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Photography Workshops by Canon Northern Explorer of Light Christopher Dodds


Christopher Dodds Nature Photographer | Promote Your Page Too

Entries in Ontario (22)


The Business of Photography: The Business Plan

Red Fox Vulpes vulvas (renard roux). Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario. Image Copyright ©Christopher Dodds All Rights Reserved. Canon EOS 1DsMKII, 70-200mm F2.8 IS @ 70mm Hand-held. ISO 500, F3.2 @ 1/125s Manual mode. Ambient exposure using  Sekonic L-358 Flash Master Light Meter. Full Frame. CLICK HERE TO BUY A PRINT OR LICENSE IMAGE FOR PUBLICATION.

The Business Plan

One of the biggest mistakes many people starting a business make is not having a business plan. A business plan can be as simple as a Mission Statement and as complicated as you feel necessary. Think of a business plan as a roadmap; Where are you going?, How are you getting there? Are you headed in the right direction? and what to do if you make a wrong turn. A well written business plan is also a great tool to measure your successes and failures as a business person if reviewed periodically.

I don’t want to deceive you, so I’ll make it clear to you now that I don’t know any other photographers that actually have a business plan. I am asked, quite often, how to get into Nature or Wildlife Photography as a profession. I also have regular conversations with other successful photographer friends (Jewelry and studio photographers) about how they plan on getting to the next level; both as a photographer and as a business person. A well written business plan will help you see where you want to go, and how to get there.

I’m sure you all have a plan and have though about where you want to be in five or ten years. All I’m suggesting is putting it in writing and making it an annual event to review and modify things. How often have you had a great plan or idea, only to forget it within a short period of time?

Here’s some simple steps to a successful Business Plan:

Define who you are as a photographer and identify key strengths and weaknesses. Review your photography and identify a specialty and or passion. What makes your clients choose you and why are you different than a stock agency or other photographer? Create an executive summary, or mission statement, that will become the first part of your business plan. This need only be a few sentences long and it is essentially a summary of your findings.

Define your market as a photographer. In what area of photography do you see yourself fitting best? Who are your potential clients? Do you want to sell image rights for publication? or sell fine art prints to collectors? or both? What age group and gender are those clients. If you want to sell images to magazines for publication, who works for the magazines, and who buys those magazines? This section is a summary of your product, your service and your target clients.

Define your Competition. Now you know who you are, what product, or service you offer and who is your likely client. It’s time to think about who else is out there doing the same thing as you, and why you are a better, more logical choice for your client. What do you offer that your competitors don’t?

The last section deals with finances. Identify how much money you need to make to keep your head above water without falling into debt. Essentially a spreadsheet with a list of your expenses that should include: Living expenses like food, clothing, housing (mortgage, insurance, taxes and repairs), Utilities (heat, air conditioning, electricity, gas, water, etc) Transportation (Car payment, Insurance, fuel and repair) and health / disability insurance. Don't forget contributions to an emergency fund; you never know when you have to replace a roof or have a sudden financial crisis. Make a list of the monthly costs and multiply by 12 to figure out just how much money you need (after taxes) to survive a year without falling into debt.

Once you establish how much you need, it’s time to figure out how, or if, you can get there. How much do you sell your product, or service for?, and how much does it cost to produce? If you are a wildlife photographer, then you should make a list of your overhead expenses like photography equipment (cameras, lens, etc.), Office, or production, equipment (computers, printers, etc.), travel (transportation, lodging and food) expenses, professional services (like accounting), business liability & equipment insurance, equipment repair and rental, advertising and promotion costs, office supplies and communications (telephone, internet and mobile phone). You get the picture.

Now add your annual personal expenses (plus income tax) to your annual professional expenses. Do you think it is feasible to sell enough product or service to cover these expenses? Let’s say you sell fine art prints for $100.00 each. You determine your material cost to be $32.00 (ink and paper). You have a gross profit of $68.00. How many prints (think $68.00) do you need to keep yourself afloat? how many do you need to sell to put some savings aside for a bad year (or two) or a catastrophic medical or mental event? (laugh, but most business people suffer one, or the other, at some point in their career) oh, did you think about retirement savings? ... Perhaps a few more than you initially thought - but you knew that, right? (smile).

Now that you have a plan in writing, it's much easier to stay on track. If you make the small effort to review and ammend your plan from time to time, you have a much better understanding of where you have come from, where you are and where you are going.


Basic Exposure Theory: The Sunny F/16 Rule Explained

Snowy Owl Bubo scandiacus (Harfang des neiges) Casselman, Ontario. Image Copyright ©Christopher Dodds All Rights Reserved. Canon EOS 1DsMKII, 500mm F4 IS ISO 400, F5.6 1/1600s Manual mode. Full Frame. The chart below (in the cloudy bright column) shows the correct exposure to be ISO 400 F/11 @ 1/400s. I chose to stop the action by using a higher shutter speed, so I used the equivalent exposure of ISO 400 F/5.6 @ 1/1600 second. I also knew to expect less detail in the snow and white feathers, because there are no shadows to help define them.

What you shooting at there, Dodds?” echoed across the landscape as I set-up to photograph Snow Geese and Sandhill Cranes in New Mexico about a year ago. “What exposure you at Dodds?” was the question asked by the same gifted photographer just recently. I don’t want to embarrass anyone, so I won’t mention any names here. I truly do think that he is a gifted and talented photographer. He’s widely published and is also the first person to admit that he doesn't really know all the “techie” stuff.....and he was much closer to my exposure this year, than last. 

The single most important skill a photographer should have is a basic understanding of the fundamentals of photography. The most important tool, and the least understood aspect of photography is exposure theory. I learned photography with a totally manual camera and used slide film (seems like so long ago), so a basic understanding was necessary to make successful images.

 Q: Why bother when I can just keep things simple and take a picture, check the histogram and make any adjustments necessary? 

 A: Because having an intimate knowledge of exposure theory and your cameras functions and controls helps you grow and improve as a photographer, make better decisions and better images as a result.

In it’s simplest form, the Sunny 16 rule (or Sunny F/16 rule) states: On a bright, sunny day, the correct exposure for any middle tone subject is F/16 at the shutter speed nearest to the reciprocal of the film speed. For example:

ISO 100 = 1/100 second @ F/16

ISO 200 = 1/200 second @ F/16

ISO 400 = 1/400 second @ F/16

ISO 800 = 1/800 second @ F/16

Now we have established the correct exposure, it’s time to decide if we need more depth of field or shutter speed. Each step up, or down, of one variable represents a doubling, or halving, of any other variable. If you need more shutter speed than 1/100 second @ F/16 (ISO 100), then an equivalent exposure would be ISO 100 1/1600 second @ F/4.


This chart illustrates the equivalent exposures for ISO 100 and 200. Each setting above will allow the same amount of light to fall on your digital cameras sensor, or film cameras film. The exposure is the same, with the only difference being either your shutter speed (to freeze or blur action) or the depth of field (very narrow to blur the background, or very large to capture an entire grand landscape sharp).

But wait! It got cloudy. Now what? The Sunny F/16 rule is actually the correct ambient exposure for an average subject under bright sunny conditions. If the sun goes behind a cloud, then the light falling onto your subject is decreased and you must make an adjustment to your basic exposure settings. Here are some aperture settings for some different daylight situations:

This is intended as a starting point, so there are exceptions. Backlight or sidelight both require adjustments to reach the correct exposure. It’s a good idea to expose to the right with your digital camera; 50% of the recorded data is recorded on the right fifth (or 20%) of your digital cameras histogram. With very light subjects in very bright conditions, I routinely subtract light so as not to clip the highlights. With very dark or black subjects, I tend to add light to maximize the recorded detail. Notice the technicals for the Snowy Owl in my previous post; ISO 200 F9 1/1600 second = ISO 200 F22 1/1250 second (or Sunny F/16 rule for light sand or snow) minus 1/3 stop to preserve all of the details in the whites without clipping (or loosing) any data.

Sounds complicated, but if you spend some time digesting and thinking about everything here; you'll be able to get that once in a lifetime shot accurately and consistently with confidence. Not to mention how much you will impress the boys (or girls) when you are all standing around waiting for the shot or talking shop.

If you own an iPhone or iPod touch, there's a great application available for $1.99 called Exposure Calc. I just found it while writing this blog entry and think it is a great learning aid and pocket reference.

If you don't get it, and need to take a test shot, check the histogram, make adjustments, take another test shot; that's okay too, as long as you're having fun and making the odd good image to keep you interested.

Comments welcome & appreciated.

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