Friday, September 11, 2015

I've Never Met Jeff...

I think I've bought three Fuji cameras and I have no idea how many lenses from Jeff. I guess he is the only Canadian dealer I buy from now. He's a no nonsense salesman at Photocreative in Mississauga Ontario. We have never met in person, all of our dealings have been phone or email. A good guy to know.

I'm not sure why, but he seems to have some pull with Fujifilm Canada. He always has the best prices and is able to get the latest Fuji equipment faster than anyone else. Maybe he sells Fuji in volume and is on their A List, I don't know.

What impressed me right from the start was his knowledge and honesty about Fuji products. The kind of salesman you just don't find at places like Henry's.

For me Jeff's an old school salesman, knows his stuff, always up on the latest industry rumors and test reports, never let's you down. He always tries to sell me small add-ons like memory cards, filters and the usual. Almost never works on me, although he did recommend a used Vertical Battery Grip VG-XT1 that he had in stock; "really good price" he said "try it and if you don't like it I'll take it back." Jeff was right, it made the XT-1 fit better in my hand and the extra battery power is always useful. 

I have no financial connections with Jeff, so this recommendation is real. If you are a Fuji nut like me I suggest you at least talk to Jeff Chevrier at Photocreative.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Not a Review of the FUJINON LENS XF90mmF2 R LM WR

Nope, this is not a review but some some first impressions of the new Fuji 90mm f2.0.
Love it!

Freaked out a little when I heard a thump rattle when I moved the lens in my hand but some quick Googling assured me this was normal. The have a new magnetic system that makes it focus crazy fast. I have no idea how magnets help it focus but it definitely does focus fast (a pet peeve of mine in some previous Fuji lenses).

I was nervous about buying this, I mean I have the 56mm f1.2 and that has been my #1 go to studio lens (Equivalent of about 85mm on a 35mm format) but this new 90mm is the equivalent of 137mm on a 35mm format. Too long for my little studio... nope. Perfect for head shots and half lengths, and I do a lot of those.

With my lovable 56mm I felt I was almost climbing on top of someone to get a tight head shot.  The 90mm gives me a more comfortable working distance.

But forget all that.... 

Here's the thing. Shallow depth of field, so critical for portraiture. My background is even more out of focus than my 56mm was giving me. I have been finding lots of creative ways to cut the power on my White Lightning 800's, just too powerful for studio lights for my tastes . So I have to put them on minimum power, insert baffles, and have diffusion material stuffed inside the soft-boxes.
I mean only crazy people shoot at f8 or 5.6 right, unless it's a group shot. Eyes in focus ears slightly soft is my goal on a tight head shot.

I stumbled on an old 62mm HOYA ND X4 filter that allows me to shoot in studio, with flashes at f2. Yup, incredible. Disappointed to report that the HOYA ND is not truly Neutral. I have programmed a separate custom white balance setting so when my NDx4 is attached it compensates for the slight tint shift.

This 90mm lens is super sharp wide open, crisp and focuses fast. It gives me the soft background I crave. I'm an old school Mamiya RB67 150mm Soft Focus lens trained photographer. Soft backgrounds, out of focus highlights (bokeh) is the look I love. But lost to me since I went digital, until now. 

Sorry to report that is, like the 56mm the 90mm does not come with Image Stabilization.  Their logic is that it's a fast lens so you get to shoot at higher speeds speeds. My logic is I shoot the faster lenses in low light conditions so the image stabilization is important to me so I can be tripod free. Oh Fuji, when will you ever learn? Your electronic design people turn out the best colours, clarity, exposure and sharpness out there. But you are not photographers, you need guys like me to help you with the practical how it works in your hands part.

Hey Fuji what's the deal with the fake lens case, a bag? really? a piece of cloth with a half pocket in it. $1000 for a lens and no case? Oh well, that's why they invented eBay. My super protective $1.25 neoprene pouch case is on the way to me from China as we speak. All of my Fuji lenses have their own $1.25 cases. 

In short (yup too late) LOVE IT LOVE IT My new favorite everyday lens. In my 35 years I don't think I've own a lens that thrills me as much. I have high hopes for you 90mm f2.

And a terrific 2 week early 60th birthday gift to myself. Happy Birthday Robin, hope you like your gift.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Wedding Clue That Never Failed Me

I was quick to notice this small clue that would instantly tell me whether or not a bride would spend big on her wedding photos. This never failed me, not once in the 25 years I was booking and shooting weddings.

The size of her ring always told me in advance if she would buy my biggest package, and also buy lots of extras after the wedding.The bigger the diamond the bigger the sale. .

I never did figure if it was for the obvious reason... they had money. Or if they were just very visually oriented. I never figured that out, I just knew spotting a big diamond engagement ring meant a big sale for me.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Camera Does Not a Photographer Make

It took me 35 years in this business to realize that the art of photography has little to do with the camera.

Nikon, Canon or whatever you have doesn't really matter.

Learning to see, finding a creative angle, making people comfortable and "genuine" has much more to do with it than the right camera or the right lens. The subject and the way you portray it or them is the part that makes you a "Photographer".

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Swamped? You Must Be Doing Something Wrong.

I was talking to another professional photographer last month, she said she "was swamped with work". My immediate thought was wow she must be doing something wrong.

The idea that you are stressed by getting too much work, kind of spoiled the whole "do what you love" philosophy.

I am happy to say I work exactly as much as I want to. And I enjoy a nice balanced stress free life.

Based on the quality of your work and your level of service the buying public knows to the dollar how much you should be charging. Assuming you don't want to be working seven days a week or one day a week, if you are "swamped" you need to really consider raising your prices. If business is slow, your prices are probably too high for the quality of work you are doing compared to your competition. The obvious two choices are: get better, or lower your prices to increase sales volume.

Do you want to be run off your feet with work, probably not. Do you want to be just scraping by, probably not.

For me it's all about finding your balance, deciding how much you want to work, how much time you want to spend at the park, with the family, with friends, going to lunch or pursuing other favorite activities.

Remember the whole point of working for yourself is freedom. You decide how much you want to work, how much money to make and how many days off and how many holidays you will take.

When I was younger every weekend was spent doing weddings, evenings talking to clients, daytime assembling orders. It cost me a lot of family time and social opportunities. In this business trying to "do it all" is not the wisest move.

When it comes to pricing, always be testing different prices and packaging. Taking the easy way out and copying another photographers prices is usually a disaster. Their needs, their expenses or their goals will be different than yours.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

We Professional Photographers are a Clever Bunch

Well I spent much of my day revamping one of my websites. Yup I can do that, I'm no web expert but I got it done, it works and looks good.

Did some portraits, relaxed a couple with some humour and small talk, retouched some images in Photoshop, gave a great sales pitch (she booked), and worked on my taxes.

We professional photographers do pick up an odd combination of skills along the way don't we. I'm kind of proud of my profession for that.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Old Lenses For New

Age has taken me from a wedding photographer to a portrait photographer. "Photography is a young man's (or woman's) game" another photographer once told me.

Over the last few years I have been selling off my wedding equipment and upgrading my portrait equipment. Replacing things like zoom lenses with the faster, clearer, sharper and higher "bokeh" making primes.

Now I'm all obsessed to buy the brand spanking new Fuji 90mm f/2.0 I have the 56mm f/1.2 and love it. Crazy sharp, super shallow DOF but I feel I have to almost climb on top of someone to get a tight head shot. So logic tells me the 90mm should do the trick.

Anyway the $1099 price tag... although probably justified is a little more than I could justify (I mean Hey, I could go to Japan for $1099). So I look in the studio cabinet and see not one but three zooms I very seldom use anymore. So they are off to eBay. The first one sold last night while I slept for $500.

I'm no stranger to eBay, back in February 2002(?) when I decided to go fully digital I sold off my film cameras for US$6000+. That really helped pay my winter bills, took us to the beaches of Cuba and bought me new studio lights.

I suspect most photographers love lenses just like ladies love shoes, we love them and collect them. So when you "need to" buy a new lens or more equipment see what you can get rid of first.

One thing I have found, as equipment and technology changes so quick in this business your equipment loses value quickly when it comes to reselling it. If you have equipment that is just gathering dust, sell it now!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Learning Wedding Photography From The Best... For Free

I love to learn, all the secrets, tips and tricks of this business. Even as a multi award winning professional wedding photographer often whenever I discovered I was free on the occasional Saturday I would phone up another local excellent wedding photographer and volunteer to assist them on a wedding. I would tell them if it was OK with them just to call their current wedding assistant, offer them the day off with full pay and I would take their place. I would work for free of course, a great learning experience for me.

Technical is technical of course and we all do that about the same way. But it was looking over their shoulder to study their posing, how to deal with clients, how to really connect them, how to deal with problems and how to make my life easier that I was interested in learning.

One of the first photographers I assisted was Guy Martin. A great photographer with a style that incorporated much more flair than mine. If memory serves Guy did a lot of shooting with a step stool, for a different, higher angle, giving a more flattering look to his brides. Guy also had a cooler in his trunk, full of soft drinks and water. Just to refresh the wedding party during the photos in the park.
He also carried a couple of clean white hand towels we would use to wipe the sweat from our faces. Ottawa summers can be hot and it was such a simple idea.  I have carried a towel in my car ever since.
He also brought along a fresh clean shirt to change in to after the park photos, before the reception.

Another photographer I assisted was Jérôme Scullino, without a doubt one of the most artist photographers I know. The wedding I assisted on was interesting to say the least, without going in to details one of the main wedding characters was either high or had real mental problems. The stress level was very high but Jérôme just rolled with it and was still able to turn out great photos in spite of the almost no win situation. Turning out stunning artistic photos was goal number one for him and no matter what the situation or what he had to do including removing his shirt and laying it on the ground so the bride could sit on it without getting her dress dirty. He was relentless in his pursuit of unique photos, unique angles, a real inspiration to watch.
All this in spite of the fact he was sick as a dog that day, very happy to have me along to help and drive for him.

I like to think I keep on good terms with "the competition". We refer each other work, help each other when someone is sick, and learn from each other.

Monday, August 3, 2015

The Photographers Emergency Wedding Kit

I'm sure I stole this idea off another convention speaker. Basically a kit you carry in your camera bag to minimize the impact of small emergencies at weddings. Not only have I come to the rescue a few times but it made me look like a real professional.

Here is a list of items I carried in a small Tupperware box. Please comment if I have missed anything.

  • Roll of TUMS
  • Travel size Tylenol 
  • Safety Pins
  • Blotting Paper (Body Shop for forehead sweat on the guys)
  • Collar Extenders (when dad's shirt collar is too tight)
  • Travel size Kleenex
  •  Straight Pins for boutonnieres (they often break or fall off)
  • Band-aids (yes, think roses, thorns and white dresses)
  • Scissors for loose threads
  •  Bobby Pins
  • Tide-To-Go Stain Remover Pen
  • Travel Size Sewing Kit
  • Krazy Glue

Another "odd" thing we carried that was too big for the Tupperware box was a nice wedding cake knife in the trunk of the car. At too many weddings a nice knife was overlooked so a make do kitchen knife with the handle wrapped in tinfoil or a napkin was brought out. Looks horrible in the official photos... so we brought our own.

We also carry Duct Tape and Masking Tape but that's always in our camera bag and not specific to weddings.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Fantastic Endorsement from Bruce Hudson

I have been a fan and friend of Bruce Hudson since he spoke here in Ottawa at a convention years ago. Recently when he heard I will now be offering my consulting services to new and upcoming professional photographers he sent me this...

"Robin is a freak of nature in the world of professional photography.
He's extremely creative behind the camera and in his approach to marketing his craft.
Robin has a way of cutting through the BS with his blunt humor, yet
showing a true passion for the clients he works with and the people in his community.
Study with this man & you will take away the secrets that you'll need to become successful in any business."  
Bruce Hudson, Mastercraftsman PPA, Member of Cameracraftsmen of America

Photographers Back Up Plan.

What if There Was No Back-up Plan?

What if this was it? No back-up plan. Professional photography was your sole source of income. Wouldn't you try harder? wouldn't you do better? wouldn't you do anything to keep clients happy? Wouldn't you be more committed? more determined? 

Having only the income from your photography to pay for food, or the rent or the mortgage is a powerful motivator to always do your best.

And that my friends is what separates the full type working pro from the part timers.


Monday, July 27, 2015

Beware False Prophets

Robin Spencer's Studio Survival Tips

After celebrating 35 years in the portrait wedding photography business and getting real close to my 60th birthday I figured I would slow down, do more traveling and write a book (not photography related). I would also offer some business/idea consulting to some of the new professional photographers out there.

It drives me crazy to see some of the new self proclaimed gurus out there, people with little experience, no real track record and no credentials giving advice to new professionals that is just plain wrong.  

The plan was to put together my list of 16 Studio Survival Tips. The number sixteen was a totally random number, but sounded about right, a starting point.   Well I started writing and somehow ended up with over 47 essentials for staying alive in this business.

I have added a webpage and started creating a new website just for consulting.   My list of 16 or the full 47+ tips will be available soon as a downloadable PDF. Stay tuned.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Camera Recalls? Nope.

Funny how the camera industry works. If you buy a car or a kitchen appliance and there are problems with the design, parts or manufacturing they issue a recall and fix or replace it.

Years ago I bought a Nikon D70 and almost immediately Nikon came out with the Nikon D70S. The sales pitch? "The Nikon D70S fixed all the problems we had with the Nikon D70".

Wow that's great. So what about the D70 I just paid $1300 for? No recall, no offer from Nikon to replace the camera. Also no resale value on the D70 since Nikon made the official announcement "the D70 had multiple problems".  You're just out the $1300 there bub.

Fujifilm did the same thing with the Fuji X100 and almost immediately came out with the new and improved X100S. With banners waving and yelling from the mountain top. "We listened to the photographers and made improvement on the new X100S to fix all the problems with the X100".
Trying to make themselves look compassionate and caring. But no mention of any recalls or replacements for us lowly X100 owners who basically paid $1300 to "test" the new design and features for Fuji. Then after discovering the problems and glitches were left high and dry with no offer of replacement. 

Happy to report that in both cases I ended up with a D70 and X100 that worked fine, no problems, no "banding" just some design flaws that were a little annoying but I could work around.

You would think if huge companies like Nikon, Fujifilm and the rest had any real ethics they would have at least offered a trade in deal.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

FREE Lightroom presets

HEY PHOTOGRAPHERS On1 has some FREE Lightroom presets. I have used some of them and some are really good.

Photography. It's Not About The Camera

It took me 35 years in this business to realize that the art of photography has little to do with the camera.

Nikon, Canon or whatever you have doesn't really matter.

Learning to see, finding a creative angle, making people comfortable and "genuine" has much more to do with it than the right camera or the right lens. The subject and the way you portray it or them is the part that makes you a "Photographer".

Happy 35th Birthday to Us

Yup, hard to believe it has been 35 years since I started this business, seems like only yesterday.... OK seems like a decade ago that I lost my job in a small high tech start up and decided to do photography part time until I got a "real job."

I started this blog a few years ago and am embarrassed to see how long it has been since I posted. Well I figure with this milestone of 35 years, the number alone showing success and dedication that I had something to offer other studios, photographers, and small businesses. And of course people who just seem to enjoy my offbeat sense of humour, my sarcasm and some possible insights to this profession.

So let's do it.