to light but when dealing with reflective surfaces we have to imagine a ball of light coming from the flash and into your painting in a straight line and bouncing back out again. If the bounce-back appears to be within the family of angles for what your camera is seeing then move those lights outside that zone or, in this case, more to the side. This allows the bounce-back to not glare back into the lens.

Lighting Outside the Family of Angles

When photographing artwork, placing your lights at acute angles in reference to the subject (90º or less – think of on-camera flash as being 0º) is generally bad and placing them at obtuse angles (greater than 90º) is generally good.

For this painting by Calixto Robles, I can already tell from my modeling lamps that I am probably within the family of angles to receive glare. Eyeballing it, I could tell that the light was going to shoot out of the glass and back into my lens — especially since I am also shooting directly instead of reflectively, like with a bounce umbrella.

An easy fix for this is to place my flashes outside the family of angles, more obtusely-angled in relation to my subject.

Placing my lights more to the side gets them outside my family of angles. Remember, too, that using a wide lens will increase the size of your family of angles. If you have the space to shoot copy work using a long lens, your choice of lighting positions increases.

These are all unedited so they would normally need a bit of tweaking but my glare is gone and that is a great starting point for perfecting the shot.

Raking the Light

This kind of obtusely-angled lighting is referred to as “raking the light.” It’s great not only for avoiding glare, since the angles are so extreme that they are often outside the family of angles for reflection, but also for showing texture.

In this detail shot of Vivien Sin’s work, I have glare, washed out colors, and a little too much texture in places where I don’t really want it.

These yellow arrows represent my family of angles. I have placed my flashes well within the danger zone.

Moving my lights more to the side, further away from my family of angles and at a more oblique angle, improves this. I probably could have raked the light even further by placing the lights nearly parallel to the painting, bathing it in light — especially if I were bouncing the light from inside an umbrella or softbox. Sometimes you might not have modifiers on-hand so knowing you can still work with “bald” lights is key.

Much better. However, how do you know these colors are even accurate? After all, I am showing you a copy of the painting through my photography and you are trusting me to portray it accurately. This requires another useful tool: the color checker.

Color Checker Cards and White Balance

White balance is largely not an issue in this age of RAW files. Most of the time, our cameras are excellent at reproducing color and predicting proper white balance. With artwork, though, such subjectivity can ruin your presentation. Using a color checker card will give you a set of specially prepared colors and grayscales that give you a frame of reference for objectively correct colors. It also helps you find a precise, neutral white. When you’re editing something with a color checker in one of your frames, you can much more easily keep the colors in all of your frames consistent and accurate.

With all of the deep, rich colors in Vivien Sin’s painting, I want to make sure they remain consistent across editing multiple files and also that I have a white balance that is set based on the most neutral target possible for color fidelity.

You can use a color checker card just as a reference and white balance corrector without any further calibration. However, its performance is maximized when you calibrate your monitor and printer and create custom profiles using free plug ins with your editing software.

To start, take a sample of a neutral color or shade. I used the gray square second to the left next to 100% white.

I have the X-Rite free ColorChecker Passport software installed in my Lightroom. You don’t have to have this to get a read on color accuracy but it allows you to create custom profiles under different lighting conditions and quickly apply those profiles to images in an entire collection for consistency. This was done by taking a picture of the color card in the same environment as Vivien’s painting, adjusting my white balance around a neutral gray on the card, and saving it as a profile (exactly how to do this varies with your editing software and X-Rite has instructions for each of them).

Instead of relying on one of my camera’s profiles, or Adobe Standard, I can use a profile that is built around colors as they should be viewed objectively given the environment it was shot in, custom-named so that I can remember what I shot with to create it.

The difference might not be obvious but notice the reds in the lower corner. Adobe Standard rendered them slightly more orange than they should be. It’s a subtle change for the extra work but if you remember to take just 1 shot with a color card it gives you the option to fine tune colors and white balance later. This is important for not only copy work but for real estate shooting as well, where interior paint colors might be very important to the person you are shooting for.

Copy Work Shooting Basics

If you are starting out with shooting anything reflective, especially artwork, remember:

  • The Angle of Incidence = Angle of Reflection
  • If the flash is within 90º of the reflective surface, it is likely to give off glare. Place your lights obtusely and sometimes even as far as parallel to either side of a painting.
  • Raking the light in this manner will also show texture.
  • Use a color checker card to verify color accuracy and white balance in post production.

Flash and Artwork Damage

The jury is still out on this but the general consensus is that a lot of stuff can affect paintings, including UV light, pollution, and temperature. Artwork can even be a danger to itself when off-gassing under tight framing. Art is exposed to flash for a short period of time during copy work and the consensus is that it’s not a problem. That said, if you’re shooting for a client, find out their comfort level for flash exposure before proceeding.

I hope these tips help you take better photographs of the various copy work items in your life, whether it’s professional artwork or personal antique photographic keepsakes.

Glare Aware: Photographing Portraits of People in Glasses

February 19, 2014 9 comments

This is part 1 of a series of tutorials on how to light reflective subjects and surfaces from BorrowLenses.com. Alex Huff is a staff photographer and copy writer for BorrowLenses and has photographed for Sotheby’s, Google, X-Games, and more. In this post, she gives us three major ways to avoid getting glare and reflections when taking portraits of subjects wearing eyeglasses. SmugMug’s own Katherine Cheng and Michael Bonocore served as her bespectacled models.

All example images were lit and shot using the following:


Photographers who are new to lighting will sometimes panic when faced with photographing someone in glasses. Sometimes even seasoned photographers will make more adjustments than necessary to avoid a dreaded reflection. Here are a couple of lighting laws that are easy to remember and will increase your confidence when taking portraits of people wearing eyeglasses.

Angle of Incidence = Angle of Reflection

Light is fairly predictable. A quick review of angles will allow you to capture glare-free specs. In any shoot, there are 3 positions that can be adjusted:

  • The position/angle of your light.
  • The position/angle of your model.
  • Your shooting position.

Often, you only need to move 1 of these to improve eyeglasses portraits. First, let’s get a brief science review out of the way:

Angle of Incidence = Angle of Reflection

Your source of light produces a beam that travels in a straight line. The angle at which a light beam hits an object will reflect light out at that same angle. There are other factors to consider, such as the shape of the surface that is being hit and the size of your light source, but for your purpose you can depend on this rule to get you out of the line of fire when trying to shoot a bespectacled subject.

In the case of eyeglasses, make sure that the angle of the light hitting your subject is different from the angle you are shooting them at. When the light comes bouncing off those eyeglasses, you want it to miss you entirely.

Broad Lighting and Short Lighting

Short lighting is when your light is most illuminating the angle of the face that is further from the camera. Broad lighting is when your light is most illuminating the angle of the face that is closer to the camera. Short lighting is harder to use on subjects wearing glasses than broad lighting.

Why? When you place your light on the far side of a face, glasses are more bluntly facing the light, as illustrated on the left in the diagram above. When the light hits the glass, it bounces off at the same angle that it was hit at and right into your lens. When you place your light on the near side of a face, you hit the glasses at an angle that is more oblique by virtue of them facing slightly away from the light. The angle the light hits them at is now not as likely to bounce back into your camera.

In Figure 1, Katherine’s left side is closest to the camera – even if only slightly. The light is on her right side – the side slightly farther from the camera. This produces short lighting, which often causes reflections in glasses. You can see the green glare just in the corner of her glasses. I can either move the light to her left side or I can ask her to switch sides in her chair.

I decide to have her switch sides in her chair. She is more mobile than my light. In Figure 2, the light is still on her right side but now her right side is also closest to the camera. This is broad lighting and it solves my glare problem.

As you can see in Figures 3 and 4, allowing the light to hit the outer edge of the glasses produces no glare versus when they are hit more bluntly. The slightest change in your model’s position can make a big difference.

Shooting Eyeglasses Straight On

In the example above, I kept my camera and my light stationary and asked my model to move. A good rule to follow for any kind of lighting problem is to only ever change one variable at a time.

It is possible to shoot people in glasses straight on without reflections if you remember your angles. In Figure 5, I am lighting Katherine from a slight angle and even with the eye – the catchlight is almost in the middle of her eye. Shooting this low will always produce glare. Remember, your angle of incidence is equal to the angle of reflection and here the angle going in is almost parallel with the camera.

There are a couple of ways to deal with this problem. One is to tilt the glasses downward on the face of the model or have her tilt her head downward. Sometimes this looks unnatural but it is a good solution for people using the built-in flash on their cameras because there is no other way to move that light.

However, here I choose to move my light. I simply move the light upward and point it downward a little more. In the diagram below, you can see how this allows the light a better chance at reflecting toward the ground and away from the lens.

In Example 6, I have moved the light ever so slightly up. You can still catch a sliver of reflection in her glasses, which can be solved by moving the light up further still. However, there is an upper limit to this method – you don’t want to give your model raccoon eyes or deep eyeglass frame shadows.

Dodging Angles: Shooting from a Different Position

If you like where your light is and you like where your model is and you are getting glare off of something then your last refuge is to change yourself.

In Example 7, I have a situation that can result in a large hot spot against my window. If you observe the angle at which your light is hitting a window, you can predict where it is going to bounce out at, too. Don’t shoot from that angle!

As you can see in Example 8, and in the resulting portraits below, my position as a photographer made a very big difference in lighting and the presence of glare on the window without me changing the position of the light one bit!

This is also good knowledge to have on tap when photographing aquariums, cars, and other reflective surfaces.

The Power of a Face: Directing Your Subject

Sometimes we don’t have a lot of time with our subjects. Michael, in Figure 9, is a very important man who doesn’t have time for me to move my light around. The reflections in his glasses are gasp-worthy. Don’t panic! As you can see, the slightest head tilt solves the problem and allows the light to bounce a little more off of his forehead rather than off of his eyeglasses.

Remember:

  • The angle that light hits a subject is going to bounce off at the same angle.
  • Lighting on the far side of the face (short lighting) is often more problematic for glasses wearers than lighting on the near side of the face (broad lighting).
  • Make small changes in isolation: change your position, your model’s position/head angle, or your light’s position/angle.

Photographing people in glasses is intimidating. You are forced to consider more than just “what looks good” on your subject in that situation. You have to consider what looks good and what is practical for a crystal clear image unmarred by reflections of umbrellas or green glare. However, if you remember even just one of these tips, it can save your nerves and your shoot.

Thanks so much to our friends over at BorrowLenses for helping us sharpen our skills both in and out of the studio! Check out the other posts they’ve written for our blog, like How to Safely Buy a Used Lens and their review of mirrorless cameras. Stay tuned and watch this space for the next part in this series and be sure to practice, take better pictures and have fun.  

How To Avoid Leaking Sensitive Photos

February 7, 2014 19 comments

Stories are breaking on sites like Fstoppers and Brandsmash about private Boudoir photos that appeared on a creepy voyeur forum.  It’s hard to imagine a more humiliating nightmare for a photographer or their clients.

Photo Used With Permission From Je Revele Photography 

Photos came from several sites, including SmugMug, and we paid extreme attention over the last two days to how it happened.  We tried to take some comfort in observing that in every instance, it came down to passwords that were guessable in just a few tries.

The question for us was what could we do that we weren’t already?  Over the past year, we’ve done considerable work around this problem, but yesterday we decided to expose some of the alerts our systems generate to our customers.

When our systems see several password attempts on a gallery or folder, they now send an email to the owner of the SmugMug site.  It identifies the gallery, gives the first few digits of each password attempt with asterisks for the rest (bou***), and adds info like time of day and geographic location the request may be coming from.

Today our Support Heroes are receiving thank-yous from people whose family members couldn’t get in because they left the caps lock key on or forgot some aspect of the password “it’s a cap O (oh), not a 0 (zero)”.

And we read two help tickets from photographers who discovered that their boudoir galleries had password guessers.  Fortunately, they had long passwords that were too hard to guess, but they are still making changes like removing the word Boudoir from the title, and making the gallery Unlisted so only people who obtain the link can know of its existence.

One of the security upgrades that came with New SmugMug is we don’t store passwords in a form that could leak in any way, including a systems breach, a bug, or a disgruntled employee. We use an industrial grade, Cryptographic hash function.

The breaking stories are about Boudoir photos, but we host incredibly sensitive photos (all cloud services do) of unannounced products and even, we remember, photos of an upcoming TIME Person of the Year.

Best Practices:

1.  Set a good gallery password before uploading photos!

2.  Set galleries and folders to Unlisted.  Unlisted means means no one can see them unless they have somehow been given a link.  They cannot guess the link because it has a random string added to its URL.  The combination of strong password + Unlisted is extremely secure.

You can learn more about how to protect your SmugMug galleries here.

We hope this helps, and thanks for being part of the SmugMug family!

Chris & Don MacAskill

Founders

Do You REALLY Need to Buy That New Camera?

February 5, 2014 16 comments

Maybe you didn’t get that dream camera for Christmas, or your current camera is looking a little sad next to the shiny new gadgets that are cramming up your news feeds. Camera equipment is like all other electronics: there’s always going to be something new to market tempting you to part ways with your hard-earned money.

We get it. So we’ve asked around and gathered a few tips to help you avoid the piercing looks of your significant other/financial advisor/wallet.

4 Questions to ask before you make the leap:

1) What’s REALLY out there?

Skip this one if you follow photo news on the internet at all. Before heading off with credit card in hand simply because your friends just upgraded, be sure you do your research. Compare what you have with what’s new and shiny. There’s a wealth of really great information and camera reviews on forums, blogs and review websites. Arm yourself with enough knowledge to make an educated decision on whether or not new equipment will really satisfy your itch.

2) Is there something coming soon that I should wait for?

Some camera companies pre-announce new cameras to build anticipation, and when they do the web will hear about it. Ask around, Google search, or just stop by your local camera shop and talk to a pro. Tech specs should help you determine if it’s something worth holding out and waiting for, or if you’re better off finding something now. You never want to shell out top dollar for something that gets replaced (and discounted) next week.

3) When I shoot, what am I missing?

Is your current kit honestly not up to snuff for the kind of photography you’re doing? Would a long telephoto lens fill a void in your kit bag? What advantage would having better ISO performance give you? Are you tired of hauling your DSLR and 30 lbs of lenses with you? Do you really need more megapixels? Try thinking about why you’ve got that hole in your heart and paring it down to what makes the most impact.

4) Can I change my perspective by using my existing setup in a different way?

We all have our favorite subject: our garden, our kids, our pets. If you’re like most of us, your galleries are full of the same image, different day. In some instances, new kit will help with that. If you’re always photographing your garden, a macro lens might be just the ticket. But in reality, your gear isn’t what makes the shot – your perspective is what really counts. Mix things up a bit and get out of that photography rut with a new angle, a different focal length, or a different theme.

Some Alternatives to Buyer’s Remorse

Rent your dreams

Renting equipment that you’re curious about is a great way to give it a test drive with minimal cost. If your local camera store doesn’t already have a rental service, check out online lenders like Borrowlenses. They’ve got a huge variety of lenses, bodies, lighting and other equipment that you can rent for one day, a weekend, or as long as you wish. Best of all, they’ll ship to your door.

Give gear a second (or third) chance

Just because gear has retired from someone’s bag, that doesn’t mean its life is over. A lot of photographers discover their dream gear isn’t that great a fit, or they’ve just outgrown its use. They’ll sell off well-kept gear and it’s a great opportunity to snap up great equipment at a reasonable price, especially if you’re just getting your feet wet in photography.

Try photography-specific forums like Fred Miranda or Digital Grin, two of many online communities that have entire specific areas for used equipment resale. Be sure to check the forum’s individual rules and user rating systems if you’re worried about receiving your gear or are uncomfortable sending money online. Never done this before? Here’s a few tips on what to look for when buying a new lens.

In Conclusion…

Above all, have fun! Adding to your collection is one of the joys of being a photographer, no matter what you take pictures of or if you take pictures for a living. Because we share that love, we’ve started a (growing) collection of gear reviews from our very own SmugMug cameraholics who rented their dream gear and documented whether they loved it or not.

Check out the first few tripod and lens reviews and keep your eyes on this space – we’ll share new reviews as we publish them!

Your Favorite Smug Tips of 2013

December 23, 2013 2 comments

In the last year we’ve put out a lot of posts on this blog: product announcements, tutorials on taking better photos, tips to make more moolah and articles on how to get the most out of SmugMug.

So in case you weren’t glued to every moment we typed here, we’re sharing one last chance to catch your top 5 favorite articles that you may not have seen:

Festive photo by Rachel McFarlin Photography

1) 5 Lies Your Camera Likes to Tell

Think your camera is your best friend? Think again! Keep these tips close so that you get the perfect picture in even the trickiest situation. Read more >>

2) How to Make a Photo Blog

The new SmugMug’s powerful customization options makes it a snap for Power, Portfolio and Business account holders to create their own completely custom Pages… perfect for bloggers. Read more >>

3) The Save Photo Reminder

Scared that people are stealing your full-resolution photos out of your gallery? Don’t worry, we show you how you can tell if it’s happening or not… and what you can do to stop it. Read more >> 

4) 5 Killer Locations for Your Portrait Sessions

Bored of the same old look? Try these ideas for fresher, fun family portraits, or with your next photo shoot with any client. The best locations may be hiding right under your nose. Read more >>

5) Guide Your Guests to the Gold

Why confuse your site visitors? We picked some of the best examples of beautiful, easy-to-navigate sites on SmugMug and show you just why they work so well. Read more >>

And since we’re talking about recaps, it only makes sense to share the “top” five of the more subtle articles that deserve a second round in the spotlight! Here they are:

Beautiful Boudoir portraits by Je Revele Fine Art Photography

1) How to Succeed in the Business of Love

Our friends at Je Revele Fine Art Portraiture explain their secrets behind building – and maintaining – a happy client base. Perfect for planning your 2014 portrait and wedding schedule! Read more >>

2) Why Events Are Best for Your Business

If you’re a pro with a Business account, Events are our #1 favorite tool that you probably don’t know about. Here’s why they work, what your customer will see, and some tried-and-true suggestions for integrating them into your portrait and wedding workflow. Read more >>

3) 5 Things Your Client Needs to Hear

Are your subjects happy? Confused? Confident in your ability to get the shot? Here are our pros’ top tips on what to tell your models so that you have a successful photo shoot… and they have a great time, too. Read more >>

4) How to Make your Visitors Feel at Home

Having a great website is more than just throwing some photos up on the web. Here are our suggestions for creating a helpful, pleasant experience for the people who browse your site. Clients, too! Read more >>

5) How to Organize a Photo Walk

Our photo-fiend-friend Scott Jarvie is known for his ability to rally local photographers to get up and get out shooting! If you’d like to take action and inspire your photo-neighbors to go snapping with you, here’s a few planning tips to get you on your way. Read more >>

We hope you have a safe, warm, happy and thoroughly joyous holiday!

In Case You Missed It: It’s a Small World

May 3, 2013 Leave a comment

Over the last few weeks we’ve been thinking about our big planet and all the weird riddles that concept brings. We’ve brought you information about tiny photography, tips for your small business, how to shrink the gap between you and your fans, and how to make your time sitting at your desk smaller so you go to out and explore this glorious world.

Here’s a quick recap.


Photo by Liquid Drop Art

Photography Perspectives

Your small business

  • How to Stay in Business Our friend Varina Patel magically juggles her photo education business, travel, and her family. She shared some great tips with us about how to keep the first afloat.
  • 7 Rules for Small Businesses Will your small business survive? Quickbooks Certified Advisor Kathy Rappaport has something to say about that.

Shrink your workflow

  • Kickstart your Lightroom Workflow Matt Kloskowski is a master Adobe educator and it shows. Here are his suggestions for Lightroom users to get your photos organized before you can say, “Publish!”

Shrink your world

7 Rules to Keep You In Business for 7 Years

April 22, 2013 17 comments

At SmugMug, we’re all about supporting your business and we love to help you succeed. Today’s guest post is by our longtime SmugMug customer and successful full-time professional photographer, Kathy Rappaport. She is CEO (Chief Everything Officer) at Flash Frozen Photography Inc. in Woodland Hills, California. For many years she kept her pencil sharp as an Accountant and honed her Marketing and Operational skills as a VP in Bank Management. She’s a QuickBooks Certified Advisor and consults with photographers on best business practices when she isn’t photographing families, children, dogs and women in lingerie (though usually not all at the same time). So, we were thrilled when she shared her tips with us, and we wanted to share them with you.

By Kathy Rappaport

The US Small Business Administration says that 80% of small businesses fail in the first five years. So what are some good business practices for photographers so they don’t fail? Or better yet, so they succeed? Here are a few of mine!

1) Good Accounting!

If the reason you work is to make money, then you’d better track how much you make, how much things cost, who owes you money and how much you owe the government. My favorite solution is QuickBooks. It comes in Mac and PC Flavors and even Online and mobile editions now. My personal favorite is the Premier Edition (which is for PC) because you can track your costs and customers in detail. There are many good features to the program like customized invoices, sales tax tracking, customer tracking, inventory and product sales. It’s pretty easy to learn and maintain. Take care of your money and it will take care of you! There are other solutions, but, this is reasonable and comprehensive. And way better than a shoebox.

2) Good Pricing!

“My camera is paid for and I love to shoot so anyone who pays me something is my client.” Well, just because people pay you doesn’t make you a professional. A Professional has a business license, insurance and charges money for their products and services. You have to have good accounting to figure out good pricing. A good place to start is to figure out how much a fair hourly wage is for your skill level. Then multiply that times three or four. Why? Your camera will need replacement, your lenses will surely need service, your cost of business (like insurance, props, gas, supplies, your phone, printer , software, internet) are a part of price you charge. Don’t forget some of your time is spent on editing and finishing your work. You need to include saving for your future. Your retirement, taxes, and replacing your equipment. You can add up your costs and figure out a daily/weekly/hourly rate plus time to arrive at a price that will keep you in business.

3) Good Customer Service!

I hear over and over from some so-called professional photographers that it’s not necessary to call customers back or that they wait weeks to deliver work. If they have some miscommunication they send an email. The best thing you can do is be omnipresent to your clients. Respond NOW. Call if there is a problem. Knock their socks off and they’ll tell their friends. Disappoint them and they’ll tell the world. Underpromise and overdeliver. Find something special to say thank you. Maybe an extra print from the merchandise selection of your SmugMug catalog. Even a handwritten greeting card says you care.

4) Have a Good Plan!

Don’t just have an idea and implement it right away. Think about it. Plan it out in the form of a business plan. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Plan your marketing efforts, your customer service initiative, and your business goals. Make a calendar and a task list. Plan out the amount of money you want to make, how to get there and budget it out. It’s like taking a cross country trip without having a road map if you do things by the seat of your pants.

5) Delegate!

As a solopreneur, you shouldn’t do it all. You do need to get legal advice and accounting advice. You can get contracts online, but, they might not be right for your situation. Same with accounting. You should never take everyone’s advice when it comes to accounting and taxes. They are really personalized. Find out what kind of entity you should be. I hear S Corp and LLC all the time as advice but they really might be wrong for you and cost you big time in the tax department. You might have some graphics skills, but, a good printer and graphic designer will present your work to make you stand out. Maybe you even need to hire someone to train you in how to do something so you can do it properly instead of guessing. I don’t know the first thing about HTML and having an expert handy makes me sleep better at night knowing that everything is right.

6) Do Things the Official Way!

Don’t be a scofflaw. Get your location permits, business license; your DBA, carry liability Insurance, your Sales Tax License, your tax Identification number. Go to your local chamber of commerce or accountant and see what you need to do to be a real business. Not having those things can cause you to have penalties, interest, fines, or expensive legal and accounting fees. If people pay you to photograph, then the end result is you have a business. The IRS says you have to file a tax return if someone pays you as little as $400.00.

7) Market!

Practice your craft. Up your game. Take care of yourself. In your marketing plan you should be out there meeting people both inside and outside the industry. Learn about business just as much as you spend time learning about the latest lighting techniques. Up your game and keep improving and learning. Read good business books. You will never know everything, but don’t stop adding to your bag of tricks. Challenge yourself to reach for the stars. I know you can do it.

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