Productivity Hacks: Todoist, Evernote, and a Calendar

Ever since reading the E-Myth Revisited back in late 2016, I’ve been all about trying to be more efficient and productive in my business. I primarily go about this by setting up internal systems for how I go about doing things. In late 2016 my method for organizing my schedule, tasks, and notes was disheveled and disorderly at best. In early 2017 I ended up reading the book Do More Better by Tim Challies. The book dealt with how to be more productive. The first part of the book deals with why productivity is important from a Christian theological perspective and the later part deals with how to practically be productive. Since reading his book I have been using this system ever since.

First for my daily tasks I use Todoist. This is an app and a website. I use this for keeping track of all of the things I need to get done that day. I have the tasks split into different categories like personal, business, and off season to do list. Examples of tasks include Contact Client Name, Prep for Shoot, Write Blog Post, Buy Groceries, etc.

Next I started using Evernote for all of my note taking purposes. Evernote is an app and website. I use this for everything from notes from books I’m reading, notes from client consultations, business ideas, and saving articles I’ve read. I organize the notes into various Notebooks for business, personal, etc. Notebook examples include Business Brainstorming, Business Client, and Personal Book Notes.

Lastly I use Apple Calendar to keep track of when I have shoots, consultations, and other personal things going on. Being self employed I have a very fickle schedule and being able to update and check my calendar quickly is a must. I’ll put the time and location of the appointment I’m going to in the Calendar but keep any notes pertaining to the appointment in Evernote and tasks I must complete prior to the event in ToDoist. By using this system I can easily keep track of my tasks, notes, and calendar.

Productivity Hacks: Roller Cart

As photographers it is easy for us to get caught up in buying new gear. A lot of times it is the less sexy gear that makes the big difference. It is easy to drool over the new camera, lens, or flash, while it is other little things which make the big difference. My red roller cart is a perfect example of this.

Before buying this red roller cart, I would carry around several large bags. A big camera bag with all of my lenses and a wide variety of accessories. Plus a big lighting bag with light stands, Alienbee, and modifiers. This was a pain. Especially for shoots in new locations I was less familiar with. It got to the point in many new locations I simply shot with natural light, instead of lugging around my massive kit. In 2018 I switched up how I carried my gear and got several smaller bags. I started only bringing the gear I needed to shoots. This was a big step forward, but still not as efficient as it could be. I ended up buying this red roller cart at Shopko in September 2018. Now I will load the cart with the gear I’ll be using on location, instead of lugging around several large bags. This makes doing shoots with off camera flash much easier. I have used this cart on almost every outdoor portrait session I have done since buying it.

Productivity Hacks: Pocket and Feedly

I read quite a bit. Not only books but also articles and blog posts. A way I’ve found to streamline this process is by using Pocket and Feedly.

I first started using Feedly to follow various blogs. You can seperate the blogs you follow by category. For example the categories I have are entrepreneurship, lifestyle, local, misc, photography, politics, style, theology, and wedding. Feedly then lets you see the latest posts from the blogs you follow.

If I find a article I want to read in Feedly I then send it to Pocket. Pocket is another iPhone app which allows you to read articles. I find the way pocket displays most articles far superior to a browser. It also lets you save the article in the Pocket app instead of having tons of browser tabs open.

I currently have tons of articles that I found in Feedly that I still need to read in Pocket. By using this method it has made it far easier for me to find and read various blogs and articles online.   

Productivity Hacks: Gear Placement

Over the years of being a photographer, I’ve realized that it is the non-sexy parts of the job that make the biggest impact. An example of this is where I place my equipment in my bags. By strategically placing what gear goes where it makes shoots and weddings go much smoother. Instead of searching for gear, placing it in the same spot every time makes it easier to access. This also includes where I put the bags in my vehicle as well. By placing them in a way which is easier to access, it makes shoots go much smoother. I occasionally switch up where I put various gear. This depends on the assignment and seeing what worked in past shoots. Currently I have a bag full of lighting gear, a red cart for location shoots, and a large and small camera bag that I switch between depending on assignment.

How I Got The Shots: The Tridge

I primarily photograph portraits and weddings. Every now and then I get hired to do work outside of my traditional wheelhouse. A woman who worked in Midland was moving to a better job in another state. She would get a photograph of a landmark from each of the cities she had lived. Her co-workers commissioned me to photograph the tridge in Midland, Michigan for her.

I parked behind the H Hotel and started scouting out the location. I had photographed portraits and wedding group shots at the tridge before but never and image of just the tridge by itself. I walked around and found some angles that looked pleasing. The tridge is a popular location.  At first I thought I’d have to photoshop out many of the people walking across. Luckily as the sun started to set the people cleared out making the post processing much easier.

I put my Nikon D600 with a wide 18-35mm lens on my Feisol Carbon Fiber tripod and started shooting. There were several reasons I used a tripod. First of all the sun was setting so I needed a longer exposure. Second I wanted detail in the entire scene so I knew I needed a narrower aperture. Lastly because the scene was so high contrast I knew I’d have to create a high dynamic range image. High dynamic range, commonly abbreviated HDR, combines several images of the same scene at different exposures. Using a process called tone mapping it makes it so there are details in the lightest and darkest parts of the photo. Due to the scene being very high contrast, bright sky and dark tridge, I knew a single exposure wouldn’t hold all of the detail I wanted. I shot three images bracketing the shutter speed but keeping the focus, focal length, aperture, and ISO the same. This gave me images with details in every part of the image.

When I got home I imported the images into Lightroom. I did the same basic global adjustments to all three images. Next I chose merge to HDR in Lightroom creating an image with detail in all tonal ranges in the image. After some further tweaking in Lightroom the image was ready to be printed. The clients ordered a 16×24 inch metal print which I got made thru White House Custom Color.

How I Got The Shots: Reception Sparklers

Grand Rapids is one of my favorite towns. Tons of great breweries. Tons of reformed churches. What more could you want?

In 2018 I photographed a wedding in Grand Rapids at a little Missouri Synod Lutheran church just down the road from Calvin College. The getting ready and ceremony went great. Next we went to the golf course where the reception was held. We drove around on golf carts to various locations the bride and groom had picked out. This was the only wedding I had photographed in 2018 that the clients had book me for more than eight hours of wedding coverage. Eight hours ends up being enough for almost everyone. This couple had a very specific photo they wanted at the end of the night. They wanted a shot of them running out of the reception hall with sparklers at the end of their reception. To get this shot I had to use to flash. While shooting dancing photos I used bounce flash. I kept my flash on camera and pointed it towards the ceiling. The light bounces off the ceiling making for a very flattering light. These shots would be outside though. No ceiling to bounce off of. So I had to use direct flash. I set my flash to a lower level so I could shoot quicker. As the bride and groom ran out of the reception hall with there sparklers I was able to grab several shots. They ran to there car and drove off to start there honeymoon. Usually I check with the bride and groom before leaving a wedding reception to make sure there aren’t any other shots they want. This time they had left before I did. I somewhat awkwardly packed up my gear and started my 2.5 hour drive back to Clare.

How I Got The Shots: Bridal Party Lightsaber Battle

When I tell people I am a wedding photographer, I usually get asked what crazy wedding stories I have. Luckily, I have had a lot of great clients and don’t have to many horror stories. One of the best weddings I have went to was way back in 2012 in Mt Pleasant.

I had just graduated high school. I still didn’t have my drivers license and hated driving back then. I had a friend and assistant Brandon drive me to Mt Pleasant for the wedding. It started with a reverent ceremony at a Catholic church in Mt Pleasant. Then we went to one of the couple’s parent’s homes outside Mt Pleasant. We did some conventional group shots. Then the groom came over to me and said “just document what is about to happen.” The bride and groom and rest of the bridal party all wiped out toy lightsabers. The bridal party started attacking the bride and groom with there lightsabers. I ran around with my wide angle lens as the battle continued. It was super fun! Next we headed to the reception near CMU where the bride and groom walked in to the imperial march with the lightsabers held over their heads by the bridal party. Each table was named after locations in various fantasy and sci fi fandoms. My assistant and I were seated at the Shire. It was the nerdiest thing ever and it was awesome. Hands down one of the best weddings I’ve been to.

How I Got The Shots: Amish In the Tree Tunnel

As I’ve grown older, I’ve grown to love my hometown of Clare, Michigan. Of the things which makes this area unique is the high population of Amish. The Amish are a religious sect with their roots in Anabaptist theology dating back to the radical reformation in Europe. The Amish choose to live simple agrarian lifestyles. They have large families, and many abstain from either some or all use of modern technology, including electricity.

When I first took interest in photography I photographed a lot of wildlife and landscape work. As time went on I shifted to portraiture and later weddings. In fall 2016 I decided to get back to my roots and photograph fall colors. I would drive around the various backroads, mostly in Clare county, and photograph the foliage.

On this particular day I ended in “the tree tunnel,” as us locals call it, on Oak Road between Clare and Coleman, Michigan. The tree tunnel always makes for beautiful images especially during the fall. This time an Amish buggy was heading through the tunnel at just the right time to catch him in the middle of the tree tunnel.

Technique wise this image is very simplistic. I pulled off to the side of the road. Got my Nikon D600 and 80-200mm f/2.8 lens out. Yes 80-200mm not 70-200mm. It is cheaper and super sharp. I had my camera in aperture priority set to f/2.8. The shallow depth of field allowed the foreground and background to drift out of focus, bringing more attention to the buggy. I had very little to do in post. I simply added a preset I had made a few years prior, and the image was set.

The reason I love this image is it represents Clare. A place near and dear to me. The fall colors. The amish buggy. The scenic back roads in the woods. This image screams “home.”

5 Recommendations For Those Who Want to Get Started in Photography

I regularly get asked what resources I recommend for those who want to learn about photography. Here are five of my favorites.  

KelbyOne is the Netflix of photography tutorials. Classes range from beginner to professional level. Classes are taught by the best in the industry. Topics range from a variety of genres of photography, retouching, and business. Prices are around $10-$20 a month depending on subscription level. I became a member in early 2019. I have been going to live seminars of theirs since 2011.

The Professional Photographers Of America is a great trade organization. Membership includes a plethora of benefits. These include industry discounts, a subscription to Professional Photographer magazine, tons of how to videos, contracts, access to various insurances, and that is just scratching the surface. Becoming a member costs a little over $33 a month. I have been a member since 2013.

In 2017 I created the Michigan Photography Network Facebook group. This group was created for networking with fellow photographers in Michigan. The group has now grown to over 900 members. We have had several in person meet ups which have now been replaced by a monthly meet up at The Studio Shop in Williamston. Amateur photographers regularly ask photography related questions in the group and are met with responses from professionals around the state. I post at least twice a day in the group to helpful articles, videos, and other industry related news. Industry websites I regularly follow and link to include: fstoppers, petapixel, and strobist. CreativeLive also occasionally offers free classes on photography. For fellow podcast fans the PetaPixel Photography Podcast with Sharky James is great for short concise industry news.

Going to meetups, group shoots, assisting, and second shooting for photographers are ways most people get started in the industry. Since the closing of the Hallmark Institute of Photography and the Brooks Institute both in 2016, few traditional schools exist offering high end photography education. Finding ways to meet and work with working professionals is a great way to learn the craft. Reaching out to local professionals and finding ways to network with them is a great way to get your foot in the door.

One of the best ways to learn about photography is getting out and shooting. Trial and error. Reading photography books, magazines, tutorials, and videos are great but nothing beats actual experience. Get out and shoot.

How did I learn about photography? I started by entering contests on the website I read every photography magazine and book I could find. I was also constantly out shooting. I got published in several magazines prior to my formal education at the Hallmark Institute of Photography. Things have changed a lot since 2009 though. Worth1000 is defunct. Shutterbug, the first magazine I got published on the cover of, went out of print in 2018. My alma mater the Hallmark Institute of Photography closed in 2016 due to a former president embezzling a large sum of money from the school. Even though the places I learned the craft from may no longer exist, amazing new resources, like KelbyOne, have arisen to offer amazing educational resources for aspiring photographers.

Productivity Hacks: Single Tasking

Over the years of owning my own business I’ve came to learn a lot of valuable things. These have been learn via trial and error, books, podcasts, magazines, and discussions with fellow entrepreneurs. One of the best productivity hacks I’ve learnt is single tasking.

When I first started running my business full time I would try to multitask. I’ve be trying to retouch, answer emails, do website updates, post to social media, and do a variety of busy work all at once. I regularly get confused as to what I was working on and rarely got much done. I’d have some many tabs and software open I regularly have my computer freeze up. Over time I learned that doing one task at a time was far more productive.

Now I try to single task. Single tasking is a very simple process. I simply take one thing I’m working on at a time instead of trying to do multiple things at once. For example today I’m working on blog posts. I’ll write a blog post, proofread it, then schedule it on my blog, and lastly schedule it via Buffer to be sent out to social media. I’m not retouching, accounting, nor writing social media copy. I’m just working on writing blog posts. By taking one task at a time I have become far more efficient and get much more done.

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