5 Small Tips that Can Truly Make a Difference

Taking good photos is hard, though it may not seem like that from afar. When they actually agree that a photographer’s work is good, people are either saying “Oh gosh, look at that photographer, they have are so talented”, as if that elusive quality of talent has been magically bestowed upon the photographer by a well-meaning fairy godmother, or they are simply explaining it through the semi-professional equipment. I’m sure you’ve seen both these kinds of reactions, the latter kind also including the enthusiasm of a clueless person about investing in a camera way above their skills, expecting to somehow take pro-level pictures immediately after the said acquisition.


But all of us here probably know that becoming a photographer does not happen overnight and it takes work and learning. To that effect, here are 5 small tips you may not already know about how to improve your skills even if you’re still at the beginning of that journey from amateur to pro. As a disclaimer, we should probably mention that this post is for the beginners among us, so bear with it if you feel yourself too advanced for such meager small tips.

1. Look at other photographer’s works and even ask questions.

Don’t underestimate the value of being humble enough to ask for advice even if you’re not very sure what to ask. Also, even without asking anything, browsing as many photographic works as possible is the sole thing which can train your eye to detect what makes a picture good or bad, better or worse, or to notice when a professional is using a technique you might be interested in yourself. When you see something like this, ask away: you’d be surprised of how friendly people can be, and getting a few small tips from an established photographer can really make a difference.

2. Ask an untrained eye which version they prefer out of 2 or 3.

But don’t neglect the feedback you could get from a pair of well-meaning untrained eyes. Oftentimes, they see the same kind of things which your potential clients may see and you should take it into account if you want to seem like a good idea. So whenever you’re editing photos and would like some feedback, save some intermediary versions and ask a good non-photographer friend or one of your parents what they think about them.

3. Try Picasa or a basic contrast editor to train your hand at photo editing.

Speaking of photo editing, you should be careful not to overdo it. It’s true that most raw photos need a little fixing, but one of the best small tips you will ever hear is that less is more. To make sure you learn to do it moderately, start with an editing tool for beginners, like Picasa.

4. Avoid putting the focus/subject in the center of the photo.

Pictures which put the focus or the subject of their portrait right in the center have a decisively amateur air about them. Whatever you do and no matter how much of a beginner you really are or not, try to avoid this mistake. Of course, there’s no need to do the opposite and put the subject of the photo in a corner of it as that would be pretty annoying (unless it’s occasional and for artistic reasons). To get it right, look for an online tutorial about proper photo framing and focusing, you can find a lot of small tips on how to avoid the center in a non-obvious way.

5. Play with the settings as much as possible.

This is another piece of advice which may seem like a cliché to our more advanced users, but keep going out of your comfort zones and play with the settings on your camera as much as possible. There’s a common tendency among many beginner photographers, to finally find a configuration that works for them, save it and use it on every occasion thereafter. Remember what works, of course, but keep searching and trying, and you will soon understand your camera and your settings much better than you thought you did. This way, you will eventually come to a point where you can easily adjust them to the present situation and take the most mind-blowing photos possible. You’ll soon be in the position to offer some small tips to others on how to improve themselves, you’ll see.

Use Your Camera’s Depth of Field Better

The manual settings on your camera, if used right, can lead to far more marvelous photos than those done with the auto settings. It’s really quite unfortunate that most DLSR cameras come today with advanced auto settings, because it enables most users to postpone actually learning a thing or two about what the manual settings actually do and how they can be aligned to work together for perfect results. Don’t be one of those lazy would-be photographers who stick to the predefined options, as that will never lead to better than average photos. One of the first things you should learn to use better is the so-called triangle of camera exposure, composed of ISO, shutter speed and aperture. It can truly make the difference between average photos at best and good photos at least. But after learning more about those basics, the next thing which can influence your final photos for the better is your camera’s depth of field variable, a sub-setting within the aperture setting.

What is the Depth of Field?

The depth of field, usually abbreviated with an f-number, is something directly derived from the aperture of your camera. As a reminder, your camera’s aperture is the size of the hole within the lens, through which light travels to the inside of the camera. Considering that cameras are made following the model of the human eye, you could say that the aperture corresponds to the eye’s pupil, since they serve the same purpose of allowing light in. A bigger camera usually has a larger hole, and a smaller camera usually has a smaller hole. A larger hole equals a bigger aperture, while a smaller hole equals a lower aperture. The aperture of a camera is also expressed through an f number, with a higher number signifying a smaller aperture and vice-versa. This might seem counter-intuitive to some of you, but it can be easier sunk in if you look at this chart (pictured below). The white circles in it represent the size of the lens aperture, while the f numbers written below them illustrate the rule: the larger the number, the smaller the aperture signified will be.


The depth of field is the size of the field that looks sharp in a photograph, and it is directly dependent on the aperture.  A large depth of field number (like f/28) will bring all the foreground and background objects into focus equally, while a smaller number (signifying a larger aperture) will bring only the foreground objects into focus, making the background of the photo appear blurry. A good illustration of this effect can be observed in the picture below. As you might have guessed, this is how those wonderful photos with faded backgrounds are made with, and it is indeed a wonderful effect to use. A skilled manipulation of a camera’s depth of field allows the photographer to emphasize whatever their heart’s desire is within a photo, and to make sure the viewers “see” the same thing the photographer has seen when they look at the image.


Even though a camera’s aperture sounds like more or less of a hardware property, since it depends on the size of the hole and the lens, the aperture can be somewhat manipulated, within a minimum and maximum limit. Each camera comes with these min and max values stated in the manual or in the specifications of your lens, if you bought yours separately from the camera. The depth of field can be thus adjusted by adjusting the camera’s aperture, and you should play with it as often as possible to obtain better or more creative photos on the long run. Don’t be afraid to experiment, after a while you’ll get the feel of it and you’ll be able to employ the depth of field to create beautiful images seamlessly, just by following your gut. Good luck and have fun.

Top Business Books For Photographers To Read Going Into 2012

Every year I read dozens of books. And while I read a variety of different genres, business books tend to be one of the largest. As I was looking back over some of the books I’ve read this year, I decided to put together a small list of books that are perfect for finishing up 2011 with and getting ready to build a strong, successful business in 2012.

How To Market to People Not Like You
By Kelly McDonald
While most marketing gurus argue that you should develop a niched market and target them exclusively, this book will show you how to step outside that box and concentrate on core values rather than demographics. By looking at core values, you can find similar marketplaces in a variety of different places. If increasing your client base in 2012 is a top priority, this may be the book to help you think in different ways.

Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds and Actions
By Guy Kawasaki
I love how Kawasaki writes – story like format that is easy and fun to read. This is a quick read that will help you think of your business and your customers in new ways. Enchantment is the art of influence and persuasion, and how it transforms the relationships all around you. Understand how to change your goals through the use of enchantment and you will quickly get into the hearts and minds of people that could be your biggest fans.

Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed Down World
By Lisa Bloom
While not technically a business book, this book is filled with information on why women are at the top of their game in education and career options, yet still struggle to get past the “looks” obsession. (Plus its a great read for the daughters in your life as well.) With today’s focus on celebrity media, plastic surgery and reality TV, the only way to move forward from here is to Think.

The Thank You Economy
By Gary Vaynerchuk
If you’ve noticed a change in the way people market their products and in the way they  buy, you’re not alone. Today’s world is controlled by a new set of communication rules. If you don’t understand the way people now make decisions, you’ll never succeed at business. This book is a great way to help you start out 2012 in a new way. While it won’t give you a detailed plan for using social media, it will provide a blueprint to why its the only way to succeed in the future.

The Personal MBA
By Josh Kaufman
This book starts with business fundamentals and works forward from there. With a unique look at concepts and skills, its an easy way to pick up the facts you need to succeed and put them into place immediately. It’s a book filled with complex principles written in an easy to read format. Perfect for the person that doesn’t have an MBA, yet really wants to succeed in business.

Evil Plans
By Hugh MacLeod
At first glance this may seem like a strange book to include in my Top Business Books list. It’s a book filled with cartoons. Yet look at its meaning and the message it delivers. This book is a manifesto on creativity, how to find it, and what to do with it to find success within your own small business. It’s a great book to pick up read one or two on a daily basis and really think about how to apply it to your own business model.

Real Time Marketing and PR
By David Meerman Scott
I’ve recommended his previous book, The New Rules of Marketing and PR before; in this follow up you’ll learn more practical steps to take your business into the future using online marketing strategies to your advantage. I love this book as it is filled with real world examples. Pick it up, open it up to any page, and you’ll learn something new you can directly apply to your business today.

If you’re looking at expanding your knowledge of operating a photography business, there are many options out there. While most are geared towards starting a business or becoming better at picture taking, here are a few that can help you understand and build a strong photography studio within the next few months.

The Photographers Blogging Book
30 Ways in 30 Days
Become a Top Wedding Photographer
What Do I Name My Photography Business?

How Do Struggling Photographers Become Successful Photographers?

What would it be like to be a successful photographer?

Maybe you would travel around the world, photographing the most remote places on the planet.

Maybe you would create photo layouts for some of the most successful fashion houses in the world.

Maybe you would photograph celebrity families.

Or maybe you would be content to have a small photo studio, and have hundreds of local clients put you at the top of the list when it comes to a hometown photo studio.

Everyone has a dream; and no one dream is the correct way to success.

Yet in order for every dream to come true, you do need to follow a certain path.

Where Is The Path?

With all of the changes we’ve been experiencing over the past few years, its no wonder people are beginning to wonder if the dream is even possible any more.

  • The average photographer makes $29,440 here in the United States.
  • According to the Bureau of Labor, around 152,000 people listed photography as their profession in 2009.
  • Over 50 percent are listed as self-employed, a much higher percentage than any other occupation.
  • Most are self-educated, meaning they have no formal training. Instead, they rely on self-teaching methods to pick up the skills needed. This includes both photography and business skills.

So when I tell people we’ve consistently made $200k, $300k and more every year, they tend to find it almost unbelievable. Can you REALLY make that much from photography?

Yep. Its possible.

Which is why we started up our Virtual Photography Studio blog back in 2003. We wanted to give back to the community, and offer tips, resources and strategies to the majority of the photographic industry that was just starting out, and really hadn’t found a way to turn their dreams into reality.

A lot has changed over the last 8 years. For instance,

Traditional marketing is all but dead. If you are still paying hundreds of dollars a month for a phone book ad, or paying thousands of dollars to be listed in a bridal magazine, you probably have been questioning your sanity for quite some time.

Online marketing has grown by leaps and bounds. Google has over 31 billion searches every single month. And Facebook has over 39 billion unique page views a month. That adds up to a ton of searching. Which means your clients are there.


The problem is reaching out to them.

Why Marketing Sucks

Marketing is a love/hate relationship. You may hate it, not understand it, and doubt if it will ever work for you. Yet if you don’t focus on it and do it again and again, one thing is for certain: your business will fail.

A great photographer and a lousy marketer will quickly shut their doors.

Yet a great marketer and a lousy photographer will be in business for years.

Why is that?

Because great marketers knows one thing.

They know how to get people to love buying. Not just do it because they have to. They get people excited about the process, wow’d by the experience, and more than anything have a desire to hand over their money happily.

As we continued to build our business, we became better and better at the marketing side. And that made all the difference in the world.

We quickly understood that the easiest way to success is to stand out from the crowd. Don’t do what everyone else is doing. Stay ahead of the pack, and give potential customers something they’ve never seen before.

So we looked at everything we did. If it met those qualifications, we did it. And if it didn’t, we abandoned it.

If You’re Interested In Marketing – Don’t Miss This

During the last hundred years, things have moved rapidly.

I’m sure when phone books were first introduced, having a large ad was cutting edge. Those that took out an ad were almost guaranteed success.

Then magazines and guides came along. I remember when the first bridal magazine was introduced here in Colorado – Colorado Brides. We were one of the first photographers to advertise, and also helped fill the magazine with our images. The business came pouring in because it was cutting edge – nobody else was doing it.

Then the Internet. We were one of the first photography studios to be listed on The Knot. Not only did it bring local business to us, but allowed us to grow our business nationally as well. Very quickly we were getting calls from New York, California, Mexico and even Germany. It was new. It was hot. And it made us stand out from the crowd.

If you are the first to jump at a new opportunity, you’re at the head of the pack. People will automatically find you because you are the originator, an innovator.

But just as quickly as opportunity shines its light, the entire crowd bursts onto the scene, and the opportunity is gone. So while opportunity can be magical, the most important part of an opportunity is being first in line.

As a business coach here at Virtual Photography Studio, that’s what I watch for every day. I watch for the next opportunity. The next magical innovation that allows you to spring forward from your competition, and helps you reach out in a way that makes your clients and prospects say WOW.

And that’s what I’ve found in Mobile Marketing Photography.


The Next Biggest Opportunity

Before I wrap up this blog post, I want to share with you a snapshot of why Mobile Marketing is the next big wave.

Did you know right now, there are over 1.8 billion Internet users on earth, ready to look for you in the online world? Sounds impressive, right.

Nope. What’s even more impressive is there are over 5 billion cell phones currently in use around the world. And because people carry their cell phones with them everywhere, that makes mobile a much bigger force.

If 1.8 billion people access the Internet regularly through a desktop application, imagine what they will do when they can access Internet with their mobile devices. That means you’ll quickly have 3 times the audience. And because that audience will spend much more time with their mobile devices than they ever would sitting behind a desk, you have a huge opportunity just waiting for you.

I was so excited when I started learning about mobile marketing, I quickly implemented this technology into my own business, and have gained multiple clients using this method – this year.

But that doesn’t mean this will last forever. You know how quickly new technology comes on board. And when the masses use this new method, it will quickly become old technology. Back to the “been there, seen that” philosophy.

But for now, it’s brand new and very exciting. If you quickly take it, create a new marketing method with it, and use it to grow your business, you’ll find a ton of customers waiting for you. You’ll be the leader. You’ll be the innovator.

So if you’re ready to make 2011 your year, and you want to be at the front of the pack instead of following behind, this may be your opportunity.

This may be your shot at jumpstarting your business, and seeing how far you can go with it.

It only takes one step. Are you ready to find out what I’ve been using for several months now, and what I know is going to be the turning point for more than  a handful of photographers?


Lori Osterberg

How To Add Creativity Into Your Images

About a year and a half ago, I introduced you to an up and coming photographer, Neil Creek. Back when I first met Neil online, Twitter was a relatively new site, and he was making great headway by offering his MeetHeads concept at local tweetups.

Neil has been busy as ever, and recently created an ebook that is now ready for you to learn from. His ebook, Photo Nuts and Shots: Tools and Techniques for Creative Photography is filled with over 100 pages of guidance and tutorials to help you become better and more creative with your photography.

And for a limited time, you can save 25 percent as part of the early bird special. For only $14.99, what have you got to lose?

Order Photo Nuts and Shots: Tools and Techniques for Creative Photography Today

Selling Your Photography – A Book Review

Is there still a need for assignment photography? Do advertising directors still hire out photographers on a regular basis? Can you really make money selling your photography in the media and editorial venues?

When I picked up this book, those were the first questions that ran through my mind.

I checked the publishing date of Richard Weisgrau’s Selling Your Photography book – published in 2009. Okay, another good sign the information might be relevant to where we stand today. So I sat down and started reading.selling your photography

“The market for publishable photographs is growing faster than ever before. With that growth, the demand for photographs of all types of subjects has increased.”

“Whether you are an amateur or professional photographer, the opportunities to publish your photographs are growing every day.”

Those are Weisgrau’s opening remarks. And it only gets better from there.

Selling Your Photography covers everything from beginning to end. It starts by giving you a market overview – how the current market looks for today’s photographer, and what you can expect if you start out as an advertising, media or corporate photographer. He moves through setting up your business model. And talks at great length about finding your market segments and how to reach out to your target client. He has a great chapter on licensing and pricing, and even provides samples of letters, estimates and licensing agreements for you to follow and use. And ends it by providing online resources that should keep you busy for weeks.

And in between, you’ll gain a ton of useful ideas that make this book a definite for your library if you’re serious about selling your photography.

Selling Your Photography: How to Make Money in New and Traditional Markets
By Richard Weisgrau
215 pages
Published 2009

10 Things I’m Reading About Photography

I surf online a lot. So I thought I’d share with you some of the things I look through – things you might find interesting too.

10. Film … or digital? I posted on this just a few days ago, and found this another interesting read on the same topic. Read Brian Auer’s Is Film Dead? I especially found his poll interesting – 57 percent (at the time I looked at the results) found using film to be a steady or growing trend. Wow.

9. As a photographer you have to put your photos online, right? Why not on a social site.  (I’ll be there soon.) In the mean time, check out this photo of Dubai in the fog.

8. Do you worry about theft of your photos if you put them online? Start with this great post on How Every Flickr Photo Ended Up on Sale This Weekend.

7. If you haven’t had enough on  the theft of photos topic, follow this continuing discussion by Photrade.

6. For an endless list of everything photography, head over to Alltop. Alltop helps you learn all you can about individual topics – like photography.

5. What do you do with all of your digital images while you’re on the road?  Read Peter Carey’s advice for Digital Photo Storage On the Road. I’ll add one other tip. When we traveled for weddings, we would carry plenty of memory cards with us. But if we were going to travel for awhile, we would also burn a set of CD/DVD’s and mail them back to our office. You can also upload them to your backup system, via your laptop.

4. I know everyone has an opinion on Flickr, but you  can’t deny you can find some incredible images there. Take a look at these photos of the Tour de France.

3. So you wanna be a studio photographer? Why not make your own backgrounds. We’ve made a few ourselves in the past, and still use them today for certain shoots. Take a look at How To Make a Background for Studio Photography.

2. If you haven’t seen the Red One, take a look. I’ve been talking about it with a few local photographers lately. (Check out their service policy at the bottom – I love it!)

1. A photo site used to help bring awareness to important issues around the world – how cool. Photography can be so powerful. Take a look at The Homeless Photographer. Then plan on some time browsing through the other images.

Digital Photography Resources and Learning

Digital Photography Resource and Learning Are you overwhelmed and  lost with what digital photography is or what digital photography can do, we found a really cool resource that can help. I know that not everyone knows what “firmware” is or how “lag time” affects your image but you can find out lots of valuable information with this digital photography resource

Here are just  a few items that the site offers:

  • Over 4,000 full-color interactive pages organized into 153 topics.
  • Highly illustrative with thousands of images and animations.
  • Easy to follow step-by-step animated image editing tutorials.
  • Easy to understand basic and advanced practical theory.
  • Selectable learning levels:
    Beginner, Advanced Amateur, Professional.

I was amazed to see and learn more than I thought possible from a digital photography resource.