TPM Awards Advice with Erica Manning

October 8, 2021 Artist Spotlight

Clubhouse Conversation: Erica Manning

In the latest episode of the Portrait System Podcast: Clubhouse Edition, Kevin Conde and Ashleigh Taylor chat with Erica Manning all about the Portrait Masters Awards and Accreditation, which is currently open for submissions until Oct 15. Erica has been consistently submitting her portraits for the past several years and has had great success, earning her Fellows Accreditation in the last round. She is now one of 12 Fellows and the only Fellow in Ohio. Erica spoke with Kevin and Ashleigh about how her motivation for submitting has evolved over the years — from wanting to be able to show her clients she was accredited to  wanting to grow in creativity and improve her craft.

Be sure to listen to the whole podcast to hear how over the years, Erica has improved her critical eye by watching judge critiques and studying winning photographs to see what stands out. As well, you won’t want to miss hearing about Erica’s process in developing her award winning photographs. She talks about how she finds inspiration, plans and builds her budgets, how she develops her ideas, and how much time she spends editing.

In this blog, you’ll find some of Erica’s stunning portraits, links to her web presence, and answers to some bonus questions.

Click here to learn more about the Portrait Masters Awards & Accreditation (including Richard Wood’s Critiques). To submit by Oct 15, click here.

To hear more from Erica, check out: Bronze to Silver: Level Up Your Portrait Masters Awards Submission.

Also mentioned: SBE Courses: Retouching, SBE Courses: Lighting, Felix Kunze Courses.

Join us live every Friday for Clubhouse conversations and get answers to your questions! Just search “The Portrait System” in the Clubhouse App and follow us there.

Get to Know Erica Manning

Q: When did you first come across Sue Bryce Education and how has it affected your career?

A: I was first exposed to Sue Bryce years ago before the SBE platform was even developed and was drawn to her authenticity, talent, and of course, that fantastic accent. I really became involved in SBE in 2018, and attended my first TPM conference in Phoenix that year. It was a game changer for me. The education and the community of Sue Bryce Education has given me confidence I didn’t even realize I needed! Being a part of this community has helped me to expand my skill level and realize my worth — which effectively has increased my annual sales to three times what it was prior to SBE. I can’t tell you how thankful I am for finding SBE when I did!!

Q: When first starting out, many photographers hit roadblocks on their journey to starting their business – whether feeling their equipment isn’t good enough or feeling they need a studio to start a business. What roadblocks did you encounter and how did you get over them?

A: My biggest roadblock was that I undervalued myself. My business structure pre-SBE (very low prices) kept me so busy that I had no time to improve. Once I joined this community, I began to see my potential. I raised my prices to be in line with my worth, and once my schedule opened up, I was able to work on personal projects that helped me improve my skills. As my skills improved and I earned my accreditations and awards, my self-worth improved — effectively giving me confidence to raise prices again and charge what I was worth. I have unofficially labeled this the “Cycle of Sue Bryce Education,”  and the best part is there is no cap to this cycle. The sky is the limit. Every day I make improvements to continue to cycle up and realize my value.

Q: How do you feel about your current work/life balance?

A: I am proud of the work/life balance that I have achieved. Shortly after I joined SBE, my mother became very ill, and the following year my stepdad also experienced major health issues. I spent much of my time over the following 2 years caring for them. Just prior to this time, I raised my prices and restricted the number of sessions I accepted. Not only did that give me more time to improve my skills, but it also allowed me more time to be with my ailing parents. I am confident that if my pricing was at the pre-SBE level, I either would not have had the time to care for my mom and stepdad before they passed, or my business would have folded. Realizing my worth also helped me realize the value of my free time and my family time, and I have successfully maintained a healthy, balance between work and life ever since then.

Q: What (beyond money) has owning a business given you?

A: Owning a business has given me more control over my life! Any time I start to complain about my schedule or my income or any business issues, I think, “Wait… I’m in charge of that!” For example, years ago I would work every weekend and regrettably I missed out on valuable family time. At one point, I changed my schedule to shoot on Mondays and Tuesdays, allowing the rest of the work week to edit and to keep most of my weekends free for time with my people. I’m much happier – and I find that I’m more joyful about the time I do spend with clients. I’m thankful to be able to design my business around the life I want to live.

Q: What is your favorite advice that you’ve been given along your journey that has helped you the most? 

A: GET. OUT. OF. YOUR. OWN. WAY. I’m pretty sure Sue has said this in many different eloquent ways. But honestly, the only thing holding you back in your business is yourself. If you believe you can do something, you will find a way to do it. It may take longer than expected, or you may have to find a creative way to make it happen, but you can see it to fruition. I am reminded of this daily.

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Click Here to Read the Podcast Transcript

FULL TRANSCRIPT: Please note this transcript was generated by AI and may contain errors. 

This is the Portrait System podcast, a show that helps portrait photographers and people hoping to become one, navigate the world of photography, business, money and so much more. We totally keep it real. We share stories about the incredible ups and the very difficult downs when running a photography business. I’m your host, Nikki Closser. And the point of this podcast is for you to learn actionable steps that you can take to grow your own business and also to feel inspired and empowered by the stories you hear. Hey, everyone.

Hey, everyone, today your Clubhouse episode is hosted by Kevin Conde and Ashleigh Taylor, of course, and their special guest today is Erica Manning.

00:00:36:12 – 00:00:55:25

Erica is here to talk with you about how she had so much success with the Portrait Masters Awards and how she was able to develop such a unique style to what she does. It’s just such great advice if you’re someone who loves entering contests entering the awards. This is the episode for you. OK, let’s get started with Erica, Ashleigh and Kevin.

00:00:56:25 – 00:01:25:06

Welcome everyone to the Portrait System podcast Clubhouse Edition. My name is Kevin Conde, and I’m here with my co-host Ashleigh Taylor. If you’re not familiar with the portrait system, we are a portrait photography podcast that is powered by Sue Bryce Education. Nikki Closser hosts our regular Monday episode and Ashleigh and I co-host. Our Clubhouse Edition, which is live here on the Clubhouse app every Friday at Noon Pacific, and then our episodes are released on Thursdays. You can tune in on your favorite podcast app by searching for the portrait. Ashleigh, how are you doing?

00:01:25:24 – 00:01:43:09

I’m great, Kevin. I’m excited to chat today with Erica Manning. She is an amazing portrait photographer and has achieved really incredible things, including the fellow with the Portrait Masters accreditations. I’m so excited for today. Welcome, Erica.

00:01:44:03 – 00:01:53:21

Thank you so much. I’m really excited to be here and really excited to talk about awards and accreditation because it’s something I’m super passionate about.

00:01:54:11 – 00:01:57:29

Yay. Me too. All right, Kevin, I’ll toss it to you.

00:01:58:06 – 00:02:01:17

Perfect. Thank you. So welcome to the podcast, Erica.

00:02:02:12 – 00:02:02:27

Thank you.

00:02:03:07 – 00:02:32:21

With the Portrait Masters Award and accreditation is now open for submission until October 15th. Ashleigh and I figured it would be a good opportunity to have someone that has won an award or two into submission and a good opportunity for you to talk about your process. So you spoke with Nikki before about your entries into the Portrait Masters Awards. So we wanted to go ahead and do a deep dive a little bit deeper into your experience and your award winning work. So off the top of your head, you know what your medal count is?

00:02:33:27 – 00:02:52:18

Yes. Well, let’s see. I have one hundred and three points, 13 of which are silver and the rest are bronze. So that’s early. So I’ve been busy. I’ve been really busy. Lots and lots and lots of submissions over the past few years

00:02:53:13 – 00:02:57:17

off the top of your head, you know, like what your highest silver is.

00:02:57:29 – 00:03:12:10

Yes, it was actually in the last round and I received an eighty seven and it was second in its category. So. So yeah, yeah, I was very excited, very excited about that.

00:03:13:06 – 00:03:25:05

So you are one of two photographers accredited in the state of Ohio. Yeah, the only fellow in the state and out of 12 fellows. Yes. How did it feel when it happened?

00:03:25:15 – 00:03:57:18

I’m telling you, I’m still pinching myself. I I still look at the list of fellows and can’t even believe I’m there. And I guess it’s just a testament that if I can do it, anybody can do it. I honestly believe that it was a goal of mine. It’s been my number one goal since, gosh, the last two years and I just put all of my heart and soul into achieving that goal, and it actually happened sooner than I thought it would.

00:03:57:20 – 00:04:17:13

I was giving myself to the end of next year to do it. But submitting enough work that this last round, I submitted enough work that if I got the silvers I needed, I could achieve fellow and when I got there. So yeah, just over the over the moon. Very, very excited.

00:04:17:26 – 00:04:18:25


00:04:19:08 – 00:04:33:15

Why? What would you say like, made it a goal like such a big goal for you to get that like it? Did you? Was it something you always wanted? Was to have something to show your clients that, you know, like what was the motivating factor behind getting it?

00:04:34:04 – 00:05:08:14

So it kind of evolved. When I when I started submitting and this was in August of twenty eighteen that I submitted my first group of images, it was just my main goal was just to reach the associate level of accreditation. And that was kind of a, you know, a tool belt tool for my tool belt giving me credibility, something to be able to say to my clients. I’m, you know, associate level accredited and and so I literally just submitted client work.

00:05:08:16 – 00:05:42:00

I, you know, I didn’t necessarily do anything special to it, but I submitted a bunch of images and two got into the top 20, and that was actually kind of a shock to me. They were both newborn pictures and at the time that was a big part of what I did. And so I was kind of hooked. And so the next round, I’m like, Well, let’s see what else I can do. And again, it was mostly my day to day work, but there was one image that I spent a lot of time on.

00:05:42:02 – 00:06:16:26

It was a personal project and it was of my cat. Norman and I spend a lot of time put a lot of effort into it. And that got a silver. OK, so. And it was actually a pretty high silver, it was 85. And the rest of mine are bronze and it kind of, I don’t know, it ignited a little fire in me like, gosh, you know this, this could not only be a way to get just an associate level accreditation, this could be a way to improve my skills and really get creative.

00:06:16:28 – 00:06:18:11

And so

00:06:19:26 – 00:06:51:07

my next goal after that was to get a silver in what my specific genre is, which I do mostly high school seniors. So I worked real hard. I was able to achieve one silver at that time. So it kind of started as a little bit of a trend, a little slow rolling train, if you will. And in actually January 2020, I submitted again.

00:06:51:09 – 00:07:28:13

But lots of things were going on in my life at that time. I did not receive any silvers, but I did achieve master level, and at that point I was hooked. I was, you know, I knew that I was going for fellow. I knew that I just wanted to achieve the highest level I could possibly achieve in awards and accreditation. And so that’s when I really kicked it in, really started focusing on leveling up, on improving my skills and improving my eye.

00:07:28:24 – 00:07:30:28

And so from there

00:07:32:15 – 00:07:37:03

I started to every time I submitted, achieve more and more silvers.

00:07:37:23 – 00:07:50:24

Now you said that there was a round there where you didn’t receive a silver there, all bronzes. Was there any sense of disappointment in you when you get the results back, you’re like, Oh, I just didn’t do it at all.

00:07:51:06 – 00:08:21:18

Yeah, of course. Of course there is. But in looking at the work that I submitted that round, I understand I, you know, it was not my best work. It was, you know, as I said, I actually had two ailing parents that I was caring for at the time, and I just didn’t have the time to invest at that time. And and that’s OK. You know, I still tried, I still entered. And you know, those bronzes still go towards that fellow level.

00:08:21:20 – 00:08:58:10

I mean, you know, you do need some silvers, but the brand does count, too. So I was still working toward that goal. And and yes, a little disappointed. But there are plenty of bronze level images that I submitted that are some of my favorites. So at no point was I’m like, What was I like angry or did I not understand? It’s just it was just fuel for, OK, let me look at this. Let me look at why that might not have achieved that level and see what I can do better for the next round.

00:08:58:21 – 00:09:00:15

So it was always just motivation for me.

00:09:01:28 – 00:09:29:09

I was wondering how you develop that critical eye. I love submitting. I know there’s been times where I’ve submitted and it’s almost always the image that I don’t think is going to go silver or doesn’t. That I don’t think is going to be the one that places the highest or whatever it is. And the one that seems to go and then the one that, like I really loved, you know, is like a seventy three. And it’s like, What

00:09:31:02 – 00:09:48:12

The heck? What planet do I live on? Felt right? I would love to know, like, how do you how do you develop that critical eye where you can really get a sense of like how an image is going to stack up or perform? Or is it still kind of a dice toss for you?

00:09:49:03 – 00:10:03:09

OK, a little bit of both. I’ll be perfectly honest. Sometimes I’m getting better at it, and by no means am I, you know, Oh, I just know. I know this is going to do very well, but I have started, first of all,

00:10:04:25 – 00:10:35:26

the videos that Richard Wood did where he critiques images. I think I’ve watched those like five or six times. I mean, honestly, just hearing what he liked and didn’t like about those images really helped really helped me to see how a judge and obviously Richard is the best. So a judge will look at your image, and it may be a very different way than I look at my images. It has to be.

00:10:35:28 – 00:11:09:18

It’s you have an emotional attachment to those images, whereas a judge is just looking at them from a completely outside perspective. So too to have to listen to them and to have that feedback on any given image that I found to be very, very helpful. Another. The thing I did a lot was to study the winning galleries, look for trends in in the images. Obviously, they’re all very different, but there are certain things that stand out about those images.

00:11:09:21 – 00:11:41:17

Of course, they are perfectly done. But there are also ways in which they use shape and direct your eye to where they want you to look. And and, of course, tell a story. I feel like storytelling is probably the number one thing that has propelled any of my images forward. If it’s simply a portrait that may or may not, you know, someone may or may not understand.

00:11:41:19 – 00:11:55:24

But if it has a clear story and it’s one that resonates with the judges. It always does a lot better than the ones that are just simply a portrait. So those those are the things that that help me.

00:11:56:00 – 00:12:34:14

Yeah, I love that you brought that up, and I love that you brought up this storytelling piece of it. I know that’s something that I struggle with. But when I was looking at your images that place really highlight. Yes, you do an amazing job of really like getting a message across in your picture. So how did you start thinking about building stories into your photos? How, like, my mind doesn’t really work this way. So I’m very I’m very curious as to like how you go ahead and break down, like what story you want to tell and then how is that going to manifest into it? One still image

00:12:35:06 – 00:12:37:18

OK, so for me,

00:12:39:20 – 00:12:54:07

my my inspiration comes from a lot of different places, like for some of my images, I like to go through a thing, so I’ll use one one image in particular the one of the Peacock girl.

00:12:55:23 – 00:13:30:16

So I I was thinking and I found a dance costume, a rather ugly dance costume that had a few peacock feathers on it. And it was a dollar. And I’m like, Gosh, I think I could do something with this. And so I brought it home. And then just started letting the wheels turn, and I would look at Pinterest, not necessarily of images of people, but images of peacocks and, you know, kind of get a feel for the way they moved and their environment.

00:13:32:01 – 00:13:35:17

And at one point, the

00:13:37:11 – 00:14:13:15

feathers of the Peacock kind of reminded me of an Elizabethan crown. Or actually it was more of a shawl that they wear behind their head and. It just kind of clicked like, I’m like, she’s a queen this this bird is a queen, and so, you know, about 3000 peacock feathers and some hot glue and some sewing and makeup and styling. Later, I I created this image that was a peacock slash Elizabethan queen and a super proud of the evolution of that.

00:14:13:18 – 00:14:46:10

You know, it was just a thrift store. Find that I started to tell a story with. But you can find inspiration anywhere, you know? You know, like I said, props, clothing, things like that. You can find inspiration in nature. I sometimes find inspiration in art, not necessarily photographs. I honestly try to shy away from getting inspiration from other photographers just because I don’t want to imitate. I’d rather try to create something that is somewhat original.

00:14:46:12 – 00:14:54:01

So. So I will find inspiration from Renaissance art and things like that. And then

00:14:55:21 – 00:15:30:16

lastly, personal experiences. A few of my favorite images are just from my life story. You know, my first silver, which was of my cat, Norman. He has a little black nose, and the image is supposed to be the story of how he got his black nose. He spilled some ink and he got it on his nose. And so it, you know, once I saw that when people could recognize what that story was it, it kind of clicked with me.

00:15:30:18 – 00:15:35:21

It was a changing point in my creative images because I was able to

00:15:37:15 – 00:15:46:19

open up a whole new world in the way that I created images, which I love. It has breathed new life into my work.

00:15:47:22 – 00:15:53:24

I love that. That’s super inspiring. Kevin, I’ll toss it you for the next question.

00:15:54:02 – 00:16:06:18

No worries, Erica. I just want to say I absolutely as an animal lover, I love how you incorporated Norm into all of your work on your Instagram. I see that he’s employee of the month.

00:16:06:20 – 00:16:15:24

Quite often he is all year long, every month, every month. Doesn’t matter that he’s my only employee, but yeah, you invite

00:16:15:26 – 00:16:48:05

him up to go a little deeper like it makes. I find it so interesting that you are able to take the idea of norms Black nose and create an image around that story that would then equal a silver award. It’s like in my mind, I have have a few pets running around here. I’m like, OK. It was a bottle of ink. A quill. Your cat and some books.

00:16:48:18 – 00:16:55:13

Yeah, that makes a beautiful image that it resulted in a silver award. A high silver award.

00:16:55:18 – 00:17:34:02

Right. Right. And honestly, when I was making it, I’m not going to say that my goal was to to get a silver. My goal was to tell that story. My goal was, you know, I mean, I’ll admit it. I’m a crazy cat lady. I, you know, Norm has turned me into a crazy cat, lady. So, you know, to create something that I could have that would tell the story of my cat, you know, excited me. And so when I created it, it was simply a personal work, something I wanted to do for myself.

00:17:34:04 – 00:18:10:16

And then I entered it, and then I saw how it did. And it, like I said, it clicked. It was like, Oh my gosh, this this was more than just a portrait of a cat. This was a portrait of my cat Norm, who, you know, and he told this story, or I told the story of how he got his black nose, theoretically. And it was just quirky and fun and cute and hopefully done in an artistic way. And that was the formula that was the formula that I started to use to create some of my image, some of them.

00:18:10:27 – 00:18:27:04

The inspiration comes from other places, but especially my personal stories. That that’s how they start is something that is in my everyday life. And how can I tell that story in an artistic way?

00:18:27:20 – 00:18:44:18

Love it. Absolutely love it. So you’re to go back to your you created. I guess it was called the Lady Bird series. Yes, correct. And that was your five. The five images that you created. Yes. And what were they? The Swan Flamingo? Yeah.

00:18:46:28 – 00:18:47:25

Let me think about this.

00:18:49:11 – 00:19:08:27

And let’s see it right, Peacock. That was the one that started it. So the Peacock started it Peacock, Flamingo, Raven, Swan and Parrots. And and they they were done as a set I. Once I created the Peacock, or at least started the process of creating the Peacock,

00:19:11:03 – 00:19:42:23

the lines that birds create. Remember when I said I would look at the award winning galleries and see things that were consistent and any patterns or flowing lines? It really is attractive in images, so I’ve always been fascinated with birds. I think they can create beautiful lines, especially, you know, some of the birds that I selected for this.

00:19:42:25 – 00:19:43:10


00:19:45:03 – 00:20:16:14

I picked those five different birds and then created a dark to light color palette. So the raven was black peacock still in the dark, dark arena. Parrot with the greens and a little bit lighter, but still somewhat dark. The flamingos, pinks and then a swan was more on the white side, so it ran. The series ran the gamut of all of the colors.

00:20:16:24 – 00:21:02:04

And so in that way, they fit together. Of course, they’re all birds. And then in each image, I made them very different to represent the bird itself. And it wasn’t necessarily like the Peacock was pretty obvious because of the, you know, the feathers and whatnot. But they weren’t always that obvious. I think the Flamingo had just a single feather and that was used to create its beak. And so it probably one of the most fun projects I’ve worked on, just because of the level of involvement for creating not just one image, but this series of images and how they all played together.

00:21:02:17 – 00:21:23:22

Yeah, I was going to say as I was looking at your Instagram and I was looking at the different images I went through and I was like, OK, I know that’s a swan. I know that that’s a raven, you know? But the Flamingo one was a little bit more difficult, one to to figure. But I loved it once I realized, Oh, look, OK, I saw the image in the way of flamingo stands. I like, All right, that makes total sense.

00:21:24:01 – 00:21:58:05

Right, right. So and to be honest, I think the raven got a silver and the peacock got a silver. Others didn’t do as well. And maybe that’s because I didn’t portray them well enough to to understand what they really were. And, you know, judges aren’t seeing the whole, you know, that whole series. They’re seeing one image at a time. So I think it’s important to, you know, to let the image stand for itself, make sure it’s able to stand for itself because that’s what the judges see.

00:21:58:07 – 00:21:59:26

They’re not seeing that total body of work.

00:22:00:21 – 00:22:09:10

So if you were to redo it, then would you then try to make it like the parrot? One is one that I had difficulty figuring out that it was right?

00:22:09:14 – 00:22:09:29


00:22:10:02 – 00:22:14:17

Would you go then switch something up within that image to make it more obvious?

00:22:14:24 – 00:22:17:10

Yeah, I mean, sometimes

00:22:19:19 – 00:22:51:16

I actually have had several discussions about symbolism recently, and sometimes I have a hard time with the slap you in the face symbolism. I want people to think a little bit more about the image, so I’m not sure if I would have done anything differently. I think that my sense that series of images, my skill level has gotten a lot better, so maybe I would have been able to do it, you know, more effectively, just because my skills have changed since then.

00:22:52:15 – 00:23:02:16

But yeah, that’d be interesting to go back and look at some of those that didn’t do as well and see if I could change the concept a little bit to make it better

00:23:03:10 – 00:23:30:21

when you’re planning either like a series like this or any type of awards image. How do you set a budget for me? Because I mean, just listening to you explain all the feathers is just like, Oh my gosh, that’s expensive. Yeah. You know, time consuming and stuff. So like, how do you go about like planning what you can realistically do in your business at any given moment?

00:23:31:13 – 00:24:04:03

Yeah. So I try to be most first of all, I do a lot of thrift shopping, a lot of thrift shopping. So I will get, you know, like curtain fabrics and things that clothing items. Shoes, whatever. Odds and ends thrifting. And use those, that is one thing, I also my mom, she passed away a few years ago and I inherited a lot of stuff. I love my mom, but she did not know how to get rid of things.

00:24:04:05 – 00:24:43:22

So she was also a sewer and a crafter. And so I have a basement full of crafting materials and things like that. So a lot of times I will literally just go shopping in my basement and find things that I’ll be able to use for images. I mean, sometimes your leaves, things you find the nature sticks. And then it’s just a matter of getting some spray paint or something like that. So. And then, of course, Amazon, I’ll fill in with the the feathers were an Amazon purchase, and so I’ll I’ll do whatever I can to try to make it as inexpensive as possible.

00:24:43:24 – 00:25:08:09

Because you’re right, it 100 percent can get out of control and you just sometimes I’ll come up with ideas and know that they’re going to be too costly and have to push that off to a later date just to be like, OK, I can’t do that right now. But next year, you know, I’m going to set aside some budget and do that at that time.

00:25:09:05 – 00:25:35:26

The other question I had was just like to the crafting point of all this, because it’s like really making these elaborate pieces and finding all these different things like, I’ll be honest, that’s not my my skill set and also like not even my skill set, but like kind of makes me queasy. I hate thrift stores like I hate digging through things. I’m like, I want perfection. That’s so funny,

00:25:38:12 – 00:25:52:18

but I really enjoy working with stylists or like collaborating with other people. So I was just wondering if you have like advice for people who may be like, they really want to create something epic, but like like they just don’t know how to make a costume or they don’t see, right?

00:25:53:27 – 00:26:31:00

Well, I think you said it collaboration like find people in your area that do those sort of things, you know? Costume designers or hairstylists or makeup artists that want to do something creative and see if you can collaborate with them as opposed to just using their services to, you know, collectively create something really special. I think there are plenty of creative people out there that would love to collaborate with the photographer because that gives them great images of what they’ve created.

00:26:31:02 – 00:26:49:12

So I think the sky’s the limit as far as that goes. I just I enjoy doing those things myself. I’m kind of and I’m also a little bit of a control freak if I’m being honest. So I want to control the whole process. So I normally from start to finish will create my images.

00:26:49:29 – 00:27:05:01

That’s really cool. I really admire and I really admire things that like, I just don’t have the mental capacity or like patience for and like, I think because I have zero patience like thrifting gives me like my anxiety.

00:27:05:24 – 00:27:22:22

That’s funny. I know, I know I actually have a daughter. That’s one daughter that loves thrifting. She’s my partner in crime, and my other one would not step foot in a thrift store. So I get it. I get it. But I happen to love it. And it works well because everything’s cheap. Everything’s super cheap.

00:27:23:08 – 00:27:35:20

Yeah, exactly. And like, I think it’s really cool that you’re able to take a vision in your head and bring it to life. Are you like sketching these out. Are you making vision boards? It’s how are you like? Yes, is a good plan for it?

00:27:35:27 – 00:28:02:18

Yes, all of the above. Like I said, like the the the Peacock, I found this ugly dance costume. I came home, I started investigating peacocks. I started sketching out what I wanted it to look like. The costuming. I started gathering images on Pinterest of the Elizabethan queens to see what their styling looks like, what their hair and their crowns and

00:28:04:12 – 00:28:40:16

makeup, even the posing for that session. And you know, the images I found were very awkward. They were very strange in their poses. And so I was trying to stay true to that. And, you know, some of them never ended up being edited because they were so weird. But some of them just felt authentic to me. So, so yeah, i-, I probably do more in the planning stages than I actually do in the completion stage.

00:28:40:18 – 00:28:44:29

You know, I will plan and plan and plan and then put everything together.

00:28:46:14 – 00:29:20:20

Got it. Well, I want to go ahead and reintroduce you, so our guest today is Erica Manning, and we’re chatting all about awards and accreditation because she’s had so much success. And you guys have any questions for Erica regarding award creating images for awards or anything. Now is the time that you can ask your questions to just hit that hand icon on the lower right hand part of your screen. And we can bring you up. And then, Erica, I had a follow up question for you because you mentioned like you were sorting through your images and you’re like, Oh, this is kind of weird.

00:29:20:22 – 00:29:48:18

Maybe this one’s not going to work. I know when I shoot specifically for awards and I, I tend to I don’t know if I overshoot, but you know, I get a lot of stuff. And then it’s like, Oh gosh, now I’m thinking, which one are the judges going to like? Which ones are the best? There’s all these like, I just kind of like, start panicking. So what do you do to like, evaluate, OK, these are the ones that are worth editing, like these are the ones that are award worthy.

00:29:49:21 – 00:29:55:21

So, you know, aside from the the obvious like, is it in focus? Is

00:29:57:06 – 00:30:09:01

the, you know, those obviously, you know, you want to make sure the integrity of the image itself is worthy. But then, like I was saying before

00:30:10:27 – 00:30:43:16

going into those clues that you can get by either listening to those critiques by Richard Wood or going through the galleries and what kind of poses do better, what kind of shapes do I see in the image? Is there a connection with the model or subject? You know, is the story clear in this image? And so

00:30:45:05 – 00:31:19:12

a lot of times it will be those things like, you know, and I’m sure everybody in this room can attest to, you know, going through your images and finding the one that you’re like, Oh yeah, that you know, you immediately connect with one. And somehow that for me, that gut instinct normally plays out well, you know it normally if if it made a connection with me taking my personal feelings out of it, then generally speaking, it does pretty well.

00:31:19:17 – 00:31:20:20

And sometimes

00:31:22:11 – 00:31:53:28

I will find an image that I like. I did one recently. It was in fact the one that I got an eighty seven on that started out as just simply a portrait that I took of one of my high school senior models. It was kind of a Gatsby theme a little bit, and I loved the image. I thought her connection with the camera was amazing, but it didn’t really tell a story, so I actually created the story.

00:31:54:00 – 00:32:28:03

She was in this Gatsby outfit and there happened to be in my hometown, a little train depot that had a train station, and there’s a couple of old train cars that I went and I took pictures of, and I ended up creating a composite and putting that into the image behind her to kind of create a story like she’s waiting for a midnight train, you know, and making sure that the light made sense with the background and everything.

00:32:28:05 – 00:32:43:15

So it went from simply being a portrait to telling that story. And and as I said, it was my highest scoring image because, again, that storytelling is what propelled it up, in my opinion.

00:32:44:09 – 00:32:49:06

So you believe that without that composite, you believe that image would still be a silver?

00:32:49:16 – 00:33:17:18

No, no, no, no, no, no. I don’t think so. Yeah, because there was there wasn’t as much of a compelling story. It was just a beautiful girl. So anyway, yeah, I feel like the fact that I added that to the image really did help complete the story. I mean, I don’t I do not believe that it would have scored as highly.

00:33:17:29 – 00:33:30:13

Hmm. Interesting that you’re able to look at the image and say, this is good, but it can be so much better by just adding this one element into it to create that story.

00:33:30:29 – 00:34:01:17

Yeah, yeah. It’s not that I recommend that like, you know, because sometimes the compositing part can be kind of challenging to make it make sense. It’s, in my opinion, it’s always better to kind of go back in and plan. for that like so you know, where the lighting needs to come from? It just happened to work that the way I did it, all the lighting made sense and it told a story and she looked like she fit into that scene. And and the the background is very subtle.

00:34:01:19 – 00:34:16:02

It’s not it’s not a traditional composite. It’s kind of like blurred into the background, so you can barely tell, but it does create that scene. It does create that story.

00:34:16:15 – 00:34:50:22

Yeah, I had the same thought. It’s kind of like, what an amazing thing to be able to be like, Oh, I know exactly how I can make that better. And I was wondering too like, Do you think that your mastery of retouching kind of informs that because I know for me, like some of my personal story is I started my portrait business as a wedding photographer. I didn’t really know retouching, and I immediately just outsourced my retouching. So I was like, I have zero time to learn this, so I’m just going to pay someone else and create awesome images for my clients.

00:34:50:24 – 00:35:20:28

And to this day, you know, I watched the videos. I know some of retouching, but I don’t like it. It’s frustrating to me over retouching experts. So I just don’t think that like because I don’t have a lot of retouching knowledge like I would look at a picture of mine and be like, Oh, I could fix this by editing it this way. So do you think that like like just having mastery of retouching, even if you’re not retouching your own images every single time is important to being able to create award winning images?

00:35:21:25 – 00:35:32:00

I believe so, at least in the in the creative part. I mean, I personally don’t think there’s anything terribly

00:35:33:20 – 00:36:05:02

skillful in removing blemishes from an image. Now I do think that compositing and some of the some of the more advanced Photoshop skills, knowing how to do those things helps me to create it helps me to like knowing that I know that I can make this better, allows me to make that better. But I don’t know that that something is possible.

00:36:05:25 – 00:36:46:17

I don’t know that somebody else could do it either. You know what I’m saying? So. So from the very beginning, I have done all of my own work. I haven’t sent out any of my images to be retouched, and it’s not that I find anything terribly wrong with it, but I like I said, I feel that I am a more creative person because I have learned those skills and that was part of my goal was not just to get a silver, but I wanted to be able to know that I was creating those images that were silver level, that that my level of work was getting better and better and better.

00:36:46:19 – 00:36:50:16

So that was important to me. And I do believe it has helped me.

00:36:51:19 – 00:36:54:21

Yeah, totally. I can totally see that I have such

00:36:56:06 – 00:37:30:18

a like I just like my images clean, like I like to focus on like a set up. I don’t I don’t like compositing, you know? Right, right. I have often wondered, you know, I’ve I have silver is it’s not that I don’t have silver is. It’s just that they’re, you know, they’re like eighty one’s eighties. I’m always like, How can I do better? But I always wonder if it’s like that hatred of like Photoshop and retouching and that are things like holds me back because I don’t, you know, if I don’t create it in camera like all, all my silvers or something that’s been created in camera,

00:37:31:02 – 00:38:05:01

There’s something like I said about that, you know, like, I don’t want to take away from anybody who has created something a camera and and has achieved silver with that because that’s another sign type of special like that. I mean, that is incredible. Like for me, I don’t think it could happen. I feel like I need to have that storytelling component or the Photoshop skills or or whatever the case may be. So, you know, hats off to you and other people who are able to do that because that’s not an easy thing at all.

00:38:05:22 – 00:38:36:06

Yeah, yeah, for sure. But it’s like it is. It is like inspiring me hearing you talk to like, you know me, I could like devote a little more time to mean compositing and that kind of thing better so that I could see what is possible with images. Because like, I think sometimes, like you said, I would probably never look at an image and think, Oh, a train station. That could be so much. Comically, I definitely wouldn’t think that right?

00:38:36:18 – 00:39:00:27

Well, and I don’t want to say that that just I took it. I saw the image and that popped into my head. I mean, a lot of times it’s, you know, 3:00 a.m. waking up thinking, how can I, how could I make that better? And then ideas come to me over time. So there’s a little bit of an obsession that’s involved in this as well. But I love it. I think it’s a healthy obsession.

00:39:02:20 – 00:39:07:07

You remind me of that like tick tock real, where it’s like, Yeah, OK.

00:39:07:22 – 00:39:08:08


00:39:12:28 – 00:39:33:17

So I want to ask you why you’re doing this. Is there any being that you’re so skilled with Photoshop and retouching? Is there anything that you’re doing within the photo shoot where you’re like, You know what? This would just be easier to focus on fixing in Photoshop as opposed to doing this right now?

00:39:33:28 – 00:39:51:08

So I mean, anything having to do with lighting. I try to get it right in camera because it’s hard to I mean, you can manipulate light, but it oftentimes doesn’t look real.

00:39:53:07 – 00:40:25:13

I actually just did an image not too long ago that, you know, I was I was kind of confined by my space. I it’s on my Instagram. In fact, I’m probably going to submit at least one of the images from this session, but it’s on my Instagram. It was a a dancer. And she brought her rabbit and we were kind of creating a magician type of scene and there were curtains behind her.

00:40:25:25 – 00:41:01:05

And so my space is confined, my ceilings are not that high. And she ended up being a lot taller than I expected. And so like she, her head was kind of going into the curtain area. And so I shot it. And then I got the images home and I thought, Oh, she is just too tall for this scene. So I ended up going back creating a backplate of the scene and then making her smaller in the scene because I thought it fit a better scale than the original image.

00:41:01:07 – 00:41:19:06

Now, if I had an actual stage to work with and all the space in the world, yeah, that would have been a lot easier to do in camera. But that wasn’t an option for me. So I had to do some a lot of Photoshop on the back end to make it look better than it did straight out of camera.

00:41:19:20 – 00:41:23:28

And this is the the shoot where the young lady has makeup on her face. And lo,

00:41:24:00 – 00:41:28:19

yeah, yeah, kind of a clown look. Yeah. Yes. Yes.

00:41:30:12 – 00:41:46:23

It’s interesting. Yeah. So when you’re when you’re finally looking at your images in Photoshop, what techniques are you using to get the final result, award winning results that you’ve done?

00:41:47:08 – 00:41:50:26

So I mean, all sorts, I do.

00:41:53:00 – 00:42:03:21

All of the basic composite work first, then I will go through and make sure this scan looks good using frequency separation and dodge and burn,

00:42:05:08 – 00:42:33:22

and then scanning back and looking at the scene and making sure that the the subject is standing out as opposed to the background. That’s probably one of the biggest things you can do, in my opinion, just because if something else is stealing the show in that image, then your subject is getting drowned out. So I feel like that is my next step. I use color grading.

00:42:35:18 – 00:42:44:13

Yeah. All of the tools, all of them. I use them all. I mean, it sometimes will take me

00:42:46:18 – 00:42:51:13

30 to 40 hours to complete an extensive image

00:42:52:28 – 00:43:23:10

like that one I just did for that. The the magician with her bunny and whatnot. I mean, I just feel like it depends on how much compositing I have to do. But you know, I will, you know, I’ll color grade and then I’ll leave it alone for a while and I’ll come back and I’ll look and do those colors still makes sense to me today. Or is something standing out that shouldn’t stand out? And then I’ll tweak it a little bit and then

00:43:25:21 – 00:43:50:18

come back and look at it upside down. And so it is an ongoing process. And when I say 30 hours, that’s not, you know, that’s not over the course of two days. Sometimes it’ll take a whole month for me to edit a single image just because I go back and I look, And I go back and I change and I go back in, I tweak. And again, that obsession then starts to creep in there.

00:43:51:08 – 00:43:57:03

Wow. Yeah. Like you say, wow, this is like so tight like it

00:43:57:05 – 00:44:10:20

is, but it’s what I do. You know, maybe like some people like to go hiking or, you know, whatever mountain biking or read books I like to edit. So I’m like. That’s right. I like to edit.

00:44:12:02 – 00:44:18:19

I was going to think that it’s like time intensive. Is there like a certain amount of

00:44:20:04 – 00:44:35:03

ideas or like when, you know, accredited accreditation and awards are going to open? Is it like, OK, I can complete two projects or I can complete five or like, do you have to set boundaries for like, how do you how do you manage?

00:44:35:07 – 00:44:56:09

Yeah, I definitely do. I definitely do. And I. And it also depends on is it my busy season or not like I am in the thick of my busy season, so I will submit some because I have worked on a few images. I probably will not. Well, I know I won’t submit as many as I normally do, but I will normally

00:44:58:06 – 00:45:25:12

pick at least anywhere between three and five storytelling images that I am trying to get to that silver or higher level. And then, you know, the rest of my accreditation images were honestly client work that I might have reworked a little bit, made sure that it is clean and as much as it can tell a story.

00:45:27:02 – 00:45:48:15

But I would like I was trying to get bronze level images, too, because they count. They do when and I was proud of my client work. So but for the silver level images, yes, I do have to limit how many I do within any given awards period.

00:45:48:27 – 00:46:03:15

So I will just say we have 15 minutes left are a little less than that. If anyone has a question for Erica about awards and accreditation. Now is your time to ask the little hand icon and we can bring you on stage. Kevin, I’ll toss it to you next.

00:46:03:22 – 00:46:19:01

No problem. I’d just like to point out to everybody listening what it takes. You know, I know some people sit down. It might think to maybe two hours and the image is a lot, but 30, 40 hours. That’s that’s a heck of an investment of time to be sure.

00:46:19:07 – 00:46:19:22


00:46:20:09 – 00:46:23:10

You create something, you know, that’s award winning, you know,

00:46:24:00 – 00:46:39:11

and they’re not all like that. I don’t want to say that every award winning image I have done has been like that. But but they are. I mean, in my opinion, the more time you invest not only in the editing, but the planning

00:46:41:00 – 00:46:51:21

and the execution, you know, those are the ones that really seem to stand out. Or at least I have found those are the ones that really have stood out in in my. A collection of work.

00:46:52:28 – 00:47:00:18

I love that we’re just bringing Michael PDA onstage to ask you questions. Welcome. I told you, Erica, your question.

00:47:01:05 – 00:47:25:13

Yeah. Real quick question about the you know, when you’re spending 30 to 40 hours per week or per image, is that something that you’re also giving to the client as part of their? Or is that as part of whatever package you’re getting or images that they buy? Are you just saving that for the awards accreditation? Because I can imagine, like if you were doing that for each client, it would obviously be overwhelming.

00:47:25:27 – 00:48:15:02

Right? So no, I do not spend that amount of time on client work because it’s not. I mean, I shoot high school seniors. So oftentimes it’s just, you know, potrait work. And now I use my high school senior model team to create some of my creative images. So what could end up as an award winning image will actually go into their their gallery of images that they can select from when they come for their selection appointment after their after their session is done? So I don’t I mean, I give them the watermarked images for social media because obviously I want them to share them and get excited about them and that sort of thing.

00:48:15:25 – 00:48:47:23

But I do not. I don’t give away those images that I create, but it’s a way to get good quality models too, because they know that I’m going to be creating these kind of over-the-top images. And and that’s something that not as far as I know, nobody else in my area does anything like this. So I’m creating something that is unique and they like to be a part of the creative process.

00:48:48:03 – 00:49:12:27

And so, you know, my model teams have gotten better and better over the years because people like to to be part of that creation. And then in the end, after they’re done with their senior session, which also ensures that they’re going to book their senior session with me when they’re, you know, they they can get their hands on those images, but they do have to buy them as part of their package. Does that make sense?

00:49:14:07 – 00:49:23:17

Yes, that’s perfect. Yeah. I wasn’t sure if if you were doing that, you know, before or after, especially when you were taking, like you said, like maybe a month or whatever, right?

00:49:23:19 – 00:49:28:18

Right. Yeah, I would make no money whatsoever if I did that much for every single client

00:49:29:09 – 00:49:30:14

or get to sleep, I suppose.

00:49:30:21 – 00:49:31:08

All right.

00:49:32:12 – 00:49:37:02

Thank you. I appreciate. I appreciate it. See Kevin actually next week.

00:49:37:27 – 00:49:38:15

Thank you, Michael.

00:49:38:25 – 00:49:52:04

Thanks, Michael. Yes. Just walloped like what Michael said. When you get them in the sales and ordering session, like if by chance, the awards have already happened, are you all lying? I don’t know. This one is an award winning,

00:49:54:05 – 00:49:54:20


00:49:56:13 – 00:49:56:29


00:49:57:01 – 00:50:27:12

I mean, even when they’re announced like they are, you know, they are so excited about it. And it just it creates more of a buzz, for sure. And because they are artistic, they are like, wall portrait kind of images, you know, not just the senior portrait that every mom has on her wall for whatever it’s, you know, it’s it. It’s it’s cool. It’s different. And so my my clients love it. They absolutely love it.

00:50:28:04 – 00:50:34:15

Yeah, I could imagine. I mean, I think of looking at your work. I think they’d make such like epic wall. A huge wall. Right, right,

00:50:36:15 – 00:50:45:02

right. And I’m sure aside from that. Yeah. Yeah, I. Oh, Kevin, you go.

00:50:45:10 – 00:50:45:25


00:50:47:09 – 00:50:50:15

Your Instagram. Your client work is equally as beautiful.

00:50:50:24 – 00:51:35:09

Well, things. Well, you know it’s funny. Sorry to jump in, but I feel like that because my skills have gotten better. My client work has gotten better too. Like and I always reflect it back to my clients, like when I’m winning an award, it’s not. Hey, look at the award I won. It’s Hey, I’m building these skills because my clients deserve it. It’s because I want to create great images for my clients. So. So it all comes around like, you know, even though you know my day to day work is not silver worthy, it is good, solid work and my clients love it.

00:51:35:11 – 00:51:40:01

And it has gotten better because of the skills I’ve learned through this awards and accreditation process.

00:51:41:01 – 00:51:45:21

I believe in your interview with Nikki. You called it the cycle of Sue Bryce Education.

00:51:45:23 – 00:52:22:09

Yes, it’s true. It’s true. And that’s I mean, I think. So you get be associate level of accreditation and you feel you feel this credibility, which gives you self esteem, which allows you to raise your prices a little bit, which gives you more time to be more creative. And then you know, you get some silvers. And so it’s just this one big cycle that the more self-esteem you have, the more you’re able to charge, the more time you have for creative images, the more creative your work gets, the more clients you get who want that and are willing to pay more money.

00:52:22:14 – 00:52:24:09

And it just goes up and up and up.

00:52:25:01 – 00:52:25:16


00:52:27:07 – 00:52:51:22

I did want to ask you something about your client work versus your creative work. Well, when you’re retouching, obviously, as you said, 30 40 hours, you’re not going to spend that time with your client work. But how much? Because as I said, your work client work is still still beautiful, still stunning. How much work and technique are you in then investing into your client work versus your creative work?

00:52:52:08 – 00:53:25:08

OK, so my firm, my client work, I send out the basic skin retouching. So that’s just basic blemish removal. And then I get the images back and then I batch process everything. So I have all of the specific things I do for my clients made into actions that I created myself. So I mean, right down to, you know, flattening the images, I’ll flatten 10 images or I will create a dodge and burn layer.

00:53:25:10 – 00:53:45:22

I will create that on 10 and then go through and add the dodge and burn for those 10 images. So I would say that for client work, I’m probably spending, I don’t know, three to five images or minutes per image as opposed to that, you know,

00:53:46:24 – 00:53:47:13

30, 40

00:53:47:15 – 00:54:29:10

and 30 to 40 years. Right, right. And still, you know, again, because they’re not as involved, there’s very little I mean, there might be a head swap here and there, but there is not the compositing component. And so there are more simple images. And of course, I’m I’m shooting to create them to be so. So I don’t have that extra work to do. But, you know, to create a process within my regular work that still incorporates some of the things that I have learned in my creative work, but yet is not quite as involved.

00:54:29:18 – 00:54:38:08

It just it brought them up to a new level without creating a ton of extra minutes that I need to be spending per image.

00:54:39:21 – 00:54:40:06


00:54:42:08 – 00:54:56:07

So what advice? So we are closing up on our one hour. So what advice do you have for people who keep getting bronzes? What should they be looking for to finally push themselves over to the next to the next level?

00:54:57:03 – 00:54:57:18


00:54:59:03 – 00:55:18:27

you know, I learned so much from, of course, all the courses that Sue does and Felix’s lighting and Richard Wood. I have them all. I’ve watched them. I can’t tell you how many times. So I think that that is a great place to start. Definitely.

00:55:20:24 – 00:55:48:10

Try to think more out of the box and create concepts prior to shooting that tell a story. So work on that storytelling aspect. Of course, you need to have your your skills polished and learn the things that will help create that extra special look on any of your images.

00:55:49:26 – 00:56:20:04

And then, you know, honestly, one thing that will help after this round is the fact that they’re they’re doing critiques now. I think it’s amazing, amazing that people will be able to get feedback on their images because I, you know, you can learn a lot from watching critiques on other people’s images, but you learn a heck of a lot more when you hear them on your own. And I think that that really, really helped me

00:56:21:21 – 00:56:54:18

to through other sources. I did have people look at my images and give them critiques and and it really helped me to see things that I just wasn’t seeing. And some things were so basic like, you know, that person’s hand is much brighter than their face, so your eye goes to their hand. I’m like, Wouldn’t you know it? That is so true, you know? So it’s a basic thing, but I was missing it, and that could mean the difference between a bronze and a silver. So I think that’s important.

00:56:54:20 – 00:57:30:12

And I also want to say that I don’t play the comparison game. I think it’s really, really easy to get down on yourself when you see other people’s successes. And I feel that watching other people succeed is just proof that it can be done and you just need to measure yourself against the person you were, the businessperson you were the talent you were the day before. Are you improving? Are you getting better year after year? Because then you’re succeeding? And so, you know, this isn’t a race to the top.

00:57:30:14 – 00:58:04:29

This is an evolution. I still feel like there is room for improvement. My next goal is to reach a goal that may take till I’m 70 to get there. But I I want, you know, that’s what I want to achieve. So. So that’s what I am doing things every single day to get myself closer to that goal. And I’m not comparing myself to others or not this life is too short to feel down on yourself because you’re not, you know, not as good as somebody else or don’t have as many silvers as somebody else.

00:58:05:01 – 00:58:10:25

It’s I just feel like there’s room for everybody to be to be up there.

00:58:10:28 – 00:58:12:01

So, yeah.

00:58:13:25 – 00:58:14:16


00:58:17:03 – 00:58:33:02

What a fantastic response to finish on. Well, it has been an absolute pleasure having you on with us. Before we let you go, though, I want to be sure that the people listening and know where to find you online. So if you can go ahead and please give us your socials, OK?

00:58:33:20 – 00:59:11:21

On Facebook, it’s Erica Manning Photography on Instagram. It’s @EricaManningphoto. And then my website is So you can hopefully find me there. Would love to hear from you guys, too. So it it’s been awesome. I had a great, great time today and thank you so much for letting me talk about awards and accreditation because like I said, I love it.

00:59:11:23 – 00:59:40:11

I feel it is the number one thing that has propelled my work forward it at a time when I was feeling very stuck and very, you know, I was doing the same thing day in and day out. And to be able to take my creativity to another level has helped me in all areas of my business. So I wholeheartedly feel like awards and accreditation is for everybody.

00:59:40:27 – 01:00:12:02

Awesome. Well, everyone, everyone, please be sure to go follow, Erica. She has done fantastic work on her Instagram, Facebook as well. And please also be sure to follow the portrait system on Instagram and on Facebook as well. Also, be sure to check out the blog post associated with our Clubhouse interviews at blog. You can also follow Ashleigh on Instagram at Ashleigh Taylor Portrait. And you can find me there as a Pop Light photography.

Also, be sure to check out the blog posts that are associated with our clubhouse interviews at If you are a member of Sue Bryce Education, you have any more questions for Erica, Ashleigh or myself go tag us in a post in the Sue Bryce Members Only Facebook group. If you are not a member of Sue Bryce Education, and you are interested in learning more about how we can help you and your business succeed, email Ella with support at

Thank you again for joining us and we hope you can join us next week.

Thanks again for listening today. And don’t forget, you can listen to either me or our special guests every Friday on Club House at 11:00 a.m. Pacific. Thank you so much for listening to the Portrait System Podcast. Your five-star reviews really help us to continue what we do. So, if you like listening, would you mind giving us a review wherever you listen? I also encourage you to head over to, where you can find all of the education you need to be a successful photographer. There are over 1,000 on-demand educational videos on things like posing, lighting, styling, retouching, shooting, marketing, sales, business, and self-value

There’s also the 90 Day Startup Challenge, plus so many downloads showing hundreds of different poses. We have to-do checklists for your business, lighting PDFs, I mean truly everything to help make you a better photographer and to make you more money. Once again, that’s