March 2011 Issue

In this issue:

Get the Facts about VB!

Trending Nationally: Renewed Interest in School and Event Photography

Flats are Making a Comeback!

Featured Photographer: William Hodge

Lots of Images!

Lots of Ideas!

Click here to watc the video.

Click here to see imaging USA 2011 TradeShow Booth Images

New Life for Your Photography Career 

Want to inject adrenalin into your photography career?  The week of April 4 - 8, 2011, in San Marcos Texas is the time and place.  April 4 - 6 is our next How to Turn Backgrounds into Dollars workshop. This is your chance to get the facts for yourself. You will get hands on experience and learn how VB can make a huge difference in your business.  There is no better way to learn about Virtual Backgrounds than to attend this workshop. 

As a special event, West Virginia rising star,  Lora Yeater, will make a presentation on April 6 as part of the VB workshop.  Lora, although new to the business, has amassed an impressive array of awards including a perfect score of 100 on a print created with a Scene Machine background.

April 7 - 8, Richard Sturdevant presents a powerful two-day workshop on how to create Lifestyle Art Portraits.  It’s the hottest new concept in professional photography. 

Attend the VB workshop, the Sturdevant workshop, or both.  For more information, contact us.

PPA Recognizes
the Perfect Storm

In a recent letter to Professional Photographers of America (PPA) members, PPA clearly indicated that they now recognize that the perfect storm has hit photography with statements like, “PPA understands you’re facing new challenges with the current economy, so we hope you turn to us for answers and advice to weather the storm.  We know that times are tough but PPA is here to help.”

We hope that PPA sees the current problems as extending far beyond the economic conditions.  The economy is only a small part of the storm.  The digital revolution and the do it yourself thinking of our customers must be dealt with.  While the economy is coming back, the digital revolution, the basis for the Perfect Storm, is never going to go away.  This is a fundamental fact of life for professional photographers. 

Should Professional Associations have
Admission Requirements?

Remember when you first became a member of PPA?  It really meant something to you and perhaps back then it did.  You could display your membership certificate and be proud of it.

When times are good, many things are ignored but when times get tough it is normal to ask tough questions.  One of the issues that is coming up more often today is whether or not our professional associations should allow anyone to join and display the emblem of the association to help legitimize their business operation. Should there be minimum standards for membership?

For many years now, membership in the PPA has been open to anyone who pays the membership fee.  This entitles them to display the PPA emblem in their windows, on their walls and in their advertising whether or not they have any training, ability, or even a business license or tax identification number. 

On the other side, Senior Photographers International (SPI) requires that the applicant submit a legitimate business license or tax identification number.  Many local guilds and state and regional associations may have it in their bylaws that members must provide some justification for joining, such as a sales tax license. Unfortunately, they often don’t abide by their own rules.

Membership requirements, if any, will continue to be an issue that must be dealt with.  Legitimate professional photographers desperately want ways to distinguish themselves from the masses of those who proclaim themselves as professionals but who have little to no training or ability. Associations want to grow their revenue but at what price to the profession?

Many associations are talking about this very issue right now and are coming up with proposals including associate memberships as opposed to making anyone and everyone an automatic full member. It certainly seems that the SPI's approach which limits membership to legitimate professionals is something that must be studied.

Riding the Storm
A Commentary By Rick Avalos, M.Photog.Cr.

The Perfect Storm experienced by nearly every photographer worldwide is causing an upheaval in our industry.  We are experiencing a period that is testing our marketing efforts, our entrepreneurial skills, and our very character.  The question is this: What can we do to ride the storm to success rather than meagerly weather the storm and hope there is something left of value?  The answer is rooted in one word:  Attitude.

We’ve heard of people becoming millionaires during the depression.  There are many stories about poverty stricken individuals who have blazed their own trail to success through the thickets of business life, including during tough times.  Others have changed the social structure of society with their convictions and actions.  There are countless examples, but my hope here is to express the importance of attitude and how it applies to our success at this or any other time.

Things to Consider
  • An abundance of opportunity for photographers still exists and always will.  We must recognize opportunity and grasp it. 

  • Properly communicating (marketing) to the public with an attitude of expectancy is of utmost importance.

  • The willingness to put forth efforts above and beyond those of our colleagues requires an attitude of service.

  • The attitude of rebel allows us to be innovative.

  • The pursuit of quality is driven by the attitude of perfection.

  • It is our attitude that determines the result of the sale, not the client’s!

  • An attitude of dedication fosters loyalty among our clients.

Check Your Attitude

Question 1: Are you responding or reacting to the perfect storm and any other challenging conditions that surface?  We should respond rather than react.

Question 2: If we decide to respond, can we embrace plans, tools, and strategies that are non-traditional?

Question 3: Are we willing to pay the price for success. We we willing to invest in education, pursuing excellence, offering something different from our colleagues, taking action on what we learn?

Question 4: Do we really want to succeed?

Question 5: Do we ask ourselves, “What if?”  For example, what if we implement different marketing strategies?  Or, what if we invest in tools that will make us truly different and unique to our market area?

Question 6: Which kind of person are you?
  • Down but not out
  • Go down fighting
  • I’m not going down at all!

These are a few questions, which when answered in all honesty, will reveal the type of individual we are and allow us an opportunity to clarify our goals and create plans to accomplish them.

When we adopt non-traditional marketing strategies such as partnering with other businesses, employee appreciation programs, family portrait fundraisers, and pet portrait projects in addition to unique approaches to photography such as using Virtual Backgrounds, we are on our way to a brighter future.  In my situation,  the adoption of the Virtual Backgrounds system has not only generated great profits but has created a WOW factor among the marketplace. 

It is our goal to continually improve our image in the community and to create unique products that the public loves but cannot do on their own. As a result,  our profits will soar as we ride the storm to great success!

Editor’s note

Rick Avalos has been a frequent seminar instructor at Virtual Backgrounds workshops.  His program, Profit Building Strategies and Promotions, has been extremely well received at various venues across the country. 

Learn more about Rick’s Profit Building Strategies and Promotions.

Click here to watch Rick's video!

Upcoming VB Workshops

March 7-9
April 4-6
May 16-18
June 13-15

See Us at These
Upcoming Events

Mar 27-28 NY/NJ Convention
Apr 17-18 Candian Imaging Conference & Trade Show
Aug 14-15 Florida PPA

Maximum Variety!
Minimal Space!
More Dollars

Click here to enlarge

Many photographers today think that more variety in portraiture simply means taking more shots.  With digital, many photographers are now taking 20 to 40 or more exposures with just minor changes in pose.  The proofs all look almost the same.

A photographer using Virtual Backgrounds generates for more variety with fewer shots my frequently varying the background to complement the subject in different ways.  Backgroundds can be changed in seconds.  Changes in backgrounds can make a significant difference in the resulting image even with only minor changes in pose.  More variety means more sales.

The photographs you have just seen demonstrate the variety that can be achieved under the most primitive of conditions.  The photographs were taken in three different trade show booths by Montana Master Photographer, Trevon Baker.  Total working space was less than 10 x 10 feet.  The area was flooded with overhead trade show exhibition lights but they did not affect the images in any way.  Only a main light was used to light the subject.  Fill was provided by a “Touch of Warmth” reflector.  In some cases, a simple overhead light was added to provide separation.  Few props were used.

The backgrounds provide color harmony, dimension, and variety.  The exact same pose can look different just because the background has changed.  Imagine what could have been produced with more space, better lighting, and appropriate props.

Think of how Virtual Backgrounds could enhance your ability to offer your clients more variety.  Virtual Backgrounds is magic.  Amateurs cannot duplicate it no matter what camera they may own.  It is fun to be a more creative photographer and be different.  It’s also fun to make more profit!

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!

Get the Facts about VB!

True or false:  Virtual Backgrounds is a truly remarkable tool that can make the difference between success and failure.  How much trust can you put in this statement?   If it is true, then VB is a powerful solution for photographers to generate substantial new profits.  If it is all false fluff, then it isn’t such a fantastic investment.

There are a variety of ways to put the Virtual Backgrounds concept to the test to get the real facts.  The very best way is to personally test drive a system and see for yourself what can really be done.  You can talk with a VB system owner who has agreed to be a consultant.    You can attend a three-day workshop that covers the technical and photographic aspects of using a Virtual Backgrounds system.  The workshop includes hands on experience for each attendee and a 100% guarantee of satisfaction.  Seeing is believing.  The workshop covers not only how to use Virtual Backgrounds, but also how to use VB to market your services and increase sales.  You can also read the featured photographer stories in The Backgrounder and on the website.   

VB is a significant piece of magic that is exclusive to professionals.  The more you know the true facts about VB, the more you will want to include a system in your studio whether you are fixed or working on location.

Like a camera in manual mode, VB does not work by itself.  This is the way it should be for a professional to be distinguished from an amateur.  It takes the hands of a creative photographer to produce the magic that can make the difference in your business.  Can you think of any other tool that would have more power to help you grow even in these difficult times?  To be successful today it is absolutely critical that the photographer provide wow-generating products that customers cannot do on their own.  There really is no other answer. 

In my situation,  the adoption of the Virtual Backgrounds system has not only generated great profits but has created a WOW factor among the marketplace. 

~Rick Avalos

Trending Nationally:
Renewed Interest in
School and Event Photography

School Photographers Association of California (SPAC) has been around for 55 years.  It is no longer just a California or western state association.  There is a whole new level of interest in school and event photography and church directory photography by photographers from across the country and beyond.  The perfect storm has not beaten down the school and event photographers, and consequently, many photographers are investigating this area.

SPAC president, Calvin Harrell proclaimed that this year was a milestone for the organization in both attendance and vendor participation.  They had a 50% growth in vendors this year over last year, helping them become the premier school and large volume photographer educational association in the country. 

Calvin states, “As an Eagle Scout, one of the most important tenets that I learned was to be prepared.  Be prepared with the knowledge that will take you to the next level.  Be prepared with the contacts that can help you on your journey.  Be prepared with the resources to take advantages of opportunity as it presents itself.  Be prepared to learn at all times and be prepared to share the wealth of knowledge you have had the fortune to gain.”

Virtual Backgrounds was not only an exhibitor at SPAC but was also the sponsor of San Antonio volume photographer, Rick Harding.  Rick gave two presentations that involved his success with using Virtual Backgrounds to create his backgrounds for his routine work for both seniors and school photography.

If you want to make a living in professional photography, you may want to look seriously into volume photography.  It’s alive and well. Although it has been dominated by Lifetouch, there are enormous opportunities for local photographers to get involved. Local photographers can offer many advantages over a national company.

For further information about SPAC and membership go to  

VB is the only tool that the professional really needs other than a camera and lights. 

~Gary Jentoft

Flats are Making a Come Back!

Flats use to be a very popular women’s shoe that seemed to disappear for no known reason, especially since they were so comfortable.  Now, we are starting to see a rebound in popularity in flats but they are not the same as before.  Today’s flats are more stylish and come with greater variety of options.  The important thing is that flats are making a resurgence.

Last month we talked about wall paper.  Wallpaper, once extremely popular, lost its luster and seemed to die, but now it is coming back.  Another trend is wood molding in homes.  Fancy quality stained wood molding use to be a really important component in a home, but then things changed and molding became more and more simple.  First the stain was replaced with paint.  Then even the design of the molding became more simple and to the point where molding in even new million dollar homes is just plain painted 1 x 3 - the cheapest stuff you can find off the shelf in Lowes without even any routing. Every bit of woodwork was painted, usually white.  This makes older homes with stained designer woodwork look out of style.  What’s next for new homes?  We will soon probably see a return to elegant stained designer oak or ash molding.  Simplicity can only go so far before a bounce back.

This also applies to photography.  Today, it’s do it yourself snapshots and who needs a professional anymore?  Will quality professional photography make a comeback?  We believe yes it will, but only if high quality photography is still available and promoted. If all the professional level studios are gone and if artistic portraiture is nonexistent or at least not promoted, it may die just as if no one made wall paper anymore and if no one produced fine quality woodwork.

Featured Photographer
Bill Hodge
Secrets to Success - Rites of Passage

Southern California, Orange County area photographer, Bill Hodge, isn’t fighting to secure high school senior contracts like so many other photographers.  He is targeting very different opportunities, profitable opportunities that most other professional photographers don’t know about or just ignore. It’s working for Bill because he thinks outside the box.

Bill started his career in newspaper photography but began moving in to professional photography in the mid-1990s. He offered a wide variety of services including publishing calendars for banks and real estate companies.  In 2002, he began offering event photography providing photographic services primarily for corporations such as when they would bring in their top sales people from across the country for a formal event that recognized their success.  Among other things at these events, Bill did prom type photographs.  From the very beginning he recognized the importance of being different from others and the importance of immediate delivery.  He delivered his work immediately on site.

It was at this time that Bill began to recognize the importance of rites-of-passage, applying his corporate event philosophy to each of them.  Bill explains, “There are many different kinds of rites-of passage.  Graduating from high school is only one of them.  There are so many others if you just think about it and they all become golden opportunities for professional photography.  If your corporation flies you in for special recognition at an event, that is a rite-of-passage and certainly a major professional photographic opportunity.  There is good reason to be professionally photographed and not just a collection of shutterbug snapshots.  Graduating from elementary school to high school is a rite-of passage.  Achieving any special recognition is a rite of passage.   Graduating from college, law school, medical school, is a Rite-of-Passage.  Becoming an Eagle Scout is a major rite-of-passage.”-

Bill had been involved in scouting for years as a scout leader, committee chair, scout master, and commissioner.  He came to realize that there was a huge unfulfilled opportunity here.  More than 200 new Eagle Scouts would attend a special banquet honoring their accomplishment and there was no professional photographer.  He started out photographing each Eagle Scout and printed on site four wallets along with information on how to order more prints.  It was a dismal failure, because they simply went out and copied the wallets and fulfilled their own needs.  Instead of quitting, he stepped back and through working with the Boy Scout council, he developed a program that would be a win-win for everyone. 

The Eagle Scouts would come to the council headquarters at a designated time to be photographed without charge to have a 4 x 6 portrait go on the Eagle Honor Wall.  If they wanted any extra prints for themselves, they had to order them right then with no opportunity to purchase later.  Prints up to 8 x 10 were delivered immediately.  Gradually Bill began to concentrate on differentiating his work, offering retouching services, larger prints, and canvas mounts.  He laid out his program to accommodate those who wanted to spend the very least as well as for those who enjoy and cherish portraits and are willing to spend more.  “Everyone has different price point sensitivities depending on the value they give to a product. We want to satisfy everyone’s needs.“

Initially, Bill was doing most of his work on location such as at Boy Scout Council headquarters but eventually began experimenting with having subjects, if they were relatively near by, come to his commercial location studio at designated times.  He quickly learned that sales increased substantially when they came to the formal studio.  “When I work on location, they see a guy with a camera, tripod and some lights.  When they walk into my studio, they say, "Holy Cow! Look at all this impressive photography hanging on the wall." They look at the facility and everything and they get more enthusiastic and they buy more, a lot more.”

Always wanting to be ahead, Bill is constantly looking out for new ways to impress his clients and increase sales.  Before opening a studio, he received only a call or two per month looking for a studio portrait. That just wouldn’t support the investment of a studio. As time went on, he started receiving lots of calls about studio sessions and he opened a test studio.

He had just opened his test studio when he first saw a Scene Machine Virtual Backgrounds system at a trade show.   Bill flew to Texas to take the three-day VB workshop. He still wasn’t sure he wanted a system until he went back into his studio and looked at his simple fabric and canvas backdrops. It was then that Bill realized that the Scene Machine could be a tool to set him clearly apart from everyone else and increase sales.

Bill has a basic rule about purchasing equipment. It’s called the 10x Rule. He has to see where any piece of equipment would pay for itself at least ten times over, preferably more.  Bill saw tons of new photographers entering the event photography arena, and he knew he had to be different to maintain and grow his business.   He soon ordered his Virtual Backgrounds system and returned again to Texas to take the training class all over again, this time as a system owner.

Bill has, in fact, been to the VB Learn and Earn center in Texas a total of four times and is planning on returning again soon.  In addition to taking the Virtual Backgrounds class twice, he has also attended the Joseph and Louise Simone classic portrait workshop and recently attended the Richard Sturdevant composite art class.  “I’ve spent probably more than $5,000 all together to go to the classes at Virtual Backgrounds - and it has been worth every penny of it.”

Bill’s use of Virtual Backgrounds has become a very key component in his success.  For his Eagle Scouts when working on location, he uses two backgrounds, both projected,  a canvas type background and a US flag background. When the Eagle Scouts come to his studio, he has hundreds of backgrounds to use.  When he photographs any group, he has a wide variety of backgrounds, but he’ll only use two slides in large university or Scout events.  For some colleges 50% purchase the painted projected backdrop and 50% purchase a graphic backdrop.  However, at Scripps College, the background is of a key Scripps College building and 100% purchase the special background.  “It is so important to come up with a key background like I do for Scripps College.  It makes such a difference in enthusiasm for the portraits and sales.”

With a college minor in marketing, Bill understands sales.  He explains, “Life is all about sales. You have to convince people to do various things like even convincing a woman to marry you, a boss to hire you, or to get a customer to buy your product.  Only a hermit doesn’t need sales skills.  Having a tool like the Scene Machine Virtual Backgrounds system certainly helps the sales process.”

Even during these difficult times, Bill is busy.  He photographs the Eagle Scouts from three Boy Scout Councils covering Orange County including Los Angeles, Orange County, the Inland Empire, and Palm Springs.  He also photographs a number of different colleges as well as normal high school senior work as well as walk-ins.  When working in the studio, he can do between 30 and 50 portrait sessions a day.”

Bill concluded this interview by saying, “Show me a rite-of-passage and I will show you a customer.”  Here at Virtual Backgrounds, we totally endorse Bill’s statement and wonder how much opportunity is out there that professional photographers are not taking advantage of.  It’s a lot.

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.