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by Ryan Weber

“I’ll try anything twice…” has always been a sort of motto of mine.  I believe everyone sees the most growth by getting out of their comfort zone; driving themselves to learn, achieve and even fail. 

So when I was feeling a bit burned out on commercial photography, I set out to experience new stimuli, in hopes that I’d get a binary answer on what path I should pursue going forward.  But what I realized was that life is a multi-branched path, not a straight line.  My reading of books, listening to podcasts and watching of online videos exposed me to myriad interesting topics, any one of which I could easily see myself experimenting with as a future career.

Should I create an online course to sell?  Dive into affiliate marketing?  Start a podcast?  Seek a position in the political realm?  Teach college-level photography courses?  I had some good ideas, some of which are still viable for future exploration. 

What landed in my lap was something unexpected.  One of my favorite podcasters, Tom Woods of The Tom Woods Show, had a guest who talked about creating and selling apps to local businesses.

After a bit of research, I realized a couple benefits of this idea:
1. It was a laptop-lifestyle career, which afforded the freedom to work from home or anywhere with an internet connection.
2. It was a product largely untapped by small local businesses, so there were lots of potential clients.
3. Designing apps nowadays is about as hard as designing drag-n-drop websites.   You used to have to know how to code, but now there are services that have app templates you can customize and have your app live in just days.  It’s a great product to repackage and sell to the right kinds of small businesses.

So I had it in my mind to start looking for app ideas all around me.  That’s where Disneyland came in…


As Disneyland annual passholders, our family was at the park nearly every month and each time I’d overhear someone complaining of a dead camera, tablet or cell battery around dinner time.  I started hunting down all the well-hidden power outlets around the park, ultimately finding over 160 of them.  If dead batteries were such a problem, an app might help alleviate that issue, I figured.  So the Mouselets app was born!  (Click link to find out more about it)

Mouselets app screenshot of pinned power outlets around Disneyland Resort.

But creating a consumer app, and selling an app to consumers are two different things.  Because my app had special features, I had to learn about Google map APIs, JSON coding, creating Terms of Service & Privacy Policies, and many other behind-the-scenes elements of getting an app designed and published.

Getting it into the app stores was no problem, but marketing the dang thing was a Herculean feat.  Trying to advertise a niche app with nearly no profit margin to a wide demographic, all the while bleeding monthly hosting costs…well, it was both stressful and enlightening.  Much of the app’s success came from hours of good ‘ol fashioned social media outreach.

(Side note: Did you know you can harvest all tweets within a certain geographic area (Disneyland + 1 mile radius) for a particular keyword (“phone dying”)?  It’s a dynamite tactic for local businesses…just ask me how to do it). 

In my search for the best ROI for my advertising dollar though, I discovered the power of Facebook ads! 

Location-based ad serving, crazy granular demographic targeting, re-targeting people who’ve taken certain actions on your website or FB page, ads for pennies, detailed reports that allow you to fine-tune your current and future ad sets…the nerd in me found it all so fascinating!  Forget the app, I needed to be doing this!  THIS is the way you add value to a community!  Helping businesses and customers find out about each other through a platform they’re both already using. 

I’d discovered what I had originally set out to find…something that fired me up!  It was just a round about way to get there.

As an autodidact, I dove into many hours of getting familiar with FB’s ad platform, listening to trainings and reading blogs on ad strategy.  I tried advertising my app as a case study, but what I realized in the end was the Disney demographic was just too expensive to market a $0.99 app.  Anything Disney-themed had too much targeting competition and I’d lose money on each app download.

HOWEVER…I knew it would be a fantastic platform for businesses with higher margins, which is just about any other non-app business in existence.  I thought to myself “This is a freakin’ gold mine of demographic data, and hardly anyone is using it correctly!  What if I could take a traditionally low-revenue business, like an artist, and earn them some profit on a minimal ad spend?  That would definitely prove the power of the ad platform!  And if I can do it with a niche local artist, it can surely scale for a brick-and-mortar or online business!”

And so I did! 

In the next blog post, I’ll talk about using Facebook ads to help artist Toni Best find paying students for her gourd basketweaving classes.

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For some time we’ve debated whether to use a contact form on our main website, like we do at whiteproductphotography.com.  Years ago, people weren’t familiar with them enough, so to use one would have seemed a bit stand-offish.  Now people fill them out on a nearly daily basis, so we’re interested in the pros and cons of using a contact form versus putting text-based contact info out there for clients to use.

– A contact form can act as a screening pre-qualifier for potential clients.  Someone who invests the 30 seconds to enter their contact information and reason for contacting you has already shown you they’re serious about having a dialogue with you.  A contact form can screen out tire-kickers.

– Contact forms still make pretty good spam filters.  Putting your email address out there either as text or a “mailto:” hyperlink can quickly turn your inbox into a spam-infested mess.  Spam bots scour the net looking for uses of mailto links and text with the @ sign, hoping to get a viable address to send junk mail to.  Sometimes you can curb this by typing your email address as “myname[at]domain.com”, but you’re still forcing your client to manually enter the correct version into their email client before hitting send.  A contact form isn’t foolproof, as spammers have more sophisticated bots now, but it cuts down on the spam significantly.  More info below.

– Contact forms can make it easier for a visitor to give you feedback about your site.  Rather than hassle with an email to let you know you have a typo on your About Us page, they can simply fill out the form and go on with their day.

– Contact forms can be tracked and analyzed.  A contact form can be used as a conversion goal in Google Analytics and other tracking programs, so you know how many people make it to your contact form and how many then use it.  You can also use contact forms to more easily send an autoresponder to the client, letting them know you got their message.  You can do this with incoming emails as well, but it usually involves creating a special email address to receive those inquiries and then autorespond.  Then you use your regular email address to further communicate with the client, which can be confusing.

– Contact forms can look impersonal on an artist’s or small business site.  When someone is hiring you to perform a service, they may expect you to appear available.  A contact form can seem a bit corporate to some clients, and they’d really prefer to see your phone number, address, email and such on your website.

– Contact forms may not format right across all browsers.  This isn’t as big of a deal now as it used to be, but depending on your contact form platform and coding, some browsers and mobile devices may not display your form as you had planned.  If you’re a design snob and that one drop down menu simply has to be in a particular location, a contact form may not be for you.

– Contact forms are still a source of spam.  As mentioned above, contact forms can still fall victim to spam bots.  It’s a good idea to use a CAPTCHA image for clients to verify they are real humans, before submitting the form.  This can prevent most spam from making it through.


In our opinion, it would seem that the benefits of a contact form outweigh the negatives, and Radiant Photography will be converting to a contact form system soon.  But we’re interested in your thoughts.  Did we miss a pro or con here?  Do you use, or refuse to use, a contact form and why?

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We’re always on the look out for great used gear at great prices.  When you cashflow a business, you’re not in the habit of slapping down a credit card for the latest, greatest thing, so you have to get creative with sourcing gear.  Here are some tips and resources for finding good photography gear at great prices:

Ebay – Hands-down, our favorite place to find new and used gear.  Many Ebay retailers can offer new camera bodies and lenses at deep discounts since they don’t have the high overhead of brick and mortar stores.  Just make sure you’re buying from a reputable seller, and that your not buying grey market gear without a U.S. warranty.  If it’s used gear, warranties usually don’t matter as they aren’t transferable.  Ebay is also full of pros and hobby shooters unloading equipment at great prices, and we’ve never had a bad experience when we’ve done our proper homework.

Tip: Check the completed listings section for ended auction prices. This will tell you what the market will pay for your desired item and give you an idea of how high to bid.  Completed listings are also useful for setting competitive prices when selling your gear online.  We recently sold this 24mm prime lens, used for less than 40 frames on one shoot, for a $50 profit.

Canon 24mm f/2.8

Craigslist.org – Search your local listings for new and slightly used gear.  For more specialty items, expand your search to other metro areas and ask if the seller will ship the item.

Tip: Look on Ebay completed listings first to know how much your desired item is worth, then start negotiations with your local Craigslist contact at 75% of the Ebay price in cash.  They won’t have to worry about listing or shipping the item online or paying a percentage to the auction company or PayPal, and you get your item the same day for less than it would have cost you online.

Another tip:  Be patient and have cash reserves.  You never know when a good deal will come up on Craigslist.  If you’re sitting on cash, you’re in a position to get a great deal on some gear, while possibly helping someone else get out of some financial trouble.  Don’t be a vulture, but realize you’re in a position to wheel-and-deal if you have money and time on your side.

PropertyRoom.com – This auction site is full of photography gear (and other items) confiscated during police seizures and raids.  If it’s never claimed, it has to be auctioned and this is where a lot of gear ends up at great prices.  You probably won’t find your Canon 24mm TS-E tilt/shift lens or other specialty stuff here, but there are tons of consumer cameras, DV recorders, webcams, security cameras, memory cards and more.

ShopGoodwill.com – Goodwill stores on the corner are great places to find clothes, but their online auction site has some great camera gear too. Similar to police auction pickings, they have consumer cameras, lenses, printers and such.  The Goodwill site seems to have some interesting vintage stuff occasionally though, like Brownie cameras, old movie cameras, and vintage medium format combos.  If you collect bodies or like shooting film cameras, this may be a gold mine for you.

One last tip: Learn to set up auto-notifications in Ebay and RSS feeds in Craigslist.  You’ll be able to go on with your life and get emails when the items you’re looking for show up for sale.  This saves you a ton of search time and if you’re not in a hurry for that special piece of gear, you can rest assured that you’ll find the best deal possible when it lands in your lap.

Happy hunting!

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A custom 404 error page can inject some fun into your company website, should a client get lost while navigating your site.  It doesn’t take much time and it looks much better than your browser’s stock text-only 404 page.

We at Radiant Photography just finished our first custom 404 page, and plan on rotating out some more creative ideas in the future.  Here is a sample:

Radiantphotography.com 404 error page

Radiantphotography.com 404 error page

To make a page similar to ours, you can take a screen shot of your original homepage, play with it in Photoshop and saved it as a jpeg on a colored background in your favorite html editor.  You would give this html file a name like “custom404.html” or something similar, then uploaded the picture and the html file to your server.

After uploading, you need to figure out what type of server your files are on and pick an appropriate method of redirecting your 404 errors to your new page (list of server types and methods here).  In our case, we use an Apache server, so if you’re in the same boat, here’s how to redirect to your custom page:

There should be a file called .htaccess in your root directory of the server (usually where your “index.html” file is).  Us using a Windows-based platform (and being first timers at this), we couldn’t modify the .htaccess file, so we found a workaround.  Open WordPad or another text editor and enter your 404 error command in the following format on one line:

ErrorDocument 404 /errors/”your404filename.html” (in our case we named our custom page “custom404.html”)
Save the text file as ‘htaccess.txt’.  Open your FTP client and drop the file into your root folder.  After it uploads, delete the existing .htaccess file and rename your htaccess.txt file to .htaccess.
Test your modification by typing in a non-existing URL at your domain, like “http://www.yourdomainname.com/iloveporkchopmilkshakes.html”.  You should see your new custom 404 page!
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It’s no surprise that photographers and designers love Flash-based websites! Flash portfolios are dynamic, interactive, and offer a decent level of “right-click, save-as” image protection to keep people from stealing images. As of this posting, Radiant currently uses an XML based flash portfolio plugin for our portfolios, primarily for the protection aspect. The rest of the page is designed in CSS for accessibility across various platforms. But, like other photographers with Flash-based content we had to rethink our design when the iPhone came out. This topic has been covered before, but it’s worth a revisit, and we’re giving you the HTML code to solve the problem.

In it’s stock form, the iPhone doesn’t allow flash content to be seen on the device. If an iPhone user jailbreaks the phone or uses a third party app, they can enable flash content, but many people don’t want to pay for this functionality or risk voiding their warranty. It’s really annoying that the iPhone doesn’t show Flash content out of the box. Furthermore, as of November 2010, the iPhone controls 28.6% of the smartphone market share (Nielsen chart). I’m comfortably guessing most photo buyers, art directors, and editors are Mac and Apple users, so they’re an important demographic to appeal to. Until the iPhone enables Flash content viewing, what’s a photographer or designer with a flash portfolio to do? You need an html version of your portfolio that can be seen on the iPhone.

We didn’t write the script below, but were given it by another photographer, who found it online as well. We’re no coding geniuses here, just sharing the wealth. Plop this script above the tag on whatever page you want to redirect to a mobile version, then make an alternate HTML-based portfolio to redirect to. In our case our WhiteProductPhotography.com “Portfolio” page has this code in it to redirect to a “/mobile.html” version upon sensing the viewing device is an iPhone (see our mobile portfolio here).


if(navigator.userAgent.indexOf(“iPhone”) != -1)
{window.location = “type your alternate html portfolio URL here”;}

Our iPhone version of WhiteProductPhotography.com’s portfolio has been online for just a few weeks and has already garnered just shy of 10% of the site’s total page views. The average visitor spends four minutes looking at the images and it has a 16% bounce rate. While that’s not bad at all, it prompted me to review the mobile page for usability and add two links, one to our FAQ and one to our Pricing/Contact page. That way users don’t have to back out of the mobile portfolio page get back to these features on regular home page. We should see even less bounce rate now that we’ve given clients some navigation options. (Edit: went down to 12.5% in next day after revisions)

If you’re using flash for your portfolios and you’re comfortable with some simple coding, put yourself ahead of your competition with an HTML mobile portfolio.

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Back in the days of the $0.24 stamp, I was starting a business aptly named Ryan Weber Photography. I was shoe-stringing it back then and marketing was my biggest concern and most costly recurring expense. At that time, there was no “social media”, very little focused online interaction, and we were still sending out promo pieces by mail.

Starting from meager beginnings did help me realize the power of a stamp though. I realized that for a nice shiny quarter, one stamp could possibly change my business and my life. If I just put the right words to paper and sent it to the right editor, art director, or buyer. It worked a few times, securing me assisting gigs and paid jobs. And while I’m spending much more on marketing now, I still realize the value of something small.

Case in point, this last holiday I had intended to send a thank you gift to all my clients. I receive them every year from my best vendors and I thought it’d be a nice gesture. But life got in the way and I had to settle on a New Years gift. Except that a big, last-minute estimate request popped up in my email and I never got around to constructing my gifts. I still have two bags of snowglobes sitting by my desk. So, come January 5th, I decided that I better take a few minutes to compose a year-in-review-and-thank-you email to send to clients. A simple “Thanks for being a rockin’ client” kind of composition, followed by a recap of where Radiant stands. We’ve done a couple things this year to add peace of mind for our clients, like remaining debt-free and sitting on cash reserves to weather the economy, securing higher liability insurance, and securing a worker’s comp plan to cover assistants and other contracted vendors on shoots. So far numerous clients have responded with appreciation for the gesture and confirmation that we’ll be doing more business in the coming year. It was a smaller effort than my original plans, but I think it made more of an impact. A kind Thank You and peace of mind beats out cookies or snowglobes, I guess.

Another example happened recently when I wrote a local architectural firm to simply thank them for their very photographic architecture and thoughtfulness of their designs in this desert environment. We share a client and I’ve been exposed to the firm’s work now on shoots for over a year working at this client’s location. The buildings have had plenty of time to soak in to my brain and I notice new details in the architecture every time I visit this facility to shoot. The most recent revelation was realizing that they’d designed waterfalls into the architecture for when we get desert rains. I got caught off-guard during a shoot and a storm rolled in, but it provided me a new glimpse into some amazing building design that very few people even get to see at this facility. So I wrote them a quick note to let them know their design elements were noted and appreciated. I never asked for work, or for them to view our website, just a thank you. I left it at that.

They did their homework though. The email was passed up to a senior partner and he later emailed me to commend our imagery of their project. He also wanted to open a discussion about licensing some shots for their portfolio. Hopefully, Radiant will be shooting some of their past and future projects directly for the firm.

Never underestimate the power of a stamp. Never underestimate a sincere email.

Happy New Year to you all!

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