Faith, Food & Photography
Saturday, August 31, 2013
By TJ Towers Photography
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© Anthony Towers PhotographySo many people today are picking up a camera and think they’re a photographer because they can take “great images” with their camera in Auto Mode. Come talk to me when you can produce the same consistent quality imagery over and over again, no matter what the challenges are. Then tell me how you’re a pro photographer; until then, get out of Auto Mode. The funny thing is that the artistic piece of owning a photography business (actually creating the images) is only 10% of what you do as a business owner. The other 90% is running a business and if you don’t run your business well, you’re going out of business. I tell all my students who want to be a photographer for a career to do themselves a favor and take business classes and marketing classes. Want to major in photography, that’s great, get a minor in business and/or marketing. 98% of photographers (if not more) work for themselves; National Geographic isn’t hiring a whole lot of staff photographers these days.

Now this will in no way be everything you need to know and do to start a business here in Hillsborough County, Florida, but it’s a start. You still need to do your own research, talk to a lawyer and accountant and find out what works best for you and your situation. What I’ll be writing here is from my own personal experience.

First, you have to decide, do you want to be a sole proprietor, corporation, LLC, partnership, etc. Don’t just flip a coin and decide to be a sole proprietor. Get professional advice and think about the future. If your company gets larger, a sole proprietorship probably isn’t going to cut it. Is that worth doing over again later, or is it worth the expense now? Also think about it from a liability standpoint, but you’ll have to figure that out on your own.

Most important is your branding. Your company name, your company colors and the products you sell (there’s marketing science behind all of it). Do you want to be the Wal-Mart, the Tiffany’s, or somewhere in-between in the industry? Do you want to work day and night and compete on price? Then be a Wal-Mart and be the cheapest in town. Do you want time to yourself and with your family? Then consider being something in between or higher end, where quality and relationships are more important. What I do know is that photographers that sell all their images on a disk for $150 don’t last in the business. Not if they’re running a legal business and are providing for their family.

So, what do you need to operate a legal business in unincorporated Hillsborough County, Florida (if outside of Hillsborough most of this will apply to you, you just have to find out your own county and city requirements. If within the city limits of Tampa, Plant City or Temple Terrace, check on your city requirements as well)? Keep in mind that most of this is required to open a business banking account in the United States since 9/11. I can’t stress this enough, almost ALL businesses in Hillsborough County are required to pay a business tax to be running a legal business, to collect taxes all these other areas need to be completed as well as one registration usually requires one of the others. You can get yourself in a legal jam by not registering your business correctly, not to mention that you’re basically cheating and abusing the system over those who are doing business the right and ethical way. I’m a bit passionate about this part… J

  • Depending on the type of entity you are, you will need an EID or Federal Tax ID number, which can be one and the same. You can get more information on the IRS website here. This is free but you will file your federal taxes with this number for the business.
  •  If you are a corporation of some sort, you will need to register with the Florida Department of State Division of Corporations here. Cost varies depending on type of entity, I’m an LLC and pay about $150 a year.
  •  You will also need to charge state tax on your services and products, so you must register with Florida Department of Revenue here. If I remember correctly, the registration is free then you will pay 6% tax for your business tax on all sales you make.
  •  If you do business in Hillsborough County, you will need to register with the Hillsborough County Tax Collectors office and purchase your annual Occupational License, you can find information here, but will need to go directly to the Tax Collectors office near you to purchase the Occupational License. This cost can vary depending on if you’re working from a home office, leasing space, etc. I work from my home office and pay about $25 a year. You will also collect 1% sales tax for services and products sold and file this with your FL Department of Revenue filing.
  •  I suggest you do your own research but the way I understand it, as long as you’re not in the construction industry and you have 3 or less employees, you are not required to carry workers’ compensation coverage. If you have 4 or more you are required to carry it. You can find more information on the website for the Division of Workers’ Compensation.
  • If you plan on photographing clients in Hillsborough County Parks, you will need to obtain a Photography Vendor Permit for EACH portrait shoot or face fines and possibly jail time. The still photography rate for a half day is $37.45 per shoot or for a full day $80.25. To receive a permit, you must carry $500,000 coverage in general liability, personal advertising injury and per occurrence. Average cost of liability coverage is about $360 a year. You can find out more about permitting by calling the Office of the County Administrator at 813-987-6240.
  •  You should really be part of a trade/industry organization like the Professional Photographers of America which will run about $350 - $400 per year. Check out PPA here.

Of course, none of this includes cost of logo creation, website, domain name, email accounts, etc. Then there’s the pricing issue which is an area that many business owners struggle. Most newbie photographers try to mark up the physical products they sell so it looks something like this…I bought my 4x6 for $5 so I’ll charge $7.50. The problem with this philosophy is you’re not charging for all that went INTO making that print. What about the time you took to meet with the client? Travel, time spent and gas? Post production time? Did you have assistants? I’m sure they want to be paid. Production costs? Does this take any of that into consideration? No, but it should. That doesn’t even include living expenses and the cost of doing business. Remember all those fees I mentioned up at the top? Your business should pay for that, it shouldn’t come out of pocket.

Let’s look at a simple budget sheet and I’m going to give you realistic numbers for my family of 5 to live a not-so-extravagant lifestyle. By realistic, I mean what my family necessities are, nothing over and above, and I won’t even include food and clothing to keep it simple or the fact that we’re planning for child number 3 in February 2014. I may round some numbers as well.

Before I get into that though, some of you may wonder why I would include my entire cost of living instead of splitting it with my wife’s income or just listing business expenses. One of our family goals is to have my wife work with me, so I’m planning ahead. Let’s play devil’s advocate though and consider this, what if my wife gets laid off and I’m the only provider? Has a baby and doesn’t get time off for maternity leave? What if she gets hurt and can’t work? Throw any “what if” in there you’d like, life happens and I’d rather plan than react as a business owner. Realize I’m probably under estimating a lot of the business expenses below.

Major Cost of Living Expenses - Monthly

Rent - $1300

Electric - $200

Phone (cells are all we have) - $200

Water - $100

Auto & Renters Insurance - $200

Gas - $200

Car Payments – None (I put this here in case you do)

TOTAL PERSONAL EXPENSE - $2200

 

Monthly Business Expenses Working from home (sharing some above expenses like electric, water, rent so if you have a studio you would need to add those expenses below)

Advertising - $200

Bank Fees (monthly and credit card processing fees) - $50

Dues & Subscriptions - $50

Equipment & Furniture (stuff gets old and worn, plan ahead) - $200

Office Supplies - $100

Camera Equipment (gets old and breaks, plan ahead) - $200

Lighting Equipment (gets old, plan ahead) - $100

Printing & Reproduction (brochures, direct mail, etc) - $50

Professional & Legal Fees - $50

Liability Insurance - $30

Business Supplies & Expenses - $150

Website & domain, etc - $60

Video - $25

Music - $375

Training & Education (always be learning) - $100

Outsourcing Post Production - $1300

Supplies to be resold (cost of products and printing) - $7000

Salary (you should pay yourself, I’m working to get there, but eventually I would like $40,000 yr) - $3400

Assistants - $1000

TOTAL BUSINESS EXPENSE - $14,440

TOTAL MONTHLY EXPENSES - $16,640

TOTAL YEARLY EXPENSES - $199,680

So the supplies to be resold, outsourcing, assistants costs are based on 286 sessions per year. If you take the total yearly expenses of $200,000 and divide that by 286 sessions shot per year you would need an average sale of $700 per session. If you take 52 weeks in a year and subtract 2 weeks for vacation that leaves you with 50 weeks to work meaning you would have to average 5.75 shoots per week. Don’t forget, you also have to do billing, marketing, accounting, purchasing, etc. to keep your business running along with balancing family and church (if you’re a believer) time.

Hopefully, this gives you a tiny view of what it takes to run a photography business or really any business, and I’ve barely scratched the surface here. So, if you’re considering being a photographer, realize it’s more than just taking photographs, it’s about running a business. If you want any chance at all in being able to survive in business, you need to figure out what your entire expenses look like and charge appropriately. Marketing is essential to your business, if you don’t market where do your clients come from? A website with some awesome photographs isn’t going to cut it in today’s competitive market.

Want to read information backing up what I’m saying? Check out ASMP’s (American Society of Media Photographers) website. This is for commercial photographers, but all the same main principals apply Licensing Guide. The NPPA website has a “Cost of Doing Business” calculator if you’re looking for a simple and basic way to figure this out: Cost of Doing Business Calculator

Till next time…

Peace,

T.J.

 
Wednesday, July 31, 2013
By T.J. Towers
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As a professional photographer and instructor I get asked a lot what type of lens someone should invest in next. Assuming you already have a decent tripod since it is one of the most important tools a photographer should own, a tool just as important would be your lens. As a matter of fact, for the hobbyist, I think your lens is more important than your camera body. Don’t get duped into thinking that the camera takes good images, the photographer that knows how to use their tools outside of AUTO MODE is the one deserving of the credit.

In a later blog I’ll discuss what to look for when purchasing a new camera body, but for now we’ll focus on lenses. Your lens is one of the most important things in your bag of photographic tools and you should make that purchase keeping in mind the type of photography you mainly like to photograph and your budget.

Here’s what I mean, if you’re mostly into photographing:

  •  Insects and flowers - you should invest in a MACRO lens
  •  Landscapes – a wide angle lens (anything below 35mm is considered wide angle)
  •   Portraits – a 70-200mm zoom lens or a 50mm prime/fixed lens (anything 70mm and higher is considered a telephoto lens and a lens that can’t zoom is considered a prime or fixed lens)
  • Creative shots – a fisheye or a Lensbaby (but realize they both have limited use and you wouldn’t want them as a general lens)
  • Sports – Fast glass/telephoto lens 300mm or grater (fast glass is a lens with a small f-stop/wider aperture opening)
  • Nature – A zoom lens in the 300mm or greater range
  • Concerts, stage productions or weddings – Fast glass, fixed lens or telephoto depending on the freedom you have to move around or not.

If you live in a humid climate like I do here in the Tampa Bay area the material your lens is made of can be of utmost importance. I am constantly moving in and out of hot and air conditioned environments and what happens to plastic when it gets hot and cold? It expands and contracts. So what happens to the lenses in your plastic body when that happens? The glass moves. What happens when the glass moves? You end up with blurry images. Quality lenses are worth saving up for so you know you have quality materials.

After materials are considered the next most important thing I look for when buying a lens is the aperture or f-stop and how low an f number/wide an opening it has. The lower the f-stop the faster the glass you have. Generally when looking at a lens it will read like this: Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 or this: Nikon 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6. What’s the difference between the two? Well the second lens will usually be less expensive, it’s listed for $396.95 on Amazon at the time I’m writing this. The first lens is listed for $1,499.00. Notice on the second lens that the aperture has a rage of f/4.5-5.6. This means when you’re zoomed in on your subject (300mm) you will only have an f-stop of 5.6 but when you’re zoomed out all the way (55mm) your aperture opens up to 4.5. This means when you zoom in on a subject you let less light into the camera via your aperture setting than if you were zoomed out. I prefer a lens that has no rage of your widest aperture opening because it gives me more freedom to let more light into my camera without adjusting my ISO keeping my images from being grainy. Your f-stop/aperture helps you let more light into the camera in low light situations. Think indoor sports like basketball or volleyball or formal events like weddings or stage productions.

WHAT DO I BUY?

So, to answer your question of what kind of lens to buy, well that depends. You’ll have to answer that question yourself by asking first, “What am I shooting mostly?” and then refer back to the list I gave you. Then ask, “Am I shooting in a lot of low light situations?” If you find that you are, a low f-stop should be a priority.

WHERE DO I BUY?

Personally, I am a fan of used lenses. Did you know that a camera body, like a car, loses value? Did you also know that a lens doesn’t lose value anywhere near as fast as a camera body does? And that’s if it loses value at all. In some very rare instances lenses have been known to gain value over time. So where do you look? EBay is a good place to start as well as Amazon.com. Be smart about it though, make sure whomever you’re buying from has a good reputation on the site you use. Other places you can find new and used lenses are Adorama or B&H Photo. Personally, I shop all 4 for the best deal. There are also local shops you can check out, here in the Tampa Bay area we have North Tampa Photography.

If you didn’t understand some of the terms I discussed in this article, then you might want to take photography class that will teach you this and more. If you’re in the Tampa Bay area I teach a class called Photography Basics several times a year. It’s a 7 week class for two hours a week, usually in the evening. Take this class and you will be able to get your camera out of Auto Mode and into Manual Mode by the time we’re done. You can find out more about when classes are taking place by visiting my web store here.

If you found this helpful be sure to "Like" my Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/tjtowersphotography for future updates to my blog.

Till next time...

Peace,

T.J.

 
Thursday, June 20, 2013
By TJ Towers Photography
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I found there are people that would love to have me as a photographer but can't afford to invest in the more custom Session Fees and Collection offerings I typically offer.


My solution was to create a single day of shooting where I book roughly 8 - 16 sessions where I shoot for a maximum of 20 minutes per session. In that 20 minutes I can shoot a family OR a high school senior OR an individual OR a small group of 2 - 5 siblings (group shot, not individually).

Since there are no session fees for the Mini Session the entire investment must be paid in advance to secure your session time. There are no refunds for missed sessions but I will issue a Gift Certificate for $200 for future purchases with TJ Towers Photography.
I will announce through my TJ Towers Photography Facebook page and my blog when the date will be, along with the time slots available and the location of the sessions. I choose the day, times and location unlike in my larger sessions where you can customize the entire experience. Please be sure to "Like" my FB page at http://www.facebook.com/tjtowersphotography and follow my blog to receive notifications of these sessions and my other offerings.

Each Mini Session is $350 and includes the following:

  • 20 minutes maximum with photographer
  • Choose up to 2 different poses from your session
  • 11x17 Wall Portrait. All Wall Portraits are printed on Kodak Professional ENDURA Paper, are sprayed with a luster protection coat and are mounted onto Gatorboard. Gatorboard is a laminated foam panel board that is durable and resists dents, perfect for mounting photographic prints. Wall Portraits are perfect for framing to display your artwork throughout your home.
  • 3 Gift Portraits (8x10 or smaller) or (25) 5x7 Flat Announcements/Greeting Cards w/ Envelopes
  • 7 Day Web Posting for family and friends to view and purchase products

You can upgrade or add on the following:

  • Upgrade your Wall Portrait to a Canvas Portrait for an additional $200. Canvases make a bold statement and they are my preferred way to display my photographic art. Our canvases are a high quality print on an artist's canvas. The canvas is stretched over custom-made wood stretcher bars and has a 1.5" depth. They appear to float on your wall and they don't require a frame; the structure is inside the art piece.
  • Add On 5 additional Gift Portraits (8x10 or smaller) for an additional $200
  • Spend $750 or more and receive high-resolution digital files with reprinting rights up to 8x10 for $295 each.

I am going to try  my first maiden voyage with this offering on Tuesday, July 16th. If you would like to have first choice time slot preference, you can purchase this offering here. I will let you know what time slots are available, the location of the shoot after I receive your purchase order.

Till next time...

Peace! T.J.

 
Wednesday, June 05, 2013
By T.J. Towers
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Chloe Neal Class of 2014













I come from a Corporate America background in bank operations. I wrote policies and  procedures for two of them if that gives you any indication of how I like to follow a plan. I have a system of doing things and I like to have a well thought out plan when it comes to a lot of business stuff. It’s how I’ve been trained. However, I believe God has a sense of humor and likes to throw curve balls at us quite often. Maybe that’s not your experience, but it has been mine.

So, it started out as any typical High School Senior shoot with the exception that Chloé was a new Class of 2014 Model Rep who just so happens to be one of my photography students and one of my photography assistants. I knew this would be a fun shoot because Chloé is creative and a little off kilter (in a good way) like me. We both dream big, which is why we click so well…

We’ve been trying to get together for weeks but because this shoot was going to be filmed for my advertising campaign, I wanted my fashion stylist Josie involved in this shoot from start to finish. All three of us have crazy schedules, but we finally found an opening for us all to meet. So last Wednesday, May 29th, we finally had Chloé’s Senior Portrait Consultation. Josie and I met out in front of their home and walked into what we thought would be a typical consult. After Chloé, Mom, Josie and I chatted a bit, it was time to get down to nuts and bolts. There are contracts for the session, a contract for Model Reps, etc. to be signed and we were working through the formalities so we could move on to the fun stuff. Well, it got to the place on the contract where it asks to list the date of the session and Mom asked what she should put down. “Well, let’s look at our calendars and nail a date down,” I said. Lo and behold, we again had very crazy schedules, including the Neal family going on an extended missions trip, meaning we wouldn’t be able to shoot until JULY!? “That won’t work,” I thought to myself. “I need to get the promos out there for the summer!” and Chloé IS my main model for that. We looked and tried for 30 minutes to find a date and it turned out there was only ONE…yes, ONE date that worked for all of us, the Monday coming up, June 3rd. I think I turned white right there in front of everyone, and they might have even seen the brief moment of horror on my face. I don’t reveal my cards for long though, so I switched to T.J. mode and started texting possible photography assistants and makeup artists right there in front of my client, something I NEVER do as my attention should always be on my client.

I knew Chloé’s shoot was going to be a big undertaking since we’re both creative and…well…wacko. I knew I needed a big team for this. So here’s what I had to do to figure out if this was even possible:

  • Schedule two photography assistants
  • Schedule my favorite make-up artist
  • Schedule Josie my fashion stylist (she was present and we knew she could make it)
  • Find locations to shoot Chloé 
  • Find a large space for the studio shots. I had an idea brewing and kinda knew I wanted to do with Chloé in studio 
  • I knew I wanted lights in the studio shot, I knew I didn’t have time to build them, I had to see if I could borrow them
  • I knew I wanted fog for the studio shot, there was no time to have the fog machine I wanted shipped to me, so I had to borrow one
  • I knew I wanted a big dress for my studio shot that was going to be fantasy/fairytale like and after sifting through Chloe’s closet, we knew that Mom had to buy it or I had to borrow it 
  • Chloé told me what she wanted and what she thought would show her personality, so I had to put a plan together 
  • Borrow a camera that recorded in HD video, as I was using one that night to record the consult session from a photographer friend and he was able to let me keep it for Monday 

So using a cattle call on Facebook I started looking for the fog machine, dress and a field of flowers (here in Florida, do you know HOW HARD a field of wild flowers is here in Central Florida?). I knew there were lights my church used for the Spring Recital recently that I could use for the studio shots. They actually partly inspired the idea in my head for this particular shot. I private messaged someone at church to see if I could borrow them for the shoot. In less than 24 hours I had scheduled 2 assistants, found the fog machine, got permission to borrow the lights from church, received leads on 5 location possibilities and found out my usual make-up artist wasn’t available for that day. By Thursday evening I had found a backup makeup stylist (who was great by the way and from the same company) AND I found a red cloak to go with the Red Riding Hood theme that was percolating in my brain. And I can’t even bore you with the details of the personal things I had to get done for my family between all this wheeling and dealing.

There was a bunch of research to do because I was using fog and haven’t used it in my imagery before and I had to find out how to keep it low to the ground. Spend most of Friday researching, client deliveries and picking up the fog machine from a friend. Spend some of Saturday doing more research then we went to buy the parts I needed to cool down the fog to keep it low to the ground and we needed to scout the 5 possible locations given to me by some friends. My beautiful and wonderful bride agreed to go scout with me, and after about 2 and a half hours of searching we found the PERFECT field of yellow flowers for the wonderful Ms. Chloé.

Sunday was spent mostly at church service in the morning and a special dinner for Life Group Leaders in the evening, but in-between the two events I had to test the fog machine, load the van for Monday, makes sure all the equipment was ready, batteries were charged, etc. So in 4 days I had everything ready to go.

Our day started with makeup at 8 am with our hair and makeup stylist. Now, I planned an aggressive schedule for Chloé and I because I know Chloé can handle it and she didn’t want the “norm” for her portrait session. We were on the road by 9:15am and hit 4 locations before going to the studio at 5:00pm. And we did get rained out in Lakeland and didn’t hit everything I had planned for us. We wrapped up shooting and finished packing up the set around 8:30pm for a total of 12 and a half hours.

Is every Senior Session 12 and a half hours…NO. Chloé is special to me, has worked hard for me for 2 years and I was willing to give Chloé what she wanted…a unique experience on the other side of the camera. Chloé is happy with her shoot, and I am amazed at God’s grace in helping me pull this off. I surprised myself in what I was capable of and I couldn’t be more proud of what we created together. It was all with the help of an amazing team that came together and helped with my crazy ideas. Everyone was tired, but it was a job well done! We should all be proud!

Why the details you ask? Well, here’s a look into my world as a photographer. Although Chloé holds a special place in my heart, I work this hard for all my clients. Maybe not 12.5 hours of shooting, but all the rest is the same. Maybe not over the course of 4 days, but the same dedication, thought and hard work goes into each of my shoots. What’s the catch you ask? All of this does come at a price…I won’t be selling 50 prints for $19.99. I sell large pieces of art to complement your home that just so happen to be of someone you love and who is going off on their own…can you really put a price tag on that?

I hope through this post, you’ll understand what my commitment to you truly is. I offer an experience to your graduating High School Senior! They will love the experience, they will remember this day and so will you because you will have some beautiful pieces of art for your home to mark the occasion. That’s what I do here at TJ Towers Photography.

Till next time...

Peace!

T.J.

 
Friday, May 31, 2013
By T.J. Towers
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Greetings!

My name is T.J. and I own Anthony Towers Enterprises, LLC which is the umbrella company for TJ Towers Photography, Majestic Memories Photography and Anthony Towers Photography. Each of my three DBA's perform different kinds of photography which I won't bore you with the details right now but maybe in a later post.

This is just a quick post to officially launch my blog that I've been putting off for a long time because I feel like I don't have anything very interesting to share with anyone. But, I've had several friends encourage me to do this, so here we go.

So you might be wondering why the name Faith, Food and Photography. Well, if I had to put into order the importance of things in my life these would be in my top six. My priorities/loves in life are as follows:

Faith - I'm not talking about religion, I'm talking the one true God, He is my #1.
My wife Elizabeth - If I'm not right with God, how can I be right with my wife? She's my #2.
My Kids - If I'm not right with my #1 and #2 how can I be right with my children? By loving God, I love my wife, by loving my wife, I love my kids. The order can't be changed, this is how God wants us to love. If we love our children ahead of our spouse the marriage becomes off balance and nobody ends up happy.
My family and friends - My friends make fun of me by calling me a social butterfly. It's totally true though, I think I would whither up and die without my family and friends and human interaction. It helps feed my soul and I absolutely love taking care of and feeding my family and friends. There is nothing better than us all standing in the kitchen wrapping eggrolls and catching up. That my reader is MY SWEET SPOT!!
- Food - I am half Cuban/Puerto Rican on my Dad's side and half Polish on my Mom's. My fondest memories of growing up involved my huge family all together doing something with food whether it was a birthday, a holiday or just getting together. The conversations that made me laugh the most happened around food. Now a days I love a house full of family and friends for a holiday or snacking just before a Life Group Meeting. It's magic to me, my happy place.
- Photography - I love to capture memories with imagery because they are permanent moments in time frozen to later remanice. I think it stems from when I was young watching my Grandpa Joe suffer from Alzheimer's disease. It made me sad on the days I had to remind him who I was and it was so tough on my Grandma Mary and the rest of my family. After he passed away I vowed never to forget and picked up my first camera. My entire life has been documented in pictures from that day forward. It's a love, a passion and I get to do it for a profession. How blessed am I??

Well, this turned out longer than I thought. There may be days when I post a devotion here, or talk about a new receipe I tried and I'll be talking a lot about photography. Please tune in! If you're not into Christianity, please skip those posts, I'll try to give you a warning shot up front, but don't discount the rest because of it.

Until next time...

Peace!
TJ