September 2006 Issue

In this issue:

High Dollar Prizes Announced for the VB Print Competition

Simone Class - Two Spots Have Opened Up!

Virtual Backgrounds Releases
2007 Workshop Dates

Are We Losing Our Magic?

Featured Photographer:
April Helsel

The above image was created by
Carrell Grigsby of Austin, Texas
who was the First Place winner in the 2004 Virtual Backgrounds Print Competition!

Image by Trevon Baker

Enhance your full length photography using Virtual Backgrounds and these specially made props. Available at now at Virtual Backgrounds and
Web Photo Supply

Prizes Announced for the Virtual Backgrounds
Annual Print Competition

Entry Deadline Extended: October 30, 2006
Maximum entries: 5 per studio

The deadline for the Virtual Backgrounds Annual “Best Of” Print Competition is quickly approaching. This competition is open to any professional photographer who uses a Virtual Backgrounds system. The only criteria is (of course) that images submitted must have been created using a Virtual Backgrounds system.  It is an Open Category only.

The top three prints will be awarded the valuable prizes listed below, and the owner of the winning print will be a Featured Photographer in the November 2006 edition of The Backgrounder.

First Place:
$300 Virtual Backgrounds In-store Credit
AKC 320 Studio Light – Photogenic Professional Lighting ($200 value)
42” Touch of Warmth Reflector Kit  - Web Photo Supply ($139 value)
$125 Buckeye Color Lab In-store Credit
24x30 Canvas Print Mounted on Gatorfoam ($115 value) – Nichols Photo Lab
Large Frame  - The Levin Company ($100 value)
Featured Photographer in the November 2006 Backgrounder
Total Value: $979.00

Second Place:
$200 Virtual Backgrounds In-store Credit
6-in-1 Reflector Kit – Westcott ($150 value)
42” Touch of Warmth Reflector Kit  - Web Photo Supply ($139 value)
24x30 Canvas Print Mounted on Gatorfoam ($115 value) – Nichols Photo Lab
Large Frame  - The Levin Company ($100 value)
$75 Buckeye Color Lab In-store Credit
Print featured in the November 2006 Backgrounder
Total Value: $779.00

Third Place:
$100 Virtual Backgrounds In-store Credit
24x30 Canvas Print Mounted on Gatorfoam ($115 value) – Nichols Photo Lab
Panoramic Frame  - Albums Inc ($100 value)
32” Touch of Warmth Reflector Kit  - Web Photo Supply ($99 value)
$75 Buckeye Color Lab In-store Credit
Print featured in the November 2006 Backgrounder
Total Value: $489.00

Virtual Backgrounds
c/o Liz Trevino
101 Uhland Road, Suite 106
San Marcos, TX 78666

We extend a warm "Thank You" to each of our generous sponsors!

Praise Continues for
The Professional Photographer's

"PERFECT STORM is an insightful, honest view of what challenges professional photographers are facing today. If you are a professional photographer and are experiencing "the storm" or want to learn how to avoid it hitting your studio, you must read this book."

Liz Vickers, Publisher
Studio Photography Magazine

"PERFECT STORM nails the problem right on the nose. Studio owners have got to wake up and face reality. These are tough times for traditional studios but great times for enterprising, imaginative photographers who can blow away the competition including the amateur shutterbugs."

John Owen, M. Photog. Certified
Past President, Michigan PPA

Contact us to get your FREE copy of
The Professional Photographer's

Simones Will Teach Four Day Class
in San Marcos this October!

(New Class Dates are Set for January 2007)

Two Seats Have Opened Up in October!!!

We have been busy gearing up for one of the biggest events of the year.  Joseph and Louise Simone will be traveling to Virtual Backgrounds to conduct a four day workshop at our studio/teaching facility on October 23-26, 2006.

If you are looking to significantly elevate your creativity and produce a product that is unaffected by the Perfect Storm, you need to attend a Simone workshop.  It is four days of learning in a relaxed environment.

We have limited the class size and even though the class was sold out last month, we've had a couple of seats open up! Call us right away at 1-800-831-0474 if you are interested in filling these last two spots!

After such a huge response, we have just arranged with Joseph & Louise to host another workshop here in San Marcos on January 8-11, 2007. For those of you who plan to attend Imaging USA (PPA's National Convention) in San Antonio (just 50 miles away from San Marcos), this may be a great way for you to kill two birds with one stone and attend both events! We have already begun signing people up for this second workshop, so contact us now to reserve your space!

-Virtual Backgrounds-
Affordable for All Portrait Photographers!

Coming in October learn how you can get Virtual Backgrounds in your studio for less than $4000 including a portrait size screen. 

With Virtual Backgrounds' financing, it is possible to own your own portrait system with a down payment of less than $2000 and 12 equal monthly payments with no interest! (applies to customers within the US only)

Look for an article in the October issue or contact us now for more details!

Learn Before You Buy

If Virtual Backgrounds has caught your interest as a primary way to fight the Perfect Storm, but you still have questions and reservations, there is no better way to go forward than to attend a 3-day Virtual Backgrounds workshop.  You’ll get the facts and see for yourself just how this phenomenal process works and how it can benefit your business.  There is even time for hands on experience.  If you purchase a system within 6 months of attending the workshop, the entire cost of the workshop applies to your system.   Stop watching your business sliding away to the amateurs.  Elevate your work to a level that the amateurs can’t do.   Come and try for yourself.   See how Virtual Backgrounds puts power into your backgrounds and into your bottom line profits!

2007 VB Workshop Dates

January 22-24
February 19-21
April 2-4
May 7-9
June 11-13
July 16-18
August 13-15
September 10-12
October 15-17
November 12-14

Virtual Backgrounds Releases the Dates for the
2007 Hands-On Training Workshops

Virtual Backgrounds has had great success in 2006 training users and potential users how to take full advantage of all of the tools that Virtual Backgrounds Systems provide. Whether you have a new, used or refurbished system, attending one of these very informative and hands-on training classes will help you to fully utilize your system which in turn helps you grow your business!

Virtual Backgrounds training classes are three days long. The first day is spent going over in great detail how Virtual Backgrounds works. The second day is largely spent with attendees behind the camera using the system for themselves and getting assistance and feedback from the course instructor. Many ideas on both the utilization and marketing of Virtual Backgrounds are exchanged.

On the third day, a guest speaker is brought in to demonstrate how he or she is creatively using the system. The guest speaker also shares real-life experience and marketing ideas, and gives you a sneak peek inside their successful businesses. In 2006, guest speakers such as Rick Avalos, Rick Harding, Dave Filler, April Helsel, and Trevon Baker shared their knowledge with the attendees.

In addition to gaining knowledge about Virtual Backgrounds and learning how other successful photographers are using and marketing their own systems, many of the attendees use the class as a great way to network with other photographers from all over the world. We have had photographers from Australia, the Philippines, Canada, Mexico, and Korea attend our training sessions as well as photographers from all over the continental United States. When you attend a class, you grow as a photographer and a business person in so many ways that the rewards are endless!

Click here for more information and contact us to get registered today!

Virtual Backgrounds Currently
Exhibiting at Photokina in Germany

If you are in Germany, join Virtual Backgrounds and Joseph & Louise Simone this week in Cologne, Germany at the 2006 Photokina, World of Imaging - the world's largest photographic trade show that occurs every two years.  This year, Joseph and Louise Simone will also be at the Virtual Backgrounds booth displaying their very popular book, The Portrait ...Mirror of the Soul, demonstrating their methods consulting with photographers from around the world.

Photokina is attended by 150,000 people from around the world and nearly 2000 suppliers have displays. Photokina is so large that it is virtually impossible to see the entire show in the six days that it runs.  Manufacturers always present their latest developments at Photokina.

The next issue of The Backgrounder will include a special report on Photokina.

The Right Tools
Generate the Cash!

Any craftsman will tell you that in order to generate cash quickly and effectively, you need the right tools.  While no product automatically turns out money with no effort on the part of the user, a Virtual Backgrounds system is a tool that enables the professional photographer to generate revenue.

Just as a carpenter has to learn how to use his new power saw, photographers has to learn to use their new Virtual Backgrounds system.  Virtual Backgrounds, the company, is devoted to providing photographers with quality training, not only on the technical aspects of using a system, but also on the marketing aspects.  Our company is a teaching company. We want to help by providing you with the tools and the know-how to get the cash that your business deserves. Give us a call sometime to discuss your needs. Our knowledgeable staff is here to help you.

If you are looking for the cash, get the tools that can help you find it. We can show you how!

Are We Losing Our Magic ?
by Dr. Henry Oles

One advantage of having been on Earth for a good while is that it helps one maintain perspective.  When I first got into photography, it was loaded with all kinds of magic.  Our cameras were radically different from amateur cameras in how they looked.  Amateur cameras only took fuzzy pictures and required perfect lighting.  Electronic flash was a new idea that was expensive and used only by professional photographers.  Photographers performed miracles in their dark rooms, sloshing film and prints around in mysterious chemicals.  Color was even more mysterious.  Enlargements were something only the professional photographer could make or get made.  Our camera rooms were full of interesting and unusual equipment.  The photographer made special efforts to pose subjects just right and then set the lighting to complement their best characteristics.  The photographer was seen as an artist. There were even strange smells in the studio.  All of this made the experience of going to a professional photographer a very special and even awesome experience.

Today, it’s totally different.  Most professional digital cameras look like the cameras any amateur might use.  In fact they are often the exact same camera or sometimes the amateur has a more expensive camera than the professional.  The studios, if the photographer even has a formal studio, are much more simplistic.  They are often in the photographer’s home or garage or many photographers don’t even have a studio at all.  They just take their subjects outside.  If they have a studio, they may use only one light or perhaps two, both of which are stationary.  The photographer, who may not even be professionally dressed, may just hand hold the camera, just like any amateur.  It’s just click, click, click.  Often the photographer uses only one background, something very plain.  There are no special smells or sophisticated equipment.  If the photographer takes a client outside, many photographs are done without flash or perhaps the flash on the camera is the only light source - just like the amateur does.  The photographer may shoot a lot of shots, just like any amateur might do with their digital camera with the hope of getting a good one.  Posing of the subject is very minimal in order to capture the “natural look.” 

At weddings, the photographer takes hundreds of snaps, trying to candidly capture the special moments.  Some professionals brag that they take 1,000 or more photographs at a wedding.  There are few if any posed photographs.  Here again, the photographer depends solely on natural light or perhaps the on-camera flash.   Afterwards, the photographer may do some retouching on his computer.  He shows the client their “proofs” on a computer screen.  When clients make selections, he just takes the files to Sam's or Wal-Mart and uses the very same machines every amateur uses.  For weddings, the photographer hands you a disk and says, “Here…have fun.”  No formal photographs of the bride are taken before the wedding.

This is how it is, but we as professional photographers wonder where the business is going?  Why, we ask, are our weddings down?  Why are the numbers of portraits we take going down?  Why are our customers buying less?  Somehow we don’t see the connection between our highly amateurish ways of operating and our decline in sales.

Has professional photography reached the end of its road?  For many, it is about to do just that.  The current path we are on typically leads to a dead end, but there are a variety of options that are available.

Is there any way to recover the lost magic?  The answer is "yes" and "no."  The public is much more sophisticated today with their digital cameras and can indeed get some really good shots and get prints made really cheap.  Our response must be to go find some new magic!  We need formal studios with phenomenal displays and full of interesting equipment. We need to specially pose and light our subjects so they end up looking their very best better than they ever expected to look.  We need to dress and act professionally.  We need to use a wide variety of backgrounds with related poses coupled with props.  Virtual Backgrounds would enable us to produce so much more in the studio where we have full control.  Our cameras should look different from those that amateurs use.   We need to use PhotoShop and Painter and other programs to enhance our images.  At weddings, we need to offer both formal and informal shots.  Our school photography and church photography needs to take on entirely new and more sophisticated looks.  Our advertising must move up several notches, and we as professional photographers need to invest in teaching the public about the difference between a professional photographer with certification and degrees and an amateur shutterbug.  We need to have fine displays of elegant prints that clearly distinguish us as trained professionals.  We need professional organizations that promote professional photographic services.

We can never go back to the “old ways.”  The public is just going to continue to get more sophisticated and the cameras they use will continue to get easier to use and produce better results.  Sam’s and Wal-Mart are not going to stop printing pictures.  Epson is not going to stop selling printers and paper to amateurs.  The only answer is for professional photographers to rise to a new level of sophistication, offering products that are distinctively above what the amateur can do.  Professionals must promote themselves to raise their status.  We are going to have to act on every level, from individually to our professional associations.  We’ll have to work on both a local and national scale.  The response won’t be instantaneous.  It will take years.

If we don’t quickly take effective action, what we have known as professional photography will basically disappear.  The time for action is now!

Many of April Helsel's
images are full length using
Plexiglas to represent the reflection in a pond.

Featured Photographer: April Helsel
New Directions in Children's Portraits

April and Larry Helsel are relatively new to the portrait business. They opened Keepsakes Studio in 1998 in the small Pennsylvania town of Duncansville. Looking for the latest technology, the Helsels found the Scene Machine Virtual Backgrounds system at the 2001 Photo Expo in New York City. Larry liked the concept, but April, the actual photographer, saw it as a potential headache. Nevertheless, Larry won the debate and a few weeks later they had their Virtual Backgrounds system. At first, it just sat in the corner collecting dust. April made a few test exposures but nothing of interest.

Several months later, Jim Wilson, Director of Education at Virtual Backgrounds, called to find out why no one had attended the Virtual Backgrounds workshop in Texas. April decided to attend the workshop but had very few sample prints made with the system to bring along. April found the workshop very helpful, but she still took another few weeks to start actually using the system.

Quoting April, “My oldest daughter, Ciera, served as my first serious subject, but I didn’t want to do just a plain portrait of her with Virtual Backgrounds. I decided that I wanted to try to create a "story book" type image. I used a Denny rock and placed some ferns and other plants in front of and behind her to create depth. Olen Seidler, a long time user of the Scene Machine, suggested using a 4 x8 sheet of Plexiglas to create reflections such as water. The Plexiglas became her “pond." I really got excited when I saw the results. I knew that my portraiture had just entered a whole new dimension.”

“I’ve now used Virtual Backgrounds for a few years and I still have a lot more to learn. It is such a versatile tool. I love experimenting with new ideas. The ease of operation saves time and money without needing to use the 20+ muslins I already had."

"Children open up so many doors to creativity. Repeat clients love the variety I can give them without leaving the studio. With all the variety I now have at my fingertips, there is no way I’ll get in a rut again. I keep trying new set ups. My competition never knows what I am going to do next. I use my Virtual Backgrounds system for 90% of my indoor work.”

April’s husband, Larry, also comes up with some of the ideas and is actively involved in creating new props. Props they build on their own are very inexpensive and can be changed frequently, so nothing ever gets old. April is also very active with Photoshop, which she uses to enhance some of her images. April is always eager to share her experiences with Virtual Backgrounds by doing programs and workshops. She has even come to Virtual Backgrounds to be the third day guest speaker at our training workshops. Visit her website at to see more of this very creative and talented photographer's work!

[email protected]

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.

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