December 2010 Issue

In this issue:

Things are Getting Better for Professional Photographers

New VB System: The VB Express to be Introduced at Imaging USA

The Tax Cheat Problem: It Hurts the Professional Photographer More than One Might Think

Lori Lens Photography takes the Christmas Portrait to the Professional Level

Featured Photographers: Russ and Nancy Hanson

We at Virtual Backgrounds wish you and your family a very happy and successful holiday season!

Videos! Videos! Videos!

Don Hileman on Virtual Backgrounds

Endorsements We
Love to Receive

I have teamed up with a local adult store and will be shooting six ladies today! I'm super excited to take my background on location, using light stands, and takin' it to the people! I love what I do and I LOVE the Spectravue! It's the best piece of equipment I ever purchased!

Poppy Kelly
East Wenatchee, Washington

November 2010
Virtual Backgrounds Class


The next VB workshop will be held in February 2011.  Make your reservation early.

Tight Money Prompts Photographers to
Ask Tough Questions

It’s so easy to spend money when there is lot of extra lying around.  However, in these tough times, photographers are asking tough questions before they make investments in equipment and software.  We at Virtual Backgrounds love to answer those questions because a Virtual Backgrounds system can very well be the photographer’s best investment!  It opens so many doors to new profits.

Got a question?  Give us a chance to respond.  Contact a VB Consultant today!

One Photographer’s Experience with Tax Cheats

Professional photographer David Heaton recently sent us the following comments on our articles in The Backgrounder about the consequences of competing with photographers  who are trying to operate under the radar and not paying their taxes.

I understand the feeling about not turning in your competitor but I personally know of two people in my area who have asked me for help on posing and lighting.  I told them I would love to help them out.  One of them came to the studio so I could help with posing and lighting.  I started talking about WPPI, PPA, insurance, and equipment.  She was not interested at all in learning about any of those.  She just wanted me to show her how to compete with me without doing it legal.   She didn’t have a business license or a tax ID.  Needless to say she didn't come back to the studio, but I see her advertising all the time for prices I cannot afford to do.  And now she is doing work that isn't too bad.  She has improved quite a bit but is still not legal.  This is a problem and I thank you for talking about it in The Backgrounder.

~David Heaton

Richard Sturdevant will conduct his next  two-day workshop at Virtual Backgrounds in April. 

Watch the January 2011 issue of The Backgrounder for details.

We Will Totally Expose Ourselves So You Can Get the Bare Facts!

Have questions about Virtual Backgrounds?  Do you question its value as an investment for your studio?  Do you question the claims made by VB about their products?  The fact is this:  Many photographers do have a lot of questions and suspicions.

There is a simple way to find out the facts.  Come to a Virtual Backgrounds three-day workshop and really find out for yourself all about the concept.  Learn how it can help you grow your business and increase profits.  Ask any questions you have and get clear truthful answers.  Ask others in the class, many of whom will already have a system.   You even get a chance to take photographs with a VB system for yourself.  At a VB workshop, we totally expose ourselves so you can get the bare facts! 

Contact us for our 2011 workshop schedule.

Free Admission to PPA’s Imaging USA in San Antonio

Here is a complementary coupon for free admission to the Imaging USA trade show in San Antonio, Texas in January.  Imaging USA promises to be a really great show.

Virtual Backgrounds will be showing for the first time the new VB Express projector which is ideal for both location and studio work.  The total system with a 4 x 6 screen is under $4000 and qualifies for the VB financing program. 

Stop wasting money on backgrounds that can cost hundreds of dollars each.  The VB Express comes with 24 backgrounds! 

Plan to stop by and see the new system at the Virtual Backgrounds exhibit at the trade show.

Click here for the coupon!

Russ and Nancy Hanson's Church Directory Images

Directories created by Russ and Nancy  Hanson do not look like the dull directories created by the national companies which typically use a plan gray background throughout and all horizontal of vertical images.  The Hansons use a variety of different backgrounds using their Scene Machine.  They use both horizontal and vertical images to provide even more variety.  They carefully compose each image to maximize the chances that they will sell extra images.  The formula is working.

Send Us Your Thoughts!

If you have any experiences with Virtual Backgrounds that you would like to share with the readers of The Backgrounder, please write to us at [email protected]

Perhaps you have had an especially successful experience, or perhaps you solved an issue that would be helpful to others.  Let us know and we'll share it with the readers of The Backgrounder!

Things are Getting Better for Professional Photographers!

There’s Light at the End of the Tunnel

The year 2010 was a rough year for professional photographers.  The public just wasn’t buying.  As many established studios faltered and even went out of business, tens of thousands of newcomers entered the business often offering ridiculously low prices.  But, as the year comes to an end, there are a variety of indications of a turn around.

Senior Photographers International (SPI) President, Terry Harris, takes a very personal interest in professional photographers and spends much of his time talking with photographers especially about how they see the market for them.  While the market is challenging for everyone, he generally gets the following reports primarily from SPI members.

“June 2010 was the worst ever; July was really good; August kicked butt; September was also really good; and October was not bad.”  According to Terry, it sounds like things are picking up!

Terry will organize a Carnival Cruise immediately following the SPI convention in January.  SPI members bookings for the cruise are up almost 80% this year.  Bookings for the SPI convention are up 25% over last years total attendance and there are still two months to go.  Trade show booths are up 50% over last year.  

Here at Virtual Backgrounds, we have seen a significant turn around in sales as the more aggressive photographers of all levels, seek to find tools to help them wow their clients through their marketing and their increased sales averages.  There really are only a few ways to increase sales: offer more creative photography, more variety, better sales methods, and using tools that distinctively set one’s work apart from all others. This is exactly why Virtual Backgrounds and the Scene Machine are so important.  It enables the professional to be far more creative, offering far more variety, without leaving a comfortable studio environment, even if the studio is in the photographer’s home or on location.

A perfect example is this months Featured Photographer, Russ Hanson, who is doing really well with his church directory photography using Virtual Backgrounds to create wide ranging background variety which leads to a unique directory.  Unlike the typical church directory created by the national companies with dull looking images and monotonous page after page of plain photos, Russ is securing contracts and getting good sales because what he and his wife offer is truly different.   Variety is the key.  Even during the bad times of the past couple of years, professional photographers who kept themselves apart from the traditional look of their competitors and who produced results that the do it yourself amateurs cannot do, continued to do much better than the others.

2011 promises to be a much better year.  It may even be a banner year for some.  It could be a banner year for you if you make your photographic operation really special and market it to your public.  It won’t be a better if you produce results like everyone else.  If the public can’t see a clear difference in your work compared with all others, they won’t come to you.

New Virtual Backgrounds System

The VB Express, to be Introduced at Imaging USA

The VB Express is the new Virtual Backgrounds projector that is smaller, lighter, easier to use, and less expensive than any other system Virtual Backgrounds has ever produced.  It was designed especially for volume photographers who do school and church directory work as well as any other professional photographer who wants to offer infinite variety but at the least possible cost. 

At just $2,495, the VB Express is less than half the price of the popular Scene Machine Digital.  With a 4' x 6' background roll up portable screen, the total package is just under $4,000. Virtual Backgrounds will finance half of that amount with no credit check and no interest!  Larger screens are available. The VB Express comes with 24 backgrounds at no extra charge and the highly acclaimed three-day training workshop held in Texas.  To top it off, there is an almost unbelievable upgrade program.

Imagine the cost if you were to buy 24 new canvas backgrounds!  Imagine the hassle of storing 24 backgrounds and changing those backgrounds for individual subjects!   If you paid just $170 for each, the VB Express and screen would be free.  Plus, once you own a VB Express system you can move forward by creating your own backgrounds for just a few dollars each!

The introduction of VB Express along with the special financing means that the multitude of advantages that come with Virtual Backgrounds are now within reach for every photographer.  Cost is no longer an issue.

Watch the January issue of The Backgrounder for more information on this fantastic new and economical way to start benefiting from Virtual Backgrounds with the new VB Express.

The Tax Cheat Problem: 

It Hurts the Legitimate Professional
More than One Might Think

Competition on a level playing field is tough.  Competition on a playing field that is absolutely tipped against one competitor makes it really tough or almost impossible.

The tax cheats are often selling their work for 40% or more less which makes their pricing far more attractive to the public. The public doesn’t really care if their photographer is paying taxes, especially when that photographer passes the savings on to them.

The tax issue is one that really has to be explored in depth by our associations.  Our associations need to be concerned that that their members are legitimate professional photographers and that means being properly licensed and tax paying entities.  At the very least, they need to educate their members about the laws.  This issue is biting all professional photographers and cannot continue to be ignored as long as the association gets their membership fees.   Is the association really a professional association if they do nothing to assure that their members are legitimate?

One way for an association to handle this is to insure that members are very much aware of their need to be legitimate professionals and abide by the laws of their community, state. and country.  They also need to educate their members of the consequences of not following the law.   They could be catastrophic.  Associations could publish a couple of relevant articles on the responsibilities of paying taxes.  Individual photographers could pass a friendly reminder to their non-tax paying competitors suggesting that they become legal competitors

Lori Lens Photography
takes the Christmas Portrait
to the Professional Level

Lori Lens uses her Virtual Backgrounds system to produce the backgrounds.  Lori was a Featured Photographer in the December 2009 issue of The Backgrounder.  She's doing a phenominal job! Keep up the great work, Lori!

Click here to learn more about Lori Lens.

Featured Photographers

Russ and Nancy Hanson
Discover Church
Directory Photography

The Scene Machine is a Fundamental
Tool to their Success!

Russ and Nancy Hanson have had a life-long career in a wide range of activities in professional photography.  However, the Perfect Storm has had devastating effects on their business, as it has affected most everyone in professional photography.  They recently, however, have discovered the opportunities that are available in providing churches with high quality professional Church Directory services which they have now developed into a thriving business venture.  The Scene Machine virtual background system plays a critical role in making their new venture work.

Russ earned a degree in photography from Southern Illinois University in the early 70s.  He initially worked for the South Dakota tourism department for several years before moving to Paducah Kentucky for 4 years to work with a very large general services studio there doing everything from school photography to weddings to HS seniors and commercial work.  He then returned to tourism photography, this time for North Dakota, where he met his wife Nancy, a newspaper reporter and editor, writer and publisher.  In 1984, they moved to the Fargo/Moorhead area and opened their own studio that specialized in commercial photography.  In 2003, as the Perfect Storm began to destroy commercial photography, they expanded into portraits and weddings working from their main street storefront location and later from their home.  Then the Storm began to seriously affect their portraits and weddings.  There are 85 people advertising themselves as photographers in a community of only 200,000 plus many others who work without advertising at all.  The Hansons feel fortunate that two photography friends suggested that they try church directory photography.

Just as their studio business was faltering, Russ saw the Scene Machine in 2006 at the Northern Lights trade show and was immediately infatuated with the potential.  Without knowing what he was going to do with it, Russ purchased a VB system without really informing his wife until the shipment arrived.   Nancy says, “I was so mad at Russ.  He bought this expensive Scene Machine just when the business was really shaky and we were cleaning out excess studio equipment to generate money.   I suggested that he get permission to return it.  Then he kind of just let it sit there, unused for months.  I finally pushed him to either attend the VB three-day Workshop in Texas or sell it!  The workshop gave us both not only all the information we needed about operating the Scene Machine but it also helped us generate new ways to restructure our business.   We also attended two Chris Wunder workshops on church directory photography.  The Scene Machine and the Chris Wunder workshops changed our lives.”

Initially the Hanson’s just used their new Scene Machine to enhance their portrait work, which it did, but then in 2008 they decided to get serious about church directory work.  They started with 3 little country churches and 1 larger church.  Russ reports, “It blew my mind how easy it was to get our first directory contracts.  It seems that pastors and/or the decision making committees are so upset with their previous experiences with the national church directory companies that they are really enthusiastic when they can work with a local personalized studio that offers a new look.  We show them what we can do in terms of our portrait quality, our willingness to take time with each family to get the best possible results, and our assurance that we will not ever use high pressure sales techniques that infuriates everyone.  They just seem so excited when they learn that there is an alternative way to do the directory.   They are also highly intrigued with the results we get with the Scene Machine and how much variety we are able to put on each page of the directory.  They are tired of the traditional directory that is so plain and simple.  We use a wide variety of complementary backgrounds made with the Scene Machine, we change poses, and we use both vertical and horizontal photographs.   We tell them that Nancy and I will do the portraits and sales ourselves and complete the sales as soon as the session is done.  We deliver our directories within 3 months.  Some national companies can take as long as 12 months.  Providing the best possible service is really important to us.”

In 2009 the Hansons did three very large churches.  In 2010 they are doing 6 churches, 3 of which are very large.  In 2010, the Hansons will have photographed over 2,000 family groups with a buy rate of between 62% and 75%.  They find that what is so important in doing church directory work is that once they secure the contract, which they have found to be unbelievably easy,  the church pushes the members to be photographed.  Families are scheduled every 15 minutes.  In regular studio work, the studio has to get every individual session, one by one.  In church directory work, the church brings in hundreds of families on a pretty precise time schedule. A major reason studios are hurting today is because people don’t get around to scheduling.  With church directory work, the photographer only has to schedule the event.  The church does the rest and pushes the members to show up.  Once they are photographed, the vast majority of them purchase.

Russ and Nancy love not having the expense and overhead of a main street studio and not having people coming to their in home studio.  There in home studio is still operational but is not used very often.  They take everything to the church.  They still do a few weddings and portraits.

Russ comments, “We used the Scene Machine exclusively with our very first church.  We would not even go into a church without a Scene Machine background system.  We have a friend who does church directory work using six different shooting stations, each with a background and lights.  He uses  a 30 x 30 foot area and really kills himself with work that we don’t have to do because of the Scene Machine.  We work in one small area and change our backgrounds in seconds.  We use a few props and that’s it.  With the Scene Machine we use many different backgrounds to complement our families and we will shoot both horizontal and vertical. Church directories that have all either horizontal or vertical images and all with one background are just plain boring.”

Russ continues, “The public loves the Scene Machine.  It has a lot of “wow factor”.   It is new to them - it is something they haven’t seen before.  They wonder how we get that background to appear on the image when all they see initially is the black background.  We give some of our church members a choice of backgrounds…they actually help us pick it.  Other times we do all the choosing of backgrounds ourselves.”

The Hansons have experimented with selling all the images on a disk.  For those who want it, we sell the disk with a copyright release for $135.00.  There is essentially no cost of goods so it represents one of our highest profit items.

Gradually, the Hansons are learning the tricks of the trade.  For example, they will include photos that the members bring in but they charge $20 and they do not get a directory.  Some have tried to bring in photos from previous directories but the Hansons refuse to use them because of copyright laws.  Their biggest problem is getting the church members to follow their directions on what to wear and what not to wear.  The Hansons are continually working on various ways to push members to dress appropriately because when they dress badly, they don’t buy much if anything.

The Hansons are thrilled with where their church directory business is going.  They are now even turning down some churches because they just don’t have the time.  They photograph an average of 22 families a day and although they feel they work hard, they do not have the negative psychological affects of not knowing when the next sitting is coming in and having to work really hard to sell large prints.  Church directory work is for them a steady income doing what they know best and love - photography and they enjoy their contact with so many different people.

The Hansons clearly show how virtual backgrounds can be easily used entirely on location and how it helps to secure contracts and get good solid sales averages.  They say they would not want to work without their Scene Machine.  It would just be much too much work and they wouldn’t have anything special that the other directory companies do not have.

Virtual Backgrounds is located 45 miles north of San Antonio, Texas. We invite you to come see us either right before or after Imaging USA this January.

Our physical address is 101 Uhland Road, San Marcos, Texas 78666.   It will be the perfect time to come see our facility, our Learn and Earn education center and to meet the VB staff. 

If you can’t visit us in San Marcos, please do stop by our booth at Imaging USA!

Want to see Virtual Backgrounds in action?

Click here for our upcoming trade show,
seminar and affiliate school schedule.

Also click here for information on our
Virtual Backgrounds Training Workshops.