COVID 19 has brought unprecedented challenges to many areas of the economy in the past few months. As we emerge from lockdown situations, businesses will continue to have a need for fresh commercial photography, whether it is for new marketing efforts, making portraits of new faces as leadership and staff undergo changes, documenting new facilities and infrastructure projects, or communicating with stakeholders about your company’s efforts to keep workers safe and healthy during this ongoing crisis.
After years of working with some of the world’s biggest brands in the industrial, oil and gas, and healthcare segments, working safely is part of our DNA. Careful preparation and proper wearing and use of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) is something we’ve always done. However with this new challenge, and with the guidance of the CDC, and OSHA, we are modifying our practices in some ways to still get the job done while keeping our photographic subjects, clients, and crew members safe.
Some of these new practices:
-Using minimal crew.
-No carpooling. Crew members and clients will arrive to the shoot location in their own vehicles.
-Social distancing, both between crew members and clients/subjects.
-Minimizing the number of people on set.
-Scouting/preparing lighting ahead of time to minimize subject time on the set.
-New remote digital tech solutions for client review from a distance.
-employing the use of digital composites when photographing groups.
-Wearing masks, and when appropriate, gloves/safety glasses, and other PPE as well.
-Frequent cleaning of equipment and hands with disinfecting/sanitizing wipes.
-Delineation of duties between crew members so that specific equipment is only handled by one person.
-If using a makeup artist on set, setting forth procedures for sanitizing equipment or using new supplies and application tools.
-Minimizing air travel, utilizing “road trips” over longer distances when required.
-Beginning each job with a JSA (Job Safety Analysis) meeting or Toolbox Talk to plan the shoot and discuss all safety hazards, as well as specific COVID 19 mitigation procedures.
Many of the things we do, like shooting outside in an industrial plant, will be largely unchanged, except perhaps for the wearing of masks. In other cases, particularly in more populated interior shoots, we will have to find ways to be creative. In most cases, most shoots can be completed in a touch-less way, with proper social distancing and minimal time on set for all involved.
As we adjust to this “new normal”, most corporations and ad agencies will still need great imagery and video footage to communicate with their customers and shareholders. New advertising will need to be created. Annual Reports will still need to be produced. Websites will need to be redesigned and updated. Companies will be selling new products and services. Executives and boards will change and new portraits will need to be made. When it’s time to communicate, don’t hesitate to call on us to provide your visual needs in a safe and professional manner.
A little behind on the blog, as usual, but I wanted to share some of the good work we did (released in 2019) featuring commercial corporate photography for the ExxonMobil annual report.
We shot in a number of locations, from Guyana to Houston, but definitely the highlight of the project was traveling (with assistant Michael Klein and an accompanying film crew) to Papua New Guinea, one of the most remote locations I’ve ever visited. We first flew to Sydney where we had a stopover to get our visas in order, which allowed enough time to visit a kangaroo sanctuary! (If you know me, you know that I love kangaroos, so this was definitely a high point for me!).
Once in New Guinea, we were able to shoot in several locations, including the isolated Highlands area, and also the port facility near Port Moresby where we saw some sublime sunsets. Another cool highlight – On the return trip, I became a “Million Miler” on United Airlines, which only took me about 20 years of traveling all over the place!
I was particularly proud of the cover shot chosen this year. We were emphasizing technological innovation in all our assignments, and during a shoot at a research facility, we just happened upon a situation with one of the company’s leading scientists writing notes on his office window (which reminded me of Neil Leifer’s classic Bear Bryant photo). The office was situated near a corner hallway with walls of windows all around, so it was tricky lighting, but we managed to create a nice natural look. My clients know that I’m pretty tough and critical on myself, so they take notice when I’m actually happy with something. In this case, I emailed the low-res from the shoot and told my client, “…here’s your cover.” It’s pretty rare that it turns out that way, considering the layers of approvals these things go through, but in this case, it worked out!
It was super cool to cover the company’s annual meeting in Dallas sometime later and see the cover blown up on a conference center wall, nearly 40 feet across!
Here’s some of the other work from the 2018 publication:
I recently had the really cool opportunity to work with supermodel Kate Upton for the launch of her fitness brand, Strong4Me Fitness. Strong4Me is the brainchild of Kate and her personal trainer Ben Bruno and is designed to provide strength training and nutrition solutions for busy women on the go.
We were originally going to use a studio, but at the last minute, the shoot was shifted to Kate’s Houston area home which she shares with her husband, Astros ace pitcher Justin Verlander. The brief was to shoot portraits and workout shots that could be title and dividing pages on the Strong4Me site and app. Other models would fill in the blanks with the actual “how to” sequence shots.
Working in a home, no matter how well equipped and nice, provides some challenges, chief among them, finding enough wide open space to create light, bright, and open fitness scenarios. I was reminded of environmental portrait photographer Arnold Newman’s famous quote: “Photography is 5% inspiration, and 95% moving furniture.” That was certainly the case for assistants Travis Schiebel, Michael Klein and I as we cleared out spaces for these photos.
Once Houston makeup artist Misty Rockwell got her ready, we started with a white seamless background setup. One of the rooms in the house provided us with almost a perfect wide doorway scenario and lots of white walls, so we could set up a traditional white seamless without the need for cumbersome v-flats. Kate had her own ideas about the lighting and was very involved….after looking at a few frames on the digital tech’s monitor, she suggested a more contrasty look, so we switched gears, used a smaller key-light source (a medium sized Wafer Hex 140, instead of the huge box we were using before), and placed a large black velvet fabric on the ground in front of her to soak up some of the bounced light and create more shadow under the chin and neck area (her suggestion – which worked out great!).
Shooting someone of her talent and stature is an incredible thing…I’ve shot lots of models, famous athletes, and celebrities over the years, but no one like her. One second she’s talking to you, and everything seems pretty normal, but when the camera is raised, she brings it…..all the while making subtle adjustments to her pose, chin height, arm position, leg angles, to create perfect photos. It goes without saying, but she’s an incredibly talented pro….all I had to do was show up with a pulse and keep firing the shutter.
After the white background scenario, we moved on to a “light and bright” airy high-key location in her dining room to do some shots with a workout bench and mat. Kate’s friendly boxer, Harley, who has his own instagram account, btw, wanted to be in most of the photos, so eventually we just went with it. Sometimes the spontaneous stuff is the most fun.
We next moved on to an outdoor setup, shot some exercise photos there, and finished with some shallow depth of field photos modeling the Strong4Me yoga mats available through her site.
A single application of Tramadol (Ultram) provides bioavailability at the level of 68%, this indicator will increase with regular exposure. A small proportion of the drug is excreted in the mother’s milk, so during breastfeeding, Tramadol is undesirable. Withdrawal of the drug is 90% provided by the kidneys, 10% by the intestines.
It was great working with her, and I wish her the best with both her fitness business and the recent birth of her daughter Genevieve. Harley might just have to share the spotlight next time around.
Although we’ve been doing more commercial photography for the last decade or so, I’ve spent over 20 years doing sports photography – particularly sports portraits for magazines like The Sporting News and Sports Illustrated. I also used to do all the covers for the Houston Chronicle’s Health Magazine, but unfortunately, it went away a few years ago.
I was thrilled when I recently got the call from my friend, Features Managing Editor Melissa Aguilar to shoot for a new fitness product for the Chronicle titled “Renew Houston.” The new section would be a reboot of the Health Mag, but as a broadsheet section with fitness and health tips.
I’m really into concrete backgrounds lately, so rather than shooting Carmen in a gym or crossfit studio, we decided to work with some superb concrete architecture generously provided by the Cindy Lisica gallery. Although we supplemented some of the photos with a Profoto B-4 strobe and Plume soft boxes, we shot many of the photos in the incredibly soft natural light tunnel at the gallery.
I have a dream to spend my wacation on the beach for a month. To have a beautiful shape I need to lose some wight. Phentermine is a real helper. It helped my sister to lose 10 lbs in two weeks. I hope to have the similiar result. Wish me good luck..
We sent Carmen through her paces in a couple of different outfits, all while Chronicle writer Joy Sewing interviewed Carmen about the keys to her success. It was a great shoot with great people. Hoping to hear more great things from Carmen in the future!
Each year, the Houston Center for Photography holds an extensive charity auction to benefit HCP and their various educational programs. I was honored to be asked to donate a print to the auction, and even more honored to see it in the auction catalog alongside some of my heroes like Keith Carter, Herb Ritts, and Maggie Steber. My print was purchased by Lisa Volpe, the Associate Curator, Photography at the Museum of Fine Arts and is now part of the museum’s permanent collection.
The auction encompasses several individual events, including an exhibition, a tour of the exhibition with the fantastic former MFAH curator Anne Wilkes Tucker and Clint Willour, Curator Emeritus of the Galveston Arts Center and a major donor to the MFAH. The auction culminates in a dinner/live auction at the Briar Club in Houston.
The print I donated was a simple black and white closeup of Nolan Ryan’s fastball grip on a baseball. It was taken during a 2010 session for Sports Illustrated….the actual assignment was to shoot Ryan with a group of young pitchers, but of course I wanted to maximize my time with him, so I also arranged an individual portrait of Nolan, and also the closeup of his hand, an obvious homage to the work of Charles Conlon.
Prior to Sports Illustrated, I worked at The Sporting News (known for many years as the “Bible of Baseball”) for over a decade, so I was aware of the work of pioneering baseball photographer Conlon (his photographs and negatives were part of the TSN archive when I worked there).
I had pitched (lol) a story on shooting closeups of the signature pitch grip of an array of Hall of Fame pitchers, but the story never took hold. It was probably not a super original idea, but I thought it would have been interesting. Portrait on one side of the layout – closeup of the pitch grip on the other side. On this particular day, I was there for the pitching group photo, but story assignment or not, it seemed silly not to take advantage of the opportunity to document the closeup photo, since I had an audience with Ryan. Years later, long after my tenure at TSN was over, I think another sports magazine finally published a story featuring the closeups of various pitchers grips, but not quite the way I envisioned it.
Anyway, it was exciting to watch the auction happen in real time, with curator Lisa Volpe and Clint Willour pairing up to win the auction and donate the print to the MFAH. I am told it’s the only piece they purchased at the auction this year. I’m incredibly honored, and I hope to someday donate another photo worthy enough for the museum.
Here’s a blog post from the original shoot in 2010.
(UPDATED 12/19/2018 – originally published March 31, 2014)
I get a call almost every week from various photographers who are interested in starting a successful photography business. Many are old photojournalism colleagues leaving their newspaper staff jobs (sometimes voluntarily, sometimes not…), some are college students nearing graduation, others are assistants who are ready to strike out on their own, and sometimes, they are advanced amateurs in other careers who I’ve met at a workshop. All of them want the same thing….”I want to do what you’re doing….you know, work full-time as a commercial photographer.”
It happens often enough, and I’ve given the same advice so many times, that I thought it might be helpful to write it all down in one place, and along the way, dispel some misconceptions about what it’s really like to be a professional commercial photographer. I don’t mean for this to sound condescending in any way. What follows is legitimate info for many who are just starting out, and if you find that any of it is below your experience or skill level, then feel free to move on.
Starting a photography business is tough. When I speak to college students, I’ve told them not to pursue this if it’s only a passing interest, or something they think would be a cool job. I tell them to pursue photography ONLY if you can’t imagine yourself doing anything else. It sounds corny, but I often compare being a professional photographer to becoming an actor, a professional musician, or a priest… LOTS of people want to do this, and only a handful with total commitment make it in any successful way.
Ok, let’s assume the commitment level is there. What is it really like to be a professional photographer in today’s world?
First, let’s dispel the notion that commercial photographers have a camera in their hands every day. This will vary for individuals, and by season, but I would guess that I spend a good 75-80% of my working hours in front of a computer – not out shooting. I consider that to be a pretty successful ratio. No one starting out really thinks about it, but digital workflow, retouching, billing, marketing, pre-production, post-production, accounting, taxes, etc… and the plethora of general business paperwork takes up a ton of time.
Second, some basic economics about working for yourself in this business. Let’s say you have a staff job at a newspaper, university, or company that pays you 65K a year, with company camera gear and computers, vacation time, insurance and 401K benefits. You might want to seriously consider keeping that job. You’ll need to more than double that figure in revenue to maintain that level of income for yourself. Those with full time jobs who think this is just a fun, easy career often don’t consider all the various ways you’ll spend money as a commercial photographer. It’s not just cameras and computers… you’ll need insurance (healthcare, liability insurance, and equipment insurance to name a few), retirement SEP contributions, accounting and legal fees, marketing expenses, website expenses, advertising expenses, digital storage expenses, office supplies, mobile and office phones, high speed internet, software upgrades (legitimate software… you can’t just steal it from the newspaper or university anymore), really nice custom made portfolios, assistants, retouchers, sales tax, franchise tax, and enough reserve/cash flow to take jobs, pay everybody, and keep the place running while you wait around to get paid – sometimes for several months.
And, oh yeah, I’m not mentioning the fact that when working for yourself, you can kiss that 2-4 week paid vacation goodbye, and that you will spend every spare minute after hours, on your weekends, in your sleep, etc. obsessing about your business and thinking constantly about how to make it better. A staffer can go home at 5 or on a weekend, disconnect, and enjoy their time off. When you work for yourself – there is no time off… and every minute will be filled with worry.
Sorry to be negative, but I want to prepare you for the reality of working in this business, and I don’t want to sugar-coat what the day-to-day routine is actually like.
One of the biggest mistakes I see new freelancers making, particularly the former newspaper guys, is unrealistic gear purchases. Many shooters, particularly those that spent a lot of time doing sports think they need to start their business with 3 of the fastest professional bodies (usually 6K a piece), a 400/2.8 (12K), a 300/2.8 (6K), all three zooms , 16-35/2.8, 24-70/2.8, and 70-200/2.8 (roughly 6K), and a new Mac laptop (3.5K). After all, that’s what you used at the newspaper or university you worked for, right? This is what the well-equipped photojournalist needs, right?
Ok, let’s think about this for a second. That’s roughly 40,000 dollars – just for camera gear. We haven’t even mentioned lighting, grip, cases, desktop computer, storage, printers, etc. You haven’t designed a website yet, or paid for insurance, or any of the other previously mentioned things. What kind of assignments will you do with said gear? Shoot some football or basketball games? For whom?
“I’ll just work for my local paper or an agency or a wire service…” Think carefully about it. There are predators out there waiting to take advantage of people who just want to go to games, news events, and be in on the action. Their business models are built around having an endless supply of newbies to provide free (or almost free) content that they can turn around and sell. If you’re one of the lucky ones, you’ll make 125.00 to 250.00 bucks for your effort (in many markets, there are people lining up to shoot games on spec/and/or for free). When you do the math on how long a sporting event takes, getting there early, parking, shooting, editing, captioning and sending a ton of photos, leaving late, driving home, you’ll quickly see that the average fast food employee is pretty much kicking your ass. …and they didn’t have to invest 40K to buy their own French fry fryers, stoves, or spatulas. They don’t have to wear a ridiculous fanny pack either.
Speaking of capital investment – that 40K in gear you bought can’t be amortized over 10-20 years like capital expenditures in some other business… it will need to all be replaced in 3-4 years, just like your computers… and as technology advances that cycle will continue for years to come.
This is tough for many former photojournalists to reconcile. Many have made their living this way forever, being at all the big news or sporting events, hanging out with their colleagues all carrying big giant lenses on monopods, credentials around their neck, etc. To many, it becomes their identity, and it is difficult to reconcile that despite your years of experience, no one is going to pay you to go to the Super Bowl this year, or the Republican convention, or to the earthquake in Haiti. It’s tough to tell someone who worked at a sports magazine, or a big metro newspaper that, yes, you can still make a good living in photography – it just may not be doing what you used to do. Letting go of that identity is tough. I know… it’s something I experienced myself.
There are a few prerequisites to starting a successful photography business:
You need great, original pictures with a consistent vision
You need some serious money, as it is very expensive to start a photography business
You need a healthy knowledge about LICENSING PHOTOGRAPHS and how to successfully run a photography business.
(A client or two would help, too, but we’ll get to that later.)
The Top 5 Photography Books That You MUST Own
I can’t help with the first two… You’re really on your own there, but I’ve read a lot of business books, and several specifically about the photography business, self promotion, marketing for photographers, etc., so I can make these recommendations comfortably.
I’ve sent this list around to various friends in transition, students, and former assistants, and I can promise you, if you read all of these cover to cover, you’ll have a firm grasp on how your photography business should work, and a really good introduction to usage-based pricing, which is the cornerstone of what we do. (If you click on the titles below I have linked them to Amazon for you.)
One of the best books about photography business I’ve ever read, and really should be the first thing you read if you’re thinking about doing this for a living. Weisgrau is a former ASMP (American Society of Media Photographers) executive director and he speaks intelligently about licensing photography, doing estimates, managing finances, etc. A really great book.
John runs the Photo Business News and Forum blog (www.photobusinessforum.blogspot.com) and has been a respected voice and frequent speaker in our industry. If you’ve ever watched him dissect an estimate, and show how he turns a simple 500.00 job into a multi-thousand dollar job just by asking the right questions, it’s truly a thing of beauty. His book has lots of actual examples of job estimates and email trails that show his process. Very valuable stuff that few people are willing to share with their peers.
Edited by the late Susan Carr, who really did so many things to educate and help her fellow photographers, this is the latest edition of ASMP’s business bible. There are chapters on licensing, copyright, releases, paperwork, marketing, you name it. A good overview of the commercial photography business. I believe you still get one of these included in your membership when you join ASMP.
Another book by Weisgrau, and really my favorite. (You still have to read ALL of these, though – no shortcuts!). He talks about negotiating tactics, how to present offers and counter offers, psychology, dealing with contracts, negotiating strategy, and includes some interviews with real world professionals who have been in business for years.
I’ve read a lot of books about marketing and self promotion, but this is easily the best and most useful. Sease and Sosa Stone are both former art buyers, reps, and now consultants, who provide a ton of real world expertise to photography marketing and brand building. They also discuss presentation, portfolios, promos, and even include a handy disc in the book with essential business and estimating forms you can use.
I can’t emphasize how important it is to study these books. It amazes me how many people will invest 100k in their business buying the latest cameras and computers, but won’t take the time to study up on how the business works. Don’t be the dork out there charging by the hour and giving away your copyright on every assignment. It’s not supposed to work that way, and you’ll be doing all your colleagues a disservice if you fly blind into our chosen field.
All together, these books cost maybe 130 bucks…they really might be the most important pieces of equipment you ever buy.
I have a note on my desk that I wrote down at an ASMP business seminar several years ago. Detroit photographer Blake Discher, a super savvy business guy, was our speaker, and he said something incredibly simple that I’ll never forget.
“There are three steps to running a successful business:
Create a unique value proposition.
Ensure that you have a large enough addressable market.
Make more money than you spend.”
Sounds simple right? It is, but you would be shocked how many people don’t think about these simple steps.
Think about number one… What’s unique that separates you from all the other photographers in your market? What skill or know-how do you have that’s totally you? If you live in Denver, and you want to shoot outdoor/adventure sports, what makes you different? There are 50 people already doing what you want to do in that market. How will you stand out from the crowd?
Think about number two… Do you have a large enough addressable market to survive where you are? I would love to shoot movie posters or fashion, but guess what – I live in Houston, and we don’t have any movie studios or fashion magazines here. So that’s probably not a wise niche for me to choose.
You should really think about these first two, analyze your local market and competition, and consider your options carefully before hanging out your shingle. Are you putting yourself in a realistic position to succeed? If there’s a specific genre you want to shoot, and it doesn’t exist where you are, you may want to consider moving.
Number three is pretty obvious.
Anyway….those are the really simple steps. Now I’m going to write about the nuts and bolts of starting up a photo business. A lot of this is common sense and has been covered before. Some of these are no brainers, but I’m going to throw them in anyway, just to be thorough.The
21 Tips for Starting your Photo Business
DISCLAIMER: It would we wise to consult with your attorney or financial advisor: I’m definitely not a lawyer or CPA, and I can’t even claim I stayed in a Holiday Inn Express last night either.
1. SAVE A BOATLOAD OF CASH – Super important. At a previous photo seminar I attended, the speaker said that you should have at least 6 months salary reserved before embarking on your own. I think that’s a good guide, but bear in mind that your money isn’t just to buy cameras, computers, etc…You’ll need operating cash to do jobs, run the business and pay assistants while you’re getting off the ground.
2. SET UP AN LLC OR S-CORP – Talk to your accountant about what makes the most sense for you in your state, but you definitely should be incorporated as soon as possible. This will help you liability wise, and although you’ll have more paperwork to deal with, you’ll likely get to keep more of the money you make versus being just a sole proprietor. This is particularly important with new post 2018 tax rules.
3. ENLIST PROFESSIONALS TO HELP YOU – You should have a CPA, a financial advisor, and a lawyer. You will likely have the CPA on speed dial, contacting them throughout the year to file quarterly reports, sales tax, and pay estimated taxes. Don’t be cheap and try to do this yourself.
4. GET A SALES TAX NUMBER – State laws vary, and not all photo jobs are subject to sales tax, but in many states, you’ll be dealing with this all the time. Don’t be the loser who tries to fly under the radar on this. Operate your business like a grown up. You might get wacked 5 years from now and find you owe your state a couple hundred thousand dollars. That would suck.
5. SEPARATE PERSONAL AND BUSINESS FINANCES – The first step here, after your corporation is set up, is to run to the bank and set up a business checking account. Don’t operate your business out of your personal funds….you’ll be confused, and so will the IRS.
6. BUY INSURANCE – If you’re lucky, you’ll have a spouse with healthcare insurance. If not, that should be your first step. Next, you need insurance for your business. Make sure the policy is by a company that is used to dealing with professional photographers and their unique needs. It should cover cameras and gear, rental gear, computers, provide shoot insurance for reshoots on botched jobs, rental studio coverage, lost portfolio coverage, and liability coverage. Many buildings won’t let you set foot inside to do a shoot without proof of liability coverage. ASMP is a good resource for this type of insurance.
7. GET A BUSINESS CREDIT CARD – Another part of separating your personal and business finances. This makes it much easier at the end of the year to see what you spent on gear, hotels, airline tickets, etc. I recommend a business Amex, as the Membership Rewards program gives you points you can use toward all sorts of things, but any card where you can get points toward future spending will work well.
8. ONLY BUY GEAR THAT MAKES YOU MONEY – I mentioned the gear hoarding syndrome that many of us have a couple of posts back. This is one of the areas that really sinks many photographers starting out. It might be great to have a 600mm/f4 and 12 bodies, but you could probably do 85% of your jobs with one body and a 24-105mm lens and a small lighting kit. Think before you buy. Rent if you can, and ask yourself this question before giving B&H your Amex number: “Will this piece of gear make me more money?”
9. WORK ON YOUR WORKFLOW – Think about your archive 1, 5, even 10-20 years down the road and start with good workflow habits. Learn to properly use Lightroom or Aperture and the correct file naming, organization, and back up system to protect your work. Have a good computer system in place, with plenty of backup drives, and be disciplined. If you’re new to Lightroom, Seth Resnick’s D-65 workshop is excellent.
10. CREATE A WEBSITE AND EDIT RUTHLESSLY – This applies particularly to students and veteran newspaper guys in transition. What you learned about portfolios up till now doesn’t really apply anymore. In most cases, no one cares about your spot news or your sports action photos. Figure out what you’re going after in your market, and edit down to a couple of niches. Be ruthless in your edit. No excuses. Hire a consultant if you have to. I use Rob Haggart’s excellent APhotoFolio platform, but there are other excellent choices including Photoshelter and Sitewelder, or just having someone build you custom solution.
11. CREATE A PHYSICAL PORTFOLIO – Depending on your market, showing up for a meeting with just an Ipad may not be enough. There are ad agencies and design firms out there that are used to being blown away by incredible, expensive, custom made books. We’re talking ink jet paper made from the saliva of free-range fair-trade South American wasps, and embossed leather from humpback whale foreskins. Think about what your portfolio should look like, the market you’re after, and make sure it is consistent with the rest of your branding. In short, it needs to be perfect.
12. SETTLE ON YOUR BRANDING – Do you see IBM or Coca-Cola changing their logo every couple of weeks? No. You shouldn’t either. Settle on a look, work with a good designer and make sure your branding is consistent across all platforms: website, business cards, stationary, invoices, portfolios, promo cards, etc….and yes, you need all those things.
13. NAME YOUR BUSINESS CORRECTLY – My personal opinion – but I think photographers should use their own name in the title of their business. If you want to add “Photography” or “Images” or “Visuals” or “Productions” to the official name, knock yourself out. Know this though: No client out there is going to remember “Hot-Shotz” or “Extreme Images” or “Ginger Snaps” (I swear, this is not a joke….I met someone at a workshop who used that one – and you guessed it…..her name was Ginger). They will remember you, Bob Smith, or whatever the hell your name is. Then they’ll start googling you to look you up one day, because they’ve thrown all your promo cards in the trash without looking at them, and they won’t be able to find you. Why?…..Because you named your business something generic. Have you ever seen a coffee table book in the photo section of a bookstore with “Hot-Shotz” or something dorky like that? No….you see Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, Herb Ritts, Patrick Demarchelier, etc…see my point?
14. WORK ON YOUR EMAIL ETIQUETTE – Being able to write well is as important than being able to take great pictures. As a professional photographer, email may be the primary way that you interact with your clients. You should project a friendly, easygoing but professional personality. You should address every email to the person you’re writing (Don’t just send one word responses), and sign every email with your name. Think about how irritated you get when a potential client emails you with one line that says, “what do you charge?”….and then signs the email with their first name, and no contact info because they haven’t bothered to set up their email signature properly. Be a professional. Set up a complete email signature that goes on every email (even on your phone) with your name, business name, phone numbers, website, and your email address listed in type that someone can click on (not an image file). If a client is in their car, and their contacts are inaccessible, and hey have to search old emails to find you, you want to have all your information easily available for them to click on.
15. JOIN (AND PARTICIPATE IN) PHOTO PROFESSIONAL ORGANIZATIONS– My belief is that you should support as many of these organizations as you can afford. They all help with lobbying efforts off photographic industry issues like copyright legislation. They all have valuable education programs and resources. They all have “Find a Photographer” type listings for members. All have discounts for members. You owe it to yourself and your colleagues to join and support our industry.
16. EDUCATE YOURSELF ABOUT USAGE AND LICENSING – You CAN do copyright buyouts, burn discs of entire shoots and hand over all your raws to the client, and you might survive for a little while this way, but you WON’T be in business for long. This is not how professional photographers conduct business. Read the books I mentioned earlier. They will give you a good overview of usage based licensing. Join ASMP, or APA, go to seminars, read PDN, read the pricing and negotiating blog from APhotoEditor, study online resources for estimating jobs and writing licenses, learn about contracts, talk to colleagues, attend a photo business workshop. Learn about licensing and how it works in the different fields of editorial, corporate, and advertising. Learn the language and key terms. Learn the right questions to ask your clients before giving them estimates. Run your business the right way, the ethical way, and don’t give away the store and sell out your colleagues.
17. SET UP A PHOTOSHELTER ACCOUNT – This isn’t just for archiving, although it’s great for off-site backup that you can access through the web anywhere. I handle all my client deliveries through Photoshelter. You can give download access to specific people, and track what they’ve downloaded. It’s much safer than using ftp. You can also set up stock licensing and print sales. If you want to get an account, this link will take you there.
18. USE INVOICING/ACCOUNTING SOFTWARE – I use Fotobiz, but some people get by with Quickbooks. Others use custom Filemaker or Excel solutions. I can no longer recommend BlinkBid due to lack of customer service support.
19. CREATE SOME GREAT “LEAVE BEHINDS” – Starting out, you may not have the funds for a full color, 48 page booklet, but you can easily print up some small runs of well designed postcards. After you’ve shown your book to a potential client, it’s good to hand them a “leave behind” card with one of your signature photos to remember you by.
20. C.O.D.B. ISN’T EVERYTHING – Many other photo business resources will mention that you should know your CODB (Cost Of Doing Business). There is even a calculator available from the NPPA to add up your monthly list of overhead expenses: mobile phone bill, studio rent, insurance costs, fuel, advertising/promotion, website costs, internet, etc. In some circles, we call this OVERHEAD. This is great information to have because it is a great reminder not to leave your home or studio for a job that pays less than your daily CODB number. HOWEVER, it’s not everything. Run your business purely based on your CODB plus your desired profit, and you could be seriously leaving money on the table. You have to have an understanding of your market, the usage and value of your photos, and know what the market will bear for a given assignment in your market. Don’t be the lowballer in town because you met your CODB plus a modest 1000.00 profit on a given assignment, when it could be the case that a given job routinely pays 10’s of thousands for a particular usage.
21. NETWORK WITH OTHER PHOTOGRAPHERS IN YOUR MARKET – Don’t operate in a vacuum. This is where the ASMP or APA membership comes in handy. Social gatherings of photo organizations, or events like workshops, or Photo Expo are a great way to meet colleagues, develop friendships, and ask questions. You might find out about a deadbeat client to avoid, or you might get an estimating or pricing question answered. Not everyone will be as candid, but personally, I would rather help someone than have them underprice a valuable job because they are new to the game and screw it up for everyone. You should always keep growing and keep learning.
IN SUMMARY: If you are thinking of starting a successful photography business, know that it’s a tough road filled with long days of hard work and you’ll be up against ridiculously good competition. Remember what I said earlier, only tackle this if you really can’t imagine yourself doing anything else. I probably can’t change the way you see things, or change the work you produce, but if you have the goods, do your homework (including reading the books I’ve outlined here), and put these steps into place, you’ll be in a good position for your business to succeed.
Earlier this year, we worked on a very cool project for the Memorial Hermann Foundation. Memorial Hermann is one of the largest healthcare providers in the area, and they pioneered the use of helicopters in emergency medicine. “Life Flight” as it became known, was the brainchild of the Dr. “Red” Duke of the Memorial Hermann/UT Health Science Center. I had the honor of photographing him with a Life Flight helicopter a few years before he passed away for an editorial assignment.
Sometimes editorial assignment lead to commercial gigs, and it when it came time for a fundraiser for the Memorial Hermann Foundation, I was lucky enough to get the call to recreate the feel of that photo, albeit with a much larger group of people.
We worked with a stellar team of creatives at Pennebaker, including Halina Dodd and Stacey Hodge. Many ideas were tossed around during the planning stages, among them: taking a group shot on the helipad of the entire Life Flight team (over 100 people!), helicopters parked, a helicopter hovering in air over their shoulder, among other ideas. In the end, we opted for a representative sample of members of the Life Flight team: a nurse, a pilot, an ER trauma doc, etc….to show all the different folks that make the program work. The goal was to make a “Heroic portrait” ,movie poster-style featuring a selection of the Life Flight team.
If you’ve ever been around helicopter operations, you know that taking a group shot of one person, let alone 13 people, can present quite a challenge on a helipad with the rotor wash of helicopter blades. Add to that, uncertain winter weather, uncertain helicopter schedules (they can be called away on a real mission at any moment), and a windy helipad located many floors up on top of a high-rise hospital and you’ve got a very high possibility of failure.
Despite my desire to “nail it in camera” in one shot and avoid composites, it was obvious that this was not a plausible or safe scenario in which to photograph a large group of people with a ton of lighting equipment.
The solution: A 6am group shot inside the hospital combined with plates of the helipad, helicopter, and sky. John Lewis, Travis Schiebel, and Michael Klein agreed to help us on the shoot day with a ridiculously early 4:30am call time. I bribed them with promises of a giant diner breakfast after the shoot.
We knew one of the final uses of the photo was going to be a poster, so we wanted a super high resolution image. We used the 50 MP Canon EOS 5DS for the job. After nailing the arrangement in one frame (mostly as a reference frame for the retoucher), we kept the camera in the exact same position, then turned the camera vertically, zoomed in, and photographed the group in smaller pieces of 3-4 people at a time. The lighting setup (We used Profoto B-4 packs and heads, and a Plume Wafer Hexoval 180 as the main light source), and 20×20 white background were both rolled on large high-roller stands left to right in front of each smaller group of 3-4 subjects to maintain the same lighting look on everyone. When pieced together with the background elements, this yielded a huge final file size.
We also used a rental special effects wind machine to blow the subject’s hair and lab coats to make it look as if they were really on top of the rooftop helipad. In reality, the rotor wash would have caused hair to go everywhere and for everyone to freak out rather than holding a steady hero pose.
I went back on a separate day to photograph a helicopter hovering on the helipad at dawn, and the concrete helipad. We used an existing photo I had of a stormy gray sky as the background plate. All of these elements were brilliantly fused together into a believable final composite image by Craig Roberts and his team at Avenue Sixty7 in the UK. I love the foreground/background scale of the different subjects. We really wanted that look, with some of the subjects much closer to camera and Craig made it look great.
I’ve been really fortunate to work with ExxonMobil on their annual report photography and other corporate photography for the last ten years or so. It’s a great gig, and I’ve been able to document photographs of people and assets for their shareholders all over the world. I’m particularly proud of the work we did on this year’s version.
Over that time, the books have been fairly consistent, with a vertical format layout, and often featuring traditional spreads of sprawling petrochemical complexes at dusk or at night. Although there’s always been quite a few people photos as well, this year was quite a departure in that the focus was completely on employee portraits. The marching orders were to create panoramic portraits of employees utilizing technology in their work environment. We’ve all seen the typical oil and gas photography, and it was fun to take it in a different direction and focus on the super smart people that make the company work.
The format of the book was horizontal this time, to maximize the effect of the panoramic photos over a full two page horizontal format spread. The layouts were also adorned with quotes from the employees and helpful stats about the company. In the end, they used a mix of traditional environmental portraits, and some reportage working shots.
During our travels, we created most of the photographs with the 50 megapixel Canon EOS 5DS, and in several instances, we composited several frames to create the panos. We carried Profoto lighting, using the B-2 and the B-4 extensively. We also used some LED light panels on some of the photos. The cover shots and spreads I photographed were taken at sites in Texas, New Mexico, Louisiana, Belgium, and Angola.
It was a break from the usual approach honed over many years, and was both a challenge and an honor to work on. I ended up with both covers (Both the Summary Annual Report, and the F&O), and a number of spreads. Hoping to do some more great content for them in the future.
(Ed. note: although it says “2017 Annual Report”, it is actually released around May of the following year (2018) with figures from 2017, so it’s really not as old as it looks…).
I think that originally we were just going to shoot a simple portrait of a young athlete in football gear, but after giving some thought to the issue, the art director and I collaborated on a few other more illustrative ideas.
A few years ago, I had photographed Matt Schaub, the Houston Texans quarterback at the time for Methodist’s Leading Medicine publication. We did a couple of different versions: one was using a projected background created by a computer and an LCD projector of MRI brain scan imagery and another photo showing medical illustrations of nerve synapses in the brain.
I thought we might appropriate the brain projection idea, but add some other elements to it: a silhouette of a generic kid in a football helmet this time to keep the illustration anonymous; and a multiple exposure strobe effect to look like a violently shaking head. Our art director helped us in researching a suitable stock photo of the brain that we could use in the projector.
After doing some testing in the studio (do we need a white helmet or black helmet, for instance?), and ordering some props (youth sized football helmet, jersey, and shoulder pads) we booked a young male model for the shoot.
(If we were truly going to be literal here, the concept probably should have been a brain bouncing around with multiple exposures/blur INSIDE a sharper helmet image, but I quickly decided that would have just been a blurry mess and would not have been as easy of a read as the brain inside a shaking helmet.)
The key was to tripod the camera for the “brain exposure”, keeping it absolutely still for this exposure provided by the projector, and then with the shutter open, firing multiple strobe bursts (with strobe lighting the background seamless only) with the model’s head in slightly different positions to show the silhouetted helmet with movement. Although I liked the randomness of the head movement in each photo, we finally settled on zooming the lens smoothly and evenly to create the multiple strobe head images.
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The intention was to do this just like the film days, creating the entire photo in camera, and we were successful with this for the most part. Some of the images admittedly had some “unintended brain movement” from the long exposure of the projector (I think it was around 1/4 to 1/8 of a second), so we ended up retouching a couple of the selections with a “sharper brain” from another exposure.
We used a Canon 5DS, and tried it with two different methods: leaving the shutter open and firing the Profoto strobe manually, and also with the multiple exposure feature engaged. We also tried two different methods to create head movement: having the model shake his head around during the multiple exposures; and also leaving the model still and zooming the lens during multiple exposures.
We even tried this with different gels on the background strobe, but in the end my favorite was a monochromatic look with just the brain projection in color.
Gregory, then just 26, and her five year old son Noah were spectators standing only 3 feet away from the bombs near the finish line when the explosions went off on April 15, 2013 at the Boston Marathon. Her legs absorbed a lot of the bomb’s impact and shielded her son, likely saving his life.
Gregory and her son were both injured, and spent time apart in two different hospitals. After months of trying to rehabilitate and rebuild function in her injured leg, and scores of surgeries, she made the brave decision to amputate, and hasn’t looked back since.
We photographed her at her home, and part of the mandate for the Guideposts cover was a powerful portrait of her on white seamless. Luckily, her home featured a garage with a giant ceiling, so we set up our “studio” in there. We used a Plume Wafer Hexoval 140 boomed into the center, directly over the camera for the white background stuff. We used three Profoto B-4 battery powered lights as our light source (and we later added an Acute 600 Air also). My good friend Misty Rockwell did a great job with makeup.
We did some “happy” smiling photos, but I really wanted her to look resilient, and was more drawn to those tough and strong poses. Although it didn’t make the cut, we created some really strong tight portraits with a classic fashion cover lighting setup of Rebekah in a cool gray workout fleece, and used a small, lower light source below the camera as well as the Hexoval over the camera to really make the eyes pop.
We also made some environmental portraits of her with her son in the driveway, and a family photo in the back with her husband and new baby, but my favorite shot might be her son hugging her on the white seamless, both of them with their eyes closed.
Rebekah is a class act who is using her platform as a survivor of this horrific event to promote and encourage others. You can’t spend time with her and not leave inspired to do better in your own life.