Lens Choice: Just the subject or a story

Filling the frame with a subject can look quite different depending on the focal length of the lens.

These three examples the f/stop stayed the same. I moved the camera forward or backwards to keep the stuffed ducks the same size in the frame.
The 28mm wide-angle lens lets you see the environment around the subject more as you see in this photo of the What the Ducks.

The 105mm short telephoto focal length lens makes the background less distracting.

The 300mm telephoto focal length lens makes the background even less distracting.
Which one do your prefer and why? 

What you need to do is understand how a lens choice can really help your subject.

You just need to say here is the subject then look at using the telephoto lens.  This will help you make the subject pop out away from the background. All the focus will be on the subject.

If you need the subject to be part of a sentence where you use adjectives and adverbs to help give a context for the subject, then move in close with a wide-angle lens. Now you see what is around the subject as well as the subject.

There are varying degrees to this change. Just as the writer uses simple sentences and sometimes longer sentences to tell the story, the lens helps you make it a simple sentence or complex.

The moment it clicks

@font-face { font-family: “MS 明朝”; }@font-face { font-family: “MS 明朝”; }@font-face { font-family: “Cambria”; }p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal { margin: 0in 0in 0.0001pt; font-size: 12pt; font-family: Cambria; }p.MsoListParagraph, li.MsoListParagraph, div.MsoListParagraph { margin: 0in 0in 0.0001pt 0.5in; font-size: 12pt; font-family: Cambria; }p.MsoListParagraphCxSpFirst, li.MsoListParagraphCxSpFirst, div.MsoListParagraphCxSpFirst { margin: 0in 0in 0.0001pt 0.5in; font-size: 12pt; font-family: Cambria; }p.MsoListParagraphCxSpMiddle, li.MsoListParagraphCxSpMiddle, div.MsoListParagraphCxSpMiddle { margin: 0in 0in 0.0001pt 0.5in; font-size: 12pt; font-family: Cambria; }p.MsoListParagraphCxSpLast, li.MsoListParagraphCxSpLast, div.MsoListParagraphCxSpLast { margin: 0in 0in 0.0001pt 0.5in; font-size: 12pt; font-family: Cambria; }.MsoChpDefault { font-family: Cambria; }div.WordSection1 { page: WordSection1; }ol { margin-bottom: 0in; }ul { margin-bottom: 0in; 
 “The instant can be the end product of a long experience as well of that of immediate surprise.”
–Henri Cartier-Bresson

Mika Ariel with her new camera bag in Hawaii

This past week I was at the Museum covering the Founder of Chick-fil-A, Truett Cathy’s, 90th birthday.  While there I saw some of the exhibit of Henri Cartier-Bresson

I think every photojournalist knows about his work and probably more about his philosophy of the Decisive Moment. This is when the photographer is thinking, “I need a figure in that space, but just any figure won’t do.  It must no merely fill the space but also give the space a meaning that is as yet incomplete.  The figure will need to have a credible reason for being there, will have to relate to the space in a significant way, and, above all, add something to it.  His or hers appearance in that space must be considerable to make the resulting picture a clear expression of what I want to say.”
This is when the timing is just right for the photographer when they click the shutter and capture the subject in a context that helps tell a story in a very compelling way. 


I have a series of photos and this was the one where the water smashed against the rocks to help communicate the power of the ocean.

I think there are five steps that a photographer will go through to capture this decisive moment. There becomes a two-way relationship with the subject and it often goes like this.
1.     Genuine interest in the subject
2.     Effort is made to understand and know the subject
3.     Due to this new knowledge you have deductions about it
4.     You now feel moved to say something about it
5.     You say something when the subject is ready to participate with you
I have been on those class or camera club assignments.  You are just looking for something that fits the subject matter assigned.  This will not get you a “Decisive Moment.”  You need to have an interest that leads to enthusiasm and a desire to know it better.  This real interest is the first step.
You must know a subject intimately before you can attribute a certain value to it through composition and timing.  This intimacy helps you to convey the purpose of the subject to his or her environment. 

Barbara, the head cook at North of NOLA in Roswell, Georgia is enjoying the moment during the busy Mardi Gras celebration

How can you know the right moment to take a picture unless you have a good idea of what the subject means and what you are after?  When you are interested in a subject you get to know more about it.  You go below the surface stuff to the meat of the matter.

You must first know yourself before you will be able to know others.  You are in touch with your feelings and therefore can have empathy for the subject.

You will have some reference points in your life that help you connect to humanity.  This will help you connect your subject with others as well.

As a result of our understanding of the subject, we have a reaction, and opinion or feeling about it.  Based on this we make photos.


The understanding you gained now helps you to know what the hook is that will engage the audience and help to communicate the knowledge you now have to the audience in a compelling way.  At this point you are no longer using “rules of composition” to guide you, rather you move the subject around the frame and find a placement that communicates your heart about the subject.  This is not just the emotions and affects, but also the intellect and will.  
Some photographers may zoom in and out and others may just move the subject all around in the frame until they feel the composition of the elements around the subject are helping capture much of the essence of the person.
You can do everything up to here and never move to this step, because this is where the subject must allow you the moment. They may relax in your presence and you are just the fly on the wall able to be present with the person.  They may give you a look, which is personable and intimate.  I believe underlying the first steps is a willingness of you to be transparent with the subject.  The more you are open and honest then the subject will respond in kind.  The more you are closed off, the less the chance of a moment.

My wife and daughter enjoying a moment together that will be remembered forever by them and me.
If you do the above steps regularly as you photograph subjects over time you will develop a keen sense to moments.  You will take nothing for granted and be ready for the smallest change.  You are a master of your camera and can quickly make adjustments to capture any moment.  You have done this long enough that your vision is translated into the camera like a muscle memory.  You don’t have time to think but just instinctively react, because you have practiced and disciplined your routine of getting to know subjects so as to recognize the moments if they reveal themselves early in the process.
The prize
For me the prize is the relationship I have developed with a subject and the photograph is just icing on the cake, because I get to share this person with the rest of the world.

If you could eavesdrop on a critique

Keep the subject off center

If you were listening in last week when I was doing one critique after another at the Southwestern Photojournalism Conference, you would have heard a theme to my comments.

First, I like also to review all the photos before I comment. This way I can categorize some of the comments that apply to some if not all the photographs.

Second, I usually find a positive attribute of his or her work. Sometimes I might be pointing out how I can see why you might be interested in that subject. My point is I think there is usually a small redeeming factor to make you stop and make a photo.

Watch those edges and keep it simple

Third, probably the number one thing that I say to people starting don’t center their subject. Use some rules of composition to help guide the audience and make the composition more interesting. We might talk about rule-of-thirds, leading lines, framing and of course using light as a way to help improve the photograph.

Fourth, most everyone I find struggles with the edges of the photograph. They see the subject and haven’t quite made all the stuff around the subject and within the frame to work together to create a strong photograph. We might have things growing out of their heads or parts of the body cropped funny.

Fifth, one of the things I struggle to this day with myself is my camera drifting up. I end up with more space at the top of the frame and not really doing a good job anchoring the photo at the bottom of the frame.

Everything I have mentioned up to now is the fine-tuning thing one does to improve the photograph. You might compare what a photographer does to a sniper. The sniper takes aim with a rifle at a target a long way off. They will do everything to keep the barrel as still as possible. They will even control their breathing and fire the rifle in between heartbeats. If they do not control these minute details they will miss their mark.

When photographers do not pay attention to the minute details like the sniper they too will miss their mark and the message will not come across to the audience.

Connect with your subject, you should be showing their personality.

Sixth, up to a couple of years ago I would have stopped here. But this is when I am now ready to talk to those who do photojournalism about the most important thing they can concentrate on the most to improve their photos—the subject.

I believe until you know the subject well and not just on a mental level, but with your heart you will not connect the audience with the subject at a level to move an audience to action.

As I go through the photos with the photographer, I ask them questions like: What did you want me to know about your subject? How did you feel about the subject?

You don’t have to ask this question with photographers at the top of their game—you feel like you know their subjects from their photographs. The reason I ask this question is to reveal what I think is the core value missing with many photographers today.

Most of the photographer’s answers to those questions were—I don’t know. To which my reply was then how do you expect the audience to know anything or care?

I you look at any photograph and it brings up feelings of warmth or sadness, I can assure you the photographer felt this. Most likely the photographer is crying behind the camera when you cry from one of their photos. The photographer is smiling when he made the photo of the joy in a child’s eye. The photographer is pissed when you see something that angers you in their photos.

Do you want your photos to look better? My advice is to get to know your subject and know what you want to say about them. Get to know them so well that your heart is moved to emotions and not just a mental understanding of the story. When you know what you want to say and how you want to portray the subject, then you will place the subject in the frame at the best place and wait for the moment and the light to all convey what you want to say until you feel it in your viewfinder.

If you don’t know what to say and you are not feeling it behind the viewfinder—put down the camera ask some questions and get to know them better. My faith teaches me that all mankind is made in the image of God. I pray that I see the world with my heavenly father’s eyes.

Genesis 1:26

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

How to be critiqued


Reviewing each other’s work.

If you want to grow as a photographer you will need to have someone review your work. There are two types of people to review your work_the general public or a professional. The professional can be another photographer, photo editor, graphic designer or art director.

The public should be able to look our photos and tell us what they get out of a photo and therefore help us know if our intended message came across.

The advantage of a professional photographer who is further along in their journey than you is they can tell you if a photo is good or not, but can give you some tips on how they might improve the photo.

Ground Rules:

1. Let your photos speak for themselves—Be Quiet

2. Edit and show only your best

3. Have everything needed to show your work

4. Get multiple opinions

5. Take the advice and change

6. Go back and show them your changes

age1Brad Moore critiques Deanna Santangelo’s work.

Letting your photos speak for themselves will help you know if you were successful or not. If you wanted a photo to show how much two people are good friends, then the audience will tell you.

If the person reviewing the images ask for more information provide it. Too much information will actually hurt your critique. If you tell the person this is a photo where you were trying to illustrate friendship then the person will then say if it worked or not, but you really needed to know what it says to them when they have no information other than the photo.

Sometimes you might actually have a very strong photo that is a failure. It may be a successful photo in the audience likes the photo, but failed to deliver the message you were going for.

Edit and show your best work will help the person reviewing your work. Showing too much work will weaken your portfolio rather than strengthen it. Your portfolio is to show your skills. You may have a collection of different subjects and/or a photo story. Either way each photo should be showing something different.

You only need one photo to show you know how to do something so make it your best effort. Your second photo should show something different about your abilities. Maybe the first photo was available light and the second one shows you know how to use flash. Your third might be shooting in a studio.

Your photo stories need to work like a written story a beginning, middle and end. The beginning is often an establishing photo to help us know what the story is about. You need to vary the images from wide to medium and then close-up.

age3Scott Kelby reviews a person’s portfolio.

Have everything you need to show your work. Don’t show up with a USB drive and expect the person you are seeing to have a computer. Be sure everything works and try it a few times to be sure all the photos load for example if it is on a computer, iPad, or some other device.

Sometimes the best way to show your portfolio is in a book or prints. This way you are not relying on technology that could quit. Don’t want that to happen on a once in a lifetime meeting.

Get multiple opinions before making changes to your work. If you show your work to 3 or more folks and they all say there is something wrong with a photo_then you know it needs to go. What will not be so consistent is what they might say as a way to improve that photo. One person may say to back up and another might say crop in closer.

Take the advice and change. Go out and make the changes to your portfolio. Take the photos out that most everyone agreed need to come out. Go and crop the photos that need cropping.

Go back into Lightroom or PhotoShop and re-edit those photos that can be improved.

Most of all take the advice to heart as you shoot your next photos. Watch the edges of the photo. Know what you want to say to your audience about the subject.

Go back and show your changes. Find those people and show them your revised portfolio after you have made the changes and shot some new material. See if you got what they were talking about. Often you will find out that you didn’t fully understand what they were saying and by revisiting you will discover this.

Jealousy, Selfish Ambition & Envy

Scott Kelby teaching at the Southwestern Photojournalism Conference.

Galatians 5:19-21
19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Let me start today with a confession. I just spent the past five days with some incredible photographers and I was very jealous about their work and their careers.

Scott Kelby

While I applauded their presentations and was really impressed with their work I was also measuring myself to them. I confessed to some of my friends how I was feeling only to discover they too were having similar thoughts.

How do we deal with these feelings?

First we need to acknowledge talented photographers. We also need to tell them that we admire them. The reason for this is this is often the first step to dealing with the problems of jealousy.

I have not only admired photographers in the past I did everything to copy their work. I bought the same gear and even started to dress like them. I do think early in our career it is good to try and copy someone else’s work. This is how we learn. The problem is that when we only copy and not use the process to help us find our own voice.

Esther Havens

At this conference Scott Kelby gave us tips on how to use Raw plugin. For much of the room we were learning how to use Lightroom effectively. I was just thinking—I do that. I started to think I should be up there teaching this material.

Jeremy Cowart

I needed to celebrate how effective Scott Kelby is at teaching. His ability to distill the subject into nuggets and interject humor made everything much more memorable than the way I often teach. I need to work on my teaching. Not copy what Scott does, but learn from him and make it my own.

Jeremy Cowart spoke to the group as well. He is a celebrity photographer who also gives back through Help-Portrait (http://help-portrait.com) a non-profit he started. I was not only jealous of his opportunities, but also envious of his life. Maybe I should dress like him is what actually went through my head. That would look pretty funny. What I need to do is tell Jeremy how much I like his work and impressed with how he carries himself. I need to learn from him and realize I need to carry myself even more professionally than I am doing now.

Garrett Hubbard

Gary Fong

Brad Moore

Esther Havens was at the conference and I am jealous of her work with Living Waters (http://estherhavens.com/blog/archives/1109). What I am learning from Esther is that if I have an idea I can do it. Just do it. She is very impressive. She is helping me realize that opportunities for all of us are right before us—what is stopping us other than ourselves?

Bill Bangham, Garrett Hubbard and Gary Fong were also there and I am jealous of them as well. Each of them does incredible work. What I am learning is to not copy them, but understand why they are successful.

Bill Bangham

Bill Fortney

Jim Veneman

Bruce Strong

Take the time today to write to people that you are jealous of their work and tell them how much you admire their work. See what you can learn from them. Don’t try and become them, but see how what they are doing can inspire you to take action.

What I have learned from this past week—each of us has unique qualities. If we play to our strengths rather than copying others we will be more successful. I recommend Tom Rath’s book Strengths Finder (http://www.amazon.com/StrengthsFinder-2-0-Tom-Rath/dp/159562015X) as one way to start this journey if you need some help.

Three Stages of Composition

Stage One: “Literal” Snapshot – making photographs to simply describe what you see. 

Typical Snapshot

Typical Snapshot

A snapshot is popularly defined as a photograph that is “shot” spontaneously and quickly, most often without artistic or journalistic intent. Snapshots are commonly considered to be technically “imperfect” or amateurish–out of focus or poorly framed or composed.

Snap shot – this time with an off camera flash at 45 degrees

We all start with the literal snapshot and often revisit this stage of photography. These literal snapshots are primarily taken for the photographer. These photos are “memory joggers.” They help you remember the moment.

Inside snap shot without flash

Inside snap shot with flash at 45 degrees

Believe it or not there are many “professional” photographers who never move beyond this point. Since the bride and groom were there with the photographer, the literal snapshots are like “memory joggers” for them as well.

Another place I see this is my church. After a team comes back from their mission trip they show their photos the team laughs because they get the “inside joke.” While not always a joke it is another memory jogger and not a photo that communicates to the audience.

When a photographer realizes that other photographers are getting better looking photos than they do, they often move to stage two.

Stage Two: “Artistic” Snapshot – making aesthetically pleasing pictures that enhance what you saw

Inside photo with flash at 45 degrees and the photographer simplified the background giving more attention to the subject.

In this stage the photographer is aware of visual composition, exposure and how to do things like control their depth-of-field and/or freezing a subject or blurring the background.

This is where a photographer thinks about being sure the subject is well composed.
Not everyone is able to see the difference in their own photos to get to stage two, but believe me most everyone can see the difference between a “literal snapshot” and an “artistic snapshot.”
I have written in previous newsletters about composition, lighting and framing and therefore encourage you to review those articles.

Stage Three: “Expressive” Images – images made for public, rather than private meanings. Expressive photography, like all art, offers universal, and often metaphorical, statements.

Ansel Adams said it best, “There are always two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer.” Once you realize this and want the audience to feel about the subject as you do then you want to move beyond just the “rules of composition.”

Subject in her room. Main light off to the side out of the camera view to highlight the subject and draw you to her.

 Expressive photography interprets, rather than describes, what we see to others.

There are three aspects to Expressive Photography, see the diagram. All three need to be present for the photo to be more than a “artistic snapshot.”
Subject close to camera and her room around her. Light off to the right lighting her to draw more emphasis on her.
Abstraction removes literal, descriptive clutter and hones an image down to its essence and encourages unlimited thinking. In music this might be the difference of listening to music that has no words in the tune.

Your mind is free to explore your thoughts. However, if the music has words in the music then it is less abstract even if the words are not sung. Hearing Amazing Grace played even without the words will put a more literal thought and therefore is not unlimited as the abstract music.

If the photo moves too far into just abstraction then the other parts of the triangle become weakened and the photo becomes just an “artistic snapshot.”
Tension presents elements that seem to be at odds with their context and creates contrasts and juxtapositions that stimulate both the emotions and the imagination. This is where the photographer helps create a mood within the photo. They may use composition, lighting and exposure or in combination to help move the photo beyond just documenting the moment to an interpretation of the moment. Under expose a little and you create darkness or gloom. Over expose and you may create lightness and lighten the mood.

After photographing my daughter in different locations I started to write this newsletter. My wife called out to me “Stanley you’ve got to see Chelle.” Of course I had to add another photo after seeing her in a tree playing her guitar. Some of the best photos are when you catch the subject doing what they like best.

Human values convey the emotions, beliefs, traditions and knowledge that we understand and share as humans. Genuine smiles communicate across all language barriers, just as frowns and anger will. We often say this is one of the most critical factors of the portrait. What are the three most important things of a portrait?—1) Expression 2) Expression and 3) Expression.

To make expressive photos you must first, ask yourself what it is you want to express through your image(s). How do you feel about your subject?
I like to boil this down to “Why?” Why should anyone in your audience care about what you want them to see?
Journalists are trained to ask: Who, What, Where, When, How and Why. In my opinion the hook of the story often is resting on the Why.
If you failed to ask yourself why you are making this photograph—rest assured that your audience will not know either.
I would love for you to have a chance to comment on which photos you think above are your favorite photos and why? Do any of them work as “Expressive” images?

Come and Visit vs. Go and Tell: Secret to Growing a Business

The Little Red Church on the Big Island of Hawaii

Last week during a devotional time Derek Schoenhoff, Pastor of The Little Red Church, on the Big Island of Hawaii asked who authorized the temple? He opened my eyes to how much man wanted the buildings and not God.

Today many churches have this idea of inviting people to their programs at their buildings. Ya’ll come now. Come and visit has become the mantra.

This is not the only thing that turns us inward. Many of us understand that Jesus died for us. The problem with continuing down this road of thought is that we can become very self-centered.

Rick Warren starts his Purpose Driven book with “It’s not all about you.” Derek Schoenhoff is reminding us of Jesus last words to his disciples to “Go and tell.”

What I have discovered the past few years when it comes to business, I too had become very self-serving and asking folks to come and visit my website. Come and find me.

The more I read the scriptures the more I learn about a God who came to earth to serve rather than to be served. He asked us to do the same.

What I have been doing the past couple of years is exploring how to be a servant to my clients. First of all you need to know this is quite difficult and I continue to fail in my efforts, but I do believe I am starting to see this is the path to success.

Jesus told us to go the second mile, but in order to do so we have had to already gone the first mile.

So, what I have learned is for most of my career I focused on making better pictures. If you build it they will come. What I have learned watching many of my friends careers falling apart is most folks know the difference between bad and good photography and very few the difference between good and great.

Why didn’t they know how much better I was than who they were using for their photography? My work was better than most, but there were others better than me. What was strange was those who I thought had better work than me were also struggling. Those whose work was OK were flourishing.

So, this past year I finally had a moment when it clicked. People know the difference also between good and bad service, but also most of them all knew the difference between good and great service. Even more amazing was people were paying top dollar for that service treatment.

People pay for the experience as much as for the product. If you have been trying to build a better widget and figure the world will come and buy–they may, but you will build a better business when you have focused outward. Going to them and doing whatever it takes to make their lives better and more comfortable.

Those most relevant in social media are those who share and are focused not on themselves but others. Do you want to grow your business–then focus on service, no matter what your widget is.

Get out of your seat

Nikon D2X, Sigma 18 – 125mm, ISO 400, ƒ/7.2, 1/200 [4 – Alienbees B1600s full power on catwalk with 50º parabolic reflectors, triggered by Pocketwizards.
The other night I attended a lacrosse match at the local high school. I went as a spectator. This is rare for me to be at a sports event without my camera equipment.
It was interesting to watch the parents photographing the game. A couple of them were on the sidelines, but the majority stayed in their seats in the stands.
Everyone was shooting with digital cameras. From the simplest cameras to most professional equipment they all had similar focal length lenses that would zoom out to about 200 mm (equivalent on a 35 mm camera). 
Nikon D3, 14-24mm, ISO 450, ƒ/4.5, 1/1000
 At this high school lacrosse match the parents were not being kept off the sidelines by anyone. They kept themselves back from the action!
The difference between what each person was able to photograph varied greatly because of where they were in relationship to the action on the field.
If you want better photos of your kids playing sports (or doing almost anything else) get as physically close to the action as you can. Of course, use some common sense and don’t get in the way of the game or the fans and in a safe spot for you as well.
A famous war photographer said something that applies to sports photography just as it does to war photography. “If the pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.”
Another key to improving your shots, besides getting out of your seat, is to hold your camera still. The longer the focal length the shakier it can become. Use a monopod. They sell for about $30. I like the Manfrotto Modo 790B Monopod. This will help keep your camera steady and improve the image sharpness. It is easier and faster to use than a tripod.
Most folks stand up when taking pictures. It’s more comfortable than squatting or resting on your knees, but it doesn’t usually give you the best action shots. If you are low to the ground you are shooting up at the athletes. This actually makes them seem more heroic. Shooting from a low angle makes them appear higher off the ground than they are. Staying low on the sidelines is also courteous to the fans in the stands.
Nikon D2X, Sigma 15-30mm, ISO 400, ƒ/5.6, 1/200 [4 – Alienbees B1600s full power in corners bouncing, triggered by Pocketwizards.
Another trick: Be where they are going – not where they are. Get down field and shoot back at the players. Now when the big play happens it is coming to you, not away plus you can see their facial expressions.
Nikon D100, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 with 1.4 converter, ISO 200, 1/2000
If the sport you are covering has a ball keep asking yourself this question: Where’s the ball? Most of the peak action, the strong expressions and the competition will be around the ball. This rule doesn’t apply to all your shots, but it is a good one to keep in mind.
If you were covering football you would be on opposite ends of the field depending on if you are covering the offense or defensive players. You want to see the player’s faces and close as possible. The grimaces will show the intensity of the play.
With digital cameras you can take ten pictures, a hundred pictures or even a thousand pictures for about the same cost. So take lots of photos to capture the best moments.
Your kids will probably play these sports for just a few years. Having good photos, in which they can recognize themselves, will be something they cherish for a lifetime.
So get out of your seat and get close to the action. You (and your kids) will be glad you did.
Nikon D4, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 w/ 1.4 converter, ISO 900, ƒ/5.6, 1/2000
Let’s sum it up:
  • Get closer.
  • Use a monopod. Fuzzy Photos don’t count
  • Get down, and shoot up – make them heroes.
  • Stay ahead of the action.
  • Where’s the ball?
  • Show the faces/capture the emotion.
  • Take more pictures, it improves your odds.
  • Enjoy the photography and your kids.

Stop Selling Nails

When my wife Dorie graduated from seminary our family took an out of the ordinary vacation to Jamaica. We did the all-inclusive package. All we had to do was enjoy the trip. No worrying about when or where to eat or what to do. We just had fun. I cherish these memories.
You’ve probably splurged on something. Maybe you took a special vacation or found a wonderful restaurant. Most of us have done something fun that is outside our normal budget. These extraordinary times can form memories our families will talk about for the rest of our lives.
Workshops and Seminars
Each year I attend a few workshops and seminars to keep me up to date and increase my value to my clients. Years ago some friends suggested that I should splurge and invite the speaker I was impressed with out for a meal to some nice restaurant. At first I was worried that these important people would think I was nuts.

The first time I took a speaker out to eat I expressed this worry. She laughed and said, “No man, I was a peon myself once and not that long ago.” I learned more asking questions and listening during this one-on-one time at a meal with a key person than the rest of the entire conference. By the way, that first speaker I became friends and have kept in touch.
I’ve met others, who were struggling and barely had any money for their own food, but they still took a speaker to lunch. Much later on they told me that the investment in that lunch changed their lives and their business. 
Building Supplies
Hardware stores and real estate agents sell entirely different things. Hardware stores sell nails and wood and the prices vary little from hardware store to hardware store. Real estate agents sell what a builder did with what he bought in a hardware store and the prices range all over the place depending what was done with the basic materials.

As we talk with a prospective client does the discussions quickly turning to price and the bottom line? 
The Total Package
Let’s think back to those extraordinary vacations or the meals you treated those special speakers to. Price was not the determining factor. The value of what you got for your money prompted you to take that vacation or buy that person a meal.
If the quality of your work is superior and you have consistently treated your customers with honor, dignity and respect then you have established a brand that will draw clients to you.

If you are aware of how your work defines you in the marketplace and you communicate this effectively to potential customers you will do well. You can compare what you do to your competition or you can just point out all the things that you do for your clients and never mention the competition.
If prospective clients are talking price and bottom line then stop selling nails and wood and start talking about the quality of your work and what you will do for them.

It’s Not All About Me, But It All Depends On Me

One of the best things I have learned over the past year about how to grow my business is that it’s not all about ME, but it all depends on ME.

Kenneth H. Blanchard who wrote the famous book The One Minute Manager also wrote Raving Fans. I rediscovered him through my client Chick-fil-A. They embrace his concepts and work hard at creating Raving Fans.

Definition of a Raving Fan: One who uses your services more often; pays full price; and tell others about you.
All businesses want and need Raving Fans. So, how do you get them?

First: Your product or service must be superior. Doing business “Good Enough” will make some clients rave about you, but they will not be FANS. Striving for nothing but the best will create genuine fans.

As a photographer I look for a unique angles; something they are not likely to see themselves. “Good Enough” is giving my client a professional version of something they could have seen and done without my help. My photos must WOW them. That’s my obligation to them as a professional.

Creative use of lighting can move my photography from just “Good Enough” to excellent. I need to explore the subject and find the point of view with the most effective use of light. For example, moving a person so that the light from a window creates the main light on their face rather than fighting the glare of the same window behind the subject. I may need to set-up strobes (flashes) to create my own “window light.”

“Good Enough” is scouting a location after joining my client at the shoot. Much better to shout in advance of the shoot and be able to suggest locations for the best light, composition or unique perspective to make photos that standout from the expected.

Second: To win Raving Fans – go the Second Mile in service. In my business I looked for things to do that were not required, but would be valued by my client.

Something I did from the beginning was to deliver my work to my clients on a professional-looking CD or DVD. I printed my logo and sometimes their logo on the disc as well as the date of the photo shoot and other useful information. “Good Enough” is writing the information on the disk with a Sharpie.

Another unexpected and appreciated extra is a quick turn-around delivering the images. When possible I give the client the disc before I leave the shoot.

By watching other businesses it is possible to discover some of the ways they attract fans. Chick-fil-A, for example, works at making a customer feel like a guest in someone’s home. Little things make this happen. They’ll hold the door for folks, carry the trays to the table, refresh their drinks and even give them food occasionally. 

Seeing what other businesses do and finding ways to apply the concept to my business isn’t always apparent. It is a constant struggle to find ways to be more service oriented. We call those who “do it naturally” Ladies and Gentlemen. (The rest of us gotta work at it.)

I believe the whole key to attracting and keeping Raving Fans is to first be sure to deliver a quality product and do so in a professional way. Only if we are doing this will the Second Mile Service have any real impact. No matter how many nice-little-things we do for a client if they are not happy with our product… The point: You Can’t Go The Second Mile If You Didn’t Go The First Mile FIRST.

I’ve found a great second mile touch is a hand written thank you card. Anything hand written is so rare these days that it has an almost unimaginable positive impact.

Third: Another component of creating Raving Fans is establishing an emotional connection with the client. It’s called Friendship.

When my customer becomes more than a paycheck, when I see them as a valuable person, when I come to care about how they’re doing and I’m concerned about their happiness that’s when I discover the true joy of “doing business.”

When business reaches this level going the second mile only seems natural.

This relationship is not going to form with all our clients, but when it does it was worth the trouble and we’ve made a Raving Fan.

A few months ago I ran into a man I knew when he was a teenager. We were talking when he stopped and said, “Last Sunday my pastor said in his sermon that we should tell people what they have meant to us over the years. Well, I want to tell you that you were a major influence on me when I was a kid and I want to thank you for that.”

I want forget that for a long time. Made me feel great and humble at the same time.

We probably didn’t know our clients when they were kids, but there are things we like and appreciate about them that, given the opportunity, perhaps we should tell them.

An easy way to make a fan and a friend is just to listen to them. Maybe over coffee or a meal, just give them the time of day. A friend, after all, is someone who will listen.

I believe this can all be boiled down to this statement: If you want to grow a business, look for ways to serve your customers.