I find such joy in sharing knowledge and being a mentor. Over the last several years, I've had the privilege of growing alongside many wonderful photographers in different forums and communities, and have stepped up to help admin and mentor in these groups. This section of my website is set up both to gather many of the go-to tips and lessons I share in these forums for ease of reference, and to allow visitors to browse and reach out to me for one-on-one help. Contact me with any questions and mentoring requests!
LIGHTROOM & PHOTOSHOP TIPS
One of the primary places where I help to advise and mentor other photographers is (in my unbiased opinion!) one of the *very* best places on the internet for any kind of post-processing information: DamienSymonds.net. There's an extensive collection of articles and tutorials on the website, a free forum where you can ask questions to get one-on-one help, and an amazing set of classes that will walk you through the entire process of editing your photos to make them look as amazing as possible. I highly encourage you to check out this wonderful resource!
I've written a number of articles about Lightroom for Damien, and will cross-link them here. I've also written tutorials for members of other photography forums, covering a number of often-requested Photoshop tricks like headswaps and composites. You can browse my articles here, and feel free to send me requests for other tips!
SQUARESPACE WEBSITE DESIGN TIPS
I adore Squarespace. The base templates are so elegant and user-friendly, and it's also so easy to add your own custom CSS to make your website look exactly as you'd like.
In my time building websites on Squarespace and helping other photographers customize their sites, I've come across many frequently asked questions, and I've started creating a set of articles designed to answer those questions. I'm also happy to consult with you to help you customize your own website!
COMPANIES I LOVE
There are a number of companies and services that I really could not live without as I run my photography business! (Some of the links below are referral links -- but all of these companies and systems are ones I use myself and come with my highest recommendations!)
For years, I resisted the idea of subscribing to a studio management system. I'm super organized and detail-oriented, so surely I could save the money and just track everything myself with my own system of spreadsheets and reminders and calendars, right? (This is the same mentality that kept me stubbornly hand-coding my own websites by hacking the Blogspot platform to bits for way too many years!)
When I finally decided to do a trial run of Táve, largely because I finally decided it would be too much effort to create client-facing portal pages by hand, I was gobsmacked. Táve does EVERYTHING I could ever want a studio management assistant to do, and does it so elegantly and quickly and easily! Once I got through the initial learning curve and set up all my workflows and automations, Táve easily saved me hours of backend work every week. And it enabled me to provide even more customer service perks to my clients -- AND freed me up to take on more clients than ever before!
As an organizing geek, I really love all the many ways you can customize Táve and streamline your own specific client workflows. And as a working photographer, I love how Táve takes care of all the basic behind-the-scenes work for me so I can spend my time taking care of my clients!
If you're interested in checking it out, click here to use my referral link, and we'll both get a free month of Táve! (The standard free trial period is 30 days long, but if you use my link, you'll get 60 days free without having to make any commitments.) And as always, feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions on how to set it up or customize it to make it work best for you!
Beautiful client galleries, seamlessly integrated into my website and my brand. I love how gorgeous my client galleries are, and how easy it is to send them out! And my clients gush over how beautiful their images look, and how easy it is to navigate their way through marking favorites and ordering prints and products directly through their galleries.
I also love that Shootproof has client mobile apps built right in -- you can take your clients' favorite images from their session or event and turn them into a beautiful mobile app for them, which they can download to their phone and use as a slick mobile gallery to show off and share their photos!
To see this all in action, click here to use my referral link!
Another incredibly useful set of time-saving tools that I've come to depend upon entirely! I'm perfectly comfortable with creating my own storyboards in Photoshop, doing the math to create perfectly even borders and clipping masks for each photo and painstakingly designing every blog collage and album spread. But why spend all that time manually creating each and every storyboard, when there are wonderful programs designed to do the heavy lifting for you? :)
BlogStomp is what I now use to create all my photo storyboards for my blog (and for Facebook collages as well). It's an incredible workflow tool for prepping files for web display -- not only does it create wonderful customizable storyboards, but it also resizes, sharpens, watermarks, renames, and saves a new set of output files all in one click!
And its sister program, AlbumStomp, is similarly amazing for streamlining the album design process. I can now design an entire wedding album in under an hour -- which is insanely fast for a perfectionist like me!
The most beautiful business cards I've ever seen! I order my cards on the Moo Soft Touch Super Paper, a nice solid weight with a gorgeous matte finish perfect for showcasing photos. The Moo Printfinity technology enables you to have a different photo or design on every card in a pack, which is the perfect option for a photographer -- I have a set of 200 business cards, and chose about 40 different photos to go on the back of each. The cards are study and impressive to feel, and the printing is crisp with true colors. They make SUCH an impact when I hand them out!
Moo also prints stickers and labels, as well as stationery. I have round stickers with my logo, and larger rectangular stickers to put my branding on the outside of packages to be mailed out to clients. (And the Printfinity technology applies to stickers and postcards as well!)
Click here to use my referral link and get 10% off your first order with Moo! And if you order something with them, I'd love to see your designs -- it's so fun and inspiring to see others' graphic design ideas!
I've already raved on about DamienSymonds.net above, but it's absolutely worth a mention here as well. I've learned so much about the best and most efficient ways to handle post-processing through Damien and his website and forums and classes, and I highly recommend them to anyone seeking to better their editing skills, from hobbyists to professionals.
(And while I would be more than happy to create LR and PS tutorial articles for you upon request, I'll be sending you Damien's way for his classes if that's the info you really need in order to achieve the effects you want. Because he's really the best teacher you can find on the web, and his 1:1 mentoring is amazing, and amazingly inexpensive!)
WHAT'S IN MY BAG
Gear alone does not a photographer make -- but good gear used well can make all the difference! I love each item in my bag these days, and high-quality equipment enables me to have much more creative freedom in capturing images for my clients. The links that follow are affiliate links, but I will only ever list equipment that I use and love myself!
Canon 5D mark III. My beautiful, beautiful baby. I shoot with two of these bodies at all sessions and events, and the 5DM3 does everything I want it to -- good dynamic range, gorgeous low-light high-ISO handling, super fast and accurate focusing system, it's got it all! Probably my favorite added feature: dual card slots! Which means I have an instantaneous backup copy of every file my camera writes -- hugely important for a photographer being entrusted to capture once-in-a-lifetime memories!
Canon 7D. The camera I used when I first went professional, and served as a backup for many years thereafter. I actually really loved having a crop sensor body for added reach -- I would usually have my telephoto lengths on this body during wedding ceremonies, and it can be nice to have that added reach. I even seriously considering replacing it with the Canon 7D mark II rather than a full-frame body, primarily for the extra reach. It's a great choice for hobbyists and prosumers alike!
Canon 24-70L II. Insanely sharp, beautiful workhorse of a lens. Having a good mid-range zoom is incredibly useful for events -- I typically shoot weddings with this lens on one body and my gorgeous telephoto zoom on another, and rarely need to take the time to switch out for any other lenses.
Canon 70-200L IS II. My very, very, very favorite lens. It's razor-sharp and incredibly fast to focus, with beautiful color. And telephoto lengths make for such amazingly beautiful portraits -- gotta love that swoonworthy compression and shallow DoF!
Canon 85/1.8. Every photographer should have at least one good fast prime lens, even someone as avowedly devoted to her zoom lenses as me. :) This trusty 85 is my standard portrait focal length, and I find it incredibly useful to have at least one f/1.8 lens in my bag. Plus it's so light and small compared to my fast zooms!
Canon 17-55/2.8. This is my last remaining EF-S lens (only works on crop sensor bodies). It was my go-to walkaround lens when my 7D was my primary body, and the only reason it doesn't have an L red ring is because it's EF-S -- it's so incredibly sharp and produces gorgeous images. And it's nice to have it as a backup if I ever need to rely on just my 7D again!
Kenko extension tubes. A good alternative to having a dedicated macro lens -- and tubes can be used in different creative ways when stacked together and added onto lenses with different focal lengths and minimum focusing distances. If you go the extension tubes route, I highly recommend going with these Kenko tubes -- they maintain all electronic connections between the lens and the body so you maintain control over the aperture of the lens. Which is obviously incredibly important for macro work and razor-thin DoFs.
off-camera flash gear
Yongnuo 600EX-RT flashes. I cannot live without these amazing flashes! These are clones of the Canon 600s, and include every single incredible feature at a fraction of the price. And having flash units with the radio triggers built right in was revolutionary for my wedding reception lighting abilities. It's amazing being able to control the power of each of my flashes directly from my master flash or trigger on-camera. I cannot say enough about how much I love these amazing little guys!
Yongnuo YN-e3-RT flash triggers. The YN 600 flashes can be controlled by a YN 600 set as a master flash (if you want to have a flash on-camera as well as OCF), or you can control them with one of these YN-e3-RT triggers. Either way, you have total control over the flash power of each group of flashes. And the nice thing is that you can have multiple master/triggers controlling your whole set of off-camera flashes. Which is handy when you're shooting with two cameras -- I typically have a YN 600 as a master flash on my camera with a mid-range focal length (where I'm more likely to want some on-camera bounce fill) and a YN-e3-RT trigger on my camera with a telephoto focal length, both of which are controlling all of my flashes off-camera.
Impact air-cushioned 8' lightstands. These trusty lightstands are quick to set up and large and sturdy enough for all of my OCF needs. And they have a small enough footprint to be unobtrusive at an event (on the dance floor, tucked behind guest tables, etc.). And stable enough to handle my 60" umbrella without tipping over (indoors, of course),
Umbrella brackets. Kind of boring and utilitarian, but a necessity for connecting your flash to your lightstand and enable you to use umbrella modifiers. :)
Westcott 45" convertible umbrellas. My preferred flash modifier -- I generally go for flatter lighting, and like the way umbrellas feather the light. And they're so incredibly fast and easy to set up. I like having the option to shoot through or use as a bounce as well. My go-to setup for wedding formal group photos is to have one or two of these umbrellas set up with the light on-axis with the camera, to provide soft light without cross shadows.
Photek Softlighter 60" kit. My very favorite in-studio flash modifier. It's soooo big, and produces such beautiful soft light! (Bonus: little kids tend to be transfixed by this giant kit, so it can make for some awesome light in the eyes!)
Large Rogue Flashbender, plus large diffusion panel. When I can, I always prefer bouncing my flash or setting up umbrellas, to get some nice diffuse light. But that's not always possible -- so for modifying an on-camera flash at an event, a Rogue Flashbender can diffuse and shape the light. (Definitely worth it to get the diffusion panel for it!)
Honl gels and speed straps. Gel your flashes to match the ambient!! It's the difference between even color throughout the scene, and crazy mixed lighting -- most room lights are very orange, so adding CTO gels to your flashes mean you can set a single white balance for your shots. I like these Honl gels and dedicated speed straps: inexpensive, easy to use, and super effective.
Lightstand carrying bag. This is pretty basic, but -- you'll obviously need some way of carrying your lightstands and modifiers. This simple bag is what I use, generally to carry two stands and two umbrellas.
Square Perfect backdrop stand. I don't use backdrops as often as a studio portrait photographer would, but it's definitely a useful set of tools to have. Since I shoot portraits on-location, and since I'm not as practiced at setting up a whole backdrop system as others might be, I need something easy to carry and easy to set up, and this backdrop stand fits that bill perfectly! Great for seamless paper or fabrics, along with a couple simple Home Depot clamps and gaffers tape.
Lexar CF cards and Sandisk SD cards. Possibly the most important gear in a photographer's bag: high-quality memory cards. I make sure to buy from reputable brands (Lexar for CF and Sandisk for SD are my personal favorites), and to choose cards with high read/write speeds to keep up with me as I'm shooting. I also write the month and year of purchase on each of my cards and cycle them out every couple years -- because all cards WILL fail, and I want to avoid having a card fail on me during a client gig!
Holdfast MoneyMaker strap system. Ohhh, what a game-changer this strap system was for me! I always have two cameras on me, for both events and portraits -- I find it more efficient than switching lenses all the time, and I always want to have a backup body on me just in case. I used to wear one on a neck strap and one cross-body, and I'd come home from long days of shooting with an aching back. The Holdfast MoneyMaker is a dual-body harness that distributes the weight sensibly on your shoulders and hips, and it's made SUCH a difference in my comfort! And it also makes me look super hipster and cool. ;)
Undfind waist shooter. This little cross-body bag works perfectly with my Holdfast strap system, and is the perfect size to carry a flash, an extra lens, extra cards and batteries, and my phone and keys -- pretty much anything I'd want to have on me while shooting.
Eneloop batteries. Rechargeable batteries will save you a fortune if you're using flashes with any kind of frequency. ;) Eneloops are the industry standard for flashes -- they're noticeably faster in recycling the flash, and a single set of four will last me almost all the way through a long wedding reception.
Powerex Maha MH-C801D battery charger. You'll want a good charger for all those rechargeable batteries! This one has a soft charging and a reconditioning cycle, both of which will extend the life of your batteries.
ThinkTank Airport Navigator rolling case. This was a utilitarian purchase for me, but WOW what a huge difference it makes to have a good rolling case for all your gear! It's so important to get all your heavy gear off of your back and shoulders and into a solid rolling case. And this one in particular is fantastic: large enough to carry my two camera bodies, two zoom lenses (24-70 and 70-200), three flashes, a flash controller, plus extra batteries and flash gels and many other little accessories. But my favorite part of this case (and the reason why I went with it over a larger model) is the top access -- you can open the top flap while the case is still standing and pull out your cameras from there (or simply access them to insert batteries/cards or check them as needed).