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Need to apologize to all the readers of my blog. 2011 has been a very busy year for Saguaro Shadows Photography

Despite a sluggish economy, our wedding and portrait business is up this year. We have attacked each year with an updated strategy, and this year was no different. We revamped our price list and client presentation methods. The changes we made resulted in higher revenue per customer, and more customers. For example, in our wedding packages we produced a nice full color brochure, and laid out our packages top-down. Best package first. When we meet with potential wedding clients, we show them a short slide show movie of our work, generated with Animoto. From there, we run through a presentation of our packages, Best down to the most economical.

We have also expanded our business in Senior portraits:

This is a challenging area to break into in our area, because all the schools already have contracts with other photographers. Our selling point is don't sell senior portraits, but we sell senior experiences. We focus on areas, or activities of the senior's choice.

This senior selected our downtown area, and wanted a variety of locations and outfits.

Looking forward into the Fall, we are getting ready for the Holiday season already. We are going to kick off a holiday promotion in October. Our client base has grown enough that we should be able to keep our calendar full just with business from the existing base.

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Been Busy!

Saguaro Shadows Photography has been very busy the last few months!

Before the holidays, we ran a web special through Living Social. Living Social provides a means to reach hundrends, if not thousands of potential new customers in your area. This special resulted in our photographing over 31 family portraits during the holidays!

The Living Social ad not only resulted in directed sales to new customers, but it also raised awareness for our studio on the web, and we gained several more new customers are a result.

We are also started to receive referrals from our Living Social customers for new portrait sessions and weddings.

In the New Year, we also entered into agreement with a local, private race course to photograph their monthly vintage race series.

This race coverage has opened up a new area of photography for us, and provided us a new customer base. For this clientele, rather than albums or small prints, we're providing large canvas prints and custom prints of their pride and joys.

Since the New Year began, we can't help but feel the that the economy is improving. Our wedding books for 2011 are running well ahead of 2010, and our new customers seem to feel more comfortable in spending more on photography than they did in 2009 and 2010.

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Take away the shine

Saguaro Shadows Photography works hard to make everyone look their best when we shoot their portrait.

Sometimes we need to add a little help to make everyone look their best. One problem that can be hard to correct is severe shine on the face. Unless you have a full time makeup artist with you to powder your clients faces, this is a problem you'll encounter from time to time!

We recently discovered an inexpensive plug-in that easily and magically takes care of this problem. The results are amazing!

Compare the two images closely, and you'll notice a subtle reduction in shine around the forehead, nose, chin, and cheeks.

Shine Off from Image Trends is a $49 Photoshop plug-in. It's available as a free trial. So go find a shot in your collection with a little shine and give it a try!

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TTL Flash Tutorial

At Saguaro Shadows Photography we rely on speedlights. We rely on them a lot!

We use them indoors as our studio lights behind an umbrella or soft box. At weddings or any shoot on the run, we always have one on a Voice Activated Lightstand

Nikon's Speedlights are powerful and versatile light sources, and with a little practice, you can achieve some amazing results!

There appears to be some confusion about the basic modes of the Speedlights and when to use them. I took the following the examples to try to explain. (please note I'm using a Nikon D3 which is capable of high-speed sync outdoors).

First, the basic "TTL" mode. This mode attempts to use the flash to balance the entire scene. This is a mode best used indoors, or a location where the natural lighting is even. Here's an example of what happens with TTL mode outdoors. This shoot is taken outdoors, with the subject in full shade, (85mm, Aperture Priority, f/2.0, 1/2000, SB-900 TTL EV 0):

Yuck! This is typical in what happens in TTL mode outdoors. For quick improvement, we can switch the Speedlight to the TTL-BL mode, which stands for Balanced Fill Flash. In this mode, the flash uses the camera's exposure information to try to provide a good balance between the foreground and background exposure. Here's the same shot again with the only change the switch to TTL BL mode (85mm, Aperture Priority, f/2.0, 1/1600, SB-900 TTL-BL EV 0)

Better! Without any other manual adjustments, the camera and speedlight gave us a pretty well balance image. We can further refine the image by adjusting the camera exposure bias or the flash bias. In this example, I've put the camera into Manual mode, so I have full control over the exposure of the background. Then I dialed the compensation on the SB-900 down EV -3.0. (85mm, Aperture Priority, f/2.0, 1/2500, SB-900 TTL-BL EV -3)

In this image, you can barely tell a flash was used at all, and you also get greater saturation in the background. It just provided gentle fill flash without providing that obvious punch of on-camera flash. A little greater refinement to EV -2.7 or -2.3 might suit individual tastes.

While I'm not trying to teach a complete tutorial on Nikon Speedlights, I am trying to encourage you to grab a friend, go outside, and give it a try!

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Capture the Moment

Saguaro Shadows Photography has been shooting a lot of family and children recently.

Something I've learned, is that even with posed studio portraits, you always need to be ready for that special moment between family members. This was captured before I was really ready to shoot their portrait:

Not sure with children I could have arranged this shoot!

This shot was taken in a series of images with mother and daughter. I got some nice shots of the two of them, but this was a special moment when they thought I was taking a break:

The lesson here that I have learned is to never take my eye away from the camera during portrait sessions, even for an instant. You'll never know when might miss the shot!

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Great Photo Education Resource

One of Saguaro Shadows Photography photographic education resources has been the DVD subscription service, Photovision

Photovision provides a Quarterly DVD that visits with professional photographers at work in their studios and in the field. The Photovision DVD's provide marketing and photography education from some of the best photographers in the business for a very affordable price.

Check out Photovision, and use the promo code PVFAN to subscribe for only $39.

Please visit us on Twitter, ("shadowsphoto") our company blog, and on Facebook

Shooting for fun!

Sometimes Saguaro Shadows Photography has to take a break and just shoot for fun!

The summer Monsoon season provides excellent opportunities for spectacular sunsets. Unfortunately, even this time of year, it's pretty hit and miss. Sometimes there are too many clouds, or sometimes not at all! Yesterday I was lucky to get a classic monsoon sunset!

For sunsets out here, it's important to pick your spot early, and stay late! You'll never know what might develop early, or late after the sun has gone down. Yesterday, the clouds were quite dramatic, and things started to develop early:

As the sun went behind the clouds, things go really interesting:

As the sun set, there were too many clouds for any really nice shots, but it was fun to watch things develop, and just shoot for fun for a change!

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So Saguaro Shadows Photography has been busy with weddings, babies, and portraits. So what tools do we use on our images?

We start with importing all our images into Adobe Lightroom. Lightroom allows us to quickly import, tag, organize, and select our "winner" images. For many images, that's where it ends. Lightroom's basic editing capabilities provide all the editing the image needs.

But for images that need extra special care, we export to Photoshop. Once in Photoshop we have a variety of tools to choose from, depending on the need.

My sharpening tool of choice is Photokit Sharpener. Photokit provides an excellent sharpening tool for import sharpening, special targeted sharpening, and final output sharpening.

From there, I generally move to Nik Software's tools. I use Viveza 2 for targeted adjustments and Color Efex Pro for other adjustments.

The tool I turned to most often within Color Efex Pro is the darken/lighten center tool. This tool provides a dramatic improvement to most portraits, especially outdoor portraits.

Original Image:

After Darken/Lighten Center:

For skin retouching, we sometimes use Portraiture, or the Dynamic Skin Softener in Color Efex Pro. Both work well, but provide different results. Both need to be used lightly to not give obvious, plastic looking results!

That's about it for our major workflow tools!

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More Babies!

Saguaro Shadows Photography is still busy with babies!

After a long string of baby boys, we finally got a baby girl!

We are now offering our new parents two baby photo plans. The first provides an infant shoot (under 6 weeks), a shoot at around 6 months, and a shoot at around 1 year. At the end of the year, we compile the best of the shots from the whole year into an album.

Our second baby plan option is the unlimited plan. For a fixed plan, we offer the parents the opportunity to book an appointment any time of the year, as many as they want. This provides the opportunity to capture images from occasions such as Halloween and Christmas.

The two plans provide two different price points for the parents to choose from. They also choose to just purchase one session at a time. But both of parents are far more attractive and most parents recognize the value we are providing them in these packages.

This young lady is on our unlimited plan, so you'll be seeing more images of her as the year goes on!

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Busy with Babies!

Saguaro Shadows Photography is getting busy with babies!

Wedding bookings have been a little slow this Spring, but our family portrait and baby portrait business is picking up!

This 4 week old was one of the best little clients we've had. He was very sleepy and cooperative. We cranked out 8 different poses in 20 minutes, which is unusually fast! For this shot, we had a hard time convincing the parents what we were trying to achieve in the shot, but after we got it, it's been their favorite, and the favorite of the extended family.

When schedule an infant session, we always the parents to schedule the session when the baby is less than 6 weeks old. The younger, the better. We also advise them to pick a time when the baby would get ready for a nap. It's best if the baby is sleepy for the session, not hungry and cranky! We are always flexible when the appointment will take place to allow the parents some flexibility.

For this session, we planned in advance to do the entire shoot in black and white against a black background. We shared that vision with the parents, and they really liked it, too.

Please visit us on Twitter, ("shadowsphoto") our company blog, and on Facebook