What I am learning from being Audited

This year I got a notice in the mail from the IRS requesting documents. This is an Audit.

Every year when I file my taxes I have been using TurboTax.

For the past 10+ years I pay a little amount for their accounting service that helps you in the case of an audit. While working with them to get all my documents in order for the IRS I learned a few things that I think you need to know.

Three Documents for Expenses

I learned through this process that there are three things you are needing to document and have ready like a book keeper.

Invoice – Need to show what you were billed for from the provider
Payment – Need to show that it was paid
You Paid It – Besides showing it was paid, you must show that you paid it and not someone on your behalf.

I am using Quicken for Mac to track all my expenses. Here are a few of the ways I pay bills:

Check – Checking Account
Visa Debit Card – Checking Account
MasterCard
American Express Card
PayPal

I am paid two ways

Checks
PayPal

In the software Quicken you can attach to every entry documents. Before I can attach those receipts, invoices and statements I must have a digital file like a PDF or a picture. I bought a Neat Desk Scanner years ago and have been using their software, which is now an online system.

The Neat Desk scanner lets me scan a stack of receipts making things go much faster than a flat bed scanner would do.

After scanning documents I save them in a separate folder for the year they were created. Then I attach them in Quicken to the transaction.

In Quicken they have categories already for you to use and customize. The best part for working with your Taxes is they have all the Schedules included so that you can assign a category to a tax schedule like I have in this example with the Camera Repairs in Schedule C: Repairs and maintenance.

The Headache

While I have all my documents I quickly realized the problem was getting exactly what the IRS needed in a format that met their requirements was the biggest problem.

I had to go through my AMEX & Bank statements and circle every item related to a particular category showing that this was paid with my money.

You can also do this with a scanned receipt of each and every transaction.

It was easier for me to contact all the Doctors, Hospitals and medical providers and ask for a 2016 statement for all charges than providing scanned invoices. I was missing a few of the statements because I had thought I just needed to show I paid the bill not show the invoice as well.

Using Quicken I was able to create a spreadsheet of each category and payee for a particular topic that I was being asked to provide evidence to the IRS. I was mainly dealing with medical expenses due to a very expensive year for our family with medical issues.

I was misinformed

I had always been told you just need to put all your receipts in a box and if ever audited just show up and they can go through them if they want. WRONG!!!

My accountant informed me that the IRS on numerous accounts with her have said they are not their clients book keeper. You must have this in order. Also the box could only work when you are actually called in. You don’t want this to happen. You have opportunities to provide all this electronically to the IRS and handle without going for the face-to-face audit.

Tips

Spreadsheet – Be able to provide spreadsheet for any category which Quicken helps with this
Invoices & Statements – Scan all these or have them ready to scan if audited
Receipts – Scan all these or have them ready to scan if audited
Bank & Credit Card Statements – Keep all of them and have them ready if you need to scan them for the IRS during an Audit
Scanner – I recommend a scanner that is a sheet feed scanner capable of scanning multiple documents and software to help organize you documents.
Accountant – Work with an accountant to do at least your initial setup of how you need to gather documents for Taxes and for possible audit.

Tips on Invoicing

I wrote a blog early called “7 Tips for the financially struggling photographer“. In the post I talk about using the software FotoBiz for invoicing and pricing jobs. Check out that post if you need help with pricing and invoicing.

Shooting architectural dusk photo using Godox V860IIN + Godox X1NT

Chick-fil-A Sunnyvale FSU is located in Sunnyvale, California. [Nikon D5, 14-24mm. ƒ/5.6, ISO 800, 1/60–(3) Godox V860IIN + Godox X1NT]
The past few posts I have shown you how I use Alienbees B1600 studio strobes to light up buildings for architectural photo shoots.

When flying to San Jose, California for another shoot I decided to only take a smaller case of three Godox V860IIN hotshoe flashes + Godox X1NT transmitter.

Godox V860IIN + Godox X1NT

Now when I shot these I did change the ISO to 800 to let the flashes light up the building much easier than at ISO 100.

 

After I shot this photo a few times seeing about the change in the light as the sun sets the wind stopped blowing and the flag was no longer waving.

Just so you can see what the flashes are doing here is the photo without the flashes.

Chick-fil-A Sunnyvale FSU is located in Sunnyvale, California. [Nikon D5, 14-24mm. ƒ/4, ISO 100, 1/2.5]
So you can see that you can shoot at ISO 100 here you see this photo below. This was shot 30 minutes after sunset.

While I prefer the sky in this shot the waving of the flag I think made the other photo much better.

Chick-fil-A Sunnyvale FSU is located in Sunnyvale, California. [Nikon D5, 14-24mm. ƒ/4, ISO 100, 1/2–(3) Godox V860IIN + Godox X1NT]
I hope this shows that it isn’t how much gear you have, but knowing how to use it that will make or break a photo.

Writing with Light

Chick-fil-A @ Perimeter at Hammond Drive FSU [Nikon D5, 14-24mm, ISO 100, ƒ/8, 1/60 – 4 Alienbees B1600s] 8:21 pm
Getting a photo like this demands more than just a tripod and waiting for the right time of day.

Here is the result of doing just that in this photo below.

[Nikon D5, 14-24mm, ISO 100, ƒ/8, 1/13] 8:25 pm
To help light up the building I used 4 Alienbees B1600 strobes with 11″ Long Throw Reflector. This is what I call “Writing with Light”, which is the definition of photography. Sometimes nature needs some help.

Alienbees with 11″ Long Throw Reflector

For half of the photos I shot at ƒ/8 with the Alienbees on full power. Then I cut the power in half on the Alienbees and changed the Aperture to ƒ/5.6.

[Nikon D5, 14-24mm, ISO 100, ƒ/5.6, 1 sec – 4 Alienbees B1600] 8:47 PM
Sunset was at 8:26 pm. Pretty much you can bet on the best photos of buildings with lights to be 20 minutes after sunset as in this photo shot at 8:47 pm.  This is when the lights on the building and inside at matching the sky brightness.

[Nikon D5, 14-24mm, ISO 100, ƒ/5.6, 1 sec] 8:47 pm
Again here is that same scene without the Alienbees adding light to the side of the building.

Just so you know exactly the light at sunset at 8:26 pm here is that photo as well for you to see.

[Nikon D5, 14-24mm, ISO 100, ƒ/8, 1/13 – 4 Alienbees B1600] 8:26 pm
The problem is that the lights on the building are not showing up. We need to open up the exposure for the lights on the building by changing only the shutter speed from 1/13 to 1 second.

Tips for shooting buildings at Sunset

Arrive early and find best angle to shoot building
Use Strobes or powerful flashlights to light up building
Use a tripod and cable release with the camera
Start shooting 5 minutes before sunset
Stop shooting about 30 – 40 minutes after sunset
White Balance for Sun or Flash
Shoot in RAW

Using Lightroom to correct perspective for buildings

Chick-fil-A West Midtown Atlanta, Georgia at Sunrise. [Fuji X-E3, 10-24mm, ISO 125, ƒ/10, 1.6 sec]
This is the processed photo after working on the RAW file in Adobe Lightroom.

Here is the photo with just perspective not corrected on the photo.

Chick-fil-A West Midtown Atlanta, Georgia at Sunrise. [Fuji X-E3, 10-24mm, ISO 125, ƒ/10, 1.6 sec]
Now when I am shooting on my Fuji X-E3 there is a level built into the camera and can be turned on to show in the display.

When I shot the photo of the building it was level from left to right.

When in Adobe Lightroom you just go to the develop module and go to the Transform tools.

You can click on Auto and see if it looks the way you want and then you can undo the change if you like.

You can also select each of the individual controls and adjust. A grid will show up so you can get the building’s edges straight. The one you will need to adjust is vertical where you correct the building falling away from you.

Be sure to check the Constrain Crop so that you will have a full framed image.

Sunrise and Sunset Photos of Buildings

[Fuji X-E3, 10-24mm, ISO 125, ƒ/11, 8 sec] 6:37 am
My mornings sometimes start really early for photo shoots. Today I woke up at 5:00 am for a photo shoot at sunrise. Sunrise was scheduled to happen at 6:50 am.

[Nikon D5, Sigma 24-105mm, ISO 100, ƒ/18, 30 sec] 6:12 am
I arrived about 5:40 am at the location and setup two Alienbees B1600 strobes with 50º reflectors.

[Fuji X-E3, 10-24mm, ISO 125, ƒ/10, 3 sec] 6:35 am
You can see one of the two lights here on the left and the other is by the flag pole. I shot with the Nikon D5 as well as my Fuji X-E3.

[Fuji X-E3, 10-24mm, ISO 125, ƒ/10, 1.5 sec] 6:37 am
I put the cameras on Manual Mode. I was shooting up to 30 second exposures with aperture of ƒ/10 to ƒ/22. ISO was 100 on D5 and 125 on the Fuji X-E3.

[Fuji X-E3, 10-24mm, ISO 125, ƒ/10, 1.6 sec] 6:34 am
This photo was taken with just available light.  It was shot at 6:34 am. The sun is slowly rising but isn’t up yet. It has 16 more minutes until Sunrise. The sky behind the building looks darker, but the longer shutter speeds bring it out as dark blue sky.

I find that approximately 20 minutes before sunrise and 20 minutes after sunset you get the best ratio of the lights inside the buildings and signage verses the night time sky is the best. Looking at the photo above shot at 6:12 am which was 38 minutes before sunrise the sky is too dark for me.

[Nikon D5, Sigma 24-105mm, ISO 100, ƒ/22, 13 sec] 6:30 am
Here at 6:30 am, good 20 minutes before sunrise, the sky looks just perfect match to the lights in and on the restaurant.

[Nikon D5, Sigma 24-105mm, ISO 100, ƒ/18, 30 sec] 6:20 am
At 6:20 am I can make the sky look great at 30 second shutter speed, but the lights start to lose details. 10 minutes later I get the sky and the lights just perfect.

If you want to do this yourself here are the tips for Sunrise or Sunset.

TIPS

Before shoot arrange to have lights turned on for photo shoot
Arrive 1 hour before Sunrise or Sunset
Use Tripod & Cable Release
If using flash set it to match your Aperture or -1 stop
Start taking photos at least 35 minutes before Sunrise and 5 minutes for Sunset
Take photos for about 5 minutes after Sunrise and 30 minutes after Sunset

How to practice portraits

Cowboy Test Shots [Fuji X-E3, 18-55mm, ISO 320, ƒ/4, 1/60]
I bought another figurine today for helping teach my students photography. Today we took the cowboy figurine outside looking for good locations for shooting portraits.

We found a bend with a tree in the background for the first one.

Cowboy Test Shots [Fuji X-E3, 18-55mm, ISO 200, ƒ/4, 1/80]
By just moving the figurine we looked for good light on the face and then we looked for a good background to match.

This is much harder to do than you might think.

Cowboy Test Shots [Fuji X-E3, 18-55mm, ISO 400, ƒ/4, 1/160]
We started all the photos in total manual mode. Learning to pick the right ISO, Shutter-Speed and Aperture as well as doing a custom white balance before each new location we picked.

Cowboy Test Shots [Fuji X-E3, 18-55mm, ISO 200, ƒ/4, 1/110]
The first hurdle was actually nothing more than remembering you are taking a photo. You need to look around the edges of the frame. Can it be cropped out of the photo? Can I get closer?

Just walking closer to the subject and getting as close as you could and still be in focus was a good place to start with our figurine.

Cowboy Test Shots [Fuji X-E3, 18-55mm, ISO 100, ƒ/16, 1/125]
Taking a photo in the studio on white background is simple compared to walking outside looking for good light and a complimentary background.

Go to the store and buy a figurine. It is a great way to explore the light looking for good location for a portrait.

How to remain competitive as a freelancer

Photographing Island Breeze Dancer Victoria Taimane Kaopua, Stanley is teaching location off-camera flash lighting to Youth With A Mission Photo School 1 [Fuji X-E3, 10-24mm, ISO 500, ƒ/4, 1/100 photo by: Dorie Griggs]

“The gig economy…is now estimated to be about 34% of the workforce and expected to be 43% by the year 2020,” says Intuit (INTU) CEO Brad Smith. “We think self-employed [work] has a lot of opportunity for growth as we look ahead.”

To get jobs and get repeat business there are a few tips for you:

Marketing – You need to get your name in front of as many people as possible in your target group. Your target audience will be those people most likely to need your style of work.

Be Prepared – While you are not an employee you still need to be up on the organization as much as an employee. Do your research so that you are aware of as much as possible to know how to best serve the client on a job.

Show Up! – “80 percent of success is showing up,” says Woody Allen.

Wait on the client – You want to always be early and if anyone is waiting on the other be sure it is you waiting on the client and not the other way around.
Be Reachable – Respond promptly to all communication.
Say Yes! – Use the rule of Improv of saying YES. The first rule of improvisation is AGREE. Always agree and SAY YES. When you’re improvising, this means you are required to agree with whatever your partner has created. So if we’re improvising and I say, “Freeze, I have a gun,” and you say, “That’s not a gun. It’s your finger. You’re pointing your finger at me,” our improvised scene has ground to a halt. But if I say, “Freeze, I have a gun!” and you say, “The gun I gave you for Christmas! You bastard!” then we have started a scene because we have AGREED that my finger is in fact a Christmas gun. Do your best to say yes to requests. If they cross the line of your ethics then say no.
Deliver – Be sure you are meeting the expectations of the client. Never under deliver.

Stanley shows the students what he is capturing while teaching location off-camera flash lighting to Youth With A Mission Photo School 1 [Fuji X-E3, 10-24mm, ISO 200, ƒ/4, 1/420 photo by: Dorie Griggs]
Focus on Relationships – While doing excellent work is vitally important even more important is how you get that work done with others. How you treat people trumps all things.

Back to Marketing – If you do an excellent job on average you will only have less than 10% of those you talk to who will be interested in working with you. Learn to treat those who don’t hire you for a job that they know best. Sometimes they love you and they had already someone booked or they cannot easily switch freelancers due to hiring policies. If you remain professional in how you are rejected this often helps open closed doors later on for you.

The #1 Way to Get Better as a Photographer

Alive After 5 in Roswell, GA. [Fuji X-E3, 10-24mm, ISO 25600, ƒ/10, 1/55]
Keeping yourself fresh is vital if you do this professionally. I do this by taking a small camera with me everywhere. I just take a few photos here and there and in the process keep myself fresh for my professional jobs where I am getting paid by a client.

Alive After 5 in Roswell, GA. [Fuji X-E3, 10-24mm, ISO 25600, ƒ/13, 1/25]
I have been doing one-on-one teaching with a person wanting to pursue photography as a career. We started by shooting in total manual mode. The camera is set where the student must pick for each shot the following:

ISO
Shutter Speed
Aperture

As we were reviewing some the photos shot since the last time we met the photos had improved a great deal, but then there were these photos of ducks that just didn’t work at all.

Cyneria & Sadarius Lucas Wedding [Nikon D5, Sigma 24-105mm, ISO 3200, ƒ/7.1, 1/50]
What had happened is the excitement of getting photos had them shooting before they had thought through all the settings.

When shooting the ducks the person hadn’t thought about what of those three setting took priority and why. I explained how birds are really like shooting sports. You need to freeze them or they will be totally blurred using the settings the camera was set on before seeing the birds.

Tufted titmouse [Fuji X-E3, 55-200mm, ISO 4000, ƒ/5.6, 1/1250]
This is when I stopped and I talked to the student about how you must slow down get your camera settings just right before taking photos. If you don’t do this then none of the photos will be usable. “I was trying to get the birds before they flew away.” was the excuse. So not one of the photos was usable, but this became the teachable moment.


My mentor, coach and friend Don Rutledge – photo by Ken Touchton

There was a teachable moment with my mentor. A few of my friends also would tell me later how this helped them as well.

In the days of film you shot 36 shots and then you had to change your roll of film. Most photographers would reach into their bags and change their roll of film pretty quickly.

The problem is when you change the roll of film you can make a mistake and not get the leader of the film to catch. If this happened you would close the back of the camera and because you are in a hurry you take more photos but none of them recorded on the film because every time you advanced the film the film wasn’t moving.

The way I learned what to do was from watching Don, not because he told me what he did. Don would turn his back to whatever he was photographing and change the roll of film. He would always turn the rewind lever to tighten the roll before he would then advance the film to be sure it caught.

Once the film was changed Don then turned around towards the action.

Cyneria & Sadarius Lucas Wedding [Nikon D5, Sigma 24-105mm, ISO 800, ƒ/4, 1/500]
Often when I am shooting I evaluate the scene and realize I need a flash. Taking the time to set that up for the photo here takes time. The photo is better because I slowed down long enough to get my flash, put it on a light stand and then set the flash to work with the scene.

Alive After 5 [Fuji X-E3, 10-24mm, ISO 25600, ƒ/13, 1/150]

#1 Tip: Shoot More

Don Rutledge taught me a great deal. One tip was to shoot stories for yourself. Often these are stories you can go back to work on in your own hometown. You work slower than you do when you are say traveling and having to rush to get photos due to the schedule.

My personal tip that no one taught me is to ask yourself before you start taking photos is “Why do I want to take this photo?” What is it you are trying to say with the photo? I am also trying to get in touch with my feelings and not just feel what is going on, but what words would describe this feeling?

Then I pause long enough to decide what Aperture is best to capture the scene. Do I need shallow depth-of-field where you cannot tell where the person is but I want you to see the expression or do I need more context and need a greater depth-of-field.

I am also evaluating what shutter-speed will freeze the photo enough that it will be sharp or do I need to add motion with a slower shutter speed.

Female Cardinal [Fuji X-E3, 55-200mm, ISO 8000, ƒ/10, 1/280]
With some subjects somewhat fast shutter speed will still blur like this bird.

You must really know your camera and subject to know proper shutter speed. Over the years I have learned that faster shutter speeds improve the sharpness of the photo due to camera shake.

The largest difference of having lots of experience is that when I am in most any situation it is becoming rare that I haven’t shot something like this before.

Don taught me that I need to shoot as much as possible to grow and get the shot.

 

Spring Cleaning Time

While I think I have done an excellent job in editing of my photos when I submit them to stock agencies they sometimes catch things I miss.

Island Breeze dancer with Poi balls – for Maori dances

When I first submitted this photo I had missed in the top right hand corner some dust that had gotten onto the sensor.

This is 100% enlargement of the right top corner of the photo. Are you getting frustrated with seeing small dark spots in your images that seem to show up in every image? If you see them consistently in the same location (the size and darkness of the spots can vary depending on aperture), you are most likely dealing with dust particles on your camera’s sensor.

I have noticed they show up more at smaller apertures like ƒ/22 or ƒ/16 and there is a light area of the photo where the dust is located.

Berrie Smith – Camera Guru

The first thing I do when I notice dust on the sensor is to pick up the phone and call Berrie Smith who lives near me and for many years worked for Nikon as a camera technician.

Berrie Smith, professional camera repairman, is one of the guys Nikon sends out to large sporting events to provide live repair and sensor cleaning service to the NPS pros covering the event.

Without proper camera cleaning and digital camera sensor cleaning most photographers have experienced their photographs ruined by unsightly dust spots in their images – these dust spots are characteristically gray/black areas and are usually visible when photographing continuous tone scenes. Cleaning your camera equipment is not only a great way to ensure it continues working properly but is also a necessity in today’s digital world. Digital sensors are electrically charged devices, which attract dust particles because of their static electric charge. The digital camera sensor, if not cleaned properly, will result in images with black spots scattered throughout your photographs.

You can buy off the shelf sensor cleaning kits and attempt to clean your image sensor but if you are not careful you can do a lot of expensive damage, very quickly. The cost to replace a scratched low pass filter / image sensor assembly ranges from $600 to $1,600 (parts and labor) depending on the camera.

Berrie does repairs for photographers all over the world.

When I travel I don’t have the luxury of calling Berrie and sending him my cameras to clean. No one wants to touch up every single photo on a shoot in the same spots over and over.

Carson SensorMag 4.5x30mm Camera Sensor Magnifier Cleaning Loupe

What is crucial in the kit is the loupe to examine the sensor up close.

LED Lighted with 6 Bright White LED Lights | Loupe can be adjusted 45 degrees to allow users easier access to clean your sensor

Often all you need to do is point the sensor down and just using the Air Blower to force air onto the sensor which often dislodges the dust.

I recommend at least owning a Air Blower to just safely remove dust. If that doesn’t work then give it to the expert Berrie.

This is Berrie at my kitchen table cleaning my cameras. So how do you reach Berrie? Here you go:

Berrie Smith | bbmw@bellsouth.net | (770) 312-0719

Breakthrough in your communications

Octane Coffee Bar in West End Atlanta. [Fuji X-E3, 18-55mm, ISO 200, ƒ/8, 1/420]
This is how I start most days–a cup of coffee. Everyone has a time of day that we are most productive. Over time we most likely try to be most productive during our sweet spot of the day.

Today more than any other time in my life trying to get any message to an audience is more like trying to getting people’s attention on the highway.

Chick-fil-A Cows Billboard in downtown Atlanta. [Fuji X-E3, 18-55mm, ISO 200, ƒ/4, 1/2400]
Do Billboards Work?

According to the Arbitron study, billboard advertising is effective. According to the study, which reported that 71 percent of Americans “often look at the messages on roadside billboards,” a majority of Americans at one time or another learned about an event that interested them or a restaurant they later patronized.

However, consumers are no longer looking at billboards in the same way they did twenty or thirty years ago. While they may still be considered a premium advertising space, consumers are engrossed in their smart phones, tablets, and gaming systems. Eyes are down, not up, for much of our lives.

Six Words or Six Seconds

Six seconds has been touted as the industry average for reading a billboard. So, around six words is all you should use to get the message across.

The Superhighway

In the 1990s we started to call the internet the Superhighway. Our messaging has become more like a billboard on the highway.

If you can get your message to be short and sweet and it delivers all one needs to know to take action then you are poised to make people’s daily commute in life worthwhile and more productive.

The More Billboards, The Better.

Being sure your audience is getting your message on the highways often requires more billboards. Your message must be concise. As billboard experts will tell you if you are using a headline that explains your visual, you’re wasting words.

When your are limited to 5 to 10 seconds for messaging, you need to be sure they see it. You need your billboard on the bypass and downtown as well to be sure you are reaching your audience.

Engage & Deliver

We all get ticked when someone takes more of our time because they are not well organized. I get even more frustrated when someone has done a great job of hooking me and leading me through well written or visual communication, but in the end don’t deliver.

Before you can talk you must listen.

In most conversations, the person who speaks least benefits most and the person who speaks most benefits least. This is why social media is often preferred over main stream media, they get to talk and be heard on those platforms.

Instagram, Facebook, Google, Pinterest

Some of the Friends TV show set part of the tour at Warner Brothers Studios. [Nikon D4, 28-300mm, ISO 11400, ƒ/3.5, 1/125]
Today due to Starbucks, Seinfeld and Friends in the late 80s and early 90s we have the third space–The coffee shop. Today brands are realizing that people are looking for an experience. They are looking for a place beyond work for an encounter that leaves an impression. They want a place they can interact with others.

BREAKTHROUGH with your audience!

Don’t think of your job as creating content. Think of your job being like a counselor, parent or friend. If you really care for someone you want to know how they are doing. You want them to be happy.

As a counselor you are trained to not just take what someone is telling you are being the real problem. Often what they are talking about is a symptom.

As a parent you tend to know your child’s personality and how that can shape how they see the world and how this can affect their child’s view of circumstances.

As a friend you often tolerate some traits because you know their heart.

Can you as a communicator say you know your audience well enough to know their hopes and fears?

Your breakthrough is probably pretty simple, but it will start first with you understanding others more than just knowing yourself and what you can do.

Sometimes your breakthrough isn’t about your skills or service at all. Often it will be in helping someone with something other than your product.

Look what guides on of the Gold Standard brands the Ritz Carlton:

The Ritz-Carlton Hotel is a place where the genuine care and comfort of our guests is our highest mission.

We pledge to provide the finest personal service and facilities for our guests who will always enjoy a warm, relaxed, yet refined ambience.

The Ritz-Carlton experience enlivens the senses, instills well-being, and fulfills even the unexpressed wishes and needs of our guests.

I love the words “Genuine Care” in that first sentence.

Genuine – truly what something is said to be; authentic.