Sunday, December 7, 2014

Tim, What Do You Read?

Had a question the other day:

"Tim, what do you read"?  This spawned an hour long conversation about books, why each of us liked to read certain materials and why.  So, here is a watered down response!

Honestly, I'm not much of a fiction buff.  I'm really into self-improvement readings.  I read them because I feel that no one is perfect (especially me), and these types of readings give me excellent new views on life, and true time tested ways to make myself a better person.  I understand the philosophical debate that the previous statement could spawn, but lets avoid that for now and get to the list!

My current reading is The Compound Effect, by Darren Hardy, and up next on the slate is Failing Forward, by John C. Maxwell.  The last book I read was Worth Every Penny, by Sarah Petty.  I highly recommend the Sarah Petty reading to any small business owner - it is fantastic, and entertaining.  I'm only half way through The Compound Effect, but I already know it will have a long life in my personal collection, and many re-reads.

I also have subscriptions to PDN (photo district news), Professional Photographer, Rangefinder, Outdoor Photographer, Advanced Photographer, and Expert Photographer - each of these has their pluses and minuses.  I find the advertising to be terribly annoying in every magazine except Professional Photographer, and Rangefinder.





I tend to like reading things that I can chop up, highlight, and pin on my cork board at the office.  I know that fictional readings can be fun, but I have other outlets for fun - like shredding single track down the mountain on my bike (way more fun than a book for me...)

Happy readings!

-Tim

Friday, December 5, 2014

Mitigating My Mistakes






I've made a few mistakes with my business and will continue to do so.  Each mistake I make is an opportunity to grow, and continue building a successful and enjoyable career.  The following was my most substantial mistake and greatest growing opportunity to date:

THE PROBLEM
I was a "Shoot & Burn" photographer - after the photo shoot, I would burn a disc of images with a print release for the client and be done.  Clients rarely ordered prints off my website, though they often would gloat about how much they loved my work.  I would talk with them months later, and find out that they had yet to order prints from anywhere with their CD either.

I now realize how much of a disservice that business model was to my clients.  By simply burning a disc and letting clients run free into the world with their beautiful images, I wasn't helping them to put the right image in the right place in the home, on the right type of product to tie everything together.  Without guidance, examples, or outside input, it is very difficult to choose which image or images should become prints... or where those prints are going to end up.

Lets face it - sifting through 20 images and finding the perfect one worth investing in a wall portrait can be difficult, daunting, and quite frustrating.  Now, imagine having a disc of over 1,000 images from your wedding, and trying to select the perfect ONE to hang over your mantel, or couch, or entrance?  Could you fathom the time it would take to go through 1,000 images, select the right ones to put in an album you designed online, and could only guess the end quality...not to mention the price tag with no guarantee?

Aside from having the difficult task of sifting through an image set, and choosing an image to put on a wall, most people are only aware of photographic prints, and that is what they buy.  Then they have to go somewhere for printing and framing - which creates more research, time commitment, and decision making - and ultimately frustration.  When people are frustrated they generally do not follow through, which means that most people will never put an image on their wall they way they really want it.

THE CHANGE
I knew that it was time to do something to help my clients.  SO - I made a big (and scary) change.
My goal as a photographer has always been to provide clients with something unique, and amazing - that they can call their own, and that no one else has.  I needed a way to do this.

I invested in a projector system, presentation software, and spent countless hours developing the perfect product line to carry in my shop (and had to invest thousands of dollars to bring it to life).  I spent weeks learning how to use the software, analyzing what my customers like and want, and organizing my shop to show off my unique product line.  The final step was implementing a new plan for my clients.

This new plan consisted of having a minimum of 3 meetings at my shop.  The first meeting is to find out what type of wall space they have, and what they ultimately want to do with their final images.  This would also dictate how we design the photo session.  The 2nd meeting is the photo shoot.  The 3rd meeting is the design session - where we put all of their images up on a huge 9ft screen, and see what everything will look like in a real size.  During our design session, I help clients organize their favorites, and can build collages and unique products right in front of them - and then use a picture of one of their home walls to show them what the exact collage will look like in the end.

Another scary change was my disc burning policy.  I required clients to first put images on their walls, and then the disc would be available.  But this time, the disc is in a beautifully designed case, which becomes a display piece for the home instead of a thing to throw in a lock box and never look at again.  I also would no longer offer a print release.  All printing would be done through me to ensure the highest of quality and allow me to provide a quality guarantee on every single print that comes out of my shop.

THE RESULTS
The very first day that I implemented my new policies and procedures I had a client go home with a very large wall grouping, printed on metal.  She had never seen metal prints before, and thought she wanted a traditional print, matted and framed, until we met for the first time and she saw the metal print collage in the shop.  I will never forget how thankful she was that I helped her pick out the best photos to use in the collage.  She was so happy that I helped guide her - which led to her being confident in her purchase decision.  I also will never forget her response to hanging the collage in her home.  She was overjoyed with the result and even sent me a thank you card!

Of course, there have been a few clients who used to come for me because of the CD, and no longer do.  Thats OKAY.  People come to me because they know I will provide them with a great experience, and phenomenal art piece that will last a life time.  They know everything I do is a custom design, just for them.  No other design like it exists.  This is what makes my studio unique and successful.

Since I began working with clients to put custom art pieces on their walls I have grown my product line to include a multitude of custom designed pieces.  I find myself excited to hop into photoshop and design album spreads, greeting cards, wall collages etc...  I love finding out what my clients want before the photos session too - It really allows me to sculpt the session to flow onto a personalized product that is perfect for their home.

THE BEST part about working with clients from start to finished product on their wall is their responses.  I get to see tears of joy on a weekly basis, I have clients send me photos of their finished pieces in their homes, I get thank you cards in the mail...  I make my clients unbelievably happy by providing a full service from start to finish.











Sunday, November 30, 2014

Finding Inspiration

Inspiration for photography is all around me.  I see compositions that interest me everywhere I go.  I love to look at a scene, weather it be in nature, a town, or in my camera room, and then find a new way to create a visual story about it.  For instance - in the collage below, are 4 images of the Courthouse in Coudersport - all taken on the same day, with the same camera, same lens, same focal length, and same f-stop.  Each image is unique, and presents the Courthouse in a different way - which I imagine is much different than most people viewed the building on the same day.

The image of the Citizen's Northern was a hired piece.  I was asked to create something to use for their website's header image.  They allowed me creative control, which is excellent.  I had a vision of the bank being backlit by the sun, with beautiful lighting - possibly a sunset or sunrise, and no cars or foot traffic.  Unfortunately non of those conditions were ever going to happen within the time frame given for the project, so I started working with what I could use.  I had walked over from my shop every morning, and often in the evening for about a week, and each time there was something that I did not like about the batch of images.  I looked for inspiration within my own body of work, and tried many things.  I gave a whirl at creating a big HDR panorama, tried getting onto the roof of the building across the street, tried laying down on main street, tried standing on the roof of my car from a few different angles, and I also tried just leaving the camera at eye level - also from many different angles.  I just didn't feel moved by any of the images I had created, and if I don't like it, I don't show it.

I needed some inspiration, so I went to Flickr and checked out some architectural works.  Then it hit me - I was overthinking this project, and trying to be too creative.  At that moment I looked outside, and though it had been raining in the early morning, the sky was starting to clear, so I grabbed a camera and tripod and made my way back to the bank.  As soon as I saw the scene I knew what I wanted to do.  The sky was beautiful - blue with gobs of clouds everywhere, so I opted to make a symmetrical image with the corner of the bank splitting the image in two.  I stood far enough back and used a wide enough lens to incorporate the sky and the street into the composition.  I only took 3 photos (I bracketed 3 different exposures for safety) and walked back over to my shop.  Within 5 minutes I had the final piece ready.  

When I am working with people to create portraits I have many places to draw inspirations from.  I think about my own past work, my hero photographers, the place I am at, art pieces that I enjoy, and mainly - the people I am working with.  

This black and white photo of the couple on the tractor had inspirations from many places.  I knew that I wanted to really show off who they were as people, and there are many ways to do that.  I chose to work with some more modern inspirations.  I remembered seeing an image set by Joe McNally of some dancers in a desert - which were made by using the sun as a rim light, and a few off camera strobes for the main.  Though his image set had a totally different setting, subjects, and story, his use of light was inspiring to me.  I knew that using that style of technique would allow me to make an image that would really show who this couple was.  The other main inspiration for this image came from the couple.  

They are farmers - they put in long hours, work hard, and love the outdoors.  I knew I wanted to tell that story in as much detail as possible using only one frame.  I used the rusty tractor because the groom to be loved it.  With the tractor I composed it to create leading lines from the bottom right corner, straight to the couple.  I also had the light on the tractor to give the illusion that it could be early morning, or dusk could be approaching and they are still out working the fields.  I positioned the tractor in such a way that we could see the rolling hills, the fields, a few pieces of farm equipment in the background, and of course the sky.  I then set up the lights with no modifiers to create a hard light because I wanted to show off the grungy details of the tractor, the bit of stubble on the face of the groom to be, and to create a natural vignette.  Lastly, to show their love, I asked them to have a hug and a kiss.  (I always ask for a hug and kiss - in that order.  The couple will almost always be more relaxed for the kiss, and forget I am there for a minute once the get to the kiss part - which makes a more natural image).

I am always looking for inspiration - especially when I'm not actually on a shoot, or editing.  I'll read other photographer's blogs, stalk their social media sites, and view their websites.  I also get lots of inspiration from magazines.  I read many professional publications for photographers, but I often find that some of the most compelling and interesting images are in magazines that aren't for photographers - such as wedding or fashion magazines.  My wife loves to knit - and some of the portrait images in her knitting magazines are fantastic!

My previous career is another place where I draw lots of inspiration from.  As a classically trained musician, and jazz artist I often used to think of music in a visual way.  Using form an analysis of classical pieces, I could draw out a map of a piece's construction.  Just listing to something could inspire me to think of a scene, or colors, or give me a story to think about.  When I am creating an image, often I think of music as in inspiration.  If I were to put music to the image... what would it sound like?  Needless to say, my photographs may be completely different from one shoot to another (on the same day) depending on the music that I was listening to before or during the shoot.

Inspiration is all around me. 



Thanks for reading!






Thursday, November 20, 2014

What happens after we place an order?

Once an order has been placed, it is up to me to properly prepare the images to the specifications needed for the individual lab that will be handling the post processing work.

Light Meter.  I use this to calibrate
each camera/lens combo, and also
to create perfect exposures in the
camera room.
Now, some may say – “Tim, why don’t you print things yourself?”   Ah, good question.  My answer is this:  I want to spend as much time as I can doing what I do best – creating great images, and designing the end products.  I know a bit about printing, and I also know enough that I would have to hire a full staff, open a much larger shop, or off-site building just to handle print orders.  I also know that there is a multitude of equipment to buy (and provide upkeep for), and then I would have to oversee all of the quality control for those things.  By having a professional lab handle my orders, I am left with more time to spend with clients, creating images that they are going to love, and finished art pieces for their home that are going to be displayed for a lifetime.
White/Grey Card.
Got to keep that white
balance accurate!

Back to the topic – Processing an order.  So, once an order is placed, I have to properly prepare everything for the print lab.  Back up a step.  Before I even get into the camera room, I have to make sure all of my equipment is properly calibrated for the labs that I use, this ensures that all final images (which are to become art prints) have a perfect representation of true color and exposure.

xRite Color Checker.  This allows me to create custom color
profiles at each shoot - ensuring true color accuracy, and
perfect prints each time.
Right, back to the topic – Processing an order.  OKAY – so I’ve got my cameras and monitors calibrated, we did the photo session, I processed the images, the clients came back to review everything and put in an order.  Lets say they ordered a wall collage, a canvas, a pop-out holiday card set, and some ornaments.  Typical order.  So, to get started, I have to make digital copies of each image that is going to be sent to each lab, with the right color profile assigned to that image.  During the color profile assigning part of the task I also size the image with the ideal resolution for the specific product it is going to be printed on.  SO – for the order above, the wall collage could have (3) 5x5s, (2) 11x17s, and a 5x11.  Each image will be sized to the exact dimensions with the proper resolution.  Now – to make things tricky, the canvas could be one of the images from the collage, and then used again for the greeting cards an ornaments...
Spyder4 Elite.  This tool allows me to calibrate my computer
monitors and projector - this way I know that what I am looking
while editing is going to be accurate and true to what my final
printed product is going to be.


This means that for the 3 separate products using the same image I will process that one image 3 separate times (which may mean 3 different color profiles for each lab, as well as different sizing to match the appropriate printing surface) to make it perfect for each product.  And yes – it may be going to 3 different labs!  I use one lab for the metal wall collages, another lab that specializes in canvas gallery wraps, and then yet another lab that has the best press printed cards I have ever seen.  SO, it isn’t just merely taking an order and pushing “send”.  I’m spending some serious time preparing the files for the lab to ensure that everything is going to come back looking PERFECT.




Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Santa Is On His Way!

This year we are doing things a little differently!  We have Santa available for sessions by appointment.  This means that we can spend a little more time making the most adorable images with Mr. Clause and your kiddos!

Of course, you can still come on either Saturday December 6th, or Saturday December 20th from 2-5pm for an Open House with Santa!

Egg Nog Will Be Flowing!

Where Craftsmanship Begins for a Wedding & Portrait Artist

Where Craftsmanship Begins for a Wedding & Portrait Artist

Brides often gush about the beauty of their wedding images, or how amazing their custom art installation is at their home – or the beauty and quality of their wedding album.  Nothing really makes me feel better than making a client happy – it is very self gratifying to know that I have given someone something that they love, and will last a lifetime.

I have spent countless hours honing my skills with camera equipment, from the camera itself to light meters, to remote flash triggering systems, to specialized lens/camera/monitor/projector calibration hardware and software.  I have also spent more time than I can log designing in photoshop, and working with print labs to create perfect printed products. 

With all of the above in mind, there is really no piece of equipment, no technique, no product, and no magical way to create a well crafted image without the right pose and expression.  I always tell my photography students, “Pose, Compose, Expose, - but Expression trumps all”.  I could spend all the time in the world creating a technically flawless portrait, but if the expression doesn't draw you in, make you laugh, make you cry, or make you think, then the image failed.

For this reason, I am always watching people (nothing creepy), taking note to how people interact with each other – what do beautiful moments look like, and how did they originate?  This helps me to provide direction to clients and create organic scenarios in which real expressions happen, and I can put all of the technique to use.  I study images from other photographers, magazines of all sorts (even my wife’s knitting magazines), and I find things that I like, then imagine what it took to create the scenario. 

Working with people to create poses, scenes & scenarios is certainly an art of it's own, and this is where the real craftsmanship as a wedding and portrait photographer begins.  




Photographic craftsmanship is the ability to work with someone, make them feel comfortable, confident, and beautiful, then create an image that they never could have imagined,  then produce the image as a perfect finished product – weather it be a beautiful art canvas, a metal print, or a custom framed/matted art print.­




Monday, November 17, 2014

I Failed...

There were about 20 imagesfrom this batch that were total and utter
failures!  I knew the spot had some 
great potential, but I wasn't sure how
everything would look once I got back
to the studio to edit everything.
To make the photo,
I found this neat old fire escape, and began
experimenting with it.  I had to make shade
from the sun, and then bring in some lights.
I tossed an orange gel over the hair light,
and used one key light to the left of
the subject.  I just experimented with light
and shadows, and we had fun at the session.
Turns out that those 20 failed images were
totally worth it, because this one is great!  
I make it a point to fail at something during every photo session or wedding.  WHAT! ?  Yep.  I know I’m going to do it – I’m going to make an image that is terrible.  I am always trying new things – new ways to direct people, to pose people, new ways to play with light and exposure, to compose an image, new ways to put multiple images into a single composition… the list goes on and on.  This means that I am going to fail, and fail often.

Failing is a huge part of success, discovery, and growth as a photographer.  If I only stick to what I know makes an excellent photo, then I will never make something extraordinary.  I know that I want to make the best images, which are unique to and for the people I am working with - and that requires me to experiment all the time.  I have a core of key compositions and poses that I use (I call those the "safe" images) because I know they will work, which ensures that clients are going to be happy, just incase whatever I try thats new ends up being a flop.  I don't tell them that I may be creating a crap photo though... I just do it.  Honestly though, 70% of the time the images that are out of the normal realm of "safe" poses/lighting/composition setups are the ones that my clients love the most, and end up putting on their walls.





I thought I'd try something new at this wedding.  I saw this
beautiful field of ferns, and a natural tunnel created by
pine trees.  I had this vision of a sunset being in the photo...
only problem was that it was a cloudy day and the sun
was directly over our heads.  So I decided to experiment a bit,
and this is the image I came up with.
I knew that I wanted a composition with drama and tension,
so I framed it with the bride slightly off center facing
the short side of the frame instead of into the big area
of the frame.  Then I created a sun, and did a bit of
dodging and burning in PS5 to add depth.
I had tried this technique 2 times before, and it was a total epic
failure, but I was determined to make something amazing.
I love this image! 

Are Your Files Safe with Tim Walck Photography?

File handling is a very very important part of being a professional photographer.  I am an over organized geeky file Nazi when it comes to proper storage of a client’s images. 

The thing about storing a clients files, is that they may come back in days, months, or even years, looking for a specific image that I made for them.  They could be looking for an image because they just wanted one, or they finally had the budget for an over the top customized art installation, or… tragedy could strike.  What if the client lost their home to a flood or fire, along with their wedding DVD, custom designed album, metal printed wall collage, and 30x40 canvas gallery wrap….  Insurance may cover the replacement costs, but if the images were nowhere to be found, what would they do?  Cry.   And it wouldn’t be the tears of joy that normally happen in my shop!
I know the images that I create at a wedding are a once in a lifetime memory, and it is imperative that I keep those precious memories safe.  I employ a simple system for safe keeping of everything.  First – Images are transferred from memory cards onto two external hard drives.  At this moment there will now be 3 copies of each file (until the camera’s memory cards are cleared).  After I get through processing the gallery of images, it is then uploaded to my website, and the memory cards are cleared.  This means that there are always 3 copies of the images – 2 in house, and 1 copy in an off-site location.  Now – to get to the super nerdy stuff!
One hard drive is a dedicated “archive” drive, which will eventually become full, then it is date labeled and stored.  The archive drive only gets the RAW files – un processed.   The other drive is my “working directory”.  On this drive, I do all of the actual editing, processing, and storing of essential business files.  No actual images are stored on my computer itself – the computer is mean for running applications, so I keep it clean and free of space sucking high-res imagery.  And then there is a third drive - which exists only to back up the computer itself using TimeMachine.

My working directory hard drive is actually a configuration of 5 2TB drives stacked in a Drobo5D enclosure.  I use Western Digital Red drives because of their archival qualities (I could go on and on about these, but you your eyes will glaze over if they haven’t already!).  The enclosure is set up in a "BeyondRAID" configuration, which means that each individual file is written across 4 drives.  This way if one drive fails, the other 3 will have the necessary information to re-create the missing data.  Think of it as a math equation (and really… that’s all computer data is – 1s and 0s) – if
you have A + B = C, you know the number for A, and C, so to find B you subtract A from C.  BeyondRAID also allows for swapping drives in and out of the enclosure that are of different manufactures, different spindle speeds, or even SSDs.

To add even more security, I have my specific enclosure set up so that the 5th drive is a clone of one of the other 4.  To add to the security and durability, I chose the DROBO unit because it has an excellent built in surge protector, as well as a battery backup that allows for final data transfer to occur before the drive cuts tasks off and shuts down properly in the event of a power failure.  Not that I am a Drobo representative - but this enclosure also has a 6th bay for a solid state drive in the bottom, which acts as a hardware accelerator (a solid state drive can write much faster than any drive that spins, so data is pushed onto the 128GB SSD, then moved a
cross the rest of the drives within the unit - allowing very high data write speeds, and dramatically increasing the overall system's performance).

Tim, that sounds great, but won’t you run out of room eventually?  Yes, and No.  The Drobo unit is very expandable.  I can pull out a 2TB drive, and swap in a 4TB drive, and the Drobo unit will re-build the necessary information, plus I will now have more head room.  But yes – one day I could have the entire thing maxed out with 5 of the highest capacity drives.  I could do 3 things in this scenario – 1) Pick a fixed amount of data… lets say 4 years of work – and copy it to another external drive to become archived.   2) Daisy chain another Drobo enclosure via the Thunderbolt port, and continue to expand the storage room.  3) Upgrade to an infinitely expandable network storage solution.  

As you can see – I have spent a great deal of time and resources to cover the possibilities of device failure, theft, or un foreseen tragedies such as fire or flood.  With images stored in 3 places, and one being off-site, as well as the well armed RAID 5 configured Drobo unit, all of the work that has been put into creating images of once in a life time event is very well safe-guarded.