Chicago in Winter

Over Christmas, my family and I traveled to my hometown, in the suburbs of Chicago to spend Christmas with my side of the family. It was the first time my daughter would be spending Christmas in Chicago as well as her first time seeing snow. I was really excited for this trip.

One of the things we did was take my daughter to the Chicago Children’s Museum with my sister. The museum is at Navy Pier, right on Lake Michigan. When we arrived, it was a dreary day with rain that could start at any moment. Before going to the museum, we took a quick walk up the pier. One of the first shots was this, looking out into the late:

Lake Michigan

Parts of the lake we frozen over, it looked like a mini-Antarctica. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make it to those parts of the lake. Over by Navy Pier, there was a little bit of ice but it was not completely frozen.

When it was time to turn around to go to the museum, this is what I saw:

Low Clouds over Chicago


I loved seeing the skyscrapers disappear into the clouds. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to work so high up and yet not be able to see anything.

Anyway, one of the cool things about the Children’s Museum, aside from watching my daughter have a ton of fun running around, was that it was at the edge of Navy Pier that was closest to the city. So, some of the windows face the city, allowing for some nice unobstructed views.

Into the Clouds

It was a fun trip, though not totally uneventful (but that is a story for a later time). I have many more pictures to share and will be in the next couple of weeks. Until then, here is one last shot of the Chicago skyline seen from Navy Pier.

Disappearing John Hancock Building

 

Advertisements

Hello 2011!

I obviously haven’t posted in a while. I’ve been on vacation and I didn’t have the time I’d hoped that I would have to blog. My plan was to get ahead on some of the topics I had hoped to cover, unfortunately, being around my family has kept me pretty busy.

Another things that kept me from posting is that I neglected to bring my portfolio with me. As a result, I didn’t have any photos ready to post. Sure, I could post some of the pictures I’ve taken since I arrived, but my laptop is far less than ideal to do photo editing on. On the plus side, I did take a lot of photos, so I should have plenty new material coming in the next few weeks.

One of the few photos I have had time to process.

Anyway, I’m planning on returning (or beginning, depending on how you look at it) to my regular blogging schedule with start of the new year. What better way to begin than to publish my New Years Resolutions?

While I am not unique in this regard, it is important to me that I make my resolutions public. It might just be the thing that gets me to remain accountable to my goals. So, what are my resolutions? I actually have just one:

By the end of 2011, I will have at least one paying customer and one customer referral.

It seems simple, doesn’t it? I wanted it somewhat simple, but there are still challenges with it. It will require me to improve everywhere. From customer interaction as well as service, to my skills as a photographer, it will force me to get better.

You might ask why I didn’t set a more ambitious goal and that would be a reasonable question. While I certainly would not argue if I exceeded my goal, I’m not entirely sure if I will have time. My current position requires me to work on weekend afternoons and I cannot adjust my schedule. Still, I have Saturday mornings as well as all day during three weekdays. That should give me ample time to practice, network, and work on post processing.

So, now that I’ve shared my resolution, why don’t you tell me yours?

Top Shot Tuesday: Hot Rod

Hot Rod Engine

This was shot at the 4th Avenue Street Fair in Tucson, Arizona. The hot rod was being raffled off to benefit Cops 4 Kids and the Special Olympics. I’m personally not a fan of hot rods, but I did like this shot.

What was your top shot from the past week?

Customer Service: Right and Wrong

Customer service is probably the most important aspect of any company. This goes for any company, not just photography. I have heard some recent examples of really bad customer service from people I know. Even today, I experienced some really poor customer service at an event I was at. Fortunately, I also experienced an excellent example of customer service that probably saved my afternoon.

Tucson Trolley

Today, my wife and I went to the semi-annual Fourth Avenue Street Fair in Tucson. We got there in the late afternoon and started walking around. Shortly after we arrived, we were looking at a lot of the different vendors and street performers. Honestly, while I enjoyed being outside and walking around, I didn’t exactly enjoy taking pictures. I generally don’t like taking pictures of other people’s work, at least in a setting like this*. Still, I tried to open up my artistic eye and managed to capture a few shots. A few vendors had signs up requesting no photography of their work, something that I tried to respect since I would probably consider doing the same thing if I were in their place. I did take exactly two pictures that I shouldn’t have, but that was only because I saw the signs after I took the shots (they were also basically identical, just slightly reframed). I didn’t delete the pictures at the time because I thought that my depth of field removed the detail from that booth, but I was wrong (and unhappy with the results anyway), so I deleted the photos.

What was this guy playing?

What does this all have to do with poor customer service? Well, nothing except to show that my intentions were not nefarious. Since I was at a public event and since some vendors chose to post signs, I felt that probably meant that the vendors who didn’t post signs chose to allow photography. This may have been a bad assumption on my part (and would love to hear the opinions of others on this), but I am still learning on some of the do’s and don’ts. In one of the booths, I saw some wooden toys that I thought would make an interesting photo. However, as I was composing my shot, the vendor started arguing with me, saying that I couldn’t do that without his permission. I calmly pointed out that he didn’t have anything posted that said I couldn’t, because I took the time to look before trying to shoot. He still argued with me about it. In the brief encounter, I remained calm but I also didn’t feel like arguing with him, so I apologized and went on my way. As I walked away, I heard him saying something about it on the phone. Once my wife and I walked down a little bit further, she even called him a jerk. A little bit later, I thought about returning to the booth but just to get his name so I could make sure not to ever buy anything from him.** Lesson for vendors: If you don’t want people taking pictures of your wares, 1) post a sign requesting they not do so; 2) if you don’t post a sign, then don’t assume people know not to take a picture (because even if I as a photographer should know, most people likely won’t know); 3) if someone does try to take a picture, be polite (say something like, “please, no pictures”)

Wood Working (This guy had nothing to do with that first vendor)

Before I continue on to my good experience  at the Street Fair, I want to relate some other examples of poor customer service so that I can end on a high note (though the parties involved will remain nameless). A talented photographer I know needed some photographs printed at a local lab. The photographer only used this lab, instead of their normal lab online, because they needed something quickly. However, something tells me that they won’t be using this lab ever again, because whoever handed over the photos started insulting the photographer’s work. Lesson for vendors: This one is easy, do not insult your customers! If they ask you about it, then politely share your opinion because there may be something wrong on their end, but if they are happy with the results, then keep your mouth shut.

Nissan was at the Street Fair

In another example of poor customer service,  a website I read sometimes reviews various products. One day, the blogger got annoyed with a product they were seeing a lot of and decided to blog about it. The blogger wasn’t complaining about the product directly (for example, they didn’t say that it didn’t work or would fall apart on first use), but was actually speaking about what the product was used for. I don’t want to dig too deeply into the details, but imagine a someone writing about why they use a Canon T2i (DSLR) camera instead of a Nikon Coolpix S80 (point and shoot). Anyway, one of the blogger’s readers informed the company. The company offered the blogger a free sample so they could give a review. This was, in my opinion, a wise course of action (have I ever mentioned how much I hate the Canon 5D Mark II)? The blogger wasn’t interested in a sample because they felt the product went against their personal beliefs. After being turned down, the company decided to mention that on Facebook and included a link to the blogger’s site. Some of the comments on Facebook insulted the blogger and some of them brought that to the blogger’s site. Why would the company do this? Lesson for vendors: If a potential customer puts down your work, you have some options: 1) listen to their opinions and revise your product to fit their needs; 2) privately speak to them to resolve the issues; 3) ignore them. Above all, do not make them public through your own site. All that’s going to do is bring negative attention to your product by bringing bad reviews into the light. It can also bring negative attention on your company because it can look like you’re using your existing customers to attack the reviewer.

Nissan was offering test drives of the all-electric Leaf

What about some good customer service? At the same street fair as the bad vendor I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I had the pleasure of shooting a vendor who I suspect saw me as potential publicity. In this case, he was definitely right. The vendor, Voigt, sold cool and unique recycled metal art. Voigt saw me taking a picture of one of his pieces and instead of asking me to not take a picture, he instead asked me to send him the photos. I have no problem with this and he will be receiving an email from me shortly after this post goes live.

This was really some cool looking stuff!

Lesson for vendors: Look for sources of free publicity! As I understand it, works of art are protected by copyright law. That means that someone cannot just copy your work. Plus, in today’s world, if you are selling on the internet, then you have your photos there as well. If someone wanted to copy your work, they don’t really need to take their own pictures to do that. I’m not saying there aren’t cases where a photo may not be the best idea (such as taking a picture of a painting, because it can then be printed instead of someone buying the painting), but there are certainly cases where letting someone take a photo may just work in your favor.***

Robot Piggy Banks

Those are just some examples of customer service. Sometimes, poor customer service can drive away customers, old and new alike.  However, excellent customer service can keep bringing customers back as well as gain more customers by word of mouth. I know that I have personally paid a premium because I felt like I was getting good customer service and have recommended those companies to others for that very reason. So, keep that in mind when you are dealing with people because you never know who might be a potential customer. —————————————————————————— *- I actually wouldn’t mind trying my hand at doing product photography, but that’s different for me than essentially shooting a store front. **- I want to comment that the reason for this post is not whether it was okay or not for me take a photo of this guy’s work. The purpose is to illustrate how a negative response can drive a customer away. I am interested in learning if there was a potential legal violation on my part. Since I am interested but because this is not a part of this blog post, please email me or contact me on Twitter. If I gather enough information, I’ll have another blog post coming on that topic. ***-  I understand that this is contrary to copyright law. I am in no way suggesting that it is appropriate to knowingly violate copyright law. However, in the case of at a street fair, I would suggest it is the responsibility of the artist to educate the public. This was a free, open air event where you are likely to encounter a large number of people who are unfamiliar with copyright law. Keep that in mind before arguing with them about taking photos. Also, keep in mind that if they are taking a photo, it may be because they like your stuff!

Sunset

Unfortunately, I still haven’t gotten into a regular posting schedule yet. I have a couple of posts planned but I haven’t been able to get the time to sit down and write them. It’s one of the perils of working a full time job as well as being the father to an active two year old. So, instead of a nice post, I present a sunset photo I took about a month ago. Enjoy!

A Tucson Sunset

Tuesday Top Shot

I’m going to try to have regular themes and postings here. My goal is to have posts on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday that follow certain themes. For Tuesdays, I thought it would be good to post what I feel is my favorite shot from the past week. So, without further ado, I present my Top Shot:

Playground

This was just me playing around with HDR in Photoshop. I know there are all sorts of things I could do better (like shooting with a tripod at a better time of day comes to mind), but it was kind of fun to play around with. I like the potential of HDR but I’ll likely use it primarily to make a photo look more like real life.

So, please share your top shot of the week?

Insuring My Gear

Thursday morning, I met with my State Farm insurance agent. My homeowners insurance was up for renewal and I wanted to make sure I had adequate coverage. I had a couple of concerns with our policy. It wasn’t anything State Farm had done, but as I stared at some of the purchases I’ve made over the past couple of years, I became concerned that some of it wouldn’t be covered.

Before I continue, I want to insert a disclaimer. I am not a representative of State Farm and do not receive any compensation from them in any way. Also, I have never filed a claim, so I am unsure of how they are at that end of the business. Still, I am happy with my agent who I met for the first time in the three years we’ve had coverage from State Farm. Anyway, I cannot promise that my experience with coverage is the same with everyone else, so check with your own insurance agent before making any changes.

When we got to the office, we went over the general coverage and then he looked up a quote for our auto policy (sadly, my auto insurance company was a lot cheaper). Then, we got to my biggest concerns of our policy. First, I was concerned about the property in our shed outside. He assured me that anything on our property was covered. Second, I had purchased a telescope and some gear for it. He said that it too was covered. Finally, we made it to my photography gear.

I had read a few times on the internet that camera gear was not covered by standard insurance policies. However, my agent told me that my camera and gear is covered (and that includes theft if it is stolen while I am out and about, which is definitely a plus since wherever I go, my camera is almost always with me). The question he asked me was if I was a professional. I told him that I wasn’t but that I did hope to go that route. His advice was something like this:

If I have a higher deductible, which I do at $1000, then losing my camera gear would be a large chunk of money if I were relying on that gear for income. He recommended that once I do start doing professional photography, I create a new policy large enough to cover all of my gear and have $0 deductible. He told me he had a client with a large amount of jewelry, worth twice my home’s value (which I know in this economy isn’t saying much), with no deductible and the annual premium was only about $160.

That is definitely an option for me once I become a professional, I just can’t justify the cost at this time. I talked to my wife about it and what we decided was that the better option would be to lower our deductible to $500 for now. That would only add about $25 a year. Then, when I started getting income from photography, I would get a special policy for my gear and we would raise our deductible back up to $1000.

What is the moral of my story? Call your insurance agent and ask questions! Don’t assume you have coverage but also don’t assume you don’t. Think about the risks you are taking by having your gear out with you. In my case, $1000 would equate to about half the cost of my gear and would be hard to justify spending. However, if something did happen, we could spend the $500 to replace it.

In the future, once I start gaining income from my photography, I will then explore my options for insuring my gear as well as my business, but that is a while away yet, Until then, I’ll just keep practicing until my clients start to pay me.