This job of ours brings us in contact with special and amazing things and people all the time. And if that’s not enough to be grateful for, our job – being self-employed – gives us freedom to take off from our desks and pursue special and amazing things. Here’s one example.

Many of you remember Kathleen Neves from when she worked at SkinSpirit. This year, she’s hiking the Pacific Crest Trail – all 2650 miles from Mexico to Canada. Wow! We’ve been excited since she announced her plans last year. And we’ve been self-styling ourselves as her trail angels as she hikes through “our” territory between Tahoe and Truckee.

(Catch up on her journey so far and adventures to come at: You can even sponsor her at with gifts of as little as $10 going towards laundry, food, and showers.)

We were there to meet her on July 19th at the Donner Pass Truck Stop where the PCT crosses under Hwy 80.

Whew – 8000 feet up, in the smoke-filled air, at nearly 100 degrees – and she had hiked eight miles on the rocky and steep terrain already that day! So we had to do our best to spoil her and return her to the trail the following day clean, well-rested, and well-fed.

We were so, so lucky to get a walk-in rate for a lake-side condo. Lake swimming!

Kathleen wanted In-N-Out Burgers and root beer – done! (Along with a hot shower and toiletries.)

In the evening, we drove into Truckee and met her trail partner, Pierre-Luc AKA Grit, and John took us out for a big dinner.

The following morning, the smoke really settled over Donner Lake:

John made eggs, pancakes and bacon to fill the hikers. We rested and enjoyed the lake. I even had some time to get in a lake-side sunscreen Instagram post for Hayes Valley Medical & Esthetics:

We dropped Kathleen and Grit off at the PCT – mission accomplished.

We are grateful to all our clients who helped us to work around this little trip – changing their schedules and working with the short notice so we could meet someone who is hiking so far. Thank you. And thank you, Kathleen, for being THAT PERSON who charges after adventure and works so hard towards such an incredible goal.


Photographer John Mangelsdorf

Photo shoots are expensive – even if you hire us, with our lower rates (more info on why we charge less and our marketing photo portfolio.) So you want to get it right, right?

Many times over the years we’ve been doing this, we’ve been paid for photos never used because our client was not prepared. For example, un-ironed-clothing. Yes, we can Photoshop out wrinkles, but why pay us $$$ when you can be prepared with perfect fabric with just a run of an iron? Pretty much everything listed below comes from an actual experience with a client.

Please run through this checklist to avoid costly mistakes in your up-coming shoot:


• Stage for photos, not your usual display. As you set up, look through the lens on a camera (cell phone is fine), instead of with your naked eye. Things look different through a frame, so your usual set-up might not photograph well.

• Be sure everyone involved is aware and prepared.

• It pays to spend a week looking at the light at various times of day at the place of the shoot. Then schedule the shoot for the best time of day. Absolute best is with plenty of sunlight, but without strong shadows or harsh light, like on an overcast day.

• To keep costs down, have a shot plan made in advance. It’s a way to make sure you get all the shots you need and to provide a checklist so no shot is forgotten. Can be a collection of photos on your cell phone, written notes, or a Pinterest board. Look at previous photos of your business – what worked and looked good? Make a note to duplicate the shot. What’s needed – models, props, lighting – to get the shots on your shot list? Here’s a very rough shot list so you can see how little effort is needed – just grab a collection of photos you want to duplicate:
Shot List Sample

• Remember this is marketing and branding. Be sure all props, staging, attire is a direct reflection of your brand. It’s not about what you might like, it’s about what will make potential clients interested as well as what consistently supports and promotes your brand. If your brand color palette is calm, be sure no one wears red, if your brand is very professional, hide the ceramic kitten vase – that type of thing.

• Essentially, be prepared. Everything staged and clean before we get there. The better prepared you are, the more you will like the results. And you’ll save money by shortening the time we spend shooting and/or Photoshopping.


Tell your staff well in advance there will be a shoot. Be sure they are very clear on your business’ brand and how you wish your staff to be presented.

• Is there a uniform? Make sure they have enough advanced notice to have it cleaned and pressed.
• Do you require name-tags? Be sure they are clean and pinned on evenly.
• Hair – have a clearly defined outline of what’s acceptable. (We once had a client tell us our shots were no good, but when we dug further, it was because their staff member’s bangs were too long. This type of directive must come from you, the boss.)
• Lab coats – we’ve learned from photographing our medical clients that wrinkles pop from lab coats. Iron them!
• Iron or steamer onsite. This has saved many-a-shoot. Consider it, especially if clothing or fabrics are key to your brand.
• Don’t wear clothing with writing, logos, or reflective elements, like on jogging gear.
• Easy on jewelry and printed fabrics.
• Let us know in advance if you want candid shots, head-shots, client interaction.


It pays to spend a week looking at the light at various times of day on your building exterior. Note when there are no deep shadows. Then schedule the shoot for the best time of day. Absolute best is with plenty of light on your building, but without shadows or strong light, like on an overcast day.

• If you have street parking in front of your building, fill the spots with your staff’s cars – then roll out right as we start shooting so there’s no parked cars blocking the view of your building.
• Don’t schedule a photoshoot of your building exterior on trash pickup day!
• Remove all posters, clutter from windows.
• Clean windows.
• If it’s an evening shoot, be sure all light bulbs are working.
• Tell your neighbors, if relevant, that you are paying for a shoot and ask them not to put trash outside.
• Take out all seasonal decor (unless this is a seasonal shoot) – for example, if there’s a Christmas tree in your window, you won’t be able to use the shot for marketing in summer. Non-seasonal, non-dated decor is the best for general marketing shots.
• If this is a seasonal shoot, be sure all decor is perfect before we arrive.
• Also before we arrive, look at your building exterior with the shot in mind – often what looks better in general, does not work for a photo. Stand in the place you want the shot(s) done and make sure all looks great.
• Do you have permission? Occasionally, we’ve run into problems with an HOA or building management not allowing commercial photography. Be sure all permissions have been organized before the shoot.
• If the photographer will need to stand in a street to get the shots, be sure there’s someone to look out for traffic.


Clean, stage, organize! It costs $$$ for us to Photoshop out dirt on walls, messy areas, monitors with ugly screen savers, wires, etc.

• Plan on computer monitors being off.
• As with the exterior shoot planning, check the light at various times of day – schedule the shoot during good, strong light.
• Make sure all product displays are perfect.
• Take time, well before we arrive, to scan the location for any clutter, any items that do not reflect your brand, or speak well of your business.
• Hide or tidy wiring – if possible, unplug electronics and remove.
• Make sure all wall art is hung evenly.
• Review the areas you want shot – any bright colours or high-contrast will draw the eye, so make sure that anything along these lines is hidden away unless they are part of the brand – or you wish them to be featured. For example, we took a long time Photoshopping out neon flyers for a local farmers’ market from one client’s photos.
• Trim dead flowers from displays.
• Will we have easy access? Do we need name badges? Security codes? A guide? There’s been times we’ve traveled to a site to shoot and not been able to access the building!

Food PhotographyPRODUCT SHOTS

The best product shots are done with our light box at our offices – see photo to left. Especially if you want white backgrounds. But that means transporting/shipping products which can be costly.

If we shoot at your location:

• Clean, neat display that will look best photographed

• Clutter-free background

• If you have props to use, please have them ready to go – be sure they are clean and to your brand.

• If possible, have us set up our equipment away from clients, so we do not disrupt your business.

• Price tags and stickers – your call! Sometimes they can be Photoshopped out, but that’s $$$ (see below).

Photoshop Price Tags


Having people in your shots can really make them.

• Be sure you have written permission from the model – before the shoot – to use them in marketing.
• Confirm and reconfirm time and location with models (Emphasis)– any delay means you are paying us with no work being done.
• Be clear with models on clothing. No patterns, logos, text, reflective or glow-in-the-dark material.
• Be sure you are all on the same page with model styling – are they doing their own hair and makeup? Be sure to plan ahead.

Hiring professional models is usually not an option. Client models make for great marketing, if you have clients who are willing to trade product/services for use of their image for marketing. Staff members in plain clothes or family and friends have worked in the past.


These can be candid or staged. Please talk to us well in advance if you wish to show your business in action.

Here’s a photo that was useful for print and online marketing of a jewelry designer sketching at a table with her equipment.

NOTE: This checklist is intended for our typical client – a small business or sole proprietor. Photo shoot prep for larger businesses is far more complex.


Googles New Indexing

Flashback photo to Rachel and her brother, Iain, looking surly when told they were not getting what they wanted. Cute (occasionally) in children, but not for website owners who want their hard work recognized and their website displayed prominently in search engine result pages.

Google has recently changed the way they index websites and has brought down the gavel on sites that do not display well on mobile devices.

Now that people use their phones and tablets more than laptops and desktop computers to browse the web, Google has made this change to better serve their users and give them better access to the information they are seeking and that is designed to be easy for them to access.

We have looked at web traffic statistics for most of our clients’ websites and confirmed mobile users now account for over 50% of all traffic. But many of our clients still have non-mobile websites. Globally, about 17% of small businesses do not have a responsive site.

If you have a non-mobile-friendly site then you will be ranked lower than if you have a mobile-responsive website. If you have a separate mobile site, from your main website, only your mobile site pages will be indexed. This is according to multiple articles we have reviewed, as well as communications directly from Google.

So if you don’t have a mobile-responsive website, the time has come to put this on your marketing priorities list for 2018.

Besides the new Google indexing, non-responsive sites can damage your business in other ways:

  • Mobile devices are projected to reach 79% of global internet use by the end of 2018.
  • 88% of consumers who search for a type of business on a mobile device call or go to that business within 24 hours.
  • Average smartphone conversion rates are up 64% compared to desktop conversion rates.
  • 83% of mobile users say that a seamless experience across all devices is very important.
  • According to Google, 61% of users are unlikely to return to a site on mobile if they had trouble accessing it and 40% visit a competitor’s site instead.
  • Nearly 8 in 10 customers would stop engaging with content that doesn’t display well on their device.
  • 57% of internet users say they won’t recommend a business with a poorly designed website on mobile.

Please contact John if you’re in need of a new, mobile-friendly website.



Jollity Farms is in the Sierra Foothills, near Placerville – and we love it! We visited in April to snuggle with the new-born kids and to take some product shots.

One thing our client wanted was a shot of their new display case full of cheese. But we did not want to waste their entire stock, so we sacrificed five containers, and took thirty photos of those same five containers in different positions (like the photo you see below) and then merged all shots together to create a “full” fridge.

It was not all work – in fact mostly play. Thanks, Charlie and Mary Lisa, for our fun (and delicious) visit to your farm.

Check out the full album, or scroll down for some adorable goat photos…

Visit the farm! 5314 Marigold Mine Way, Garden Valley, California.

Trip Advisor

California Cheese Trail



Recently our client Hayes Valley Medical and Esthetics moved to a gorgeous new location in Marin. When promoting their grand opening we noticed their Google Map pin, which Google generates automatically for businesses, did not show along with other nearby businesses on larger map views. This is because Google algorithmically determines when a business location shows on Google Maps, and it is based on factors like how long it has been at the current address as well as the number of Google reviews for the business. (HINT: Ask your good customers for Google reviews!) So you do not have control over when your Place Label shows as the user zooms in on your general location on Google Maps.

The below screen captures show that at a larger scale, HVME does not show until you zoom in closely on their location.

google map hvme not showing

Zoom in closer and it does show:

google map hvme showing



Welcome to our client list, Set the Occasion – Table Designs by Thena! We have loved working with such a talented and professional client. The web site looks great, and working on photoshoots with you in beautiful locations in Larkspur, Belvedere, and Corte Madera has been a highlight of our year.

Yes! is here! John coded this custom for Thena – beautifully responsive, deep linking portfolio pages, perfectly optimized photos, slideshows with several different progress options – well done, partner. I love the design – so simple and elegant and all about the photos.

Header to this blog post is a setting photo as we integrated it into a header graphic for the contact page.





Thena, we can’t wait to see where you take us next! We are grateful that you are taking us with you.


Holiday Marketing

(If you are looking for gifts, decor, corporate gifting, inspiration, or fun, MenloVille, pictured above, decked for the holidays, is a great place to start. Tell Lisa we say, “hello”.)

Well, I’m a little late this year with the reminder.


These are the things that seem end up being rushed in November and costing extra for rush shipping – prepping and ordering gift bags, greeting cards, holiday decor, gift certificates, gift tags, posters, etc…

Each year in November and December we get a slew of last-minute projects for which clients end up paying rush shipping and printing rates. (Reminder of our rush project policy.)


Plan your online marketing: e-mail campaigns, seasonal web site changes, and AdWords campaigns.

Are you sending cards, party invitations, and/or gifts to your clients and partners this year? Let’s get on that too!

Selling gifts? Check your inventory and the lead times of items you wish to stock. From October on-wards, order fulfillment and shipping from your vendors may take additional time. Also, be sure you stock plenty of festive packaging and shipping supplies if you plan on mailing items.

Holiday party? Book your caterer (you can’t go wrong with our client, Palace Cafe Catering!), asap. Start sending Save the Date invites early. Plan how you are going to invite people and take RSVPs.

Don’t forget your staff! Plan parties, gifts, etc…

This is also the time of year to think about partner marketing for the holidays. Consider gathering a group of businesses with similar clients to yours and use their mail lists and social media to get the word out about your holiday specials, events, etc…

Here’s some 2017 key dates to keep in mind…


Halloween, Tuesday, 31th


Daylight Savings, Sunday, 5th

Veterans’ Day, Friday, 11th

Thanksgiving, Thursday, 23rd

Black Friday, 24th

Cyber Monday, 27th


Pearl Harbor Remembrance, Thursday, 7th

Green Monday, 11th

Hanukkah, Tuesday, 12th through Wednesday, 20th

Festivus, Saturday, 23rd

Christmas Day, Monday, 25th

Boxing Day | Kwanzza, Tuesday, 26th

New Year’s Eve, Sunday, 31st


Halloween Marketing

John and I have been making sure to seek out balance between work and relaxation as we ramp up to marketing’s silly season over the next few months. (Are you ready?)

On Friday, we headed to Santa Cruz for lunch at the Crow’s Nest and a walk on the beach. Here’s John chilling out with some new friends.

Happy Halloween, everyone!

And remember, all work and no play makes everyone stressed and grumpy!