My 5 Most Useful Online Tools as a Professional Photographer

1. CrashPlan

CrashPlan is a secure service that offers truly unlimited backups over the wire. You simply specify what folders you want uploaded up and it sits quietly in the background throwing your data to its server. It seems to manage bandwidth very cleverly as it never noticeably interferes with general usage of the internet despite its heavy load. It is cost effective compared to its competitors and much cheaper than the old LT05 tapes and drive I used to use.

Depending on your work load the amount of data you will want to back up will vary but so far I have 2.5TB in the cloud and have just queued up another 450GB. I have several friends in IT and they informed me that even by commercial standards my back up is huge and that they have 50+ person businesses that don’t have so much data to deal with. I blame the 50mb RAW file of the D800!

A screengrab of my CrashPlan backup.

2. Serpfox

This is a service that was recommended to me on r/SEO and has very quickly proven itself to be invaluable. It lets you track the current position of your keywords on Google (also on Bing but honestly, who cares?) and updates every few hours. This means you can quickly build up a profile of how your website is ranking and can see how any changes you make have impacted your overall results. Best part is that it is free up to 10 key words!

A screengrab of my Serpfox account

3. VaultPress

Simply the best $5 a month you can spend. This super simple system backups your WordPress site to their secure servers daily. Much easier to configure and use than Backup Buddy it gives complete peace of mind should your site be hacked or damaged by a plugin. Having already lost two days rebuilding my site from scratch after it was compromised using the Tim Thumb Exploit (remember that?) this system really does give peace of mind.

Screengrab of my VaultPress backup

4. SmugMug

A rather swish online gallery that features an integrated shopping system making print and canvas sales a doddle. Smart, sleek, secure and with tons of new customisation options after its recent relaunch it has simplified a major part of my business.

Screengrab of recent wedding album.

5. Zopim Chat

A very recent addition to my site Zopim adds a powerful call to action targeting any visitors interested in my services. It is customisable, really easy to install (seriously, took about 3 mins to get it working on my site with some swift header editing)  and best of all FREE for one user! Perfect for me and potential clients.

Gives you tons of data on real time action on your site as well as telling you what page people are on when they chat to you and where they came from on the web.

Screen grab of recent Zopim activity.

Hope some of you find this useful, if there are any bits of kit you use and want to recommend then leave me a comment below!

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Backing up in the Cloud – Is it really possible for Photographers?

For the longest of time I have been wanting am offsite backup but it has just not seemed practicable. Given the massive amounts of data I need to store and the relative slowness of my internet connection it looked like there was no way it could be done. My move to a D800 looked like the final nail in the coffin, with each RAW file being 50MB I was chewing through external hard drives at an incredible rate. There was no way I could send this amount of data over the wire.

However, in the last few months things have changed. First of all BT have rolled out their ‘Infinity’ service is my area meaning I get a decent upload speed and secondly someone recommended to me the excellent ‘CrashPlan‘ which has a flat rate for truly unlimited backups!  So here I am 1 month and 1.5TB of data later and I couldn’t be happier with it.

crashplan

The only thing to keep in mind is that it is not an instant backup. Every wedding takes 2-3 days to upload so you will still need local duplication but once it is in the cloud it is there for good! It is great that as a photographer I finally have the security of an offsite system.

Really Useful Chrome Extensions for Photographers

Very quick one to let you know about two Google Chrome extensions I have found incredibly useful:

First up Jeffrey’s Exif Viewer – Simplifies viewing any images Exif data to just two clicks.

Secondly Search by Image (by Google) – Perform a reverse image  again in just two clicks.

Anyone out there have any suggestions for really good plugins? Leave them below!

Wedding Photography – The Perfect Exercise in the Art of Compromise.

Wedding photography is not for perfectionists. As a means of expression it is fraught with compromise, in fact to be successful in this field it is vital that a photographer accepts that there are immense stresses and strains at work in every wedding day and you have to strike a balance between them and your own needs.

I think of it like a seesaw. On one side there are the things I need to do my very best work. These include time, light, opportunity, co-operation, and setting. On the other there are all the challenges the day throws at you that undermine your efforts. Examples include; a gloomy church with a vicar who won’t let you use flash, a bride running half an hour late, pouring rain, a drunk groom, ‘Uncle Bob‘, and the wedding car breaking down. Sadly, on this side of the seesaw the list of things that tip the balance away from you is virtually endless.

Will Hey Wedding Photography

So what can you do to help strike an even keel between these competing pressures and give yourself greater scope to make the very best of the day for the bride and groom?

First and foremost you have to educate the bride and groom by understanding their requirements and managing their expectations. Make sure you have run through your game plan for the day with them and clearly outlined what you will need and when. Make clear your requirements of time, space, and light well in advance. After all, they want you to be able to do your best work so they are highly likely to accommodate any reasonable requests.

Will Hey Wedding Photography

The next thing you can do is to be confident in your skills and equipment. There is a reason that pro cameras cost as much as they do, it is because they are engineered to excel in even the worst conditions so by investing in the gear and making sure you know how to use it you give yourself tremendous flexibility. 

It is also really helpful to have a clear understanding of the where the wedding will be taking place. I visit all venues before I shoot there and this helps me develop a solid backup plan for terrible weather, spot the areas of open shade and talk to the staff about where they would recommend to take the couple. Never be afraid to talk to the staff, they are always happy to help point out the sweet spot for photographs!

Will Hey Wedding Photography

Finally it doesn’t hurt to keep a few props in the car. As I mentioned here voile is outrageously useful as an impromptu high key backdrop or diffuser for a speed light so you can create some beautifully lit scenes with it. Also having a few Edwardian style parasols can make for some very dramatic images with the wet weather.

So, to return to the earlier (and now slightly tortured) analogy some weddings are going to tip your way, some very much against you. Once you have accepted this and start to plan for every eventuality you can rig things in your favour. Of course there are no guarantees but one thing is for sure, the better prepared you are the luckier you will be.

Wedding Photography - The Perfect Exercise in the Art of Compromise-3

The 3 Most Surprisingly Useful Things to Take to a Wedding

There are literally hundreds of articles and books on wedding photography out there so in an attempt to add something completely new I have compiled a list of the 3 most unexpectedly useful things I carry with me to every wedding aside from my camera gear.  These three items, although rather obtuse, have proven invaluable time and time again and I hope they will be to you too.

1.Voile

Voile

Voile is a thin, hazy material that is typically used for net curtains. It is very cheap and easy to buy (try eBay or your local fabric shop, should be no more than £2 to £3 for a couple of square meters) and comes in a range of colours. I keep 3 cuts in my car, usually ivory or white, cream, and light peach so I always have something that comes close to matching the colour of any dress. What do I use it for? You would be amazed:

  • Want to sit a bride on the grass? Use the voile to protect the dress and it blends in beautifully.
  • Need something to pad out the dress and give it shape on the hanger? Voile is easily shaped and fills out the bust.
  • Want to make an impromptu high key backdrop? Hang the voile over a window and it diffuses the light.
  • Can’t find a suitable place to photograph the brides shoes or jewelry? Voile can be very quickly fashioned into a soft box on windowsill and then lit with a speedlight.
  •  I have even helped a bride fashion a shawl out of voile to cover a wine stain that a guest accidentally caused.

For its price voil is fantastically useful and utterly indispensable.

2. White Padded Coat Hangers

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You would be amazed how many times I have gone to photograph a bride’s dress and found it to be hung on a thin plastic hanger that can barely support its weight. This can be problem because the flimsy, warped hanger detracts hugely from the image, after all, many brides spend a small fortune on their dress and the inappropriate hanger cheapens it terribly.

To get around this I always take a padded hanger with me to a wedding. I purchase them in bulk (eBay again! About £6 for 5) and they live in my car. This means I always have one to hand should it be needed and you get a few brownie points from the bride as well!

As word of caution: beware how you approach this conversation with a bride, don’t tell her that her dress looks cheap.

3. A Barometer.

Yeah, I know what you are thinking but I did say these were surprising things! I was going to give a mention to my Swiss Army Knife but it seemed a little too mundane.

In my time photographing weddings I have come to heartily distrust weather forecasts. Even with up to the second updates on my smartphone they seem to be wrong more often than they are right. About a year ago someone recommended purchasing a watch with a built in barometer and using that to predict the weather and it has proven to be much more reliable.

In simple terms if atmospheric pressure is dropping the weather is going to worsen and if it is rising then it is going to get better. So if you see a dramatic shift in pressure you can make an accurate judgement call on what to do and when. For example just recently I was able to delay the family formals until after the wedding breakfast because I could see that the rain was about to stop even though there was no sign of it letting up at the time!  It is surprisingly easy to get used to predicting the weather this way.

I opted for a Casio Pro Trek watch that did everything I wanted it to do (plus had a few other gadgets!) but I know there are a lot of alternatives out there.

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Just as a foot note I reserve the right to come back and edit this post as I am sure that more things will present themselves in time – if you can think of anything then please let me know in the comment field below.

Ten Questions to Ask your Wedding Photographer

Your wedding photographs will help shape your memory of the day so it makes sense to give your photographer a bit of a grilling before making a final decision. There is certainly no shortage of choice, with a dizzying array of packages, styles, albums, print and disk options, levels of coverage, and costs it can very quickly become confusing as to exactly who is offering what service and for what money. Also there is the question of trust. Who are they? Will you get on with them? Can you be sure they will deliver the images you want?

Below I have outlined 10 questions to ask your wedding photographer to help cut through the confusion.
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1. Who will be taking the photos?
Make sure that the person you have been dealing with is the same person who will with you on the day. There are a lot of organisations out there who farm out work for a commission to other photographers, this means you can have a complete stranger turning up to photograph your wedding who may not be as experienced or talented as the person you thought you booked with. Always clarify in writing exactly who it is that will be with you both and taking the photos.
2. Are you insured?
Insurance is vital and it would be foolhardy to book any professional service that isn’t fully covered. Accidents do happen at weddings, I personally know one photographer who knocked over a stone font in a church worth £10,000 smashing it to pieces and another who knocked over the brides Grandmother while stepping backwards to frame a shot resulting in a broken hip. Both these instances the photographers were insured by their Public Liability and Professional Indemnity cover but had they not have been it could have potentially been disastrous for the bride and groom. Ask to see a copy of the insurance certificate or better yet many insurers now post confirmation online.
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3. Are all the images in your portfolio from a wedding?
A new trick that a lot of photographers seem to be using is to hire in professional models for a day and mock up a wedding shoot. While there is no doubt this can lead to stunning images as the photographer is free from the time constraints that a wedding normally places on him or her it may not be representative of the standard of images that will be produced on the day. A professional photographer can spend hours setting up a single image with a model whereas during a wedding you can be lucky to get 10 minutes to work with a bride. Just check that the work your photographer will be producing under pressure is the same standard as is advertised. A great way to check this is to ask……….
4. Can I see a complete wedding album?
Any photographer will pick out the best images to advertise their work but to get a feel for their overall quality ask to see a complete album as presented to a couple. Any photographer confident in his or her ability should be more than happy to provide access to a web album so you can see the quality of their work overall (for example you can see one of mine here) If they seem reluctant then it may be time to look elsewhere.
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5. Are you a member of an accredited organisation? 
Professional accreditation is the closest you can get to a guarantee of quality. Any accredited society should have a code of conduct that the photographer agrees to abide with (take a look at the one from the Guild of Photographers here) and this means there is a clear expectation of quality and consistency is their work. Also, should the worse happen it gives you a line of appeal in the event of a dispute.
6. Can I see a copy of your contract?
If a photographer didn’t put forward a formal written agreement when you booked I would be very wary indeed. A contract safeguards both you and the photographer by clearly defining exactly what you can expect from each other in terms of coverage on the wedding day and access to the images thereafter and if this isn’t formally set down you are leaving yourself wide open to big problems. Insist on seeing a copy of the contract before you pay the deposit and don’t be afraid to ask questions about the details.
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7. What happens if you are incapacitated on the day?
This is a tough question to give a concise answer to as it depends dramatically on the circumstances but I would expect any professional photographer to take all reasonable precautions to make sure they will be with you on your wedding day. The minimum I would expect is for the photographer run a well maintained vehicle, have backups of all major items of equipment and batteries and to be part of a network on whom he or she could call on should the worst happen.
8. Do I receive a copy of the images on disk?
Many photographers these days include some or all the images on disk, if this is the case you must clarify:
  • Are they edited? Many budget photographers just ‘shoot and burn’, this may seem great as they will promise 100’s of images but when it comes to your wedding photos quality beats quantity every time. Check that the images will at least be cropped, colour corrected and some will be provided in black and white and colour.
  • Are they high resolution? Many photographers include ‘web ready’ images only. These are low quality and unsuitable for printing anything bigger than 4″ x 6″.
  • Are they watermarked? Check that the images won’t have ‘XXXX Photography’ over the middle of them.
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9. Who has copyright over the photos?
This again is a bit of a grey area. Many photographers retain the rights to their images and as such keep the copyright however they will hand to a customer the print rights. This means you are free to reproduce the images in any way you would like (email, prints, canvases, Facebook, etc) but you can’t enter them in competitions or sell them for profit. However always check what you will and will not be able to do with the images once you receive them.
10. How many other weddings will you be covering the same day?
It is not uncommon for photographers to cover two weddings on busy days and providing you only want your photographer for a few hours (say, to cover the ceremony) this shouldn’t be a problem. However if you want the photographer longer then you want to check just how flexible he or she can be with you. After all you don’t want them rushing off too soon if your ceremony is delayed for any reason.
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Good luck organising your day and I hope the information above helps make it that little bit less stressful. Don’t forget there are many excellent, honest wedding photographers out there who work very hard on building a decent reputation and providing a great service. Just don’t be afraid to ask the questions and do the research and I am sure you will find the right one.