Photo Critiques

This is a short post aimed at those of you who avoid critiques. Stop it. A critique from a working pro is one of the most valuable things you can do. Critiques from the kids in the local camera club – not so much.

But when you get a chance to enter juried shows, print competitions at the professional organizations or get critiques from pros at photo conferences, do it. And here’s a tip to get the most out of your critique.


Don’t bring your pretty shots expecting a pat on the back. You learn more from your mistakes than your successes. So grin and bear it and ask a pro for a critique. Then, listen – shut up, don’t talk – listen, and go home and evaluate what it all means.
This post sponsored by Bay Photo Lab

A Few Customer Service Basics for Photographers

Customer Service has come up a lot lately both here on GoingPro and on my blog at As I recently wrote to the president of Time Warner, for the second time in my life, it got me thinking about how customer service in America is a dying concept.

Just think about my Time Warner issue and how frustrated I must have been to write to the president of the company. I’m so tired of talking to people in India, the Philippines and Guatemala. I understand the cost benefits for the companies going outside the US, but what I don’t understand is their inability to understand how damaging it is to their brand!

I recently shredded my AirTran Visa with Barclay Bank because I couldn’t get them to understand a credit I never received from a retailer. They put me through the process for six months until finally issuing a $79 credit! At one point a woman in the Philippines actually hung up on me for using the word “stupid”. I told her that not having the ability to send her a copy of my receipt, showing the credit via email because they didn’t have email was “stupid”. She did warn me…

“If you say bad things about our company again I will hang up on you!” Well, that was all I needed and the word “stupid” somehow snuck into my vocabulary. I accept that I’m going to hell for using the “s” word, but honestly – this is customer service basics and I’m tired of so many of these phone reps never attending class!

So, here’s how to take my rant this morning and apply it to your own business. Photography is a service business and if you can exceed customer expectations no matter what the issue, we, as an industry, just might be able to raise the bar for the rest of the world. If nothing else you’ll stand out from a lot of other companies in your community.

Think about all the choices consumers have today and especially your clients. Here are four simple tips to help make you a star:

Fast response time: When somebody contacts you, how quickly do they hear back from you?
When they do hear back do they get a custom response or what looks like a form letter/email?  Custom responses will always score higher and a personal phone call will really go a long way.

Does your website provide a way for a client to call you directly?  We’re all bored with responses that lack any personality or originality.  Give your clients a way to talk to you personally. Ansel Adams was legendary when it came to answering his own phone. I’ve heard so many stories about people who called to ask a question about a workshop, for example, and wound up talking to Ansel himself. You need to put yourself out there.

When you have a “screamer”, is your initial intent to duck the problem or do you tackle it immediately? The most disarming approach to any unhappy client is to be proactive.  Sure, there are some people you can never make happy, but when you know they’re upset, there’s nothing that beats a direct phone call with an opening greeting of “I understand you have some concerns, how can I help?”

Think about the retailers where you enjoy shopping.  What are the ingredients making you want to spend your money at one store, but not another?   Pay attention to how you’re treated, the presentation of the products you shop for and the attitude of the sales staff. At those stores where you love to shop you’ll find a common formula for success to apply to your own business.
These days it’s as much about the service you provide as it is being competitive in your pricing and products offered, but great service will win out every time!  Tony Corbell talks about his attitude when he first started as a professional photographer, “I may not have been the best photographer in town, but I was determined to be the nicest!”

There are dozens of ways to stand out, not just in customer service, but in community involvement, presentations, your website, newsletter, special events and the list goes on and on.  We’ll be talking about all of these and more at Skip’s Summer School when Melissa Ghionis kicks off the workshop with some ideas on state-of-the-art Customer Service and being proactive instead of reactive.

See you at Summer School!

This post sponsored by Album Epoca

For Professional Photographers It’s Not Just About Price

There’s no question that discount price promotions will bring up sales, no matter what the product, company or service. However, here’s the challenge, after your first big sale, what do you do next? So often companies wind up trapped in the gotta-have-another sale mode.

Take a look at Macy’s. If you have a Macy’s account then you understand immediately what I’m talking about. Every few weeks we get another discount card with another promotion. Even worse, is there anybody that pays full retail at Bed Bath and Beyond? We get a new promo card every month or so.

There will be times in your business where a discount on price makes sense, but until that day when it seems to be the only thing you can do, think about some other alternatives.

Added Value: Design your promotions so you’re adding something in to the total cost. A wedding photographer might add more coverage. A portrait artist might add in an additional framed print or a mother’s album.
Continuity Marketing: Give your clients bounce-back offers. If you did a portrait of the baby, give them a certificate for something later on, maybe the first birthday sitting.
Frequent Buyer Clubs: If they didn’t work then most of us wouldn’t be in the various frequent flyer clubs, credit card point clubs, etc. Work on establishing programs that build repeat business.
Package Pricing: For me it started with the stereo industry when I was a kid. It was always cheaper to buy a complete system than individual components. We’re all used to kit pricing with Canon and Nikon for example, so why not with your own customers. Put together packages that combine the sitting or event, a slide show and video, the main album with parent’s albums and framed prints, for example. Design your packages so it’s obvious to see and understand the value.
Look for Partners: You don’t have to travel the marketing path alone. Look for other partners in the community and work to cross promote each other’s products. Here’s an example, Mother’s Day is right around the corner. Work with the local Mother’s Day brunch favorite in the area and offer a free sitting fee with brunch. You don’t need to provide the final product for free, just the sitting – the restaurant will become your best ambassador and the two of you will be promoting each other. Plus, there’s isn’t a mother or grandmother on the planet that doesn’t complain about not having an up to date family portrait.

Here’s the point this morning – just doing a big discount sale forces you into a maze that you just won’t get out of. After the first sale, revenue pretty much drops like a stone. Most companies jump on another sale, even better than the first and at that point they’re trapped.

As professional photographers you have so many alternatives to dropping your prices. And, when you’re stuck, call your vendors for ideas. Your album company and labs will often have promotions to help you and if not, they just might know about programs other photographers have tried. Your vendors need to be an important part of your network.

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Photographers – It’s All About Good Old Fashioned Etiquette

While this post is directed more towards the young photographer just starting out, it applies to everybody. We’re all moving too fast and there are some good solid basics in communication and presentation that just can’t be replaced.

A Firm Handshake: Scott and I actually did a podcast once and talked about this. It’s still an important part of the way you’re perceived.

The Two-handed Handshake – want to express a little more sincerity or appreciation – add your other hand towards the end of the handshake. It’s just one more way to show how much you appreciate whatever was just discussed.

Eye Contact: Not making eye contact is one of the worst ways to build trust with a client or anybody you’re talking to for that matter. Pay attention to the conversation and make eye contact.
Listen More Than You Talk: It’s a basic and the old line of, “You’ve got two ears and one mouth. So, listen twice as much as your talk!” says it all.

Remember People’s Names: I screw this one up all the time, but I’m work in progress and getting better. When you first meet somebody repeat their name in your greeting and that will help.
Dress the Part: I know you’re an artist, but “dressing for success” should still be on the top of your list.

Need a Breath Mint? Okay, this is really basic, but if you have a meeting and it’s right after lunch, then pay attention to the garlic bread you had and have a mint with you. There’s nothing worse than meeting with somebody who’s breath could stop a truck. In fact, it’s not just after lunch – I’m sounding like a commercial, but your mouth doesn’t stay fresh forever.

Say Thank-you! Yeah, I know, your mother used to yell at you when you were five, but I’m so amazed at people who just don’t bother.

I know they’re basic and a few of you might even feel insulted. However, if I hadn’t met a dozen or so photographers in the last few months who all could have used this basic advice I wouldn’t be writing about it now.

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Is There Room For One More Pro Photographer?

Andrew from Cleveland, Ohio sent me a question: “Shoot it to me straight, is there room in a crowded market–Cleveland, for instance– for a new emerging professional? There are a LOT of skilled photographers in my market. As an emerging professional, how do I make myself heard above all the noise?”

This is really two questions and the first is easy to answer. I don’t know about Cleveland specifically, but generally I’d say that there’s plenty of room for new emerging photographers. As long as these photographers understand that telling their clients’ stories is the number one goal of a professional photographer – then yes – there is room. Now some markets are crowded. New York, LA (especially Orange County) and Chicago are all pretty competitive towns. But even there – you can shine if you can connect with your clients.

As for how you rise above the noise? That’s easy too.

1. Become a master craftsman. Learn your trade. Don’t settle for good enough.
2. Care about people. Care about them more than you care about yourself.
3. Solve people’s problems. Look at things from their point of view and do the thing they need, not the thing you want them to do.
4. Listen to and connect with your clients. Really. Not just on a superficial level, but deep down. Care about them.
5. Tell stories with your camera. Think of yourself as someone who protects precious memories for a living.
6. Don’t waste ANY time comparing yourself to others. Focus on your clients, not what your competitors are doing.
7. Lastly – and this is a big one – remember that people don’t buy what you do – they buy why you do it. Be able to openly, honestly, truthfully and sincerely share WHY you do what you do with great specificity – and forget the how and the what – and you’ll rise faster than your peers.

There’s always room for one more – and here’s a bonus reason…

Old guys like me are getting ready to retire. In less than two years I’ll probably be completely out of the market sitting in my condo on Lake Como. As the old trees in the forest fall – more light shines on the newer, younger, smaller trees. That’s how you get ahead. Good luck. Skip and I are rooting for you.

This Post Sponsored by Animoto

GoingPro Podcast Episode #73

Welcome to the GoingPro podcast.

You can direct-download the MP3 here.

Or get the entire GoingPro stream here –

Skip and Scott answer audience questions about the business of photography.

This post sponsored by Adorama – More than a camera store

Real World Real Lessons: Catching Up to Technology

For those of you who have listened to a few podcasts or better yet, been around me and buddy, Scott Bourne, know my reputation for being technically challenged. It’s on going joke, since I was probably the last moron to buy a Blackberry. Scott loves to torment me with all the things I can’t do with my phone or my computer.

Well, two weeks ago, after he thoroughly abused me on a phone call, I broke down and bought the new iPad. It actually sat here for a week as I stared at it wondering what I was supposed to do with it. Then I caught up to Scott for dinner last week. “Okay Bourne, I’ve got the thing, what’s the big deal?”

We spent about an hour playing with it and it was like hanging out with David Copperfield back stage before a show. Over the next few days I couldn’t put it down. Then this past weekend I got some quiet time to really start the process of taking full advantage of so many options.

First, I had a Skype call with my old buddy Taka in Hiroshima. Taka used to be the VP for Asukabook and I’ve written before about our friendship. He and his wife just bought a webcam and there they were on Skype. With my iPad I was able to wander around the house and show them where we live. With Taka’s son, Tomotaka, I was able to help him practice his English as I’d point to things in the image being transmitted and he’d respond with the right word – it was like having real-life flash cards.

Later that day I wandered in and out of the App Store loading in new applications to help me track things in the industry I want to stay on top of. One after another was loaded in taking my Twitter and Facebook accounts to new levels of efficiency.

The height of the fun of it all came at my folks last night when I used the video feature to document some great moments with my Dad, but even better was having the quality that only Apple could bring to the party at my fingertips.

I’m a long way from being cutting edge with this new toy, but I finally understand why so many people comment every day, “This thing has completely changed my life!”

It’s not easy being an old fart and old habits die an ugly death, but the ugliness is really in wondering why it took me so long! I should have picked up an iPad when they first came out…oops just heard my wife yell, “Don’t “should” on yourself!”
This post sponsored by Album Epoca