turning customer service into an art form

Turning Customer Service into an Art Form

How do you make your business grow and have return customers? My buddy Skip Cohen gives you ideas!

“Everyone at one time or another has had a battle with a major corporation. The most common are the phone and cable companies. Each one is a David-Goliath scenario, and they’re draining, but here’s a different way to look at the challenges. Each bad experience is a lesson in helping you understand how to better work with your own customers.

customer service graphicI’ve often wondered if customer service is simply dead in America. Then, I have something amazing happen that restores my faith. For example, we recently had a problem with Wayfair on a defective outdoor umbrella. I called to find out what we needed to do, and after an explanation, they simply apologized and issued a full credit. No reason to return it – just common sense. They couldn’t have been nicer, and the standard of service they set is the reason we buy more from them!

The experience got me thinking about the ingredients for great customer service. Photography is a word-of-mouth industry and providing great service is one of your very strongest marketing tools. Over the years I’ve written a lot about Customer Service and here are a few easy to remember tips to help you become a powerhouse in your reputation for customer support.

  • Exceed expectations!
  • Be cheerful! I know it sounds basic, but you can tell when somebody is smiling, even on a phone call.
  • Give people the answers to the questions they’re asking.
  • Solve problems quickly. The faster, the better.
  • Make your customers feel like their order, no matter how small it might be, is important. They need to feel you value their business.
  • Always give customers more information than what they ask for. Disney is the best at this. I know I’ve written before about it. If you ask any Disney staff member “When is the electric light parade?” They’ll not only answer you, but they’ll give you a great suggestion on where to watch it. Be engaging!

We all have things that make us feel good about our shopping experiences. For example, you can buy the same short-sleeve Polo shirt at Macy’s or Nordstrom’s, for the same price, but think about what makes people enjoy shopping at one store versus the other.

Now, take those same ingredients and apply them to your photography business! Obviously, the quality of your images has to be outstanding, but don’t underestimate the power of providing a great experience for your clients! It’s the greatest tool you have to separate your business from the competition.”

                     “Your customers won’t love you if you give bad service, your competitors will.” Kate Zabriskie

Skip is a guy to follow! You can see more of Skip’s stuff here http://www.skipcohenuniversity.com/scu-blog (ed)

skip cohen headshot

Skip Cohen has been involved in the photographic industry his entire career and previously served as President of Rangefinder/WPPI and earlier, Hasselblad USA. He founded SkipCohenUniversity.com in 2013. Skip is a co-host for “Mind Your Own Business” and “Beyond Technique,” webcasts through Photofocus.com, writes for several publications including Shutter Magazine and is actively involved in several advisory boards for non-profit organizations.

my muse

My Muse – Pash Galbavy

I gotta tell ya it is some kind of wonderful to have a creative person who enjoys being in front of the camera! I’ve never had a muse before. For those who might not know the term here’s the Dictionary definition.

Verb (used without object), mused, mus·ing.
  1. to think or meditate in silence, as on some subject.
  2. Archaic. to gaze meditatively or wonderingly.
noun: Muse; plural noun: Muses; noun: muse; plural noun: muses
  1. (in Greek and Roman mythology) each of nine goddesses, the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, who preside over the arts and sciences.
    synonyms: inspiration, creative influence, stimulus;

    “the poet’s muse”
  2. 2.
    a person or personified force who is the source of inspiration for a creative artist.

Having a person who is an artist in their own right is a gift. Pash has ideas, shares them with me and then lets the chips fall where they may. We start to make photographs with her thoughts in mind then we go wherever the first situation takes us. She has an intimate relationship with the environment which is usually the starting point. Then I add a couple of thoughts to refine, and we experiment and play, and this invariably leads me to create new imagery that I find exciting.

I usually end up pushing my personal boundaries as we work together. And then, even more, when I get into post-production.

pash in red oak creekPash in red. Made with Lumix G9

Our latest foray into collaboration led to a photo session on Oak Creek in which she had a thought of ‘creating a mermaid.’ I had the urge to play with infrared and had her do some warm-up posing on the rocks with a dress, flowing cloth and au’ natural.

pash flowing tulle infraredThis Photo has the feeling of a Greek Statue to me. Infrared made with Lumix G6 converted by LifePixel

As the session went on, I added Tiffen neutral density filters to extend the time that the shutter would be open.

slow exposure infrared photoThe neutral density filters extended the time allowing the wind to register in the trees.

nude on rock in oak creekThis image reminds of one of the classic painters.

More from this session to come.

Yours in Creative Photography,       Bob

PS – Learn more about Pash here

red rocks at sunrise

Red Rocks at Sunrise

Living in Sedona is quite a blessing. When I want to experiment there is no lack of obvious subject matter. The red rocks all have different shapes and appear different at differing times of day and night leading to a veritable plethora of images that can be photographed with additional techniques and shared.

On Sunday morning I was up just before the sun made its appearance for the day. I grabbed my tripod. Well, if I must tell the truth, I grabbed my camera (lumixG9) and some lenses, rushed out the door, jumped into the car and headed off to catch the rising sun and quickly coloring clouds. Then I turned the car around and went BACK for the tripod wasting beautiful light in the process. But that’s why we are considered pros. We can come back from a less than perfect situation and still have some nice images. ( or… I guess a real pro would have had the tripod to begin with. But, I digress)

red rock photo sedona azI took a different road than usual. I made a five exposure bracket with the camera on a tripod. I used three of the images processed in *Aurora HDR 2018. This angle made the red rocks feel rather majestic.

Today’s savior was the ability to bracket images and extend the range of light the image can show. Without HDR and the processing software in my tool-bag I would have had a pretty bland results. As it was I found some interesting angles and areas that in which I don’t often shoot.

trees in the red rocks of sedonaAnother not so frequented road let me see this rock formation with trees issuing forth.  Again processed with Aurora HDR software from a three exposure bracket.

red rocks and trees in sedona arizonaThe back side of Cathedrlal Rock with the rock outcrop. Three exposure HDR with one stop oveand one stop under.

Without the hdr system the trees which were in shadow would have been very blocked up and noisy. Making multiple exposure allows the photo to repliatewhat the eye sees. The eye constantly is changing ‘exposure’ with the pupil opening and closing depending upon the brightness of the scene.

In a couple days I’ll show you the hero shots of the backside of Cathedral Rock.

Yours in Creative Photography,     Bob


This lens has a great range from wide angle to medium zoom and covers a lot of my needs. There is also a kit lens with this range that is not as fast.

* Save $10 with the coupon code ‘COATES’ on AUrora HDR or other Skylum software

you are not alone

You Are Not Alone

Here’s another installment of Marketing Monday from my friend Skip Cohen. He touches on a lot of the fears we as photographers can impose upon ourselves and offers some ideas on how to stay on track.

Not alone photo illustration bob coates photographyYou are not Alone – Photo Illustration © Bob Coates Photography

“Over the years, I’ve noticed a common theme when talking with photographers, especially those new to the business. Most of them think they’re alone in working through the challenges.

So, whether you’re new or a veteran, not only are you not alone, but there isn’t one of us in the industry who hasn’t felt your same concerns, doubts, and frustrations. We’ve all experienced those moments of just asking the question, “What am I doing here?”

Sadly there are some incredibly talented people in our industry who now and then they just give up. It’s not because they lack the skills. They lack a support group.

“Most people give up just when they’re about to achieve success. They quit on the one-yard line. They give up at the last minute of the game, one foot from a winning touchdown.” Ross Perot 

Two months ago I celebrated nine years since I left Rangefinder/WPPI and headed out on my own. Every day has been an adventure, not always in the right direction, but a learning experience nonetheless.  When I started this journey, a few members of my own family thought I was nuts. It was suggested that I should just be satisfied with where I was. After all, I was president of Rangefinder and WPPI, what could be better? It was suggested I was too old to be starting a new business. Then there were those who had to tell me I was nuts to start a new business in the worst economy since the Great Depression!

So, I set out and followed the wisdom of Dr. Seuss: 

 “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind. “

I’ve learned a lot in the last nine years, about the industry, chasing dreams and especially myself. There’s always more to learn. But along the way I’ve picked up some pointers that might just help you through the process:

  • Surround yourself with positive people
  • Listen to the advice you’re given, but make your own choices. Always go with your heart!
  • Short-term compromises are fine but don’t compromise your long-term goals.
  • Read, follow, watch, listen to and meet those people who you admire most in the industry.
  • Spend time just kicking-back and daydreaming! Some of your best ideas will come out of just being relaxed and thinking, “What if?”
  • Set a goal to understand every aspect of the photographic process and don’t let yourself be frustrated over how much you don’t know – just take it one step at a time.
  • Build your network by attending workshops, local meetings, national conventions and trade shows. Being a great photographer is about education – and you can never stop learning!
  • Never stop dreaming! And to quote my good buddy, Matthew Jordan Smith, “Always dream big!”

    “The future belongs to those who believe in their dreams!” 
    Eleanor Roosevelt

Skip is a guy to follow! You can see more of Skip’s stuff here http://www.skipcohenuniversity.com/scu-blog (ed)

skip cohen headshot

Skip Cohen has been involved in the photographic industry his entire career and previously served as President of Rangefinder/WPPI and earlier, Hasselblad USA. He founded SkipCohenUniversity.com in 2013. Skip is a co-host for “Mind Your Own Business” and “Beyond Technique,” webcasts through Photofocus.com, writes for several publications including Shutter Magazine and is actively involved in several advisory boards for non-profit organizations.

clouds illusions – part duex

Clouds Illusions – Part Two

A couple of weeks ago I shared some clouds and ideas about photographing them and some thoughts on using them in working on your art images. (see the post here)

clouds images from a jet windowSunset was coming together looking over the clouds from the window seat.

I referred to Judy Collins’ song “Both Sides Now” referring to clouds and said I would share some images inspired by Julianne Kost’s book ‘Window Seat.’ After seeing her book, I thought about my pictures out the porthole of the plane as I traveled around the country on my Panasonic teaching forays. I have quite a collection of photos of clouds from above I thought that they deserved a post of their own. So here you go. Images are from the upper side of Both Sides Now.

clouds from aboveWatching a thunderhead form from this angle is quite different.

cloudscape imageI enjoy the ‘cloudscape’ with its own set of clouds above.

It turns out that all of the cloud photos in this post were made with the Pansonic Lumix LX100 which I refer to as the ‘professional’s point and shoot camera.’ It has a smaller chip, but the lens is sweet and fast. It’s on a magnesium body, and all the critical controls are available on the outside of the camera just as we had back in the day. That said, it has a ton of features we didn’t have then including eleven frames per second burst captures. If you go into 4K Photo Mode, you can pull 3,400-pixel stills at 24 frames per second. And plenty more.

On the downside, it does not have a superzoom so if you get this for travel photos you’ve got to do some zooming with your feet, but that’s what keeps the size down.

It’s on my list to work with the clouds from above and try to put them in art pieces. I’m hoping I can make it work and give almost a sense of ‘Something is wrong here, but I can’t quite figure it out.’ But that will be a post for another day.

Yours in Creative Photography,      Bob



making assumptions

Marketing Monday – with Skip Cohen

Here’s another good review of things that you should be thinking about from my buddy Skip.

Making Assumptions

assume graphic by bob coates photographyWe all make assumptions, some more than others. We do it in our personal lives, business, on events for the future and decisions from the past. The big question is, why don’t we ever just talk to the people involved instead of coming to our own, often misguided assumptions?

Wandering through cyberspace a couple of years ago I found this on a site by Ken Lahuer:

“We have a tendency to make assumptions about everything. The problem with making assumptions is that we BELIEVE they are the truth. We make assumptions about what others are doing or thinking, we take it personally, and then we blame them and react by sending emotional poison with our word.

 We only see what we want to see and hear what we want to hear. We don’t perceive things the way they are; we dream things up in our imagination. Because we are afraid to ask for clarification, we make assumptions that we believe are right, then we defend our assumptions and try to make others wrong.”

 The photo industry is loaded with people who have turned assumption-drawing into an art form, and so often they’ve assumed wrong! I’ve heard stories about major companies in trouble, cameras being discontinued, even people being let go. I’ve heard stories so severe had they been more widespread, the companies involved would have actually seen a drop in sales.

Then there are the personal stories that run through our industry. Assumptions are drawn over why somebody left a company, why a new product was late for introduction, why a policy was changed, and the list goes on and on. Assumptions are drawn, then they hit the rumor mill and suddenly they’re FACT – and not once does anybody along the way stop and call the people involved for verification.

Last on the list are those of you who draw the wrong assumptions about your clients. You don’t ask the right questions and too often stereotype their behavior. Here’s a prime example of drawing the false impression at the retail level.

I was in my early fifties when I decided I wanted to buy a Corvette. I’d always wanted one, and the kids were adults, out of the house, and it seemed like great timing. I was in an old pair of shorts, and a t-shirt when I wandered into the showroom at the Chevy dealer in Morristown, NJ. I picked up all the brochures, spent time sitting in one that was in the showroom, looked at a few in the lot and not one person waited on me. There were easily six salesmen working, and no one came over to help me.

After twenty minutes or so, I walked into the middle of the showroom and announced,

“I honestly thought you guys were smart enough to recognize a guy in mid-life crisis ready to buy his first Vette. None of you are that smart, and I’m leaving now to drive to another dealership, and by the end of the day, my new Vette will be ordered. You guys need to work on your selling skills!”

They all looked like deer caught in your headlights! I left, and by the end of the day, the new Vette was on order. (And I learned it wasn’t a mid-life crisis. It’s only mid-life crisis if you order it in red! LOL) The bottom line is to stop drawing assumptions – meet every client with a clean slate and see where it goes. If you’ve worked on developing your skill set, you can handle any request they make, if appropriate.

For everyone who draws assumptions, and we’re all guilty, Don Miguel Ruis wrote:

“The way to keep yourself from making assumptions is to ask questions. Make sure the communication is clear. If you don’t understand, ask. Have the courage to ask questions until you are as clear as you can be. Once you hear the answer, you will not have to make assumptions because you will know the truth.”

Skip is a guy to follow! You can see more of Skip’s stuff here http://www.skipcohenuniversity.com/scu-blog (ed)

skip cohen headshot

Skip Cohen has been involved in the photographic industry his entire career and previously served as President of Rangefinder/WPPI and earlier, Hasselblad USA. He founded SkipCohenUniversity.com in 2013. Skip is co-host for “Mind Your Own Business” and “Beyond Technique,” webcasts through Photofocus.com, writes for several publications including Shutter Magazine and is actively involved in several advisory boards for non-profit organizations.

panasonic lumix gh2

Lumix GH2 Camera Files from Panasonic

My first exposure to the Lumix line of cameras came when I was trying to find a smaller lightweight camera for travel. My wife was always giving me grief for hauling 35 plus pounds of full-frame DSLR gear with me on vacation. I said, “What are you worried about? you aren’t carrying it!” After that she replied, “You aren’t either, the gear often stays in the room ’cause it’s too heavy to lug around.” Don’t let her know this but I’ve found she’s right most of the time and I should listen more often, but I’m a guy. What can I say?

hollywood neon sign building

Made with the Lumix GH2 in Florida in 2012

Anyway, back to the story.

I tried three different ‘point and shoot cameras with no success because I finally listened! The reason they didn’t work for me? The files would fall apart when I tried to push them past anything larger than a 12-inch print or use the images in combination with other photos in my PhotoSynthesis process of creating my art.

And then… I found the Lumix GH2 and got a couple lenses. A wide angle and a 14-140mm zoom. (28-280mm FF equivalent) I added a small pouch for extra batteries, a tiny tripod and the other goodies you need for a two week trip to France. I had that camera on my shoulder with the 14-140mm lens and the pouch at my waist, and it never left my side for our entire trip. The best part?? When I returned I started working the files and ‘Viola!”, The files held up. I started running to all my photographer friends and telling them about this discovery. That led to my eventually becoming a Lumix Ambassador. That’s a story for another day.

I’m telling you all this because I decided to take a look at the GH2 files and give them a run through some of the newer software including Photoshop, Luminar 2018 and Aurora 2018. I amazed at how well the files do even today in 2018. These files are six years old, and there have been quite a few improvements in the subsequent iterations of the Lumix line. When the GH3 came out I started using it for my professional work and found that I could do about 85% of my jobs with it. In the beginning, I shot the camera side by side with my full frame DSLR for safety. Then I knew what tasks could be completed with the GH3 and the DSLR sat on the shelf more often. When the Lumix GH4 came out, I did a few more side by side comparisons before realizing I could do all my work with the micro 4/3rds camera. And all my DSLR gear went on the market, and I haven’t looked back since.

Until today. I thought I’d share some of the images from the GH2 circa 2012. Here are a couple more images.

snoopy rock sedona

Snoopy Rock in Sedona, AZ Photographed with the Lumix GH2 and processed with Photoshop and ** Skylum Software.





Here’s an image using the PhotoSynthesis process that I use in layering textures and giving more of an art feel to an image. And below that the original capture.

manchester arms restaurant photo

Manchester Arms Restaurant just outside Atlanta. GH2 again.


Original capture

Original capture


In a couple of days, I’ll show you some images and the artwork created during my trip to France.

Yours in Creative Photography,     Bob

** Skylum software includes Aurora HDR – Luminar – and CK Creative KIT. Special deal on Aurora HDR through July 4th. On any of the software add PROMO CODE – COATES to get an additional $10 off

PS – The latest flagship camera for stills (first one!) is the Lumix G9. This thing rocks!

I haven’t forgotten about the clouds from above post I said I get you…

tired of your image

Marketing Monday with Skip Cohen

My friend Skip has an excellent storehouse of marketing knowledge and has agreed to share a column on Mondays pulling the best from his archives on the subject to help keep you and your business on track. Wahoo!

Tired of your Image?

Tired of Your Image?

I know everybody has closed the book on this past year, but even though we’re almost halfway through this year, think about last year for a minute.

As you analyze, think about what you need to do better. Too often people blame the wrong things. So often we all do the same thing – we blame the challenges the easiest things we might have done wrong, instead of looking at our actions.

logo art NOHere are a few examples:

  1. Did you not get the traffic to your blog because the design, logo or theme of your posts were weak or because you weren’t consistent? You need to post new material to your blog 2-3 times a week and on the same days, and great content always wins. Are you sharing content your readership wants?
  2. Did your phone not ring off the hook because your company name isn’t hot or because you didn’t promote or advertise enough? Do people in your community know who you are? Too many of you aren’t involved in your community. Plus, you don’t have a phone number on your website. Instead, you chose to use an email template and don’t respond to inquiries as quickly as you could.
  3. Did you not book that last job because your competitor is stealing your business with low-ball pricing or because you didn’t portray the same level of enthusiasm, commitment, and confidence? The greatest marketing tool you have today is in building relationships. Look for ways to establish relationships with your target audience and your community. People buy what they want, not always what they need – you’ve got to make them want what you have to offer!
  4. Was a promotion you did underwhelming because of the economy or did it lack value to your target audience? Was it too confusing for people to understand? Create promotions that are creative and unique through partnerships and establishing value with your target audience. Always have at least two other people read the text that describes your promotion and make sure what you’re writing is understood.

The list goes on and on, but blaming ad design, logos, company names, etc. because you believe they’re old, tired and “everybody’s seen them” is your last resort. Maybe your website really does need a makeover but first look at your execution of marketing projects, creativity, and your skill set. So many businesses get tired of their look, advertising, and taglines too early. They find the need to reinvent the “frosting,” often long before the public is bored.

I’m betting for most of you, these disappointing projects have nothing whatsoever to do with your actual branding, but your execution and brand awareness. Don’t waste time on name changes, new logos, and website designs if you haven’t first defined your goals and your target audience.

Lauren Bacall said it all, “It’s not an old movie if you haven’t seen it!”

skip cohen headshot

Skip Cohen has been involved in the photographic industry his entire career and previously served as President of Rangefinder/WPPI and earlier, Hasselblad USA. He founded SkipCohenUniversity.com in 2013. Skip is co-host for “Mind Your Own Business” and “Beyond Technique,” webcasts through Photofocus.com, writes for several publications including Shutter Magazine and is actively involved in several advisory boards for non-profit organizations.

bobs talkin 2

Bob’s Talkin’ – Part 2

KAZM Radio Show – Sedona, Arizona

Last week I got to talk with Tom Tabback on my Monthly ‘Tech Talk’ show. We chatted about art and Lumix cameras and more. The show is about twenty minutes long. If you have any questions please let me know!

tom taback with bob coates on the radio

KAZM Radio Tech Talk 6/13/2018

tech_talk_logo_newYours in Creative Photography,         Bob

bobs talkin

Bob’s A’Talkin’ This Week – Part One

Photofocus Podcast

I was on the Photofocus Podcast Beyond Technique. A podcast empowering photographers to bring their business to the next level, with my buddy Skip Cohen and Chimera Young this week. These were some of the topics we covered in a little over 30 minutes. You can listen below.

How being diverse in your photography skillset can be a strong asset, and how it can actually enrich your work. The multiple types of photography that go into a single wedding gig. The important role that networking plays in the success of your photography busines. The role that constant education plays in the development of every photographer. How business and marketing skills are instrumental in a successful photography business.

Listen to all that and more by clicking the link below.

pocast header


Photofocus Beyond Technique Podcast

Chamira Young
Chamira will readily admit it: she’s an art nerd, Photoshop geek, and photographer with an obsession for productivity and creativity. Through online teaching and podcasting, she loves helping other creative minds become more successful by empowering them with the knowledge and inspiration to up their game. Currently, ChamiraStudios.com is the hub of her creative mischief. It branches out to her other projects, and allows her to be an artist, photographer, podcaster at ProPhotographerJourney.com, and online course creator. You can also find her on Twitter.

Skip Cohen
Skip Cohen has been involved in the photographic industry his entire career and previously served as President of Rangefinder/WPPI and earlier, Hasselblad USA. He founded SkipCohenUniversity.com in 2013. Skip is co-host for “Mind Your Own Business” and “Beyond Technique,” webcasts through Photofocus.com, writes for several publications including Shutter Magazine and is actively involved in several advisory boards for non-profit organizations.