What to do When Your Photography Clients Want to Negotiate by Liana Lehman Hall

We’re living in the “day of the deal.” Many photography clients are eager to negotiate.

Even high-end brides are looking for a “good deal.” Everyone wants to save a buck. It’s human nature; we feel good knowing we’re smart with our money.

As small business owners, we shy away from negotiations because we assume it means someone doesn’t value what we do, or that we could lose out on a lot of profit. Sometimes, that’s not the case. It may simply be a client who wants to make sure they get the best bang for their buck, or they just like to negotiate in general.

If you do your homework, you won’t lose out financially.

First, decide whether or not you’re willing to negotiate.

There are reasons why you might not want to negotiate. If you are fully booked, or have more work than you can handle or want, then it’s a great time to say, “I’m sorry, these rates are …

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A Heart Check for You and Your Photography Business by Liana Lehman Hall

About a month ago, my husband and I designated an afternoon (spent in our favorite Irish Pub of course) as “Heart Check Day.”

What is this Heart Check we speak about?  Simply put, it’s taking time to STOP and smell the roses.  It’s giving ourselves time and permission to dream out loud and envision our future.  Time to take a look at the direction our business and life is headed.  Deciding whether or not the path we are on is really the right one for us, if there is a new path to pave, or a new road to travel.

It’s easy to get stuck in the proverbial rat-race.  We dream of running our own business, and once it becomes reality, we quickly realize that we’ve simply created new jobs for ourselves.  A new, different kind of rat-race where the daily chores and tasks of running a small business take up most …

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Becoming a Certified Photographer- The “How” and “Why” by Liana Lehman Hall

Making a living as a professional photographer is tough.

Especially these past few years.  With the relatively low-cost of entry into our profession, thousands are picking up cheap DSLRs, turning them to P-mode, and calling themselves professional photographers.

The low-end and middle-markets have been hit hard for the past few years, with the new photographers pumping out action-covered sub-par work and undercutting the long-time professional photographers on price, and giving it all away for nothing.  The high-end market has not escaped this either.  Even the five-star hotels are giving deals on weddings now, if that tells you anything!

So what sets you apart from the influx of new and “faux” photographers?  How does a client know you are legitimate?

Obviously client testimonials, longevity in business, and a solid body of work are all good ways to show your skill, talent, artistry, and professionalism.  But if you want to take it a step further, Go Get Certified!!

The Professional Photographic Certification Commission regulates who can become a Certified Professional Photographer (CPP).  They follow the standards established by the Institute of Credentialing Excellence (ICE) – the same organization that is responsible for regulating agencies that certify medical professionals, therapists, home builders, and financial professionals.

In Layman’s terms, CPP is to photographers what CPA is to accountants.

If you’re a designated CPP, the client knows you’re legitimate.  Similarly, if you want to be sure your accountant knows their stuff and is up to speed with the knowledge and skill necessary to do your taxes and reporting correctly, you hire an accountant who is a CPA (Certified Public Accountant).

So why is it necessary to know about guide-numbers, viewfinder cameras, understanding the anatomy of film, and how to print from color negatives in this age of digital photography?

Gary Meek, who taught the CPP review course that I took in August, put it in a way that really makes sense.  He said  “I had heart surgery and of course my surgeon had gone through years and years of medical school and is Board Certified.  Do you think his teachers let him skip the parts about how to deliver a baby, and learning the anatomy of the lungs and feet and eyes and how to do many different operations – just because he’s focusing on the heart?  No!!  What happens if there are complications during surgery?  What happens if he’s the only doctor in a restaurant when someone collapses?  Isn’t it important for him to have a full working knowledge of the body, just as it’s important for us to have full working knowledge of photography, even though we may specialize in one style, using one tool?”

So how do you become a CPP?

The process is three-fold .  You declare your candidacy.  Then you submit and pass a 20-image portfolio review.  Last, you must pass a rigorous written exam with at least a 70 out of 100 score.  Steps 2 & 3 can be done in any order.

The process is not quite as simple as it sounds.  The images you submit must be a proper representation of your work.  No one subject can be the same and they must be from 20 different paid jobs within the past two years.  They must show proper lighting, posing, and composition.  They should be presented as they would be for a client.  The images need to represent a proper ratio of what you actually shoot.  For example, I shoot mainly weddings and some portraits.  Therefore, a majority of my images were from weddings, and a few portraits were added as well to show the proper representation of my portfolio.

Submitting is pretty easy once you’ve decided on what images to submit.  Everything can be done online now so it took a matter of minutes for me to upload and write descriptions each image.  Then it’s waiting time.  A few weeks later I received notification via mail that my portfolio had been reviewed by the panel and passed the review!

The exam portion of the CPP certification process was even more difficult.  Mainly, my issue is that I can understand and have complete knowledge on a topic, but when it comes to taking tests I simply don’t do well.  I’ve never been a good test-taker.  The test is written by people who write tests – so it can be tricky and often ambiguous.

The test covers: - composition and design (17%) - cameras, lenses, and attachments (15%) - digital post production (13%) - exposure and meters (20%) - film, digital capture, and output (15%) - lighting (20%)

I personally went through two years of full-time photography training at a technical college and have a Certification in Commercial Photography Technology.  I learned everything from rolling my own film, developing, traditional portrait and commercial lighting techniques… to using large format cameras and printing from color negatives and transparencies.  The nuances of lighting, color, inverse-square-law, and color correcting have been ingrained into my brain for over a decade now.

I decided, since it’s been nearly a decade since I went through proper schooling on this, to take a CPP review course before taking the exam.

We spent 3 days in late August, at PPA headquarters in Atlanta, going over just about everything there is to know about photography basics.  It was everything I learned in two years of photography school, everything I’d learned in addition by trial and error throughout a 10+ year career — crammed into 3 days!

A photographer who started with a digital camera on P would be in shock at such a large amount of information in a short amount of time!  I honestly would be surprised if anyone could go through a review course without previous working knowledge and experience and pass this exam.   This stuff is tough!   It’s a LOT of math and science, and knowledge from practice.

A few days after completing the exam, I received my score in the mail.  I honestly didn’t know if I’d passed or not.  Again, I knew the information inside and out, but the test was not easy!!  My husband retrieved the mail and brought it upstairs, waving the blue envelope in his hand, taunting me.  My heart leapt up into my throat and I got that same familiar feeling of nausea mixed with excitement… just like back in the days before opening a college acceptance letter.  I passed!!  Phew!

Soon thereafter, I received notification from the Certification Commission that I’m officially a CPP.  I am now one of only 8% of Professional Photographers (less than 1,800 in the world) who have attained this title.

For me, this has been a very fulfilling process.  It’s been an education all over again.

In a world where everyone and their brother, sister, mother, cousin, and friend’s friend is a photographer… I can honestly say I know my s!#$.  I’m not the photographer who picked up a DSLR and went to town with it, set on P.  I’m not your average “professional photographer.”  I know the rules, and I choose when to break them.

Will this help my career and business?

I honestly do not know.  I’d like to believe it would.  Evidence shows that it’s helped those who have been CPPs for years.

I did this as a challenge to myself and out of respect for those I photograph and teach.

How could I possibly teach business to dozens, sometimes hundreds and thousands, of photographers each year, many whom are CPPs already, without going through the trouble to prove I know what I’m talking about – not just in business but in photography too?  Plus, this adds an added layer of trust for my wedding and portrait clients.

I’m happy I went through this process.  If anything, I wish I had gone through it sooner.  It takes an investment in time and focus, but I believe it’s worth it.

So whether you are a photographer like me, 10+ years in business with a formal education, or the photographer who picked up a DSLR yesterday and is shooting in P, I dare you to get certified!  I dare you to practice, practice, practice, learn, learn, learn.  I dare you to know so much about your craft that it becomes intuitive and second nature.

Additional Resources

Certify With Sandy – Forum created by Sandy Puc for support and educational resources while going through the Certification process. Photography (10th Edition) Book – This book is considered THE book that covers everything you need to study.  It’s quite pricey but very much worth the investment.  It has a lot of color pictures, diagrams, and helpful examples.  There is a study guide online and sample tests you can take after reviewing each chapter. Certification Prep Course at ImagingUSA 2011 – This class is taught by Gary Meek, who taught the class I took here in Atlanta.  At the end of the three-day class you can choose to take the exam right there at ImagingUSA. CertifiedPhotographer.com – The official site for Certification.  You can register here and get all the information you need in order to submit your images and take the exam.

Written by Liana Lehman Hall

Liana’s main job is to photograph Atlanta and Destination Weddings. But, in the winter months Liana can also be found speaking at major industry events and teaching Photo Biz Boot Camps throughout the US and abroad.  Liana is one of the only professional wedding photographers who is accredited and actively teaching managerial accounting, finance, and business planning to other professional photography studios.

Liana will be speaking at PartnerCon 2010 on the topic “Work Smarter Not Harder”, addressing the photographer’s workflow. Learn more about her presentation and about the rest of the action packed program here.

The following photos are courtesy of Liana Lehman Hall and passed the image portfolio review in the CPP process.

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Predict Your Sessions and Sales by Liana Lehman Hall

Now that you know your gross sales goal by running a break-even analysis, you have to figure out how to actually make that money!  If you have not run your break-even analysis but still want to try this out, remember that most photography studios need gross sales of $150,000-250,000 depending on if you have a studio or not.  You forecast how to make your gross sales by making educated guesses on your sessions and sales.  You break your gross sales down by how many products and services sold at what price.

Here is an example: if your goal is $200,000 in gross sales per year, you can photograph 20 weddings at $10,000 each.  You know your salary and all expenses are covered at this point if your break-even analysis showed you need $200,000.  Anything over $200,000 is extra cash for you and the business.

It is more likely though that you offer …

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The Ugly Truth: It Takes Money to Make Money by Liana Lehman Hall

Starting a business is a Catch-22. I’ve touched on the topic before in previous UGLY TRUTH post titled Red is Normal for the First Few Years in Business.

Unlike some other photographers who teach it’s okay to take out a $60k loan to spend on advertising and equipment, you’ll find me teaching quite the opposite.

SURE you will need to buckle down and spend some money in order to get your business up and running, but how do you do this without going deep into debt!??

Here’s what I would do if I was starting out from scratch opening a photography business:

1. Read Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover from cover to cover, twice. Listen to his show. Become a debt dominatrix like me. Get passionate first and foremost about getting your personal finances in order. Make sure you’ve dumped the debt AND have an Emergency Fund (EF) before diving into business full time.

2. Get a day job. Or two or three. Make sure you AND your spouse (if applicable) are maximizing income any way possible. If this means you have to wait tables and work at the job you hate for a while longer, do it. If you have to scrub dishes at night and teach at the YMCA on weekends, do it. I did it (yes, all of those – even the scrubbing dishes part!) If you don’t have the plush EF plus a few tens of thousands of dollars to start your business with yet, keep on working to pay the bills and save up to invest in your EF and business.

3. Learn, Learn, Learn. Shoot Shoot Shoot. Go work for free for anyone who will take you. Bend over backwards for them, helping them with all the mundane office tasks and be grateful when they let you shoot with them. Develop your style and brand identity EARLY so you don’t waste lots of time and money refining and defining it over and over again later. Build your portfolio. Don’t copy your mentors or the photographers on all the blogs you stalk. Pave your own road to success by discovering what style, experience, and processing is unique to you. Remember that Photoshop is like the brain – you only really ever use 10% of it. Learn the 10% and move on. Photoshop will suck up your time otherwise, especially if you’re just learning.

4. Know your NUMBERS before you start. If you’re not priced right, you’re bound for failure. I’ve met quite a few photographers who, upon running their cost analysis, find out they’re loosing money off of every shoot! One actually said to me “well, I’ll just have to shoot more then.” (YIKES!!!) I quickly reminded them that shooting more, when loosing money off of the shoot, means that you’re digging yourself into a bigger proverbial hole. Go learn from PPA, join us for a Boot Camp, or if you’re already business savvy check out theNumber Cruncher to make sure your numbers are in check. I developed Boot Camp and the Number Cruncher and the DVDs for the sole purpose of sharing this knowledge that is so crucial to success.

5. Rent equipment and just “say no.” Just because your favorite photographer has 17 of the best Canon or Nikon pro digital lenses, doesn’t mean you have to have what they do in order to be successful when starting your business! Some of my top-rated, most-awarded images are from weddings I shot with just a Canon 20D and 24-70mm. I photographed my 7th wedding for over $7,000 with that same setup (plus backup of course and my 2nd shooters had other lenses to zoom in closer and go wider). You don’t need a $200 camera bag or the most expensive letterpress business cards to be successful. In fact, I still love my $10 black Old Navy tote to carry my lenses in for weddings! Sure, I use the lens-specific tote on occasion, but it’s not a necessity. Make sure you have a few solid camera bodies and lenses (even older models work GREAT still!) and rent the rest. Slowly build your bag of equipment. You’re not going to have time to build your business and portfolio if you bankrupt yourself first by investing in things you can rent for a while first. Plus, if you rent a variety of lenses and cameras you’ll have an opportunity to see which ones you REALLY use and love, and focus on getting those first.

6. Build a great website and distinguishable brand. You can build a great website these days for as little as $300-400 total or $40-50 per month with sites such as BluDomain and Showit. Make sure you show your best, consistent work. Write a bio, include a picture of YOU, and don’t talk about where and when you got your first camera. I don’t care. Your clients don’t care. They want to know who you are and what makes you different from the other half a million photographers out there. Build a brand board and start a competition onLogoSauce if your current logo/identity sucks. If you’re not sure if it sucks, go ask the Digital Wedding Forum or someone who works with brands for a living. They’re more likely to tell you the truth. Your friends and family probably won’t. If you’re not sure how to go about this process, you can watch what I did on the Brand Camp DVD.

7. Get involved. You won’t get clients by being holed up behind a computer. Go join a club, association, or take up a new hobby. Attend as many industry events as possible. Make friends with these people, don’t just send them your materials trying to solicit business. They’ll refer you naturally if they genuinely like you and your work. Plus, it makes being a photographer so much more fun when you’re getting to know others in your line of work!

That’s what I’d start with if I was building a business from the ground up. There are no perfect answers and everyone’s situation is unique but one thing is universal – if you have a strong financial foundation, everything else is much easier. Build your business on a strong foundation, so when the storms of life come, you and your business are prepared ride out any disasters.

Written by Liana Lehman Hall

Liana’s main job is to photograph Atlanta and Destination Weddings. In the winter months Liana can also be found speaking at major industry events and teaching Photo Biz Boot Camps throughout the US and abroad.  Liana is one of the only professional wedding photographers who is accredited and actively teaching managerial accounting, finance, and business planning to other professional photography studios.

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Sales is NOT a dirty word! by Liana Lehman Hall

This past weekend my husband and I went shopping for a chandelier for our living room, a belated birthday present for me. Now first let me premise this with the fact I have never been in the market for a chandelier before. We see this as a luxury item (only to be purchased once we completed our emergency fund!) and had a specific budget in mind. We knew we were not happy with the cheap imitation ones sold at Lowes and Home Depot for $100, but we did not want to spend over $500 on an extra- large elaborate one either.

After countless internet searches, and trips to locals stores, we finally turned to friends and family for recommendations. On the recommendation of his mother, we headed up to a town just 40 minutes north of us, to a store that specializes in lighting.

My experience buying a chandelier reminded my once …

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PartnerCon Speaker Spotlight by Liana Lehman Hall

Hi, I’m Liana.  While many refer to me simply as “liana banana”, I was married in April of this year, so I’ve officially changed my last name from Lehman to Hall!  I’m based out of the Atlanta GA area which is great because my focus is destination weddings and it’s easy to get around from here.  While destination weddings is our specialty, we also photograph plenty of Atlanta weddings and lifestyle portraits.  When I’m not shooting, I’m teaching Photo Business Boot Camps and traveling.  Right now I’m one of the only working pro wedding photographers certified to teach the not-fun business stuff to other entrepreneurs.  It’s a lot of work, because I don’t have any “down-time” but so rewarding to be able to do both!

I thought I knew what it was like to plan a wedding because, before I started shooting weddings, I assisted a wedding planner and knew the industry well.  What I found out this past year, while planning our own wedding, is that I had NO IDEA how stressful it can be – and how wrong I was about some things before.  Being on the OTHER side gave me a whole new appreciation for what our clients go through, and things we can do to make their experience SO much better.  There are some things about the wedding industry that drove me CRAZY during the process, things I noticed could be better, and I hope that I can share these insights with others during my session at Partner Conference.

If you want to know all the things your clients may not be telling you, come to my session.  In the past year I’ve had tons of friends and even my little sister who also got married and I was able to pick their brains for dos and donts as well.  It’s crazy how similar our experiences were – and how the industry falls short in making the process easy and enjoyable.

The people, and the chance to do something great by giving back to the community.  Partner Conference is always like a big reunion and the perfect place to meet new friends in the industry.  If it weren’t for those I’ve met at Partner Conferences since 2005 (yes, I’ve been to all!)  then I probably would not be in business today.  Running a photography business can be such hard work, frustrating, and even lonely at times.  It helps to know you have a network of photographers who support, encourage, and stand by each other.  This is the first year we are given the chance to use our talents to tangibly impact the community around us during the Partner Conference.  I know it will mean a lot to be able to help the families who were effected by Hurricane Katrina. Giving back may just be one of the most rewarding experiences of all!

Liana will also be bringing her wedding albums, designed by her and printed by KISS.

Written by Liana Hall

Liana teaches the not-fun-stuff every photographer needs to know in order to be profitable in business.  She is the ONLY professional wedding photographer in the USA who teaches managerial accounting, finance, and business planning to other photographers in a small group, hands-on environment.  Join her in Austin in November or Atlanta in January for her next Photo Business Boot Camp!  www.BananasEDU.com

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