RICK COOPER PHOTOGRAPHY AWARDED BEST OF HOUZZ 2017

best-of-houzz-2017-badge-e1484941514302I am thrilled that Rick Cooper Photography has been awarded the Best of Houzz 2017 for photography and service.  This is the third consecutive year that I have been honored with this award by Houzz, the leading platform for home design and renovation.

The Best of Houzz award winners include architecture and interior design photographers whose client reviews and images were most favored by the more than 35 million users who make up the Houzz community and from among more than one million active home building, renovation and design professionals.

As an architectural and commercial photographer, I am so grateful to my clients and the Houzz community for this award.

 

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LENSPEN … the easiest way to keep your lens clean!

Have you ever struggled with trying to clean your camera lens?  Sure you can use your handy cleaning cloth, but those stubborn fingerprints, smudges, dust and dirt will likely still persist.  Unfortunately, that cleaning cloth that you always carry with you seems to make things worse; especially with oils from your hand and grime trapped within the cloth from frequent use.

That is why I highly recommend LensPen.  Although the LensPen makes a number of different products, I personally like the LensPen Original.  It has been around for over 20 years and trusted by professional photographers worldwide.  In fact, NASA uses LensPen products on the International Space Station!

So, what makes the LensPen Original so great?  For starters, it is completely self-contained and easy to carry, measuring less than 4.5in/11.4cm long and weighing less than an ounce. On one end is the Retractable Natural Brush that safely removes dust, dirt and grit.  On the other end is a rubber based, ultra soft, concave chamois Cleaning Tip surface that is impregnated with LensPen’s proprietary invisible carbon cleaning compound that absorbs grease, grime and fingerprints. Since this is a dry carbon cleaning compound, there are no liquids to spill, drip or dry out and the screw-on cap safely protects the cleaning tip when not in use.

According to the manufacturer, each LensPen Original has an extra-long life with up to 500+ cleanings.  It is non-toxic, environmentally friendly, and replenishes automatically with every use.

Oh, and did I mention it is easy to carry?  About the same length as a ballpoint pen, the LensPen Original fits neatly in your pocket or camera bag and with its large capacity clip molded into the side of the pen, it can easily be clipped on your camera strap.

The LensPen Original retails for under $10 at B&H Photo and, although it cleans almost anything, it obviously can’t clean everything.  But, for the cost, it will prove to be one of your favorite pieces of equipment.

Happy Shooting and please follow me on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter!

WHY YOU SHOULD NOT DELETE IMAGES ON YOUR MEMORY CARD USING YOUR CAMERA

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ARE YOU USING YOUR MEMORY CARD CORRECTLY?  Jeff Cable, the former Director of Marketing at Lexar, wrote a great post about the use of a memory card that is well worth repeating here:

Most people look at a memory card as a piece of plastic or metal, and they don’t think much about them. But inside those covers, there is a LOT of intelligence. There is flash memory, a controller and much more. The quality of that memory and controller often determines the speed and quality of your card.

Your memory card has something called a File Allocation Table, otherwise known as a FAT Table. Think of your memory card a a book and the FAT Table as a Table of Contents. When you format a memory card, you are not actually erasing the card, you are just clearing the FAT Table.  In other words, you have removed the Table of Contents, but the chapters of the book remain and all the images will remain on your card until you shoot more and overwrite them. This is why you can use a program like Lexar’s Image Rescue, SanDisk’s Rescue Pro or other data recovery software to recover images from a card even after it is formatted (but before you shoot more and overwrite).

And now for the tips that I am going to write in the order of importance:

  1. DO NOT erase images from your memory card in your camera! Clarification: What I mean by this is: Do not go through your photos and delete them one by one using your camera. I see people (including professional photographers) doing this all the time and it is a REALLY bad idea. Your camera is awesome at taking photos, but it is not very smart at managing the data on your memory card. Deleting individual images from the card using your camera is a great way to scramble the FAT Table. DON’T DO IT!  Memory cards have gotten so inexpensive and large, that you should not have to delete images to save space. Just pop in a new card and keep shooting. Once you have downloaded to your computer, and backed up the images THEN format your card to use it again.
  2. Format your memory cards in your camera, not on your computer. I have seen countless web sites that tell people to format their memory cards on your computer. This is just bad information! You want to format the cards in the camera. And you should do this on the camera you are shooting with. I am currently shooting with the the Canon 1Dx Mark II, Canon 1Dx, Canon 5D Mark IV and Canon 5D Mark III, and I format the card in the camera I am using. You are reading this correctly…I do not format in one Canon camera and move it to another. Will they work? Yes, they will. But it could cause issues down the road. Speaking of this, it is not a good idea to pull a memory card out of one camera and putting it into another without formatting. I have seen people shooting with a Canon camera, pull the card out and start shooting using it in a Nikon camera. They like to be formatted a certain way and each manufacturer does it their own way.
  3. Speaking of formatting, it is a good idea to format your cards after each shoot. Once you have downloaded your card and have the images IN MORE THAN ONE PLACE, you should format that card before it’s next use. It keep things cleaner on the card.
  4. Use a good card reader! Memory card readers have intelligent controllers inside them, just like the cards! I have seen more cards corrupted in a reader than in a camera.
  5. Don’t pull a memory card out of your camera or card reader when data is being written or read. If data is being transferred to/from the card and that process is interrupted, it is quite possible that you will lose some or all of your photos.
  6. If you have two card slots in your camera, write your images redundantly to both cards to have peace of mind. This way, if one card gets corrupted, you can most likely get the images off the other card.
  7. Purchase name brand memory cards. Make sure that you do not use one of those cards made by a no-name company just to save a few dollars. Remember, you are trusting your images to the card!  Is it worth saving a little, only to find later that your images were corrupted?

These are a few simple tips that could save you from a disastrous situation. There is so much technology packed into these devices, but they are so small and unassuming that it is easy to take them for granted.

LOWEL TOTA-LIGHT TRANS-KIT, LB-35 SOFT CASE

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A REVIEW OF THE LOWEL TOTA-LIGHT TRANS-KIT, LB-35 SOFT CASE

Looking for an affordable, extremely good tungsten lighting kit?  Look no further than the LOWEL TOTA-LIGHT TRANS-KIT, LB-35 SOFT CASE from B& H Photo!  This three-light kit is built around the famous Tota-light; a proven compact, rugged and versatile favorite.

Available exclusively from B&H Photo, this kit includes three Tota-Light Tungsten Flood Lights (120-240VAC); three EMD Lamps (750/120v); three Omni Light Stands (expandable to 9ft/274cm); three white 27in/68.5cm) Tota-Brellas; all packed neatly within a LB-35 Large Litebag Soft Case.  Total cost?   Just $832.95 plus shipping (although B&H regularly offers specials).

As an architectural/commercial/product photographer, I am out of my studio as much as in it, so I need a very versatile lighting kit.  This lighting kit does the job for me.  With three lights and stands, I can have a complete set-up in my studio, yet break down whatever configuration I need for an offsite location.

While the kit comes with EMD 750w frosted bulbs, these can be replaced with lower wattage bulbs easily found at any lighting store (at 750w, each Tota-light will emit a beam of 41 footcandles with the barndoors open at normal position, and 34 footcandles with the barndoors at 180 degrees from a distance of 10 foot/3cm.  However, keep in mind when replacing frosted with clear EMD bulbs, the output will be approximately 20% brighter.

FULL ROTATION

Each Tota-Light can be rotated a full 360 degrees using the plastic adjustment knob, however, these lights get very hot, so be sure to wear a pair of high-intensity gloves.  My favorite is the Setwear Hothand Gloves that have been a favorite among film crews.  As a side note: these gloves run small, so order at least one to two sizes larger than you think you need (I initially ordered Medium and had to return them for Large, but B&H exchanged them with absolutely no problem).

ACCESSORIES

A ton of accessories are available for these lights, including gels, adjustable barndoors and much more!

I will be posting a complete video review of this lighting kit shortly on my youtube channel, so please like and follow my blog to receive more details!

THE BUSINESS OF GROWING YOUR BUSINESS

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WHY NETWORKING IS SO IMPORTANT TO PHOTOGRAPHERS

As an architectural and commercial photographer, effective advertising options can be limited.  Unlike wedding or portrait photographers, I specialize in a field the average person or family does not regularly use, especially in a small Florida coastal town dependent on tourism.

Therefore, I typically have to rely on referrals and the best way to get referrals is to network.  But what is the most effective way to network?

For most people, your local Chamber of Commerce comes to mind and, while I joined my local Chamber and even became an Ambassador, I found it to be more of a social function than a true ‘networking’ venue.  Don’t get me wrong, the Chamber is great but at the end of the year when I looked at my return on investment, it really wasn’t that great.

Community organizations such as Rotary, Kiwanis, Optimist Clubs likewise were extremely gratifying, but is the purpose for joining these organizations primarily to garner more business or to give back to your community?  Perhaps it’s both.  But if I truly want to increase my revenue, I want to focus strictly on an organization that will help me do just that.

The one organization that I found to be focused on true ‘networking’ is Business Networking International (or, BNI).  Founded in 1985, BNI has over 200,000 members in 7,500 chapters worldwide.  Each chapter allows only one member from each profession to join.  For example, once I joined my local BNI Chapter, no other photographer would be allowed to join that chapter.  The concept is simple; by limiting each profession/industry per chapter, referrals are maximized.  For me, this turned out to be one of the best decisions I made and here’s why:

Each BNI chapter typically consists of someone in real estate, the building industry/ construction, banking/finance, business owners, public relations/advertising, health care, website design … in other words, all the professions and industries that could use my services and who could refer me to others.  Does it really work?  Well, having joined my local BNI chapter just over three years ago, it accounts for more than a third of my revenue and I know that because it is easy to track in BNI’s system.  I also know that I did not have to chase down people or knock on doors, since this revenue was generated by referrals from my fellow members and, in return, I provided a lot of referrals to them as well.  Among our chapter’s 38 members we have collectively exceeded $1 million dollars each year in referred business.  Worldwide, BNI generated in 2015 alone, 9.3 billion dollars in shared revenue among its members from millions of referrals.  I don’t know of another networking organization that can claim those numbers.

If you are not already familiar with BNI, you can locate a chapter near you here.

PLANNING A TRIP TO THE CZECH REPUBLIC?

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HERE ARE MY SUGGESTIONS

Having photographed in over 50 countries on five continents, the Czech Republic and especially Prague is without question among my favorite locations to visit and photograph.  Located in the northwest of the Czech Republic (formerly Czechoslovakia), Prague is rich in history, culture and diversity.  Situated on the Vltava River, it is the historical capital of Bohemia.

What makes Prague so appealing to me?  First, its architecture!  Founded in the year 880 (yes, that is not a typo) during the Romanesque and flourishing by the Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque eras, Prague was the main residence of several Holy Roman Emperors including Charles IV (1346-1378) as well as the Habsburg Monarchy (1526-1611) and the Austria-Hungarian Empire (1867-1918).

Prague (or, Praha as the Czechs prefer) is a walking city where everyone gathers in the Old Town Centre for great food, Czech beer, shopping and fun!

So, here is what I am taking on my 24 November 2016 trip:

Cameras and Equipment

With airport security (especially international security) increasingly becoming a pain, plan to pack light.  A number of years ago, I could take a full camera roll-a-board with two Cannon camera bodies, multiple lenses, and even lighting.  But, not now!

On this trip, I am packing only one camera body; the Canon EOS-1DX Mark II, along with my iPhone 6s, my iPad, and my CamRanger.

Lenses

My goto lenses will be the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L USM and the Cannon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM.  These give me a lot of options.

Tripod

A tripod is a necessity as well as a remote trigger.  A lot of the photos you will want to capture will be at night; such as the Old Town Square, the Charles Bridge, the Wallenstein Palace.  My favorite travel tripod is the Manfrotto 190MF4 Magfiber.  Not only is it sturdy and relatively lightweight, but I can ship it in my luggage.  It folds down to 22in/56cm with a Manfrotto 488RC2 ball head attached.  Unfortunately, both can now only be found on the secondary market.

Camera Bag

All of this equipment (with the exception of my tripod and iPad) fits nicely inside my well traveled and sometimes abused Billingham 445 Pro Shoulder Bag.  Handcrafted in the UK, this bag looks like the professional camera bag that it is and easily passes through airport security.  I make sure my Delta Diamond Skymiles and my MedJet Horizon tags as well as any media credentials are all attached.

Electrical

Unlike the U.S./Canada, the electrical sockets (outlets) in the Czech Republic are one of the two standard European electrical socket types: the “Type C” Europlug and the “Type E” and “Type F: Schuko so you will need to purchase a few travel plug adapters before you leave the U.S. or Canada.  These are inexpensive – usually around $5.00 – but will save you a lot of headaches.  Although you can find multi-country adapters at Target, Walmart and online, I would suggest you purchase only the adapter that you will need unless of course you are planning to visit several countries.  I buy my adapters at Mori Luggage.  Also remember that Europe is on a 230 volt system unlike our 120 volt, but the good news is that virtually all devices will convert automatically with no problem.

Go online and put together your team!  I know that sounds strange, but one of the things that has helped me a lot is social media. Post your planned photo shoot and ask for Czech locals to help.  You will be surprised at the response and how you can literally throw away the tourist books!  Plus, locals will take you to places only locals know!

Miscellaneous (but important)

Passport!  Well, that goes without saying however I learned long ago to always make two copies of your passport’s identification page and all travel documents.  Leave one with a friend and carry the other with you.  It is not always a good idea to carry your passport with you at all times, especially at night or visiting a nightclub – instead carry the photocopy of your passport identification page.

Additionally, be sure to sign up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program with the U.S. Department of State.  If you are taking prescription medications, get a letter from your doctor to carry with you.  Some countries have strict laws, even against over-the-counter medications although the Czech Republic to my knowledge does not.

Don’t forget to notify your bank of the countries and dates you will be traveling.  It is not uncommon for banks to deny your credit card/debit card purchases or block ATM withdrawals in foreign countries unless you notify them first.

Ask for a card from your hotel’s front desk that shows the hotel name, address and phone number!  It is easy to get lost in a foreign city even if you are within a few blocks of your hotel and especially if you do not speak the language.  Being able to hand a taxi driver or a local the hotel card will make your life so much easier and less stressful.

Finally, get used to a six hour time change.  Once you land, plan to wake up early to capture the vendors preparing for the day as well as buildings and sites before crowds begin to arrive.  This is also a great time to interact with them and photograph some very rare behind the scenes/product photos. The Czech people are exceptionally friendly!

 

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