February 2010 Issue

In this issue:

Opportunities Open Up for Independent Photographers

A Sneak Peek at VB Workshops

Trevon Baker Earns Masters Degree and Moves into Beautiful New Studio!

Some Photographers are also Career Students

Featured Photographer: Allen Johnson - Thinking Outside the Box

Diane Wilson Offers New Profit Making Opportunities

Learn All About Fantasy and Theme Photography

Looking for a new way to generate profits even in these difficult times?  Theme and fantasy photography offer the independent professional a wide range of profit making opportunities.  However, there is much more to it than just setting up with your digital camera and shooting.

Diane Wilson of Toronto, Canada is conducting several five-day workshops at Virtual Backgrounds to teach small groups all the ins and outs of building a fantasy and theme photography business whether it be part time or a full time endeavor.  The workshop covers everything from marketing, to making costumes, to shooting, and selling.  There is plenty of shooting with models and everyone takes home digital files they can use to get their own studio going.

Diane has become well known for her highly successful Canadian fantasy and theme studio which is located in a large indoor flea market.  She uses a total space of only 15 x 18 feet and makes it work, open only two days a week.  From the beginning, the VB Scene Machine has played a very important role in her studio success!

Diane’s workshop involves a great deal of hands-on by the participants.  The workshop covers a lot of information.  There is no way to reduce this workshop to one or more webinars.  It is a workshop that just has to be experienced.

There are still a few seats available for the April 5 – 8, 2010.  Contact Diane directly or contact a Virtual Backgrounds consultant to register.

Register for Richard Sturdevant’s Portrait Art Collages Workshop Today!

There are still several seats available for the portrait art collages workshop, conducted by Master Photographer, Richard Sturdevant.  Portrait art collages represent a very new and highly profitable concept for independent professional photographers.  Richard earned five scores of 100 on his competition prints, four of which he earned in 2009.  His new Sturdevinci software makes it possible to create these composites quickly and easily.

The Portrait Art Collage workshop is scheduled for Thursday and Friday, March 18-19, 2010.  It immediately follows the March Virtual Backgrounds three-day workshop, March 15-17, 2010.  It is possible take both the VB workshop and the Richard Sturdevant workshops all in one week.  Both workshops have the potential to change your photographic career for the better!  Get signed up today!

Register Now for the March VB Workshop before it Fills Up

Is Virtual Backgrounds really the most powerful way for photographers to fight the digital revolution and the bad economy?   There is a sure way to find out if the claims you have heard really are true and that is to schedule your seat at a Virtual Backgrounds three-day workshop, taught by Jim Wilson, Cr. Photog. and Montana Master Photographer, Trevon Baker.  The next workshop is scheduled for March 15-17, 2010.  The price for the workshop has just been dropped to just $295 and this includes three luncheons on board the VB private railroad dining car.

The March VB workshop immediately precedes the Richard Sturdevant Portrait Art Collages workshop, so it is possible to attend two workshops in one week!  Contact a VB consultant for details and registration.

Image by Trevon Baker captured during a recent VB workshop.

New Money Maker
Set Up a Mini Studio at a Wedding Reception

There is usually more than one way to success.  With the candid wedding business going down the tubes for many, some photographers have come up with a new way to make money at a wedding.  You can set up a mini portrait studio to professionally photograph all the guests and produce small prints immediately, right on site.  George Street of Bandon, Florida actually sets up a regular studio and weddings guests get photographed and pay for what they get.  However, many brides would not approve of having a regular business operating at their wedding reception so an alternative is to charge the bride a fixed amount in advance of the reception and include professional photographs of the guests that are immediately given to the guests as thank you gifts from the bride and groom.  That way, no money changes hands at the wedding.  Still another twist is for the guests to contribute $20 or so for a professional photograph and part of the contribution toward the bride and groom’s honeymoon.

The photographer brings in lights and ideally a Virtual Backgrounds system and sets up in a corner of the reception hall.  They can take several photographs of each attendee or family group, deliver one print at the wedding and let the subject know that additional proofs will be displayed on the online and orders can be taken later.  If Virtual Backgrounds are used in place of a basic photographer’s canvas or muslin, the photographs can be more natural looking and not all exactly the same.

For an extra charge, the bride and groom can receive a bound book with photographs of all their guests.  Most wedding albums do not include many images of wedding guests, certainly not formal ones.   The Scene Machine helps to make the experience special and attracts those who otherwise would not have participated.  Taking quality images with impact can lead to the sale of more prints and enlargements.

What’s in it for the photographer?  Profit and visibility.  Even if the wedding is being photographed by the Debbie Digital or Danny Digital photographer, the professional can operate the mini portrait studio and potentially come out with far more profit.  It also gives the professional direct contact with the guests which can lead to future sittings and sales.  Of course, there is also the opportunity to sell additional images taken at the wedding.  The cheese has moved.  Setting up a mini studio at a wedding reception just might be an example of new cheese.  It’s certainly worth trying.


Sometimes we get so involved in the daily grind that we have no time to evaluate where we were, where we are and where we are going.  When that happens, and it happens from time to time with all of us, the best thing to do is to stop and take time to evaluate where you are going. 

There is the well known statement, “if you continue doing what you have always been doing, how can you expect a different outcome?”  If you are going downhill and perhaps waiting for the economy to change, you are betting on the wrong horse.  While the economy has affected everyone, the main problem for professional photographers is the digital revolution which has made everyone a photographer.

A new camera isn’t going to help, nor is a new light or a new canvas or muslin background or a new spot in the woods.  Taking another course in Photoshop or lighting 101 isn’t going to help much either.  To combat the problem, it is going to be necessary to really change your overall methods, producing product the amateurs and other professionals can’t or won’t do.  The experiences you offer your clients along with the results are what is going to really make a difference.

It has never been more critical to stop what you are doing and take time to start over again on a new course.  As has been said so many times, the cheese has moved.  It doesn’t help to run in circles.  It is clear that there is new and better cheese somewhere.  You just have to have a plan to find the new cheese.

Why Amateurs Think their Cameras Make Them Professionals

This is a window poster we saw in a camera store window.  This was a Canon poster.  Nikon and others have made similar ads.  Today, most everyone thinks they are good enough to be a professional - so why hire a professional?  This is a clear example why the real “Shoot like a pro-or just look like one” professional must have and use equipment like the Scene Machine Virtual Backgrounds system that the amateurs do not have or even understand.  To them it’s magic.

Cutting Back

Many photographers across the country and around the world are cutting back to deal with the results of the perfect storm and the drop in the economy.  Usually, the first to go are employees who are not needed because the business is down.  One usually finds out that having fewer employees does not affect output.  It is easy to get too fat on staff and mistakenly think they are all necessary for the business to survive.  In times like this, it is necessary to trim down or the business won’t survive.  Next to go is the facility if it is possible to move into a smaller less expensive location.  At the same time, less money is spent on advertising and marketing.  The last resort is to return to a mom and pop operation.  However, in the final analysis, sometimes the mom and pop operation with limited business is more profitable than a much larger operation with many employees and huge overhead.  If you retreat to a mom and pop operation, the business has to have a distinctive flavor that draws in the public who appreciates the talent, creativity, and friendliness that may or may not come with it.

Could an Amateur Do What You Do?

That’s the big question.  If an amateur photographer or low level pro watched you work for a while, could they then produce similar results?  Sadly, all too often, the answer is yes.  The public isn’t all that dumb.  They watch you taking snaps at the mall,  or on the railroad track.  They get it and then they come back later with their friends as subjects and they shoot up a storm that results in good enough  images that get made at places like Sam’s Photo Department.  Then the professional wonders why his business is dropping.   The only answer is for the professional to use professional equipment like Virtual Backgrounds and produce a set of images that incorporate the maximum level of variety resulting in a total overall experience for the client.  This is exciting and challenging and results in a set of proofs that cannot be created by any other method. That’s when customers need to come to the professional photographer. 

Is Virtual Backgrounds for Every Professional Photographer?

Virtual Backgrounds is a high level tool that is most useful for the creative photographer who can master the concept and use it effectively.  It is certainly not for amateurs or low end professionals. This is what makes Virtual Backgrounds so special - it is a very special tool which in anything besides the most simple set up, requires some thought. 

Can Virtual Backgrounds be used by the mass market photographers?  Yes, but only if they carefully structure and limit their photographers in how they use the product.  Generally speaking, the mass market photographic companies have not discovered the power of Virtual Backgrounds.  Lifetouch, however, has developed its own proprietary background system and reports excellent customer response.  At VB, we have known this for a very long time.  Background variety generates new customer interest and higher profits.

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!

Opportunities Open Up for
Independent Photographers!

Some recent big changes in the industry are opening new opportunities for photographers who are ready to respond quickly.  The bankruptcy of the nearly 200 studio Kiddie Kandids leaves a big gap across the country for children’s photography.  The closing, temporary or permanent of Picateers, is also good news for photographers.  It shows that just any amateur cannot do professional photography. Read the Good News, Bad News stories below for details.  

Bad News Can Be Good News
Kiddie Kandids Closes Shop

There was a lot of interest in the article in the January edition of The Backgrounder about the bankruptcy of the nearly 200 store Kiddie Kandids.  Many of the studios were located in Babies Are Us locations.  Here is some additional news of interest to you. 

Check out these videos:  www.ksl.com/?nid=148&sid=9305149.  Be sure to watch both videos, including the one on the photographer who talks about the state of the industry and why Kiddie Kandids didn’t make it. It is interesting to note that the photographer being interviewed comments on their plain backgrounds and style as being a factor.  Also, be sure to read the public comments section on Kiddie Kandids.  Today’s public repeatedly talks about doing their own photography and not needing to bother with a professional.  This is why it is so important that the professional offer products that the public cannot do on their own.  If the professional offers just normal photography, the public will do it on their own.  Virtual Backgrounds could have helped Kiddie Kandids but they stayed with their traditional methods.  The world changed but Kiddie Kandids didn’t.

More Bad News Which Can Also be Good News
Picateers is Temporarily Closed for Business

Picateers has closed down, at least for now.  You may have only heard about Picateers through The Backgrounder.  It is (was) a California company with millions and millions of dollars in investment capital. Their first round of investment capital was as much as $5.5 million.  They probably got more money after that. 

Picateers was going to show that it is no longer necessary to hire a professional photographer to do school photography.  They urged school principals and superintendents to identify photo savvy parents and relatives to sign on to actually shoot the school photography using their own digital cameras and send the files to Picateers to handle the online ordering and printing.  Picateers returned 50% of the sales to the school as a fund raiser. Initially, they seemed to be successful.  Most of the so-called photographers worked as volunteers.  At this point, it has been announced that Picateers is shut down. 

Maybe the public is starting to realize that there is more to professional photography than a digital camera and point and shoot.  We hope this is happening.

A Sneak Peek at VB Workshops

For years, Virtual Backgrounds has been offering our three-day workshop that brings photographers to San Marcos, Texas from around the world.  The first day is mostly technical.  If one expects to get great results from a Virtual Backgrounds system, it is most important that the user know how to operate it and understand how it works.  This is Jim Wilson’s job.  The second and third days are handled by Montana Master Photographer, Trevon Baker.  There is plenty of demonstration and hands on time along with answering any questions that anyone has along the way.

The results speak for themselves.  Click here to see images by Trevon Baker that were created In the VB studio during the January 2010 workshop.  Of course, all the backgrounds were created with the Virtual Backgrounds system.

Contact VB for registration information. The next available workshop is March15-17, 2010.  If you are serious about rejuvenating your studio, register for the workshop that can make a huge change in your entrepreneurial adventure in portrait photography.

Trevon Baker Earns Masters Degree and Moves into Beautiful New Studio!

Montana photographer, Trevon Baker, could not receive his Masters Degree in Nashville because he was closing on his new studio just a few miles outside of Kalispell.  The new studio is both a home and gallery, located on a busy highway, the new facility provides him with a much larger camera room and show room plus space for his Today In Montana gallery wraps (www.todayinmontana.com) that are sold to tourists as well as Montana residents.  The new facility also provides him with enough space to conduct classes for photographers.  The new facility borders on Flathead Lake, just like his former home.

Some Photographers are also Career Students

Michigan photographer Basil Pecknyo (top left) is pictured here with his wife Margaret and Terry Harris, President of Senior Photographers International (SPI).  Basil is 82 years old and a long time Scene Machine user.  To keep up with current developments, Basil and Margaret attended SPI, then Imaging USA in Nashville.  After that, they drove back to Florida to attend SYNC.  Their next stop will be attending a Michigan convention and then return back to his home base where he is involved in setting his studio back up in his home.  If he sells his former studio building, he hopes to buy the latest model Scene Machine.

Featured Photographer:
Allen Johnson

Thinking Outside the Box

Allen Johnson of Costa Mesa, California did not begin his career life with any intentions of being a professional photographer.  He grew up in Germany and came home to America when he was 18.  He soon joined the US Navy which took him all over the world and like most travelers, he wanted a record of the places and things he saw. Allen later met his wife, Kelly, and the two started a family that grew to include three boys and a daughter.  As he captured their growing family’s memories, Allen discovered his enjoyment of photography. While in the Navy, he studied computer engineering. This training led to a position with a corporation as computer engineer, but his love for photography continued to grow and even be nurtured as he began helping friends with wedding photography and personal portraiture.  As the compliments increased, he decided to get serious about photography, learn the craft and shortly thereafter open a small photography business in addition to his regular day job.  He attended various conventions and enrolled in workshops; however, he is mostly self taught.

His first studio was his 15 x 20 foot living room in his home.  To accommodate his photography, he had to remove most things out of the room, set up the studio, and then after the client left, he returned the room to being a living room.

Given the competitive pool of the Los Angeles and Orange County area, Allen acknowledged that in order to succeed he was going to have to be really different from other photographers.  Several years ago, Allen attended WPPI in Las Vegas and first saw Off The Wall studio sets and the Scene Machine Virtual Backgrounds system.  Both were too expensive for him at the time, but he felt that Virtual Backgrounds was a cost effective way to go because after the initial investment, he could have infinite background variety for essentially zero dollars and not have the problem of where to store the sets.   A year later when he was ready to purchase, Off The Wall was out of business and he felt that Virtual Backgrounds was the better investment.  At the next WPPI he met VB sales consultant Christian Feigl and Kentucky photographer Cindy Cofer and decided to get lease financing and ordered a Virtual Backgrounds system with a 10 foot x 9 foot portable screen.  This size would best work with Allen’s many location shoots.

Allen decided to attend the VB workshop in Texas about six months after he bought the system.  By then, he had many questions that were answered at the three-day workshop and also came away with new ideas for how to use his new Scene Machine to promote his business and increase sales.

Variety has always been an important factor for Allen.  He has always looked for ways to inject variety to make his work different and  to attract more clients and produce increased sales.  Allen has found that if there is more variety to choose from, the clients usually buy more.  His primary reason for getting the Scene Machine was to generate endless creativity.  He mentioned that he had a Kiddie Kandids studio close to him but clients choose him for the creative edge and variety over the standard children’s photography being offered.

Allen related to us a very interesting story about his experience at a church sponsored “Daddy/Daughter Dance” which is like a mini-prom for young girls.  Allen stated, “The girls come all dressed up with their dads.  There were 500 dads.  The Church brought in three different photographers to photograph all the dads with their daughters.  Two photographers offered a plain dark muslin and I was there with the Scene Machine with a special background related to the event.  I was privileged to receive 80% of the foot traffic.  Sadly, the other photographers were not busy at all.  The girls were really excited about our magic system and lined up to be photographed with our backgrounds.  The other photographers came over to see me during intermission to see what I was doing.  He said he had seen the Scene Machine before but never got around to buying one because he didn’t think it was all that important.  I think he changed his mind.”

About a year ago, Allen heard about Diane Wilson, the Canadian enchanted photographer.  He gave her a call and was absolutely amazed how much Diane taught him about what she does and how she does it even though he was never in one of her workshops.  “Diane spent hours with me.  I even sent her pictures for evaluation.  Even though I now do enchanted photography, I still intend to attend her workshop in Texas at VB.  I can’t believe how much some people are willing to help me.”

Allen’s best model for enchanted photography has been his daughter who in his words is “an awesome model” and is always willing to dress up.    “I showed my enchanted images of my daughter to my bible study group and they just ate it up.  They hadn’t seen anything like that before and they wanted their kids to be photographed in the costumes with the enchanted backgrounds.” 

Allen states, “Many people think that enchanted photography is only for little kids but I decided to experiment by offering it to even young adults.  My oldest client so far is 21.  Even the older kids really love it - it sort of  gives them a chance to experience childhood one more time and they purchase pictures!  Then, because I have developed a relationship with them, they come back for other sittings, such as for their senior photographs.  People will come in for multiple sessions if you give them good reason to come back again and again.

The use of Virtual Backgrounds isn’t the only way Allen is different from most other photographers.  For his wedding photography, he is very much against going totally photo journalistic and giving the bride a disk of thousands of images, nearly all of which are very similar to what most any amateur could do.  Instead, he promotes himself as a more traditional wedding photographer, making sure all the timeless and most important photographs are taken properly, but then mixing in the candids as well.  “By telling the bride that I provide both traditional images and the photo journalism, I make myself different from all the snap shooters and that brings me clients.”

“Today, there is a fad called trash the dress at the end of the wedding.  I offer them an alternative. I offer them the opportunity to come in after the wedding for an elegant bridal portrait.  They are taken back to their wedding day and the magic of that day. I am able to recreate the elegance of the day of the wedding and it is a whole lot better than trashing their dress. They love it and I sell images the amateur cannot.”

Allen has also started another venture associated with weddings.  He sets up a portable studio at the reception and by special arrangement with the bride and pre-payment, he photographs all the guests and prints the images on site.  He is looking forward to refining this opportunity and making it more profitable with extra sales.

“I’ve had other professional photographers ask me about my use of the Scene Machine and how I like it.  I tell them that they have to leave their old habits.  I explain that it doesn’t take long to learn to use it but once they do it, it will opens so many opportunities.  I made my investment in Virtual Backgrounds and got it back rather quickly from extra sales.  I am still a part-time professional, but it is my prayer to eventually go full-time.” 

Allen has his family involved in his business.  His wife, Kelly, does all the album design, helps set up the props and works with the kids, especially the girls.  His oldest son is also interested in going into the business.

At VB, we always enjoy interviewing a photographer like Allen who is combining our system with his talent and entrepreneurship to build a successful business.  That is what VB is all about:  building equipment that helps professional photographers like Allen grow right out of the box. Click here to go to Allen Johnson's Web site:

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