The Giving Lens: Helping Young Photographers Find Their Vision in Nicaragua

Professional Photographer and Photo Educator Colby Brown is the founder and driving force behind The Giving Lens. Each year, this organization strives to make a difference in growing communities through education and training. Today’s guest blogger is Kate Havercroft, world traveler, writer, and Op Man at The Giving Lens. She shares her experiences from their most recent trip to Nicaragua, where her team joined forces with a local non-profit (and SmugMug) to give photographic vision to a class of Granada’s most creative young students.

Are you interested in empowering yourself – and others – through giving and education? Keep reading for more info about future workshops through The Giving Lens.

by Kate Havercroft

There is so much to take in when strolling up Calle La Libertad in Granada, Nicaragua; the colours, smells, and movement of life in this colonial city is exhilarating. But now there is a new sight to see: a gallery, featuring work by photographers as young as eleven.

The gallery is run by Empowerment International, a local non-profit whose ultimate goal is to end poverty in Nicaragua through child education. They work one-on-one with families doing home visits, as well as run a tutoring center. Another amazing thing they do is run several clubs that keep the kids involved and connected. One of those clubs is focused on photography, which has been running for nearly five years. The kids are so talented that Kathy Adams – the founder and operator of EI – decided she needed to open up a gallery. This would open another door into the community, be a source of pride for the students, and maybe, hopefully, provide a bit of money for the program.

Prints are hard to come by in Nicaragua, especially the high-end kind EI was looking for. And then there was the issue of how to get prints to tourists or buyers: how would they get the print home safely and without wrecking it? This is where SmugMug stepped in and solved both problems. They donated prints for EI to hang, so buyers could stroll in and take a look. Then SmugMug set them up with their own website, where they could display their work, set their prices, and where buyers could log on, buy the print, and have it turn up at their doorstep in perfect condition.

I happened to be there when we unpacked the prints for the first time. I am the Operations Manager for an organization called The Giving Lens, founded by landscape and humanitarian photographer Colby Brown. The Giving Lens is where travel, photography, and giving back all come together. The main way we do this is by partnering with an NGO in a developing nation, and bringing a team of photographers to that nation to volunteer their creative skills in a tangible way. When not volunteering, we run workshops in some pretty amazing locations, and when it’s all over, we donate more than half of the profits back to the NGO, making our trips win-win all around.

This July we took two teams to Nicaragua to work with EI’s photography club, spending our days on photowalks with their fifteen or so students, paired up and shooting away. Despite language barriers, heat, and the occasional downpour, the students and TGL participants bonded immediately and deeply. From sunrises over lagoons, to sunsets over volcanoes, to a very meaningful morning documenting the families getting ready for the day, we had the kids up at the crack of dawn and out way past their bedtime. I think that goes to show just how serious they are about their photography, which was inspiring to all of us. It was during this trip that the prints from SmugMug arrived.

EI’s amazing staff, as well as three of our volunteers from the first team, unrolled and mounted each photo, carefully and tearfully sealing them up in frames, our hearts aching with pride at the work of these amazing children we’d come to know and love. The EI Staff has known the children for years, and has watched them grow. While we had only just arrived, we’d learned quickly just how many setbacks they face each and every day – and yet here was their work, the vivid colours and sharp details gleaming out from the metallic prints, giving them creditability as the emerging artists we know they are.

Our second team had the task of hanging the prints on the wall. With nails between our teeth and some long-winded debates about which photos and where, we hammered and hung, debated and danced. When the final picture was hung, both our team and the EI Staff were left mostly speechless. It looked like a real gallery. While the kids have been photographing with EI for years, and while Kathy has run fundraisers featuring the students’ work in both Nicaragua, and the USA, this was different. Obviously the appropriate response was a dance party.

Not long after our teams departed – more like were forcefully torn away by a pesky thing called “a flight home” – Kathy and the EI Staff hosted the official opening of the gallery on July 22nd. About 50 people came from the local community to celebrate the students, their art, and the amazing work EI is doing, and has been doing for a long time, in Nicaragua.

If you’re interested in taking a trip with us at The Giving Lens, we ‘d love to hear from you! The rest of our 2012 trips are sold out, but we will be doubling the amount of trips we offer in 2013 – adding new locations, projects, and adventures around the world.

First up will be going back to Nicaragua in February 2013 and we’re taking your applications right now. From home or on the road – Join us!

Photos Courtesy of Michael Bonocore and Kathy Adams 

Link roundup:

SmugMug Success Stories: iSmile Studios, Inc.

The Card Shark: Maximizing Profits With More Than Just Seasons’ Greetings

  • Name: Stephanie McCauley
  • Position/Title: CEO
  • Name of Company: iSmile Studios, Inc.
  • Location: Albany, New York
  • Market: Portraiture (Child/Family)
  • Website:
  • Bragworthy Factoid: A community VIP at a Chamber of Commerce function assumed iSmile was a national chain with hundreds of locations, based on its marketing and strong brand presence.
  • SmugMugger since: 2008

Career Highlights…

  • Opening iSmile just three months after her husband planted the idea in her head.
  • Developing diverse revenue streams, including on-location shooting, an in-schools arm and digital print sales.

Favorite Features…

Sell it again, Sam

Like a lot of photographers, Stephanie McCauley’s interest in portraiture snowballed after she had kids. Trapped in a near-empty mall during a winter storm and finding the portrait studio unexpectedly hopping, her husband suggested she launch her own business. Three months later, her in-mall studio’s doors opened. By the time she launched her SmugMug site in 2008, she had learned that single sessions and a mall presence would not be enough to break out. “Being in a large shopping mall, we are busy year-round,” she concedes. “But we learned long ago that just opening a studio in a mall wasn’t going to bring in enough customers to survive.” Her solution? Make iSmile shoppers’ go-to place for repeat photographic orders—the place that goes beyond the portrait greeting card and makes it easy to buy canvases, mugs, mouse pads, shirts and, yes, all the holiday paraphernalia, too. “We always offer the full line of novelty and card products and keep our prices as competitive as possible,” McCauley adds. “So customers are not lured away by less expensive online card sites where they have to use their own images.”

Moving beyond the mall

In addition to generating repeat business, McCauley’s business model rests on two other pillars: anytime/anywhere customer access to galleries and service that goes beyond that of the typical mall-based studio. “We [take full] advantage of portrait opportunities during all the holidays throughout the year. We began a grassroots community outreach program, offering to photograph all kinds of different events, just to get our name out. SmugMug allows us to sell those prints at a very reasonable cost, and we apply a print mark to each image to build our brand. We also have a baby program that [turns] new parents into lifelong customers.” McCauley remains vigilant about staying “ten steps ahead” of her mall competition. Among other innovations, she launched a boutique branch of iSmile that goes on-location, so customers can get “gorgeous natural-light portraiture” as well as studio shots, and an in-schools program serving rural communities. McCauley’s ace in the hole? Offering evergreen access to customers’ photo archive, anytime, anyplace. “We literally couldn’t survive without SmugMug. SmugMug makes it easy and affordable for us to [offer anytime access] and our customers love it.” The anytime/anyplace model is what makes the first pillar—generating repeat business by essentially selling the same images again and again—possible.

Making card design fun

McCauley doesn’t just promote card-making—she positions it as a fun pastime. “Last year, to encourage customers to make and order their cards online, I made a really simple how-to video and uploaded it to Facebook and YouTube,” she says. “They could see the entire process in about 60 seconds.” iSmile has made it a point to know its customers’ habits inside and out. “We keep our card mark-up reasonable to encourage customers to poke around in their galleries—it often results in additional print orders on top of the cards,” she points out, noting that she moves many 5×7 and 4×8 flat and folded styles locally, but relies on SmugMug’s broader range to generate additional sales. McCauley is also attentive to her clients’ shopping preferences. “Many customers prefer to go home and view their session online, since they may have kids or pets that are getting restless after their sitting. We upload our edited images immediately, so they are ready to view before the customer has even returned home.” Spreading the word about enhancements like SmugMug’s latest card designs is a good way to keep customers coming back for more.

No kidding—one sitting

SmugMug’s “forever” gallery archiving allows McCauley to maximize resale opportunities following a sitting. “We don’t give customers a time limit in which they can view or order their pictures,” she says. “This really helps when it comes time to make Christmas cards. Most of the time, the card design is ‘Christmassy’ enough and our customers can get away with using a portrait they had done sometime earlier in the year.” iSmile leverages the original portrait yet again during her annual January reprint sale, which she promotes with SmugMug coupon codes, Facebook and email blasts.

SmugMug tips ‘n tricks

Once the revenue was streaming, McCauley focused on maximizing the SmugMug features that deliver the most ROI. From proof delay and customization to social media marketing and price lists, iSmile evolves its practices to take advantage of new features. “Our customers’ efforts to crop sometimes fall short. We proof delay every gallery for two days to give me time to personally review each order, making sure every image is cropped perfectly for whatever size print our customer chose,” she says. “It’s an amazing way to keep watch on quality control.” McCauley pays equally close attention to her price lists and offerings. Some features, like digital file sales, have proved to have additional marketing benefits beyond the sale itself. “We love this [feature],” McCauley says, explaining that, on a tip from SmugMug Support Hero, iSmile began speculatively photographing events and selling the print-marked images at a low cost online. “People are now paying us to put the iSmile name in front of them,” she grins. “It’s awesome.” It’s tips like that that have led to a long-term partnership. “iSmile would not exist today without SmugMug,” McCauley says. “In this world of very tough competition, SmugMug gives us an economical way to add tremendous value to our customers through the use of galleries. Our customers’ out-of-town families can see baby pictures the same day they’re taken, and order as many prints as they want online. SmugMug is a household name for an iSmile family, and we couldn’t be more grateful we have them for a partner.”

See more of our SmugMug Success Stories right here.

SmugMug Success Stories: PawSafe Animal Rescue

The Liberator: Putting the Doggy In the Window

Name: Diane Scuderi
Position/Title: Director
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

Career Highlights…

  • 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

Fave Features…

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.”

Doggone recession

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.”

Inspired? See some of our other amazing SmugMug Success stories.

Let’s Talk About Camera Phones

Come join us on Wednesday, October 17th, 2012 for the latest episode of “Hang With SmugMug,” our shiny, new Google+ Hangout show on general photography topics of today. In this episode, Rocky Bowles, SmugMug’s Director of Community and SMUGs, will host a conversation about a hot topic in digital photography: Mobile photography.

Our guest this week is Mark Cleghorn: educator, author, award-winning pro photographer and staunch supporter of mobile photography. You’ve probably seen him at trade shows and watched his videos on the superlative photo education website, PhotoTraining4U.

Mark swears by his iPhone and the unrivaled power behind shooting great photos with the camera you always have, and sharing them to maximize your marketing mojo.

You can do it, too.

Where, What and When

Click here to RSVP and meet us on October 17 at 3:00 pm ET, 2:00 pm CT, 1:00 pm MT, 12:00 noon PT and 8:00 pm GMT.

We’ll talk about:

  • If and how camera phones have changed professional photography
  • How to incorporates camera phones into your photography to generate buzz (and money!)
  • How you can use this technology for your individual, unique businesses

Are you ready to unleash the power of your smartphone camera? Bring your questions and be ready to share your thoughts and ideas. See you there and don’t forget to add +SmugMug and +Hang With SmugMug to your circles to stay up to date on news.

PS. If you can’t make the hangout, keep your eyes peeled. We’ll upload the recorded video to our YouTube channel so you don’t miss a thing.

Make Way for a Whole New Lineup of Photo Cards

You’ve just packed the kids off to school. What’s that mean?

Time to start planning for the holidays!

We’re kidding. Mostly. Savvy photographers like yourself are always on the ball, so we know you’re already itching to put together your 2012 holiday cards.

Brand-New, Beautiful Card Designs

We’re so excited to tell you about our brand-new, easy-to-love designs. Whether you fancy rustic, elegant, or simple designs, you’ll find something that you’ll love. We swear on our marshmallows!

Best of all, you can customize every design with your own words and your favorite photos. In most of the designs, you even have your pick of a variety of fonts.  Too much of a good thing? Never.

Can I make a card with my Basic account?

Yes! No matter what account type you have (Basic, Power, Portfolio or Business), every SmugMugger can turn their favorite photo into a beautiful card. Or 100 cards, if you’re popular.

Here’s what you do:

1) Open your gallery and find the first photo you want to use.
2) Click Buy > Create a Card.
3) Browse designs to find the one you want, and drag in your photos.
4) Save it, add it to your cart and check out.

Did you know? You can edit any card you haven’t yet bought. Just click the Tools button > This Photo > Edit to reopen the card builder and make it perfect.

If you’ve already placed your order and need to make changes, be sure to email our Support Heroes with your order number ASAP.

Pros: How to Price and Sell Cards

If you have a Business account, yes… and you’ll make a few bucks, too. Price your cards like your other print products and your clients can create their own cards using the photos in your gallery.

You shoot. They buy. We deliver.

Here’s how it works:

1) Visit your Pricelists and create a new Pricelist, or edit an existing one. Whether you use Bay Photo Lab, WHCC, or EZ Prints, you’ll  be able to add in photo cards, which are fulfilled by EZ Prints. (Please note: at the moment, customers using Loxley Colour are not currently able to add cards.)
2) Set your profit (or price) and be sure to apply the Pricelist to your galleries.
3) Share the gallery with your clients. They’ll see a “Create a Card” option from the Buy button, and take it from there.

Did you know? Business pros who use Proof Delay can fix typos and swap images in clients’ cards before they go to print. Just open the order details, click “Edit Project” and make your changes. Then release the order when you’re done.

Watch the video below to find out how Business account holders can sell cards.

Pros in the Know: Our favorite money-making tips

As a working pro, reach out to clients you’ve shot through the year and tell them about your photo card options. They’ll love featuring their favorite images from past shoots on their holiday cards.

Try these tactics early in the season to warm up your clients:

  • Order a few sample cards using your best photos. Let customers hold them, feel the paper and see how beautiful custom cards can be. They’ll imagine sending their own to envious friends and family.
  • Create and send “Thanks!” cards to last year’s portrait and wedding clients. This does double-duty of keeping you fresh in their minds and demonstrating to them the quality of cards they’ll buy from you.
  • Don’t forget: Pets are family, too. Even if you’re not a human photographer, you’ve still got a healthy pool of clients who’d love to feature their furry babies on holiday cards.

And for your ongoing portrait sessions:

  • Set prices for cards lower early in the season, and raise them as the holidays get close. Get it done in 3 seconds with Pricelists.
  • Use Events to avoid wandering eyes. Events keep customers focused by grouping and sharing the good stuff, and the good stuff only. Plus, they can tag their favorite photos.

The bottom line: SmugMug’s here to take the hard work off your hands, so you can get back to wrapping presents. Avoid gray hairs, the holiday rush and the dreaded mail service overload. We’ll help you get your holiday cards finished before you can say, “Hot chocolate!”

What time-saving tips have helped you get your cards out the door? Share your thoughts with fellow mailers below.

All photos by Meghan MacAskill Photography.  

Link roundup:

SmugMug’s Help Center: Helping You Take Charge of Your Website

At SmugMug, you get the keys to your own photographic kingdom. But sometimes it takes more than just a camera and an internet connection to set your dreams free.

Where do you go next?

SmugMug Help: Your Hub to All Things Photo

Our fabulous customer support team is comprised of living and breathing photographers with kids that grow up too fast, gear wish lists and weekend photo shoots to juggle. In short, they’re just like you.

They know that it’s tough to learn a brand-new website, so we’ve put our heads together on what you’d like most: One simple link to click for everything you need to know.

Meet the new, expanded Help Center. We’ve stripped down a previously-cluttered page to just an inviting search bar to type in your most burning questions, a Getting Started video (and one to introduce ourselves… we don’t bite!) and a few important links.

And as always, email and live chat are still available in case you can’t find the answers on your own.

All You Need to Succeed

If you’re thinking about getting paid for your photos and turning a hobby into a business, our new Business Resource Center is just what you need. Browse and read articles from seasoned SmugMug pros about how to plan, build and maintain a successful photo business and how to make more money.

We are always eager to hear what you think and how we can help you better. If there’s a topic you’re dying to see, tell us about it in the comments below! This is just the beginning and we’re hoping to learn right along with you.

Aiming for more light bulb moments per second,
The SmugMug Family

Hangout With Us and Learn the Secrets of Getting Published

Have you heard about our friends over at Two Bright Lights? They’re the company that wants to see photographers like you get published in magazines and make your resume grow. They’re like your own personal publicity agent, getting your photos right onto the editor’s desk. All you do is gather a few images and they’ll do all the heavy lifting for you.

If you’ve ever wanted to see your images across the spread but didn’t know how to get started, Two Bright Lights is perfect for you.

Who, What and When

Join us on Google+ on Tuesday, October 9 at 8:00 ET, 7:00 CT, 6:00 MT and 5:00 PT.

You’ll get expert info about the wedding and publishing business from Shalyn Hockey, VP of Marketing and Strategy of Two Bright Lights, Jillian Clark of 100 Layer Cake and Summer Watkins of Grey Likes Weddings.

We’ll cover everything you’ll need to know to navigate the publishing industry, like:

  • What NOT to do when submitting photos.
  • What types of photos editors really want to see.
  • Why being published is so important for your photography business.
  • How SmugMug gets you in front of the right editors in just three clicks.

Ready to make your business boom? Just RSVP here and we’ll save you a seat.

See you there!


Missed the broadcast? Watch it anytime right here on YouTube.