A week in paradise teaching studio lighting & business practices.

Photo above [NIKON Z 6, VR Zoom 24-105mm f/4G IF-ED, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 100, 1/60, ƒ/6.3, (35mm = 35) flash used was Flashpoint XPLOR 600 HSS TTL Monolight w/ R2 2.4GHz using the R2 Mark II ETTL Wireless Flash Trigger for Nikon -1 EV setting with TTL]

Every year since 2006, Dennis Fahringer has invited me to teach his School of Photography 1 student at the University of Nations in Kona, Hawaii, studio lighting.

Stanley teaching “Butterfly Lighting” photo by Dorie Griggs

While I was initially asked to teach only studio lighting, I have also introduced some business practices.

I believe every successful business starts first with the customer and discovering what needs/want they have, and creating a business that meets those needs/wants. Too many photography programs only teach how to do photography and never give their students the one thing that will determine their ability to do this as a career and not a hobby–business skills.

selfie was taken with the class in the photo studio

Dennis caps the class at 16 students. He usually has a waiting list. This year we only had four students. This just meant this class got even more one-on-one time with their instructors.

The students were from four countries this year. Columbia, S. Korea, Canada & USA. Some years we had as many as nine different countries represented. They fly to Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, and spend three months doing just photography. I believe that Dennis has put together one of the best foundation courses for photography that I have ever seen.

On my first day, I teach how to turn on the studio flashes, adjust their power, and make them work with your camera. Their first lighting assignment is to start with just one light and learn how to place the light in the starting place for most portraits. That is 45º to the side of the camera and then 45º above their eye level. When done correctly and the subject is looking at the camera, you will get the classic lighting style of Rembrandt.

Here is a link to that first assignment they do in case you also want to try it yourself: https://picturestoryteller.com/2016/02/08/seeing-rembrandt-lighting-and-then-creating-it/

This is Alden Engelbrecht from South Africa. “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalms 46:10) © Kate Covington 2020, USA

Day two is learning how to do Butterfly Lighting.

Butterfly lighting is a portrait lighting pattern where the key light is placed above and directly centered with a subject’s face. This creates a shadow under the nose that resembles a butterfly. It’s also known as ‘Paramount lighting,’ named for classic Hollywood glamour photography.

Here is a link to that assignment: https://picturestoryteller.com/2019/03/02/students-butterfly-lighting-examples/

Brandon Albers was doing homework until 4 AM last night, and this is him celebrating. He is done and can go to the pool after three months of complex studies. © Diego Antorveza 2020, Columbia

On day three, we tackled 3:1 Ratio Lighting.

The lighting ratio in photography refers to the comparison of key light (the primary source of light from which shadows fall) to the fill light (the light that fills in the shadow areas). The higher the lighting ratio, the higher the image’s contrast; the lower the ratio, the lower the difference.

Here is a link to that assignment: https://picturestoryteller.com/2016/02/10/lighting-setup-2-assignment-for-my-class-31-lighting-ratio/

This is Ireland Rash. She struggled when deciding whether or not to come to YWAM Kona but knew God was calling her to it. She now confidently states that it was the best decision of her life. © Raylene Neill 2020, Canada

The mixed lighting assignment was to use one light to improve the photo. I asked them to hand in 2 images—one without the light and the second showing how the light improved the picture.

Here is that assignment: https://picturestoryteller.com/2016/02/12/lighting-assignment-combining-studio-strobes-with-available-light/

I also asked that each photo have a caption. There are two reasons for this. First, it is easier later to find the image if you have text embedded in the metadata. Second, most clients will also benefit from having this information. We were not using the AP Style for captions but more of a social media style for the captions. This was their first attempt for most of them in writing captions.

Myoungsuk Kim said, “This week has taught me that I can take photos not just for me, but for others.” That was one of the best things I could have heard.

You see, most people want to do photography and get paid but are usually self-centered in their photography. It is when you realize that when you make photos that others enjoy and, more importantly, use, they will pay you to do this, making it possible to do this for a living.

“The evidence is overwhelming: The best way to get what you want is through serving others.”


Strategy Failures = Lack of Business Acumen

For the past 35+ years, I have been attending photography workshops and seminars and getting the industry magazines. 99% of all the information is built around building better photography skills.

I believe there are two categories of photographers in our industry: 1) Gear Acquisition Syndrome & 2) Aesthetically Driven.

I would notice through the years that those with Gear Acquisition Syndrome, which I believe is the source of stress, are based on the uncertainties that are part of the creative process.

I think most all photographers have a little of the GAS in them. It takes courage to create, and the anxiety will always be there. Overcoming fear is part of this process and in the end, finding personal success with life’s challenges is rewarding.

The reason for that GAS problem is that when we are at these workshops and seminars, we see that some creative content is produced with new gear. Time-Lapse and Drone Photography are two of the biggest things I see motivating people to buy more equipment to get something creative they cannot do with their present gear.

Sooner or later, you end up in the Aesthetically Driven camp. You are looking for images that have an impact.

If you want to be a better photographer, stand in front of more interesting stuff. 

Jim Richardson

I watch as more and more photographers pursue exciting content. Many seek wars, refugees, medical crises, and so on. Many are treating people more like objects for their photographic prints. Some still use the camera to move people’s hearts to take action to improve the world.

Chess or Checkers? [NIKON D3S, Nikon 60.0 mm f/2.8, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 4000, 1/60, ƒ/4, (35mm = 60)]

Too many are thinking that they are playing Checkers. They should be playing Chess. The problem is they see a game board with 64 squares, but the similarities stop there. 

How to Make Money

The one thing missing for most trying to make a living in this industry is understanding how a company makes money. Too many people think that if they know how to take photos with their cameras, people will want to hire them.

Most photographers call around and ask if people need any photos taken. While there are many ways to do this, the problem is that this puts the average photographer in the commodity category. Once you are seen as a commodity like wheat, barley, sugar, maize, cotton, cocoa, coffee, milk products, pork bellies, oil, and metals, it is almost impossible to make a living. The reason is simple there is always someone willing to do it cheaper.

How to avoid becoming a commodity

  1. Say no to low prices. If someone wants your product or service for less than you are offering it, and you say No, then you are holding firm. There is no chance you are a commodity if you do this. 
  2. Price yourself higher. I know of some people who came into markets and made a killing because they priced themselves as the “Fine Jeweler” in a market flooded with “Walmart” priced photo services.
  3. Know your value. This will make a massive difference if you believe in your value (because it is good value).

Copyright Knowledge & Cost of Doing Business isn’t the Secret

Too many photographers go to the seminars about usage rights and then start doing quotes based on this new knowledge and often see they are losing even more business. Others figure out their bottom line and discover they need to charge a minimum and when they put that into place also find they are losing business.

Compass [NIKON Z 6, VR Zoom 24-105mm f/4G IF-ED, Mode = Manual, ISO 100, 1/125, ƒ/16, (35mm = 105)]

You see, all this is being focused on you. Please don’t get me wrong, you need all of this knowledge to be successful, but that isn’t the key. Those are all necessary. But the compass for your business is the customer’s needs and desires.

Questions you should be asking

  1. Why does the customer need this to improve their business?
  2. What are my client’s problems?
  3. What could help my client communicate better with their clients?
  4. What makes my client better/unique as compared to their competition?
  5. How can I capture something that will share how they can help their clients make more money with my camera?
  6. How can I create an experience for my client that makes them enjoy life better?
  7. Who are your customers?

Focus on Customer Experience, Not Customer Service

When you interact with a client, that is customer service, but when you are not there, and the customer interacts with something from your business, that is an experience. Customer service is critical, but it is only a part of the customer experience.

Maybe you are a wedding photographer, and the people loved you and your team at the wedding. That is all about customer service. When you posted photos throughout the day of the wedding to social media and their family and friends could see them on their wedding day even if they were not there, well, that is customer experience.

Photographers turn around images quickly compared to those that take 3 to 6 months to get the photos to the bride and groom to create a better experience. When your photos capture precious moments and tell their story better than they could imagine–that is customer experience.

Chess or Checkers? [NIKON D3S, 85.0 mm f/1.4, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 12800, 1/4000, ƒ/1.4, (35mm = 85)]

It would help if you understood what drives profitability and cash flow, a market-focused approach to the business, and a significant overall picture of the company and its interrelationships. Each of the pieces of your business is more like the pieces of a chess set. Together, they are different and help you play the game and win.

Your Biggest Mistake

You discover that the 64 squares you have been playing are a different game than you thought you were playing.

You have been trying to move all your pieces to the other side of the board when the game isn’t about that. In chess, you can win in as little as two moves. It isn’t about taking all of your opponent’s pieces to win.

What is the objective of the game? What are you trying to accomplish? All those questions lead you to one thing in business. Those who get to know their client and see what they need to succeed and do all they can to help them succeed in turn also become successful.

It Takes All Three

  1. You need Gear
  2. It would help if you were creative aesthetically
  3. It would help if you had Business Acumen. Know how to help your clients make money.

Some business tips for the photographer

ASMP Atlanta Chapter Meeting

IRS Updated the 1099 form

IRS UPDATED THE FORM LAST OCTOBER Click here to update your 1099 to send to clients

Pricing & Negotiating

With new clients, I always give three prices. Low, medium, and high prices. Each has variables such as time, quantity, and usage. I also always spell out payment time. Once I have worked with a client, they usually have the exact requests. I use the three price options when giving a quote if they have a new and different request. By having three prices, you also are spelling out the negotiables.

Here are some other negotiables for the freelancer:

  • Payment time table
    • Deposits before job are started – Often to cover expenses
    • Pay on the day of the shoot
    • Pay upon delivering of the product
    • 30, 45, or 60 days
    • AVOID – Payment upon publication. What if they never publish?
  • Bartering
    • Instead of money, you trade services. My suggestion is to sell at retail values.
    • If you get a good number of extra printed pieces, like a magazine, then you can use these as marketing pieces to your clients or potential clients.
  • Sliding Scale – You offer to do the work for a lower price if they agree to future work. The trick is to have them pay the standard rate up front, and as they give you more work, you discount the volume. If they cancel after the first job, you don’t get screwed.
  • Usage – I highly recommend FotoQuote, which is a stand-alone software. which also comes bundled with FotoBiz
    • Unlimited
    • Number of years
    • Types of usage
      • Editorial
      • Advertising
      • Web
      • TV
      • Quote packs of combinations of usage

Find a professional group to join

I am finding that many of my “Secret” Facebook Groups are more helpful than the professional associations. First, there is someone almost always on the Facebook group; second, because these are secret groups, they only invite people to those groups who can help each other.

Don’t post into public groups anything where a client or potential client could see your content.

Closed and secret Facebook groups seem like they should be pretty similar. The difference is that the public can see closed groups while private groups can’t. If you create a closed group, the name of it, its members, and its description can be seen by the public—basically everything but the posts in the group.

Buy Camera/Business Insurance

I have been using Tom C. Pickard & Co. for years and recommend them.

I will think of some other tips to share in the future. If you have topics, let me know.

Headshots for Actors

Hannah Broeils [NIKON D5, 85.0 mm f/1.8, ISO 100, ƒ/5.6, 1/125]

This past weekend I spent both Saturday and Sunday doing headshots for Columbus State University Theatre students.

Setup for headshots [X-E3, XF10-24mmF4 R OIS, ISO 12800, ƒ/4, 1/13 ]

Here you can see the basic setup for the photos.

[X-E3, XF10-24mmF4 R OIS, ISO 12800, ƒ/4, 1/35 ]

I had two lights on the white background and would turn them off for the grey background look.

Erika Johnson [NIKON D5, 85.0 mm f/1.8, ISO 100, ƒ/5.6, 1/125]

I kept them on for the white background. I also had a hair light up straight behind the subject.

Debrinja Watts [NIKON D5, 85.0 mm f/1.8, ISO 100, ƒ/5.6, 1/125]

My main light was a beauty dish, and I kept the aperture at ƒ/5.6 with the Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8 lens. Not too shallow of a depth-of-field and not too deep either.

Madi StepCaitlin Melvin [NIKON D5, 85.0 mm ƒ/1.8, ISO 100, ƒ/5.6, 1/125]

I prefer ƒ/4 to ƒ/5.6 when shooting individual headshots. Occasionally I will use a shallow depth-of-field of ƒ/1.4, but you and the subject must be still to make that work.

Robert Trammell [NIKON D5, 85.0 mm ƒ/1.8, ISO 100, ƒ/5.6, 1/125]

The fun thing with Theatre students is they enjoy trying all kinds of expressions.

Kate Fowler [NIKON D5, 85.0 mm ƒ/1.8, ISO 100, ƒ/5.6, 1/125]

So we had some fun looking surprised.

Hannah Broeils [NIKON D5, 85.0 mm ƒ/1.8, ISO 100, ƒ/5.6, 1/125 ]

We tried a lot of expressions.

Brady Madden [NIKON D5, 85.0 mm ƒ/1.8, ISO 100, ƒ/5.6, 1/125 ]

The one thing that happened after trying some goofy photos, surprise photos, and even being sad was that the expressions that followed were more genuine and authentic. Actors are up for the fun and challenge, but even they need to loosen up, and the best way to do that is to push the limits and dial them back.

Debrinja Watts [NIKON D5, 85.0 mm ƒ/1.8, ISO 100, ƒ/5.6, 1/125 ]

Some tips for headshots

  • Keep the setup simple
  • Make it easy to change backgrounds
  • Encourage people to bring wardrobe changes
  • Give yourself time with each person.
  • Have fun

This is the best Investment to turn Pro in photography

Godox V860IIN 2.4G TTL Lion Battery Camera Flash Speedlite for Nikon + Godox X1NT Flash Trigger

One of the biggest mistakes new photographers make when trying to do photography as a profession is not investing enough in a light kit that lets them take photos with the light source off of their camera.

The super simple kit I have above is so inexpensive to take off-camera flash photos.

Here is what I recommend for just about everyone, and they make this kit for Nikon, Canon, Sony, and Fuji. There are many other solutions but invest in an off-camera light source.

$225.00 – Godox VING V860II TTL Li-Ion Flash with X1T TTL Trigger Kit
$57.15 – Manfrotto 5001B Nano Black Light Stand – 6.2′
$17.90 – Godox S-Type Speedlite Bracket for Bowens
$20.50 – Westcott Optical White Satin Diffusion Umbrella (45″)
$320.55 Total

This alone will make your photos stand out. This photo below is without a flash.

[Nikon D5, 85.0 mm f/1.8, ISO 100, f/1.8, 1/100]

Now, look at everything the same, but an off-camera flash can do at 45º from the camera.

[Nikon D5, 85.0 mm f/1.8, ISO 100, f/1.8, 1/125 – Godox V860IIN
2.4G TTL L + Godox X1NT Flash Trigger]

The only difference between the photos, for the most part, is the off-camera flash.

Which one of the photos will people pay you to take more often than the other? The one with the flash, because they can get the other photo with their camera on their phone.

“Why is the sky blue?” And other important questions

Patrick Davison, professor at UNC School of Media/Journalism, talks with students about their projects during a visual storytelling workshop in the Balkans. [Fuji X-E2, XF18-55mmF2.8-4 R LM OIS, ISO 5000, ƒ/5, 1/100]

Matthew 18:3 ESV
And said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Little children have a special humbleness and are easily taught. Most adults are not this way. A little child is enthusiastic and eager to learn and has a forgiving love. He has simple trust.

My mentor Don Rutledge says, “Photography … forces us to see, to look beyond what the average person observes, to search where some people never think to look. It even draws us back to the curiosity we experienced in our childhood.

“Children are filled with excitement about their surrounding world: Why is the sky blue? Why are one flower red and another yellow? How do the stars stay up in the sky? Why is the snow cold?

“As the years go by that curious child matures into a normal adult with the attitude of ‘who cares anymore about those childish questions and an­swers?’ The ‘seeing beyond what the average person sees’ fills us constantly with excitement and allows us to keep the dreams of our youth.”

Bridge in Mitrovica [Fuji X-E2, XF18-55mmF2.8-4 R LM OIS, ISO 400, ƒ/2.8, 1/320]

I am just a child who has never grown up. I still keep asking these ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions. Occasionally, I find an answer.
— Stephen Hawking

Little Cowboy enjoys the Celebrate Freedom Rodeo at Wills Park in Alpharetta, GA. [Nikon D5, Sigma 35mm ƒ/1.4, ISO 640, ƒ/1.8, 1/160]

“When you stop learning, stop listening, stop looking and asking questions, always new questions, then it is time to die.”
— Lillian Smith

Staff to Freelance Tips

photo by: Hannah Strayer

If you have a staff job in the communications field, the odds of being let go are higher than ever for good reasons.

One of the highest costs for an employer is healthcare. Freelancers come without that cost to the employer. When it comes to cost savings, many companies see this as a good reason to outsource their communications to freelancers and agencies.

When a company hires a creative person, they are stuck with that person’s creativity. As the company grows and needs to change, it is much more challenging to do that with creatives who cannot produce different kinds of work beyond their style.

“Say goodbye to full-time jobs with benefits”

“In the Future, Employees Won’t Exist” was the headline of the Tech Crunch story.

Microsoft has nearly two-thirds as many contractors as full-time employees. Even the most straightforward business structures, sole proprietorships, have increased their use of contract workers roughly two-fold since 2003.

“40% of America’s workforce will be freelancers by 2020,” said Quartz. [Update 7-27-22 about 35%]

“Stanley, if you put in as much work as you have been doing at Georgia Tech into your freelance, you will be successful,” said a friend in 2002 when I started freelancing full-time.

That was the most profound statement at the time and made me think of treating my freelancing like a full-time job.

Ken Touchton and me

One of the best mentors I have ever had in my life is Ken Touchton. When I started freelancing full-time, Ken called weekly to check on me.

Ken told me how when he started; he would get up, get dressed in a shirt and tie, and then go to the next room and start his day, even if he had no assignments to go anywhere.

If you find yourself laid off and having to look at freelancing, let me give you just a few tips that are very general but worked for me.

Here is one blog post for those who have yet to take the plunge – 9 things you need to do before going freelance full-time.

Some of these tips will link you to past blog posts to help you explore each piece of information more in-depth.

  1. Solve a problem, and then start the business – Your business is to solve a problem for another company. Ask yourself what business problems I am solving for my clients.
  2. Photographer, are you Liked or Loved – You need table food and soul food. The best way to get both is the personal project that shows your business solution through a photo project, for example, that shows how you solved this problem for someone.
  3. How much can you make as a photographer? – You need a good understanding of the cost of doing business. One key element is to know your family budget. If you don’t know what your bills are, how much you bring in, and the difference, you will probably fail in business.
  4. When it comes to marketing: Act like a first-year student and not a senior – No one knows you or what you do, so you will have to tell them and communicate how your services will benefit their bottom line.
  5. Create a calendar with actions for you to do. Here are some things that should be on your list:
    1. People to contact by phone [weekly] – These are your clients and prospects.
    2. Targeted marketing campaign – this is where you write a letter that targets people in your database in a particular industry.
      1. Education Market
      2. Editorial Market
      3. Sports
      4. Medical
  6. Blog – this is where you share something that continues to build your reputation as an expert. I recommend three times a week.
  7.  E-Newsletter – I send one out monthly to my clients. This is just a way to reconnect with your audience. Remember to consider why they want to get this, not that you want them to hire you.
  8. Snail mail – you can send handwritten thank you cards to all your recently hired clients. Do this after each job. Maybe create a postcard or some other mailing. Remember, they have to physically touch this before it goes in the mail, whereas emails will get automatically deleted and never seen.
  9. Networking events – You need to be out and meeting new people. I call this fishing with a big net.
  10. Workshops – You need to continue to grow in knowledge, so plan to attend meetings throughout the year to help you expand your skills.

How to say No with a Yes

Still Too Busy [Nikon D5, Sigma 24.0-105.0 mm f/4.0, ISO 100, ƒ/4, 1/500]

Still Too Busy

This photo illustrates my inner frustrations when I am asked to do just one more thing or someone wants to add something to my load. The cops do not see the big sign saying “Still Too Busy” but are there to arrest me for not complying.

Usually, there are two answers for a request–1) Yes and 2) No. Sometimes you even can supply more information to the person asking to see if they will withdraw their bid.

There are some legitimate responses that most people would take back their request. Say today is your wedding anniversary and you have plans you should tell them. Maybe you have nonrefundable tickets to an event you have planned for a long time.

I will never forget a moment when I was shocked when the person I was saying no to wanted complete access to my calendar to call everyone to reschedule so that I would do their project.

At that particular time, I was reporting to 5 different directors. I needed a hand big time to pull me out of this difficulty.

[Nikon D4, 28.0-300.0 mm f/3.5-5.6, ISO 200, ƒ/9, 1/125]

I wish I had known then what I know now. What helped me was to see this from the requester’s perspective.  When I said no, I wasn’t helping the client at all. If they still needed it done, they would find someone who could make it happen, and often then, I would usually no longer be used for future projects.

When I was in a staff job, I often said no because I didn’t have time with all the other things on my plate. As a freelancer, I was saying no because they were asking for more without offering more pay.

Had I learned this tip earlier in my career, I would have become a more valuable team member when someone would ask me to do something; I would now be saying how I want to help them. I would be saying YES–IF.

Yes, I can make that happen for you if you tell me which of these other projects I can delay or not do to be able to take on this extra work.

As a freelancer, I am saying YES–IF you decide what on the list we were shooting comes off because I don’t have time to do all you have, or I might be saying yes if you agree to the extra XYZ cost.

My new goal since learning this technique is to say yes as much as possible and to be sure the client is the one saying no, not me.

As a freelancer, the client asks me to do something, and my response is I would love to help you. The additional cost to make this happen is XYZ. Just sign right here to the changes on the contract, and I will make it happen.

The client will then respond great or no; we cannot afford to do that. If they have to have this done, then you are not the reason it gets done; they don’t have the resources to make it happen, or maybe the request then no longer necessary.

As a staff person, I am not asking for more money. I am taking the burden of what is on my plate and the difficulties of making it happen back onto their plate.

My boss asked me to take photos of their event; in the past, I would have said no, I am already booked. I now say I am already covering another event at the same time. I am more than willing to have this event covered. Which event do you want me to cover, and would you like me to get another photographer to cover the event I cannot hide?

Saying No makes you a problem!
Saying Yes Makes you a problem solver!!!

When you say no, the person requesting your help will have to find someone else. Had you said yes, their problem is solved.

Today when I get a request for something, and I am already booked, I always offer to find someone for them. One of the best ways to keep those clients returning is to handle the booking of the photographer and have the photographer work as a subcontractor for you. This way, they show up to shoot the project, and you handle the billing. This way, they continue to come back to you.

What you do isn’t as important as who you are to be successful in business

Family Vacation to Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida

Dorie, my wife, knew when making plans for our children when they were young that there was a time limit. It was about 2 hours, and then it was like we hit a wall.

We like being at a fair: there are rides, games, entertaining acts, and tons of food. It’s exciting at first, becomes overwhelming, and finally, makes you sick (and you hate it!).

When you’re sick of something, it shows in your attitude and performance most of the time. Just like our kids would be at places like Disney World.

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.

Ecclesiastes 3:1

Often we hit the wall in our careers just as we did when we were young. It isn’t fun for us anymore. If you are a freelancer, you can feel that you are just not in step with your client as you once were.

I have discovered this happens with every client I hit a wall with at some point. It is the same feeling that happened with our kids on an outing.

Nikon D5 Video Gear

I think we have become too focused on what we do in our jobs and less on the people we work with in doing those jobs. This can happen to you if you are extroverted or introverted.

Too much focus can be a problem: It drains your brain of energy, makes you care less about people, and prevents you from seeing what is happening around you. When you become more focused on a product that you are producing in a job rather than realizing you are working with other people, they need to enjoy the process and not just the end result.

I came to this conclusion when I found that I must rekindle a working relationship over the years. In the past, I would work on my portfolio or some new skill to talk to my client. I thought the client needed to see my skills were valuable.

While working on some materials for this latest round of rekindling relationships, I realized that no matter what I did, it would look like I was going to do some “Explaining” to the people in the meetings I was setting up.

This approach can be very condescending to others. It undermines the relationship that you are trying to nurture.

Thinking about this, it hit me – I had not worked enough on the relationship with my clients.

Nikon D5, Sigma 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM Art Lens, ISO 2800, ƒ/4, 1/100

In your work, have you been measuring using your skills in our work as well as developing relationships?

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Hebrews 10:24-25

We spend a lot of time at work; nothing is worse than someone who cannot get along with others. It’s essential and involves being helpful, understanding the unwritten rules, and being respectful, reliable, and competent.

Here is a simple way to start this conversation, “We’ve been doing business together for almost a year. I want to take you to lunch to get to know you better.”

The most important thing you can do at a business meal listens. You want to hear what the other person cares about, their interests, and what makes them tick. They need to know you care about them as people, not just the money they give you to pay your bills.

Once we were at Disney, we ran into my daughter’s friend from home. While usually, our daughter would be ready for a break from the theme park, this “Relationship” gave a burst of energy to go through not just our daughter but the entire family.

Theme parks can be like your product in business. At a certain point, this doesn’t keep your client enthused. Remember, friendships do keep your help energize business relationships as well.

What I am learning from being Audited

This year I got a letter from the IRS requesting documents. This is an Audit.

Every year when I file my taxes, I use TurboTax.

For the past 10+ years, I have paid little for their accounting service that helps you in the case of an audit. While working with them to get all my documents 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 need to document and have ready like a bookkeeper.

  • 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

  1. Checks
  2. PayPal

In the software Quicken, you can attach to every entry document. 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 flatbed scanner.

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 all ready for you to use and customize. The best part about working with your Taxes is they have all the Schedules included so that you can assign a category to a tax schedule, as 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 precisely 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 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 to provide scanned invoices. I was missing a few of the statements because I thought I just needed to show I paid the bill and not the invoice.

Using Quicken, I created 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 costly year for our family with medical issues.

I was misinformed

I had always been told you 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 client’s bookkeeper. It would help if you had this in order. Also, the box could only work when you are called in. You don’t want this to happen. You have opportunities to provide all this electronically to the IRS and handle it without going for a face-to-face audit.


  • Spreadsheet – Be able to provide the 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 them 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 your records.
  • Accountant – Work with an accountant to do at least your initial setup of how you need to gather documents for Taxes and possible audits.

Tips on Invoicing

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

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 estimated to be about 34% of the workforce and expected to be 43% by 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 your target group as many people as possible. 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 serve the client on a job best.

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

Wait on the client – You always want to 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 to 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!” 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, how you get that work done with others is even more critical, 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 they know best. Sometimes they love you and already have someone booked or 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.

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 will try to be most effective 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 get 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 survey, 71 percent of Americans “often look at the messages on roadside billboards,” Most Americans at one time or another learned about an event that interested them or a restaurant they later patronized.

However, consumers no longer look at billboards like they did twenty or thirty years ago. While they may still be considered a premium advertising space, consumers are engrossed in their smartphones, 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 are 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.

Making sure your audience gets your message on the highways often requires more billboards. Your statement must be concise. As billboard experts will tell you, if you use a headline that explains your visual, you’re wasting words.

When you are limited to 5 to 10 seconds for messaging, you need to be sure they see it. It would help if you had your billboard on the bypass and downtown 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 hooking me and leading me through well-written or visual communication but, in the end, doesn’t deliver.

Before you can talk you must listen.

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

Instagram, Facebook, Google, Pinterest

Some 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 realize 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 care for someone, you want to know how they are doing. You want them to be happy.

As a counselor, you are trained not just to 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 straightforward, but it will start with 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 most exemplary personal service and facilities for our guests, who will always enjoy a warm, relaxed, yet refined ambiance.

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

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

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