Old Dog and New Tricks – Photography Website Marketing 101

As I spent a day yesterday updating the website based on a whole lot of recent photography marketing lessons,  it only seemed appropriate to start this blog with a new edit of my first photo with a DSLR (of our old dog Basil), using some new B&W techniques I’ve learnt.

Photography Marketing and Website Updates

The key thing – 

Most new potential customers will begin at a Search Engine then hit your site.  Your home page will get the most visits – it’s the virtual window front to your online shop.  How well does it work for you? 

Some tips.

  1. Understand, focus and create for your target customer.  What are your customer wants, needs and beliefs?  Match their requirements to your core capabilities.  That means separating the business side of your photography from the personal – if you’re focusing on being a portrait photographer  then get rid of the dogs, travel and landscapes etc from your home page portfolio.  All that does is confuse the potential customer (create a personal section if you have to for the other shots).  
  2. Cut out noise and clutter – the first few seconds for a new web visitor is critical – cull ruthlessly and only select your best 10-15 images.  Fix design problems and spelling mistakes.  You’ll be judged by your weakest elements.  
  3. Be consistent – that’s something we’re all continually developing but you can’t be everything to everyone.  Your first page has to clearly demonstrate your core capabilities.  I’ve focused on portraits.  To create a consistent feel I created a Lightroom Preset containing tones, details and effects that I could easily apply across the series of home page images.  Time can only tell if that works.  
  4. Sustainable Competitive Advantage – In my marketing business I always talk about creating your sustainable competitive advantage.  The photography business is highly competitive – in other words why would I pick you/me?  Always aim for satisfied customer word of mouth referral.  (Note: That reminds me to add a customer testimonial page)
  5. Track your results.  Google Analytics is free and will tell you the average user time per visitor.  You’ll obviosuly also track the number of enquires and jobs.  At present my Average Visit Duration has increased: 43% from 00:03:56 v. 00:02:45 and Bounce Rate has dropped -5.80% from 58.78% v. 62.40% over the last couple of months. We’ll see if the update improves results.

I’ll look at creating content and website SEO (Search Engine Optiminisation) next.


Update 18th May 2012

I was going to look at SEO this weekend but a review of my web stats this morning suggested time better spent elsewhere – Total Page Views dropped 20%, Average Visit Duration dropped 80% and average time home page dropped from 1:22 sec to 37 secs!  Yes, the data sample size isn’t big but the beauty of the web is that you can very quickly if something is working or not. 

As a quick fix I drop the blue tone filter I’ve placed across my home page image scroll and switch back to black and white.   Let’s see if that makes a  difference?

 

Baby Photography Tips

Conventional commercial photography and video production wisdom suggests that we should avoid working with kids and animals but to challenge the status quo last weeks photography challenge was to try some pet photography and this week, my inaugural baby photography challenge.  

Enter Deacon, 10 week year old son of Geoff and Tennielle (insert maternity shots).

A couple of pet photography tips are readily applicable to baby photos.

    1. Shoot fast and lots – while baby is active, keep your eye in the viewfinder – the magic shot you’re after can be just a millisecond away.
    2. Prepare and research as much as possible before hand.  From Googling and Youtubing I learnt a highly effective rolled towel techniques and the importance of very soft flashes on newborn baby photography.  http://www.learnmyshot.com/Baby+Photography+Tips+and+Lighting+Setup was a great resource and I employed the double umbrella lighting setup used in this video.

  • Finally, give yourself plenty of time.  Baby is best after a nap, new clothes and something to eat (sounds like most blokes) – in a two hour shoot we got about three x  ten minutes of good baby time in front of the camera – the rest was crying, pooing, sleeping and burping.  Saying that, I’ve never smiled so much editing photos. 
As you will see I mixed up post production techniques a bit – some black and whites and light colour shots for studio setup.

Please find the pics below – I think some of the best shots were the non studio personal shots.  

What's Happening?Photo by Scott Maxworthymaxymedia

Who's Ya DaddyPhoto by Scott Maxworthymaxymedia

Simply BlissPhoto by Scott Maxworthymaxymedia

I'm watching youPhoto by Scott Maxworthymaxymedia

Pug Pampered Pooch Pet Photography

How Cute Am IPhoto by Scott Maxworthymaxymedia

Pugs are funny little dogs – they look like a mini-me Bull Mastiff.

As a photographer I’m therefore a perpetual collector of photographic gadgets and accessories. Consequently I’m always look for ways to help feed my expensive habit. When I was shown a pet photography flier the other day with a $200 per pooch photo shoot, I pondered if pet photography could be a quick and easy on-the-side money earner?  

“Quick and easy” hmmmm.

Fast forward a couple of days and enter my test K9 supermodels – pampered, playful, pugnacious pugs Sookie & Tallulah-belle, a mother and daughter duo, owned by Lana, a local cafe friend.

It’s about 3PM and a lovely, sunny, Sydney autumn day.  We shoot at a nearby park.

Dog Photography

The first pug photo lesson I learnt today is unless the pup(s) were duxs at doggy school then the chances of staying still in the right spot for a posed portrait shot are zippo, zilch, zero. Therefore, I’m limited to natural light and maybe the use of a catch light flash.

The second lesson – it helps to know your camera’s functions so you can quickly re-adjust settings.  That means reading your manual and experimenting with all your camera’s features.

The third and most important tip – bring plenty of puppy treats.

The dogs are running around and very funny to watch (ie good potential photos) so I quickly switch my camera (Canon 7D) settings across to

  • auto focus, 
  • image stabilizer on, 
  • multiple high speed shots – it’s digital and only card space.
  • AI Servo mode (the AI Servo mode basically tells the camera what area will be in focus)
  • ISO 200
  • AE mode (Aperature Priority) I’m shooting at around f/9.0 which gives good depth of field on my 70mm lens (the 7D has a x1.6 sensor so this equals equivalent 112mm on a full sensor)
  • I’m also getting some great sharp freeze frame running type shots at 1/2000th @ f/4.0 
  • I shoot a bit wide so I can crop later.

PugnaciousPhoto by Scott Maxworthymaxymedia
Mother & DaughterPhoto by Scott Maxworthymaxymedia


Beyond the Standard Shots  

For the pet photos we’re looking for something a bit different – we’ve got rabbit ears and a basket of chocolate eggs – after about half an hour we realise it’s going to be practically impossible to get both dogs together in the right spot and both looking to camera for the shot we want.  The answer, shoot separately and composite the images.

I’m still in the very early stages of working with composites but a few things come to mind – 

Creating composite image

Tips for shooting composites (I learnt afterwards)

  • Use consistent camera settings so that DOF (Depth of field is consistent) and shutter (light/ exposure) are the same through the photos.
  • Shoot at f/9.0 or higher so that you get everything sharp – you can experiment with DOF in post production
  • Consistent angle of each shot and lighting is critical to creating a realistic composite image
  • Put down a reference marker – you can then use this as a reference to link overlayed images 
  • Try and shoot each photo element on a clean background as this will make future masking a lot easier.
 

After an hour I’m exhausted, I’ve just shot 526 x 18mb RAW images (11.3GB) – with my usual portrait photography I’d be stretching if I shot 100 images in three hours.


Editing

Back in the office I import into Lightroom to begin culling. After another hour I’m down to 30 or so good shots and ½ dozen better images.

Masking
Each of the pug shots and the basket needs to have some of the background removed.  At first I try using my OnOne Software’s Perfect Mask 5 software but it runs like a snail on my computer (Lenova D10 Xeon Quad Core 2.66Ghz with 16Gb x DDR2 667 Mhz Memory and a NVIDIA Quadro FX 3800 1Gb video card; Windows 7 64bit).  Maybe it’s the size of files that is killing it?

  • Masked images of pugsI go back to using Select-Colour Range and then Select-Refine Mask in Photoshop to create a new layer with a mask.  
  • I then select the mask (ALT + Left Click) and use the Burn and Dodge tools and Paint tool to clean up the mask.
  • I grab a waterfall shot as a backdrop then each photo element is added to create the composite image.
  • I failed in my color correction attempt between the background waterfall and the foreground image

Creating Shadows

  • I create a duplicate of each of the dog images 
  • Adjust the exposure to get a perfect black silhouette.  
  • Run a gaussian blur filter to soften and try and match any existing image shadows; 
  • I set the layer to overlay mode and opacity to 50%.  
  • Using transform to create the right fall across the grass.
With everything sharp I can then look at creating some Depth of Field across the whole image.

The final shot all added together and a frame added.  I hope you like.

 

Happy EasterPhoto by Scott Maxworthymaxymedia

 

 


Scott Maxworthy is a Sydney Portrait Photographer and in this post is talking about his Pet Photography experience to get some pug photos. 

I love Instagram (and Pinterest)

I love Instagram – to me it’s a bit like Twitter but with pictures.  The ability to quickly capture, get a bit creative and then quickly share via social channels what we see.  In many ways it’s a democratisation of photography and published pictures.

In Innovation School we learn about disruptive technology – over the last 20 years > the PC, mobile phone and Internet convergence; then upon this foundation the Web and progressively Google dominated; now on top of that – “the social layers” – Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and games

Finally, today creative social convergence Instagram; Pinterest; global social games.

What’s next who knows? 

Note:  This is just a very quick short list – you have to also consider the role of YouTube in any disruptive Internet innovation.  The web flattens everything.

http://followgram.me/maxyphoto 

I’m also loving Pininterest

Follow Me on Pinterest

Life Changing Moments – It was right at this time that Capt Kitty fully understood the gravity of the current situation.

The fact is the image above was shot using my Canon 7D, edited in Photoshop and then saved to my mobile phone for social distribution.  It’s not about the camera it’s the communication intent – the story you tell.

The Process of Constant Improvement

Sunday – It was good to get out of Sydney for a couple of days and head down the coast to Gerroa to celebrate my older brother Brett’s birthday.   Gerroa is about 1.5-2 hours drive south of Sydney.  Brett and his partner Raylene had rented a unit on the beach for a couple of weeks – the view was pretty good, uninterrupted views east out to ocean, looking south down the full length of Seven Mile Beach with Shoalhaven Heads, Culburra and Jervis Bay in the distance and then west out over the escarpment to the setting sun.  

I had originally planned to test some new video equipment but just wasn’t ready in time – you quickly realise that although it’s quick to take a shot – if it doesn’t excite and stand out then it’s just another snap shot.  

To give you the idea following are a couple of panoramas – one a fair bit of camera setup and post production work (couple of hours work) and the other just taken with my i-phone using Microsofts Photosynth (a few minutes).

You ask is it worth the time and energy?  If you like it – then of course it is.  By doing lots of work you get better – you develop your own style – this  “Process of Constant Improvement”.   

 That reminds me – I need to do some more fashion and lingerie shots.

 A series of around 27 images (3 layers multiple exposures by 9 frames to create panorama) and Photoshop post production.  Size (500mb)  

Taken with my I-phone and Microsoft Photosynth application (size .1 Mb)

More of this!Photo by Scott Maxworthymaxymedia

Which Photo Works Best? Cloud Creative Collaboration

Using online collaboration and social media can dramatically alter the creative decision making process.

Which images works best? We did the shoot today for my old brother Brett’s acoustic guitar gigs. I think some of the images look good but it’s not my opinion that’s matters most – it’s what you like?

I've Got The Music In MePhoto by Scott Maxworthymaxymedia

Note: I’ll tidy up some of the exposures once the images have been further short listed.

Using box.net (below) I can quickly share the images online with Brett (and you) just hours after the shoot – dramatically reducing the time we used to spend proofing and shortlisting.     

 

Love to know your thoughts (please comment below with the filename eg IMG8400.jpg)

Born Under The Southern Cross – Sydney Panoroma

Inspired by Ken Duncan, a highly acclaimed Australian landscape photographer and with Australia Day coming up on the 26th January I thought I would try to create a panoroma to share with fellow Aussies and International lovers of our beautiful country.

Yes, I know Sydney Harbour, the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge are cliche shots but as a photographer this is one just one of those shots you just keep shooting to try and get better at – it’s that process of constant learning and improvement.

Background

It’s 9:30PM in the Sydney suburbs and we’re just chilling out watching tele.  The easy thing to do is go to bed and read for a bit but it’s such a lovely Summer night – I quickly grab the camera and head off towards the City – it’s hard to say what the motivation is – it’s that restless energy mind thing that goes on – my partner thinks I’m mad – she’s right.

It’s also school holidays, a lot of people are away so there’s very little traffic heading in and there’s no hassles finding parking.  I make my way to Kirrabilli, on the northern side of the harbour, find a spot just down from the wharf and set up – except for the occasional tourist taking a quick snap and some guys fishing there’s barely a soul around – the harbour’s a lot cleaner than our parents days but I’m still not real sure about eating the fish.  

Oh yeah, there are big bats in the Moreton Bay figs just behind me – I hope those are sprinkles of rain on my head.

I fire my first frame off at 9:54PM.  The photography technique I’m experimenting with is HDR Panoramas – basically you shoot a series of several different exposures and stitch the photos together to create the panorama.  The alternative would be to buy an expensive fish eye lens which I can’t justify yet.  It seems you’re always buying new camera gizmos – a new lens; a new bit of software, some type of modifier.   

When shooting these types of panoromic images there’s a few basic things I’ve learnt so far.

  1. Use a strong sturdy tripod and make sure that it’s level through the entire arc of what you’ll be shooting – otherwise you can lose a lot of potential image real estate when cropping.
  2. For night shoots – find the brightest area to get a baseline for your exposure settings.  For this shoot 24mm (1.6x crop sensor), ISO 400, f/22, 30 seconds.
  3. Switch to B “bulb” mode – gives the ability longer exposure times.
  4. Focus on the key object and switch off automatic focus and image stabilisers.
  5. Get a remote trigger – this reduces the chance of camera shake or bump.
  6. Shoot in an ordered left to right arc.  With an 180 degree panaroma and allowing for around a 20% image overlap (for later stitching) I’ll need 6 sections. You also need to make sure you’re getting good horizontal coverage as well – I’ll shoot another series but angled up 20 degrees – again about 20% overlay to the right and bottom for stitching.

I don’t want to be here all night so I’m only going to shoot three exposures per section, +/- 2 stops from the baseline.   Using my Photobuddy Iphone App I calculate exposure times at 7 seconds (-2 stops); 30 seconds (baseline); 120 seconds (+2 stops) = about five minutes per section.  The stopwatch function in the app is great.  Total – 36 images/  frames.

I shoot RAW format woth (typo for my Kiwi mates) neutral colour profile to try and keep the original file as clean as possible and easier ability to edit in post production.

An hour later my last frame is shot at 10:44PM.  I head home.  

Contact Sheet showing three exposures per segment

Lightroom IMG 8296.dng and 35 others 

Post Production

11:45PM Import photos from camera into Adobe Lightroom and remove a few shots that had ferry’s streaking light across the expsoure and had to be reshot  – result three shots per segment (2 stops under; baseline; 2 stops over).  In hindsight this may have been the best time to remove noise from the images.

12:10AM Batch process each segments exposure stacj using Photomatix – (apply preferred toning) and export combined exposure image  as TIF format.  Result – 12 HDR images.

12:30AM Import TIFs into Hugin Panoromic Software, stitch and export (TIF).  I had a lot of trouble with the HDR imports and subsequent HDR exports so droppped to TIF format).  Result – 1 image.

1:00AM Open up stitched image in Photoshop; clean up and make adjustments (some noise reduction; sharpening; saturation). 

2:30AM – Bed

8:30AM – 11:00AM I was just going to post to Flickr and Facebook but realised there’s more than just the image to share so this blog on the creation process.  Plus this website blog needed some love.

Note to self – explore these panoramic backdrops with my green screen photography and video at some point in the future.

In summary – with today’s super featured camera’s you get a pretty good panoromic result just by point and clicking – I could also buy a cake from the supermarket but that’s not half as much enjoyment as making it yourself to share.

Other recent panaromas (tests)

Kurnell Sunrise HDR PanoramoPhoto by Scott Maxworthymaxymedia

SunrisePhoto by Scott Maxworthymaxymedia