I read on the Photo Business & News Forum yesterday that several template-based website services such as LiveBooks and BluDomain have been having problems with their Google rankings as of late. I personally do not have a website with these companies so I can’t say for sure how much if any control their photographers have over their own site design but from what it sounds like they don’t have much. If ranking high is really a top priority for your business then the only way to go is to either have a site designed specifically for your needs or to do it yourself. At the least you should understand how things work under the hood so you can give adequate direction to your service providers.
I might sign up for a portfolio site with one of these companies eventually but I don’t expect that their search engine rankings are going to be as good as what I can do for myself on my current site. If you think about it, if every photographer out there had the same website structure then it’s just random luck that you’d crack the top ten on Google for anything. But with my own website, I can tweak and adjust my web content at any hour of the day according to how I see fit.
Getting the most out of the search engines isn’t just about throwing all of your eggs in one basket such as “Las Vegas wedding photographer”, you need to have a strategy – casting a targeted net if you will to draw people into whatever it is you want them to do. If one word falls off the list then you should have other variations of the subject to make up for that. Lets say that tomorrow my ranking for Southern California coast photos drops, well that’s not really a big deal in my opinion because people can find me still by typing in Point Vicente Lighthouse stock photos or Venice Beach travel photographer for example, where I’m currently ranked at or near the top on Google, Google Images and Yahoo.
Pros: Small enough to fit into any pocket. Decent sound quality. “CD-quality” sound for small budgets.
Cons: No belt clip. No wind sock. Lecture recording mode sometimes makes voices sound digital. No recording volume control.
After having tested the Olympus DS-30 Digital Recorder for several weeks in a variety of photography shooting situations, I have mixed reviews about it for the type of work that I do. Since I mainly photograph outdoors and generally moving around in non-controlled shooting conditions, the limitations are fairly obvious. Without a belt clip, the sensitive microphone picks up a rustling sound every time I move around due to being in my shirt pocket. Since the device is too small for a wind sock, having a belt clip would be useless anyway because wind would be a factor outdoors particularly in coastal areas.
The plus sides are numerous as well. If you are planning on staying at one place for a while then the sound quality is generally excellent for the $100 price tag. The device is really simple to use and uploads the .wmv files onto my PC like an external hard drive.
Overall: I plan to return the Olympus DS-30 before my 30 days are up. If you are a college student, podcaster or a reporter that wants to jot down notes then this would be excellent for you. For a photographer that works in the field, the only option is to go for models that have a belt clip and dedicated wind sock. Unfortunately those models are a little pricier.
While photographers are creative and are great at creating their art, they are generally terrible at marketing themselves. There are several reasons for this. One reason is that it is hard to sell something that you are so close to. For this reason it might be better to find someone to do the marketing for you. Another reason is that most people do not have the professional background or education in marketing necessary to do an effective job at it. It is hard to enjoy selling your own work trust me.
No matter which form of marketing you choose to employ (pull / push) they both require a well-conceived plan in order to be effective. In my previous articles on photography branding, we discussed targeting and market analysis; these are the starting blocks for what should be your marketing campaign. At this point you should come up with a one page brief. This is probably the most important thing I’ll have to share with you in this whole series of blog posts. As an example, here are the questions that an ad agency creative brief usually has on there:
– Why are we advertising?
– What is the advertising trying to do?
– Who are we talking to?
– What do we know that will help us?
– What is the main thought to communicate that will differentiate us from the competition?
– Tone / Creative Guidelines:
The main thought is the “concept” behind your entire campaign and the message that your audience will be receiving. It is extremely important to narrow this down to a single point to communicate. Many big companies and account people do not understand this and therefore end up with a crappy ad campaign as a result. To their credit, it is hard to fork out money for something that might not necessarily have measurable results and tempting to cram as many thoughts as possible in a marketing execution but this is a mistake. The consumer doesn’t care about your advertising. Advertising is an annoyance. If they are going to take anything away from your messaging it has to be concise and interesting. If it isn’t, then you should just hold onto your money instead until you figure out how to do this.
Once you’ve developed a good creative brief then you can decide what type of media to employ. Some ideas are so adaptable that they can translate into many forms of media from print ads, postcards, email, teaser sites, sidewalk stencil drawings to things that no one has thought of before. What you should do is evaluate what the competition is currently doing and do something totally different than them. That is the only way to stand out in a crowded marketplace.
A Southern California-based wedding photographer, Dane Sanders has established himself as one of the top wedding photographers in the industry. A featured speaker for Adobe and Pictage, Sanders has been recognized and featured in such noteworthy publications as Rangefinder, Professional Photographer and American Photo magazines. His first book, Fast Track Photographer has received critical acclaim from many industry professionals for its fresh approach to running a successful wedding photography business.
You’ve built quite a following in just five short years. When you first established your business, did you have a solid understanding of business principles prior to that or did you mostly learn as you went along?
I had studied business in college but I knew very little about business in the real world.
How did the idea for Fast Track Photographer come about?
Great question. I literally woke up in the middle of the night with a vision for this book. I immediately got up and started writing. I couldn’t stop. It was a bit of an obsession. I wrote early and I wrote late. And when it was completed, I felt like I made a contribution [to the industry]. Of course, I didn’t know if anyone besides my wife would ever read it, but I knew in my heart that what came out of me was more than a business book on photography. It had the potential of helping people flatten their learning curve dramatically. I couldn’t be more pleased with the response so far.
In which ways can wedding photographers and non-wedding photographers benefit from reading the book?
I think what’s special about Fast Track Photographer is how dynamic it is. The experience of the read changes depending on the reader. It’s a custom book built to pull out a photographer’s unique strengths so they can maximize them for their businesses in our digi-flat marketplace. Most of my examples are from my experience as a wedding photographer but I’d put money down that it can help any genre of photographer or any service provider in any industry for that matter. When my attorney read it and said it was great for him; that made my day.
Briefly explain for us the concept of “Signature Brands” and your take on this:
Well, Signature Brands are one side of a continuum of possibility for photographers. The other side is to go the freelance photographer route. Signature Brands are businesses that are built around the greatest value engine of all: the actual photographer. I argue that who you are is far more valuable to higher-end clients than even the photography you create. Our art just validates the signature brands we’re creating.
Budget seems to be a top priority for many couples when looking for a wedding photographer. If you get an inquiry from someone that is interested in your work but doesn’t want to pay to your regular fees or just wants a disc full of images for a flat fee, how would you respond to them? Is there any way to turn this into a positive outcome for your business?
Sure. The positive outcome is to either convert the client to hire the photographer rather than the photography. If they make the shift, they will pay the premium. If they are truly in the market just to get pictures taken though, I would recommend that Signature Brands pass that job on to a Freelance Photographer friend in their network that gets paid by the hour. That would be a better fit for the client.
Any upcoming photography business announcements or personal projects that you would like to tell us about?
We have some really exciting announcements in the pipeline. I can’t let the cat out of the bag just yet, but the best place to track what’s coming is to sign up for my newsletters at http://fasttrackphotographer.com. While you do, you’ll get a free copy of my introduction and first chapter to really get a taste of what we’re up to. I hope your readers really get value from them. Thanks for this opportunity!
To see more of Dane Sanders photography visit his website: www.danesanders.com
To order his book, Fast Track Photographer, visit: www.fasttrackphotographer.com
In last week’s interview with Alaskan photographer, Ron Niebrugge, Ron said that once you are thought of as a source for cheap photos, it can be hard to shake that reputation. He was just referring to pricing and licensing decisions. There are many more ways that one can cheapen the value of their brand in the eye of the consumer and most of them are not even caused by deliberate reasons. This is not to be confused with targeting low-end markets.
An important thing to consider when establishing your brand value is where you sell yourself. Compare several pieces of art all done in a similar style. One being sold at Wal-Mart for $25, a Thomas Kincaid being sold at your local mall, and another displayed at a fine art institution. If they are all on the same playing field artistically, then what is the difference between them? It is the perceived value of the venue in which the art is being displayed. It is about prestige. There is a reason why Wal-Mart doesn’t do limited edition artwork. Because they could never get away with charging enough to make it a smart business decision so they opt for selling in quantity. Wal-Mart is seen as a place where you go to buy stuff for low prices. Whereas the gallery scene is more likely to engage in that practice to “drive up the value” of the artwork. They can do it because they created a perception of value that meets their objectives.
To put this into a photographer’s perspective: If you are trying to command premium fees for your work then posting your good images on sites like Flickr would probably be a waste of time for you, not to mention it could weaken the perceived value of your brand. The manner in which you present your work has to be appropriate for who your target audience is. We should be doing all we can to strengthen that relationship no matter what market we are targeting. It’s very difficult to achieve however and something that we should all consciously work to improve upon.
It only takes one mistake to make it all come crashing down though so we’ve got to be careful. Let’s say that you have a nicely designed website that is intended to add value to your brand. Great. But you hear that Google ads are a good way to monetize your website so one day you decide to paste Google ads all over your site. Well all the brand equity that you worked to build all goes out the window by doing that. If you have a classy website, but add one low-class element to it such as Google ads then what perception of value is the viewer left with? A mixed one at best. Certainly this is not the way to go if your goal is to maximize the value of your brand. This is not to say that Google ads aren’t a viable option, but you’ve got to ask yourself do the benefits of doing this outweigh all the negatives? Exactly what are the potential downfalls?
One thing I see a lot of photographers do to their detriment is revealing too much about themselves. There is a fine line between establishing a personal connection with your audience versus maintaining a sense of professionalism. I see photographers all the time write about their PhD in Mathematics, their love of god, etc… it is all fine and dandy to have that in your life but it adds nothing of value to your photographic brand unless you specialize in college professor lifestyle photos or work with religious groups. If you can somehow tie in your personal background in relevant fashion then it could work to your advantage such as how Ron did on his bio. Knowing that Ron has an MBA with a marketing emphasis adds something of value to potential clients because it says to them that if they have a business problem that requires photography then Ron might be able to help them solve it. But unfortunately, many other photographers approach their bio more like a journal entry than an asset to their marketing efforts. Check out this guy’s bio for example. I won’t link to this photographer directly, so you can find that link on APE’s article. It is good to show some personality in your bio because so people can get an idea for how it might be like to work with you but it shouldn’t create a negative perception of you either.
Now if this guy were trying to sell that he is a humorous guy and someone that is fun to work with then being honest might work but that’s not what I got out of reading his bio. As compelling of a read as that bio might be, that might have been career suicide. Perhaps his next career should mirror that of Hunter S. Thompson.
So what is your target audience and are you doing all you can to maximize your brand value while eliminating everything that could potentially weaken it?
FocalPower is developing a Digital Asset Management service to assist photographers with today’s challenges of sharing, protecting, and managing their photos online. Find out what FocalPower CEO, Greg Lato has to say about this.
There are several other competing services out there such as Digital Railroad, Photoshelter Archive, and IPNStock, as well as software solutions such as Lightbox Photo. How does FocalPower plan to differentiate itself from these other companies?
FocalPower has a vision that we are executing against. Since we are still in a pre-launch phase I can’t go into great detail about that vision other than to state that it includes helping photographers save time in managing their photo assets online while providing various ways for the photographer to earn revenue from their photo assets. Unlike the competing services you mentioned, which are focused on pushing their own brand and creating yet another repository where you photos have to be managed, FocalPower’s initial release will be focused on the photographer, their photographic brand, and a simple yet flexible way of managing your photos for online sharing.
FocalPower seems to be on the opposite side of the spectrum of photo sharing compared to say, Flickr, which some would say has a flawed system when dealing with copyrighted photos. Give us your take on image protection and file sharing.
There has definitely been a storm brewing for a while on the topic of photographer’s rights. I have seen this coming for a while and I doubt that the latest eruption around Fickr will be the last. You’re right in that unlike Flickr, and other community-based photo sharing sites, FocalPower is targeting a different segment of the photography market.
FocalPower’s take on photo protection is quite simple: let the photographer decide how they want to license their work and then help the photographer enforce that decision. While it’s true that no photograph available online is 100% safe from right abuse, there is more that can be done to help photographers protect their photo assets. FocalPower is working on a means of providing license-based protection for photos stored on the FocalPower system. But again, it will be an option that photographers can choose from based upon how they license their photos.
Unlike most photo sharing services available today, which provide very structured and rigid frameworks for sharing photos, FocalPower’s photo sharing is a widget-based approach that allows a photographer to upload and organize their photos centrally while sharing them across multiple sites or blogs. With the explosion of personal photography networks springing up around blogs, FocalPower’s widget-based approach enables photographers to share their photos on their blog and their website, or multiple blogs and multiple websites targeted to their vertical markets.
One thing that you didn’t mention, that you have written about on the blog, is the aspect of a photographer’s brand. We are also working on a way to extending the photographer’s brand along with their photos as they are shared to multiple sites. Recently there has been an interest explosion of a single photographer creating vertical branded sites or blogs, FocalPower would allow that photographer to centrally manage their photos while selectively sharing photos to each site. So the same controls and branding can be applied to all of the photographer’s photo regardless of where it is viewed.
When can we expect to FocalPower to open to the public?
FocalPower is currently in a closed testing period while we finalize the infrastructure and flush out the initial feature set with the help of our early testers. Our initial testers have been great at providing us feedback, ideas, and support. Our goal is to release a public beta of the initial service toward the end of this year. Keep an eye for an expanded and redesigned website and announcements before we launch.
We have been keeping the initial testing group to a focused and manageable size. However, we are at the stage where we could use more testers. So, I have a surprise for your readers…the first 20 readers who contact us via the address on the FocalPower website and request to be an early stage testers will get an account (just reference this blog posting). Keep in mind that we are still in development and we are looking for testers to use the system and let us know the good and the bad; user feedback is crucial.
Tell us about your background in photography and how it led to the establishment of FocalPower.
I got my start in photography over 20 years ago when my brother-in-law gave me my first SLR camera. It was the creative nature of photography that clicked with me right away. Over the years, my photography interests waxed and waned as a creative outlet when time allowed. When I discovered digital photography about eight years ago everything seemed to lock in place and photography became a passion. There was something about the ability to realize the images that I saw in my minds eye through the use of the digital dark room. Having the control over the photos through the computer, something that I have a professional background in, was the key for me.
Whether you’re a professional, enthusiast or hobbyist, a core aspect of photography is sharing your work with others. A few years back I was searching for a more automated way of sharing my photos online. This was just during the beginning of online photo sharing/hosting revolution. Flickr was in its infancy, but the lack of control over my photos was a sticking point for me. Personally, I see my photos as an asset and take all efforts to protect those assets. I also see my photos as being the key to my photography brand, yet most of the services available don’t allow me to reinforce my brand—they are more interested in using my photos to help push their own brand, even when I’m paying for the service.
Now, with the explosion of social networks, blogs and forums there are more and more ways for a photographer to gain exposure of their work and build an audience around their brand. Yet, there are no good solutions for making this process easy for the photographer while protecting their photo assets. With each site having their own way to deal with photographs, and their own Terms of Services around the photographs that get uploaded, a photographer has to take a huge risk and invest a lot of time to leverage these outlets. Creating a time conflict between sharing photos creating more photos.
After discussing these issues with many other photographers, listening their needs, and brainstorming with several talented people, one of my closest photographer friends started pushing me. “You have to go build this,” was what he kept saying. Once I said, “You’re right,” FocalPower was born.
Any photography business announcements or personal projects that you would like to tell us about?
Unfortunately for my personal photography, my available time has been focused on building FocalPower. However, I still carry my camera around with me just about everywhere and even manage to take some photos occasionally! It’s getting around to the processing those photos that has been the challenge.
Recently, I managed to burn some extra midnight oil to launch my new personal photography website and blog: Latoga Photography. I also have some weekend photo trips planned this fall for the Humboldt Redwoods State Park and the Eastern Sierra Nevadas. Then there is a long term Photo Art project I have been chipping away at called “Night Putting” (pun intended), once FocalPower is launched I hope to be able to get back to that and processing my photo backlog.
Thanks for the opportunity to discuss FocalPower with your readers. You’ve done a great job creating some timely content for photographers and about photographers. Keep up the great work!
To find out more information about FocalPower visit the website: www.focalpower.com
Joe Winkler of “The Boomer Report” interviewing Sherri
When Jeff and I returned from our recent Road Trip, we had a very exciting phone message awaiting.
The message was from Joe Winkler of “The Boomer Report” (the first and only television news program for the Boomer generation) in Sacramento. He wanted to do a story on me, because I specialize in photographs of “Baby Boomers.”
Joe had stumbled upon my previous interview with Professional Photographer and Writer Richard Wong. A story on Baby Boomer Photography was the perfect fit for his on-line and nationally televised news program.
I returned his call and a date was set. This past Thursday was the big day. Fortunately, Jeff was home that day and got to be a part of this too. Joe spent a couple hours at our house and produced a great video clip about Sherri Meyer Photography. It started airing on ABC, NBC and CBS on Friday, in numerous states across the country. Unfortunately, it will not appear locally and San Diego is the only city in California in which it is airing.
The good news is, you can view it on-line at “The Boomer Report.”
Note: Please allow a couple of minutes for the video to load. Loading times will vary, depending on what type of Internet connection you have.
Thanks to Joe Winkler and Richard Wong for making this all possible. It is a day Jeff & I will never forget!
Based in the quaint fishing village of Seward, Alaska, photographer Ron Niebrugge and his wife, Janine, travel for up to six months out of the year photographing extensively throughout the Western United States. Niebrugge also has an MBA degree from UC Irvine, so let’s find out what he has to say about the business of photography.
Many professional photographers like to say that professional photography is 90% business and 10% photography. Since you have an MBA degree, in which ways did having this business education help you to get where you are now?
You know, that is an interesting question. I think it helped in a few ways. First, I think I may approach the business with broader, big picture perspective, more so then I might have otherwise.
I believe that one of the best things that my education has provided me with is confidence. Growing up in a small Alaska town, I kind of felt like the rest of the world was way ahead of us, and knew all this stuff that I didn’t. After obtaining a graduate degree and working in the business community for a few years, I began to realize that my business skills, abilities and knowledge were on par with others. Really we are all in the same boat. Before I might have looked at a Getty and Corbis with awe but now I realize that even these giant stock agencies are full of people that are trying to find an edge in a competitive industry, just like myself.
There are some photographers out there that dream of having a wife run the photo business while they handle the photography, while others would probably fight like cats and dogs if that were to happen. What is the secret to maintaining a successful business partnership with your spouse?
I think we both had some apprehension when it came to trying to work together. Most of my photographer friends have a spouse with a full-time job. This is nice for them because it does provide some financial security and maybe medical coverage. I’m really glad that we didn’t have to go this route because now we are able to travel and see so many amazing places together.
I think the secret is – we have a very distinct division of responsibility in areas where we could potentially have a conflict. One area that comes to mind is pricing. Frankly, I’m too attached to my images so I tend to be terrible at pricing. Whereas Janine really does a great job of negotiating licenses. So we have a deal that I never ever price an image. I can be very personable and enjoy visiting with clients, but when it is time to talk price I hand the phone over. This has really worked out well.
In other areas, we can share responsibilities without any problem. For example, we will both work from the same list when we adjust images, keyword, etc… This stuff we can do together without issue. We will often bounce ideas off each other or consult with each other about an image adjustment – “is this too much saturation?” that kind of thing. I think this makes us both better.
By the way, Janine doesn’t have any desire to be a photographer. That might be a good thing. I could just picture us coming across a wolverine and both racing for the telephoto at the same time!
We keep hearing about how the stock photography industry has been changing for the worse over the past few years due to an increase of images from digital cameras and how amateur photographers are de-valuing the art form by giving images away for pennies. Sounds like a modern-day Economics 101 case study. So what advice what you give to other photographers when it comes to getting adequate compensation for their work?
We are having our best year yet and have had a two of our largest individual sales ever, so I try not to get too wrapped up in all the industry talk. I think there have always been lots of people losing money and struggling with photography just that the Internet made it easier for them to be heard.
At one point in college back in the 80’s, I thought seriously about trying to pursue photography as an occupation. I was told back then that it was extremely competitive and very difficult to make a living as a photographer, so I didn’t do it. Today, all you hear about is how great it was back in the 80’s and 90’s!
I think a lot of people don’t want to spend the time and effort necessary on marketing, so they take the easy way out and turn to using royalty-free agencies. I think this can be a mistake. Once you create the perception that you are a source for cheap images, it can be hard to shake that reputation. Not to mention once you sell an image as royalty-free, it can’t ever be marketed in any other rights-managed model – not if you are ethical. Had I gone down that route when starting out, I wouldn’t be able to earn a living with photography today.
I’m starting to notice some backlash against the royalty-free licensing model by some of the better customers. They just don’t have time to try to find that one gem in the endless sea of royalty-free images. It is worth it for them to pay a little more and have someone who can provide the research, post potential images to a viewing platform, and provide quick service. For many buyers, time is money.
You have an interesting photo blog that is updated almost daily. Would you consider this to be a vital part of your business?
Another good question. So many people nowadays have a blog so the benefit has definitely been diluted. I have a feeling many of them will eventually go by the wayside because it is much more work than most people realize.
I don’t think it is a vital part of my business given the amount of time that I spend on it. There are probably many more vital things I could be doing but there are some search engine benefits. It is also a way to keep in touch with some of our valuable clients. A number of them have mentioned to me that they do drop by to see what we are doing from time to time. We have even made sales of images captured while traveling thanks to the blog. These are images that wouldn’t have appeared on our regular site for months. So there are some benefits.
The blog can be a time burden at times without a doubt, but I have actually found it to be fun and rewarding. I get lot of very appreciative emails. I used to spend time each day answer the same questions in emails over and over – now at least those efforts can be shared with others.
I should add that I’m a terrible writer and have never enjoyed writing before starting my blog two years ago. (I’m glad that you are helping me edit the responses 🙂 I like that blogging has forced me to work on this personal weakness.
Other than Seward, where would you recommend a first-time visitor to Alaska to go?
It’s hard to decide where to go because Alaska is so large but that doesn’t stop me from having an opinion.
I love Kenai Fjords National Park, so I think Seward is a must because it is practically right next door. Plus, it is about one of the easiest places to visit in Alaska.
I also recommend first time visitors to go visit Denali National Park. This will expose you to an entirely different ecosystem and will give you a nice variety of coastal rainforest, interior mountains, tundra and boreal forest.
A trip to where I grew up in the Wrangell-St Elias National Park is always rewarding, as would a bear viewing trip into Katmai National Park, or Lake Clark National Park. Alaska has 19 National Parks / Monuments and numerous State Parks, so it can be tough to choose – I haven’t even been to all the National Parks!
For an older, less mobile or adventurous visitor, you really can’t beat an Alaskan cruise. It is an easy way to see some amazing country in complete comfort.
Any photography business announcements or personal projects that you would like to tell us about?
Nothing too exciting. The last two years we have really had a heavy travel schedule that has kept us out of the office for well over 200 days each year. We may spend more time in the office this year, and address some of those things we never have time for. Having said that, we will probably take at least a short trip to the Southwest this fall, and maybe a two to three month trip this winter.
To see more of Ron Niebrugge’s photography, visit his website: www.wildnatureimages.com