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Today we are back with more Q and A, and today’s question comes from Phylicia Ghee!


She asked:

“I wish I had a real life mentor to ask questions and go to for guidance, but for now I just have to work with what I have I guess, since I cant afford to go back to school for business. I still get lost in the logistics of bookkeeping, taxes and cash-flow. How did you and Jody learn to tackle, understand and keep track of those financial aspects of your business?”



Finances, taxes and cash flow are all tough when you are first thrust into a major part time or full-time biz. But, if you follow the 5 SIMPLE steps below, you will be on your way to less headaches and more fun in your business!



1. Use professionals.

We have a tax guy and a small business adviser (both work for Tax Alternatives in Nashville). Paying a small fee to have a real pro advise you is worth every penny and we have never regretted it. Do not try and do your taxes on your own when running a small business because it is not worth it to make a mistake with the IRS.


2. Only use advisers with the heart of a teacher.

If your advisers primary purpose is NOT to have you fully understand what’s happening with your money, your taxes and so on, then don’t hire them. You must have a standard that they live up to, so we use our business hero, Dave Ramsey, who has his own Endorsed Local Providers that offer insurance, home loan, tax help, small business advise and more. These people DON’T work for Dave, but instead are required to run their businesses according to Dave’s principles for success, then they pay him a finders fee for his endorsement.

We have used Dave’s ELP’s for the past 5 years for insurance, taxes, retirement and more and feel very educated and informed from them. You can find ELP’s in your area HERE.


3. Become a Reader.

Jody and I learned what we know about finances from friends, and from reading. When you become and avid reader of business books, you will start to put your business together correctly. Start with Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey, then start reading more and more books on finances and small business practices.


 4. Protect the Down Side

I (Zach) had the privilege of meeting with Roger Barnett who owns the billion-dollar brand Shaklee. He said that any business he buys (like Shaklee) needs to have an 80% profit margin, and not cost him MORE than he can afford to lose. One of the smartest things you can do with finance in your business is always protect the down-side. Don’t ever put up too much risk or go in too deep that you can’t afford to lose it all. (Tweet this out!)


Example: You have a day job that makes 25k per year. You want to go full-time in your photo business that is making 10k a year right now. You think if you had all the gear you need and could use that extra 40 hours a week your working in your day job to put into your photography business that you can make it work! But cash-flow is limited, so you take out a 20k loan to buy your gear. This is a major mistake because you are not protecting the down-side. IF you quite the day job and IF your photo business doesn’t take off right away, you will be worse off then when you started.

5. If your not the expert, don’t try to be.

Jody happens to be an expert at cash-flow and bookkeeping and can tell you to the dollar our monthly budget we need to live, how much we need to clear (gross) excluding expenses, minus taxes and tithe to cover those expenses. She can tell you how much we made in January, and knows how much we need to make in December to stay on track with our goals. She knows to the dollar what’s in our retirement, how many products of a certain kind we need to sell to pay off our house, and knows the Profit and Loss of each product and service we offer.

Most people are not that experienced. And although you should strive to get informed and you should know where every dollar is going, if that’s not your best strength, hire someone that has that gift in whatever area you need.

Lastly, with cash-flow, the smartest way to run a business is debt free. Jody and I have been debt free since 2005 (with the exception of our home) and started our business with cash. We have so much less stress and so many more options because of that. So we recommend getting serious if you have debt and getting rid of it as soon as possible. That will free you up to go at this thing with much less risk, and make the journey that much more fun.


Did you enjoy this content? If so, spread the word! Tweet the Link to this post HERE or, copy the below message into Facebook!


Learn the 5 SIMPLE steps to managing your business finances by @zachandjodyphotography on their blog at :)  


What is the ONE thing you dread MOST when it comes to being a photographer? It certainly isn’t taking beautiful pictures. It definitely is not looking through those pictures and tweaking your favorites in post. It probably is not SHARING those pictures and having your clients LOVE them. But what about the ONE thing that makes this a business and not a hobby - selling.


Many photographers that we have spoken to over the years absolutely HATE selling. They don’t want to be the Used Car Salesman trying to convince a client to get something they really don’t want. Do you ever feel that way about sales?

We have a secret. There is a solution to this problem and it is actually very simple!


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“We are taking time off spending time with baby Gray, but have put together our favorite Tips and Tricks from the last two years for us all to review!”

Today’s Tuesday Tips & Tricks is about something that we have been using for a few years now, and something that we WISH we had been using ever since we started shooting! There is nothing more frustrating then when you are shooting a portrait of your client, and the focus point you want to use is just outside of the composition you are wanting to shoot.

So you end up focusing on your client, re-composing the image, taking the shot and THEN have to do it all over again, because if you try and shoot two images in a row, the camera will re-focus wherever that focus point is now pointing and most likely go OUT of focus (or focus on something you did not want in focus). Annoying! Then you end up bobbing and weaving your head like a trained monkey all afternoon and your client thinks that there is something seriously wrong with you upstairs! :)

There has to be a solution to this irritating problem. Welcome to the world of back-button focusing!

Your camera has a myriad number of different points at which it can lock focus on your client, and depending on your camera of choice, some of those focus points are stronger than others. As an example, on the 5d mark 2 (a very popular wedding camera for many years), there are exactly 9 focus points. One in the center, and 8 others around the middle part of your frame. You can manually select (if you choose to do so) any single focus point and place that on whatever you want to be in focus on your subject (preferably the eyes of your subject if they are looking towards the camera), then hold the shutter button half-way down and wait for the focus square to beep and flash red, the camera has then locked focus, then you can just shoot the image, or re-compose the shot (while still holding the shutter half-way down which locks the focus point) and then shoot to get the composition you want.

The problem with a camera like the 5d mark 2, is that the center focus point is exactly nine times stronger then the outer 8 focus points, so if having your image in focus is important to you (which is should be!) then you will mainly want to stick with using that one only. The issue is, that most compositions don’t work with you focusing in the middle of the frame and shooting without re-composing your shot. So, you end up putting the center focus point on say your subjects eyes, focusing, then re-composing the shot and taking the image. Then, if you want to shoot another image similar to that one, you have to repeat the whole process. This really is inconvenient when shooting moments, because moments happen very quickly, and many times you need to shoot multiple images very fast which is hard to do when you are re-composing each and every shot!


“Well why don’t you just use the outer focus points dude?!” is something you might be thinking right about now. The problem there, is unless you buy a camera with TONS of focus points, there may not be one where you need it when you need it, and, the outer ones may be soooo weak, that you won’t be in focus most of the time anyway (unless you shoot Nikon, which in that case, most focus points probably work really well!!). The other problem with having the camera constantly trying to achieve focus every time you take a picture, is that even if you have a camera with powerful outer auto-focus points like the Canon 5d Mark 3, your client may move slightly out of the focus point you are using, and while you are shooting fast, the camera may miss an important shot while it was re-focusing.

As you can see in the above example, if I was using a 5d Mark 2 camera (which only has 1 powerful auto focus point shown here in the center of the frame), I would have to first put that focus point over the eyes of my subject, then re-compose the shot as seen above, then take the image. Then, for every new image I want to take, I would have to do that process over again. Slow and frustrating!

So, it is better to be able to tell the camera when to try and achieve focus, and when to shoot images, and the only way to do that is to separate the two functions using back-button focus!

With back-button focus, you press one button with your thumb to focus, and the shutter button only takes the picture. The shutter button never tries to achieve focus because it is disabled from that button. What this does, is let you, the photographer be in control of each and every image which means that images will be captured by your talent, instead of the horrifyingly non-talented awkward kid named “Hello my Name is Bobby Cannon” on auto! The less the camera thinks and the more you think, the better your life will be and the better your images will be!

So now you can focus on your subject using the most powerful focus point you have (or the one that is closest to the focus plane you are trying to achieve), then re-compose your shot and shoot as many images as you need without having to re-focus. As long as your subject stays on the same focus plane, you don’t have to re-focus!! Now, as you coach your client to get a great smile, or as moments are happening quickly, you can focus once, then fire away without the camera trying to constantly achieve (and miss) focus!

As great moments are happening in front of the lens, you can fire away and not miss a shot!


How to set up your 5d Mark 2 with back-button focusing:


1. Go to your custom functions menu shown here and go to C. Fn IV and enter it.


2. Once in C. Fn IV, you have 6 menus. You will want to change menu 1 (shown at the bottom of the above image) to option 2. What this does, is it changes the function of the shutter button so that it only activates the in-camera meter and takes images, and it moves the Auto Focus function to the AF – ON button on the back top right of your camera.

3. This adjustment is optional, but what this does, is it moves the auto focus button from the AF-ON button (that we just enabled in step 2) to the one right next to it, the AE LOCK button or the one you use to lock your exposure when shooting on auto modes (which we rarely do). Now, with this option enabled, you can focus using the AE Lock button and if you simply keep holding that button down after the camera focuses, it will also LOCK the exposure if you happen to be shooting in an auto mode. It’s also closer to your thumb, so finding it is easier.

On the 5d Mark 3, you can have both the AF-ON button and the AE Lock button on to achieve focus which is better in case your thumb slips from one to the other.

With this option enabled, you would not have to press this button to lock exposure, then press the AF-ON button to achieve focus as you would with it disabled.


1. To set your camera to back-button focus is different for each camera, so refer to your owners manual for cameras other than the one listed above.

2. If shooting at a shallower depth of field than 2.8, or if you are shooting a long lens in very close to your subject, be wary of re-composing a shot as your focus plane can change dramatically. In those cases, you will want to only use an auto-focus point that is DIRECTLY over the area you want in focus, and then do NOT re-compose your shot.

3. Spend time practicing this method as you need muscle memory to do this naturally. You DON’T want to try this out for a wedding unless you have used it for while and feel comfortable with it!

4. The camera will now take images even if you have NOT achieved focus. So, don’t assume a shot is in focus just because your camera takes the picture.

5. If you use an Expo Disk for color and exposure and are sick of having to put your camera on manual focus to take an image (you can’t take images unless your camera can focus when it is set to auto-focus), now you can shoot away since the camera no longer needs to focus to be able to shoot! Just press the shutter button any time to take an image whether or not you have achieved focus.


“We are taking time off spending time with baby Gray, but have put together our favorite Tips and Tricks from the last two years for us all to review!”

Today we wanted to touch on a subject that has been at the forefront of our lives lately – truly putting your business in its place so that it doesn’t overtake your life!

Back in August of 2008, our business was growing fast and we were having a ton of fun with it all. The problem was, we had put our personal relationship on the back-burner and that month came to the realization that we were barely spending any quality time with each other. So, we decided to take a drastic step and have Jody quit her day job that she had at the time. It was hard walking away from the extra income, the awesome insurance and the “security” of that job. But ultimately we knew that if we did what was right, we would be rewarded with something much greater; a strong relationship with one another that will last far beyond any cool photos we will ever take.
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“We are taking time off awaiting baby Gray, but have put together our favorite Tips and Tricks from the last two years for us all to review!”

Tuesday Tips REVISITED…Welcome to yet another installment of Tuesday Tips and Tricks! This week, we are going to focus on a simple topic of lighting our client with background lights, and what angles to use when doing it.

Background light on our subject is awesome because it creates a great deal of added contrast and separation to our final image. It can also be really cool when it is in the shot and creates flare which gives a cool glow to our couples. So, the question is, where do you put the light in the background to give it the desired effect? Let’s look at a few shots and break them down.

Shooting Through

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In this first image, which is a photo from an engagement session from 2008, we have some serious background lighting going on, so let’s show you exactly what we were thinking to pull this one off.

As you can see in the above lighting diagram, the main light is off to camera right lighting the face of the couple and our background light (top left) is at a 45 degree angle to the guy’s back and 45 degrees from the cameras perspective. It is pointed directly at his head and shoulders and is about 7 feet high (the best angle for the light to come down at, is also about 45 degrees so that it lights the head first, then trickles down to the shoulders and feet).

The easiest way to use a background light, no matter where the light is coming from (strobe, window, sun) is to use the 45 degree method. This puts the light onto the shoulders and hair, but keeps it off of the client’s face and nose, and out of sight from the camera to avoid getting flare in the lens and giving away the effect. Whenever we want a clean, contrasty (where our subject pops out of the frame) shot with some dynamics to it, this is our go-to spot for the background light.

Let’s look at the next two shots which have similar lighting on them.

Using the Sun

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You can see here in both shots that the background light (in this case the sun) is again at a 45 degree angle to our subject. There is NO background light hitting his nose or face, and our main light is off to camera right at a 45 degree angle. This lighting gives the subject LOTS of contrast because we have that dark space in between both lights on the front and lots of highlight and shadow areas. This type of lighting is really cool on guys because it makes them look super edgy and tough. (The further we move the main light that is to camera right so that it is closer to 90 degrees from the subjects face, the more edgy the shot will look).

Next shot!

Dark lit Exits

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This exit shot is using the same idea of the 45 degree lighting for the background, except we have added a second light on the other side coming in at the same 45 degree angle. This makes the image really pop (which is sometimes really needed when doing a night exit where there is hardly any existing light) and gives it a lot of excitement to an exciting moment. We also have the lights visible in the shot which gives it that in-the-moment type of feel and also adds some cool flare. We have a small main light on this shot on the front and all the lights used were small flashes and one video light.

Tough Guy Split Lighting

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This next shot is a bit of a rule breaker because instead of having the background light (which is off to camera left) at a 45 degree angle, we instead had to move it closer to a 90 degree angle because he was so close to the wall. This allowed the spill of light to hit the face and nose which can sometimes look really awful if not done just right. The reason it works here, is because the main light (off to camera right) is higher than it should be to darken his eyes and is “split lighting” our subjects face, or cutting his face in half with the light coming out of it, then the background light hitting the nose just adds to the edginess of the shot. This type of lighting is done more in movie production to create a certain type of tough guy feel to the image. (Split Lighting is basically when the main light, on camera right, is off at a 90 degree angle or so which puts light on just half of the face thus “splitting” it into two parts). Reservoir Dogs say what?!

Using the sun: Female

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This image is similar to the guy shot out in the field, just reversed. The sun is coming in at a 45 degree angle to the models back hitting her just at the left shoulder and head but not hitting her face, then we have the main light positioned at a 45 degree angle from camera left. We had her look towards the main light, to be sure and light her entire face and keep the shot from being overly edgy, and you can see how the background light really makes her pop out of the shot by adding contrast to her body. We also have the sun visible in the shot which adds flare to the image and makes it look very dramatic! Any time you have the actual sun visible in a shot, you need lots of power to tone it down and control it, especially if you wan the blue sky to be visible.

The Sun and two Strobes

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This last image, which is one of the most difficult to light, has the sun at a 45 degree angle to the the model and car’s backside, has an added light coming in at a 45 degree angle to the other side of the model, and then has a main light shooting back towards the sun at a 45 degree angle to camera right. This lighting is hard to do without any background lights hitting the model’s face, and without any of the lights visible in the shot. If you were able to see the flare from any of the lights, or saw the lights themselves, it would really give away the effect that is created. Even though the image is totally lit top to bottom, it still has tons of contrast that is created by the lighting and lots of pop. It looks very 3D and looks more like a fashion or car ad than a standard portrait.

Things to remember when using a background light:
- 45 degrees from the back of your subject will add nice contrast and make your image pop!
- Try and avoid having the background light hit your subjects nose or face unless you have lots of control over it.
- Keep the light coming in and down at a vertical 45 degree angle (if the light was on a stand from a flash, then you would want it high enough so that it would be tilted down at a 45 degree angle and pointed at your subjects shoulder and hair).

So, those are a few guides that we use when implementing a background light into our shots, so go out and try them and send us some images! We may just feature the best ones on the blog!!

(Now, the trick is to figure out how bright the background light should be, depending on how your main light is set. That is another post for another day, so stay tuned)!