Category Archives: Jim’s Thoughts

Why is BNI so Structured?

Many people have heard of BNI, the worldwide group of business people who pass referrals to each other. I’ve been a member of a local BNI chapter for a few years and have found much success marketing my business this way.

BNI is an interesting organization; with well over 200,000 members globally, it is fairly well-known in business circles. Yet I find many people have never heard of it. I think that’s primarily because BNI doesn’t have huge advertising campaigns, instead relying on members themselves to introduce it to only those they know and trust.

With an organization that size, you know there will be lots of people online sharing their take on it. Of course BNI isn’t for everyone, and it has its detractors. One of the most common reasons I hear that keeps people from joining is that “…it’s too structured!”

A recent survey of business owners revealed that 97% of businesses rely on word-of-mouth advertising, but only 3% have a formal plan to create that word-of-mouth traffic. This is where BNI helps; by putting the tools BNI teaches into practice, one can develop a steady source of high quality qualified referrals. Who wouldn’t want that?

Yes, it takes structure to be successful in anything we do. I’ve always wondered how someone who isn’t willing to commit to structure in their business can expect repeatable success. For me, BNI is a marketing function, and like other parts of my business, I expect predictable results.

The reason for the structure in BNI is because it makes members more money and allows them to grow their businesses more effectively.

As a photographer, I need structure in my business to keep it successful. For example, I follow a structured system during my headshot sessions – why? Do I light haphazardly? No. Do I pose and direct the client without purpose? No. Do I edit the files randomly or do I use a structured system? I accomplish each of these tasks with structure because it produces the repeatable results my clients expect and pay me for. If I didn’t follow a system that maximizes my client’s value and my profitability, I wouldn’t attain those goals.

The same is true with my marketing. I’ve learned the marketing functions they train in BNI, put them in practice, and my business has thrived as a result. My BNI referrals account for a large portion of my overall sales. I know of no other single marketing activity that produces the kind of results I get by following BNI’s proven, structured way to generate referrals.

Am I going to be at a 7 am meeting once a week for that? It’s a no-brainer. Wash, rinse, repeat. Money in the bank.

 

Websites for Photographers

When I’m teaching photography, either on an individual or group basis, I am often asked not only about gear but also the business side of photography. I share my experiences with client proofing software, bookkeeping, client scheduling, etc.

One of the first things every photographer has to decide on is how to promote and share their work online. There are a huge number of choices, including 500px, flicker, Squarespace, and wordpress with custom photography themes such as Photocrati.

This website is currently running the Photocrati theme with WordPress as the back end. While I am very happy with it, I use a different program for online galleries and proofing. I’ve been using Sytist (and its previous sibling, PhotoCart). You can see my Sytist installation here: Whitesell Photography Galleries

I recommend either of these; both are designed to be installed in your own web hosting account which means you have the ability to move to a new hot if you aren’t pleased with your current host. This is an advantage over hosted platforms which would require to to abandon everything and start over from scratch if you decide to move your website.

I like Photocrati’s WordPress engine which allows for much customization, and Sytist has come a very long way and now includes such advanced features as invoicing, a booking calendar, wall designer, eGift cards, project proofing, and much more. Both companies offer great support and have been very helpful whenever I have a design question.

If you’d like to check out either of these programs, you can find them here:

Sytist
Photocrati

World’s longest softball game

There is a group of 39 hard core softball players currently playing what they hope will be recognized as the world’s longest slo pitch game. They’ve been playing since last weekend at a park in Leduc, just south of Edmonton – through rain, thunderstorms, hail, darkness and cold.

They have less than 24 hours left to break the current record. That will occur about 8 a.m. Saturday – and the teams plan to continue playing until Sunday morning.

We’ll be there Saturday morning to photograph the moment when the record is broken – and we’ll be posting pictures of the historic event!

Come join us at Wm. F. Lede park in Leduc (map – http://goo.gl/maps/9nljt) early Saturday morning for a bit of sports photography and to cheer on the players! We’ll probably show up about 7:30, hope to see you there!

UPDATE:
The record was unofficially broken Saturday morning at 7:04 pending verification from Guinness officials! The two teams playing at the time took a very short time out to share a toast and celebrate.

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The teams will continue to play until noon tomorrow to cement their place in history.

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DSLR Video Basics

I did a presentation at the 2011 Edmonton Photographic Trade Show covering the basics of DSLR video.

Here is an outline of the points I covered, followed by some links to products and other helpful resources:

 

 

2011 Edmonton Photographic Trade Show

Basic DSLR video

by Jim Whitesell

DSLR video is easy to shoot – if you’ve tried it, you know it’s as easy as setting the camera in video mode and press the record button.

However, may people are not happy with the results – sometimes shaky, out-of-focus video as boring as our grandparent’s home movies!

We’ll cover some basic things that will greatly improve the quality and watchability of your videos.

First is how to get the steadiest shots.

For the very best support, use a tripod. Tripods designed primarily for still photography have one major shortcoming when used for video -you can’t move the camera smoothly. Tripods with fluid heads are designed for video because they allow you to pan and tilt without the jerkiness found in regular tripod heads.

While a fluid head is the best choice for smooth tripod movements, there is one trick you can use if you have a tripod with a long handle – the elastic trick.

Now of course there will be many times when you won’t be using a tripod. Monopods are another great tool to help steady your shots. But when you are going to hand-hold the camera, here are some techniques that will help with steadiness:

Lens:

Use the widest view you can. If you have an 18-55mm lens, you’ll get much steadier shots at the 18mm end instead of the 55mm end. Of course this means you’ll need to be closer to your subject, but for steadiness, wider is better. If you want to consider a great lens, One of my favourites is the Sigma 10-20mm lens. Shooting at 10mm will give you the steadiest shots possible, and the wide angle view is really fun to work with. This lens is available for the most popular Nikon, Canon, Pentax and Sony DSLRs.

The next thing to consider are techniques to deal with focus issues you may run in to. This is one of the major differences between shooting video on a DSLR instead of a traditional video camera. Video cameras have very responsive autofocus systems, which can be good and bad. They are extremely easy to use, but the autofocus systems can be fooled. For example, if you are shooting something some distance away and someone walks across the frame, the autofocus may move to the closer person walking by until they are out of the frame.

Professional video cameras are almost always manually focused because it guarantees the camera operator can focus precisely where they want. In professional film production is is common for a separate person to be operating the focus system on the lens while the camera operator frames the shot. Of course that’s way beyond what we want to accomplish with our own DSLRs, so let’s look at some simple ways to insure we get what we want in focus.

You’ve seen scenes on tv and in the movies where just one thing is in focus – perhaps a close up of a person’s face while they are talking – and the background is blurry. While this can be done quite effectively with DSLRs, it is an advanced technique that goes beyond the basics we’re covering here. For today we’ll concentrate on ways to increase what’s in focus so you don’t have to worry about something important being out of focus.

Use a wider view- like we do to get steadier hand-held shots. A lens will show more things in focus when it’s at it’s widest angle view, so again, its easier to keep everything in focus at 18mm than at 55mm.

Choosing your F-stop:

Using a smaller aperture also increases what’s in focus. The opening is represented by a number called the f-stop. As the number gets smaller, the opening in the lens gets larger and lets in more light. Using a bigger number for the f-stop, or a smaller opening in the lens, increases the area in focus. So to get as much in focus as possible, use an f-stop like f8, f11, or f16.

In order to set your f-stop manually, you’ll need to set the camera for manual exposure and manually set the shutter speed and ISO as well. We’re starting to move towards more advanced techniques here, so if you aren’t comfortable with manual exposure, or you aren’t sure what ISO, shutter speed and f-stops are, I’d suggest taking our workshop called ‘Mastering your digital camera’. You’ll come away from that workshop with a good understanding of those settings, which are the foundation of photography.

Once you’ve got your camera set and you’re ready to shoot, press the autofocus button before you start shooting. This will allow your camera to start out in focus and combined with the widest view you can use and a small f-stop, you’ll find it much easier to have everything in stunningly sharp focus.

While you’re shooting, try to hold the camera as steady as possible, and move slowly. If you’re panning, pan slowly. If you walk, try to walk as evenly as possible to smooth out your steps. Bend your knees, and walk heel-toe, kind of rolling your feet as you shift your weight.

Lighting:

Indoor video can often suffer from poor lighting with dark shadows and varied brightness. If you’re shooting people, adding a small light at the camera can make an amazing difference. The Promaster 120LED light with a rechargeable battery is one of the nicest I’ve used. It can sit on top of the camera, and the light output is adjustable so its brightness can be balanced with your existing light. It also includes a snap on filter so the colour will match indoor incandescent lighting.

Sound:

The sound quality in DSLRs is probably the weakest part. The camera’s built-in microphone is pretty poor quality and can pick up a lot of camera noise.

Adding an external microphone is an easy addition that greatly improves your videos. There are several types of microphones available. Probably the most popular and easiest to use is a shotgun mic. This sits on the top of your camera and plugs into the camera’s microphone jack (if equipped with one). They pick up most of the sound directly in front of the camera and minimize sound coming from the sides or behind.

For the best voice quality when shooting a single person, a lapel mic is ideal. They are available wired or wireless. The microphone clips on the subject’s collar and does a great job of reducing all the extraneous noise.

Editing:

Once you’ve shot your footage, it’s time to edit. If you have a mac, iphoto is a popular and easy to use editing program. For windows users, there are a bunch of video editing programs out there. I like the programs from a company named Magix. While I use Adobe Premier for advanced editing, it’s expensive and difficult to learn. The editing programs from Magix are the easiest I’ve found, are inexpensive, and do a great job with DSLR video.

Products and Resources:

Sigma 10-20mm lens

Manfrotto 128RC fluid head

Manfrotto 501HDV fluid head

Azden wireless lapel microphone

Rode VideoMic Pro stereo shotgun microphone

Rode VideoMic mono microphone

Promaster LED120 Plus video light

McBain Camera workshops

Magix Video Editing software

Royalty Free Music

 

Constantly Evolving

If you read many photography forums, there are lots of people trying to make a living with photography who are discouraged by participants at the very bottom of the market.

Many are dismayed by the fact that anyone can get a $500 entry level DSLR and call themselves a photographer, charging little or nothing for mundane snapshots and hand over a CD full of unedited files. One of the common terms for this type of business is “Shoot and Burn” (Named such not necessarily because the client got burned – which they did, but because that’s all the photographer does – shoots the snapshots and burns them to a disc).

Many struggling photographers are mad at the “shoot and burners” for eroding their business and stealing clients.

It’s imperative that a photographer who feels they provide a higher quality product educate their prospective clients about the differences. It’s easy to do when we meet with clients, but I’ve also put a couple of examples here on our site showing differences between Whitesell Photography and an unskilled photographer, and an example of retouching that makes the subject look their best. We’ll be posting more helpful information like that in the future.

Even though I’ve been shooting most of my life (I shot my first wedding when I was 12 years old — were they crazy?) I still focus on improving my craft. Earlier this week I when to Chicago to spend time with a very successful portrait and wedding photographer. This guy provides an amazing experience for his clients who end up with heirlooms that will be valued for generations.

In addition to the great insights and techniques I brought back to Edmonton, I spent my time on the plane listening to several episodes of a podcast created by Detroit Portrait Photographer Rosh Sillars. If you’re in to the business of photography, go to itunes and check out his “New Media Photographer” podcast. Ongoing education like Rosh provides helps aspiring photographers move from the “shoot and burn” mentality to that of a top pro photographer.

Never stop learning! I’ve been shooting for decades yet I continue to increase my own knowledge. We have two more seminars scheduled for this year and more planned for next year. I’m proof positive you can teach an old dog new tricks!