Portrait of an Entrepreneur: Drones of all sizes

Something I thoroughly enjoy is engaging with and learning from clients.  Jeremy has just started a business called Silicon Flight Academy and their goal is to train kids how to fly multicopters responsibly.  He’s in the process of partnering with some schools in the NJ area as a part of the STEM program.

We had a couple of goals for this shoot.  First, Jeremy wanted some updated profile images to use on LinkedIn.  Here are a few of my favorites:

Portrait - Darrin Estep Photography

Next, we wanted to feature some images that show a little of what some of the multicopters (drones) look like.  We wanted to show some really small ones and some that are a little larger.  In addition, he had some FPV gear (headset) to help demonstrate what it would look like to be in an open space piloting a drone.  He's knowledgable and passionate about this subject and I plan on taking advantage of his proximity to me to learn more as I also explore what its like to fly drones.

Lifestyle Images - Darrin Estep Photography

I look forward to our next meet-up.

GTD: A WPPI Follow-up

I struggle…a lot with getting things done (GTD).

There are so many ways to get things done and so many distractions preventing me from just doing it.  The saying I try to live by is, “You always have time for what you do first.”  After this bit of learning what I’d add to that is, “Do the deep work first”.  Being honest, the reasons I don’t take the time to do the deep, focused work are tied to distraction, laziness and avoidance.  This brings me to a talk I went to while at WPPI 2016 in Las Vegas.  The presenter was Dane Sanders, whom I’ve seen before and enjoyed.

His topic was Rebuilding Your Business from the Ground Up.  The target audience for his talk included those just starting their business all the way through those that have been in business for some time and looking for a re-think.

Dane covered the categories to consider when evaluating your business.  Things like: value creation, marketing, sales, value delivery, business model (whether you’re freelance or a signature brand), what systems you use to process your work and finally how you work with people.  Obviously, there’s a lot of content in each of these categories that I won’t cover here.  The one I want to spend a little time on is a point that would fall within the systems category having to do with how you organize your day and how you get things done.

The reason why I feel like this one is a big deal is that if you don’t have the focus and wherewithal to do some deep work to sort through questions like: 

  • What can I bring to the client experience that only I can do?  
  • What’s the best way to identify and target clients in a meaningful way? 
  • What can I do to make sure my brand presence is consistent from end-to-end?  

These are all pretty hard topics and not something you’ll likely figure out easily.  Without diving into these topics, my business will not flourish as quickly as if I did take that time.  Dane suggested several books but one stood out and I’ve just finished reading it, its called "Deep Work" by Cal Newport.  "Knowledge workers are forgetting the value of going deep”, Cal tells us.  According to a McKinsey study, "60% of the work week is spent doing internet searching with 30% of that time spent answering emails alone.”  Hard to hear but it doesn’t seem far off to me.

Without getting into too much detail, the highlights from the book are first learning to identify the different types of work and the effect of each.  Primarily, the book focuses on shallow work and deep work.  Examples of shallow work are things like checking email, surfing the web and catching up on social media.  A good example of deep work for me would be editing video or writing a blog post like this one.  This is an exercise that I need a large block of uninterrupted time to parse through the message and spend time thinking before creating.  What the author argues is that to produce anything of substance, you need to devote time to deep work.

Finding a way to structure your day so this deep work gets done leads to the topic of forming good habits and continually prioritizing what’s important for you to succeed both personally and professionally.  Another photographer I follow, Chase Jarvis, shared these thoughts  on how feels about being "busy" and how he organizes his day to get things done (skip to 3:07 for the meat of it).

The take-aways for me are: 

  • Consider your entire day as a set of opportunities and possibilities
  • Have a set of goals identified 
  • Prioritize those goals and aggressively find ways to minimize distracted, shallow work to allow for blocks of time for deep thinking.  There were many suggestions on how to manage the disconnection from email, social media, noise, etc.
  • Watch the rewards of this deep thinking come back to you many times over

Now the test.  Let’s see if I can take the time needed to dive in and make this a reality.  

Wellness with Friends

A good friend of mine, Jill, has started a business called "Wellness with Friends".  It promotes the enjoyment of massage coupled with the fun of having your friends around all in the comfort of your own home.

Example room setup

Example room setup

If, for example, you were looking for a bachelorette party idea, you could call Jill to give her the details of how many people would attend, what types of services would they like, and what time do you want to start and then she would take care of the rest.  Everything from the scheduling of the staff to provide the service to the food to the transformation of the rooms in your home along with communicating with your friends to let them know about all the details.  That sounds pretty valuable to me if I could have someone take care of all the details.

Services received

Services received

For my part, I have two things I'm helping with. The first was to capture what a "Wellness Party" would look like. Everything from the food, to the attendees, to people learning about and receiving services, and featuring the robes and other elements that help set the stage for the party.  I've put together a few images that help show you what I mean.

Robes and socks used during the party

Robes and socks used during the party

Food & Drink

Food & Drink

Attendees of the party

Attendees of the party

Wellness materials

Wellness materials

The second part, to come soon, is helping Jill setup a website to allow people to easily learn about and book a reservation for a Wellness With Friends party.

WPPI 2013 Recap


This past week I attended, for the first time, an annual photography conference called WPPI which stands for Wedding & Portrait Photography (not sure what the I is for) in Las Vegas at the MGM Grand Hotel. The conference and classes run just over a week long and I was there for about 3 1/2 days.

The conference offers a variety of classes and an expo area that allows for vendors big and small to come and show their stuff.  The expo filled two halls and has big names like Nikon, Canon, etc. and the other hall had smaller vendors with a lot of gadgets and equipment to drool over.   

Four takeaways from WPPI: 

  1. Work hard.  You get out what you put into your business.
  2. Network like crazy.  This is a referral-based industry.
  3. Use your time efficiently. Automate what you can and redirect the new time to building your business.
  4. Believe you can do it.  

Here's a recap of how I spent my time at WPPI: 
Going to Market: Maximizing Portrait and Wedding Profits, Dane Sanders
Dane is a family portrait photographer out of Orange County, CA.  He's also a teacher, author and founder of a Facebook group I've become pretty active in called "Better Together".  The premise being that we're better together as photographers vs. trying to go it alone.  

In his talk, he went over the sales process from campaign to connection to the client and walked through step-by-step how he handles the end-to-end workflow.  He also talked about a popular topic among photographers which is, how to exploit what's unique about you when everyone seems to have a camera these days.  This should allow you to attract the clients you want and repel the ones you don't. Very nice session and a good way to kick off the conference for me.  

From Start to Finish: The Contemporary Portrait Shoot, Tamara Lackey
Tamara focuses mostly on children and families.  Similar structure to Dane's class but very different sessions.  Tamara has a great energy about her and gave a really nice walk through of a day in the life on a shoot with children.  On the business side of things, these are points I noted:  

  1. Who are you?
  2. What do you do?
  3. Why does it matter?

How to Avoid What Most Small Businesses Do - Fail, Zach & Jody Gray
Zach & Jody are a couple that I've known about for a few years now.  They are a married couple that focuses on the wedding market.  I first saw them on a DVD where they were talking about lighting, posing and editing techniques they use in their business. They are fun to watch, listen to and learn from.  They seem to actually practice what they preach. Novel idea, right?

For this session, they gave an overview of how they structure their business.  Here's an outline of their framework: 

  1. Purpose - What is your vision, mission, values and goals?
  2. Brand - All aspects of your business (visual and otherwise) should resonate a consistent experience for your client that support your purpose.  Its more than just marketing.
  3. Sales - Qualify the client, build rapport, educate and close the deal.
  4. Systems - Set up processes and environments that allow you to be consistent and efficient.
  5. Momentum - Focused intensity + Time = Momentum
  6. Belief - Our only limitations are the ones you set on yourself.  Believe you can do it and you will!

For me, Sunday was about: 

  1. Figure out the purpose of your business
  2. Exploit what's unique about you throughout the business
  3. Believe you can do it and don't let anything stop you

Get Lit "Live", Dixie Dixon 
Dixie is out of Dallas (I think) and shoots fashion and commercial work.  I feel more and more like this is the type of work I want to shoot more of.  Since I had a shoot planned for later in the day, I was only able to stay for a short time.  One take-away was that I heard her say she makes sure to set a nice atmosphere for everyone on set and builds a connection with the model and other crew which helps her produce the type of images she's enjoys.

Photo Shoot in the desert
As soon as I knew I was going to this show, I started to put together concepts for a shoot and scouting for models and make-up artists (MUA).  The day didn't exactly go as planned but what day ever does.  

I rented a car because it seemed that I was the only one with transportation.  I arranged for Enterprise to "pick me up" but they were running late and it seemed to be how the whole day went for me.  I got to the model, Meli, about an hour later than I hoped.  We then drove to the MUA, Summer, but her place was in the opposite direction of where we were shooting.  By the time we left Summer's place, it was close to the original time I thought we would be finishing the whole shoot.

On the upside, once we arrived on set, it was exactly what I was hoping for.  We got there around 1:30 and shot until close to 4pm. This unfortunately, meant that I was going to miss a class I thought I'd have time for in the afternoon back at the conference.  

I dropped the model and her husband off at their place, grabbed something to eat, drove to return the lens I rented from a local shop, got the car washed since it was pretty dirty from being in the desert and then dropped the car off.   Well, almost.  One thing I forgot to mention was that I brought the car USB charger for the phone from home but forgot to bring it out with me that day.  So, because I was using navigation on the phone, it takes up more battery than normal use.  By the end of the day, I was out of battery.  I was completely out of battery just before I returned the car.  I ended up returning it to the airport with about 15 minutes to spare before I would have been charged for another car rental day.  I caught a cab back to the hotel at a few minutes after 6.  Here's one image from the day.  More to come soon. 

Dinner at Diego's mexican restaurant
Someone was nice enough to arrange for a dinner for a large group and part of why I was at this conference was to network.  I was running late from dropping off the car but was determined to get to this dinner.  There were about 15 people there.  We had a nice time chatting it up about the work we do and getting to know each other.

Retouching & Enhancing Techniques: Instant, Easy and Useful, Jack Davis
I attended two retouching/editing classes.  This one was great.  The other one, not so much.  Jack's tools of choice are Lightroom & Photoshop.  I've mainly used Aperture for my editing to date but have been curious about Lightroom since many use it.  He switched between the two and had such a great, quick way of explaining and demonstrating technique.  Something he emphasized throughout the session was to create presets and automate as much as possible.  I'm a big fan of this as well and I need to do more of it.  It also goes with a common emphasis of finding ways to be efficient.

Visit the expo
I had a few goals in walking through the expo.  First, I wanted to just take it all in.  I also wanted to spend some time at the Nikon booth and talk a bit about video.  I had a nice conversation with a rep at Nikon that was helpful.  I also wanted to visit a friend of mine, Mike S., that I've shot with before.  He was exhibiting with his wife on a photo booth and software they've built.  This has been an area of interest for me as well.  It seemed like they had some good activity at the booth and they had Elvis with them as well.  I hope they got some good traffic.


I also sat in on a couple sessions in the Expo.  I hadn't heard Kevin Kabota speak before but he had some interesting work to shot and lots of simple and inexpensive ways to be successful on set.  One funny example that comes to mind was to use a battery charged leaf blower to create the wind-blown look for a model.  That's thinking out of the box.  I love when behind the scene's shots are shared.  It gives you a sense of how different you can make something look with light and some simple tools.

Finally, I attended an expo talk by Vanessa & Rob on their "Same Day Edit Workflow".  Pretty impressive the amount of stuff she gets done on the night of the wedding thanks mostly to an efficient system and help from an assistant.  There are a bunch of practical take-away's from this session for me.

Bridal Show 101 for Photographers, Dawn Shields
The last session I sat in on before heading to the airport was about how to be successful at Bridal Shows.  She had done lots of interviews with brides as they walked through a bridal show and then interviewed them for feedback on the photographers booth, what they liked, or didn't like about the overall experience. She also had lots of statistics that really helped if you were going to dive into this world.  Very informative.

Lots of stuff going on and so much to see and do.  A friend of mine that I used to work with, Gary Cirlin, was also there and since it was my first time, he warned me over dinner that I will likely leave with a mixed set of emotions that would be a little anxious, excited, inspired and frustrated all at the same time.  He was right.

Many things about the conference were great but there are a few things I would do differently next time.

  1. Stay closer.  I was staying in the MGM but it was a 15 minute walk from my room to the classes.  There are rooms that were much closer but I didn't realize that until I was there.
  2. Get a roommate.  Not sure about this one but I would consider it to save money. Vegas is more expensive than NYC for some things. 
  3. Stay longer.  I think one more day would have been useful for me.
  4. More networking!

Can't wait to go back again next year.

Update: I just came across this video that was done by StillMotion last year that gives a good sense of what its like to be at WPPI from the exhibiter's perspective. -> http://vimeo.com/37354985