Hi all and welcome to my first blog post. Not just for 2012, but ever!
In this first post I will introduce myself a little so you know a little more about me, my preferences and what I do. Future blog posts will be more about how I like to shoot and my views on photography. This episode is nothing more than a short(ish) piece for you to get to know me and what I have been up to recently.
If you're just getting into photography I hope my blog can serve as 'a guide to the early days', if you're at the same point as me - making some money but mostly still enjoying photography as a hobby - then I'd appreciate your views and stories too. Alternatively if you're a seasoned pro please feel free to point out my mistakes, flaws or pretty much anything - If you can help me avoid making mistakes and improve my photography I will be eternally grateful. I must point out that I don't intend to go pro or make Photography my full time job - I like the balance of having my regular income to support my family and pay my bills, and the photography to make people happy, as a hobby and as something that gives me pleasure. Hey, if it pays that's a bonus!
Before I begin let me introduce myself a little...
I've been a photographer for a few years now favouring the Canon EOS range of DSLR's (more on that later). My work to date has been largely for my own pleasure; shared amongst online communities and entered into a few little competitions here & there with some relative success. Having other people compliment me on my photo's really makes me happy. Equally I welcome criticism provided it's constructive. I spend a lot of time reading photography blogs, listening to photography podcast's and scouring through portfolio's on the big communities such as 500px and to a lesser extent; Flickr.
New Addition to the family
Since having my first child in January I have found for the first time ever that I don't have the time or the energy to go out photographing for the fun of it like I used to. Shooting every day and keeping my technique as sharp as I'd like has been a real challenge. It really is such a shame and I'm feeling the itch all the time to go out and shoot. Parenthood and a busy work schedule are really limiting my time. Despite the arrival of my daughter on New Years day in 2012 I haven't had my 500d out much at all. I've taken thousands of Photo's of her and a few video's too but they've almost all been on my iPhone 4S, which by the way I must add is a superb camera. I think I heard somewhere that it's now the most popular camera on Flickr!? Can someone confirm that for me?
New Business and new opportunities
Even though I've not been actively photographing that much since my daughter was born back on new years day I have had a whole host of people asking me to photograph their weddings in 2012. This has been without me doing much at all to actively market myself. It all started when a work colleague had seen my photo's on Flickr and was looking for a wedding photographer for their December wedding. Their budget was tight and so, as a favor, I said I'd do it for free as long they didn't have a go at me if I messed up. I know that some professional wedding photographers and other professional's for that matter hate people like that - the one's who do weddings for free and steal their business and de-value the market. Me too! What's that I hear you say?
"But you just did a wedding for free! How can you say that!?"
Well, these guys didn't have a budget for a wedding photographer and would have just gone without otherwise. As I see it, I didn't take any business away as technically there was none to be had. Besides, a good friend needed a favor and I was able to help.
After posting a few of the images to 500px, Flickr & Facebook with the happy couple's permission, not with the intention of getting more business, I had a message from a friend asking if I'd photograph their wedding too and that they'd pay me. What luck! With my wage being the only full time income to support my family whilst my wife was on maternity leave it was hard to turn down. Wedding #1 was booked. Before I knew it someone else had inquired asking for a wedding photographer.
Click to Enlarge: Nicki's Bouquet
So, seeing as I had managed to get two bookings without actually marketing, advertising or even saying I was available for hire! I decided to create a website, print a few business cards, start a Facebook page and a Google + page and begin to actively participate in Wedding Photography communities. If I could get myself out there then surely I could get more business!
Suffice to say at the time of writing I now have six weddings booked for 2012 (my first two are in June) and one for 2013 - all from one wedding.
New Equipment , New thirst
For the December wedding I borrowed kit from my Uncle. I borrowed his 60d, Canon Speedlight, 70-200mm f4 L IS USM and a Tokina Wide angle lens and a few other bits and pieces. He didn't ask for a penny either, which was great as this wasn't a paid job!
I was mightily impressed by the way the 60d handled low light on the day. Towards the end of the evening though I felt bad that my 500d was sitting in the boot of my car as a back up, so I ran out and swapped over and headed back inside to take some more shots. All I can say is that they were terrible in comparison to what I was achieving with the 60d. Some photographers may think that is a silly statement and that it isn't the kit that makes the photo's, but I urge you to take photo's of an Irish wedding when the family are dancing in low light and strobe lights are going off. The ISO on the 500d was poor when compared with the 60d. Anyway, the happy couple were quite simply overjoyed with the pics I provided them with and have since been passing my details onto anyone and everyone who is planning on getting married.
The problem I had however was camera envy, Lens envy and a serious feeling of deflation. As far as I am concerned I'd officially outgrown the 500d and it could not meet the demands of what I was wanting to achieve with it. An upgrade was needed...but my wife was on Maternity - how can I afford a new camera, pay my bills and buy the hundreds of nappies my daughter needed? (any parent will tell you!).
I saved hard.
After much research and asking other wedding photographers what they had in their bags, I came up with a little list of things that I thought I needed. Here it is:
Click to Enlarge: Shopping around I found these items at a great price
I worked to a budget of £3,000. This was entirely savings. I can't believe my wife allowed me to use our money for this, in fact she was very supportive and very encouraging! I am so grateful to have a supportive partner!
I went just over-budget unfortunately, but because I found a website that was selling the gear at amazing prices, I thought I'd better get the gear I wanted rather than compromise - I would only regret it later and it would inevitably cost me more to re-purchase things. I wanted to get it right first time.
My Equipment list went through many revisions. Initially I was looking at the 5d MkII instead of the 7d and to counter that additional cost I was thinking of sacrificing the 70-200mm F2.8 MkII for the 70-200mm f4 MkI. I also toyed with the Idea of going for a non-canon flash and instead buying something from Metz perhaps (Costing much nearer to £100 - £150. Maybe it was wrong of me but I decided that where possible, despite the great reviews I had read on some of the non-canon products, I'd try to stick with Canon where possible.
I decided to opt for the 7d instead of the 5d MkII with cost being the main factor. Although the 60d I borrowed was far better than what I had already, I found that many people were suggesting the 7d was the best value for money Canon DSLR on sale. What's more it was a much bigger step up from the 500d without breaking my budget. Sticking with the 7d also allowed me to get the f2.8 version of the 70-200mm L class that I wanted. For me this lens and the 7d were central to my equipment list.
I already had the Canon 50mm f1.8 MkI, but was offered £80.00 for it on Ebay, that effectively meant all I had to spend was £9.99 for the upgrade to the 50mm MkII. I'm not sure how much I'm actually gaining here in truth, but for that price I don't particularly mind.
I also decided to buy the battery packs for both the 7d and the 580EX II; the BG-E7 & CP-E4 respectively. I had read reviews that stated the battery pack for the 580EX II would give faster recharge times for the speedlight which I think is key. I actually didn't know that a battery pack for the 580EX II existed until sometime in March 2012 when I was asked to take a few photo's at a family members 40th birthday. It was there that another photographer friend of mine handed me his camera, speedlight and this strange box thing with a cable leading to the flash. It was then I realised it was a battery pack.
So, In all I have my camera & flash with Canon battery packs for each and I have my two new lenses. I bought all these from www.BigNorman.com. In truth BigNorman was a site I hadn't actually heard of before until I was searching the internet for a good price on the 70-200mm f2.8L IS USM. I'd found the lense on the likes of Park Camera's and Warehouse Express but the prices were just far too expensive. Despite Canon offering £175 cashback on those lenses (You need to apply for the rebate after purchasing the lense) I still found the lense to be cheaper on Big Norman. Big Norman aren't actually a participating retailer in Canon's cashback offer which is a shame but the lense still worked out over £300 cheaper when buying from them. I was also a little annoyed with the way that the other two sites displayed their prices. They mark them on the site £175 cheaper and then state that the price shown includes the cashback, for which you apply later upon receiving the lense. That said, everything on Big Norman was cheaper.
As of April 20th 2012, my equipment list (show in the above screen grab) would have cost the following from these sites:
Click to Enlarge: The price comparison
The only thing to point out here is that Park Cameras were not selling the 7d as a 'body only' at this point in time on their site. That means I've saved myself £715.86 vs Warehouse Express (WEX) and £1,165 against Park Cameras.
Another thing I liked about BigNorman, although it's not an exclusive feature of their site, is the online chat / help tool. I had a few questions for them and they were answered very promptly and very politely. I asked whether the L class lense I was ordering came with the tripod ring mount:
Click to Enlarge: You can see the chat window in this screen grab
Like I say, I didn't actually know about www.BigNorman.com and to be fair the site name and logo are very strange indeed. I decided to check out the customer rating on TrustPilot. Although there were only 45 customer reviews at the time of reading I was sufficiently impressed with what others had said to make me want to use Big Norman.
One little annoyance was that I couldn't order my particular items on a next day pre-9am delivery because the goods were in their warehouse in Gibraltar, but the price was an overidding factor. Another curve ball was the fact that upon paying I was re-directed to Google Checkout (or Google Wallet as it's now becoming I believe). Maybe it's just me but I'd only used Google checkout once before and never for a value so high. I am more used to seeing a site having their own secure checkout contained within the site.
Regardless, Google Checkout works great; I was updated as to when my order was packaged and shipped. When funds were debited from my account and was easily able to log back in and see the status if I wanted to.
Overall very impressed with BigNorman.com. Would highly recommend so far and will be posting a very positive review on trust pilot.
I will be performing some tests with the new equipment in the coming weeks and will be making a hugely more concerted effort to get out and about with the camera for fun. I'm living in a new area now and so far it remains un-explored. So I have no excuses! I hope you find the links and information here useful and potentially go buy some camera gear. I will of course say that I am only writing about my experiences here. I'm in now way endorsed by any of the sites or companies i;ve mentioned here and they are only my opinions. I can't promise you'll get the same great service that I've got so far.
In the next blog I'll probably give you some information and feedback about the bits and pieces I ordered from Amazon and perhaps show a few of the first shots from my 7d. I'll also touch on a few things I've done for my website, business cards, marketing and other little bits and bobs.
For now, I have a nappy to go change and some reviews to write. Another blog will be with you in about a weeks time! Be sure to check back.