Road Trip to New Orleans 2016

mardi grasI’ve never been to Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Have you? Some acquaintances on Facebook just got back from their annual family trip, and I was immediately intrigued by their photos and family video. It just looks amazing. The father of the family is a professional photographer, so I commented that I would love to go on a trip if he ever organized a Mardi Gras photo workshop.

And then it occurred to me–why do I have to wait for someone else to organize a trip like that? Why can’t I do it my self? Well, sure I have no idea about the particulars of traveling to New Orleans, but that can easily be rectified with a little bit of research. And if I were to organize a trip, I certainly would not charge for my role. I would be learning just as much as anyone else.

So why not? Here’s what I want to do. I’d love to have a group of 4-6 photography-minded folks go on a road tip to NOLA in 2016. I want to limit it to 4-6 people to keep the organization manageable, and to fit in one vehicle. I also want it to be full-on photo nerdery the whole way. Sure we’ll have fun and experience Mardi Gras, but the whole point of our chosen itinerary will be for amazing images.

I’ve roughed out some possible expenses. One option would be to stay somewhere just outside of the city so as to save on the hotel room. That increases our daily commute time, and parking, so as the research progresses, I’m willing to stay somewhere more central to the action so that we don’t actually have to drive once we arrive.

If we drive from Columbus Ohio on Saturday morning (Feb 6,2016), we’ll arrive NOLA Saturday night (13+ hour drive). We’ll spend all day Sunday-Tuesday in the heart of it, then drive home Wednesday, Feb 10, 2016.

For a group of 6, and $4/gallon gasoline, and expensive parking, I think we could do transportation for ~$150 each. That includes a rental car so that no personal vehicle has to take on the 1700 miles of wear and tear. Of course if gas is less, and parking isn’t as bad as I’m guessing, it could be a lot less.

I’m not willing to completely skimp on lodging. It needs to be clean, quiet and safe. There are chain hotels that can be had for $160 per night for a two-queen room. If we assume two people per room, that $80 per night or $320 for the trip each.

So that puts us at less than $500 for 4 nights in NOLA, not including food and drink.

Interested? Let me know and I’ll reserve your spot. We’ll work out the details as a group over the next year.


Fundraising Failure

Like! Tag! Share!Last fall, I agreed to take pictures at my kids’ former elementary & middle school. I’ve done it many times, and really do enjoy it. The kids are a lot of fun, and the parents really appreciate the photos I’ve taken. It also has netted me a couple of weddings because of my on-going relationship with the school. I did one fundraiser at the end of my son’s 8th grade year that raised over $300 for the PTO, so I figured I would do something like that again for the fall dance.

My plan was to charge for prints or digital downloads through Shootproof. The Shootproof service is pretty complete, and seems very reasonably priced, so I figured I would mark up the price of prints so as to get a bit of profit, and give half of the profit to the PTO, keeping the rest for myself. I was upfront about my plan with the parents, making it clear that I would keep half the profit. No one gave me any grief.

I offered just two sizes in the sale: 5×7 and 8×10. I wanted to keep it simple, and I also didn’t want to offer 4×6. For some reason, I had in my head that my print prices were competing, somewhat, with Walmart or Costco. I figured most people knew that 4x6s could be had for pennies, and I didn’t want them to do that price comparison in their heads. Again, I’m not really sure why I felt like I was competing, but that’s where my head was.

pricingSo, as you can see, I kept the profit very low (mistake #1). I also offered full resolution digital downloads for $5 each.

As for shipping, the lab shipping cost was a fixed $4.95 (except for one order, which I don’t understand), and I didn’t mark that up at all. It seemed high to me, so I didn’t want to increase it at all (mistake #2).

Finally, I didn’t set an order minimum. That wouldn’t have been a big deal if I had increased the shipping charge, but, alas I didn’t, so this becomes mistake #3.

So here are all the orders I received.

2014 indy fundraiserThe order total column is how much the customer paid. The next three columns are deducted from that order total to arrive at my gross profit. Now you start to notice that I’ve lost money on 4 of the 13 sales. What I realized when the second order came in is that the Shoot Proof credit-card processing fees apply to the shipping charge as well. It kinda makes sense, in retrospect, but I didn’t understand that when I was setting up my pricing. So on line two, the order total is $7.05 and the processing fee is $0.30+$7.05*0.029=$0.50. Since my prices were too low (mistake #1) and I didn’t inflate shipping (mistake #2) and since there wasn’t a minimum order size (mistake #3), I lost money on that simple order, and three others like it.

The other thing that started to irk me about the setup was that the print and shipping prices for the lab (Bayphoto) were their standard retail prices. The lab cost that you see up top, and the shipping charge are what you’d get if you uploaded photos to them directly. But guess what? When you order from them, they don’t charge you a credit card processing fee. So by deducting the credit card processing from my profit, Bayphoto benefits. Of course that only matters because I set my prices way too low.

Not a lot of people cared about the digital photos, but the profit on them allowed me to break even.

Next year, if I’m asked back, I’ll a) charge more, and b) use a different print processor. I seriously doubt anyone will complain about $4 or $5 prints. I have to remember that Costco didn’t take the picture, so I’m not trying to compete with their prices. The price is for the finished image, not the printing service. And if I charge that much, I’ll actually be able to give something back to the PTO.

Why I returned the Fujifilm Instax Mini 90 Neo Classic

img301A few months ago I went full hipster. I bought an instant camera. Not just any instant camera, but one costing $150, and outputting ‘mini’ sized pictures. I wish I could claim that I didn’t know why I bought the thing, but that would be a lie. There are really two reasons: Zack sung its praises, and I got an e-mail from B&H telling me they had it in stock. I’ve got a bit of a man-crush on Zack, and I typically slip into “Aw man, I wanna be just like you” pretty much every time I read his blog posts.

So I bought the camera, and two twenty packs of film. The whole thing set me back $180. Yes, $180 for a toy. OK, fine, I’ve spent more on other photography toys but, yeah. The price tag for a limited use toy camera was a bit steep. I tried to put my buyer’s remorse aside as I opened the box. The camera is definitely well made, and has a nice classic aesthetic–way better than the very-Japanese-toy-looking models that are half the price. I put some batteries in, put in a film pack, and took my first shots.

Buyer’s remorse instantly turned to regret. I knew, with near certainty, that I would be returning the camera. Some of my first pictures are above. My biggest complaint is that the prints are small. Yes, I had read that they are ‘credit card sized’, but the actual picture window is only 60% of that (yes, I just measured it). Yes they are cute, but let me put it this way–the height of the picture window is about the same as the width of the screen on my iPhone 6 (not the 6 Plus). When I look at the pictures, I want to zoom in with a reverse pinch.

Here’s another way to look at it. Below is one of the pictures next to a 4×6 print.

img300I’m not saying that I was expecting ‘credit card sized’ to compete with a 4×6. I’m just saying that I really didn’t understand just how small the prints would be. Its kinda like when the fund-raiser candy you bought from the kid down the street clearly said there would be 4.5 ounces of chocolate, but you just didn’t grok how little that would be.

The other problem I had with the images was how expensive the prints were. At the time I bought them, each exposure would cost $0.75. No, it’s not going to break the bank, and yes it definitely makes you think before shooting. But I’m a people shooter. If a picture is worth taking, it is worth sharing. So, that’s one print per person in the shot, plus one for me. That pic of my son and his friend up top? That’ll be $2.25, thankyouverymuch. And prices have gone up since then–now we’re up to $0.85 each, or $2.55 for a trio.

So I was starting to feel like I had to buy the razor AND the blades, and I wasn’t all that happy with the blades.

As a last-ditch effort to put it to interesting use, I took the Neo with me on a senior portrait shoot with a very creative young woman. I figured we’d play with it after I knew I had quality portraits from my D7100.DSC_1658First lesson, also visible in the pics up top–use flash in pretty much any setting, otherwise the image will be soft and under exposed. Second lesson, double exposure could be fun. Of the four pics we took, the second from the left was our favorite. Alas, there is no sharing that photo. She has it. I have just this picture of it.

So that was the end of it. There were two unexposed frames in the film pack when I pulled it from the camera to box it up.

I had to admit, yet again, that I’m not Zack. I don’t shoot like Zack. I don’t have opportunities to use the camera like Zack did. Not right now, at least.

Maybe some day.

Still nothing

A couple of months ago, while shooting the reception of a wedding, I was getting a bit tired and thirsty. I was tired in the ‘my blood sugar is getting low’ kind of tired, so I figured I would get some juice or some pop from the bar. When I walked up to the bar, it was totally vacant–no guests, no barkeep. No worries, sez me to me self, I’ll just help myself. There was a pitcher of what looked like apple cider, so I poured myself a cup, and took a swig.

There was a funny taste to the cider, kinda like the perfume of an old friend, kinda like the the warmth of a departed and much loved pet. It was a taste I should have recognized immediately, but I didn’t. It was there, just on the tip of my tongue, waiting for the right synapses to fire in precisely the right order.

Just as these sensations were registering, the barkeep came from the kitchen and asked if she could help me. “What’s in this?” I asked, pointing to the pitcher that I had used to fill my cup. “Apple cider and rum” she said while holding up the bottle of rum.

Well shit. I don’t drink. I contemplated what I should do next. My face probably turned gray, and the barkeep asked if I wanted just plain apple cider. Yup, and I dumped the cup in the trash. I took the plain cider from her and took a few steps from the bar, and quenched my thirst.

I stood there for a long moment, and wondered how I should react. It was one of those moments where the way forward is actually pretty unclear. How I chose to react was completely within my control. Should I freak out about the 0.1 ounce of rum that had crossed my lips, and sit in the corner with my knees pulled up to my chest? Should I just say “fuck it” and get drunk, because clearly that must have been what I’d wanted by making such an obvious mistake? Or should I just take a deep breath, finish my rum-free cider, and go about doing my job? It really was an interesting few seconds as I contemplated my reaction.

Think about that for a moment–how often do you get to so clearly choose your own reactions?

OK, enough meta-gazing. I chose the last option. I took a deep breath, said nothing to anyone at the wedding, finished shooting the reception, and went home. The next day, I wondered if I would then have to reset some personal timer back to zero. If someone were to ask when was the last time I’d had a drink, would I report the last time I had chosen to have a drink, or would I report this mere technicality? I figured I would go with the former, because what’s important is my choice, not an honest mistake of no significance that was quickly remedied.

So that, my friends, is pretty much the only drama I’ve had with alcohol since I quit around 9 months ago. It continues to be pretty easy for me to not drink, though I do still think about it periodically. This time around, I’m actually expressing those thoughts to my wife. On those occasions where I miss having a few drinks, or if I’m in a situation where I’m hyper-aware of others’ drinking, I’ll confide in her. And that helps. In my ‘one-year-to-prove-to-the-world-I’m-ok’, I didn’t confide in her because I was worried that she would recognize that I wasn’t really going to be OK with starting again after a year. And I wanted to start again, after I proved my point.

I’ve also become worried for my friends who consistently post pictures of what they’re drinking on Facebook. I don’t want to get too analytical about it, but perhaps you’ve heard the phrase (or one similar) “Action expresses priorities.” (Attributed to Mahatma Gandhi) In essence, what you do is more important that what you say. What you do demonstrates more clearly your priorities than any ordered list you scribble down. I think that in the Facebook era you might translate that to “Posts express priorities”. What you post says a lot about you. And yes, I know our culture worships alcohol, but I worry about people who worship it fervently.

Unfortunately, I don’t know how to tell people that I’m worried about their alcohol identity without sounding condescending, or evangelizing. “Honey, you really should stop drinking. I did, and LOOK HOW GREAT I AM”. Yeah, no.

And maybe those folks can handle it in a way that I couldn’t. Sure, that’s a possibility (no sarcasm intended). It’s the outward projection of “look what I’m drinkin 2nite!” that worries me. So anyway, if that’s you and you wanna talk, let me know.

So that’s me. Still dry. Still sober. Still on the bandwagon. Even if I do occasionally miss the perfume of my old mistress.