July 2010 Issue

In this issue:

What Does the Future Hold?

We'll Expose Ourselves to You!

Big Problems Require Big Thinking!

New Format for August VB Workshop

It's All About the Experience

Featured Photographer: Melanie Hall



Last Chance to Register for Trevon Baker’s September Workshop in Montana








Only a few seats are left for Trevon Baker’s September 27-29, 2010, workshop!

In addition to great instruction (including Trevon's use of Virtual Backgrounds), attendees will take a photo safari into Glacier National Park. 

This workshop covers many aspects of modern digital photography.  Contact Trevon for more information.  











It’s Up to You!



The Perfect Storm that all photographers are experiencing is not something that is totally beyond your control.  You can’t control the storm itself.  Technology and change are inevitable and the economy isn’t helping.  What you can control is how you respond to the changes.  There are still many ways to make money in professional photography - a lot of money.  You just have to develop new methods that impress the public with product they cannot create on their own.  Richard Sturdevant’s Composite Art, a.k.a, Biographical Portraits, are certainly one way. 

Using Virtual Backgrounds to infinitely expand variety without having to traipse all over the countryside is another.  Improving your marketing and developing eye catching promotions is another.

Here at The Backgrounder, we will continue to suggest a wide variety of ways that individual photographers can still be successful, perhaps more successful than ever.  Don’t wait for a stimulus from the government - it’s not coming for you.  Be an entrepreneur.  Take matters into your own hands and move forward!


Interesting Article:
If Amateur Photographers are as Good as Professionals, then We Can All be Professionals


Click here to read this article from Tech Dirt about the state of affairs in professional photography.


Mansion Hill Photography
Goes to the Dogs


Craig Weiglein uses his Scene Machine not just for people but also for pet photography. 

Click here to see a short video showing his work with animals using his Scene Machine.




Imagine the possibilities! 

Visit our Web site. 

Everything you want to know about Virtual Backgrounds is covered.


What’s in a Name?

What you call yourself can make a big difference.  Are you a picture taker?  Are you a snapshooter?  Are you a shutterbug?  Are you just another photographer? 

Or, are you a portrait artist or a photographic artist?   

Words make a big difference.  The same image brings more respect if it was captured by a Photographic Artist than by a snapshooter. 


Hint Hint.  It’s time to capture your fall high school backgrounds!

Fall is a special time in America’s school year.  There is special excitement about going back to school and about football. Take advantage of this profitable opportunity!

It’s time to plan what and how you are going to capture your backgrounds for use this fall and thereafter.  Start thinking what you could capture for backgrounds that would customize your images to the clients you expect to have and to the clients that you would like to have in your studio.  People talk.  Start some buzz by offering something different - something that really attracts clients. 

People want something different.  Customized images that tell a story about the client are powerful.   So start thinking of ways you can jazz up your images with localized backgrounds such as the football field, the schools, churches, the justice center and so much more.  You’ll be amazed how powerful this concept actually can be.

Portraits using backgrounds like these are generally never taken by the official school photographer.  The national photographers can’t be bothered.  The local photographer can easily do it and make a lot of money doing it.  Don’t continue to pass by opportunities like these.



Above is the school mascot, the cougar.  Here we have the school’s cougar that is on the hallway wall but pretty much impossible to use as a portrait background unless you capture it and project it with your Scene Machine Virtual Backgrounds system.




These backgrounds are perfect for photographing individual football team members, members of the band, members of the drill team, the cheerleaders, and even the coaches.


Austrailia Lab Works Closely with Customers to Help Them Grow Their Businesses

Michael Warshall, owner of Nulab in Melborne Australia, services primarily professional photographers in Australia and New Zealand and other parts of the world as well.  Everyone in professional photography in that part of the world knows Michael.  Michael has a problem.  If the studios he does printing for are not doing well, then his lab suffers. Because of this, for years, Michael has taught his customers how to be super successful. Besides being a lab owner, Michael is also a highly accomplished, successful photographer and a world renound expert on marketing.  He has a full portrait and commercial studio in his lab that is used for training.  He also conducts workshops across Australia and New Zealand, often bringing in some of the very best workshop leaders from the United States.

Michael is conducting three-day workshops this summer at his private facility which he calls The Resort.  Class size is limited to just six participants.


Like us here at Virtual Backgrounds, Michael Warshall feels that it is very possible to be highly profitable in professional photography. However, it only happens if the studio owner takes an entrepreneurial approach to the business of photography and offers highly creative and dynamic images that the public cannot do on their own.

Click here to learn more about Michael’s workshops.  It’s a perfect way to visit Australia and grow your business as well.


Is your schedule near empty and your cash register quiet?

Could it be that it isn’t just the economy or the digital revolution?  Could it be that you simply have not changed with the times to provide your clients with images that they cannot produce on their own?  

Let us show you methods that will significantly enhance your business opportunities.  Contact us for information on our monthly workshops, Turning Backgrounds into Dollars.  We’ll show you how to do it and we guarantee it!


Check Your Camera
for this Problem

We recently had a customer complain that they could not get perfect alignment of their camera with their Scene Machine.  The camera seemed to always be tipped.  We finally had them send in their machine and camera and yes, the camera was tipped but the Scene Machine was perfect.  The only solution we had was to instruct them to put a little shim under their camera to tip it up a bit.  A few weeks later, we get another exact same complaint.  This time they came in with their Scene Machine and camera.  Same problem only this time we discovered the real problem.  The front of the camera body wasn’t flat.  The lens was actually tipped because the front of the camera body was pushed in.  Not only did this make the camera difficult to use with the Scene Machine, it also made it impossible to get good focus.

Neither camera had been dropped.  This was a manufacturing defect.  We have no idea if this is a common problem or we just found two rarities, but you can roughly check your camera by placing it on a flat surface and check to make sure your lens is at a perfect right angle to the camera.


Is VB Worth the Money?  Here is How You can Find Out for Sure

There is no more misunderstood and inappropriately maligned product in professional photography than Virtual Backgrounds.  There is one way to find out for sure is to attend a Virtual Backgrounds workshop and see for yourself. 

Every month VB hosts a three day workshop that clearly presents the technology, gives all attendees a chance to ask any questions and actually use the system themselves. They learn how others turn Virtual Backgrounds into studio success.  The workshop will help you understand why so many of our owners would not want to work without their Virtual Backgrounds system, especially in today’s difficult market. 


Coming Next Month
VB Layaway Purchase Program


Watch the August edition of The Backgrounder for information on our new layaway program to help photographers purchase a new or refurbished Virtual Backgrounds system.  With this program, the photographer selects a specific system at a set price and makes a minimal down payment.  The equipment is set aside for the photographer.  The photographer then makes monthly payments on the order with zero interest until 50% of the total is paid.  Then the equipment is shipped and the final 50% is paid using our unique 50/50 financing plan with zero interest.   Contact us for information.  There will be more details to come in the August issue of The Backgrounder.


June 2010 VB Workshop:
Group Shot using VB



Many photographers think that Virtual Backgrounds cannot be used for groups.  This photograph proves otherwise. In fact, we have photographed much larger groups with Virtual Backgrounds.  Virtual Backgrounds can indeed do just about everything! If you haven't done so already, see what Virtual Backgrounds can do for you!


How Easy can They Make Photography for the Amateur?



Now, both the photographer and the subject can see the image live on the LCD screen before the image is captured.  Both can make adjustments to make sure the final result is what they want!  It is one more way for the amateur to take better images and one more reason why the professional has to reach out and go beyond.



If you can work or buy your

way out of a problem, you

don’t really have a problem!


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!


What Does the Future Hold?

What is the future of professional photography now that we are deep into what we have called The Professional Photographer’s Perfect Storm?  Is there a future? 

It all depends on how you look at it.  It also depends on how each of us reacts to dealing with the storm.  The evidence on the seriousness of the storm is everywhere.  It is hard to find an established professional photographer who is not down in sales - typically down from 25% to as much as 80%!   Many photographers who had studios have retreated to their homes or are just shutting down completely. Weddings are down so much that many wedding photographers have just quit doing weddings, leaving them mostly to the amateurs.  Seniors are down.  In a growing number of areas, seniors are able to turn in their own photos for the yearbook.  Walk in portrait business is way down.  Commercial is down.  Even the large retail studio operations are significantly down.  Most conventions, trade show attendance, and professional membership are way down too.


What is worse than the combination of factors that make up the perfect storm is the approach that is being taken by our organizations and by individual photographers to deal with the storm.  For the most part, our organizations and publications seem to be ignoring the problem.  Individual photographers certainly feel the pain but without solution-minded leadership, they too are ignoring the problem and in many cases becoming comatose - doing nothing to solve the problem while bemoaning the loss of business.  This only makes the problem worse.

Are there solutions?  Absolutely!  And if our organizations are not providing solutions, then it is every professional photographer for themselves.  The key is to be decidedly different from other professionals and from the amateurs.  Without clearly defining differences, professional photographers are doomed to an existence of mediocrity. Because of today’s cameras, most everyone can do the standard stuff themselves.  They consider their results to be good enough.

Most professionals are actually becoming more amateur like in everything they do.  They give up their studios.  They give up their tripod.  They give up on establishing the best possible lighting designed for each subject and situation.  They give up on posing so they can capture the natural look.  They take hundreds of shots to try to capture a good one.  They work entirely on location, mostly in city parks.  In so doing, the professionals are operating like amateurs but the rank amateur can sell their products for much less or even give them away.


Professionals cannot win the battle by operating this way.  Professionals must show themselves to be clearly and decidedly different from other photographers, especially the amateurs, in everything they do from the way they look and talk to how they consult with the client, how they work in capturing images, the lighting, the posing, the variety they offer, their sales techniques, and their delivery of final product along with their marketing and promotion.

Yes, there have been magnanimous changes in the photographic industry over the past decade, but fortunately there are ways for the professional photographer to adapt and even prosper.  The cheese has moved but there is new cheese out there.  Our featured photographer for this month is a clear example of what can be done.  Melanie Hall is young, well trained and aggressively markets her new looks and the public responds.  Be sure to read her story below.


We’ll Expose Ourselves to You!



That is exactly what we do at every Virtual Backgrounds workshop.  We show you everything about Virtual Backgrounds.  We answer every question.  We demonstrate how to make the system work and then we ask the you to do it yourself.   We literally beg every attendee to ask any question that comes to mind, even if they think it might be a question that might embarrass us to answer.  We could not be more open.  There are no secrets.  We can do that because Virtual Backgrounds is such a phenomenally robust process that can effectively help most photographers fight the perfect storm and win.

Virtual Backgrounds is a powerful tool that can help your total operation grow and profit.  Virtual Backgrounds can do just about everything!

If you are looking for ways to grow your business in these difficult times, take a hard look at Virtual Backgrounds.  So many of our owners come back and tell us that VB is much more than then they ever hoped for.  Sign up for our monthly workshop.  Contact us or visit our Web site and discover how Virtual Backgrounds can grow your profits.





Big Problems Require Big Thinking!

What We Can Learn from Fast Food


McDonalds partners up with Quiznos and another retailer.


The Problem:  Today most photographers are running away from having a studio or even an office because they can’t afford the cost.  However, working without a studio can be a real problem for running a successful business.  Are there other options?

The Solution:  Yes! Shared facilities! Photographers always want to have their own separate place or none at all.  However, shared space is exactly what we see with McDonalds, Wendy’s, A & W, Pizza Hut, and many other fast food places.  They share a common building to reduce overhead.  And it works!  We are seeing more and more of this cooperative approach all across the country.

With this in mind, it's very possible for several photographers to get together and share a common reception area,  a common camera room, and a common receptionist.  This would be especially doable if the photographers had different specialties.  They all would enjoy more public visibility and public presence than if they were working out of their house, and their costs would be so much less.

A typical studio might be open 50 hours a week but the actual camera room might be in use just a few hours a week which is terribly wasteful.  If more than one photographer were involved, not only would they share the physical space, but they would also share the receptionist, and all the equipment.  If two photographers used the same space and shared the same equipment, costs would be cut in half.   A variation of this could be for the owner photographer to rent the studio to other photographers by the hour.  Either way, overhead could be greatly lowered.

Another option would be for a photographer to join up with several related businesses in a common facility with a common receptionist.  Imagine a combination of a wedding photographer, caterer, limousine rental, DJ, live band, flower shop, tuxedo rental and bridal dress shop.  You would have a one stop facility.  Think of the economies!  Think of the cooperation and sharing of clients.  Any client who comes in for any one business can very likely become a client for any of the other businesses.   All of the related businesses would have a much better opportunity to prosper.

Less desirable but also possible would be a group of unrelated but compatible businesses that shared a common facility such as a photographer, a lawyer, an accountant, and artist.  It could still be cost effective, and cross pollination would still be possible.

A shared facility is just one of many possible ways to fight the perfect storm and win.  Think about it.


New Format for August VB Workshop

The regular monthly VB three-day workshop is going to test a new more general format in August.  The new title for the workshop : Innovative Solutions to Generate Dollars.  The workshop is co-sponsored by Pounds Photographic Labs and Virtual Backgrounds.  There will be a special price for the August workshop of only $95 (a $200 discount from the normal price of $295).

In addition to covering Virtual Backgrounds, there will be increased emphasis on more broad solutions to help professional photographers generate revenue during these difficult times.  VB founder, Dr. Henry Oles, author of The Professional Photographer’s Perfect Storm, will bring in new information on effective ways to deal with the storm.  Colorado photographer, Rick Avalos will present a variety of methods he has successfully used to keep up sales.  Montana photographer, Trevon Baker will place extra emphasis on sales methods that he is using in addition to his presentation on the four dimensions of professional studio photography.  Carl Clark of Pounds Photographic Labs will talk about the importance of taking advantage of unique products that the lab can offer which are not available to the amateur.  Jim Wilson will primarily teach the technical aspects of the Virtual Backgrounds process.  To accommodate all the extra information, the workshop will include at least one evening session as well as the three full-day sessions.

The dates for the August workshop are August 16-18, 2010.   Contact Virtual Backgrounds for further information.


It's All about the Experience

As photographers struggle to recover from the Perfect Storm, the most important things that will bring customers to the professional photographer are the total experience the photographer provides and the uniqueness and quality of the resultant product.  If the professional photographer offers nothing really different from what the client can do on their own, then why bother with the professional?  If you deliver images that look like snapshots, you won’t last long in today’s market.

To maintain their business, the professional must be as different as possible from others, especially the amateurs.  Recently we heard of a professional who photographed a family in the local park.  When she came back in the afternoon to photograph another family in the same park, she noticed that the family that she had just photographed that morning was being photographed again by an amateur in the exact same locations and configurations she had used just a few hours earlier.  Needless to say, when she showed them their previews, they bought nothing!  This is no longer a rare situation.  It is becoming common when the professional photographer isn’t doing anything special and doing things that can easily be copied.

This is one more example why the professional needs to primarily do work in their studio where they have total control and where they can produce images that the amateurs cannot do. Furthermore, in their studios they can use equipment like Virtual Backgrounds that the amateurs and other professionals do not have.  High key white and traditional photographer’s canvas backgrounds produce images the others cannot do on their own and should be part of many sittings along with the more contemporary looks.  Today’s photographer places far too much emphasis on shooting candids on location.  That’s what amateurs do best.  It is hard to compete with amateurs when working in their environment and style.

It is critical that the studio facility, even if the studio is just a room in the photographer’s home, look professional in every way, including the equipment.  It is critical that the photographer perform in a professional manner and not just take snapshots.  Customers today know when they are paying for something they could have done on their own. 

The business is out there, and it is coming back as the economy improves!  However, we as professionals must work smarter to deliver variety and creativity that others cannot do.


Featured Photographer:
Melanie Hall

Business is Great!!!


Melanie Hall








While so many professional photographers are suffering the full brunt of the perfect storm, 24 year old Melanie Hall, CPP of Conroe, Texas, is sailing right along at Melonhead Photo.  Melanie got into photography the right way and she continues to learn.  Her studio images are not like what her clients can get anywhere else.  Her customers come, they like what they see, and they buy!

Melanie’s interest in photography was first identified her freshman year by her high school journalism teacher.  She always loved photography; it maintained her interest.  In college she started out studying to be a civil engineer but then quickly changed directions and transferred to Sam Houston State University to earn a Bachelors of Science degree in photography.  She freelanced for the local newspaper while doing her college work but shortly after graduation, as her photography business grew,  she quit her then full time job in newspaper work and devoted her energy to her photography and building her own business.  She also continued her education by attending Texas School every year since 2006, studying with Kalen Henderson, Fuzzy Dunkel, Tony Corbell, Bry Cox and JB & DeEtte Salle.  Melanie comments, “I learned more at Texas School in a week than what I learned in a college semester!”







Even disasters can have silver linings.  In 2008, Hurricane Ike and the economy caused a lot of damage in her area.  Melanie was able to purchase a nice size home that was in foreclosure, located in an area where she could do professional photography.  She remodeled the home, turning much of it into her studio and the rest into a living area.  She displays primarily prints and gallery wraps that are at least 30 inches.   While in college, she won her first studio flash unit at Texas School and then purchased additional lights.  She very much wanted a Scene Machine Virtual Backgrounds system from the first time she saw it.  Unfortunately, Melanie could not afford it, so she purchased regular backgrounds and props.  She very quickly realized that these long standard methods of doing backgrounds was actually very expensive, it took up too much storage space, and it was clumsy to use and very limiting.

Melanie attended a TPPA fall workshop in San Antonio sponsored by Virtual Backgrounds, and her mother attended as well.  Once her mother saw Cindy Cofer’s presentation and samples made with the Scene Machine, she knew the Scene Machine was to be Melanie’s dream tool.  So in April 2009, Melanie purchased a Scene Machine Digital from another Texas photographer who was never able to learn how to use it.   It was his loss and her gain.





Melanie explains, “The upfront cost of Virtual Backgrounds was daunting at first, but in the end, I found the Scene Machine to be a highly cost effective solution.  It enabled me to offer a wide variety of custom backgrounds to my clients.  My clients love it, and they love the variety that I am able to produce.  They come into an air-conditioned studio and do not have to fight the Texas heat, mosquitoes, ants, and more. I can quickly change from one background to another so the whole session flows quickly.   I still go outside because all my old marketing was outdoors.  However, in many cases, I now get my clients to try something new.  Now they mostly want studio sessions with my Scene Machine.”

Most of Melanie’s background slides are her own.  She loves to do background safaris to find and capture backgrounds.  She also occasionally buys royalty free stock images.  She has developed her own Photoshop action to alter the color of her backgrounds to suit her taste.  About 50% of her exposures with seniors are done with the Scene Machine.  This year the percentage will be higher.





Melanie takes her Scene Machine on location for her sports shoots and uses it 80% of the time to offer custom backgrounds for the different teams.  She also takes it on location for school photography so she can be different, get contracts, and sell more.  Using Virtual Backgrounds for sports and schools provides her with a decided advantage over her numerous competitors.

When asked about her sales, Melanie is quite satisfied:  “Photographers have to adapt to the market.”  She credits her boyfriend with being a powerful force for her.  He keeps pushing her to try this and that.  Melanie’s 2009 sales were significantly better than the previous year.  Her records show that her number of sittings is down somewhat but her average sale is up, in part because of the greater variety she is able to deliver.  Her weddings are also holding their own, and a typical wedding brings in about $3,000 or more after add on sales.  There are a lot of new photographers showing up around her, but Melanie isn’t worried as long as she can do what they can’t do.





When it comes to the Scene Machine, Melanie says, “I love the creative possibilities that the machine offers!  I can change backgrounds in seconds and can provide clients with more variety in an allotted session time.  I have live viewing and total control over the background.  I can only do this because of my Scene Machine.  It helps to make me successful!”

Melanie uses only a minimal amount of Photoshop, spending three minutes or less on each file as she prepares to send it to the lab.  She likes to get it on the file and not have to deal with much fix up after the fact.

Melanie clearly represents what is still possible in professional studio photography today.  While so many photographers bemoan their loss of business and in many cases their livelihood, Melanie combines her training, talent, and can-do attitude along with special tools like the Scene Machine that expands her opportunities.  Melanie is getting it done.  She isn’t afraid of the future because she feels she can adapt and deliver the kinds of products her clients really want that they cannot do on their own and many other photographers cannot compete with her either.  This is Melanie’s ticket to a successful future in professional photography.







Melanie’s Web site:  www.melonhead-photo.com

Want to see Virtual Backgrounds in action?

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

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Virtual Backgrounds Training Workshops.