Category: For Photographers

How to rock an expo…

Last year, I had no intentions of doing an expo.  I had heard that they weren’t very successful for us photographers, especially when you are one of a handful in the room.  Then I saw the sign up and before I could talk myself out of it, I was committed.  The expo was this last Saturday and even though I had shaky knees and butterflies in my stomach the entire time, I LOVED it.  I honestly feel like it was a huge success and I wanted to share my tips with other photographers that may be thinking about participating in their first expo.

Tip #1- Know the attendees.
This particular expo was the Fort Hood Army Wives expo.  It was open to the public but I knew the majority of the traffic would be Army wives.  I hate to stereotype us but I knew I would have mostly young married couples or young families.  Being a couple and family photographer, this was perfect for me.   If I was a wedding photographer, I may not have been as successful.

Tip #2- Stand out.
When I signed up, I knew I would get an 8ft table with my booth.  Sure, it was a free table that I wouldn’t have to lug to the convention center but all the the vendors had the same exact table.  So I declined it and created my own set up.  I bought two cute metal music stands and the rest was odds and ends from my prop closet.  Plus I brought my small kitchen table to display my desktop computer to the side.  I was able to stagger the heights of my images to create more visual interest.  I also made sure my props were natural-colored so my images wouldn’t be out-shined by my set up.
I carried the same concept over to my clothing.  Instead of wearing a very professional grey dress pants and black blouse, I opted for a black skirt and magenta top.  I made sure I looked well put together but I could still stand out.

Tip #3- Go big or go home.
I brought two 20×30 prints, two 20×30 canvases, a 10×20 storyboard, an 11×14 metal, and one tiny 8×10.  I could have showcased more variety with lots of 8x10s and 5x7s but I don’t specialize in desk prints, I specialize in wall portraits.  Remember what products you specialize in and show them off.  For more variety, I showed a slideshow on my desktop.  The items that got the most attention was the 12×12 album and the black and white canvas.

Tip #4- No barriers.
If you choose to have a table, do NOT stand behind it or worse, SIT behind it.  By placing the table between you and the person you are talking to, you are subconsciously telling them “You are just a customer” and they’ll feel more like you are trying to sell them something.  If you stand in front of your booth, you’ll be closer to them and it relaxes the tension.  You’ll have a more genuine conversation and get to know people better.

Tip #5- Bring an assistant.
I’m shy.  The idea of approaching strangers makes my heart pound in my chest.  So I brought my super awesome friend to break the ice.  She would practically thrust a business card at anyone that glanced our direction.  If they paused, she would talk me up and then direct them to me for more information.  This worked amazingly for us.  She knew enough to give them the rundown of how I work but still left enough out that the people would want to chat with me.

Tip #6- Get contact information and follow up.
Because we are portrait photographers, we can’t really expect sales or bookings at the expo.  What we rely on is growing our potential client base and it takes more than just handing them a business card.  I did a gift certificate giveaway at my table.  To enter, they left their name, phone number, and email.  The day after the expo,  I sent a ‘thank you for stopping by my booth’ email to each person.  Included in the email was a small gift certificate offer, all they needed to do was respond with a mailing address.  I’ll mail the gift certificate this week.  This means I’ll have been in their thoughts three times, more if they don’t unsubscribe to the mailing list.  Each time I’m in their thoughts I increase my chances of them booking me when they need a photographer.  If you send an email, be sure to follow the CAN-SPAM rules.  Also to make life easier and the email prettier, you can use a website like MailChimp.

Tip #7- Take notes.
Sadly, this lesson was learned after the expo.  I talked to so many amazing people that all the names and faces have become a blur.  Next time, I’ll write a couple notes on their contact information so I’ll remember if they had the awesome 40’s themed family session idea or had five sons or were needing senior portraits.

Tip #8- Don’t forget to your logo.
Unfortunately, I waited until the last minute and then a mix up with the local lab caused me not to have my business name on a large sign.  Thankfully, I had worked it into the slideshow on my desktop and it flashed every 10 seconds.  Plus it was on a few smaller signs.  The more times they see it, even if they aren’t truly reading it, the more likely they’ll remember you.

Tip #9- Don’t forget to network with the other vendors.
We’re all there to promote ourselves and try to do the best we can.  At some point, walk the room, compliment other vendors, and make genuine contacts.  Don’t just snatch a card and keep walking.  If you can help another business, do it.  Cross promotion is a wonderful thing and you never know where your next client might have heard of you.

Tip #10- Have FUN!
Over the course of the day, you’ll go from being slammed with crowds to seeing the same face over and over.  As you get close to closing time, you’ll be tempted to start tearing down as you look forward to taking off your uncomfortable shoes.  Try to remain upbeat and friendly throughout the day and remember it’s not about the quantity of people you talk with but the quality of the conversations.  Enjoy learning about the people in your area and what they look for in a photographer.

This wasn’t my first expo but it is the first where I left feeling positive about the experience.  I still have room for improvement and look forward to the fall expo.

Do you have a tip to share?  Please leave it in the comments.

Fort Hood Army Wives Spring Expo

iPhone photo

Katie Smith is a family and couple photographer in Killeen, Texas.
She likes backlighting, bright colors, and genuine smiles.
When not photographing the most awesome people in the world, she enjoys coming up with fun new concepts for photo sessions.
You can find Katie on Facebook or email her using the contact page.

It’s the journey, not the destination: Austin Texas Photographer

Last year, I posted about my journey through photography starting with my oldest son’s birth.  I had an interest in photography before then but it was “creative” photos of wildlife and tombstones taken with a point and shoot.  It was having my first baby that turned my interest into passion.  (I swear I’m not trying to see how many cliches I can fit into one post)  You can see my personal journey in the Five Years in the Making post.

This post is more about the journey of my business.

By the time I started accepting portfolio-building clients in 2008, I had been learning about photography for a year and a half.  Months before I even bought a dslr, I was reading photography forums and soaking in the knowledge I could use.  I learned about the rule of thirds, not chopping limbs, staying out of direct sun and harsh lighting conditions…  When I did get my DSLR in late 2007, I took an excited shot in Auto then turned it to Manual mode.  Because I spent so much time learning photography before buying and spent so much time researching cameras, I knew I wanted to take my photography to the next level.  If I had just left my fancy new camera (Canon Rebel XTi, so not fancy now that I look back on it) on Auto, it would have been a glorified point and shoot.

I spent 10 months learning manual mode.  I photographed my son, my sister, other random family members, stuffed animals, boxes of cereal… anything and everything to get an understanding of what everything meant.  I might as well have glued the viewfinder to my eye because that’s what it felt like.  I lived and breathed photography until I thought I could do my clients justice then I hung out my shingle.

These are my first clients.  They knew I was just getting started as I had even written “Portfolio-building” on my website with a special discount.  There’s a huge difference between photographing friends and family to real strangers.  These strangers trusted me to photograph them without screwing up.  They were paying me their hard-earned money.  I didn’t want to disappoint them and myself with out-of-focus, underexposed, smurf-colored people.  While I can still look at these and see flaws, I do feel like it was a great starting point and it does display that I took the time to learn my camera before taking a single red cent.  I’m not ashamed of where I started.

These are clients I photographed a couple months ago.  I feel like you can still see my original style peeking through here, my love for genuine emotion and interaction, but I’ve polished it up.  My gear is better so my quality is better.  My editing style is more sophisticated now.  In almost four years, I have grown as a photographer in so many ways and I still have days where I get AH-HA moments.  I’ll always be able to grow more and learn more.  I still have a wide variety of lenses and artificial lighting methods to play with.  I have genres I can still explore.  There’s no destination for my photography, it’s truly all about the journey for me and taking the time to smell the roses and meet people along the way.

It’s not just the photography that develops and matures over time, it’s my business too.  I did a lot of research on how to start a photography business but every year, especially this year, I learn more about business.  This year has been a huge break through for me.  I started out just handing over CDs in a jewel case with a Lightscribe label.  This year, I realized I want my clients to have more than just a DVD so I’m selling these amazing high-quality albums.  I also started out with emailing back and forth and then meeting at a random park.  In my quest for a deeper meaning and a better experience, I’m learning to talk on the phone and find meaningful locations.  While I used to dread the business-end of photography, I’m finding a love for it because I am making a relationship with people.  I am seeing the light in a person’s eye when they truly love a photograph and that means the world to me.

I don’t think my business would have last this long if I didn’t consistently seek out ways to grow in photography and business.

When I first started writing this blog post, it was directed to new camera owners or even long time camera owners that didn’t take the time to learn good photography techniques.  I erased it when I decided I didn’t like the tone.  I’m not a big meanie and I’m not saying your photography sucks.  I do want to say -and there’s no way I can stress it enough- that you NEED to learn your camera before finding clients.  I think it’s disrespectful to the industry, your clients, and to your future self to call yourself a professional photographer when you haven’t spent the time studying and learning what photography is.  It’s not just taking cute pictures.  It’s not just running an action or doing a random series of clicks in a free photo editing software.  It’s not just having a Facebook page and a Blogger account.  It’s creating work that clients will be proud to display for years.  It’s having a professional appearance and charging rates that will actually allow your business to grow.  It’s about understanding that you will grow as the years go by but having the humbleness to wait for your skills to mature to a point where you are able to consistently crank out adequate work that won’t make your future self ashamed for charging for such work.

If you need help on finding out where to start with learning solid technical skill, I strongly suggest Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson and joining a photography forum like or  You don’t need to pay a lot of money for courses and workshops just the determination to find the information and put it into practice.  If you like photography, odds are you have some natural talent.  It’s polishing that talent with hard learned skills that will take you from amateur to professional.

Katie Smith is an on location lifestyle photographer in Central Texas.
She has no desire to become a business consultant but loves to share knowledge and empower her fellow photographers.
If you ever have a photography question, her email is always open.
You can also find Katie Smith Photography on Facebook.


Behind the scenes

Ever wonder what goes on behind the scenes at Katie Smith Photography?  Probably not but I’m going to tell you anyways!

If you think my job is done when I leave the session, you’re saddly mistaking.  My work is just beginning!  It usually starts with me sitting at the computer with some chocolate and listening to the Breaking Benjamin station on I Heart Radio.

Getting down to business, I start uploading.  I take 200+ pictures during the session.  It takes a little while to transfer all the images.

Now it’s time to sort.  Unflattering expressions, out of focus, and any other images that don’t pass my strict guidelines get 1 star and are banished to the computer’s recycle bin.  I only want to show you the best.  Then I go back through and find my favorites.  I double check them at 100% (so close I can count your eyelashes!) for perfect focus.  If it passes, I give it five stars.  I’ll end up going back through those and cutting images that are too similar.  There’s a minimum of 20-25 images but I’ve been known to do 40 when I can’t bare to cut anymore pictures.

Next up is Lightroom editing.  This is mostly basic work.  Fixing the exposure so it’s not too dark or too light and fine tuning the white balance so you aren’t too blue, yellow, green, or magenta.  I try to get it pretty close in camera but stuff happens.  Clouds pass over.  Strange color casts come from walls.  I shoot RAW so I can fix these items with no damage to the digital file.

It’s finally time to export to Photoshop!  Once there, I do a little contrast.  While this example shows a flawless model, I do fix blemishes including but not limited to cleaning up runny noses, tucking in muffin tops, removing acne and scratches, smoothing fly away hairs, and softening skin.  If there’s a background object that I couldn’t move at the session, such as a car, trash can, or powerlines, I use the clone tool to make it disappear.  Then it’s time to darken and saturate the color on the background.  That’s going to give the image some depth and make it look rich.  Each file gets individual attention so it can go from “eh…” to “WOW!”

From start to finish, the process takes 5-7 hours depending on how extensive the editing is.  It’s all worth it in the end though when it goes from a good image to a professional portrait.

Have questions?  Feel free to ask using the contact page!