November 2010 Issue

In this issue:

Richard Sturdevant Hits Jackpot with Four 100s at SWPPA

Meet 11 Year Old Daniel, Your Competition

Photokina Report - The World's Fair of Photography

SPI Requires Sales Tax Number for Membership

Featured Photographer: Andrea Cote



Videos! Videos! Videos!

The Truth about Professional Photographers:



Master photographer Rick Avalos talks about opportunities for profit in professional photography:



Innovative Solutions Workshops



Co-Sponsored by Pounds Labs and Virtual Backgrounds

A unique workshop that places special emphasis on innovative solutions to generate dollars in these difficult times will be once again conducted at Virtual Backgrounds in San Marcos, Texas.   Because this three-day workshop is co-sponsored by Pounds Labs and VB, we are able to offer registration fees of only $125 (down from $295 each).  Registration includes lunches and two evening events.  The workshop is held at the VB Learn and Earn education center in San Marcos, Texas.

The presenters for the workshop are Dr. Henry Oles, Founder of Virtual Backgrounds.  A Photographic Craftsman, Oles authored the book that predicted the coming of the Perfect Storm more than five years ago.  Presenting with Dr. Oles is Rick Avalos, Master Photographer from Colorado; Trevon Baker, Master Photographer from Montana; Jim Wilson, Photographic Craftsman from Virtual Backgrounds; and Carl Clark of Pounds Labs.

Henry Oles opens the workshop with a presentation on how the industry has changed since the digital revolution and offers a wide variety of suggestions on how to successfully cope with the storm.  Rick Avalos fully documents his unique marketing methods to acquire family photography sessions.  His methods have kept his studio going strong.  Trevon Baker speaks primarily on the four dimensions of a portrait and how he operates his Montana studio.  Jim Wilson provides detailed information on how Virtual Backgrounds operates and how it can be implemented into the studio mainstream.  Carl Clark discusses the importance of working closely with a professional lab and always offering new and different products.

More Innovative Solution workshops are planned for 2011.  Watch The Backgrounder for announcements!


Tax Articles Bring Much Discussion

The two recent Backgrounder articles on the significant advantages photographers who do not pay their taxes have over their tax paying competition brought a wide variety of comments.  Most of the respondents see the tax cheats as being one of the biggest problems in the industry and being completely unfair.  One respondent was highly critical that we would even bring up such a matter in The Backgrounder or than anyone would dare to report a tax cheat.

The fact remains:  Those who do not pay their taxes have a significant advantage over those who do pay.  Furthermore, the tax cheaters often tell prospects that their competition charge too much because they are greedy when in fact they have to charge more because they are operating under the law.  We have heard that the tax cheat article was the subject matter for discussion at several association meetings.  How to deal with this matter is indeed one of the most important factors in our industry, especially now when the vast majority of photographers are part timers who probably have not yet registered as a business; some will never register.  With taxes rising, it is perfectly reasonable for a photographer to pay 50% or more of their gross in various taxes.  That puts the tax paying photographer at a huge disadvantage then they compete with the newcomers or others who do not pay their taxes.

In The Backgrounder we will continue to present controversial material like the tax problems that the other photography publications never get to.  If it helps the professional photographer, we’ll publish it.


You Don’t Need to Start with a Mercedes

Low Prices VB Systems are Available!

The most common reason given for not getting into Virtual Backgrounds is the cost, even when VB offers interest free financing with a moderate down payment.  Although a VB system is a great investment that pays for itself, the cost of a VB system does get a little high when one considers getting the top of the line system with a very large screen.  We have put together special packages to help you get started in Virtual Backgrounds for much less.  We even have a couple of refurbished older projectors for just $500 each.  VB also has a trade up program making it easy for the photographer to move up to a higher level system.  As Virtual Backgrounds helps to generate extra income that quickly pays off the original system, you can upgrade your unit.

There is an old expression that says if you do nothing different, then nothing will change.  Virtual Backgrounds represents the most powerful tool that enables you to produce results that other photographers and amateurs cannot do.


Tammy Mars, Jim Wilson, and Rick Avalos Host VB Booth at SWPPA



Over 1000 photographers attended the Southwest Professional Photographer Association’s convention in Arlington, Texas in late September.  Virtual Backgrounds had a double booth with a full working VB system.  The booth was staffed by Rick Avalos of Colorado, Tammy Mars of New Orleans and Jim Wilson of San Marcos.  Tammy Mars performed demonstrations of the VB system.  Attendees had a chance to get their hands on it and see for themselves how easy it is to use, providing photographers with unlimited background choice for their subjects.Virtual Backgrounds is based in San Marcos, Texas.  The VB system is sold to professional photographers throughout the world.  It represents one of the last pieces of magic for professionals.


New Shipment of Monostands have Arrived


Click here for more info.

There is no better professional camera stand than the Studio Pro Monostand exclusively distributed in North America by Virtual Backgrounds.  A monostand offers huge advantages over a tripod by enabling the photographer to shoot from high above the photographer’s head or almost down on the floor level.  The stand is counterbalanced to make it easy to raise and lower the camera even if it includes a Virtual Backgrounds system.  It easily wheels around the room.  It is just like hand-holding only much better because the photographer is free to make adjustments.

A monostand also has a very professional appearance.  Many amateurs today have heavy duty tripods but they do not have monostands.  The monostand helps to make the studio camera room look even more professional.  The Studio Pro Monostand can hold two cameras or a camera and a special tray for a laptop or other accessories.  It includes a handy accessory tray.  Most photographers equip their Studio Pro monostand with a gear head for secure and easy camera tilt.

The Studio Pro monostand is the ultimate camera stand for the professional.

Contact Virtual Backgrounds for further information.


Portrait Studio Franchising Presented at Photokina



A German company has opened a franchise company and already has a group of studios named Your Look.  They had a very busy display at Photokina offering information on their franchise program.  According to the manager,  Rainer Pflips, Your Look was created to serve the public with highly creative quality photography that is customized to each individual client .  Your Look is working with entrepreneurs who are looking for a way to enter the photographic industry.  Your Look is also open to established studios that can benefit from professional guidance.   Your Look studios have a very distinctive look and are usually located in high traffic shopping areas. 

The Your Look operation is patterned somewhat after the Glamour Shots studios.  Unlike Glamour Shots, Your Look has a much wider appeal.  The company also gives the Your Look photographers a lot of latitude in which to operate.

Right now, Your Look is only in Germany but based on the number of people who visited the Your Look stand, they will be expanding both within Germany and then to various locations in Europe and in the United States.


Purchase a VB System before 12/31/2010 and Get a Big Tax Deduction

Many photographers do not realize that an IRS rule allows for full deduction to still be taken this year on equipment you purchase for use in your studio.  Even if you are still paying for the equipment on a financing plan, you can still deduct the entire amount this year which in some cases you can actually get more money back on your income tax than you have paid on the equipment.Suppose you purchase a VB system on a three-year lease in December 2010.  You can deduct the entire amount of the purchase from your gross income even though you may have only paid a few hundred dollars on it by the end of the year.  It is one of the few presents that you can get from the IRS.  Talk to your accountant or contact VB for further information.


Nothing Ventured
Nothing Gained

This time honored expression is so true.  If you don’t venture out and learn and try new things, nothing will change.  That is so true today now that the Perfect Storm has hit professional photography as hard as it has.  Most of the old ways no longer work but fortunately there are ways to effectively deal with the storm.  But it doesn’t just happen on its own.  You have to venture out, experiment take some calculated risks - and make careful investments.   The future is not all bleak for those who are willing to venture out into the new world in which we find ourselves.  Like it or not, it has to be done.  Staying put is not really an option if you want to succeed.


Did You Miss Recent Issues?  Read them Here!



September 2010
August 2010
July 2010
June 2010

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!


Richard Sturdevant Hits Jackpot
with Four 100s at SWPPA


Richard is scheduled to teach at VB in November 2010.

Texas professional photographer, Richard Sturdevant, already the holder of six competition prints that have scored 100, pulled in four more 100 scores at the recent Southwest Professional Photographers Association (SWPPA) convention.  Most photographers never get close to a single score of 100 in their entire career.  Richard gets four-for-four.  It’s never been done before as far as we know.  He now has 10 perfect prints!

Richard is a very enthusiastic user of the Scene Machine Virtual Backgrounds System.  His four 100 scores were earned on his art composite submissions which are also selling very well to the public.

Richard will conduct a two-day workshop at Virtual Backgrounds, November 18-19, 2010, immediately following the regular three-day Virtual Backgrounds workshop.  It’s a prime time for professional photographers to learn about the latest techniques to generate dollars that studios today so badly need.  The business is out there - you just have to be cleverer to get it.

Contact us for more information on the VB workshop and the Sturdevant workshop.



Richard will conduct a workshop at VB on his methods on November 18-19, 2010. This will occur immediately following the regular three-day workshop.



Meet 11 Year Old Daniel, Your Competition


Grandad Pete with professional photographer grandson Daniel

When granddad Pete and grandma Jean were about to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary, they decided that they needed to have a photographer record the event for them so they could have an album of photographs and a DVD for themselves and to share with others.  The photographer they selected was Daniel, their 11 year old grandson.    Daniel already had a little experience with his point and shoot digital camera and he seemed to have a knack for photography.  So, Daniel was named the official anniversary photographer for the event.  He was instructed to take a wide variety of photographs including group photographs and lots of individual photographs of guests using a sort of photojournalistic approach. 

Daniel stayed quite busy during the entire event taking pictures of everything that took place.  Everyone was surely anxious to see his results when the event was over.  Like many photographers today, Daniel turned the CD into a slide show.  He even used Photoshop to take out some objectionable parts of some images such as large exit signs that cluttered the background.

The point is the results are pretty darn good.  If you don’t do much better than Daniel in what you offer your clients, watch out!  You may be replaced by an eleven year old.  In addition, Daniel and his grandparents are very glad to brag on doing their own photographs instead of bringing in a professional.  To be successful today, the professional photographer must rise far above what the public can do on their own.  This is exactly what makes the Scene Machine so important - it enables the professional to do so many exciting things that the public cannot do on their own!  They need you!










Photokina Report

The World's Fair of Photography



Every two years tens of thousands of photographers, mostly photo-enthusiasts, descend upon Cologne, Germany for the six day event known as Photokina.  It is the world’s largest photo exposition.  This year there was a lot of concern because so many trade fairs around the world are down.

Photokina was definitely down in trade show exhibition space although any newcomer would be astonished at what it still has to offer.  Photokina was spread over five halls, some of which are two stories.  Any one area could be larger than an entire PPA national trade show.  You can’t begin to really see the trade fair in just a few days.  That is why the show runs for six consecutive days.  Definitely, this year, most suppliers cut back and some did not attend at all. 

The biggest shock, although not really unexpected, was the Kodak booth.  It was a small fraction of what it once was.  Kodak used to occupy two floors of a building.  Now it was just a small section in a fairly remote area.  It is just another indication of the precipitous decline of Kodak.  On the other hand, Sony had a very large presence.  Hall nine was where most professional products were located.  Very few American companies are represented and very few Americans attended.

Once dominated with male attendance, this year the attendees were primarily young women who have been taking over photography nearly everywhere in the world.  The show’s producers claim attendance was actually up but that is a reflection of the huge numbers of young women who want to be photographers.

The next Photokina is in September 2012 in Cologne Germany.  It is something every serious photographer should attend at least once in their life, especially if they are looking for innovative new products.



SPl Requires Sales Tax
Number for Membership


Terry Harris, founder of SPI

Terry  Harris is the man behind Senior Photographers International (SPI).  Terry was a professional photographer for many years in Ohio before he decided to start a unique organization specifically for professional photographers.  From the very beginning, photographers had to prove that they were really a professional or they were not allowed to belong to SPI.  This required that they present to SPI their state sales tax certificate.  Terry also limited the membership according to the photographer’s specific location so that competitive photographers could not both belong.  He wanted members to have special competitive advantages.

Terry reports that he has had potential members hang up on him when he explained that they could not join without providing their sales tax certificate.  Terry states, “If you are going to become part of a professional association, you should have to prove that you are indeed a professional.  Most other organizations allow anyone to become a full member.  They do not even have associate memberships.  That’s not the way it should be.”





Featured Photographer:
Andrea Cote




“It took me about two seconds to decide that I wanted the Scene Machine for my new studio when I first saw it on display at the Phoenix PPA trade show.  I just had to have it,” says Saskatchewan Canada professional photographer, Andrea Cote.  “It just made perfect sense.  I would not have to buy all those backgrounds that cost $500 or more each.  I would not have to store them and struggle to put them to use as part of a sitting.  I would have infinite variety.  It would make me different from every other photographer.  With my Scene Machine, I now have more than 1,000 backgrounds and I make my own new ones all the time for about $5 each.  I can change backgrounds in seconds.”

For 23 years, photography was just a hobby for Andrea.  Her real job was being a pharmacy tech.  She really loved photography and more and more friends were suggesting that she become professional.  The sale of the pharmacy was the motivating factor for her to make the jump to full time professional photography.




Andrea lives in Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan which is a 10 hour drive north of the US border.  Meadow Lake has a population of only 6,000 and already had two photographers, neither of which have a studio.  They just did location work.  Andrea wanted to be completely different.  She even built a 1,100 square foot building next to her home which is near downtown. 

It took her a year to bring the pieces together because she wanted to do her transition to professional photography the right way.  After doing a lot of research, Andrea purchased a Canon 5D Mark III which she tethers to her laptop.  She attended the Virtual Backgrounds workshop in Texas just before she received her VB system which enabled her start actually using her new system within weeks of receipt.

“It really wasn’t hard to get going with the Scene Machine.  The workshop was great with Jim and Trevon.  They were so helpful which was important to me since I had so much to learn. They answered all my questions. I can’t imagine why anyone would not get educated on a product like the Scene Machine.”




Andrea’s studio is doing quite well.  She even reports that she is now earning close to what she was making in her former job and she’s having fun.  She has also created enough stir in her community that one of her competitors called to complain even though Andrea’s prices are higher.  “People just love what I can do for them.  I have people phoning and asking for the Scene Machine in the studio because they know that it is better to be photographed in a studio where we have more control.  I don’t want hair blowing in the wind.  I want to be able to choose my backgrounds and change them quickly.  Up here in northern Saskatchewan it is really cold much of the year, so we can’t go on location.  I go outside in the fall but most people want the studio because they love what I can do for them in the studio that they cannot do on their own or outside.”

“I tell everyone that no one else has a Virtual Backgrounds system, perhaps in my entire area.  That makes me special.  I had a school photographer’s daughter come in.  Her mom uses green screen.  She was blown away with VB because she knows firsthand how much work it is with green screen.  This is especially true with green screen because of all the work you have to do after the shoot and the results are not as good.  With Scene Machine, it is all done in the camera.”

Andrea uses a variety of very effective marketing methods. She quickly found that newspapers don’t work well but she has thirty-three 16x20 prints on display in the maternity ward at the local hospital.  Many of the photographs are of hospital staff with their babies or just the baby alone.   People are anxious to have their portraits on display.  People come to Andrea saying they saw her beautiful work on display at the hospital.  Most of her advertising is by word of mouth.  People just love what she does so they talk a lot and word gets around.




Andrea also does lot of volunteer work which enables her to mix with the community.  One of her fun projects is the Biggest Losers Contest.   This involves two teams with four people in each and they have nine weeks to see who loses the most weight.  Andrea does the before and after photographs for the event, and as a result receives free mention on the radio station as a bronze sponsor.  She also advertises on Kijjiji.ca which is similar to Craig’s List for the advertising of goods and services.  It only took about a year before most people in the area knew about Andrea’ photography services.

“I have people that walk into my studio all the time and look around and then go WOW!  These prints are beautiful!  My background variety helps me attract clients - they know I have hundreds of them.  They think I somehow have all the backgrounds stored up in the loft because they only see the black background screen.  When they see how the Scene Machine works, they really go WOW!  This happens most especially when I change backgrounds in seconds and they see the finished results on the laptop screen.”

Andrea has three boys all of whom have moved on.  Her husband, Darrin, enthusiastically helps with her portrait studio operation.

So far Andrea has been using fairly simple backgrounds.  She is looking forward to getting far more involved in indoor and outdoor scenics along with using props.  We at VB feel that Andrea is off to a great start with her Scene Machine VB system!  She uses it both as a creative tool and a marketing tool.  It’s photographers like Andrea who really make us at Virtual Backgrounds feel really good about what we do.  Andrea’s web site is www.andreacotephotography.ca.  Check it out!





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