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Georgia photographer, Judith Ann, was lucky (and talented!) enough to earn a merit on her first time entering PPA photographic competition. In this guest blog, she shares the funny story behind her merit image and an afterword with her thoughts following the International Photographic Competition (IPC).

 

Dog Gone, I Received a Merit!

By Judith Ann

A lack of communication and poor note taking almost cost me a very important session last year. I'll tell you upfront, the good news is everything turned out better than planned. Pardon the puns, but it caused me to dig deeper into my artsy side when I realized I had been barking up the wrong tree for most of my morning.  

The day started off like a typical morning at my studio, beginning with a review of appointments, ordering sessions and events to help my day flow smoothly for the next eight hours. I have always prided myself on my ability to plan and custom fit each client's session based on their requests. This particular time, my daily calendar informed me I had a pet session scheduled for 10 a.m. My assistant had booked the appointment the day before and the details were sparse. So bright and early I got my chain rattled and had to react quickly to this situation.

The notes said, "English Bulldog/pet picture" and being comfortable with dogs I believed for a hot minute that this would be an easy session--that is until I got up from the computer and started walking to my shoot room. My assistant appeared suddenly and filled in the details about my soon-to-arrive client. The client recently added a "man room" to her home--thus the need for the bulldog portrait for the wall.

"Really?" I asked excitedly. Then she said the portrait was to be based upon the poker playing dogs. I stopped walking.

"Huh? What are poker playing dogs?"

My assistant gave me the look that only the younger generation can give as if to You gotta be kidding me! Have you been living in the dark ages!  "Like, they're everywhere" she said, "I'll show you."

I must have had the dumbest look on my face realizing I was totally unprepared for this session while I stared into a computer screen to see bulldogs playing cards, smoking cigars and looking generally illegal.  

"How old is her dog?" I asked.

"I believe it's a puppy."

 What da' what?

Soon after I heard a car door close and a barking dog headed my way--my moment of truth had arrived. The only thing I had going for me was the fact that this client was a regular customer who trusted me with her family portraits for years, at least up until this point. The studio door cracked opened and the tip of a furry nose nuzzled through and the wrinkly bulldog puppy came barking, jumping and running straight into my lobby.  

I stood there dazed and confused and in my squirreliest­ voice said, "Hi Jennifer!"  

Jennifer gave me a curious smile and said, "What's up?"

"I just realized I don't have a deck of cards," I said. "Would you mind leaving your puppy with me and running over to the store to get a pack while I get the lights set?"

Ha! lights set? How about trying to pull off the fastest-built set in 15 minutes flat?

She agreed and when I heard her car start up I sprang into action. The puppy was left to run around the lobby while I began to think...

My son-in-law was in the studio the day prior drinking the brown, old-fashioned root beer glass bottles. I dug through my trash and apprehended two bottles from the bottom of the garbage can. Yes! Close enough to a beer bottle and now I need a cigar and I think I have one from the proud parent of a baby boy! I hope this pup won't eat my only cigar!

Some further hunting around the studio produced an antique checker board with chips, an old camera and a quick hand dive into my purse brought up some change and dollar bills to hopefully round out the set. We cleared off a side table from the lobby, moved it into the shoot room and carefully arranged the newfound items. Jennifer returned with the fresh deck of cards and it was time to put our puppy to the test.

PPA_Blog_Dog.jpg

We placed our furry little friend on the table and he curiously looked left, right, up and down and in a split second scooped the cigar into his mouth and brought his head up into the cutest pose. Click. The image was captured in the blink of a (puppy's) eye!

(Side note: The puppy was not harmed in any way in the capturing of this image. As a matter of fact he enjoyed all the attention. The cigar was not lit--we created the smoke and red ash in post-processing.)

My assistant and I discussed better communication techniques through more detailed note taking and a big HEADS UP on unique session requests. As a bonus, we have had several clients request that particular image as artwork for their home.

In this, my first year of PPA image competition, I included "Hold 'Em Ace," and was pleased to earn a merit seal at my state (Georgia PPA) and district (Southeast) competitions I'm excited to hear the results from the IPC! My fingers are crossed on being chosen for the Loan Collection.  

 

Afterword:

It's official! I've come full circle in completing my first year of competition. I entered the same four images from start to finish (GPPAàSEPPAàIPC) and am excited to say that three of the four images merited! After I received my judge's critiques from the GPPA/SEPPA level, I made some adjustments on three of my four images. "Hold 'Em Ace" had already sealed and I was told you NEVER break the seal once you merit.

My judge's critiques helped me see her perspective on how I could improve my images and I was mostly happy to make the suggested changes. I have to admit I did take a little offense on my critique of "Bonny Boy." The judge made mention on my child's sausage fingers on the bike handle, I took it personally because, to me most children have little sausage fingers. After growling about the comment for several days, I took another look at those baby sausage fingers and began to see why the judge had pointed them out.

I agreed that maybe they were standing out more than they should, so I took my burn tool and ever so slightly browned those little sausages. My images went from being what I considered really good prints to great images with just a few small changes. As a suggestion, don't take the judges' comments to heart--they are there to help you become an even better photographer.  

I was glad I took the time to compete and successfully survived entering into a whole new world. I bet you have already guessed about how I feel about next year, that's right, I'm thinking about conjuring up brand-new ideas that will hopefully earn more merits. It's a win, win situation that will benefit my clients. My final thought is that being able to resource a judge with years of experience, compete with your fellow photographer peers in the industry is bringing me closer to my goal: award-winning photographer, Judith Ann, M.Photog. (master photographer).

 

Each year at the International Photographic Competition (IPC), a panel of jurors votes on whether or not an entry will earn a merit based on the 12 elements of a merit image (read more about the elements on PPA.com). Why are merits important? Well, they're needed for you to earn your PPA degree, showing your dedication to professional photography. Beyond that, earning a merit at IPC is a sign that your image-making skills are improving, which can only help to improve your business! 

Once the jurors determine if an image deserves a merit, the next step is to take any merited images and decide if they become part of PPA's loan collection. Only a small percentage of all the entries to the IPC become part of the loan collection, so it's definitely a big achievement! Loan collection images are exhibited at Imaging USA in the International Photographic Exhibit. The Photographer of the Year awards are also determined by the IPC results, and the winners are recognized at the Award & Degree ceremony held during Imaging USA.

To show you how some past loan images were created, we'll be sharing some images from PPA's loan collection and how the photographer created them. This is "Bandit" by Mona Sadler. M.Photog., CPP, owner of Coastal Pet Portraits in Alliance, N.C. (coastalpetportraits.com)


Mona created "Bandit" during a pet photo special on behalf of Spay Today, an organization that provides free pet spaying. 

"The look on the dog's face was as special as he is," says Sadler. "His owner suffers from MS, and he is a certified service dog. Although living with pain and disability, she and Bandit
give to others." 

1066-1.jpgCAMERA & LENS: Canon EOS 5D camera; Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L
USM lens shot at 100mm
EXPOSURE: 1/200 second at f/8, ISO 200.
LIGHTING: Two Photogenic PowerLights, a 2500DR and a 1500SL, modified
by a 3x4 Aurora soft box and an Aurora Lite Bank; a Larson reflector
bounced in fill light
POST-CAPTURE: Says Mona, "Bandit was being held by his owner when I took
the photo. I painted her out and let the background go white. The painting was
done first in Photoshop then finished in Corel Painter to add texture and brush
strokes. It was my goal to make the portrait look very classical, soft and tender."

Stay tuned for more loan images and the stories behind them. In the meantime, you can view the 2013 results on PPA.com. Plus, look for an online gallery of IPC images coming to PPA.com soon! 

And don't forget to stop by the International Photographic Exhibit at Imaging USA in Phoenix January 12 - 14, 2014 to see loan images from this year's IPC in person. 

IMAGE © Mona Sadler

petty_pet_1.jpgOur pets are adorable, but it's rather hard to capture that adorableness in the camera, even if you're a pro. So how do you light, pose and work with Fido?

Photographers must figure out the best ways to get the shots that pet parents pay the big bucks for. That's why PPA spoke with three of our pet photographer members - Sarah Petty, Teresa Berg and Leesia Teh - to get their advice on what pet images sell the best and how to capture them. PPA members can read the full article now.

IMAGE © SARAH PETTY PHOTOGRAPHY
winslow_ppatoday_1.JPGBaby and child portraits are the bread and butter for many portrait studios, but are they right for you? This work requires a certain personality, a HIGH level of patience and a good understanding of the marketplace, among other things. To gain some insider insights, we talked to two well-established child portrait artists--Kimberly Wylie, M.Photog., of Dallas, TX, and Laura Winslow of Gilbert, AZ--about what it takes to rise above the fray.

Read the interview with Wylie and Winslow here.


IMAGE © LAURA WINSLOW PHOTOGRAPHY

Hakamaki_David.JPGLocation, location, location. It's a mantra of real estate agents, but it applies to many other types of businesses. Photographers in very rural areas, for example, can have more difficulties in building a client base than urban/suburban photographers. However, David Hakamaki of Cutting Edge Photography has found a way to turn those rural, small-town challenges into opportunities.

David turned his studio in Iron Mountain, Michigan--with a population of only 7,500 and the closest city 70 miles away--into a hot spot for a variety of clients. It took trial and error and a business mind, but his studio has exploded in growth and profits over the last 10 years.

Read the full article here.

tibbilis_headshot_2012.JPGPhotography can go from passionate pastime to career choice if handled correctly. Michelle Tibbils of Bugs and Butterflies Photography in California knows that well. Always focused on evolving and the best business practices, she learned to juggle art with business structure, time with her clients and time with her family.

"There's not one perfect way to run a photography business, but you can perfect your way...as long as it is right for you," adds Michelle. So what helped her find her way?

Choosing Her Path
"It's not a unique story," Michelle says. "Same as so many mothers, I fell in love with taking portraits once my first child was born." Photographing her son helped her realize how much she liked creating images of children, so she started taking photos of the other children in her extended family. "They'd put the images on their walls, and then their friends started asking if I could photograph their children."

While on maternity leave with her second child, she decided that if she was going to stay in the working world, she wanted to love what she was doing for a living. She returned to her then-current employer (a software company) as expected when her maternity leave was up. However, she began to envision starting a small, part-time photography business. 

Read the full article.


tibbils_image_2012.jpg
Image © Bugs and Butterflies Photography
About 15 years ago, Beth Forester, M.Photog.Cr., CPP, created a part-time home studio in Madison, W.V., to explore her interest in the art of photography. Today, she juggles Forester Photography--which has cornered the senior portrait market in her area and moved into a modern downtown facility--and photoDUDs, a drag-and-drop design software company for photographers. She's happy, profitable and doing what she loves.

But how did she navigate those difficult early years and keep growing? "I think the key to my success is that I'm always looking ahead," says Beth.

Growth of a Business
Like most, Beth's photography business grew in stages. Rarely does anyone decide to become a photographer and--bam!--start up a smoothly running full-time studio the next day. There are hard decisions to be made and, more often than not, the business you start out with will change significantly.

For example, Beth's photographic passion increased with her daughter's birth. But photography (especially film, which she started in) is not cheap, and she needed to support her hobby somehow! That led her to take on small jobs and charge for them. She even taught tennis lessons for an entire summer, just to buy the medium-format camera she wanted!

Later, at a crossroads in her life, Beth needed a job, needed to support herself. She looked at her history degree and wondered if she should teach. Then she looked at her photography again. More and more people wanted to hire her...could she do this full time? Beth decided on the photography path, but within a year and a half, she realized she had to change a lot of things if she was going to do more than pay her bills.

Read the full profile of Beth Forester.
How many of you know a photographer who got into the business as a career change? Chances are, we all know someone like that (and it might even be yourself!). It doesn't matter where you come from; what matters is where you go with your photography in the end. Does it remain a hobby, does it take over your life, or can you balance it as a career you love?

Jen Basford of 3 girls photography in Edmond, Okla., went through a successful career change herself, and she knows the importance of getting your photography business established the right way (for you).

Making the Change

Jen had no photographic aspirations in school--she wanted to be an astronaut! That lasted about two weeks into her college career, though, which was how long it took to get her major changed. She ended up earning an MBA and working for Accenture. After several moves and her second daughter's birth, Jen's interest in photography was born.

"I didn't have any intentions of making a business out of photography, but I did want to learn how to do things right," she admits. Her MBA experience led her to study photography through courses and workshops...and to join PPA in 2005, way before she went into business as a photographer.

"I knew through business school that belonging to professional organizations was important in whatever profession you chose," Jen explains. "So, I searched out national photography associations and immediately joined PPA as a student."

Read the full article here.
wildes_carrie_2012.JPGOn a 2004 mission trip to the Philippines, Carrie Wildes was dubbed the "official photographer" because she was the only one with a nice camera. But she had skills, as her fellow travelers soon saw. Back in Chicago, Carrie Wildes struck up a conversation with a studio owner about an apprenticeship. She started assisting at weddings on weekends, while sticking with her "real" job--an industrial engineer in the pharmaceutical industry--as her passion for photography grew.

Building It the SMS Way
Carrie was still doing wedding photography part time when her husband was transferred to Florida in 2007. The move was the catalyst for asking herself if she could make a decent living as a photographer.

"Then, one of my friends gave me the Professional Photographer magazine subscription as a gift, and I was hooked," Carrie notes, saying she joined PPA shortly afterwards. She knew there were (and are!) so many photography businesses out there--some successful, some not so much--and she wanted to avoid the pitfalls and learn from best practices.

She was hard-nosed about the money, too. "Being a photographer is wonderful, but I was making good money already and didn't want to go backward financially."

So, she talked her way into PPA's Studio Management Services (SMS) Business Breakthroughs workshop to figure out her plan. "I didn't meet one of the qualifications for the class, but they made an exception for my work experience and it was exactly what I needed. SMS helped me apply all the things I already knew about business to studio management, and they taught me everything I didn't know about wedding photography."

Most importantly, SMS mentors helped Carrie build a sales and financial plan that convinced her she could make a go of it as a full-time photographer. 

Read the full article here.


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