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A Busy Time of Year in the Studio

Given that the lead time for portraits to arrive is around 4 weeks, November is always going to be a busy time of year. Add to that, the fact that a lot of portrait experience vouchers sold in stores expire in December, a larger number of family bookings can be expected around now.
My diary for 2012 has been fully booked for a couple of weeks, and I am now taking bookings for January and February. On the other hand, there are still a number of cancellations due to sickness, especially for the sessions for babies.
This last weekend was a particularly good one in the studio. I set a target for sales during each weekend, based on my business plan, and I had achieved that target after my first three appointments on Saturday. After that it started to go a bit pear shaped: my next appointment had cancelled because the baby was sick and the one after that decided not to turn up.
On to Sunday, and I had four sessions booked. The first one made a £10 deposit on a £50 order, the second one wanted to go away and think about the order, the 3rd cancelled, and the fourth was late, but, I was glad to keep the studio open for them as they placed an order of over a thousand pounds! This just goes to show that people do have money to spend, and that I can take sale able photos.
So all in all a mixed bag, but good overall results, and time to celebrate with some Prosecco!


One year on

So, it’s about one year since I sold my first portrait, and its been fun, hard work, and has given me a sense of achievement. I feel I have come a long way from driving round my area in a clapped out Ford Focus, dragging my sorry ass up to apartments in tower blocks, trying to take the best portrait ever, in rooms where there wasn’t enough room to swing a cat, and trying to sell great products at reasonable prices to be told, “that’s too expensive”.
I am now settled in my lovely studio, where people come to me. As soon as they walk through the door, and get offered a cup of tea, they seem to realize that they are here to spend money after they have had some wonderful portraits taken.
Oh, yes, and I am now a proper portrait photographer, having achieved my Licentiate with the MPA. The certificate is proudly hanging on the wall in my studio,acting as a constant reminder to work towards my Associateship in a couple of years, but that’s going to be a lot tougher.
The figures for the first year came in just under plan at sales of just over £20k. My expenditure was a lot higher than expected, so I didn’t make any profit, but at least I can mitigate the loss with a tax rebate. Having a good accountant is a great thing.
My targets for the next year include: increasing my average order to over £300, getting onboard at least 5 more corporate partners, aiming to win some awards at professional photography competitions, achieving 15% of my sales from referrals and achieving at least one sale in excess of £1,000.
Am I going to give up my other job? Not yet, and not in the foreseeable future, a good salary, which acts as a safety net and a great pension scheme are the handcuffs which keep me working there. But that’s not the point of it all, my life has changed so much, I haven’t been to my local pub in over a year, I have met some great people, I have seen tears of joy and smiles of happiness when people see the photos I have taken.
However, taking the photos is only a small part of the whole package, there’s marketing, networking, sales, bookkeeping, processing, ordering photos and other stuff, repairs to equipment, managing cash flow, oh yes and cleaning up after babies and other customers. I have learned a lot of new skills. So this Saturday I will be raising a glass of Prosecco to another year of even greater success.


Why i am so happy to work in my studio

The studio has been open three weeks, and its absolutely brilliant.  It is a joy to come to work here, and I wish I had found this place months ago.

Before, when travelling to peoples homes, not only did I have to carry all my equipment and samples, but the amount of uncertainty I faced was amazing:- would there be a place to park my car (hopefully, without being clamped or getting a ticket), how much space would there be (from a purpose built studio in one house, to four people living in a single bedroom with no room to swing a cat), where would I put my light, how would I show them the images (nice modern TV I could plug my laptop into, or would I need my projector).  Now I have a place with easy parking, three rooms to work in: a reception to get to know my clients and to find out what styles of photographs they want, a studio to actually take the photos, and a viewing room to show them the pictures afterwards.


And of course because I am operating in my studio the lights are already set up, and I just need to make minor adjustments during the session.

On the negative side, my overheads are higher, but that should be equalled out with higher average orders.  Also I have to clean up after my customers.  Anyone who has had a baby will know how messy they can be! It also astounds me how many mums don’t think twice about wheeling their wet, muddy pushchairs onto the carpet.


One of the nicest things for me is that if I have a cancellation, then I can get on with something else like accounts or photo editing or even updating this blog; whereas, when I was on the road, a cancellation invariably meant dead time.  Having said that I am finding the studio has a slightly higher no show rate than home visits.

Another great thing is being able to take family portraits, something that was quite hard to do in people’s homes.  Now I have the space to do this, and also it makes available to me certain national marketing campaigns, that weren’t available to me without a studio.


Now, I am starting to market the wedding side of my business, and if I get 5 or 6 weddings next year that will be fine, because realistically there is more profits in family photos than there is in weddings.



My studio opens it’s doors tomorrow

Well, it has taken 4 1/2 months; but, finally, tomorrow morning I will welcome my first customers to my new studio. I think it was back in January, that I first wanted to stop doing home visits, and to be based in one location.  On the one hand, I will have a lot less parking tickets, fuel bills for my car, i will have access to family shoots and other national marketing campaigns; on the other, my customers will be harder to come by, as one of the advantages of home visits is the ease for the Mum, having the photographer come to her home, and its a lot less stressful for the baby.

So then I started searching – although there is a lot of empty space around, empty good quality space is harder to find, especially at the right price.  Rents in this area range from £12 to £40 per square foot.  Anyway I was lucky enough to find a place where the rent was almost reasonable, do-able certainly.  Of course the place needed to be redecorated, re-carpeted – then I needed to buy display images, furniture, etc.  Having put together a plan, i decided that I would have my first sessions in the middle of September, and hopefully earn enough in sales to meet the first 3 months rent by the next quarter day.  The decorators were great and were finished in 6 days, then came the carpet layers – not bad, and I have managed to get them to give out some vouchers for studio sessions.  Then Lance came in  and sanded and sealed the floor in the studio, itself.  British Telecom came and installed a phone line and broadband, i will give them 2 stars, the phone line still isn’t brilliant, but workable.  The Flash Centre in London were brilliant supplying the lights and modifiers, direct from the factory for some items, which were out of stock.  The UK distributor of Fatboy beanbags redeemed themselves, and I got what I wanted in the end.  Loxley’s also redeemed themselves after an expensive SNAFU, their customer service department has promised to put things right. SignsExpress who fabricated and fitted the signage have been really accommodating – the manager turning out to do fitting when there van was broken into and tools stolen outside their depot. The staff at Barrett and Coe head office have been fantastic:- Dominic, has been efficient and effective, Caroline has pulled out all the stops to get things in the right place at the right time, and finally, Elaine’s advice and counsel has been thought provoking and so useful.  There’s still a few last things to sort out, but I feel ready to go tomorrow.













Licentiate Panel

Well it was an early start today, as I had to be in Hertfordshire by 9.30 am, and, for me, that means trekking around the M25, which, on a Monday morning can either be fairly smooth, or, more usually, an mutation of a car park.  Fortunately, it was fairly easy today.

The reason I was heading to Ware was to get a panel of photos judged to qualify me to become a Licentiate of the Master Photographers Association.  Of course, I got there far too early, and had to kick my heels for a while, whilst they were getting everything ready.  So an endless stream of coffee and cigarettes kept my nerves vaguely under control, whilst the sound of one of the lights they use to illuminate the panel exploding had me wondering which one of the judges had been shot.

So the panel is made up of twenty photographs displayed in two rows of ten,  ten photos must be five photos each from two sessions, and the other ten must be a selection from another eight sessions.  All must be paid work carried out in the last two years.

My photos looked like this


Well not quite like this, what you are seeing is the 8″x10″ photos, which I had printed on 10″x12″ paper and card mounted.  Laid out on the display boards it looks a lot different.  One of the other photographers who walked passed where they were on display told me that they looked great.  That settled my nerves a bit.  The judges dare all Fellows of the MPA, and an esteemed bunch they were.  Soon they went into the room and closed the door behind them, whilst I paced nervously in the reception area.  After about five minutes, I was called in to be told that I had passed and that it was an excellent panel.  Then came the most useful part, where one of the judges, Hoss Mahdavi, who runs a studio in Watford gave me some useful pointers.  One of the nicest things he said, was that he would be happy if any of these had been produced at his studio.  More useful was his criticism that there were too many head shots, and that some of the cropping was to tight.  He also said I should practice different lighting set ups and get more creative.  My secret weapon was, in case the judges didn’t like my photos, for my mentor to let them know that I was photographing in people’s homes and not a studio.  Fortunately that wasn’t needed.

After twenty minutes, I walked out, beaming from ear to ear.  What’s next?  Well I plan to start entering some competitions run by the MPA, and work towards submitting an Associate panel, which is a different kettle of fish all together.  For a Licentiate, you only need to show “competence in their chosen field of photography, show a thorough understanding of camera techniques, lighting and composition and ability to create merchantable quality photography.”  For Associate you need to show an “excellence in technique, lighting and composition. The candidate must show creativity and an understanding in the art of professional photography.”  Wish me luck!




I haven’t blogged in a while, because things have been kind of hectic.  There are a few developments bubbling under the surface that I haven’t written about, because, well, I don’t want to put a curse on them by telling everyone too early.

One, that I am happy to talk about now, is the fact that I am applying for a Licentiate qualification in portrait photography with Master Photographers Association.   Licentiate is the entry level that shows  “an established level of skill and competence.”  Its not as easy you think!

I need to submit twenty photographs, that will be judged by a panel of three Fellows of the Association. The photographs need to be taken from ten commissions undertaken in the last two years.  So, no problem there, I think I have undertaken about 120 jobs in the last 8 months.  Picking the sessions to show was more difficult though.  Although the judges are looking for sound technical competence along with “composition, control and lighting of the subject”, the images have to look good, not just individually, but when they are displayed together in two rows of ten photos. So I needed to pick two sessions, from which I would have five photos from each.  Which sessions to choose?  Maybe the ones that I sold the most from?  Well that didn’t work – the baby just lay there with a blank expression on its face.  So in the end I picked 2 sessions, one from a baby boy and one from a baby girl, where there was a lot of expression and eye contact with the camera.  The other 10 come from a variety of sessions: baby boys and girls, a mixture of ethnicities, a variety of clothed and unclothed. I had some help with the selection, I sent a whole load of photos to a fellow of the association and got his advice on which ones would work.  I have the ten main photos selected, but we are still trying to narrow down the other ten from about sixteen.  Once selected, I will need to get them printed and mounted.  The usual size is 12″ x 15″, so that will cost about £120.  I also have to write a Working Profile, that includes a comprehensive CV and details of the organisation and management of each image.  This will be read before they see my photos and allows them to make a better judgement of the quality of the photos.  This could be an advantage to me, as I can explain that I am not working in a studio but photographing babies in their homes.

The judging takes place in about three weeks, so i will write about how I get on later.


How I blew my annual bonus!

So, anyone that knows me realises that I am a total gear head.  No nothing to do with gear boxes on cars, whatever current technological pursuit I am engaged in, I have to have the latest, most expensive, shiniest bit of kit available.  So, when I got my annual bonus at the end of March, I knew it was going to get spent in  a fairly rapid way, rather like pulling the plug out of the bath.

So what was I going to spend it on: camera, lenses, lights, computers, peripheries or a holiday?  Well the holiday would be nice, but fleeting, and I can’t really take a break from getting my photography business up and running just yet. On the camera front, there were some temptations – the Canon EOS-1Dx fits the bill of being shiny, new and expensive, but I don’t really need a dSLR that takes HD video (yet), and as a studio camera, my old 1Ds mk3 knocks the 1Dx into a top hat.  Of course, if my bonus had been really good, I could have invested in a Hasselblad H system camera, oh yeah, baby come and meet my 50MP beauty, but my bonus wasn’t that big.

So maybe a new lens.  Folks who know me from HK will recall that there was hardly a month went by without me investing some money in some glass; and, yes, I have been sorely tempted to buy the Canon EF 8-15mm f/4L fisheye – but, its not a lens I would use very much, and, so, there had to be better things to spend my dish on.

“Let there be light”, surely a new lighting system would be useful, practical and fun.  Oh, yes, I would love to upgrade my Visatec lighting kit to some Profotos, or Broncolors.  At the end of the day, though, new lights weren’t going to make my job easier, or my sales better.

In the end, the one thing that bugs me is the amount of time I spend on touching up photos.  So the answer was to get a powerful computer that will suck the files out of my computer, a good monitor which will make sure the colours are just right, and something better to use in photoshop than a mouse.

So this is what I bought:-


So what do we have here?  Well, the desk and chair come from Ikea, and I am not sure which was worse; shopping at Ikea (yes, the store opens on Sunday at 10am, but you can’t actually buy anything until 11am!), or assembling the things.

The heart of my system is a refurbished Mac-Pro 2.4Ghz 8-core Intel Xeon, which is gorgeous, and its fast. Comparing this to my iMac is really hare and tortoise stuff.  To view the images, I went for an Eizo ColorEdge 24″ monitor.  Apart from the built in calibration and the fact it can be rotated 90 degrees to work on portrait photos, I just love this.  But, the real treasure in all this was the Wacom Intuos tablet I bought.  I went for the A4 size, and its great.  There is a bit of a learning curve, finding out what you do with one finger, two, three and four fingers, but the learning is quick, and when it comes to photo editing, you just have so much more control.  This is something I should have bought years ago.  If you edit photos, and you don’t have one, believe me go and get one right now!