Today marks the release of our first installment of SmugMug Films with a spotlight on creative portrait photographer Benjamin Von Wong. Watch it now and subscribe to get first access to future episodes:
Two years ago, Montreal/Toronto-based photographer Benjamin Wong was a mining engineer who took pictures on the side. In 2012, he quit his engineering career and threw himself into photography full time. He’s now an award-winning photographer admired for his “epic, surreal, fantasy storytelling.” Today with the official launch of Ben’s spotlight in SmugMug Films, he’s shared more details about himself, his background, and exactly how he crafted those exquisite angel wings.
1. How did you get your start in photography?
I had a job at a mine in Nevada (USA) when my girlfriend at the time broke up with me. I figured if I didn’t find a hobby, I’d go crazy. The idea to take pictures of the stars came to me, so I went to Walmart and bought my first point-and-shoot camera. I didn’t do very well, so the next chance I had, I drove to the next city over and bought my first DSLR.
I brought that camera around to everything. But the first time I got paid to shoot an event was a very significant part of my mentality shift.
Another photographer asked whether I would be interested in shooting an event for pharmaceutical students. It was $250 for five hours of shooting. At the time, I wasn’t actually geared up for shooting events. I had an 18-200. I borrowed a flash from a friend. I basically had a flash, a slow zoom lens, and a model clause to make myself look more professional.
At the end of the day, what was special about this event was my realization that I could earn money doing what I love. And that’s when I really got into it. I bought a bunch of new equipment. Got business cards made right away.
Shooting events was fun, but it wasn’t a passion, so I quit the events business and launched myself into creative portraiture. My creative portraiture grew, and I started the Von Wong brand in 2010. The next biggest transition was when I quit my day job. I woke up one morning and said I know I’m not going to do engineering for the rest of my life. So in 2012, I quit. Having the financial support of my mining engineering career helped me make that leap.
2. How has your photography changed since you first started?
Shortly after I picked up my first camera, I started a 365 project and planned to take a picture a day for an entire year. But instead of doing self-portraits, I wanted to take portraits of other people. The motivation behind the project was to grow and learn, but I soon realized I didn’t have time. I was working 10 hours a day at my engineering job. Every day I’d get up, go to work, spend the day thinking about a concept, get home, set up my lights, eat, shoot the concept, edit it, and post it. I’d be up until 2 or 3 in the morning, then I’d have to go to work the next day. It was exhausting. I set a milestone for myself of 100 days, and when I hit it, I shifted gears toward doing larger productions. I started putting more emphasis into cool locations and people, and making each shoot really count.
3. How do you choose your locations and find help for these large productions?
I travel for people, not places. I stay on people’s sofas and do what they do, so I connect with the people.
And I pull together resources significantly from social media. As I’ve invested in meeting my fans and giving back to them, that’s grown into a powerhouse in the sense that I can go to any country in the world, say, “Hey guys, I’m in town, let’s hang out,” and most of the time someone replies.
I usually go to a place with a certain intention or starting point, and it grows. I have a spark of inspiration—location, a model, a cool studio, a performer — there’s always one single point around which everything ignites and from that point forward, everything else needs to be found. Someone knows some place who knows something. It’s about staying open to possibilities and opportunities.
The fallen angel shoot I did with you guys is a great example of this. I was actually looking for an opportunity to go on vacation, and Kelly Zak had reached out to me through Facebook for a critique — and we ended up chatting about shoot ideas. I said I’ve always wanted to create a fallen angel, and she said, “If you come to Florida, there’s fallen angels for you!” I figured I better get on a flight.
Right before Florida, I’d been traveling around a lot. Kelly was caught up with school work. So when I landed, we didn’t have much planned, so we went scouting right away. The first place she drove me to was this amazing, magical-looking forest. Which is funny because for the Floridians it’s probably the most common tree they have, a Spanish oak tree, I think. For me, it was so magical.
Given the beauty of the location, I thought, “Why don’t we increase the concept?” Have two fallen angels, and a bunch of mystical creatures. One thing led to another, and Kelly started enlisting classmates in the film school. We had costume designers, makeup artists. I started asking fans through social media if they’d like to be a part of it. And the whole thing took off from there.
We pulled this entire shoot together in about eight days. We had a good time, and we basically became a family for about a week.
4. How did you make those fantastic wings in so short a time?
The wings were made out of a type of plastic you use for packaging. We just cut it up and layered it. The broken wings were filed down using razor blades. Then we took charcoal and blackened the edges, each wing tip individually. The whole thing was put together using hot glue. Kelly did the research, looking up cosplay tutorials on how people would strap on wings. Since I wanted the angels to be topless, this meant they couldn’t wear a harness or anything. So they had to come up with a creative solution, which ended up being clear bra straps.
5. What are some of your best in-front-of-the-lens tips for special effects?
Birthday sparklers for light trails. Flour for snow. Smoke bombs for portable smoke. Cloth/Vaseline on the lens to create foreground texture in your image. Water guns for portable rain. That’s all I can think of off the top of my head!
6. You attribute a lot of your success to having a great social network and being able to find what you need within it. How were you able to build such a vast network?
Slowly but surely. That’s really what I did. There’s no big success trick other than continuously uploading content.
Before I was doing behind-the-scenes blog posts, I was posting a new photo every day while I had my day job. Day after day of putting out new content. And my shoots are extremely social in the sense that people like to hang out and be a part of them. So at the end of the day, I would always tag all the people who got involved, which helped disseminate information. Then add on the behind-the-scenes videos and that’s ongoing social-media exposure. After I quit my job and traveled for a couple months, I started building my international exposure, which allowed me to start feeding my blog. Every week I would put out a new blog post. Lots and lots of work. I started doing workshops and speaking engagements. Any time somebody asked to do an interview, I would do it. Really just nonstop trying to build this network.
There was no massive unannounced peak—no surprise where it felt like okay, I’ve made it, and it started snowballing. It’s always been very consistent growth. And the minute I stop posting, the minute I stop sharing, then everything stops.
7. What social channels have been the most successful for you?
Facebook, hands down. I use Twitter. YouTube is the best for videos. I’ve used Flickr. I’ve used all of those, but I don’t think anything’s really come out of those channels. It’s really been Facebook for me.
8. You are very involved with all aspects of your shoots. How do you find time to do all the social outreach as well?
I think people overestimate the amount of time I spend on the computer editing. I think I spend on average only ten to twenty hours of editing a week. A bulk of the effort that’s allocated to a shoot really takes place in the preproduction, production and social aspects of it. The actual shoot and postproduction becomes just a single step on the way.I work so much through collaborations, and I came to the conclusion that if I wasn’t going to be making a video, if I wasn’t going to be making a blog post, then I wouldn’t be giving back what people were giving to me. If I wanted people to look at that work and broaden its reach, it was worth it to do big, elaborate projects but fewer of them as opposed to many small projects that wouldn’t have all that extra media support. A lot of effort goes into making an interesting blog post or following up with the creative content.
9. Has the social reach of your shoots ever surprised you?
Yes, a shoot that I did last year. In September, my agent, Suzy Johnston + Associates, received an e-mail from a woman who was terminally ill, asking if there was any possibility of getting a photoshoot and if I’d be able to photograph her in a way that made her feel beautiful and healthy.
I was leaving in a few weeks to go to Seattle for creativeLive, and she was on a time clock because with each passing week she was getting weaker and more frail. We had to make it work quickly. I gave her a call the next day, and in about 10 days we got makeup, hair, and location together. It was her first photoshoot ever.
Afterward, I wrote a blog post about it. I really wrote it more for her than for anybody else. I wanted to create a nice little memory for her. The Internet picked it up, and it became one of my more popular posts of the year, which was, for me, a very big surprise.
Through this experience, what really struck me was that I could not only inspire, and teach about the process, but on top of that, I could create images that matter, that can touch people. These images were created to bring my fan’s dreams to life, but I felt so alive, too. Doing something that matters makes all the difference. That’s something I would like to incorporate more in my work this year.
10. Have you ever been stumped for inspiration?
It happens to me just as much as it happens to anyone. You can’t always be inspired. You have to keep growing and putting things together even when not inspired, so make plans and follow through with them. Do I always feel inspired? No, but setting the wheels in motion and filling the time when nothing is happening, that’s important. Give yourself something to do.
11. What advice would you give to a photographer who was just getting started?
In the artistic and creative world, the biggest thing you have to fear is yourself. If you stop feeling inspired or you stop feeling motivated to do whatever it is you’ve decided to do, then you’re going to lose ground, you’re going to lose traction. No matter how great your business plan is, if you don’t want to do it anymore, everything will come crashing down.
My relative success has been a combination of the journey, the sharing, the inspiration, and the work, but not any one thing would have made it go as far as it has. You really have to make sure you love what you do. No one wants “mediocre.” They don’t want a Jack of all trades. They want “special.” They want the “best” at one single thing. And the only way you can be the best is to love what you do.
You only have one life. Make the most of it.
Find Ben online:
We’re halfway through this orbit around the sun and to those of us in the northern hemisphere, that means it’s time to grab your towel and hit the beach. In the spirit of the ocean, we browsed through Scubazoo‘s incredible collection of underwater photos and videos and were taken aback by the magical beauty of life beneath the waves. How does Scubazoo do it, and what kind of gear does it take? What’s the market for underwater photography? Scubazoo photographer Jason Isley graciously shared a look at how they get that incredible footage.
All photos by Scubazoo
So, who and what exactly is Scubazoo?
Scubazoo is a video production, location management and publication company based in Borneo. Over the past 15 years Scubazoo has managed locations for more than 125 hours of programming within SE Asia for international broadcast. Scubazoo’s cameramen have filmed on upwards of 150 programs from natural history blockbusters such as BBC’s LIFE and Human Planet to hit reality shows like Survivor & The Amazing Race. The Publication department has a number of world class photographers working on various assignments throughout the year and a great editorial team in the office. Scubazoo have provided images to hundreds of magazines and books and have also published several high-quality coffee table books, selling over 200,000 copies internationally.
As a serious photographer as well as a serious diver, what’s in your kit bag? What does a professional setup for underwater photography look like?
It’s not advisable to try and change lenses underwater so, in order to handle macro and wide angle subjects I might encounter, I usually take two setups down with me. For the macro setup I use a Nikon D700 with an AF-Micro Nikkor 60mm f2.8 or an AF Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8D. The wide angle kit consists of a Nikon D800 DSLR with a Nikkor 17-35mm f/2.8 and a Nikon AF 16mm f/2.8 D Fisheye. Both cameras are housed in Nauticam underwater housings. These give me access to every control on the camera and are rated to 100m. Each housing will have two strobes connected by a fibre optic cable and attached with ultralight arms. I use the Inon Z-240′s as they are light and extremely portable and I also usually carry lots of other gadgets like snoots, flourescent filters, wet diopters etc. If I can, I’ll employ a local dive guide to help spot critters and carry the extra setup.
All the usual scuba gear is used – a tank, weight belt, buoyancy compensation device (BCD) and regulator and also wetsuits to extend my bottom time. Even in tropical waters it can get a little chilly!
What has been your most frightening underwater encounter?
During my filming days I filmed the sardine run in South Africa which is basically a massive feeding frenzy including dolphins, sharks, seals etc and that was a certainly a little hairy. However, the most frightening encounter must be the one with a 4.5m salt water crocodile that literally walked all over me underwater.
Which came first, diving or photography?
I didn’t start diving until I was 25 so the photography certainly came first. When I was 15 I use to play with my father’s camera kit and tried to photograph birds in the garden.
Are there any other underwater projects you’ve worked on?
I have worked on many assignments shooting amazing creatures in different exotic locations, however the project that seems to have gained the largest following must be the miniature people series I started back in 2011. The project is based on a futuristic scenario where the planet is completely underwater and the people are living and breathing underwater, I use miniature people to create scenes with the marine life.
Out of all the places you’ve been, what wins the prize as your most exotic locale?
I’m based in SE Asia which is about as exotic as it gets, however I have certainly been based in some extremely remote locations for long periods of time which can definitely effect your sanity. Myself and one of my colleagues lived in a remote village in Indonesia and spent everyday sat opposite each other under the beating sun in a tiny dug-out canoe for three weeks tracking leatherback turtles.
The coldest location was Newfoundland and Hudson Bay in Canada looking for Beluga whales, that trip really confirmed I am not a big fan of cold water diving!
There’s a ton of life under the seas. What is your favorite subject?
Sharks are definitely high up on the list, however you certainly get more of an encounter with dolphins and whales as they appear to be interested in you sometimes. I don’t have a specific favourite subject as I like diversity and think it improves your photography to change subjects and try different styles.
Who are Scubazoo’s customers?
Scubazoo have two large online libraries, one for video and one for photography and we also have regular agents that we provide our images to. I also write articles for dive, adventure and travel magazines but we are really trying to expand our publications department and publish a couple of books each year. One of the books currently in production is for a large resort company and we are shooting all the wildlife and landscapes around their resorts throughout South East Asia.
What kind of equipment, training, workshops, locations, etc., would you recommend to people looking to test the waters, so to speak, in underwater photography?
I would strongly suggest a course with one of the leading underwater photographers that operate locally wherever you’re based. It will rapidly improve your technique. Underwater photography equipment can be quite expensive because you need all the extras to house the camera and underwater strobes, etc. You may want to consider looking for a 2nd hand set-up to start with. There are some great underwater photography sites with plenty of people giving advice and also selling old kits that you can use to get started.
With that, we hope that all of you get your opportunity to take great photos wherever you end up on holiday. Stay safe in the waves, and check out our Photography Perspectives series if you’re looking for some light beach reading!
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.”
From the first moment we saw Corrie White’s incredible, alien macro images we were floored. A lot goes on under our very noses, including the strange and beautiful shapes created by droplets of water. Corrie taught herself how to photograph these teeny, fleeting sculptures and found so much success, she’s written an eBook teaching others how to do the same. We asked her a few behind-the-scenes questions about her experience in a small, small world, and she’s giving away a copy of her eBook below. Keep reading to see how to enter!
Photos by Liquid Drop Art
What inspired you to start capturing liquid drops? Were you a photographer before trying drop photography?
Years ago, I stumbled upon the Liquid Sculptures of Martin Waugh. I was fascinated with them and kept going back to marvel at his beautiful works. In early 2009, I had some free time and decided to give these a try for myself. I found I had a knack for doing these manually and the rest is history. I have always had a love for macro photography and started on this with a Sony DSC-H1 point and shoot camera many years ago. I found this very limiting and got an entry level DSLR. In 2008, I acquired a Canon EF f2.8 100mm macro lens, which was essential for my water drop photography. So basically, I was more of a “snap-shot” type of photographer before the water drops.
How much experience did you have with strobes before you started photographing droplets?
I had never used any external flashes before I did water drop photography. Indeed, for the first half year I used my camera pop-up flash for my water drops. I knew nothing about Flash Exposure Compensation and soon learned why I was getting those cool, but annoying light trails on my drops
How exciting was it to discover The Three Drop Splash – a new drop structure? Will it be
named in your honour?
I was so ecstatic when I saw the Three Drop Splash appear on my little screen. I did a little dance! Something entirely new which had never been done before. I was really very excited. Will it be named in my honour? I can’t say, but I really don’t think so. Martin Waugh has the distinction of taking water drops to a new level with his two drop collisions. I personally think anything after this is after-the-fact and secondary. What you see currently in the water drop world are extensions of his creations. I’m just happy to have discovered some new shapes in a world where it’s hard to come up with something totally unique.
What type of publications and sites tend to purchase your work?
The interest in my water drop art is very diverse, anywhere from photography magazines to children’s magazines. There is a lot of interest from the science world, especially in the field of Fluid Dynamics. One of the most memorable compliments came from a Professor at MIT who said they brought a tear of joy to his eye and shared the work with his students.
Have you ever been commissioned to shoot a specific drop image?
Not for any monetary value. I have been asked to do certain abstract images, but they are very difficult, especially when I need equipment I don’t have available to me. Right now I am trying to find time to create an Amanita mushroom which will be a difficult, but fun project. I much prefer to work in an uncontrolled atmosphere with colours and shapes that I like.
What kind of droplet images are on the horizon for you to try? Any tantalizing new equipment or materials you want to experiment with?
I really don’t know what the future holds for me with respect to my water drops. Is there more undiscovered territory with them? I will certainly see what’s possible and test the limits. I may try multiple valves, but that is becoming commonplace and I prefer to find the unique. The possibilities are endless and I would like to find more surprises in the liquids.
Say someone had only $200 to invest into trying this kind of photography. How would you
recommend they do it?
I always suggest that before people go out and spend lots of money on electronics, to first try
out a manual set-up to see if you like this type of photography. You only need to spend a small amount of cash on a flow regulator from an aquarium supply store, or an IV drip contraption, to start out. Use your DSLR with manual controls, a regular lens with zoom, your pop-up flash, and see if this is what you want before you take it to the next level. It’s a great hobby, especially in the cold winter months. Be careful, though – you can get hooked!
Buying a macro lens is a good investment if you like macro photography in general. Buying an electronic timing device can be useful for much more than water drop photography. I am familiar only with Mumford’s Time Machine, but it will do time lapse photography, ballistics, and many other types of photography. I would like very much to do some time lapse experiments in the near future.
What have you learned from droplet photography?
I have learned that within each of us is a creative spirit. I have found mine in liquid art photography. It is an exhilarating, relaxing and very rewarding experience. I find a great satisfaction that so many people have been inspired by my water drop work and the techniques I use. They have expressed gratitude that I have shared my experiences with them and although some say I should keep some of my methods secret, I find the opposite to be a richer experience. “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” rings true for me and I am honoured to see others experimenting with my methods.
Win the Ultimate Guide to Water Drop Photography eBook!
Corrie has generously donated a copy of her eBook, The Ultimate Guide to Water Drop Photography, to one lucky person. In it you learn step by step what you need to take arresting droplet images, as well as basic flash and camera principles to help you stop motion – essential for any photographer who is looking to freeze a moment in time.
To enter, simply post a comment below with a winning caption for this image:
What does this photo say to you? Post your entries below and we’ll announce a winner in this space on April 29th, 2013.
Get creative, get learning, and set your curiosity free!
UPDATE: The winner has been chosen! Congrats to Holly Gordon with the caption “Bobble Head Water Drop.” We’ll be in touch with Holly with the prize, and thanks to everyone who entered!
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.
Love what you see? Check out our other incredible SmugMug Success Stories.
The Liberator: Putting the Doggy In the Window
Name: Diane Scuderi
Name of Company: PawSafe Animal Rescue
Location: Patterson, NY
Market: Animal Rescue Nonprofit
Bragworthy Factoid: Saves the lives of more than 100 dogs/month
SmugMugger Since: 2008
- Benchmark: saving 30 puppies every 2 weeks
- Creating a rescue network that has placed thousands of animals into safe and loving homes
- Raising $2,000 at their first fundraiser
- Easy sharing helps promote adoptees
- Ability to email photos to private folders
- Sophisticated gallery hierarchy
- Archives function as testimonials and historical record
- Beautiful image display for featuring adoptees and showing off adopted dogs
It’s a dog’s life
Scuderi’s underground railroad for abused animals began in 1995, when her then-husband brought home a pregnant cat that had been knocked around by a raccoon. Soon, her fervor to save animals led her to found PawSafe as a nonprofit and focus on canine rescue in the southern US. Sadly, the need for PawSafe has grown exponentially since then. “We’ll pull this cute chocolate Lab from a shelter in Virginia, and suddenly there’s another one. And another, and another,” Scuderi says. Modern communication tools help PawSafe hook up with local humane societies. “We align with other rescues already in an area. We have volunteers scattered around the country—people who donate their weekends to getting dogs to the receiving leg of a rescue.” PawSafe targets so-called high-kill shelters, operating a mass transfer every other week. Scuderi’s network picks up animals, brings them to a kennel, boards them, fosters them out and arranges medical care. “Then,” she says grimly, “we do it all again.”
SmugMug to the rescue
PawSafe calls its adoptee gallery “Getting Ready to Meet You.” Thanks to SmugMug, it’s a beautiful, welcoming and easily navigable place to find the pet of your dreams. “We love the sharing feature, as it lets us shoot [pet-seekers] a sneak peek of the animals we’re readying for adoption,” Scuderi says. “We probably use this feature more than any other.” Sharing photos via a respected host is important to Scuderi. “Our photo galleries and archives give our adopters a sense we’ve been around—that we’re permanent,” she says. “If you adopt and can’t keep the dog, you can bring it back. We have photographic records from 2006 on, emails posted as testimonials, etc.” SmugMug technology allows volunteers in shelters to snap a dog on death row, email the photo privately and get an answer about rescue space in the north quickly and efficiently. “This also captures the inspiring side of galleries,” Scuderi adds. “It just grows and grows—scrolling pages of dogs we’ve rescued.”
Financial constraints, economically driven surrenders and the rising price of gas have put the squeeze on Scuderi’s operation. The relationship with SmugMug has helped make the most of limited resources. “SmugMug helped PawSafe establish an Internet presence early on in the game, before websites were popular with animal rescues,” she says. “Not only that, if we ever have a question, they give us support.” Sadly, a tough economy tends to boost the flow of animals, as otherwise attentive dog owners are forced to surrender pets due to job or home loss. Older animals and larger breeds are even harder to place, Scuderi says. Once a dog is adopted, it holds a place of honor in the “adopted” section, hosted on SmugMug. “It is the adopted dogs and puppies section that we promote and are most proud of,” Scuderi says. “We also have that gallery linked as a WordPress plug-in to our website.”
Shooting for adoption
PawSafe’s photographers have developed best practices for this unique photographic form. Often, pictures are snapped quickly in shelters, under less-than-ideal circumstances. They focus on the animal’s eyes, trying to highlight the dog’s essential goodness and sparkle. Although they aim to keep people out of the photos—final screen real estate is a half-inch thumbnail on Petfinder—they sometimes include a child’s hand touching the dog’s head, or something else that captures the dog’s spirit. They never forget that the animal’s life is on the line. “You have to do something in that icon size to make the dog jump off the page,” Scuderi says.
Biting off more to chew
For the time being, PawSafe’s team is investing in the organization’s future. For example, PawSafe now has two volunteers seeking grants, and just finished its first fundraiser (netting $2,000). Their goal? To build a shelter facility of their own within four years. “People think an adoption fee of $400 is high,” Scuderi says. “It seems high until you ask a vet how much it costs to spay, vaccinate, get a health certificate, etc. We do extensive medical. There are lots of laws governing transferring dogs state to state. We mostly break even, even on a healthy puppy.”
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The Partnership: Two Artists, One Platform, Limitless Possibilities
Name: Natalie Licini and Cate Scaglione
Name of Company: Je Revele Fine Art Photography
Location: New York City, New Jersey
Market: Portrait Photography
Bragworthy Factoid: Their studio is located in the historic stained-glass-filled New Jersey castle where actor Michael Douglas was born. The windows were imported from 14th century churches in France.
SmugMugger Since: 2009
- Natalie is a silver medalist for the 2012 PPA International Photographic Competition.
- Three of Natalie’s images merited and two were put on loan the first time she submitted work to the Professional Photographers of America (PPA) awards in 2011.
- Natalie won several awards at the 2011 Wedding Photography Association (WPPI), including second place in the Wedding & Portrait Photographers International.
- Cate worked on several award-winning print and TV ad campaigns for major luxury brands, some of which were photographed by Annie Liebovitz and filmed by Martin Scorcese.
- Cate’s earliest Intimate Portraiture work won awards with the International Association of Boudoir Photographers.
- Events and Favorites
- SEO and keyword tagging
- Social media and integrated commenting
A match made in heaven
Originally independent fine art and portrait photographers, Natalie and Cate met after being introduced by a common client and attending the same workshop. Instantly inspired by each other’s work, for several years they flirted with each other as friends and colleagues. Ultimately, they realized their unique experience and esthetic presented an opportunity: merging their collective strengths to form a new kind of photography studio. Cate had an earlier career as an advertising executive; Natalie worked in finance. “We’re opposite in our personalities and skill sets,” Cate says. “But our artistic sensibilities are very similar. We’re both sensitive, relationship-oriented people.” The professional marriage allowed them to not only enhance their artistic, creative brief and storyboarding offerings, but also to branch out beyond photography into branding and strategy, services unique in the photography marketplace. Calling the resulting partnership “kismet,” Natalie believes the alliance has strengthened their business across the board—their artistry, business model, client services and strategic concepting. “Eventually, we didn’t like not working together,” she says. “We innovated in ways that surprised us.”
Reveling in their new look
Creating a unified and functional online presence presented a challenge: Not only did Je Revele need to brand itself as a true partnership, it also had to feature three separate competencies—in wedding/life portraiture, intimate portraits and, most recently, commercial. Thankfully, SmugMug was up to the task. “We customized our website using a sophisticated architecture that was necessary for our business,” Natalie says. “This allowed two artists to merge and optimally showcase their work.” The partners attribute their success in part to SmugMug’s customizability, which Natalie calls “streamlined and easy to use.” Having a lush, thoughtfully organized site has helped them build a sprawling client base via referrals and Google.
Two artists, one tool set
As sole proprietors, Je Revele’s principals were forced to turn to various online tools to manage their business. Not With SmugMug. “We wanted to have one interface to archive, display, sell and manage client photos,” Cate says. “SmugMug is a one-stop shop and we love it.” Natalie adds that not only does SmugMug save them considerable time, it also helps their clients. “Our brides love seeing their galleries online, sharing with friends and family after the wedding. Now they can have guests order prints directly. Many of my clients have booming careers [themselves], so this is a time-saver for everyone.” Natalie and Cate use the Events feature to send links to clients, so they can select their favorites from a set of proofs, for printing or inclusion in an album. They particularly love the way commenting is fully integrated, so that their clients can give feedback on photos, concepts and ideas on the spot.
Je Revele’s unique consultancy requires what they call “custom inspiration boards” as well as more conventional storyboards to convey their vision to clients. In the past, they used a popular online pinboard site to introduce their ideas and assets. That changed when they discovered everything they posted there was either public or owned by the domain host. “We decided to migrate [everything] to SmugMug for security and privacy,” Natalie says. “We do a lot of high-end intimate portraiture, much of it personal, a gift or surprise for loved ones. Now we can password-protect their photos in a SmugMug gallery. The private nature of it makes everyone feel like a VIP.” Cate emphasizes that SmugMug’s privacy and security measures also protect Je Revele’s intellectual property. “Before, we were emailing creative briefs as huge attachments,” she says. “Anyone could take it and use it, replicate it, perform services herself. Putting it in a private gallery gives you more control. We can change the password and take it down when we want.”
Going beyond the image
SmugMug’s ability to protect both ideas and assets has helped Je Revele’s founders expand their business, forging ahead not just in traditional photography, but also in branding and strategy. “Our background in business development and brand management is crucial to how we’re doing all this,” Cate observes. “What’s interesting is we’re not just using it to serve commercial clients. We’re also doing a lot of consulting work for other photographers and industry vendors.” Natalie expands on why SmugMug’s seamless client-facing experience and architecture works so well for their beyond-photography business model: “As we work with commercial clients, we’re not just showing up and helping them execute their vision—we’re helping them see if their branding is aligned with their vision.”
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The Prodigy: Realizing a Childhood Dream & Building a Brand, Client by Client
Name: Meghan MacAskill
Name of Company: Meghan MacAskill Photography
Location: Sunnyvale, CA
Market: Family and Newborn Portrait Photography
Bragworthy Factoid: MacAskill quadrupled her business in the last four years
SmugMugger Since: 2003
- Realizing she was photographing so many non-friends that she had to start charging for her services.
- The moment her SmugMug website went live (she viewed it every 10 minutes!).
- Beating the recession by doubling last year’s earnings.
- Shopping cart and Pricelists
- Order branding
- Gorgeous display galleries
- Events and Favorites
- Proof delay
- Print lab choices
- Image security and archiving
From Barbies to business
MacAskill pulled off her first shoot with Barbie models, a child-size camera and hard-earned allowance money. Although it took a few more years for her to transform her passion into a business, she now operates a successful part-time shop, relying 100% on referrals from happy clients. MacAskill is still driven by the same ambition that inspired her when she was nine: to improve her craft and entrance her clients. “I think about what I would want out of photos of my family,” she says. “I push myself to not only pick the right spot, the right lighting and the right posing, but to also get my clients to be real—to capture their personality and family dynamic.”
Client cheerleaders? Bring it on
Morphing from a talented hobbyist to a seasoned pro meant developing a specialty and cultivating that market. “My customers are young South Bay Area moms,” MacAskill says. “They appreciate fresh, modern, colorful photography that captures the memories, expression and joy in their lives. They are my biggest fans and cheerleaders and refer new clients to me every time. Once potential clients view my SmugMug website, they are impressed and trust me [to document] their children, family and memories.” MacAskill attributes her success in part to providing a quality experience, both on game day and beyond. “Your memories of a [shoot] affect the way you view the photos later. If the shoot was difficult, no matter how the photos turn out you might look at them and remember what a pain it was,” she says. “I want the photos to be a reminder of a really fun day you spent with your family. My job is to put clients at ease, make sure we have fun, and make sure that translates into beautiful photos.” She credits SmugMug’s gorgeous gallery display with maximizing the client review process.
Making friends with features
When it comes to taking advantage of SmugMug’s features, MacAskill is a true pro. “My site is customized from top to bottom. I get praise and compliments all the time on how clean and modern it is,” she says. “Clients see a beautiful website and know that I am a desirable photographer.” MacAskill ensures a seamless proofing, selection, editing and purchasing experience by using such features as the shopping cart for print sales, price lists, events and proof delay. “I am a busy working photographer. As a business owner I deal with both front and back-end issues,” she points out. “I simply don’t have time—or a studio—in which to do proofing sessions with clients. My clients love proofing their images from the comfort of their own home.” MacAskill makes great use of the Events tool in her wedding business, relying on the easily navigable Events gallery hierarchy in particular. “It’s very important for me to see what photos my bride and groom love and the favorites feature allows me to do that,” she says. Because her clients order prints on their own time, she appreciates that Proof Delay allows her to check orders before they go to print. “I have fixed so many potential cropping and editing problems with this feature, before they could become a problem.”
Branding secret: Strong offense, stronger defense
When it comes to image security and archiving, MacAskill calls SmugMug the best. “The image storage problem that plagues lots of pros has never been an issue for me. I feel reassured knowing my images are stored safely on SmugMug in their original sizes.” MacAskill’s customized settings also watermark her images automatically when she uploads a new gallery. Plus, she uses package branding. “I want my clients to see that extra bit of branding when their prints arrive and feel like they’re coming directly from me,” she says. Another favorite? Coupons and print credits. “I use coupons all the time,” she says. “Print credits are vital to my business model. [I noticed] that many clients weren’t actually pulling the trigger and getting prints. I decided to model photo sessions differently and include a print credit in every package to guide clients into purchasing prints. The photos my clients put on their walls are a constant reminder not only of the fun day we had and the relationship they have with their family, but are also the best advertising — they constantly remind clients to get their photos taken again. It has been very successful and SmugMug’s coupon feature is vital for it to work without me filling those orders myself.”
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The Globalist: Promoting Cultural Understanding in Living Color
Name: Awais Yaqub
Name of Company: Awais Yaqub | Photographic
Location: Islamabad, Pakistan
Market: Fine Art, Landscape, Travel
Bragworthy Factoid: Winning CIO’s 2010 Best Photo Blog Award
SmugMugger Since: 2005
- Getting his first camera, a Sony Cybershot, in 2004
- Accepting his first pro assignments in 2007
- Seeing his work featured in galleries around the world
- Beautiful portfolio design
- Unlimited customization
- Ease of use
- European lab for printing
- One-click sharing to social media
- Community and customer support
- Photo display and full-screen viewing optimization
- Watermarks and print marks
He means business
Yaqub may be the most visually driven MBA on earth. Obsessed with beautiful magazine and book images from childhood, he eventually co-opted his father’s ancient SLR, using it even without film (he shares a laugh over the dead bug they were never able to remove from the viewfinder). While continuing his education in Islamabad, he formally began his photography career in 2004 with a small Sony Cybershot. “There were no photo communities or schools in my city where I could learn, so the Internet became my source,” he says. “My learning curve was steep as I never went to art school.” That didn’t stop this determined shutterbug, who began taking product photos professionally in 2007 with a DSLR. Finding the pro route and its adherence to client tastes repressive, he began choosing assignments selectively, focusing instead on building his gear arsenal and experience as an amateur. The move back to amateur status ensured that “photography remains my love,” he says.
SmugMug brings his world closer
Yaqub first joined SmugMug after mentors suggested it on Dgrin.com, both to showcase his work and provide safe back-up. Calling Dgrin “one of the best photography forums on the Internet,” Yaqub looks to the online community for passion and great customer support. “I can get any sort of photography advice, difficult technical info or SmugMug customization tips there,” he says. “SmugMug communities drive more traffic to my photo galleries and make it easy to find SmugMug photographers with similar interests.” Yaqub appreciates that he can now sell and ship to an international market with ease. Beyond that, he says becoming part of the community has helped him explore the business side of photography and improved his craft, educating him on print quality and online distribution issues. “Now I try to capture each frame with a printed end product in mind,” he says. “Dgrin is a platform of serious pros and learners, where I get instant technical help and inspiration.
Paying it forward in pictures
For Yaqub, photography is ultimately about sharing—sharing images, sharing views, sharing knowledge. SmugMug’s one-click sharing to social media sites like Facebook and Twitter helps him fulfill that mission. “For me, there is absolutely no reason to create a photograph and keep it in cold storage. What good it would do if it was not able to spread the message, inspire someone or help someone in their learning process?” he points out. “For instance, if you look at photos of historic events, they add another dimension to perspective.” In the future, Yaqub looks forward to traveling more, finding inspiring stories to document. He aims to focus on “spectacular natural and human wonders that really lift the spirit.” His partner for the journey? SmugMug. “Sharing these stories with the world requires a great platform with great security, display and printing.” (Yes, we’re excited, too.)
Beauty is as beauty does
SmugMug’s customizability has allowed Yaqub to bring the powerful esthetic seen in his work to his galleries. “SmugMug customization is this magical tool that transforms the basic look of a portfolio into something totally different, depending on the desired output,” he says. Along with SmugMug’s photo display and big, beautiful gallery styles, Yaqub endorses the “stretch” feature that lets galleries scale to available display size, optimizing the gallery for full-screen slideshows, which he terms “a breathtaking experience.” Other feature faves: the ability to retouch photos after orders are placed and creating effects with PicMonkey when he isn’t working in Photoshop. The tools SmugMug provides to safeguard his work are also important. “I can create as many watermarks as I want,” he says. “I have made quite a few for different purposes.” He also uses print marks to keep his work safe from alteration.
An eye for culture
Galleries in countries as diverse as Malaysia, India, the UK and the US have featured Yaqub’s work. International fans tell him they appreciate the glimpses he offers into the lives of typical Pakistanis. He has developed a singular perspective, using his camera to take viewers closer to spectacular human and natural wonders—or, as he calls them, “beautiful creatures that are impossible to see with the naked eye.” Yaqub points to his tendency to look at ordinary things differently as the reason his shots are memorable to admirers. “Culture is as diverse as nature,” he says. “It makes our world so beautiful and lively and charming to shoot.”
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The Comeback Kid: Blazing a New Artistic Path, the Beauty Captured With SmugMug
Name: Lyn Foley
Name of Company: Lyn Foley Lampwork Beads & Jewelry
Location: Round Top, Texas
Market: Handmade jewelry and glass beads
Bragworthy Factoid: Wrote and published a book documenting her worldwide sailing trip
Website: www.LynFoley.com and beads.smugmug.com
- Creating a new hollow bead style not based on blown glass
- Receiving awards at juried art shows and jewelry fairs
- Receiving an Award of Merit from the Ocean Cruising Club
- Quick, easy image uploading
- Archives and galleries for showcasing sold and unsold work
- SmugMug communities and Dgrin
- Private albums
Beading the odds
Lyn Foley has done amazing things. She has worked as an art teacher, a waitress, an insurance salesperson, a fiber artist, a street artist, a business manager and a retail store owner. She has mastered celestial boat navigation, battled Force 10 gales and logged 35,000 miles at sea on a trip around the world. But what does this multifaceted life force find astonishing? The salvation offered by the unorthodox glass jewelry she makes by hand, a single bead at a time. Foley, who turned to bead-making after 12 years of living at sea, found a unique sort of redemption in her art. Foley’s husband Jim, a gemologist who suffers from Parkinson’s, is her partner in both life and work. “Before I found glass, we did traditional work,” she says. “My husband was an award-winning jeweler working exclusively in gold. He lost a lot of his skills, so we switched to silver. I couldn’t get into art shows because I was using old beads; they considered that stringing. So I learned how to make beads, and I love it. It’s been nine years now, and I’m thrilled with it.”
Beholding the beauty
Foley, who learned the art of glass bead lampworking in 2003 from an artist in Texas after she and her husband returned to the mainland for medical care, relies on SmugMug to showcase her work. Her site is customized to the fullest—she benefitted from the help of design experts she found in the SmugMug communities—featuring large image display sizing to reveal the intricacy of her designs. Although she is not a photographer, she has found many of SmugMug’s features to be beneficial to artists; private albums in particular help her close sales. “When I make a set of jewelry for a customer, I usually give them choices,” she says. “I post the photos to a private gallery and send them a password. I also use private galleries to host photos I post on my blog, or in Constant Contact emails or other places. [Then] I know the links won’t disappear.”
Undergoing a sea of change
For Foley, transitioning from her old life to her new one took some effort, and happened in several stages. First, she left behind the retail life—she and her husband owned three stores in the San Francisco Bay Area for nearly 20 years—then matriculated from the seafaring lifestyle to one requiring her to attend jewelry fairs and manage an online business. Her husband’s medical needs require her to run her business from home; she had the inspiration to return to the arts and crafts circuit they’d relied on early in their careers, adding the online component to optimize their time together as well as sales. SmugMug made that process easier. “SmugMug is so easy because I can load photos and do captions and keywords all at once,” she says. “I can upload 10, 20, 30…and copy them all as needed.” Foley relies on email lists to market her business, attends about 14 art shows a year, blogs extensively and puts up lots of pretty pictures of her work—on SmugMug, of course.
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