Personal, 101 in 1001


40. Improve the packaging of my products

It's been FOREVER since I've checked off something on my 101 in 1001 list. What a slacker! I'm supposed to be done with the list in November of this year but it's not looking good. So instead of beating myself up and feeling like a TOTAL loser, this is what I tell myself (yes, more positive self-talk like the last post): When I started over two years ago I decided I wouldn't live and die by the list and feel like a complete failure if I didn't check off every single goal in the time allotted. The idea behind writing down my goals in this fashion was to hopefully accomplish more than I would if I never wrote them down in the first place. And my list has been a huge motivator for me. I HAVE accomplished more than I would have without it. So there. Not a loser after all.

Packaging is SO important. It tells you something about what is inside. What its value is. What its quality is like. Packaging alone has made me, on a number of occasions decide I MUST have it's contents. Every time I go in the Fossil store I want one of their watches just so I can pick a tin to put it in. I don't even wear a watch. Packaging can also push you to believe that what you bought was a great value. Take the Apple store as an example. Great product. They have A LOT of my money. They're not known for being inexpensive. Yet when you see your new 17" macbook pro being brought out in it's beautiful box, all of your buyer's remorse is instantly allayed.

Improving the packaging of my products has been a long-term goal of mine. And even though I'm checking it off here, it will probably end up on my next list of goals as well. It's something I can definitely continue to improve on.

Initially I thought I would go big and get some custom boxes made using my branding. And I may still do that at some point in the future. Instead I decided to make an intermediary step which involves stickers, ribbon and personalized note cards. Packaging is seriously expensive and I also like this route because it's more earth-friendly. Instead of repackaging our albums in new boxes, we're using the perfectly good boxes sent to us from the album companies and adding our own twist:

Clients are excited when they receive their wedding photography products from us. But hopefully seeing them wrapped up so beautifully reminds them even more how happy they were to have selected Melissa Jill Photography.

Each package that goes out from our studio also includes a hand-written note which adds a personal touch:

So excited to check this one off the list!

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lazy soup

After reading this post you're all going to know how truly lazy I am. I like to think of it not as lazy, but as using my skills of innovation to come up with the most efficient way of doing something so that in the end I expend the least possible amount of energy to reach the goal. Now THAT'S called positive self-talk. Or as some call it, delusion.

Nowhere is my laziness more apparent than in the kitchen. I actually used to enjoy cooking before I started my business. But once I poured myself whole-heartedly into this new venture, the desire for domesticity took a back seat. And then it just full-on jumped out of the car. Last summer I shared my super-hero "green breakfast" -- a green smoothie that I still drink faithfully each morning (with a slight tweak that you can find in the comments of the post) and it was well-received. People still mention it to me to this day.

I am now prepared once again to turn your life upside down with the new super-yummy soup I just ate for lunch. I can take no credit for creating this recipe. The trail goes to my mom then her co-worker and then it goes cold. But I have decided to take it upon myself to name this soup I had no part in discovering and to pass it on to all of you so that your lives can be improved as mine has been.

1 26oz can chicken w/rice
1 10oz can ROTEL original diced tomatoes & green chilies
1 15 oz can ranch style black beans
1 12.5oz can chicken breast

Open all four cans, dump them in a bowl together (juice/water & all), break up the chicken chunks, stir together, put your portion in a bowl and heat in the microwave. Then top with crunchy tortilla chips.

Nothing takes less energy except the kind of soup where you only have to open one can. But the key is that this is EXPONENTIALLY TASTIER. It's kind of torilla soup-ish. It definitely has a bit of a spicy kick to it but to me, it's pure goodness in a bowl.

I love good dairy-free soup. So if you have any recipes of your own, please pass them on. I need all the help I can get in the kitchen.

Even though I'm not the exceptional cook, whenever I come across something great that fits into my least-possible-energy-expended requirement, I feel the need to pass it on to you all. If you rely on the trends, you can expect my next great revelation in the summer of 2010. I know...you'll all be holding your breath until then.

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MJ's Camera Bag

For Photographers

Behind the image: flare

Greg & Megan's Wedding Portrait at The Desert Botanical Gardens in Phoenix Arizona

Today I'm continuing a new series on my blog for photographers call "Behind the Image." In addition to the topics that I get questions about and address on my F.A.Q.s posts, I often get asked about what went into creating specific images. As you know, I love to share info and so that's exactly what I'm going to do in this series. So as you browse through my blog, if an image catches your eye, feel free to ask me to feature it in an upcoming "Behind the Image" post.

Today's image comes from the wedding day of Greg & Megan in February. This shot was taken at the Desert Botanical Gardens during the bride & groom's portrait time.

I love the effect that flare can have on an image. This one worked out quite nicely and gave the image a really dreamy feel that I love. There's a number of ways to shoot flare but I'm just going to talk today about what I did to create this particular image both in camera and in post-processing.

In Camera:

This image was shot in RAW with my Canon 5D, on manual, hand held, with a Canon 16-35mm 2.8 lens, at a focal length of 20mm, f22, 1/50 of a second & ISO 640.

Sometimes I shoot flare with a wide open aperture for a different effect (generally when I'm shooting tighter shots with a longer focal length) but in this instance I wanted to have definition in the sun rays that streamed down over the building and the couple. The KEY to getting the sun defined as a star shape and being able to see the rays of light is the aperture setting. You need to close down your aperture as small as possible. It was a bright day and in order to be able to shoot at f22 I had to raise my ISO to 640.

You'll notice that I used the building to block part of the sun. If I didn't do so the entire frame would be obscured by sun flare. It's useful to use a building, tree, or the subject's body to block some of the flare so you get just the right amount to create the desired effect. Two more keys to shooting flare are that you have to take a lot of shots and move around the subject. I'm sure Greg & Megan wondered if I had sampled the cocktails as I squatted to get the building to cover part of the sun then moved left and right to take various shots to make sure the colored sun spots didn't land on their faces. I spent longer in this setting than I normally do for a portrait because it's hard to tell what you're getting when shooting with the sun in your eyes. What you see through the viewfinder at the time isn't necessarily what you're going to see when you look at the image later. That's why I take a lot of frames and move around the subject quite a bit when shooting flare.

As far as posing goes, all I asked Greg and Megan to do was to stand with a little distance between them and hold hands. I took many other shots that were decent of them looking at each other but I love this specific instant when Greg looked up and smiled and Megan looked down at their hands. It's so romantic. The reason they look so natural doing it is because it WAS natural for them. I didn't direct them to look a certain way. Sometimes you have to put a couple in a specific setting and give them a little direction then just wait. The money shot usually happens after they have hung out there for a bit and start to forget that you're there. So spending extra time here worked out for me in two ways--I got the flare just right and caught a great moment.

When taking this shot I relied on my in-camera meter for exposure and this is the image straight out of camera:

Sun flare shots tend to be VERY washed out straight out of the camera and oftentimes the blacks are not rich. Don't freak out about that. This can all be tweaked in post-processing.


I shoot RAW so I opened the image in Camera RAW and upped the contrast, blacks and recovery siders (to bring a little more detail into the sun flare). This is the result:

Then I converted the image to a .jpg. I opened the .jpg and used Kevin Kubota's Digital Fill Flash action to lighten Greg's face a bit. I love this action as well as Kevin's Smokeless Burn to lighten and darken specific areas of my images. They work like the dodge and burn tools in Photoshop but much more realistically.

Next I used the clone tool in PS to clean up the sensor dust spots that inevitably show up when you close down your aperture-- NO MATTER HOW MUCH YOU CLEAN YOUR SENSOR!!! No, actually I use these handy things and they work pretty well. But inevitably you still have a few spots to clean up.

I also used the clone tool to get rid of a couple of the sun spots above their heads that were distracting to me.

Then I ran Kevin Kubota's X-process combo action at about 18%, used magic sharp (also Kevin Kubota) for sharpening and WA-LA!

I had NO idea I could talk at such lengths about one single image. Craziness! Well, if you've made it this far, let me know in the comments. I don't want to keep doing these posts if they're only causing my readers to clean up drool off their keyboards once they wake up from a nice nap :).

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For Photographers

fun coaching session

Melissa Jill & Diana Kay during a photography coaching session

I've been doing coaching sessions for other photographers for a couple years now. I love the opportunity to spend time getting to know others in the industry and talking shop.

When I was growing up I thought I would be a teacher. I loved my math teachers in high school (crazy, huh?) so I went to college thinking I'd follow in their footsteps. I'm SO glad I didn't -- I think I would go psychotic trying to deal with classroom discipline issues -- but I LOVE that even though I'm a photographer, I still get to occasionally teach!

Usually these coaching sessions are conducted over the phone or Skype (love it!) but Diana Kay who works out of Dallas and Northern California made a special trip out to crazy-hot AZ this week to spend some one-on-one time with me. We did 4 hours worth of mentoring broken up into two days. We went to lunch, talked about and played with off-camera flash, and discussed pricing, album design and various other topics.

Two related issues that Diana and I discussed that seem really common to wedding photographers who own their own businesses are the problem of perfectionism and the need for outsourcing. When a photographer starts up their business, they typically do so because they love photography. They love taking photos. They take pride in their craft and spend endless hours perfecting it. All of us, even those who have been in the industry for years are continually working to improve. And because we're artists and most commonly perfectionists, we will never feel like we've "arrived." What all of this translates into for some is endless hours editing trying to make every photo perfect. I love what my friend and amazing photographer David Jay says about this. He says, "Perfectionism is selfish. The client doesn't want a perfect image, they want a good image fast. If you're trying to make your images perfect the only person you're doing it for is yourself." Wow. What a wake-up call.

The book The E-Myth: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About It also has some helpful things to say about these topics. If you're a photographer or small business owner, definitely check it out. Reading it early on in my business helped me to realize that I need to give up some of my perfectionism and find ways to outsource all of the tasks that I don't personally have to do in order to free up my schedule to spend time working on my business -- growing it and making it more efficient and profitable. When a photographer first starts their business they pretty much wear a million hats. They're the photographer, editor, writer, accountant, book-keeper, album designer, networker, sales person, marketing director, graphic designer and shipping/receiving department all rolled into one. But in order to not completely burn out, continue to enjoy what you do, live a balanced life and grow your business, you have to at some point (hopefully sooner than later) take the step of outsourcing. You just can't do it all. So you have to let go. There's a number of ways to do it -- hire an accountant, an office assistant and/or send some of your work out to other companies (printing labs, album design companies, etc.) -- but you need to do it. It will always seem like a tough step to take. Because you're a perfectionist. Because you value control. Because you feel like you can't afford it financially. But trust me, it's SO important. And in the end, it's the right move to make financially.

So I spent some time today encouraging Diana in these things. We all need to hear it. I did too. And I thought I'd share it with you all because I suspect there are others out there who need to be reminded of this as well.

Thanks Diana for coming out to Arizona in June and spending some time with me. You're an absolute joy and I really had fun getting to know you. Can't wait to see where your business takes you!

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Album Design Templates


David & Katie's Album Design

Kauai Wedding Album Spread

We just finished David & Katie's album design! These two were married a couple weeks ago in Kauai and I'm just loving reliving their day. It was so great. Click here to see the full design and keep in mind that the finished album is much larger -- 10x14 inches in size.

Note to photographers: If you're interested in finding help with your album designs, click here to learn how you can purchase my templates!

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