Twisted Oaks Studio

The New Leica Q2 - First Impressions Review

Meet The New Leica Q2

In true Leica fashion, their team of engineers took the already impressive innovation of the original Q and elevated it to new level. The new Q2 is easily the most impressive compact camera on the market, and to be honest, labeling it that will make most photographers shrug it off yet it has simply so much more to offer. There currently isn’t a camera on the market quite like it. Sure, Sony has a full frame sensor compact with a 35mm f/2, but the Q2 brings a whole new level of what you can do with a fixed lens camera. The Sony RX1RII comes in at a price of $3300 and is the closest competitor to the Q2, but with when comparing the specs head to head, the $1600 difference seems like a no brainer.

When rumors started circulating around months ago about a new Q on the horizon, I was pretty curious as to what Leica’s mad scientists had been cooking up in the their lab. I was oddly interested to see what they would add or upgrade, besides the sensor, since the SL would naturally be the next in line for a update. Well, I've been shooting with the new Q2 for the past month and can tell you that even though I was skeptical as to what they could pull off, I’m pretty impressed to say the least. Like I said, there really is nothing on the market quiet like the Q2. Not only will this update impress those who already own the Leica Q (I know a good handful of photogs that do), but also those who really don’t see the need for a compact camera (like myself).

ISO160 f/1.7 1/50sec - Model: Katt Wilkens

[Entire Shoot For The Image Above]

Much like the M240 upgrade to the M10, they slightly tweaked an already minimalistic body design and made it even sleeker looking. Inside, they put a completely new sensor that is easily one of the most impressive full-frame sensors I've ever shot with. Taking it from 24mp to 47mp which not only provides amazing IQ, but the ability to digitally zoom in to 75mm. Paired with the same awesome 28mm f/1.7 Summilux lens, the image quality is hard to beat for any full-frame camera let alone a compact one. I photographed two entire shoots with only the Q2, taking portraits at 28mm, which you’ll see the results of throughout this review.

*Every photo below, besides the 75mm digital zoom sample was shot at 28mm.

Red Rock Canyon

Red Rock Canyon

While the original Q was one that I got to shoot with a lot, I never quite fell in love with it. The Q2 is a different story. It's gonna be tough giving this one back and having to wait til mid-late April to purchase one for myself. The new sensor, along with the addition of weather sealing, a newly designed viewfinder, image stabilization, faster and more accurate AF, and a sleeker body design that makes it hard to put down had me wanting one for myself after the first shoot I took it on. 

 

Photo by John Kreidler, taken with Q2, with me holding a Q2.

 

NOTABLE UPGRADES

While the new sensor will be the most talked about and notable upgrade with the new Q, there are a few others that are definitely worth mentioning. The Q2 now has weather sealing against dust and water. I don’t think it’s the greatest weather sealing in the world, but it’s there and I did shoot with it in the rain without any issues. The other biggie for me is the battery. Being that the SL is my primary body which I often shoot alongside of the M10, giving me two different batteries and chargers to carry around. Leica went and gave the Q2 the same battery as the SL which now makes it even more enticing for SL owners like myself. I don’t ever travel without my M10, but when it came time to pack for my trip out to Vegas to teach at WPPI it got left behind. Having shot with the new Q alongside of the SL for an entire week prior, I really started to like the combo and decided to give the M10 a rest. Crazy, I know.


THE BODY

 
 

From a distance, it’s actually not that easy to differentiate the two. They’re pretty similar looking being that Leica didn’t want to reinvent the wheel with this upgrade, instead choosing to take the original and simply make it a little sleeker looking with less buttons. Just as Leica did with the upgrade from the M240 to the M10, they took an already minimalistic body and stripped it down even further. Personally, it’s the simplicity of the M and SL design that made me fall in love with shooting them. The Q2 is now just as sleek as the M10 and in that same category. It’s a camera that I can shoot without having it get in my way. I set it and go, not having to remembering which buttons or knobs do what.

ISO50 f/1.7 1/320sec - All Natural Light

Compare the Q2, M10, or SL to the Sony A7 or A9 Series models and you’ll see very quickly what I mean. Having owned the Sony A7II at one point and then the newer A9 giving it another shot, I simply couldn’t get over the fact that I felt like I was shooting with a mini computer that lacked soul. It was actually after shooting with the A9 for a few months that I decided to convert fully over to Leica with dual SL’s and the M10. Sorry Sony shooters, that’s just my opinion and my experience.

 
 

The new stripped down design of the Q only makes me enjoy shooting with it even more. Less buttons to get in my way, going from 5 to 3 on the back and scrapping the Record button on the top plate. Shooting with the new Q feels even more like shooting with my M than the original which made it tough to put down.

Leica Q2

Leica Q

Leica Q2 size comparison and similar design to the Leica M10.

Leica Q2 size comparison and similar design to the Leica M10.


THE NEW SENSOR

(Click on image to see larger) Fully Edited - Shot at ISO50 f/1.7 1/250

Okay, so let’s talk about how Leica decided to just about double the megapixels with the Q2. Do you really need close to 50mp in a full-frame sensor? Well, that depends on the photographer. For myself, I would have said no prior to getting my hands on the Q2. Now, a few weeks later, I’m REALLY hoping that Leica throws this sensor in the new SL. The image quality and detail in these files continue to impress me the more I shoot with it.

 

Fully edited - ISO50 f/1.7 1/320sec - Model: Sasha Casares

 

I have no doubts that there will be a nice handful of photographers that will look at this upgrade from 24mp to 47 as unnecessary. While 24mp is more than enough to get just about most jobs done, I can honestly say that this sensor produces some of the most beautiful images that I’ve seen from a camera with impressive resolution and image quality being paired with the 28mm lens. While 24mp would be plenty, the amount of detail when digitally zoomed in to 75mm was pretty damn impressive. Let alone the ability to crop in post if needed for a better composition is more than welcome.

RESOLUTION SAMPLE

RAW Image - Click image to see full size

Cropped in - Click image to see closer

The sensor was the number one reason that I was excited to get my hands on this camera early to test out. Why? The SL is my primary camera body for all of my professional work. Based off of the original Q and SL having the same sensor, I knew that this could give me an early look at the image quality that the new SL will bring to the table. While I haven’t heard anything about the SL2 at this point, or whether it will share the same sensor as the Q2, I would be one happy camper if it did. After shooting with the Q2 for a few weeks I can tell you that this sensor produces some of the best image quality that I’ve seen from a full-frame sensor.

 
 

THE 28mm f/1.7 Summilux

Leica kept with the 28mm f/1.7 Summilux lens as the original, no changes there. However, the image quality produced by the Q2 with the higher resolution really makes this lens shine. Being that the Q is a compact camera with a fixed lens, the combination of the sensor and lens are what ultimately make this camera so special. Shooting wide open at f/1.7 is a thing of beauty, especially for portraits. The out of focus rendering and sharpness when shot wide open, along with the new sensor, are what really show off the precision engineering and design behind this camera. I shot with the original Q a good amount, but never quite fell in love with it enough to buy one. The Q2 is a different story. It’s gonna be tough giving this back and having to wait til mid-April to pick one up.

 
 

DIGITAL ZOOM FEATURE

Just like the original Q, you have the ability to digitally zoom in to 35, 50, and now 75mm which you see above. Both the RAW and edited version to show that it’s a usable image. While you can just as easily crop in post, this feature is actually pretty slick and helps when composing your shot. Sure, you don’t get the compression of a true 75mm lens, but being that this is a fixed lens camera, the digital zoom is a pretty nice feature.

The original Q had the ability to zoom in to 35 and 50mm. The extra resolution of the new sensor now allows for a 75mm zoom. I’ll be honest, I was pretty skeptical about how good the image quality would be cropped in that far so it was one of the first features I tested once I got out to Red Rock Canyon last week. How usable is an image cropped in that far? Take a look for yourself at the RAW file sample above, and the zoomed in image below. I also included an example of how the digitally zoomed in images look when opened in Lightroom. Zooming in doesn’t lock you into that crop, you still have access to the full file which is pretty nice.

 

75mm Zoom - Cropped in even further to show detail

 

The digital zoom isn’t a feature that I used a whole lot with the original Q, but I can easily see myself using it now with the Q2. I think a lot of photographers will really like this feature. Personally, I love shooting at the 28mm focal length which is why I loved shooting with the original, but I know there were a lot of photographers who expressed that a 35mm lens would have been a better way to go for Leica. Shooting the Q2 at the 35mm digital zoom won’t disappoint, I found myself using it a lot this past week.

Opened in Lightroom - Full size image


DYNAMIC RANGE SAMPLE (Raw Images)

By now dynamic range samples in a review shouldn’t even be needed, but I included them anyways just for those that may be interested. There had been a few photographers who reported banding issues with under exposed files were pushed. I saw no banding whatsoever when I pushed files like the one below 5 stops in Lightroom. Honestly, seeing how clean the files are when pushed 5 stops did impress me. While I didn’t have the original Q to compare them head to head, I can see the difference by going back and looking at the original Q Review that I wrote up. You can see below how much detail is preserved when pushed 5 stops, with little to no noise. Had I made a mistake with my settings on a real shoot and underexposed an image by that much, you can see that it’s still a very usable file.

NOTE: The Next 2 Sample Images were each pushed 5 stops of exposure (the max) in Lightroom to test the Dynamic Range. No other changes. Shot with Auto WB, which is why it’s so warm.

 
Click on image to see even closer

Click on image to see even closer

 
 

Click on image to see even closer

 

Micro-contrast

Pushed 2.5 stops - ISO50 f/4 1/20sec

Closer Look (click on image for full size)

Dynamic Range

Exposure +3.5 - ISO400 f/1.7 1/640sec

 

Click on image to see even closer

 

MACRO Option

You can easily switch the lens to macro mode and capture images at a much closer minimum focus distance. This is a really nice feature to have at your fingertips for when you need it, but even more so now with the additional megapixels giving you the ability to crop in even further.


Full size image shot in Macro Mode.

Zoomed in to show detail up close

CONCLUSION

The Q is a compact, or fixed lens camera. There’s no changing lenses, you’re stuck with one lens mounted on a sleek looking Leica body. For some, that’s a deal breaker. Why spend money on a fixed lens camera and limit yourself? Well, I used to be one of those people who had no desire to purchase one, until the original Q. I decided against it however, I did shoot with one a lot.

What changed my mind? There are some really nice benefits to a compact camera, which I didn’t see until I shot with the Q. For hobbyist photographers, a crop sensor compact might do the trick for you. Maybe something like the Fuji X100 series, which I tried and realized very quickly that I wouldn’t be able to shoot anything professional with it. It was a lot like a wiffle ball bat. Sure, it’s great for playing in your backyard, but it’s not made for much more than that.

 
 

The Q is a camera that’s great for the backyard and someone like myself who has young kids, or kid, but also likes to know that it can also be used for professional work. With a body that’s very much similar to that of the M that I love so much, a kickass full-frame sensor, and a lens that seems to fit like a match made in heaven, the Q2 now becomes a compact camera that fits perfectly in my gear bag. I can shoot at a 35mm focal length if I want to, it just won’t be full-frame which is fine. I can shoot at 50mm, and now even 75 if I have to. BUT, here’s the thing, I can also shoot at 28mm with a 47.3mp full-frame sensor at a wide open aperture of f/1.7 and take beautifully rendered photos on just about any professional job if I want to. I love when I hear photographers say that 28mm isn’t good for portraits. Sure, it’s not the most ideal focal length, but if the headshot of me at the top of this review along with all of the portraits I’ve mixed in doesn’t prove differently, I don’t know what will.

 
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While the new Q2 is a camera that I admittedly didn’t see myself falling in love with as much as I did, I’m even more excited about the new SL that’s due to come out some time this year. Even though the M and the Q are similar, the new Q2 has now separated itself and I’m looking forward to getting my own. I’ll be following this up with a full detailed written review and video review next week. Below are more sample images that I took with it over the past few weeks. Feel free to leave a comment with any questions you might have.

The price of the Q2 is $4995, and as far as I know, those who put pre-orders in have already started receiving them. When considering the fact that the M10 starting at $7295 without a lens, the Q2 is actually a great price for a body and lens combo that also has an awesome AF system, Image Stabilization, and a brand new full frame sensor. If you don’t own a Leica but have been thinking about wetting your feet a little, in my opinion, this now becomes your best option.

Full shoot with the Q2 - Katt Kilkons Shoot

Full Sample Gallery in addition to the photos below - Q2 Sample Gallery

Cheers!

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Aurora Camera Care - Sensor Cleaning Kit Review

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The Focus Pyramid

Back in 2014, about 3 years after purchasing my first DSLR (Nikon D60), I purchased my first full-frame camera, the Nikon D700. This was right around the time that the bokeh bug bit me. All I wanted to shoot were f/1.4 primes and the aperture rarely left that wide open position. Most of you know what I’m talking about, a good amount of portrait photographers go through the same phase. Some are going through it right now.

Luckily, I broke that habit and learned how to use my lenses more creatively. However, going through that phase taught me a very valuable lesson. It taught me the importance of making sure my lenses are calibrated to each of my cameras. Shooting wide open does look great, I still do it a lot today. The problem is, if you aren't nailing the focus, no amount of bokeh can save the shot. When shooting with such a shallow DOF and using auto-focus, it can become pretty frustrating if your images aren't sharp. I quickly learned how to calibrate my lenses.

I still find it surprising how many photographers don't calibrate their lenses. Whether they don't even know there's even such a thing, or they simply are too nervous to attempt it on their own, fearing they will mess something up. It's honestly impossible to make a mistake and mess anything up that can't be fixed with a little help from a call to another photographer who knows what they're doing. The tools you need are also very cheap. Back in 2015, I wrote an article for SLR Lounge that laid out the very easy to follow step by step instructions on how to go about calibrating your lenses to each of your DSLR cameras. I also gave a cheap alternative to the pricier calibration kits that were on the market at the time and worked great: The Focus Pyramid, which can be found here: FOCUS PYRAMID.

Click on the image of the focus pyramid above to read the SLR Lounge article on how to calibrate your lenses on your DSLR. If you aren’t already doing so, it’s a must and there’s simply no way around it. It doesn’t matter if you just bought a brand new lens or not, that DOES NOT mean that it’s calibrated. Most aren’t, and that’s because each and every camera is different. I wouldn’t shoot with brand new lens on any job without taking 10-15 minutes to calibrate it first. It’s very rare that a lens is spot on, so when you’re shooting wide open at f/1.4 your images are more than likely not as sharp as they should be.


Aurora Camera Care Sensor Cleaning Kit

Shortly after posting that article on SLR Lounge, the designer and owner of the Focus Pyramid, Joseph Cristina, reached out to say how much he appreciated me using his product and even more so writing the article. Over the years, I’ve stayed in touch with him and just about a couple months ago, he reached out to tell me about a new product. A product that typically scares photographers even more so than a calibrating kit. Even some of the most experienced photographers I know wouldn’t want anything to do with this product and for one simple reason, it involved touching your camera’s sensor.

Just the slightest whisper of this procedure can leave photographers feeling lightheaded and nauseous. For some odd reason. I’ve been cleaning my own sensors for as far back as I can remember. Why? Well, once I started shooting at higher apertures, I was able to see all the little dust spots that were from my dirty sensor. Once I found out the cost and wait time to get a sensor cleaned I decided to learn how to do it myself. It was either that or get a lot quicker with the spot healing tool in Lightroom.

 
 

The most popular product at the time was made by the company VisibleDust. They made a number of different tools to clean camera sensors. One of which was a spinning paint brush looking tool called the ARCTIC BUTTERFLY. The Arctic Butterfly? With a name like that what could go wrong?

Well, when I used the Arctic Spinning Bat Mobile, it touched the side of the sensor compartment and picked up some grease. Grease that would then be transferred onto my D700’s sensor. YES, Perfect! Exactly what I wanted to see. Not only did my sensor still have the dirt and dust, but it now had a grease smudge across it.

After tossing the spinning paint brush (which I have listed below) into the trash, I ordered the next product from Visible Dust, the “EZ Sensor Cleaning Kit". It says EZ right in the product name, how tough could this be right? This kit came with a few dry swabs on sticks and some small vials of liquid cleaning to apply to the swabs. The kit also came with swabs that were for drying. This was a huge pain in the ass. I had to be careful not to put too much cleaning liquid on the swabs and no matter how many times I used the drying swabs, there always seamed to be streaks left on the sensor that I couldn’t quite get off. I called Visible Dust and was told that I may have gotten oil on the sensor and would need to order a different solution. After placing a new order and waiting for it to arrive, I gave it a try and was able to finally get the sensor clean. Great, that would be the last time I used that product.

The next day, I threw all of the swabs and liquids into the trash. It was too much of a headache, let alone the added bonus of a brand new grease smudge that I had to figure out how to clean off. I would rather send my cameras out to get serviced then deal with this kind of nightmare again.

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If you’re looking for the easiest way to quickly rid your sensor of any dust that may be sitting on it, the Rocket Blaster does an excellent job. Especially, if it’s just dust on the sensor, which in most cases, that’s really all it is. The Rocket Blaster can easily blow the dust right off the sensor and you’re good to go. I use it at least once every couple weeks, just to make sure there’s nothing just sitting on top of my sensor that will leave spots on my photos when my aperture is stopped down to anything over f/8.

Giotto Rocket Blaster

 
 

THE NEW ACC SENSOR CLEANING KIT

When Joseph Cristina reached out to me about his newly designed sensor swabs, I told him straight up that I’ve tried a number of different ones and none were easy to use. He basically asked me to please give his product a shot and sent me a free pack to test out. As a disclaimer, I’ve been using a sensor cleaning gel stick over the past couple years. While it’s not perfect, it does do a much better job than any wet/dry swab I’ve ever tried and I told Joseph this. I received the packets in the mail and right before I left for my Savannah Workshop I decided to give them a try. I could have tried them on my wife’s Canon 5D MarkIV cameras but instead used my $6k Leica SL to test out the new sensor cleaning kit.

Once I opened the individual swab packs, I immediately knew these were a great design. Not only are they sized to match the sensor, but there’s no vial of liquid to make a mess with. These swabs were lubricated with just the right amount of liquid. No more than necessary, no less. I was a little hesitant being that it was the first time using this product, but I knew Joseph long enough to know that he wouldn’t be shipping me a bad product. I was right, he didn’t.

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Anytime I clean my sensor, I pull up this YouTube channel which plays a white screen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8lgfq3LX34g.

I set the lens to manual focus and focus to infinity, set the aperture to f22 and take a photo. This will allow me to see whatever sensor dust is on the sensor. Now I know what the “before” photo of the sensor looks like so I can start the cleaning process.

My Thoughts

The ACC Sensor Cleaning Kit was very easy to use, and I was able to open the packs without any trouble. After applying the wet swab and swiping across the entire sensor to clean off any artifacts, I immediately applied the dry swab to soak up any remaining residue. The dry swab didn’t quite dry the sensor completely. It came close, but if you watch the video carefully you’ll be able to see the streaks that are still there after making two passes. I gave it a few more minutes in the hopes that the residue would dry and it did on its own. I re-attached the lens to take a quick test shot of the white screen and everything looked great. No streaks, no dirt or dust, and any artifacts there from the first shot were completely cleaned and off the sensor.

The Images below shows the dust/dirt that was there on the sensor before I cleaned it. Not too bad actually considering how much I’ve shot with this body over the past few months. I’ve seen them a hell of a lot worse than this, so this was good news! The third shot on the bottom is the one that I took after cleaning the sensor with the ACC sensor cleaning kit.

Once I took the test shot above, it was clear to see that the sensor was pretty clean and all the spots had been removed. Nice and clean again! While I do still like the gel stick, especially for my Leica camera bodies being that Leica recommends the gel stick as a sensor cleaning tool, these ACC sensor cleaning swabs do an overall better job of actually cleaning the sensor. These were the first wet/dry swabs that I felt actually worked really good and didn’t make a mess or when comparing them to my previous attempts with similar products, make things worse. Going forward, I’ll be using both. The gel stick for a quick clean and the ACC swabs once every couple months to get things really clean and back to looking brand new.

  • My one and only critique has to do with the wet and dry swabs looking exactly the same once they are out of their pouches. They are labeled with different colors on the individual packages, but as you can see below, once they are opened they look identical. As I was cleaning my sensor, I made two swipes with the wet swab, followed by two passes with with the dry swab. I gave it a few minutes to see if it would dry on it’s own and since there were still slight streaks I wanted to very gently run the dry swab over the sensor one or two more times. As I reached for the dry swab, I had to really look closely to see which was which. I would really like to see them make the wet and dry swab handles a different color, the dry having a tan handle to match its packaging and the wet swab to match its blue packaging.

Wet swab is on the left, Dry is on the right.

Wet swab is on the left, Dry is on the right.


Whether you have a full-frame sensor, cropped sensor (APS-C), or Micro Four Thirds, there is a separate kit designed specifically for each sensor size. To visit the store and purchase one of the sensor cleaning kits, please click HERE!


All the other products I’ve that have ended up in the garbage!

Visible Dust Arctic Butterfly Sensor Brush

 
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WPPI 2019 - Workshop & Photowalk

Jay Cassario Leica wedding photographer

Once again I’ll be heading back to the city that never sleeps for the once a year wedding photography event known as WPPI representing Leica Camera USA. This will be the third consecutive year that I’ll be teaching a workshop followed by a complimentary dinner, but it sold out before I had a chance to really even promote it.

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However, due to the workshop filling up so fast, I was asked to fly in a few days early and do a photowalk. Photowalks are a popular thing at WPPI and even though I’ve never attended one myself, I’ll basically be able to run it the way that I feel a photowalk should be run. WPPI will be providing models and we’ll be heading out onto the strip during the last couple hours of light. Just the way I like it.

I don’t know the total headcount yet for the photowalk, but this the first time that I’m promoting it so I would think that there are plenty of spots available. If you’re interested in joining me, you’ll have the opportunity to get your hands on one of the Leica camera/lens combos available free of charge to shoot with as well. Here is the link to register: https://photo.a2zinc.net/WPPI2019/Public/SessionDetails.aspx?FromPage=Speakers.aspx&SessionID=6988&nav=true&Role=U%27


WPPI 2018 Workshop Crew - Click on image to see the blog post!

WPPI 2018 Workshop Crew - Click on image to see the blog post!

The Savannah Workshop - Recap

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“Hands down, my absolute favorite workshop to date. Jay and the Leica Akademie brought incredible professionalism, knowledge on a wide spectrum of relavent topics, and gracious generosity to the whole weekend. This wasn’t a “sit back and learn” environment but rather a hands on microscope look into my own business, marketing, gear that I use, lighting, posing, the works. There was ample opportunity for asking questions during real time, hands on learning. I was so impressed. Based on previous reviews, I had high expectations going in to the weekend of learning but Jay’s workshop in partnership with Leica has completely upped my business game leaps and bounds ahead of all that I could have hoped for. It was worth it on every single level!”

- Kristen Catoe Photography

 
Leica SL + 75mm Noctilux with off-camera flash behind the couple to create the look of natural golden hour.

Leica SL + 75mm Noctilux with off-camera flash behind the couple to create the look of natural golden hour.

 

On January 11-13th, Bud Johnson and I hosted a Leica Akademie event in his hometown of Savannah, the 3rd of its kind that we’ve hosted together. This by far our biggest and most intensive, not only being three days long, but including a full wedding day walk through. Our most recent and last event that we hosted was in Lubec, ME so we wanted something a little different, and warmer so we went with Bud’s home town of Savannah, GA. The Maine workshop had been our most successful and most intense, until this one. We did our best to raise the bar on this one, and I definitely feel like we succeeded. Most of the photographers flew in from much colder areas from Philly to Oregon, so the warmer weather and bright sun was enough to get some fresh Vitamin D flowing through everyone.

I flew down a couple days early to get some scouting in along with making sure that all the little details were in place. Good friend and photographer, Eric Talerico, flew down early with me and we had got to do some good exploring around historical Savannah.


Personal Photos


Day One - Engagement Shoot

 
Photo by Eric Talerico

Photo by Eric Talerico

 

Everything got started on Friday, January 11th, with a quick group intro followed by a mock engagement shoot in downtown Savannah. The group met up at the Pacci Italian Kitchen, where the workshop’s lectures and meals were held all 3 days. Everyone got the chance to hang out and talk for a little bit and get acquainted with any Leica gear they had taken out on loan to shoot with. It was cool to see the majority of the group testing out the Leica gear. Especially, the SL kits that were available since that’s the camera that I use for all my wedding/portrait work.

Leica rep John Kreidler giving a brief demo of the SL

Leica rep John Kreidler giving a brief demo of the SL

Photo by Eric Talerico

Photo by Eric Talerico

Photo by Eric Talerico

Photo by Eric Talerico

From there we headed down to River Street where I walked the group through how I typically shoot an engagement session. I covered everything from posing to creatively using natural light (like the shot below) to how I use layers and foreground elements. Everyone got to shoot as much as they wanted while taking full advantage of the beautiful Savannah scenery and Spanish moss. We shot until dark then headed back to Pacci.

Shot with the SL + 75mm Noctilux while demonstrating one way to creatively use natural light and shadows.

Shot with the SL + 75mm Noctilux while demonstrating one way to creatively use natural light and shadows.

 
BTS photo of  Brad Krivit  using foreground elements in his shot with the  M10 .  Photo:  Eric Talerico

BTS photo of Brad Krivit using foreground elements in his shot with the M10.

Photo: Eric Talerico

 
Photo by  John Kreidler
Photo by  Eric Talerico

Photo by Eric Talerico

 
Photo by  John Kreidler

Photo by John Kreidler

 

Once back at Pacci, everyone got served one of the best meals we’ve ever served at a workshop. I walked everyone through my sales and consultation strategy followed by some Q&A. We wrapped the night up with a talk by Bud on his marketing approaches.

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DAY TWO - Wedding Walk through

 
Photo by  Kristen Catoe

Photo by Kristen Catoe

 

Day two was all about walking everyone through an entire wedding day. Rather than putting on an entire styled mock wedding we kept it low key so that we could focus more on technique and approach. Any time you get a lot of wedding vendors involved with models for a large scale styled shoot, it becomes very easy to be distracted. While that may have given the attendees more portfolio shots, this workshop wasn’t about that.

Photo by  Ben Deibert

Photo by Ben Deibert

Photo by  Ben Deibert

Photo by Ben Deibert

After meeting at the Pacci, we went straight to the hair salon where our bride and bridesmaid models were getting their hair and makeup done. From there we drove over to an AirBnB that we had rented for the day for actual bride prep. We spent a couple hours going over how Bud and I shoot bride prep photos. How we use the natural light to capture real moments in a creative yet documentary style.

Leica SL + 75mm Noctilux shot wide open at f/1.2 demonstrating the different ways that I use window light.

Leica SL + 75mm Noctilux shot wide open at f/1.2 demonstrating the different ways that I use window light.

Photo by  Brian Cutts

Photo by Brian Cutts

Photo by  Brian Cutts

Photo by Brian Cutts

After eating lunch and wrapping up the bride prep portion of the day, we spent the rest of the day at the Bethesda Academy. A 650-acre property with a historic little chapel that serves as a wedding venue among other things, to which we had full access to for the rest of the day. Besides the beautiful little chapel that was perfect for this workshop, the property itself is stunning with that rural Savannah feel, covered in trees drooping with Spanish moss for as far as the eye could see. Exactly what we wanted all the attendees to experience and get to use as a backdrop for portraits.

 
Photo by  Eric Talerico

Photo by Eric Talerico

 

Both Bud and I covered everything from groom prep with the groom and groomsman models to bridal portraits and lighting family/bridal party portraits inside the chapel. From there we went out onto the property and spent the rest of the time working with the bride and groom. I basically went through my thought process, posing, directing, using natural light and off-camera flash techniques. Everything that I could fit in before the sun went down. Everyone had plenty of opportunities to shoot and there were some pretty impressive shots taken by all of the attendees.

Bridal Portrait example inside the chapel - 20 image pano shot using the Leica SL + 75mm Noctilux at f/1.2

Bridal Portrait example inside the chapel - 20 image pano shot using the Leica SL + 75mm Noctilux at f/1.2

Test Shot (Before Photo) - Demonstrating how to create your own very natural looking golden hour when you don’t have any.

Test Shot (Before Photo) - Demonstrating how to create your own very natural looking golden hour when you don’t have any.

Test Shot (After Photo) - Demonstrating how to create your own very natural looking golden hour when you don’t have any.

Test Shot (After Photo) - Demonstrating how to create your own very natural looking golden hour when you don’t have any.

 
Leica SL + 75mm Noctilux shot wide open at f/1.2 utilizing the same technique

Leica SL + 75mm Noctilux shot wide open at f/1.2 utilizing the same technique

 
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Photo by  John Kreidler

Photo by John Kreidler

Photo by  Eric Talerico

Photo by Eric Talerico

Photo by  Eric Talerico

Photo by Eric Talerico

Photo by  Eric Talerico

Photo by Eric Talerico

Photo by  Jay Cassario

Photo by Jay Cassario

After wrapping things up at Bethesda, we headed back to Pacci for dinner where I also did some image critiques and went over my post processing techniques. Afterwards, being that it was the last night in Savannah for most of the attendees, we went back down to the popular River Street and had some fun practicing some creative night portraits like the second photo below.

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Day THREE

 
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Day three was sadly the last day of the workshop, spent entirely at Pacci, cramming in as much material as possible. The day started off with an awesome breakfast served up by the amazing Pacci chefs while everyone got to talk about the day before. We covered a lot of Q&A regarding the day before, post wedding process with clients, album sales, and more post processing. We also had a guest speaker, Nicole Rene, come in and speak to everyone for a bit. Nicole is the owner of the Bridal Boutique Ivory and Beau, and also a wedding coordinator which is what she basically spoke about.

In the end, myself, Bud, and John (Leica) did our best to make sure that everyone had an amazing experience and walked away feeling that they had new techniques and knowledge that they could implement immediately.

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It was an all around successful workshop that I personally would say was the best event that I’ve held under the Leica Akademie sponsorship. One of the reasons that I really love working alongside of Leica as a partner is that I have the ability to setup and run these workshops the same way that I would if I were running them on my own. This allows me to create and design each workshop in its own unique way, making each one different from the last. Creating a unique experience that would ultimately be one that I would be happy with if I were on the other side as an attendee. As I spoke to everyone on this last day and reading the reviews afterwards, overall I’m very happy with how things went and only wish that we didn’t have an extra day to keep things going.

Thank you to Leica for everything they did to help me host this event, especially John Kreidler who came along with all the Leica gear for everyone use. A big thank you to all the sponsors involved, each of which are listed below. Finally, thank you to all the attendees. This was one of the best groups that I’ve had the privilege of working with since I taught my first workshop two years ago. I look forward to following your work and watching you grow this year and going forward!

If you missed this one, we’ll be holding another in January of 2020. If you’re curious what’s up next… well, the announcement will be coming soon!

Gallery of attendee photos


More Reviews

“As a beginner at photography, I was a bit intimidated and didn't know what to expect. Jay quickly made me feel comfortable asking even the simplest questions. Jay encourages dialog and is very open about his process. It was a great learning experience and has given me the confidence to begin building my own style and brand.”

- Brian Cutts

“I really learned a lot in the Wedding Photography industry. Especially while just starting out, this workshop really changed how I look at this industry and improved my grasp of creatively approaching these shots. I really enjoyed everyone I met and learned a lot about everyone else start in the wedding industry and the challenges they face. This all gave me invaluable insight into developing my own photography business and how best to approach the challenges I will face.”

- Brad Krivit


3 Branding Techniques To CRANK Up Album Sales

THE NEW SITE

If you haven’t noticed, I finally spent some time and redesigned this site. It’s been something that I’ve wanted to do for a while now but just didn’t have the time. With a lot of new projects in the works, it was time for a new look with easier navigation. We’ve added a few new staff members to Twisted Oaks studio which ultimately frees up time for me to put back into writing and all other projects outside of the wedding industry. The goal in the new year is to keep a consistent flow of educational articles, Leica related projects, post-processing tutorials, gear reviews, workshop announcements, and yes, finally the release of a Twisted Oaks preset system.

 
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INTRODUCTION

What exactly is branding? What does it mean to rebrand?

If there were one topic of discussion that I feel seems to confuse photographers and creatives more than anything else, it would have to be branding and what it actually means to re-brand. A good yet very basic and simple example would be to think about the McDonalds brand. If they were to rebrand they would not only change their logo, but also the food they serve, the way that they serve it, and more than likely not have a drive through anymore. Many photographers and creatives think of re-branding as a logo and website change, yet it would actually mean so much more than that.

I was able to get a good understanding of branding and the importance of knowing when it’s time to rebrand while working in the corporate world for 15 years. As a photographer, just a couple years into my first company, I re-branded. Just under four years ago, I created an entirely new company with a completely new look, with all new goals, new sales approach, and a completely revamped style of service that we would offer our clients. Yes, we had a new logo designed along with a brand new website which was built from scratch to not only be unique but to make it very easy to see what our new company and brand was all about. One of the most significant changes with the new brand was the switch from a digitally based wedding photography studio to a product based one. What does that mean? I’ll explain, keep reading.

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Our first photography studio, Cass Imaging, was a jack of all trades type of studio that was based around charging a flat fee and providing digital images. With the new brand and new company name, Twisted Oaks Studio, we wanted to make it clear that we were primarily now a wedding photography studio. We changed the entire approach to working with our clients and focused on creating an all new experience for them. The biggest change had to do with the end product for our clients. Instead of just handing over digital images on a flash drive and an online gallery, we wanted to educate our clients on the importance of prints and most importantly a big beautiful wedding album. This was a scary move, mostly due to the fact that we would no longer include high-resolution files unless they received an album. So many of our previous wedding clients would ask us for high-res files, how would we get around this? Simple, I would educate them on why they didn’t need high-res files to post on social media. The only thing they would need them for would be prints larger than 8x10 or albums, and I made it very clear that Twisted Oaks offered better products than anything they can buy on their own. Yes, we feared that we would lose business because of this change, but once we made the transition over and it didn’t take very long to see how there was absolutely no pushback from new clients. In fact, the only feeling we were left with was regret. Regret that we hadn’t made this change sooner.

QUESTION: Did you stop giving digital images to clients all together?
ANSWER: No, not at all. Every client still receives digital images. Both online and via a flash drive.

My ultimate goal with the Twisted Oaks brand that I built was to have recently engaged couples know that we were a studio based around providing a one of a kind experience and a wedding album at the end to tell their story, not just digital images to sit on a flash drive somewhere. I built a brand that made albums just as crucial as the creative and artistic photography that we wanted to be known for. In the end, there were three branding techniques that I focused on that just about took the sales out of album sales for us. Within the first two years of starting a completely brand new company, we sold over 80 albums. Before the rebrand, we sold 3.


THE BACKSTORY

As most of you know that follow my work, Twisted Oaks Studio is a multi-photographer studio. Not only did we rebrand to a product based wedding photography studio, but we also had much bigger plans on how we wanted to grow. Building a large studio like Twisted Oaks isn’t for everyone but adding associate photographers along with other admin employees was the direction that we wanted to go. Two years into starting our first photography company and basically taking everything from family shoots to headshots, wedding photography quickly took over. We found ourselves faced with a tough decision. We were both still working full-time jobs, and Sandi was pregnant with our son, so we knew we needed to start preparing for the future if we wanted to make this a real career. Less than three years in and a ton of decision making mixed with business coaching, we made the decision to start a brand new studio from scratch. This time with a full game plan of what we wanted to do. We knew where we wanted the business to go, the brand we wanted to build and most importantly the steps we planned on taking to become one of the most successful and popular multi-photographer studios on the East Coast.

 
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These were our main goals when we decided to re-brand. Most importantly, these were ultimately what became the foundation of what the Twisted Oaks brand was built on.

- No longer be known as a “Jack of all trades” studio, focus strictly on wedding photography.

- Convert over to a product based company

- Have album sales become a large part of our income

- Slowly build our two photographers (husband and wife team) into a successful multi-photographer studio

- Create an entirely new experience for our clients, something that we would need to separate ourselves from the other multi-photographer studios in the area.


THE FIRST FEW YEARS

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Before Twisted Oaks Studio, we didn’t have a reliable brand built. It was difficult for potential clients to know exactly who we were or what we were all about. Since we were keeping busy and continuing to grow, it was easy for us to see how a lot of other photographers can fall into this trap. Thinking that the brand they built is working because they are seeing continued growth within the first few years. Luckily for us, we realized that if we wanted to really make a successful career out of photography, we needed to make some significant changes. Looking back on our first studio, just three years ago, it was the perfect test run for us to learn from our mistakes and ultimately give us the ability to see what we needed to change in order to start a new successful studio from the ground up that would have a game plan for years to come.  

We started putting together a game plan long before making the full transition over to Twisted Oaks and to be honest, I could teach an entire three-day workshop on that process alone. We implemented an entirely new marketing strategy, pricing structure, consultation process, sales techniques, and even had mentors to help coach us along the way. All of which played a role in building a new brand, the one that you see today as Twisted Oaks. That was our primary focus, and it’s what has been the most crucial factor in the success that we’ve seen in such a short period. Within a year of making the transition, Twisted Oaks had become the brand that we had envisioned.


WHAT MAKES A GOOD BRAND

Branding can often be the most confusing and misunderstood aspect of being a business owner, especially in the creative industry. Branding is so much more than just a logo and a website re-design. It’s often confused with the style that you have as a photographer. Whether it be your shooting style, editing style, or the look of your website. The more confusing part is that branding and style actually go hand in hand but are also two very different things.

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Before starting Twisted Oaks Studio, we had a unique editing style that made it easy for others to distinguish our work from others. We hired someone to help us take that editing style, the overall look, and style of what we wanted our new studio to look like and create a new logo and website. Within a few weeks, we had a whole new look, a particular color palette to our website that matched our editing style, and a design that made it extremely easy and obvious for potential clients to know what the Twisted Oaks brand was all about. To give you an idea of what went into creating the new brand, here are a handful of things that we focused on:

  1. What the studio’s mission is all about

  2. Our photography focus (primarily a wedding based studio)

  3. How we want to make our client’s feel

  4. What experience we offer to our clients

  5. The price in relation to value

  6. What makes us unique

  7. Consistency in our editing style

  8. The style of our photography

  9. The style in which we shoot

  10. The products that we offer and having them match the brand style


BRANDING & ALBUM SALES

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Besides the addition of the associate program, the biggest goal for us was to fully convert over to a product based studio. We basically avoided album sales the entire first year that we shot weddings, and it honestly wasn’t tough to do since none of our clients even wanted them. We didn’t even realize we were doing it, but we were attracting clients that had no interest in an album or wall art by advertising ourselves as a fully digital studio that handed over a flash drive and online gallery as a final product. We had ourselves convinced that clients no longer wanted albums. They apparently only wanted high-res digital files, and it was a waste of time trying to sell them a wedding album. We also had ourselves convinced before the re-brand that if we did take away high-res files and create a brand built around albums that no one would hire us. They would go with our competition that offered what we used to. Well, long story short, we were wrong. Very wrong. If you’re in the mood for tacos, you aren’t going to McDonald's. If Taco Bell started offering hamburgers and french fries but only had it on their menu for walk-in customers to see. After months of no one purchasing anything but tacos, it would be easy for them to say that no one likes hamburgers and french fries. Meanwhile, across the street, McDonald's is bumping with the business since that is what they are known for. Not the best analogy, but I’m writing this from a hotel room in San Diego at 1am, and I’m starving. Hopefully, you get my point.


3 BRANDING TECHNIQUES

TWISTED OAKS WEBSITE

TWISTED OAKS WEBSITE

SHOW THEM OFF - MARKET THE HELL OUT OF THEM

I wanted to make it known to anyone who followed our work or scrolled through our website and social media that albums are a big part of who we are. I wanted to make it so that any potential clients that did their research would see how unique our albums are, how well they fit the brand, and how the majority of other clients are excited to receive their albums once they arrive. Basically, my goal was to make it so I never even had to mention the word albums during initial client consultations, but instead, they ask me about them. For clients that came into the studio for their meetings, they would be surrounded by albums to the point that they would find it difficult to leave without wanting one

 
 

The biggest mistake that I see photographers make is not marketing their albums or showing them off as much as possible. It’s not only difficult to find examples of them on their websites, but they don’t post photos of them on social media. Not just photos of the albums themselves, but also photos showing off the excitement of clients getting to see their album for the first time. Ever since I rebranded and made albums a primary focus, showing them off everywhere that we possibly could ultimately created an interest in them for not only new potential clients but past clients as well.

TWISTED OAKS ALBUM GALLERY

We went from selling a total of 3 albums to 30 in the first year as Twisted Oaks. In 2018, we will have sold more than double that with a good number of clients still in the building process. Today, 9 out of 10 clients request an album in their wedding package rather than waiting until afterwards.



GIVE THEM BRAGGING RIGHTS

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You want your clients to be excited to not only receive their album but start the designing process. We make it, so they play a big part in the designing process and offer them the opportunity to come into the studio to work with us on it in person. We have not only photographed but shot video of clients getting to see their first album design draft as well as receiving their album. These experiences are quite emotional, and anyone that sees them will find it difficult to not experience the same thing for themselves. We have the majority of the albums shipped to the studio first so that we can photograph them and show them off on social media, as well as our website. It can quickly and easily create the desire to get their album as soon as they can and show it off. Most have custom designed covers, and with the images produced by our studio’s photographers, the albums are quite impressive and customized perfectly to fit our brand. We use Vision Art Albums and couldn’t recommend them more. I reached out to 6 album companies and ordered samples, not only was Vision Art one of the most impressive when it came to quality, they were the most customizable.


HAVE CLIENTS HELP

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We offer our clients a gift package for taking photos of their albums and posting them on their own social media pages. Sure, it’s always great to see your clients sharing their pictures on their social media platforms. Imagine having your clients showing off their wedding photos along with the album and the printed photos inside. This not only creates an interest in your photography to the friends and family of your clients, but it also helps to make it known just how impressive the final product looks and how happy they are with it. Create an incentive to have your clients help promote your work and your brand. Showing off the album and the photos inside not only promotes your work but also what your brand is all about.


CONCLUSION

 
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I hope this helps, and most of all I hope it makes sense. It’s difficult for me at times to put such a detailed and planned out branding plan into words when it’s much easier explained in person. It’s because of the successes I’ve seen as a studio owner and the amount of growth in such a short period of time that I started teaching workshops rather than trying to explain things in a short article like this. This was a topic that I discussed in even further detail at my Savannah Workshop. In 2019, I have no doubts that we will sell over 100 albums, with 75% or more of those coming with purchased upgrades. If you are struggling with album sales, there’s nothing I can suggest more than taking the sales part out of it. If you’re good at sales, having the proper branding in place will only help make your life easier. If you aren’t, maybe rebranding is something to consider so that albums are a much bigger part of who you are as a company. Albums will start to sell themselves and you’ll never have to give a sales pitch about how good your albums are again.