Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Morality Play

The Photographer's Christmas - Present

(The Blog equivalent of a hidden track on a CD).

The scene: Prescot, Merseyside, UK. Christmas Eve. A photographer and his father (a non photographer, but nonetheless a fairly decent sort of chap) are in "Boots" (a retail pharmacy chain and purveyors of all things "lifestyle"). The photographer is looking for gifts for his daughter-in-law and an elderly aunt. He quickly buys a handbag gift set for the "out-law", and then speaks aloud his dilemma of what to buy his aunt and is overheard by a lady of about the same age.

Elderly Lady: She might like those chocolate biscuits, they look lovely, I would like them myself.

Photographer: Would you really? (For a nano-second, the photographer actually considers buying her the biscuits, but reflects on his not-so-bulging wallet and picks up the tin and heads towards the store counter). (To the elderly lady) Thanks for the suggestion - I think she'll like them.

Store Assistant: (taking the handbag set and biscuits from the photographer). You do know that these items are in our "three for two" range?

Photographer:No, I didn't know that. So, I can get another tin of biscuits for free?

Store Assistant: Yes, or any other item in the offer.

Photographer: Right. (He goes back to the shelf, collects another tin of chocolate biscuits and returns to the assistant). Could I have a separate carry-bag for those biscuits, please?

Young Woman: (Standing behind Photographer in the store Line - muttering to herself): I wish people would decide what they want before they come to the check-out.

Photographer: (turning to his father): Keep your eye on that old woman.

Store Assistant: twenty seven pounds and sixty five pence please.

Photographer's Father: She's just gone out onto the street.

Photographer: (picking up two bags) Thank you (to store assistant). Merry Christmas (to young woman).

Young Woman: (stern-faced) Merry Christmas.

(The photographer and his father leave the shop and find the elderly lady standing on the main street. The photographer approaches her, and offers her the bag with the biscuits inside).

Photographer: Merry Christmas.

Elderly Lady: (aghast) Oh, no! You shouldn't have done that, it's not necessary.

Photographer: No, it's not necessary, it's Christmas and people are nice to me - so I'm returning the favour. Besides, it was three for the price of two!

(The Elderly Lady kisses the photographer and his father on the cheek, thanks them, shakes their hands and wishes them Merry Christmas. The photographer and his father walk away to their car.)

Photographer's Father: She'll remember that. I'd better warn you that I didn't buy you a Christmas present!

Photographer: Damn. I should have kept the biscuits!


The photo shows my grandson, Terry, demonstrating that it's not the cost of the gift that is important - but the pleasure it brings to the recipient.

Happy New Year.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Random Acts of Kindness

Over 25 years ago, way back in 1982, I was sent, by a picture agency, to cover the launch of a British TV 'soap' called "Brookside", at the modern, Liverpool housing estate in which it was set and filmed. I was, in every sense of the phrase, a "fledgling" freelance photographer and felt totally out of my depth, surrounded, as I was, by photographers from almost all of the British national daily papers and large circulation magazines.

At one point, during the day, I turned up a bit late, to photograph actors Ricky Tomlinson and Sue Johnston (who, incidentally was brought up in the small town - Prescot - in which I was born and raised) who were posing as "man and wife" outside the house their characters "owned" on Brookside Close. I was fumbling with my camera so much that all of the other photographers in the press pack had finished shooting Ricky and Sue, before I had even taken my first photograph. I stood there, forlornly watching the stars walk away from the set, when (I'm not sure how) Ricky Tomlinson noticed me, and called across to his co-star "hey Sue, this lad hasn't got his pictures, come back and pose again for him, please" which she did, most graciously.

I've never forgotten that small, random act of kindness from Ricky Tomlinson. I didn't really thank him properly at the time, but I do make sure I mention it to friends, whenever I see him on TV - usually in the hit show The Royle Family (which also features Sue Johnston).

The Chinese have a saying: "may you live in interesting times", which is meant to be a curse - with "interesting" being a euphemism for "not good". This year, as a professional photographer, was very interesting indeed. But not all of it was bad. New friends were found, and some were lost. New work was found - including the opportunity to fulfill a life-long ambition as a travel book photographer - but not all of it was as glamorous as I might have dreamed. Some people treated me extremely well and others were downright rude, didn't pay me or even bother to return emails or phone (occasionally, the same person did all of those nice things!) All-in-all an interesting year. A mixed bag of surprises (good and not-so-good), triumphs and tribulations.

Amongst the (modest) triumphs is this blog - which I began in August 2008, as a means of killing time while holed-up alone in hotel rooms, during travel book shoots. I've now made 74 posts, and almost kept my promise of writing a new post three times each week (which is harder than you might imagine!)

I am thrilled that even though it has not (yet) made the top 100 of most-subscribed-to- photography-blogs (I'm working on that) it does have subscribers and gets about 100 hits a day - sometimes many more - and I've had comments and emails from new friends all over the world. Now that is incredibly interesting - and in some ways, very kind. So thank you all for your support for my first year of blogging. I hope you'll stick around for 2009.

The thing I remember most about 2008, though, are the small acts of random kindness that people still bestow on me. A encouraging email, a text message inviting me for coffee, and sometimes even bigger gestures. I know who you are, and I'm very grateful, thank you.

I'm off to my small home-town of Prescot for Christmas - and I hope I can offer a few RAOK's myself, or at least make a decent roast turkey for my father!

I'll be back on January 5th - and I look forward to your company for the professional rollercoaster that 2009 will (no doubt) be.

Nollaig Shonasach agus athbhliain shuaimhneach

Merry Christmas - and a Happy and Peaceful New Year

p.s. If you could encourage your friends to visit - so that I can break the 5000 "unique visitors" target before Jan 1, 2009 - I would consider it a serious RAOK on your part! Thank you in advance!


Monday, December 15, 2008

How to Know when You've Been Published

Publication Information Deprecation

Last Monday in this post I mentioned that a travel feature I produced on Santa Fe, and Native American Pueblos, was about to be published, after languishing in the offices of the Irish Times newspaper since April 2008.

I was told of the imminent publication by a sub-editor, who was preparing the article for the press and was looking for the accompanying photographs because the disk I had sent with the text, had been mislaid. Although the "sub" couldn't give me a confirmed date, he felt sure that it would be published before Christmas. When I called back to confirm that he had received my disk with copies of the 20 photographs, he was pretty sure that publication was scheduled for Saturday 20th December.

The issue here is simple. If I don't know when the article will be published, I can't invoice the newspaper for it. Being told the estimated date by a sub-editor is useful, but it is really the job of the Travel section editor (where the feature would be printed) to let me know when and if the piece is being published, and how much she intends to pay me for it.

The last time I had a travel feature published in the Irish Times, I was told 2 weeks in advance of publication and the editor asked me for my invoice. The section editor has changed in the last few weeks, and the new one didn't answer my email, sent a week ago, asking her to confirm the publication date.

This sort of thing shouldn't be left to chance. After all, this is my livelihood we're talking about, and I was professional enough to give them a feature they want to publish (the "sub" was very complimentary about the photographs) so, the least they can do is let me know that I can invoice them.

So, what I'm going to do next is:
1) Look up the NUJ (National Union of Journalists - I'm a member) rates for 2000 words and at least two photographs across a two page spread on the inside pages (the "sub" told me that much) of a national newspaper with a large circulation.
2) Email the travel section editor again - this time with a copy to NUJ HQ.
3) Make sure I get the paper on Saturday.
4) And, if the feature is published; email my invoice (again copied to NUJ HQ) for the full recommended NUJ rate.

Usually, editors offer less than the NUJ rates, which are often thought to be higher than the "norm". Last time, I took a good fee but not one as high as the NUJ would have suggested.

But this time, with advance notification and only good luck to ensure that I knew it was being published - what if the photos had not been lost - would I have been told anything at all - I think they deserve the full NUJ invoice.

Of course, if I am told before I send the email - I'll take my hat off to the Irish Times!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Photographer's Agents

Special, or Just a Secret?

I think it's about time that I found myself an agent. Or, to give them their correct epithet: a Photographer's Representative.

It would put paid to a lot of my problems as a jobbing, self-employed photographer. Well, not all of my problems, but it might it increase my flow of work, somewhat. The big problem with being a one-person-band, as a freelance photographer, is that you have to be, not only a good photographer, but also a good marketing manager and booking agent.

I think I'm a good photographer. No, scratch that: I know I'm a good photographer (it took many, many long years of self-hypnosis for me to be able to write that, but I got there in the end). But that's only half the battle - in fact getting the job done well is only a third of the battle. The other two thirds are finding the job and then getting well paid for it at the end - and in my book they are much bigger thirds (don't tell my Maths teacher I said that).

I have always felt that having an agent would enhance my kudos and standing (even if it is only a superficial perception) but much, much more importantly (for me) they would point me towards the work. Then, I'd just turn up and do it - and do it well. I'm convinced that I'd be much more effective when I've harnessed 100% of my photography skills into taking (or making) photographs, than having it dissipated by trying to be a marketer and job-finder. OK, that might sound like a cop-out (as they say where I'm from: replace with "lame", "wimpy" or "gauche", to suit) but it's something I genuinely believe would work for me.

I've never been a great seller - especially of myself - and so I think a photography agent (not to be confused with a a picture agent or stock agency - I have two of those) would be perfect for me. I'm also a terrible fee negotiator. I often become almost too embarrassed to ask for a fee that I know I would more than earn - especially when I'm working in the commercial sector - and I'm convinced that an agent would get me a bigger slice of that "cake" even after they have taken their 25% fee.

But finding one is easier said than done. Most of the photographer's agents that I have been in contact with say that they have very small lists of photographers, for whom they are working flat out or that my work doesn't "fit" with their existing portfolios.

In a recent Professional Photographer magazine article, Adele Rider the Director of Photographer's Agency Shoot said that she gets an average of two approaches a day, from photographers looking for representation. She says:

"Most of the time it's either a case of them being completely wrong and not having really looked at our website, or the pictures are nice but nothing special. And I think you need a lot more that nice pictures now it has to be the compete package. Personality, luck, hard work, and the skill is actually quite a small part of it..."

Well, apart from the personality, luck and skill - I think I have what you're looking for Adele (or any other Photographer's Representative out there.) I certainly work hard. And I can take "quirky" shots. One day I might also get lucky.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

How to License Your Photography

The (Big) Sale That Flew Away

A feeling of great excitement struck me, late last night. I had been chatting with a friend and came into my study to find a book to show her, and glanced at my emails as I passed the computer (go on, try not doing that - looking at emails every five minutes is an addiction many of us have but might find hard to acknowledge).

Sitting there, on the screen, was something I hadn't seen before - but which I knew a lot about - as it is close to a legendary event in the online circles of one of the photography agencies I use (Alamy). It was an email from their sales department, which read:

Hi Stephen, I hope you are well. One of our clients is interested in an image of yours (Alamy ref: AA4K00). The client would like to have a look at the copy of the property release. Could you please get back to us ASAP with a copy of the release as our client is working towards a very tight deadline? I look forward to hearing from you.

Such an email is very sought after because most clients will buy an image directly from the agent's website, without asking for property or model release forms. If the sales department is contacted, then it can often imply (but not always) that the image is being used for commercial use (advertising purposes), rather than for editorial use (publishing in newspapers, magazines and books).

And what, generally is the difference between commercial and editorial use? Money. Often lots of money. Don't ask me why, but commercial photography always pays more than editorial - whether it's commissioned work or stock photography.

So, I was very excited to see that email. Then I panicked. Had I got the property release? While it's something that photographers should do routinely, how many of us really do carry pieces of paper around that we ask the owners of property to sign, to allow images of them to be used commercially? I'd be surprised if many photographers do that for people shots (in that case the paper is called a "model release" form) let alone houses, or gardens or - in my case - helicopters. But, no, there it was - much to my amazement - in my folder marked model releases (I am one of those photographers who rarely ask for "property releases", so a separate folder is unwarranted - but I may change my ways!) So, all I had to do was go to bed and dream of what I would buy with the bundles of hard cash coming my way from this undoubtedly lucrative sale.

The shot sold this morning, and the fee is showing in my online account on the agent's website. It made $300. Yes, not bad for one shot. But not what I was expecting for a commercial sale - especially one that had generated the legendary email from the sales team!

So, what went wrong? Well nothing, actually. The reason that the fee was lower than it definitely could have been, was to do with the way in which the photograph had been licensed. When I first submitted that image to the agent, I had to decide on the type of license it would be assigned - declaring the way in which the image was to be "sold".

Licensing of stock photography is a complex issue - and it's a decision that only the photographer can make. The two "basic" licenses are "Royalty Free" and "Rights Managed". In general terms, a "Rights Managed" license means that each specific and single use - what the image is used for, where it will be used and for how long - has to be specified each time and paid for accordingly. It often results in quite high fees (known as "royalties") that are determined by the way the photograph is used. This can result in big money for for commercial images or photographs plastered over two pages of a national newspaper, for example.

"Royalty Free" images, are precisely that. The copyright owner (the photographer) allows the image to be purchased as a one-off sale, with the understanding that the image can be used in anyway the purchaser decides, for as long as they want. The upside is that a single purchase can command a reasonably high fee, but the (serious) downside is that the price does not fluctuate, depending on the use - and no additional fee applies if the image is used for another purpose, time and time again.

So, what saw alongside my sale figure was that I had assigned the image as "royalty free" when I submitted it to the agent - and that can't be changed.

More on how to decide on license types in another post!

Monday, December 8, 2008

How to Talk Yourself Out of a Photography Job

© Stephen Power 2008

Being an old-fashioned Lancashire Lad (it's the county of my birth, in the North West of England) I was brought up on the expression "there's nowt so queer as folk", at a time when "queer" usually meant strange and "nowt" meant (as it still does in Lancashire), nothing.

Having spent many years working and teaching in the fields of psychiatry and psychology, I should, by now, have come to fully appreciate the truth in that old adage and not be side-swiped by the queer antics of some of the folk I know. But, there are still times when the behaviour of my fellow human beings can be so surprising as to leave me totally gobsmacked - another good old Lancashire expression; which I am using, here, to convey a sense of being totally stunned and completely exasperated!

Late on Friday evening, with the complimentary hotel conference room shot (see Free Photography - Does it Pay?) almost finished after a good 8 hours work at the computer - there was a lot of "Photoshopping" (not a Lancashire word), as well as regular processing involved - I got a call from the stylist whom I had invited to work with me on the shoot. She told me that she had been talking to the General Manager at the hotel, and discussing the cost of styling the Christmas tree (an additional job that she had been offered simply for turning up to assess the room shot work.

She told him that it would take 2 full days; that she needed to bring along 2 assistants and that material costs would be at least €1000. Total cost of the job: €1950 - maybe more depending on material costs. To dress a Christmas tree. "He wouldn't go for it" she told me, to which I replied "I don't blame him, because it sounds ridiculous". Whether it is ridiculous or not, is hardly the issue. To my mind, given I'm on the West of Ireland, and there is a recession on - or at least a severe belt-tightening process is occurring in the commercial sector - to talk about assistants, excessive amounts of time, and very large sums of money for a job that should take one person with a good eye (which she undoubtedly has) a few hours on their own, will definitely appear to be ridiculous to a cost-conscious hotel manager.

At the end of that phone call - which, it has to be said, I curtailed fairly snappily - I felt angrier and more disappointed than I had, with anyone, for a long time. Not only had she quoted figures that I knew would not be acceptable, she had reneged on our agreement that I would handle all of the discussions regarding costs and fees, with the manager. I spent the entire weekend convinced that all of the ground work we had done - and the good photography and styling we had produced - would come to nothing because of one needless phone call.

Today, I turned up to show my work to the hotel manager. I had made 4 A3 prints, 4 A4 prints, and 3 pages of large-size "proofs" of all the shots taken. Plus, I had saved everything to disk both in printable and website-use formats. It had been my intention, all along, to give this material free of charge. A good friend had also reasoned that any cost could be recouped in new work. I decided that I could afford the paper and ink, and the disk. It didn't add up to much in material costs, but could be invaluable in terms of goodwill.

The manager was delighted with the large printed work ("a good big 'un will always beat a good little 'un - as they also say in Lancashire"). He was also delightfully surprised when I told him that he could keep it.

The manager told me about the call with the stylist and that she had lowered her fee when he declined the first one. What was apparent, though, was that he had decided to try and work without a stylist - or at least to see if that was possible. And, I couldn't help wondering at which point, precisely, that modus operandus had occurred to him - as it was mainly his idea to use a stylist, in the first place. I suggested a much lower day rate, for her, than she had discussed on the phone - and while he didn't say no, neither did he say yes.

He did, however, offer me the job of photographing another 10 conference rooms. He asked me what it would cost - and I gave him my day rate (twice as high as the stylist's) and said it could take 5 days. He agreed on the spot and took me on a tour of the rooms.

He then offered me another 4 jobs - photographing the gardens in the winter with frost (I even went as far as suggesting he could call me early on the next frosty morning); coffee machines; garden water feature with a bride - and the 'bridal suite' once totally refurbished - rather than "styled, which had been the original plan. He also asked if I did "video work", as he needed a short video of a wedding reception for the website.

I got the feeling that I had forged a very strong and potentially very lucrative link with that particular hotel. I hope to be able to restore equilibrium with the stylist - but if not, so be it. Sometimes it pays to give your work away and say nowt.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Free Photography - Does it Pay? Part Deux

So, yesterday, the fateful day for the free commercial shoot at a large Limerick hotel, arrived (see Free Photography Does it Pay for the background story).

Armed with a newly-found stylist, and warding off all thoughts that the person whom I had originally asked to work as a stylist on the free shoot might have a point - I turned up to shoot the conference room. Actually, that's not true. The previous day (Tuesday) the stylist and I went to view the conference room - I took some light readings, and she looked at the available furniture and decorations.

We did that for 20 minutes, and then the general manager (a true gentleman) approached us with another manager, and asked if they could take us to see the Bridal Suite, as they felt it was in need a styling and shooting for a new brochure. We looked at it, agreed that it could do with making "more romantic" and there and then the stylist was asked to do the job - and a budget (quite a hefty one in my mind) was agreed on the spot. I will be shooting it for the brochure when the re-style is finished.

One the way back into the lobby, the general manager asked the stylist if she could "do something about the Christmas Tree decorations" as he felt they also needed a face lift and he also wanted to shoot them, for a new brochure. That job was quickly agreed, and then the manager telephone his counterpart at the "sister" hotel (a 5 star hotel, part of a famous world-wide chain) and arranged for the stylist to visit, to see if she could do something about their decorations too. (I drove her over, later and that job was agreed, too.)

As we were standing in the lobby, the manager pointed outside to a water feature in the garden, saying that he wanted to encourage brides to use it more for wedding photographs. Within 5 minutes, I had agreed to photograph it, with a model bride - with styling, of course.

That adds up to 3 jobs for me, and 4 for the stylist, and we hadn't even photographed the conference room at that point. Not to mention the additional promised 7 conference rooms, should that shoot go well.

We shot the conference room the following day. it took over 5 hours to set up, style and shoot, and then we shot half of the Christmas decorations - the tree will be styled next week and I'll go back and shoot it then. I'll not post the room shot because it hasn't been seen and approved. But here's a glimpse of one of the Christmas decoration shots - a gingerbread house specially made by the hotel kitchen for the shoot.

So, it looks like free work might pay after all. I'll keep you posted.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Getting Travel Features Published

I’ve just had a strange thing happen with a travel feature I produced after a a trip to Santa Fe, in New Mexico. I sent it into the Irish Times newspaper in March and they were going to publish it shortly after another feature of mine on Seattle, which was published in June. But, nothing happened with it. And, as the months passed, I completely gave up on the idea that it would be published at all. So, I re-wrote a section of it and submitted to an online travel magazine, who said that they might use it in December, but weren’t sure about it.

Then, on Thursday, I got a call from a sub-editor at the Irish Times saying that he was putting the Santa Fe feature together for publication - in the printed Travel Supplement (and probably online, too) - before Christmas, and the disk with 20 photographs had been mislaid, so could I resend them – which I did the next day.

Last night, I got an email from the editor of the online magazine, Travel Post Monthly saying that they had published my article, and wanted my address to send me a cheque – but she didn’t say for how much! If you follow the link to the online magazine (above), You’ll see another link to my article (The Pueblos of New Mexico) at the bottom of the page. There are 2 of my photos on the home page and 4 (including those 2) on the article page. They also made a link to my email address, so that editors of other magazines can contact authors, if they want to re-publish their work. This morning, 12 hours after the article was published online, I got an email from Vic Foster, the editor Travelling Tales another online magazine, telling me that he would like to re-publish my article.

There are a number of 'learning curves' that arise out of this for me. The first is that editors can take a very long time to publish your work - so be patient with them, don't pester them - I didn't contact the Irish Times at all since my first article was publishes, asking about the second one - but also consider other options for publication and even consider formally withdrawing your article if time drags on without a firm commitment to publish.

Other lessons to learn concern the fees being offered. I made a mistake not finding out what was being offered, and my article appeared published before a fee was agreed. That's not a wise move, and I have emailed to ask what I'm being paid. But, I really should have been told beforehand - as it's my work and I should have control - or at least some say - over what I get paid for it.

Also, most online magazines will only pay a fraction of what national newspapers and large circulation magazines will pay for an article - and some don't pay anything at all. So, in such instances, you need to consider if you would rather be published and paid a pittance. "Travelling Tales", for example, offers only $25 Canadian - about €15 - per article, and I will definitely be engaging in a discussion with the editor before I accept such a small amount for an article and photographs.

I'll keep you posted.

Friday, November 28, 2008

When Email Photography Forums Fail

Friday Faux Pas

A member of an email photography forum, to which I subscribe, asked a question, today, about whether it was possible to manually adjust the "auto" tone control in Lightroom. - it was an interesting question, and I was sure that someone out there in Digital-imaging land would know - and so I sat back and waited for what I was sure would be an equally interesting answer.

And, sure enough, someone did know. But, the answer never came. What did come through, on the email, was a very polite "thank you" to the forum member who had (wait for it...) telephoned the answer to the original poster.

Telephoned! Actually called and spoke to him. What is the world coming to when we are no longer satisfied with the impersonal and often anonymous communication methods of email and internet forums that we have to resort to actually speaking to someone else - live! It's all beyond me.

And, I didn't get the answer - I bet it was good one!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Free Photography - Does it Pay?

A Bird I'th Hand...

A few miles from where I was born and raised, in Lancashire, UK, was a pub called "A Bird I'th Hand" - a phrase intended to be heard in a Lancashire dialect (as in...eh up lad, get thy clogs on, there's trouble at mill) and which translates to the first part of the old proverb: "A Bird in the Hand..is worth two in the bush".

Those wise words advise us to be satisfied with what we have, rather than to dream of what we might get. The "birds" of our hopes and aspirations fly away all too easily, so holding onto what we have, even though it's not as much as we might want, is better than having nothing at all.

I having been trying, for some time now, to "break into" a particularly lucrative sector of the commercial market, involving hotel room photography and I recently had an opportunity to discuss business with a very important client in that sector.

Because this client did not know me, and had only seen a small sample of my work (including my image of the "Flying Staircase" at Glin Castle Hotel, County Limerick, above) I decided to make an offer he couldn't refuse. I suggested that I photograph one room for free. The agreement was that, should the image I produce be regarded as similar in quality to that of previous work he had purchased (for substantial fees), I would be offered a contract to photograph another 7 rooms, in one of his premises. I would also speculate that the possibilities of further work for that client, beyond the next 7 rooms, would be very strong.

The client asked if I would bring a room stylist with me. This was a service that previous photographers had provided, and it was an important "value-added" aspect of the work that the client appreciated. By chance, I had been talking to a room stylist, a few days earlier, and had mentioned the prospect of teaming up with her on room photography projects - and she seemed very keen on the idea.

So, last evening I called her to talk about the new assignment. At first, she was very interested. But, as soon as I mentioned the words "free sample", she became less interested, and then suddenly found that she was too busy to even consider it. She was, however, honest enough to say that she didn't work for free and it was a long way for her to travel (about 70km one way) - and work for a day for free (I had considered paying her expenses myself - but we didn't get far enough into the conversation for me to offer). She knew of the client, and she had some idea of what the paid commission would be worth (the bird in the bush) but she couldn't be convinced that it was worth the risk.

So, now I'm looking for a room stylist that believes in birds in the bush - and who can see the possibilities that working for free might hold.

I'll let you know if my birds fly away - or if I'm the one who is "crowing" at the end of the day.

UPDATE 17.30pm 26th November

Well, that didn't take long. Not two hours hours after making the original post (above) I telephoned a women who owns a room furnishings shop and who has a great "eye" for style and design. We met over coffee and she is totally enthused by the assignment, and was practically telling me what the advantages were of offering to do a free sample. I'm hoping to arrange the job for next week - and I'll update after that.

See the follow up to this story here: FREE PHOTOGRAPHY DOES IT PAY PART DEUX

Monday, November 24, 2008

How to Make Contact with Photography Clients

Is Email the new Cold-Call?

I'd been having a few problems telephoning my father in the UK. We speak on the phone about twice a week, and I have a good idea of when he will be at home. But, just lately, my calls weren't being answered.

With some persistence I managed to get through to him, and he told me that he had been avoiding answering his telephone to "international calls". There was a time when he saw "international" flash up on his phone screen, he knew it was me calling. But, in recent months, he had been getting a series of what sounded like the latest cold-calling phenomenon "robocalls" which are still being used by UK telemarketers (some based overseas).

My father was being sent the same message, two or three times a week, and he found it particularly upsetting as it made mention to "...you and your wife" - he is still mourning the loss of my mother 6 years after her death. So, rather than have to put up with this intrusive and insensitive form of advertising, he decided not to take any international calls at all. We quickly devised a system by which he would know it was me calling, which overcame my concern about not getting through to him; and not answering the robcall seems to have made it go away (at least for the time being).

All of which got me wondering about how I contact new clients - and which contact methods might work better than others.

I've always had an aversion to cold-calling. Not least because I'm not comfortable with the notion of being "intrusive". I regularly respond to friendly invitations to dinner or drinks, or a coffee at friends homes with "I wouldn't want to intrude" (and no, it's just a polite way of not talking to them - I genuinely can feel like I'm an interloper). And, I had a fairly bad stutter until I was into my late teens, and talking on the phone hugely exacerbated the problem - so I avoided making phone calls.

I honed out a pretty successful (former) career that involved speaking at high-powered meetings, in public and in lecture halls to large groups of people - and also with individuals on an often very intense level, and I have completely overcome any hang-ups (pun intended) about talking anywhere, including on the phone. But, I do wonder what a prospective client might feel about the "cold-call" - and I have never been comfortable with the idea of selling myself on the telephone.

As an alternative, I have taken to sending out emails. Often quite detailed, personal messages written specifically for the recipient, and including a few sample images. They sometimes get a good response - in that, at best, I get a "yes please" or even a personally written "no thank you - but my success rate is probably down at the 20% level (that is: 1 reply for every 5 emails sent - and often less). I do wonder what happens to the other 80% or more of my non-robot missives. Do they find their way to the client's junk folder? Does the client think "oh not another photographer!" or worse, "oh not another robo-photographer!"?

As professional photographers we need to contact clients. But I'm beginning to wonder just how we can do that in a way that isn't to be regarded as robotic, impersonal, irrelevant and cold.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Unleash Your Photographic Creativity

Plan to be Spontaneous

I like this photograph. It works, for me, on several different levels. I have used it in photography workshops to talk about "The Rule of Thirds", and the use of colour, and backgrounds, and posing techniques, and the use of "space" in an image and humour in photography. It's a shot of Limerick-born actress and comedienne Frances Healy taken in her home City, and I like to think that it shows something of where she started and where she is now.

But that's not really why I like it. I like it because I had no idea that I was going to take it 15 seconds before I pressed the shutter. And, had someone suggested the idea to me, and I'd thought about it for a while, I would have probably not done it. It's not really my type of shot. Generally, I prefer my portrait shots to have the subject big in the frame, and with a balanced, symmetrical feel to the composition. Given the time to consider a shot of a woman in an expensive dress and a fabulous hair-do, I doubt I would have come up with graffiti as a suitable back-drop. Plus, I definitely wouldn't have thought about asking her to pull a funny face.

I was on a shoot - of Frances, in Limerick City - for a popular lifestyle magazine, with an entourage of 4 other people (art director, make-up artist, clothes stylist and set dresser) and we were walking from one carefully scouted location to the next one, when we took a detour along an alley way and I saw the graffiti-covered wall.

"Oh, I like that wall", I muttered to the art director, and kept on walking. Frances stood against the wall saying "quick shot then" and I lined up the camera (making sure I put the wall in the first two-thirds of the frame - but not thinking about why I was doing that) and said "lets do something different to the others; pull a funny face." There it was; done. No make up artist to tidy the make up, no clothes stylist to "joosh" the dress, no set dresser to add extra graffiti or paint out some of it, no tripod to steady the camera. And, especially, no time to think about it, realize that it was not my "usual" way of doing things and change my mind back to how it should be done.

Coming out of my comfort zone and being spontaneous is probably the most difficult thing for me to do. It's much safer to stay where I usually stay - doing what I usually do.

But I'm now beginning to wonder just how many times I have thought long and hard about a situation - or a prospective situation - and formulated a careful plan. Have they always worked? And, how many times have I said at the end of all that configuring: "No, that would never work", and ditched the carefully considered idea, lock stock and barrel.

I wonder though, just how many good results have come from actions I have taken spontaneously. Or how many good photographs I have taken by doing the opposite of what I would usually do?

More than I realize, probably.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Best Way to Start A Photography Business

Pick Up the Ball - And RUN with it

Interesting juxtaposition of events and issues today. I went back to a small town, where I once lived, for coffee with a good friend - in a café a few yards away from a building in which I had run a business (a music shop), for four years. Just as the business was bordering on profitability, the lease on the premises was revoked. I lost €35000 in retail value stock (I gave some away to schools and other worthy causes - and sold some at cost on eBay) not to mention probably losing about 3 years of my life from the stress.

My good friend was talking about starting a new business of his own. Naturally, he had mixed feelings about it, including excitement and trepidation. But, I was quite sure of my view on the matter. If you're excited, and passionate about it (which he definitely is) and have some knowledge and skill in your chosen area (which he definitely does) PLUS, you have assessed the risks and still think it's doable - Start the business!

My position is based on my own experiences of starting risky businesses - including Irish music - which I knew nothing about when I began (but on which topic I'm now a virtual expert) - and, of course, freelance photography. You'll never know what will happen, and you might not forgive yourself for not trying. What can you afford to risk to start the venture? Then risk that.

I also have a long background in practicing and teaching counselling psychology - and I have met too many people who are waiting until they are sure that all the conditions are in perfect order, before they proceed to do anything. This could be getting married; getting divorced; leaving their partner; having children; changing jobs; starting a new career; ending an old one - or whatever. Most of those people are probably still waiting, because the conditions are never perfect, the time is never really right - to do anything. Sometimes it's really wrong, but that's not the same thing.

Usually, the best time to start a new venture is when most of the conditions seem right. Waiting for all of the pieces to fall into place is like Waiting for Godot (he never arrives - and some scholars think that Samuel Beckett derived the name Godot from an old French word for life).

On the way out of the café we bumped into an old counselling student of mine, who is now the owner of an art gallery housed in - you guessed it - the building from which my business was evicted. After some coaxing, we went in (remember; I hadn't crossed that threshold in more than 4 years, and I never thought I would again) to meet Artist Geraldine O'Riordan who was preparing for a forthcoming exhibition. Her excitement and passion for her work was palpable - and her work is stunning. Quite bizarrely, it turned out that in a former life Geraldine was a interior designer and had decorated the house in which I now live. Ain't life strange.

I was encouraged to hear that Geraldine had a very similar view to my own on the matter of starting a new career, namely: if you have the drive and passion, go for it, life is too short to miss your opportunity to start. That was good to hear. I also discovered that laying ghosts is a bit like starting out on a new career path - you just have to DO it. The conditions to cross the threshold will never be perfect - and the reality is probably not going to be as bad as the fantasy.

Later, I read a post on a photography forum saying: " Can anyone recommend any good resources (e.g. books and web sites) that cover the business side of photography?"

So, I thought I'd offer my "Complete Beginner's Guide to Starting a Photography Business." It's all you need to know (assuming you can take a salable photograph and are able to keep your accounts in order - or at worst, can afford to employ an accountant).

Q. When is the best time for me to start a new photography business?

A. Now.

Q. When will the conditions be perfect to ensure a good outcome?

A. Never.

Q. How will I know if I am making the right decision to start a photography (or any other business)?

A. You won't, at least not at the start. But, with time, you may come to believe that you did make the right choice - and that's all that counts.

Q. What do I do if I start a business and it fails.

A. Start again. (But only if your If you're heart is really in it - and you have the passion and belief in yourself).

Monday, November 17, 2008

Be a "Professional" Photographer - Learn to Share

I got a surprise phone call, quite early the other morning. "Stephen", a voice I didn't recognize said, "it's Barry Murphy, I'm a photographer based in County Kerry. "

Still a bit bemused as to why a photographer I didn't know was calling me at 9 O'Clock on a Saturday morning, I listened as Barry went on to explain. He had been contacted by a prestigious hotel in a town about 20 minutes drive from where I'm currently based, who wanted him to photograph the local "hunt" (ladies and gents in red jackets, mounted on horses with a pack of hound dogs) outside the hotel early on Sunday morning. The shot was to be used in a forthcoming advertising brochure for the hotel; and as it constituted a commercial shot, the job was going to pay very well.

Barry is a well-established specialist in interior photography, and had worked for the hotel previously, and he was their first choice for the job. Unfortunately, he had another commitment and couldn't do it. He knew of me from communications of mine he had seen on the Prodig email list and after taking a good look at my own website - Adare Images - he felt satisfied, he told me, that I seemed "savvy enough" (his words) to do the job to a good standard. Although, he confided, there were a few "wedding and freelance press photographers" in the area that he wouldn't want to risk with the work. He was calling me early so that he could look for another photographer if I wasn't available, and then let his client know, in good time, that he had made alternative arrangements.

Not only was I flattered that a complete stranger had plucked me out of the pile to trust me to do a good job for one of his top clients; I was also very impressed by the level of generosity that his action displayed. It's not often that you get independent photographers passing on well-paid work to any Tom, Dick or Stephen. In fact, some of the possessiveness and back-stabbing I've witnessed in some photography forums and with certain "professionals" I've met had me wondering if magnanimity was long since dead. Plus, the current economic downturn might lead the more cynical amongst us to assuming that the law of dog-eat-dog was in full swing.

That phone call taught me something about human nature. Namely; you can't always be sure about it - even when the current climate and the circumstances lead you to feel certain that you can predict how people will respond. It also showed me that when you are confident and secure enough in your abilities and your situation - it is possible to feel safe enough to share your work (and your hard-won clients) with others.

And an important business lesson wasn't lost on me either - do the right thing by your clients, and quickly, if you want to keep them for longer.