Field Report:

The Non-Glamorous Side of Photography

Photography Mentors, Choose Them Wisely

My blog post “Photography Mentors, Choose Them Wisely” has been published on Black Star Rising.

March 29, 2012 Posted by | Photographers, rants, Web | , , , | 9 Comments

Reasons Why Professional Photographers Cannot Work for Free

This article has been has circulating around the photography community the past couple days and has gained a lot of traction. I’d like to share it in it’s entirety.

Reasons Why Professional Photographers Cannot Work for Free

Dear potential photo buyer,

If you have been directed to this page, it is likely that you have requested the use of an image or images for free or minimal compensation.

As professional photographers, we receive requests for free images on a regular basis. In a perfect world, each of us would love to be able to respond in a positive manner and assist, especially with projects or efforts related to areas such as education, social issues, and conservation of natural resources. It is fair to say that in many cases, we wish we had the time and resources to do more to assist than just send photographs.

Unfortunately, such are the practicalities of life that we are often unable to respond, or that when we do, our replies are brief and do not convey an adequate sense of the reasons underlying our response.

Circumstances vary for each situation, but we have found that there are a number of recurring themes, which we have set out below with the objective of communicating more clearly with you, and hopefully avoiding misunderstandings or unintentionally engendering ill will.

Please take the following points in the constructive manner in which they are intended. We certainly hope that after you have had a chance to read this, we will be able to talk again and establish a mutually beneficial working relationship.

Photographs Are Our Livelihood
Creating compelling images is the way we make our living. If we give away our images for free, or spend too much time responding to requests for free images, we cannot make a living.

We Do Support Worthy Causes With Images
Most of us do contribute photographs, sometimes more, to support certain causes. In many cases, we may have participated directly in projects that we support with images, or we may have a pre-existing personal relationship with key people involved with the efforts concerned. In other words, each of us can and does provide images without compensation on a selective basis.

We Have Time Constraints
Making a leap from such selective support to responding positively to every request we get for free photographs, however, is impractical, if for no other reason than the substantial amount of time required to respond to requests, exchange correspondence, prepare and send files, and then follow-up to find out how our images were used and what objectives, if any, were achieved. It takes a lot of time to respond to requests, and time is always in short supply.

Pleas of “We Have No Money” Are Often Difficult to Fathom
The primary rationale provided in nearly all requests for free photographs is budgetary constraint, meaning that the requestor pleads a lack of funds.

Such requests frequently originate from organisations with a lot of cash on hand, whether they be publicly listed companies, government or quasi-government agencies, or even NGOs. Often, it is a simple matter of taking a look at a public filing or other similar disclosure document to see that the entity concerned has access to significant funding, certainly more than enough to pay photographers a reasonable fee should they choose to do so.

To make matters worse, it is apparent that all too often, of all the parties involved in a project or particular effort, photographers are the only ones being asked to work for free. Everyone else gets paid.

Given considerations like this, you can perhaps understand why we frequently feel slighted when we are told that: “We have no money.” Such claims can come across as a cynical ploy intended to take advantage of gullible individuals.

We Have Real Budget Constraints
With some exceptions, photography is not a highly remunerative profession. We have chosen this path in large part due to the passion we have for visual communication, visual art, and the subject matters in which we specialise.

The substantial increase in photographs available via the internet in recent years, coupled with reduced budgets of many photo buyers, means that our already meager incomes have come under additional strain.

Moreover, being a professional photographer involves significant monetary investment.

Our profession is by nature equipment-intensive. We need to buy cameras, lenses, computers, software, storage devices, and more on a regular basis. Things break and need to be repaired. We need back-ups of all our data, as one ill-placed cup of coffee could literally erase years of work. For all of us, investment in essential hardware and software entails thousands of dollars a year, as we need to stay current with new technology and best practices.

In addition, travel is a big part of many of our businesses. We must spend a lot of money on transportation, lodging and other travel-related costs.

And of course, perhaps most importantly, there is a substantial sum associated with the time and experience we have invested to become proficient at what we do, as well as the personal risks we often take. Taking snapshots may only involve pressing the camera shutter release, but creating images requires skill, experience and judgement.

So the bottom line is that although we certainly understand and can sympathise with budget constraints, from a practical point of view, we simply cannot afford to subsidise everyone who asks.

Getting “Credit” Doesn’t Mean Much
Part and parcel with requests for free images premised on budgetary constraints is often the promise of providing “credit” and “exposure”, in the form or a watermark, link, or perhaps even a specific mention, as a form of compensation in lieu of commercial remuneration.

There are two major problems with this.

First, getting credit isn’t compensation. We did, after all, create the images concerned, so credit is automatic. It is not something that we hope a third party will be kind enough to grant us.

Second, credit doesn’t pay bills. As we hopefully made clear above, we work hard to make the money required to reinvest in our photographic equipment and to cover related business expenses. On top of that, we need to make enough to pay for basic necessities like food, housing, transportation, etc.

In short, receiving credit for an image we created is a given, not compensation, and credit is not a substitute for payment.

“You Are The Only Photographer Being Unreasonable”
When we do have time to engage in correspondence with people and entities who request free photos, the dialogue sometimes degenerates into an agitated statement directed toward us, asserting in essence that all other photographers the person or entity has contacted are more than delighted to provide photos for free, and that somehow, we are “the only photographer being unreasonable”.

We know that is not true.

We also know that no reasonable and competent photographer would agree to unreasonable conditions. We do allow for the fact that some inexperienced photographers or people who happen to own cameras may indeed agree to work for free, but as the folk wisdom goes: “You get what you pay for.”

Please Follow-Up
One other experience we have in common is that when we do provide photographs for free, we often do not receive updates, feedback or any other form of follow-up letting us know how the event or project unfolded, what goals (if any) were achieved, and what good (if any) our photos did.

All too often, we don’t even get responses to emails we send to follow-up, until, of course, the next time that someone wants free photographs.

In instances where we do agree to work for free, please have the courtesy to follow-up and let us know how things went. A little consideration will go a long way in making us feel more inclined to take time to provide additional images in the future.

Wrap Up
We hope that the above points help elucidate why the relevant photographer listed below has sent you to this link. All of us are dedicated professionals, and we would be happy to work with you to move forward in a mutually beneficial manner.

Creative Commons License

October 13, 2011 Posted by | Photo Business, Photo Industry News, rants, stock photography | , , | Leave a comment

Balancing Your Photography Career with Family

I’ve been thinking of this topic for quite some time starting when I realized a while back how lonely it was to travel alone. I don’t always travel alone but when I do, the photography is at it’s most productive but the trips are rarely the most memorable because there’s no one to share the highs and lows with. I’m currently dating someone but don’t want to end up like a lonely, old photographer someday so I’m going to do everything I can to avoid being that type of photographer. At the least, I’d want to have someone to come home to and grow old with. That’s how I came up with my latest article published over at Black Star Rising:

The Photographer’s Life Should Start with Family

June 28, 2011 Posted by | Photographers | , , | Leave a comment

Photo Metadata

With the majority of image distribution taking place on the internet these days, photographers should take steps to identify their images. One of the most important things for a professional photographer is not only to register their images with the U.S. Copyright Office, but to also tag their files with photo metadata. This serves a number of purposes including auto-populating the data fields when uploading images to stock photo distribution sites such as Alamy Images and Photoshelter. But most importantly, when you distribute the image to a client, it identifies you as the copyright holder in addition to vital photo caption info. Many photo buyers deal with hundreds if not thousands of images per day you can’t expect them to remember who each image belongs to so it is advisable to include basic contact info such as your name and website within the image at the minimum.

A number of programs such as Photoshop, Lightroom and others allow you to enter in this data but for the purposes of this post, I will include screen caps from Photoshop CS4 because that is what I am most familiar with. If you haven’t done this before, you need to go to File < File Info within Photoshop to access these screens.

Meta Data / Description Tab

Meta Data / Description Tab

Photo Metadata for Photoshop

Photo Metadata / IPTC Tab

Photo Metadata for Photoshop

Photo Metadata / IPTC Tab

Meta Data for Photoshop CS4 / IPTC

Meta Data / IPTC

Photo Metadata for Photoshop

Photo Metadata / Origin Tab

I am by no means an expert on this topic but most of these are meta data fields that I use regularly and they seem to fit within my digital workflow and current distribution methods. Though I have been doing this for several years, I wish I had known about this when I first started. There is a percentage of my image library that lacks adequate keywording, caption info, and contact info as a result. For photographers that have been selling images for longer than I have, I can only imagine how much work it would be to catch up on entering photo metadata. My suggestion would be enter in the metadata as needed, or to use a program like Lightroom 2 where you can batch large groups of similar images together.

When all of your image meta data is entered properly it makes it the rest of your work flow easier too. Check out my Downtown Los Angeles at Night photo in my Photoshelter Archive for example. All of the basic identifying info is there from my image ID#, name, caption and keywords. All I had to do was upload my files then batch select pricing profiles and place them into galleries then I was done.

February 7, 2010 Posted by | Digital Workflow, software, stock photography | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Blogging Best Practices for Photographers

Blogging is one of the most powerful tools that a photographer has available due to the intimate nature of the medium. Those same benefits can also be drawbacks without proper etiquette. It is surprising to see how off-putting some photographers are when it comes to representing themselves on their own blogs. A blog at best is a method of establishing more personal communications with your audience. There are a lot of ways to attract an audience, which I will get to later, but attracting eyes is easy. Retaining an audience is another matter. Just like in advertising, you only have a few fleeting moments to grab someone’s attention and keep it. So what are some things you can do to build loyal relationships via a blog?

1. Write for your readers. People don’t want to be talked at or down to. Be personal. (There’s a fine line though. For example, don’t discuss your three abortions from 15 years ago unless that is an underlying theme of your blog.) There’s a photographer I’ve seen that writes half of his blog posts in the 3rd person. That sounds really bad. I don’t know whether that photographer drinks too much of his own Kool-Aid or not but I think he would be better suited not even having a blog than writing that way.

2. Post photos. That sounds really obvious but surprisingly, there are a lot of photography-oriented blogs out there that are overly-chatty don’t feature too much photography. It is really easy to get side-tracked from the main concept of the blog but I would try to minimize that. Create another blog if you need another venue to talk about photography-related topics not focused around your own work; like this blog for example.

3. Post consistently. This doesn’t necessarily mean everyday but be predictable enough so your audience can have a general expectation of when you might have posted something new. It is really hard to maintain much less grow an audience without consistent posting.

4. Keep the shameless self-promotion to a minimum. It is okay to do some but too much comes across as bragging. There are more appropriate venue for promoting. People are on your site because they generally want to like you. Reward the reader with quality content then you’ve got word of mouth marketing.

5. Enable blog comments and respond to commenters. People are taking time out of their day to offer you something so it is polite to acknowledge them. The advantage to having a blog over the rest of a static website is that it allows for two-way communication. Take advantage of that!

6. Widgets. Install relevant widgets and badges on your blog where appropriate such as Twitter badges, Yelp if you are a travel photographer, etc… These are things that should be adding extra value to the experience for your audience.

7. Make your RSS feeds and subscriptions easy to add. Not everyone uses feeds to read blogs but it makes it much more convenient for those who do. Most importantly, it is a timely way to distribute your blog without any effort.

How to attract an audience

1. Write content that interests your audience and is conducive to discussions. My article on Top Ten Most Influential Nature Photographers of All-Time is an example of this. Once I wrote the blog post, I started a discussion thread on the Nature Photographers Network forum. Then it led to other photographers starting discussions on several other nature photography forums and wound up being discussed on Outdoor Photographer magazine’s blog in addition to a number of other photo blogs. All I essentially did was start a discussion.

2. Social media integration. Having a presence on sites like Twitter, Facebook, Digg, niche forums, etc… is a perfect vehicle for seeding links back to your blog. Be sure to participate more than just shameless self-promoting though. Communicate with people. It is called social networking for a reason. TV commercials are past their moment in the sun because they don’t engage people. Facebook and Twitter are as hot as they are because you can “talk” with people who you wouldn’t be able to do otherwise. It adds a human element to the work.

3. Participate on other photographer’s and industry blogs. This is a really rewarding thing to do. As a photographer, you may only care about selling your own work but there is a lot of value in building relationships with your colleagues. Many times, they end up becoming regular participants in your blog or on the social networks with you as well. And yes, there is a bit of marketing psychology to this but that doesn’t mean participating with a “salesman-like” mentality. Be yourself!

4. Write articles for magazines both print and online. Be sure to include a URL back to your site if possible. The readers that are interested in you will find your blog through your site.

5. Public speaking engagements. Photographers like Chase Jarvis, David Hobby and David Alan Harvey for example have tons of people participating on their blogs because they have big offline visibility in addition to an online presence. Another thing they have in common is that they care about engaging with their audience.

6. Write good blog titles, categorize blog posts, and tagging. This is both good for search engine visibility and for overall site usability.

7. Be an innovative photographer and do any of the above effectively.

There are a lot of photographers out there doing an excellent job of blogging. Those are the people you should follow. Don’t copy them necessarily but figure out what they are doing and see how that fits in what your plan.

October 18, 2009 Posted by | Marketing, Photo Business | , , | 9 Comments

Professional Photography in the 21 Century is Like Mixed Martial Arts

For thousands of years, masters of a single martial arts discipline would have an almost mythical status. Karate, Kung Fu, Muay Thai, etc… If you could master your art then it was assumed that you could win any fight with relative ease. It wasn’t until the early 90’s at UFC 1 that a skinny Brazilian in a white bathrobe (gi), Royce Gracie, stepped into the ring and submitted his opponent, a pro boxer, with moves that most people had never seen before that a new era was born. After defeating two more far larger opponents that night in similar fashion, Gracie went on to win several more UFC tournaments but people started to realize that they needed to add jiu-jitsu and other skills to their existing arsenal just to compete. Experience, toughness and size were rendered irrelevant by Gracie because they had been caught off-guard. Unprepared for change.

I see much of the same things going on in the professional photography industry nowadays. Photography has always been seen as a print medium since it was invented but now the Internet has matured, many experienced photographers are struggling to adapt to the technological changes. Photojournalism is the area that has experienced the greatest amount of change due to all of the cutbacks and financial struggles of mainstream newspapers. Even in good times, the pay was shit, but now there is just not enough work doing traditional news for the amount of people qualified to do it. Many of the ones that are still working now have either adopted new business models such as the Strobist or those who have become multi-media journalists simultaneously recording still photos, video and sound gathering. Those who are still working and haven’t tried to learn anything new are treading on thin ice.

As if becoming a great photographer wasn’t difficult enough, now people are saying that we have to be photographers, videographers, writers, social media experts and recording artists at the same time?!? Crazy! I think that is a bit alarmist but there is truth to that as well. To fight in the Octagon, professional photographers have to at least have a working knowledge of the various disciplines in case they might need to apply it sometime. Not knowing is going to severely limit the upside for income opportunities.

Honestly I believe that once this all plays out there will be a place for everyone if they play their cards right. Just like there still are karate instructors, there are still going to be successful photographers that never record any sounds or video but there are also going to be those who don’t specialize in any specific discipline and create their own style by mixing a little bit of everything together. But I guarantee that all of the successful ones will be the ones who keep tabs on what else is out there even if they never pursue those avenues.

Recently, a Karate expert, Lyoto Machida became the light heavyweight champion of the UFC so now Karate is the rage again. But he didn’t get to the top by solely training in Karate. He also has a black belt in BJJ and is trained in sumo wrestling. He uses that other stuff to prevent others from dictating the fight, so he can stay upright the whole fight kicking people however he feels like. It is the same concept for photographers. Don’t let the changing market conditions take you out of the game. Adapt to it, dictate where you will play and kick the competition’s ass.

By the way, I recently posted a multi-media project on my site. Check it out: Nature Photography Multi-Media Video.

July 5, 2009 Posted by | Marketing, Photo Business, Web | , , | 2 Comments

ASMP White Paper: Photography Rates

I was looking through some professional photography industry websites and came across this white paper that ASMP made available for syndication. I don’t know when it was written but here it is:

An ASMP white paper by Richard Weisgrau

Publishers control the day rate that they pay to photographers. In 25 years they have failed to increase the day rate to a level that would allow photographers to maintain the standard of living of 1973. In spite of this failure, many publishers seek more and more rights from photographers for the same low and continuously eroding fees. The situation is out of control. Photographers feel that they cannot control the day rate. They perceive that they have little individual clout in a negotiation with a major magazine. They cannot collectively bargain, since they are independent contractors and not entitled to the collective bargaining power of a union. The simple fact is that the publisher has all the advantages, EXCEPT FOR ONE. If the situation does not improve, good and reliable photographers will eventually be forced to refuse editorial assignments, since these will not support the photographers’ costs and commitments to their businesses.

While the picture may appear bleak, there is one advantage that the photographer has over the publisher. Photographers provide the content that the publishers need. Although individual photographers cannot bargain collectively, if enough individual photographers refuse to work for inadequate pay, publishers will have no choice but to react to the forces of the free market system and increase their payments for photography. ASMP cannot force a photographer or a publisher to do anything. It cannot organize a boycott or a strike. It cannot set a wage, fee, term or condition for photographers. But, ASMP can express its opinion and give its advice. This paper provides that opinion and advice.

In 1973, the per capita income in New York State, where many photographers reside and work, was $5,969. In 1997, the per capita income in New York was $30,299 or five times greater than that of 1973.

In 1973, the minimum wage was $1.60 per hour. In 1998, the minimum wage was $5.15 per hour or 3.2 times higher than the rate of 1973.

In 1973, the average day rate for editorial photography assignments with one-time rights was $200. In 1998, the average day rate for the same editorial assignment is $450 or 2.2 times higher than the rate for 1973. The editorial day rate has fallen behind even the rate of increase in the minimum wage.

These statistics show that the compensation paid to editorial photographers is forcing their living standard down faster than that of the general population. They also show that untrained workers have experienced a greater rate of wage increase than highly trained and skilled photographers. How can publishers get away with this? The answer is simple. Publishers use their economic clout to dictate fees to photographers who, like most of us, need to work. The “take it or leave it” position of most publishers leaves most photographers in a position where they have to choose between inadequate compensation and none at all. Necessity dictates the choice.

The table below shows that editorial fees have simply deteriorated over the years to the point where the very existence of editorial photography on a professional level is now threatened. The day is quickly approaching when competent and properly equipped photographers will not be able to provide publishers with those images which inform readers, bring events into their consciousness and help them get a better picture of our world. The chart applies changes in the consumer price index to the 1973 day rate. The adjusted day rate shows what the day rate should have been in 1998, if it had been adjusted for inflation.

Editorial Day Rate Analysis

Base year: 1973, 1986, 1990
Average day rate: $200 $350 $400
C.P.I. factor (to 1998) 3.671.521.25
1998 Adjusted
day rate$734$532$500

The above chart clearly demonstrates that, not only is the day rate woefully behind its 1973 base, it even has failed to keep pace with the inflation of just the last ten years, when they are taken as a base rate. A recent survey of ASMP members shows that the current average day rate for one-time editorial rights (print media only) is $450. Interestingly, this average is higher than the rates paid by many major magazines, like Time and Business Week, which pay base day rates of only $400. The average is pulled up because some specialty magazines pay higher rates to the best photographers, and ASMP members are more often in this group.

ASMP anticipates and acknowledges the argument that many publications went through very traumatic times in the early to mid-seventies. Television took its toll on advertising revenues and readership. Famous magazines closed their doors forever. A few were later resurrected with a new look and approach. In spite of this decline, however, the fact is that there are more magazines and print publications than ever before. Certainly, the economics of magazines have changed, so ASMP will concede that it might (but only might) be unrealistic to conclude that magazines can afford to pay at least the same level of fees that they paid in the early 1970s. However, it is also not unreasonable to point out that the publishers’ and editors’ and other staff salaries have been more than adequately adjusted to meet the economic realities of today. This is not true in the case of photographers.

Certainly, by 1986 magazines had economically reestablished themselves and found their way to profitability. But, even if we concede that the day rate of 1986 ($350) was fair compensation in light of economic conditions, we see that publishers have not seen fit to raise the day rate to a level that paces it with inflation. Indeed, the past seven years have seen the economy grow to record levels, and magazines profits have grown with it, but the day rate paid to photographers has once again fallen behind the decade’s rate of inflation. It does not take an economist to see the trend. While photography is every bit as important to publications as it ever was, the reward for it continues to decrease.

There is another factor that is easy to lose sight of when considering the unfairness of the rate of compensation paid to photographers. For each day that a photographer is paid for, he or she spends additional time performing tasks related to the work done on the paid day. ASMP’s survey shows that, for every day of photography, the average editorial photographer spends a total of 10.2 additional hours on assignment preparation, post production work, administrative duties and travel time. The result is that it takes 18.2 hours to earn a single day’s rate. At $450 per day, the photographer is actually earning $24.72 per hour. Keep in mind that most photographers must maintain in excess of $50,000 in equipment in order to do their work, have to have business insurance, must pay their own medical insurance premiums, etc. Photographers have the same costs of doing business that any small service business has. Many of them are also paying off college loans for the education that is a necessary prerequisite to be a successful photographer today. There are few businesses in the USA that can support their owners and meet their overhead on $25 per hour in revenues.

Considering the above facts and recognizing that this situation is unlikely to change without some dynamic force being applied, ASMP offers its opinion that publishers should raise their editorial day rate to a MINIMUM of $550 in 1999, with subsequent raises to $600 in 2000 and $650 in 2001. These rates would include one time use in print media and would not include electronic rights, foreign language rights, or English language rights outside of North America, or any reprint rights. ASMP also believes that photographers have good reason to adopt these recommendations of ASMP in their individual negotiations with publishers, and that, while free to ignore ASMP’s opinion and recommendation, doing so would only further threaten their economic futures.

The eroding economic position of editorial photographers must be stopped and reversed. It seems clear that publishers have no intention of changing it as of this writing. So photographers must either change it or face further degradation of their earning power ever year. How can you, as an editorial photographer, motivate this change? ASMP suggests the following. Copy this paper as many times as you wish. Give copies of it to every editor you work with, every time you work with them. Send ASMP the names and addresses of every publisher, managing editor, photography editor, etc. in the magazines you work for, and we will send them this paper for you. Tell the publishers that you agree with ASMP’s opinion and recommendations. Be conscious of what is happening to you and how poorly the trend bodes for you. Change your fate by insisting on fair compensation. Do not give away your future.

Note: Permission to copy and distribute this white paper was granted by the author and ASMP.

May 9, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | Leave a comment

Developing Your Photography Brand V – Brand Identity

In the previous segments of “Developing Your Photography Brand”, I discussed targeting, marketing campaigns, perception of value, and the evaluation of business climate. This time, I’ll discuss the core purpose for branding: brand identity.

Having a solid brand identity is generally what gets people excited about buying stuff. Lets be honest. If you took the photos from 1,000 professional photographers and tossed them into a random pile very few would truly be unique and significantly more interesting than another’s, ex. large stock photo agency sites. However when you look through a photographer website that is branded effectively the viewing experience is vastly greater than viewing your average corporate stock photo agency website. Or to take another analogy, what makes you decide to buy one liquid hand soap product over another? Strip the labels from the bottle and they look pretty boring but attach a nicely designed label and then you feel an emotional connection to the brand.

How you develop your brand identity needs to carry over into all of your messaging from the way you write your blog to the way that photos are presented to the way you act in social media platforms like Twitter. If your photo blog is written like a glorified press release then who the hell wants to read it? Certainly that is not the way to gain a following. You want to portray yourself as having a personality not a robot. People respond best to those who come across as personable.

If you were to sum up your brand personality in one phrase what would it be? Edgy, cool, square, corporate, down to earth? Corporate is the worst in my opinion. That is just as bad as having none at all. Be consistent. Be human. If you want to have an edgy brand, then talk about the photos but use some modern slang here and there, find ways to name drop your favorite rock band if you feel that will help solidify your photography brand identity. When it comes to marketing you can’t just focus on the obvious, you have to think outside of the box.

Many photographers use a photo as their logo. Bad choice. I don’t know of any successful brand that uses a photo as their logo. The reason is that a graphic illustration is much simpler and clean. You want to convey your brand personality as quickly as possible. I think editorial and commercial photographers are the worst at branding. They are so focused on doing what has worked for others in the past to where they neglect the fundamental basics to effective marketing. The photographers who tend to be best at branding are wedding photographers. They have to because they deal with the general public so they adopt mainstream marketing tactics. Even if you can’t stomach the idea of being a wedding photographer, you should really take a look at the successful ones and see how they are promoting themselves. It is a real eye-opener.

As for photographers in my genre, the ones who get it were Galen Rowell and Art Wolfe among others. It wasn’t just their images that propelled them to success, it was the manner in which they connected with their fans. Galen’s writing about his wild adventures made him famous. Art Wolfe’s work is all over the mainstream media. I’m sure both built businesses with stock imagery but they also realized there is a much bigger market out there in selling prints in galleries, doing workshops, writing, lecturing and being a visible personality. This allowed them to diversify. So rather than spend all day bitching about Getty Images, develop your own ideas and sell them. Don’t be content with just relying on others to market for you. You are a brand, not just a photographer. Photographers are boring.

October 20, 2008 Posted by | Marketing | , , | 1 Comment

Chromatic Aberration – Calling out pros and publishers

For a digital imaging 101 topic, it is surprising to see how much chromatic aberration makes it onto the printed page. You can pretty much look at any publication from Sports Illustrated to your regional lifestyle magazine and see a heavy dose of chromatic aberration in a fair amount of the images. It looks really bad and amateurish! So please I am urging you to have higher quality control standards in regards to professional photography. I am sick of seeing chromatic aberration in reputable publications, and even in some photography galleries.

If you don’t know what chromatic aberration is, it is the red, blue and/or purple “bleeding” on the high contrast edges of a photo. Good lenses have less of this but digital cameras seem to play a role in this as well. Usually it can be eliminated in Adobe Camera RAW. On really poor lenses however, minimizing the amount of CA is usually the best you can do. If ACR doesn’t work for you, then you can try PT Lens which only costs $15, or some other 3rd party software to fix your lens distortions.

Sometimes you can’t avoid it all together but if a big purple halo is in places that obviously shouldn’t have any purple then you’ve got to ask yourself are you doing all that you can to produce the best file possible? Attention to details such as this should separate a professional photographer from a hobbyist or snapshooter but unfortunately that is not always the case.

October 6, 2008 Posted by | Digital Workflow, rants | , , , , | 3 Comments

Developing Your Photography Brand IV – Marketing Campaigns

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.

September 19, 2008 Posted by | Marketing | , , | 2 Comments

Developing Your Photography Brand III

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?

September 11, 2008 Posted by | Marketing | , | 2 Comments

FocalPower CEO, Greg Lato Interview

Greg Lato Portrait

FocalPower CEO, Greg Lato Portrait

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.

Alcatraz Island in Fog, San Francisco

Alcatraz Island in Fog, San Francisco

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.

Boulders and Stairs

Boulders and Stairs

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.

Landscape Beach Chairs

Landscape Beach Chairs

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

September 8, 2008 Posted by | Interviews, Technology, Web | , , , | 1 Comment

Developing Your Photography Brand II– Target Audiences

In the first part of this segment, I discussed analyzing your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. By utilizing the SWOT Analysis, you should have a better idea for what your target audience consists of. In many cases there is a main audience and a secondary audience. These are the people that your entire branding efforts should be concentrated on. Try to see things from their perspective.

There is a photographer out there that owns numerous photo galleries and is a good example of someone who has done a great job at positioning themselves within their target audience. Some landscape photographers have argued that this guy markets to the “lowest common denominator” and doesn’t have legit professional credentials contrary to what his PR would lead you to believe. So what exactly are professional credentials? It’s all in the eye of the beholder. His audience is the general public so it really doesn’t matter what his peers think of him. His galleries are located in the most heavily trafficked tourist locations in the world so the majority of people that have seen his images probably have never seen photos of Antelope Canyon or Canyonlands National Park. To seasoned travelers, those are considered iconic postcard locations, places that don’t require a lot of creativity to come away with pretty pictures. But to the general population these photos are eye-openers. Why should he push the envelope in his galleries when the pictures he sells are presumably making him millions of dollars? It’s like comparing Kenny G with Pat Metheny. Metheny has the respect of his peers but who do you think sleeps easier at night knowing that his family is taken care of?

He’s not in the business of becoming a photographer’s photographer so he doesn’t spend time marketing to them. He is in the business of selling his brand. That comes across in all his promotional work including his website. On his website, it says that he is the most awarded photographer in history. Based on the list of awards he says that he won, that claim is humorous at best, but his audience buys it so more power to him. I have also read elsewhere that he had an ad in an airport that proclaimed himself as the world’s greatest photographer. Further evidence that he is doing something that other photographers aren’t, every month in my website stat logs I have people searching for things like, “Does (photographer) have a girlfriend?” I’m not sure why those people end up clicking on my website since I don’t even know the guy but it is interesting to know that from a business perspective.

You might wonder what the heck does having female groupies have to do with running a photography business? Well, I have never once seen another query like that for any other photographer on my website logs. When people think of landscape photographers, the first impression is usually of middle-aged white men that aren’t particularly cool. This photographer obviously isn’t looked upon the same way though technically he is in the same demographic. The difference is that he has positioned himself in the realm of celebrities. He’s all about selling a particular lifestyle; a lifestyle that is the dream of most people. He doesn’t just sell art prints, he sells desire.

So what is your target audience? While going on assignment for National Geographic and Vanity Fair might be a closed market for most photographers, there are many more photo buyers out there outside of those five to ten publications. If you think about it, there are so many photographers out there that it is not even worth the time to spend significant resources marketing to those same publications that everyone else is targeting. Even if you were to get their attention, how much work would you expect to get from them considering that their list is probably a mile long?

If these top publications want to work with you then they will find you. Just make sure that you are doing what you can to be found by them if that is your ultimate goal. In the meantime, there is a much bigger market out there in this world to tap into. That is where the real work comes in. Defining your target market isn’t a process that happens overnight and might require a great deal of trail and error.

Who? Where? When? How?

August 26, 2008 Posted by | Marketing | , , | 6 Comments

Interesting Links – 8/20/08

NPPA Independent Photographer’s Toolkit – Tools you’ll need to run a photography business.

Rights-Managed Stock v.s. Royalty Free Stock – ASMP

Annie Griffiths Belt: A Nomadic Family Life – Double Exposure Online Magazine.

The Brand Gap Slideshow – Great slideshow that examines what a successful brand is.

Ask an Art Buyer: Promotion – Heather Morton. Understand how to promote yourself to art buyers.

Dane Sanders – His intro video is one of the best photographer videos I have seen.

August 20, 2008 Posted by | Weekly Links | , | 2 Comments

Developing Your Photography Brand – Part One

The most effective way to market your photography or anything else for that matter is to develop a memorable brand. You should think of yourself as a brand first not unlike the way that McDonald’s, Target, etc… does. You are not just an artist, photographer, writer etc… You are a photographic brand. So how do you go about developing one?

When I was a business student in the earlier part of this decade, one of the basic marketing terminologies that the professors beat into our brains was called SWOT Analysis. SWOT Analysis stands for “strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.” Since most photographers are running their own show by themselves, a lot of this analysis involves figuring out what your own skills and limitations are. This should be the starting blocks for how to develop your photography brand.

Strengths / Weaknesses: For example, if you are the quiet type like many photographers are, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a weakness as long as you are aware of how to maximize your opportunities at promoting your brand. Knowing this personality trait of yours, instead of wasting time and money on designing fancy direct mail postcards that you never plan on following up with a phone call, perhaps you should invest in developing a website that allows you to accomplish your goals. Perhaps design a good print ad campaign to run in Communication Arts or other industry publications to draw targeted buyers in to your website. Or if you are married to a spouse that is more personable than you, see if you can get them to handle this aspect of the business.

Your personality should also determine what areas of photography to pursue. If you are charismatic for example, then it would probably be wise to be a service-oriented photographer such as photographing weddings, portraiture, etc… or become a “celebrity” of sorts with public speaking engagements. If you’re the egotistical type then it’s probably best to do things that don’t require communicating with others or let someone else handle those responsibilities on your behalf. You want people to like your work on their own terms, no amount of boasting about how much you love yourself is going to convince the audience otherwise.

Opportunities / Threats: One of the questions you should ask yourself is what is the current state of the market? For example, if photo buyers consistently request for model-released, senior lifestyle photos so it means several things for the photographer.

1. Not enough people are photographing these subjects

2. Demand is high – people are living healthy for a longer amount of years than ever so marketers are realizing the benefit to reaching this audience

3. Lifestyle images are in constant need of updating because fashion and hair styles change

Market conditions would suggest that these images can command premium licensing fees. This screams opportunity is all caps. However if you have no interest in photographing senior lifestyles then it makes no difference. The key is to identify every single one of your opportunities and threats then find ways to work around them. Some types of photography such as travel and wedding photography probably have more threats than opportunities but it doesn’t mean that there are no opportunities. It just requires more creativity to get where you where you want to be.

There are also other factors to consider as well: What about your personal life? How about long-term decisions?

Though senior lifestyles might be a hot subject to photograph, the fact that these photos have a limited shelf life means that these are short-term opportunities. Definitely great for paying the bills right at that moment but what happens if you can’t actively photograph anymore or get tired of it? The lifestyle images you took ten years ago are now historical photos and no longer relevant.

That may mean eventually parlaying that lifestyle photography experience into running a photo agency, teaching classes / workshops, writing, art gallery showings, designing products for other photographers, etc…

August 18, 2008 Posted by | Marketing | , | 4 Comments