Why I Don’t Share RAW Image Files

Why I Don’t Share RAW Image Files

Ask any established, professional photographer what is at the top of their of things that make them cringe and I would bet it is when our clients request our RAW files.  In short, my answer is always no and I must admit, it makes me cringe a little bit.  Of course, I sprinkle my “no” with a dash of diplomacy but I am firm in my response.

All high-end professional camera systems like Canons’ 5D Mark III produce images that are the equivalent of unprocessed film.   The information that the camera records for that particular image is embedded in the RAW file.  This gives us photographers the highest quality of images with the most information that we can then play around with in post-production.  This is kind of like having all of the ingredients for making a cake and you can modify whatever you want to your tastes.  Coconut sugar or regular sugar? Vanilla extract or almond?  Wheat or white flour?  Not only that but you can play around with how much of a certain ingredient.  The possibilities are endless.

The opposite of this is shooting in JPG mode.  What happens here is that the camera does it’s own adjustments and processing to the image while also losing a great deal of information.  Now, this is like having that cake already baked and the only way to change the taste is to add something on top like ice-cream or chocolate sauce but you cannot change the flavor of the cake itself without sacrificing quality.

As fantastic as the professional cameras are these days and I say this humbly, they are not as smart as me and not even close to being as smart as my image editing program.  Rather than having the camera make the final decisions about exposure, contrast, saturation and all of those other bells and whistles that happens when you shoot in JPEG mode, shooting in RAW allows us to process the image to our liking without breaking down the technical value inherent in that image.

Here’s the Breakdown:

1.) The processing of the RAW images is a part of my style and vision.  As a commercial photographer, everything I shoot is a representation of my brand.  When letting go of the RAW files to clients there is always the possibility that the images will be edited and reproduced in a way that is contrary to what I would do.  Keeping control of my brand is a must.

2.) I’ve worked super hard to develop relationships with my clients that are built on trust.  I’ve been hired because I’m able to figure out what’s a great shot, what’s not and always deliver what my clients are looking for.  So, when I go through all of the images and cull down the shoot to the best selections, trust me….I picked the best ones.  I’m not holding out.

3.) The Raw files are not the finished product.  Shooting an assignment is only one part of the job.  The other part is when I’m at the computer, essentially my digital dark room.  There are so many variations and adjustments that can be made and each modification caters to that particular image and that specific personality that is featured in the photograph.  Once I have had my time playing with the image, it gets my seal of approval and off it goes to my client as I only release the product once it is complete.

Just to give an idea of some of the tools available for image processing, here’s a partial list from Adobe Photoshop CC 2015.5: temperature, tint, exposure, contrast, highlights, shadows, whites, blacks, clarity, vibrance, saturation, tone curves, sharpening, noise reduction, hue, saturation, luminance, split toning, lens, corrections, dehire, post-crop vignetting, camera calibrations, crop.  Keep in mind, a majority of the tools listed above also have drop-down menus where you can tweak the images even more.  So, it’s quite a bit to work with and much of this can also be tailored to the camera system that was used to create the photograph.

Hope this helps to understand why some of us commercial photographers experience peaks in blood-pressure when asked to share our RAW files.  We put a lot of time, effort and love into each image we produce, from start to finish so with kindness and a little bit of “trust me on this”, I must decline when asked.

Handling “No” Like a Pro

Handling “No” Like a Pro

Sounds exciting, right?  Working for yourself.  Setting your own hours, rates, vacation schedule and of course all of the fantastic assignments that come along as a freelance commercial Photographer.  True, it has been an incredible ride and I can’t imagine doing anything other than this.  However, as many opportunities as this career brings, it also has it’s share of stressful and unpredictable moments.  With so many Photographers trying to make their way into the business, competing for the handful of challenging assignments requires a lot of risk, resourcefulness and of course, there is the rejection.

Over the years, I have put together hundreds of estimates and responded to as many RFP’s that require a dissertation on my skill level, shoe size, favorite color and lists of references that would make the FBI blush.  And maybe, if I am in a groove of sheer luck, I land 50% of what I bid on, but in reality, I would bet it’s more like one out of five.  The loud, resounding “No” that I hear in the virtual world which typically reads “thanks for your time but we have decided to go in another direction” or even worse, complete silence, can be overwhelming but with time and plenty of chances to practice, all of us freelancers that just keep going have learned to constructively deal with rejection by focusing on a few key ideas.

1. Be Gracious and Accomodating

Nobody likes to be the person who has to come back to us with “thanks, but no thanks.”  This certainly can’t be too pleasant of an experience especially when it’s already difficult to choose between a pool of talent that could all most likely exceed expectations.  So, be gracious and accommodating.  Respond in kindness and always let them know that if they need anything in the future, to keep you in mind.  I have had bids rejected only to get a call later that the Photographer they initially hired had dropped out and I was their next choice.  A little karmic kindness goes a long way.

2. Don’t Take it Personally 

Rejection is probably one of the most common things we have to deal with in the Photography industry but the fact that we have been turned down certainly does not mean that our work is lacking.  Probably the easiest way to take it the hardest is when we try to overanalyze.  Most of the reasons as to why our proposals are rejected have nothing to do with us and everything to do with what our clients are looking for.  It could be a budget issue or maybe the style of another Photographer resonated more with the buyer.  It could be any number of reasons as to why we were passed over and typically we never found out exactly why.  Just keep in mind, if you’re not being rejected you’re simply not putting yourself out there enough.

3. Cultivate Your Relationships with Clients

Over the past 15 years I have developed a very solid base of repeat clients who make up the majority of my business, close to 70%.  They are extremely happy with the images produced and comfortable with the rates I offer and I am certainly not the cheapest commercial Photographer in Chicago.  For the new clients, I receive maybe 30-50% of what I bid on and I’m good with that because if I were to be awarded every assignment I ever sent in a proposal for, I’m either too cheap or too charming and most likely it’s not the latter.  So, I make sure to maintain long-term relationships with my repeat clients and always over-deliver on each project, keep them in the loop about the recent assignments I have worked on and drop them a note once in awhile just to say hello.

4. Know that Everyone Gets Rejected and Keep Going

Anytime you put yourself and you’re work out there, you’ll be faced with the risk of rejection.  I can’t think of one person that I admire who hasn’t been in the same boat.  After performing at The Grand Ole Opry, Elvis was told he would be better off going back to his career in Memphis where he was a truck driver.  Albert Einstein was expelled from school.  Socrates was considered an “immoral corrupter of youth” which brought with it his death sentence.  And let’s not forget the first Queen, pre-Beyonce, Oprah Winfrey.  Even she got the boot.  Unable to keep it together as a news reporter when presenting human interest stories, she was eventually fired.

Take a moment, take many moments if needed, breath, and move on because that rejection just brings us closer to where we need to be.

One of my favorite editorial Photographers, Joe McNally who works with top brands such as Nikon and Epson, shared his insightful and encouraging advice:

This is a long and winding road, filled with far more valleys than peaks. One of the greatest talents one can have in this business has nothing to do with visual acumen at the lens. It is about the ability to sustain, to weather the storms, to shoot poorly and still survive a job, to fight out of inevitable creative slumps, to live with all manner of risk that lots of folks would find uncomfortable, to make uncertainty your friend, and to thrive despite sudden curves and happenstance. I guess what I’m describing is tenacity. To love doing this so much that you’ll go through 1000 “no’s” just to hear the one ‘yes.’” 

 

Getting Ready for Your Corporate Portrait

Getting Ready for Your Corporate Portrait

Corporate Portraits. Social Media Pics.  Avatars. Wherever you might plan to use your business headshot, the thing to remember is that you never have a second chance to make a first impression.  But there is no need to stress because with a little preparation, you can easily optimize your photo session and produce stellar results with these simple tips.

CLOTHES

Selecting what to wear is easily the biggest challenge when prepping for your portrait.  The most important thing to remember is that you need to feel comfortable and most like yourself.

MEN

Go with the classic look.  Something timeless. Think navy blue, gray or black and with pops of color in the tie and button down shirt underneath.  Be sure to choose clothing, especially when wearing a suit, that fits well and does not bunch up when you sit down or button it.

For ties, these work well when their tone falls somewhere between the color of the suit jacket and your shirt.  For example, light shirt, dark suit and a tie that’s a shade right in between and don’t forget that pop of color.

If going more casual, the layered look works very well especially when wearing a polo button down as they tend to wrinkle easily.  But if you want to stick with the polo solo, go with a darker color as it adds to the contrast and depth of the photo.

Think simple and avoid heavy patterns, bold stripes, plaids, checks, or distracting colors as they do not photograph well digitally and take attention away from you.

WOMEN

The same classic clothing choice applies as your final portraits should be timeless.  Again, mid and deeper tones such as blue, green, purple and chocolate tend to work best and are very slimming.  Also, if you are light skinned, avoid colors that approximate flesh tones such as beige, tan, peach, pink, white, and yellow. One fail safe tip is to pick a top that accentuates your eyes.

Watch the neckline.  V-necks are great and accentuate features however don’t go too low.  It’s also best to avoid short sleeves and sleeveless tops as bare arms in a corporate portrait can be distracting, taking away attention from your face.  Also, whatever is closest to the camera is accentuated, so if wearing a sleeveless top, the arms tend to look bigger than they actually are.

As for jewelry, again, think small, think classic.  Nothing too decorative as we want to notice you, not your bling.

Examples of patterns and color combinations to avoid.

Chicago-Corporate-Photographer

 

Examples of patterns and color combinations that work.

Chicago-Corporate-Photographer

GLASSES

If you wear your glasses on a daily basis, wear them for your portrait. Don’t worry about whether or not they are reflective, there are plenty of tricks we Photographers use to make sure that’s not an issue.

MAKE-UP

I always bring a make-up kit with me to apply a bit of powder to my portrait subjects, men included,  as we all tend to glow a bit under the lights. This helps to smooth the skin tones and minimize excessive highlights created by the oils in our skin.

Also, I work with several experienced hair and make-up artists who specialize in corporate headshot sessions. Having been trained in print photography, they can work with you to polish your look for your portrait, if the budget allows.

However, if you plan on going it alone, wear what you would normally wear without going to heavy. Take it easy in applying mascara, lipstick and foundation as a close headshot will capture any mistakes you may have made. The key is to highlight your features subtly.

Worried about a little blemish? Fret not, we have the magic of Photoshop and you can check out a few retouching examples by clicking here.

HAIR

If you are planning to get a trim, do so a week or so before the shoot. A color? At least two weeks before your portrait session as newly colored hair tends to look a little overly vibrant so with a couple of weeks of shampooing, the look will be more natural.

Gentlemen, beards should be well groomed and if you’re going clean-shaven, make sure you had a decent shave that morning of your session.

JUST A FEW MORE THINGS

When shooting against a backdrop, you’ll want to get a heads-up on what color it is. The current trend is shooting against white or shades of grey. So, when putting your look together, go for the outfit that creates the greatest contrast with that backdrop and accentuates your best features. For example, if your portrait Photographer will be using a dark grey backdrop, you may want to go with a blue, chocolate or black suit as opposed to grey so that you stand out from the background.

And the last thought…..I admit, I am not a fan of having my photo taken so I totally empathize if you too, are not a fan. But there really is no need to worry as it does not need to be a painful experience. In fact, the key is to make it fun and how we approach this together is probably the most important factor in making a professional, approachable, authoritative and authentic portrait. So, just run with the tips provided and then you can relax and let us work our magic!

The Top 10 Things They Won’t Teach You In Photo School

The Top 10 Things They Won’t Teach You In Photo School

When I was going to school for Photography I already had a bachelors degree, was employed full-time in a completely unrelated field and was taking a few classes to keep myself busy and hopefully out of trouble.  So when I lost my job in the midst of that, I had the bright idea to stay in Photo school and pursue my new and improved career: Tori Soper-Commercial Photographer.  Well, that didn’t last very long as the more time and money I spent on being educated in the classroom the less I felt that I was learning about the practical side of photography.  How many times did I need to answer the question “what does the absence of green in this photograph mean to you?”

When most people are in the midst of cementing their career path, I started off on a new one as a Photographers’ Assistant to anyone who would have me.  The tasks ranged from picking up lunch, running film back and forth to the lab (yes, film), processing in the darkroom and more hours than I care to count that consisted of standing around waiting for something to happen.  But that was the beginning of a real, concrete, oh my-is this what it’s really like? learning curve which I’m still riding 15 years later.

In honor of my brief stay in Photo school and also in support of the many photo students who have come to me with questions as well as Assistants who are in need of advice, I say heads’ up, here’s a few things that they never taught you in school.  Commit this to memory.

1.  Find Your Niche

When I first started moving away from Assisting and into shooting full-time, I was happy to shoot anything and so I did.  From food to fashion, portraits to pets, you name it,  I did it.  And this served me well at the time as I needed the experience and more importantly, the cash.  However, you can’t be everything to everyone and I have yet to find a Photographer who excels in every specialty.  Do one maybe two things and do them well.  If it’s people you want to photograph, excellent!  Then ask yourself: photojournalism, editorial, corporate, advertising?  There are so many options to pick from that specializing should not be seen as limiting yourself but mastering a skill that you can evolve with.

2.  The Language of the Law

One of the things that intimidated more than anything when I first started out was the language of estimates, invoicing, usage terms and copyright.  There are many nuances to creating a rock-solid estimate that can hold up to question and the key is to simply know what you’re talking about, understand what your client is talking about and make sure you have the paperwork to back this up.  This is incredibly important when providing photography on a business to business level as our clients may not know the lingo and it’s our job as their provider to fill them in on the details.  So, never leave anything to question and make sure you get it on paper.  For more information on commercial photography usage terms, check out this out. 

3. Do the Hustle

Especially when first starting out, you’ll have to be ready to move quickly, be somewhat of a Renaissance man and be prepared to hustle because at any given point, you’ll be doing the job of at least ten people at once.  If I had to post a job description to fill my own position it would go something like this: “Currently recruiting for an Administrative Assistant, Web Designer, Marketing Director, Accountant, Digital Tech, Telemarketer, Blogger, Envelope Stuffer, Janitor and Dog-Walker.  The faint of heart need not apply.”  Yes, there are days that are chill and move at a normal pace but then there are days that are filled with a little bit of everything from shooting to post-production, keeping up with invoicing and of course, my little boy Charlie doesn’t understand that I’m on a deadline and he does love and need his afternoon walks.  Just know, it’s not all all about clicking that shutter, in fact that’s just a very small part of this business.  Be ready to wear many hats.

4. Stick With The Tried and True

Photo gear is cool because deep down inside all of us Photographers are technology geeks at heart.  However, stick with what works.  Just because the new camera has all of the bells and whistles doesn’t mean it’s going to make you any better as a Photographer.  It’s you, your work and your sparkling personality (not the camera) that your clients are interested in.  So, instead of checking out the photo items for sale on  Ebay every morning with your cup of jo, check out other peoples’ work that inspires you, replicate it with the tried and true equipment you have and save your money.  Expect more from yourself than you do of your equipment.

5. It’s Not You, It’s Me

So says our clients.  Humility goes along way.  Yes, self-esteem is a wonderful thing but just remember it’s not about you, it’s about your client.  They hired you because you have work that proves to be consistent with their style and their vision so the key is to marry what you can bring to the table with what your clients need to see in the final product.  It’s a very fine balancing act in that you  have that creative energy that begs to be expressed but always make sure that this drive ultimately illustrates the ideas that your clients came to you to put into a photograph.  Of course experiment and of course offer up ideas, just remember yours is just one of the voices in the room.

6. Staying Creative While in a Slump

This is a toughie.  December rolls around and then here comes January and I haven’t picked up my camera as regularly as I normally do in what seems like forever.  It happens like this every year…I feel like I’m in a slump.  Well, thankfully you don’t have to go far to get motivated.  One of the things that works for me is to go through my portfolio pieces and consider how I may have lit things differently, how I could have enhanced the images more in camera.  This brings me into playing with new lighting concepts which I then start to incorporate as soon as the work does start rolling in.  Over the last several assignments, I have completely altered the way I am lighting my editorial subjects and though I do like the images, being better was not necessarily my first priority….being different from my norm was and in turn I think these past few shoots have resulted in even stronger photographs.

7.  Don’t Get Too Comfortable

If you can drag yourself over to the library for a good chuckle, check out some magazines issued 10 years ago even 5 years ago.  There’s a huge difference in style, in the light, even in the predominant colors.  Way back when, it was crucial to have everything in focus whereas the in thing these days is a very shallow depth of field.  The industry changes so incredibly quickly that although you might find your niche, it’s best not to get too comfortable as what works today won’t necessarily be what’s going to work tomorrow.

8. You’ll Make Mistakes and You’ll Live

Ok, this is so elementary but when you are the one making the mistakes it feels like the world will spin off its’ axis, you will never work in the field of photography again and you’ll probably need to sell your house, car, camera and so on.  But alas, that would be a very limited perspective because if you’re not making mistakes you’re not pushing yourself, you’re just not trying hard enough.  The road to excellence is not paved by perfection.  Instead, that path mostly consists of blunders, screw-ups, rejection, mistakes and a boatload of persistence.  Not to mention aiming for perfection makes you a little bitter and incredibly hard to work with.  So, chill because perfection is not the key here, endurance is.  Which leads me to…

9. Rejection is Way Better than Ambivalence

There are more ups than downs in the field of Photography.  You’ll hear more of “no” than you ever will “yes.”  One of the best things you can do for yourself is learn how to handle, survive and succeed though the valleys as well as you embrace the peaks.  Perspective has a lot to do with it for me.  Consider this, I maybe get every one of five assignments from clients that  I have never worked with before.  That’s about a closing rate of 20%.  Seems pretty shabby.  But what would that mean if I was closing 100%?  Does that mean I’m the cheapest Photographer on the block?  That’s not what I’m shooting for and neither should anyone else in this industry. Besides, at least with rejection we are on the radar, we are relevant…it is ambivalence on the part of the potential audience that should be more of a concern.  So, steady on, the greatest thing you can do for yourself as a freelancer is learn how to ride the waves through patience and persistence.

10. Value Your Work

How can you quantify in a dollar amount the value of what you produce?  Consider this, with the predominance of social media we are seeing a rise in visual content marketing which uses images rather than words to communicate about a businesses’ product and services.  And why are graphics being used more than ever?   Because our brains can process images waaaay faster, actually 60,000 times faster than text.  In creating these images, we are telling stories that our incredibly busy and equally distracted culture can absorb, remember and ultimately be influenced by.

Excellent images are story tellers and consequently money makers.  So, yes, know your competition, know your cost of doing business but also always keep in mind, that a picture is worth 60,000 words.  Once  you have that committed to memory, you will always be compelled to value your work.

Wrapping-Up.  Bring it on 2015!

Wrapping-Up. Bring it on 2015!

This past year was beyond pretty good to Tori Soper Photography.  We (when I say we, I mean everyone that helps me make this possible including my trusted Assistant Whitney, my better half who keeps me caffeinated and of course Charlie Parker, my four-legged companion who is excellent company during the long hours of post-production) managed to stay consistently busy and completely out of trouble which is quite an endeavor.  There were  several larger projects for both new and returning clients that included everything from environmental portrait cover shoots and corporate lifestyle assignments along with a handful of larger conventions over at McCormick Place and I got back to doing some on-location product photography which admittedly I have missed doing.

As the year comes to a close it does get quiet and this brings with it a much appreciated breather and just enough time to consider the invaluable changes made over the past year and how I want to move into and position myself for the following year.  A few key ingredients of this years’ successes evolved from both the actual photography itself as well as what goes on behind the scenes to make sure the phone keeps ringing and the inquiries keep coming.

It can be incredibly easy to fall into and rely on a formulaic approach for creating environmental and corporate portraits and of course it can work for all purposes, cash flow, client satisfaction, etc. but at some point the style needs to evolve.  And I am at that point.  I consider my work to be clean, approachable, somewhat still and almost classic  but I would like to push it and experiment even more.  We started doing this a few months back  with more varied lighting and utilizing available light, incorporating candid portraits with the subjects looking off camera and shooting outdoors.  I want to get those shots that make the viewer feel that they are seeing this person in the photo as they are, not as I want to present them.

One of the keys to approaching this is having the flexibility to shoot in whatever location we want with access to power not being an issue.  I have done many a location scout searching for the best environments to set-up for our assignments and spend as much time looking for outlets as I do scouting the scene.  But not anymore.  I finally found a reliable solution to powering our equipment that does not weigh as much as a small child and packs more than enough power.  These 3.5 lb battery packs from Photogenic have proven to be worth every penny and have completely opened up our options.  Outdoors?  No problem.  Wasting time taping down cords with an excessive amount of gaffers tape?  Not anymore.  Now we have the mobility and the freedom to shoot anyone, anywhere.

Chicago Commercial Photographer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chicago Commercial Photographer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And of course, there is the business end of things.  The joy of my life that is e-mail blasts, marketing calls and postcard mailers that I have been outsourcing is all being brought back in-house as I love devoting my time to this.  As the saying goes “half the money I spend on marketing is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”  So, rather than outsourcing, I may as well give it a go on my own as I have a feeling I may very well know what I am doing at this point.  The e-mail blasts, postcards and PDF portfolios have been given a refresh along with the website which will have several new images to show as of the new year.  The list of potential clients that I believe my work is a solid match for is made and the schpeel is a-go.  Now it’s time to get this all on the schedule so in most cases it’s just a matter of pressing send and making a run to the post office.  The key here is make small blocks of time devoted to the rest: social media, blogging (which I kinda love) and the phone calls and attempt not to overwhelm myself by over-committing.

And finally, whether it is this coming year or 10 years down the line, the commitment that I will always carry along with me from year to year is the objective of never giving my clients a reason to worry and the promise to make my work consistently ambitious.