Thoughts

State of the Business - 2017 in Review by Zack Wussow

It's time again. Every December, I like to take a moment and look back at the year gone by. 

BIGGER AND BIGGER STILL

2017 was Zack Wussow Media's best and busiest year so far. I said the same thing last year and the year before that, which is all very exciting of course! The biggest change was in weddings - more on that to come.

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Busy Year

Beside work, this was a huge year for me personally. I got married in April, and bought a house in August! Needless to say, it made for a very exciting and hectic year!

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Very Busy Fall

As with the past four years, I spent my weeks September-December taking yearbook photos all over New England, and most weekends at weddings, editing weddings, and booking more weddings. As in previous years, more couple chose to move their weddings into autumn. In September, I had eight!

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Which brings us to the exciting bit...

THE NUMBERS

WEDDINGS: 26 (UP 7 FROM 2016/2015/2014)

I felt so busy this year, but it wasn't until recently I actually tallied up all the weddings and just... Wow. That's an extra third more weddings. Which is very exciting! Lots of you lovely people have been passing my name around and it's showing.

It's also an odd position to be in, though, because until people start getting married in the winter, this is close to the max I can realistically do. Something I will have to think about going forward.

My career total now comes to 117 weddings!

ENGAGEMENTS: 8 (SAME AS 2016)

As with last year, the majority of my engagements were sold as part of wedding packages. I'm still really glad that it's becoming a popular option - its great getting to meet and work with couples before the big day, and I really enjoy doing portraits.

OTHER PORTRAITS: 6 (UP 1 FROM 2016)

This includes headshots, maternity photos, and family photos. Headshots are down 1, family photos up 2, and maternity unchanged. 

I've been making an effort to expand this part of the business, especially the maternity side. Unfortunately, I tracked down a lot of maternity folks this fall... and pregnancies take 9 months. So expect to see lots of spring maternity sessions on the blog. Can't wait!

As before, a lot of return customers this year.

CORPORATE GIGS: 6 (DOWN 2 FROM 2016)

This includes product photography and events. Or did, last year, when I did some product photography. It's a field I've never been particular excited about, but worked with some family friends on. This year we dropped it altogether.

Corporate events, meanwhile, are great. Very similar to weddings, but lower stakes and spread more evenly through the year. If memory serves, this year I did exactly the same events as last year, which is great. If they wanted I'd happily book for the next decade!

COMING OF AGE/MISC. EVENTS: 2 (DOWN 3 FROM 2016)

I can't say this section makes me especially happy. I did no coming of age ceremonies this year. That's something I would like to do more of, but I admit I'm at something of a disadvantage. I don't personally come from a culture that celebrates any big coming of age events, so I'm a bit in the dark when it comes to where people find their photographers, what they are looking for, what they expect to pay, etc. We will see where it goes next year.

The misc. events category was, as usual, an odd assortment - one wedding rehearsal (a substitute for package engagement session), and the other a first birthday party. Though perhaps I should count that as a coming of age event!

TOTAL: 48 (UP 3 FROM 2016)

I love how much this number hides the actual change in my workload. Since I traded four little jobs for weddings and then added another three weddings. It was a crazy year. 

OTHER STUFF

I drove about 13,000 miles for work this year, split about 70/30 between my yearbook season and everything else. Because naturally the year I have eight weddings in September is also the year I have mostly out-of-town and out-of-state schools! Luckily, I also bought a new car this year before most of the travel, so I got to travel in the relative luxury of a Subaru Imprezza. (I do genuinely love that car!)

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I also flew to Chicago for a wedding, which was an amazing trip and supplants North Carolina as the furthest place I've traveled for a wedding. (If you want me to travel to your wedding, drop me a line, we will make it work!)

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My wife, Heather, was my second shooter for eleven(!) weddings this year, up four from last year. It's really fun having her along, and it helps pay our mortgage, which is important me to.

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I also read 45 books, and watched 83 movies. If I had to pick the best of those that came out this year, I'd probably recommend Thor: Ragnarok and Turtles All The Way Down by John Green respectively (if you like to get your recommendations from wedding photographers). Also, it appears I neither watched nor read anything about photography or photographers. Oops. 

COMING UP

Next year's looking pretty good so far - I've booked around fourteen weddings, a fair number of engagements and events, and have hopefully lined up a handful of maternity sessions.

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January actually has my first wedding, a trip to Florida (pleasure, not business), and the eagerly anticipated moment when I am totally caught up on editing for the first time since mid-August.

I'm sure this spring will bring a fair amount of work on the new house, and Heather and I are trying to, finally, get away for our honeymoon sometime around the one year mark.

 

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

I might take a week off as I start to update my portfolio here on the site, but otherwise we'll be back to regular blog posts soon. Hope you had a great holiday season, and a very happy New Year!

29 by Zack Wussow

It's my birthday. Twenty-nine times I've been around the sun, and the last five of those I've been making a living as a photographer. 

 Pictured: Me using a camera I didn't own and never used professionally.

Pictured: Me using a camera I didn't own and never used professionally.

I can't put into words how lucky I am. Not many people get to follow their passion. Fewer do by thirty. Even fewer do without first driving themselves batty working someplace they can't stand.

 Pictured: Also me not working.

Pictured: Also me not working.

It's been a crazy ride. I've had to learn to be my own accountant, advertiser, web designer, and salesperson. It's been hard work, but I also know I couldn't have done it alone.

 Pictured: Me working in a silly hat.

Pictured: Me working in a silly hat.

I owe my success to so many people: my family, who's support was essential to getting Zack Wussow Media off the ground; my fiance, who's been my council, my proofreader, and lately my second shooter. But most of all, I owe my success to my customers, who have been my best promoters and without whom I couldn't have done any of this.

 Pictured: Me pretending to work during a break from working.

Pictured: Me pretending to work during a break from working.

So thank you all, and here's to all the exciting things ahead this year!

State of the Business - 2016 in Review by Zack Wussow

It's time again. Every December, I like to take a moment and look back at the year gone by. People seem to like seeing the number, as well. So, here we go:

BIGGER AND BIGGER STILL

2016 was Zack Wussow Media's best and busiest year so far. You might notice I said the same thing last year - had I been blogging in late 2014 I could have said the same thing then too. All of which is to say the business keeps growing by basically any measure. Makes me happy.

STRONG START

2016 began from a much better place than 2015. I was still some mix of anxious and excited to get through the slow winter months, but I spent less time eyeing my bank account. Next year is likewise shaping up to be comfortable, if anything a bit better than 2016.

HUSTLE

Fall is always a busy time, but this year was especially bad. Good? I guess it depended on how much work separated me and a bed when you asked.

As with the past three years, I spent my weeks September-November (er... early December) taking yearbook photos all over New England, and many of my weekends at weddings, editing weddings, and booking more weddings. It's not so much that I shot more weddings this year, just that they clustered more tightly into my fall yearbook season, which itself was more busy than previous years.

(As an aside - I put together a spreadsheet showing how the wedding season, or at least my wedding season, is shifting later and later every year. The trend is there but not in an exciting enough way to pretty it up for this post.)

And since I am already bringing up numbers...

THE NUMBERS

WEDDINGS: 19 (SAME AS 2015/2014)

Once again, it feels like it was way more than that... I'm actually quite surprised that this number has stayed so constant over time. I believe this year saw the smallest proportion of "hourly" weddings, though, which probably accounts for feeling like this year was busier. Or my memory isn't that great. Either way.

My career total comes now to 90 weddings. (I also second shot 1 wedding.)

ENGAGEMENTS: 8 (UP 4 FROM 2015)

This is my biggest change from 2015. Mostly it's due to engagements now being standard with my biggest package, but it's also partly because I'm slowly moving to a higher price bracket, and people want to work with me on a small scale before committing to the big contract. Which is great - I welcome the on-the-job interview and chance to work with clients before the big day.

OTHER PORTRAITS: 5 (NO CHANGE FROM 2015)

This includes headshots, maternity photos, and family photos. Headshots are up 1, family photos down 1, and maternity unchanged. 

I'd really love this to be a bigger part of my business (so if you are interested, drop a line!). Working on that is one of my big goals for the early part of 2017 - expect to see some more involved and creative portrait shoots written up here.

What does make me feel good, though: all but one of these was a return customer. That tells me I'm doing a good job - the problem is with reaching new people..

CORPORATE GIGS: 8 (NO CHANGE FROM 2015)

This includes product photography and events. The "no change" actually hides an important shift. In 2015 those two camps were split evenly 4/4, this year it's 2/6 respectively. That's a great change for me going forward.

Product photography is a totally different business to weddings, and a field I'm lukewarm about. All the work I've ever done in this category has come through family friends. In short, it's nice to have, but not a real focus of my business.

Corporate events, meanwhile, tend to be like shorter, less-convoluted weddings, and distribute themselves more evenly throughout the year. (In fact, since a lot of them are with UConn, they tend to be during my slow winter/spring season.)

So not a big change overall, but within this category the trends are good.

COMING OF AGE/MISC. EVENTS: 5 (UP 3 FROM 2015)

There are aspects to this I am not happy about - I only did one Bar Mitzvah this year, for example, compared to 2 last year - but in general I am very excited to see people thinking of me for things outside the wedding/engagement box. As far as I recall, all of these came from referrals through friends and past customers.

TOTAL: 45 (UP 7 FROM 2015)

Well, that explains why I felt busier! As with all the above: it's a trend I like and hope to see continue, especially if more of the uptick is from small, non-seasonal stuff like engagements, events, and portraits.

OTHER STUFF

I drove almost exactly 10,000 miles for work this year, split 50/50 between my yearbook season and everything else. I'm deeply sick of the inside of my car.

Also, my fiance was my second shooter for seven weddings this year! (Including the above.) Heather has really hit a groove, and it's kind of awesome how much her photos look like my own. Plus, you know, it is nice spending time with her and all.

Coming Up

Next year's already filling out nicely for weddings - I've booked around twelve, at last check. And a fair number of engagements and events.

This winter should see a couple snowy engagement shoots and I have a handful of just-for-fun portrait projects lined up. 

I'm also getting married in April. So, you know, work to be done getting ready for that!

Happy Holidays!

With this the blog is on Christmas break while I catch up on the last of this year's editing and spend time with friends and family. We'll be back for New Years Eve, when I shoot my last wedding of the year, and try to come up with some goals for 2017.

 

 

A Quick Note on Smugmug by Zack Wussow

Recently, a major online photo hosting site, Picturelife, went through some troubles and ultimately collapsed. 200 million photos, everything from trip snapshots to baby photos uploaded by their users and often not existing anywhere else, were at risk of disappearing forever. 

Smugmug, the company that hosts the online galleries I give out to all my clients, stepped up and, free of charge, rescued the entire catalog and made it available for Picturelife's customers to download.

Smugmug will probably get some new customers, but ultimately this is a losing proposition. They're just doing it because it's the right thing to do.

In a way, my Smugmug galleries are the same thing - I always lose money on them, because I don't force people to purchase prints there. But it's fine - it's a tiny cost, and I feel like in today's age having a private gallery is essential. So it makes me really happy to see that Smugmug is running their business the same way I try to run mine.

So happy, in fact, I want to do something nice for them. Good deeds should be rewarded, right? So I've made a coupon, good on all my client's galleries through October 15th, 2016, where you can get any print you want at cost. I wont make a cent, but Smugmug will. I think they deserve it.

Use coupon code "SMHero" to get the discount.

They also just added photo cases for iPhone and Samsung S7, which are pretty awesome. Hint hint.

600 by Zack Wussow

Another 100 days of Photo-A-Day. Here are some highlights.

520 - Hit a big milestone with my Fiesta.

529 - Weird and wonderful hidden spot in central Connecticut.

#531 - My fiance Heather nearly got us in a traffic accident to stop and pick up this tortoise. I guess I don't blame her. He's pretty cute.

597 - First day of this yearbook photo season. Time to get to work!

Here's to another 600!

Five Years by Zack Wussow

You know the cliched interview question, "Where do you see yourself in five years?" Well, when I walked into the Vernon Town Clerk's office and registered my Doing Business As name, and even if they had I could not have guessed.

 This picture, currently on the "About Me" page, is from October 2012. I should probably post something more... recent.

This picture, currently on the "About Me" page, is from October 2012. I should probably post something more... recent.

In all honesty, I started Zack Wussow Media for two reasons - first, because the only other UConn Photography grads I knew actually using their degrees were doing weddings, and because you need to register your business to pay taxes. I wasn't sure if it was what I wanted to do long term. In fact, I probably would have said I intended to work a little and then go back to school.

Before grad school, though, I wanted to follow my professor's advice and "get some life". Boy have I.

In these five years I've also acquired more camera gear then I could have imagined needing, taught myself to be a serviceable accountant, advertiser, and salesperson, learned and forgot how to use a steadicam, built three ring lights, taken a million yearbook photos, and attended several lifetimes worth of weddings.

 And assisted on one rap video.

And assisted on one rap video.

Just after ZWM's first anniversary, I met my fiance. A year and a half later we moved in together, into my first real apartment. Then, this past spring, I asked her to marry me. (No date set yet... We're procrastinators.)

I've gotten a tattoo, tried scuba and sky diving, taken at least three road trips, run in a Tough Mudder, and perhaps most incredibly of all, I've gotten Heather's cat Enzo to tolerate my existence (maybe even like me... sometimes).

So given all that, where do I see myself in another five years? My wedding, for sure. Probably owning my first home. Almost certainly still behind a camera.

But besides that? Your guess is as good as mine. I'm excited to find out, though.

"So, What Camera Should I Buy?" by Zack Wussow

This is a question I hear at least once per wedding from someone's date or Uncle Bob. Here's my answer.

Canon or Nikon?

It doesn't matter. 

That's a somewhat controversial opinion, but as far as I can tell Canon and Nikon are like Coke and Pepsi. Different, but basically interchangeable. I'll recommend a Canon because that's what I use, a Nikon user will suggest Nikon, and both will be perfectly good.

Whichever you pick, you'll stick with forever, because you'll have bought Canon lenses, flashes, etc. and it would cost too much to switch.

Ok, so what should I buy?

Get the newest Canon Rebel. It's their entry-level camera. It was my first DSLR, and I used it for five years, including the start of my professional career. It's a great camera, light, easy to use but has all the features you'd want in a DSLR. It's an affordable way to get started.

 My old Rebel, about a decade old now, was my first "real" digital camera. Still works.

My old Rebel, about a decade old now, was my first "real" digital camera. Still works.

Then, if you feel like you haven't spent enough, invest in better lenses. You'll get the most bang for your buck from prime lenses (ones which don't zoom). You can get very affordable primes with good quality glass and wide apertures. 

Apertures?

The aperture is the hole that lets light in through your lens. It's described by the f-stop - the lower the number, the wider the hole. Low f-stop lenses are great - they let you shoot in darker situations, and give you the wonderful, blurry backgrounds that everyone loves.

The Canon 85mm f/1.8 prime is a great lens for portraits, for example.

And a Rebel will get me great photos?

No.

I mean, sure, they'll be better than your cell phone. But a better camera doesn't make you a great photographer. Practice does.

Which is why I'd suggest going a different route. Get the newest or second-newest Canon S-Series.

It's a point and shoot, small enough to fit in a pocket, which means it fits the old adage, "The best camera is the one you have with you." I carry my S110 with me every day. 

It's not just portable, either. The s-series is a powerful little camera, with tons of manual controls. it also shoots in RAW, the highest quality file format.

You can learn almost everything you would on a Rebel from the s-series, but it fits in your pocket, and it's cheap enough that if it gets lost, stolen, or broken (something I know nothing about...), it's not the end of the world. 

By far the best bang for your average photographers buck.


(Note: The links to specific recommendations are up-to-date as of the posting of this entry, but may be out of date in the future.)


Day One by Zack Wussow

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Happy New Years!

I'm a big fan of New Years resolutions, in part because I'm actually pretty good at sticking to them.

(The secret - make them achievable, measurable, and ideally something that you can break up into a series of smaller steps. So no "Get in shape" - instead, something like "Be able to run a 5K without stopping.")

Despite that, I hesitated to write a blog post about my resolutions this year. Plenty of them have to do with Zack Wussow Media, but to be frank those aren't that interesting. Either the goals are somewhat out of my control (I can't make more people hire me, for example, only look for ways to encourage it) or else I've set up systems which should take care of the goal with no real work on my part.

Instead, the goals I am most excited about are only tangentially related to ZWM. But I am excited about them, so I thought I would share three big ones.

4 Portfolio-Worthy Projects

This one goes on top of continuing my photo-a-day project (which is nearly a year old!) and continuing to expand my Bar/Bat Mitzvah and Maternity portfolios, two areas of my business I'd like to see expand in 2016 and beyond.

This year I want to do four large, involved photo projects that push me as a photographer.

Self-assigned projects are a great way to develop any skill. In my case, the projects are partially just for the fun of it, and partially to see if there are new avenues of photography I should be exploring, or new skills I can bring back to my regular work.

I'm sure I will post about them here, and depending on the details they may make it to some permanent home on this site.

4 New Skills

I also want to learn (to some reasonable level of fluency) four new skills. I'm not terribly picky about what they are (though I have some ideas already), just that they are useful things I don't currently know how to do.

Are they likely to change the way I photograph a wedding? Nope. Though I never rule out the possibilities of cross-pollination. 

I think it's important to never stop learning, though, and I always find it amazing how once you learn to do something, you start to see opportunities to use it everywhere.

I've already dipped my toes into the first thing, and I expect I'll be sharing some news about that here around the end of January.

Get in Shape

I know, I know, I know. I said earlier this is a terrible resolution because it's entirely un-measurable. I'm working on the details.

The fact is, my body is pretty important to my job, and my job is not really good for my body. Hefting a heavy camera and an even heavier camera bag of accessories for eight-hour days is bad for you in almost every way possible. So I need to take better care of myself than someone my age normally would, just to break even.

Two years ago I ran a Tough Mudder. Right now, I wouldn't stand a chance. A year from now, I'd like to be able to again.

I'll work on the details...

Everything Else

There's a few other big-ish things I have planned for this year, most of which you will probably read about here when they happen... But for now that is all I will say.

What about you? Any exciting resolutions for the year ahead? Whatever the new year brings for you, I hope you have a wonderful, exciting, successful 2016!