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SEE LIKE A DANCER…
Many moons ago, I met a gorgeous young ballet dancer during rehearsals for a stage play. Naturally, as a young man myself, I tried my very best to impress her, showing off my (what I thought to be excellent) dance photography. She quickly glanced over my shots, a polite “hm” and “oh-key” here and there. Bottom line: She was far less impressed than I had hoped.

Since that day in February 1997, my ignorance (you may call it youthful arrogance) has given way to grey hair, and I’ve taken on board the many lessons I’ve learned in these 19 years. One of them is to “see like a dancer.”

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Of course we have to understand exposure, composition, lighting, and a bit of sharpness never hurts, but no matter what subject we photograph, the more we know about it, the better our images will be.

In sport, those who understand “the game” will be able to anticipate what happens next, where to position themselves, when and where to pre-focus, to get that “extra special” shot that others might miss. More than that, they know what moments and images will tell the finer details of the story.

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When looking back at the photos I’ve created during my time working as a sports photographer, it is clearly visible which of the sports I played myself (or at least had a good understanding of). As a boy I played tennis, private lessons and all, and as a Swiss native I followed Roger Federer’s career from the beginning. Not surprisingly, my tennis images turned out better than photos of other sports I covered. This in return allowed me to shoot higher ranked events over time, ending up accredited to shoot Grand-Slam tournaments from the sidelines.

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So – what happened to the gorgeous ballet dancer? We got married and enjoy life with two beautiful daughters in Australia. While my photography didn’t win her over initially, amazing food at a fine Italian restaurant, a bottle of red and a luscious tiramisu did the trick eventually.

Being married to a professional classical ballet dancer allowed me an insight view of the world of ballet, their training, their persistence, the good and the ugly, from endless repetition to perfect their techniques, bloody toes and training injuries to the magical ease and elegance during performances.

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As a man with two left feet myself, I was always in awe of the big jumps of dancers, their grace and balance, their beauty, strength and stamina. What I’ve learned over the years however is the fact that what impresses the layperson (me) may mean little to those who understand the finer details of what we photograph. When you look at dance photographs, do you see beauty, or do you analyse hip placement and turn out? Trust me: They do.

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ABDA Beach Photoshoot

Let’s be honest here, I’m the first to admit that I’ve been very lucky many times in my life. Sliding into sports photography, especially in an area where I actually knew what I was doing, certainly helped, and I completely understand that it is indeed difficult to gain access to the sidelines of the big sporting events. I was also more than blessed by getting married to a ballet dancer who eventually opened up her own dance academy, giving me access to photograph many amazing dancers over the years. All of this was not something you could plan for.

What you can do however is leave aperture, shutter speed, and ISO on the sidelines for a while and spend some time studying what you want to photograph. Learn the rules of the game, analyse the amazing images of those who have done it before, not to copy but to learn. If you’re just starting out, talk to the local junior sports clubs, the ballet school in your neighbourhood, ask if you could watch a few training sessions, offer free shoots, practice and learn. I don’t see it as “offering to work for free,” but “having fun at no cost” instead.

Nothing happens without effort. What happens afterwards is a question of time, passion, talent, persistence and an unpredictable whisper of luck. I certainly wish you all the above.

Layla Burgess

You can see more of Stephan’s work at StephanBollinger.com, and follow him on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

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Hi gang — and greetings from the Sacramento airport (we wrapped up our seminar here today and Brad and I are headed home on a red eye. Zzzzzzzzz).

OK, so here’s what I’m working on…
It’s a new online class for KelbyOne on reducing noise in your photos, and I’m planning on covering it from both sides — the camera side of things, and of course the post processing, and here’s where I need your help: I want to make sure I cover all the most common noise scenarios, so if there’s a particular kind of noise you struggle with in your photography, please leave me a comment here, and I’ll try to include it in the class.

I plan on covering everything from long exposure noise reduction, to high ISO / low-light issues, along with issues that come from opening up the shadow areas even on low ISO images. I’m going to share lots of different strategies, including 3rd party plug-ins, native solutions, in-camera options, and more. Let me know the kind of stuff you’re having to deal with, and I’ll try to tackle it in the class (again, just leave me a comment below).

I’ve got another new Photoshop class coming out this week…
On Thursday we’re releasing my new “Removing Distracting Stuff using Photoshop” online class. I packed that baby full of stuff that we run into day in/day out, and I think it’s going to help a lot of people. I did it one problem at a time, so people can just go right to the type of thing they want to remove and, short and sweet, you’ll see exactly how to remove them. I’m also posting lots of downloadable practice files so you can practice along with the tutorials. More on Thursday when it launches.

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Above: Here’s a shot from Monday morning, before we opened the doors at my seminar in Sacramento. It probably looks pretty much the same right now, since it’s been 5-1/2 hours since the seminar ended. LOL!). Really enjoyed meeting everybody – such a wonderful crowd of photographers to present to (and thanks for the great turnout!). Can’t wait to come back!

OK, that’s it for tonight (well, by the time you read this…it’ll be morning, right?)
Hope you all have a good night. I’m home for a while, until my next seminar, which is in Denver on Monday, November 14th, and then Las Vegas on Wednesday, November 16th. Here’s where you get tickets.

Best,

-Scott

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P.S. Did I mention I got a new guitar? Well…I did! (it’s not actually “new” – it’s used – just new to me). It’s a 2008 Schecter PT Tele with coil tapped Super Rock humbuckers. I’ve had my eye on one for a while, but I finally came across the right deal, and now she’s sitting at my desk. I haven’t had much of a chance to play her (or change her funky colored strings), but I’m hoping to get a chance this week.

Dig the high gloss finish and lack of pick-guard (which I particularly love, since tele’s pretty much always come with a pick guard). OK, now I have to sell one (or two) to make room. Reverb.com here I come!

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OK, so I’m sitting here in the Delta Club at Laguardia when I realize I totally forgot to blog today. I’m going to blame it on:

(1) A swamped schedule at Photo Plus Expo

(2) Lack of youth ;-)

(3) 1&2

(4) All of the the above

Despite having the memory retention of a hamster, I want to thank all the awesome folks at Photo Plus Expo who stopped me to say hi, shake hands, share a kind word, or take a selfie.  I met so many nice folks, and it always recharges my batteries when I meet such nice photographers – it really was a treat. My sincere thanks!

Also, major love goes out to: 

(1) The awesome folks at Canon who had me speaking on their main stage (about travel photography and my trips to Iceland and Italy), and on their Live Learning Stage today, where I did a whole hot shoe flash thing, and had a ball. Always an honor and a thrill.

(2) Thanks to the very cool crew at Lexar who sponsored my “Portraits on location” photo walk last night on the High Line. We had such a great time, and got to try out all sorts of fun stuff. Also, thanks for all the hospitality – you guys are the best.

(3) Thanks to the crew at Photo Plus Expo (Jeff, Theresa, Jason) for having me teach a lighting Master Class on the conference tracks. Really enjoyed it (lots of eager photographers in that session – such a great group).

(4) Thanks to you all for even reading this last-minute post. I dig you.

Hope you all have a GREAT weekend, and we’ll see you back here on Monday!

Best,

-Scott

P.S. I’m in Sacramento on Monday with my seminar. If you want to come on out, it’s not too late. 

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Camera Essentials: Nikon D500 with Larry Becker
Get the most out of your Nikon D500! Join Larry Becker as he walks you through the important things you’ll want to know about your new D500. This is not a class for seeing every menu option and obscure function, but instead Larry focuses on the things you need to know to get the camera to do what you want it to do, as if a good friend was showing you how. You’ll learn the basics of navigating the buttons and dials, how to access various shooting modes, where to find key settings, and along the way Larry shares a wealth of tips, recommendations, and insights to help you feel like a master user by the end of the class.

In Case You Missed It
If a Sony A7R II or A7S II is in your future or already in your camera bag, then this class is for you! Join John McQuiston as he gets you up to speed on everything you need to know to get started on the right foot with your camera. From getting oriented to all of the buttons and dials to changing exposure settings, and from explaining the focus modes to how to shoot video, John steps through the features and functions you need to know, while explaining its purpose and showing you how it’s done.

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The Good, The Bad, and The Great – How To Vet Your Clients In Order To Save Your Time, Your Sanity, and Your Career

I don’t think there is a moment associated with as many jumbled emotions in a creative’s career as the first time you tell a potential client, “No thanks, I’m going to have to pass on this assignment.”

On one hand, we want to work, shoot, and create. But on the other hand, we want our relationships with clients to be positive experiences that move our career goals forward and leave us feeling valued and respected – allowing us to make a living without bringing unnecessary stress into our lives (or in the case of some truly toxic clients, waking nightmares.)

Some clients are a dream come true – they value your contribution to their projects, are enthusiastic to work with you, have similar communication styles to yours, and are eager to pay your rates because they understand the inherent value of what you do for them. These clients are rare and beautiful – so hold on to them when they come along.

Most other clients are just fine. You may have a hiccup here and there along the road, but for the most part they act in good faith, are easy to communicate with, and are open to resolution when misunderstandings or disagreements do arise. With a good process in place that establishes realistic client expectations you will have no trouble dealing with clients like this throughout your career.

But there are some clients you should run from – the ones who devalue your work/process, overstep the boundaries you set in your professional relationships, make unrealistic demands based on unrealistic expectations, operate in bad faith, and drive you crazy with little to no rewards. There’s an old saying about “the clients who cause 90% of your problems will generate 10% of your income.”

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The simple fact is that most photographers get so excited by the prospect of even being offered an assignment that they rarely stop to think if the assignment is something that will be helpful or harmful to their careers in the long run. This lack of foresight is why you see photographers excitedly start relationships with toxic and in some cases abusive clients for little more reason than they are offering work (and in the worst cases, those photographers will end up working for these clients for free – either through getting on board the free work carousel or by plain being stiffed on payment.)

You need to put a system into place for identifying which types of clients and projects are the right ones for you. This system should be integrated into your client research/on-boarding process, be data driven, and based on key attributes and values that are important to you in a client. Some things that you may look for in a great client are:

  • Enthusiasm for working with you and your specific style
  • Trust in you and your skills
  • An understanding of what you offer that leads to them understanding its value
  • Responsive to questions about project specifics
  • Their deadline is one that will allow you to do your best work in the time allowed
  • An understanding of how your rates correlate to your output
  • An understanding of the goals of their own project
  • A realistic understanding of their budget
  • Are verbal and written communicators

A client who possesses many of these attributes is highly likely to be a dream client, while one who does not (or even exhibits the opposite tendencies) is one that, at best, may require a great deal of education and, at worst, may be a client you should be hesitant in working with.

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Another important skill to develop is learning to recognize red flags in how your potential clients communicate. A few months ago when I was developing Project Prescription For Photographers with Shauna Haider and Paul Jarvis we focused a lot on what data points and warning signs one could identify in client behavior to help them decide if the client was a good fit or not – and this became the core of our client evaluation module, a data-driven scorecard of sorts for photographers to use internally when deciding if they should work with a new client. Here are just a few of the major red flags we identified and what they could signify.

Have they at any point in your relationship used the phrase “We can’t pay you, but…”
I’m not a fan of working for free, except with a select group of non-profits where I truly believe in the organization’s mission and WANT to donate my time to it (mostly animal rescues these days), and never because of a vague promise of future work or credit. This is one of the easiest and most visible warning signs of a client who needs photography but simply does not value it (or you). And the worst part is that once you work with a client like this, they will have a tendency to call again and again – often increasing the scope of the free work and breeding further resentment over time that can lead to a very toxic relationship.

Have they asked you to provide prices before outlining the scope of the project?
While not always a deal-breaker, these clients have a tendency to see all photography as one-size-fits-all arrangements. You will often receive inquiries from them that are accompanied by almost zero information and followed by an immediate request for a price. These clients tend to be focused on price rather than value, service, and results.

Do they make a lot of “just” or “only” statements?
Clients will often use statements that include the words “just” and “only” as a means of devaluing their own needs as a means of getting you to lower your rates. Classic example phrases include “We JUST need a few portraits,” or “We JUST need you to shoot for an hour or two,” and “We are ONLY using them for social media.” By creating the sense that they don’t value the assignment/usage themselves you may be more inclined to assign less value to the work they are requesting when assembling your estimate.

Are they asking you to do work way outside of your specialty/comfort zone?
You likely have a goal in mind regarding the type of work you want to be shooting – and while they may be offered out of good intentions, not all assignments will move you towards that goal. For example, if you want to primarily shoot portraits, it is unlikely that you will want to take on several product photography assignments (unless you have a dire need for the money) because it will divert focus away from your primary goal, provides little opportunity to develop portfolio work, and may be time better invested in marketing to relevant clients. This can also indicate the client is unfamiliar with your work and just looking for ANY photographer.

Do they respect your boundaries?
This is a huge red flag that encompasses a large scope of behaviors. In its most extreme form it may include being inappropriate/rude towards you in speech or action during your collaboration, or asking you to do things that you find unethical. And in lesser examples it could include not respecting your business hours or calling you at inappropriate times. It is very important to be vocal and firm in setting the boundaries that you expect your clients to adhere to.

Do they want you to work without a contract?
This is business 101 – never work without a contract. I would be highly suspect of any client who actively insists that you work without some kind of agreement in place that sets the terms of your working relationship.

Are they asking you to do spec work?
Block their number.

All of what I just wrote comes with a caveat – I totally understand that rent needs paying, food needs buying, and families need taking care of. Sometimes you have to bite the bullet and deal with an a**hole for a while in order to take care of your responsibilities (and hopefully these will be the first clients you cut loose once your situation is more stable). But once you are in a position where you are comfortably able to turn down work when it isn’t a good fit, being picky about your clients will allow you to do all of the above with more clarity and success as your business grows.

So say it out loud right now: “Not every client is the right client for me!”

You can learn more about the entire Project Prescription system here – as well as download a free copy of our client evaluation worksheet to help you find the types of clients you are best suited to collaborate with. You can also see Luke’s work at LukeCopping.com, and follow him on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Vimeo.

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I’ve got a busy week coming up in New York City at Photo Plus — the big daddy of all photo shows here in the US, and I hope at some point our paths cross in one of my presentations. Here’s my schedule:

Thursday:
8:00 am: “Creating Gorgeous Light for Captivating Portraits”
This is a two-hour session in their Master Class conference track for photographers who want to learn studio lighting from scratch; how to work with their subjects during a live shoot; and how to create really beautiful, flattering light for their subjects. Registration required. Details here.

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Thursday – 12:00 pm Noon: Book Signing at Rocky Nook booth #769
My latest book, “How Do I Do That in Photoshop’ will be there, and I’ll be at the Rocky Nook booth doing a book signing of it (and any other of my books), and I hope you’ll stop by (I’m happy to sign any books you already have, or if you pick up one there at the show). Either way, come on by and say hi.

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Thursday – 2:20 to 3:05 pm:
Travel Photography with the Canon EOS 5K Mark IV at the Canon Booth

I’ll be on the main stage at the Canon booth (it’s the first giant booth when you walk in the door), doing a talk on how to take travel photos like a pro. I’ll be sharing shots from my Iceland trip, Venice, The Dolomites along with all sorts of tips — everything from camera settings, accessories to take (and which to leave behind), plus lots of stuff on what to shoot, when, and how. It’s free if you have an Expo pass, so come on by.

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Thursday: 4:30 – 6:30 pm
Hands-on “Portraits on location” Photo Walk workshop
I’m working with the awesome folks from Lexar Memory on this photo walk – It’s limited to a small group of people, and we’re going to head out into the streets of Manhattan with two professional models. I’ll explain the technique, then you’ll split into two groups and try out the same techniques yourself with the models. We’ll be using both natural light and flash, and we’ll pack a lot into those two-hours — you’ll learn a bunch, and you’ll be shooting plenty the whole time. Unfortunately, this one is already sold out in advance.

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Friday – 2:00 – 2:45pm – Shoot with Flash Like a Pro
Canon Live Learning Stage (Canon Booth)
If you want to really get into flash, and using some really awesome flash modifiers, come by and catch this free session on the Canon Live Learning Stage (right up front). I’ll be doing a live shoot with a model and showing you how to set everything up; how to work with the model, and lots of tips and techniques, and it’s all free (thanks to the folks at Canon), and I hope to see you there!
OK, busy week, and it’s only just begun (as I sit here in the Atlanta airport between flights).  Again, hope our paths cross, or I see you in one of my sessions or book signing while I’m up in NYC! :)
Best,
-Scott
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