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 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 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 " 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.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Find Your Place in the Photography Market

And Don't Get Squeezed Out

Many years ago, at an open-air Bruce Springsteen concert in the UK, an extremely large and overweight man, who had been standing very close to me and my companion, decided to make his way to the front of the stage - and then out to the bar. The crowd around me took up the free space he left in his wake, and we all settled in to being gently crushed again. Then he came back. I still have a vague memory of the intense pressure on my ribs as he forced himself into a space that no longer existed and I found myself with nowhere to go. Except - out to the side, just where he had come from.

It's not that easy working as a self-employed photographer (and writer) when some think that all it takes to be successful is a half-decent camera and a computer. It's difficult enough that there are a heck of a lot of very talented people out there - many of them vying for the same cramped space in the job market. But, it's worse when that space gets even more congested by people who really shouldn't be there at all. Despite plenty of opinion to the contrary - and some evidence to back it up - I'm not quite as full of my own "self importance" as I could be - nor am as as confident of my abilities as I should be (err...probably). And, I am often inclined to be the one who moves away to make room for others.

Yesterday, a prospective client - a tour operator - asked me to look at some photographs he had been sent by a freelance photographer, and offer a second opinion on whether they were good enough to be used on his website. I was flattered to be asked - and he was honest enough to say that although he liked them, his photographic expertise was minimal.

But, I was also getting mentally prepared to be squeezed out of the potential market. After all, this was a freelance photographer, so she had to be good, hadn't she? Immediately, in my head, I was sizing up the opposition, finding her to be 'bigger' than I am (certainly in terms o f talent and potential to succeed) and getting ready to move out of the arena.

The thing was; I didn't like most of the photographs. Not only did I not like them, I knew, in a very objective and totally non-partisan way, that they were not of a very good standard and would probably not benefit the client's standing as a well-respected tour operator should he use them.

So I told him, by email, that yes there were some that I quite liked, compositionally speaking, and one of them was, in my view, excellent. But most of the images were over-processed, and one had been so heavily manipulated that although it might work well as an art print, I didn't think that it would look right on a tour operator's website. There were others that had obvious technical problems - like wildly converging verticals on a shot of a church, and poor colour balance on some interior shots.

I told him all this, in what I hoped was a professional and objective manner - and I explained that I teach those subjects to photography students. And, I also emailed examples of my own landscapes, interior shots and architectural images that I hoped would show the differences I was writing about.

I don't have his response yet - but I felt good about what I did. I was being fair and as objective as possible, but I was also saying "some of us can do this better than others".

Move over, I told my unseen interloper - I'm claiming my place in the arena!

Monday, November 10, 2008

What to do About Cancelled Photo Shoots

Win Your Cancellation Fee

A local newspaper that I have been working for over the last two years, called on Friday evening with 3 jobs for the weekend. Two were on Saturday evening (bang goes my social life - or it would had I got one) and the third was on Sunday morning (bang went my usual Sunday lie-in - not that I usually get one!)

The two evening jobs went quite smoothly: other than the fact that the paper booked me in at 8.15pm for a book launch shoot and then a sports club anniversary dinner at 8.30pm. Which gave me 15 minutes to take the book launch shots. Oh no it didn't! The jobs were 20 miles drive apart, it was dark and raining torrentially, and I was on back-roads of Ireland I had never seen before. Mind you, even if the jobs had been a street apart, 15 minutes was hardly time enough. As it was, I got the book job done fairly smartish, and my Sat Nav found my next location in 25 minutes, so I was only about half an hour late - which, in this part of Ireland is known as "being pretty punctual!"

I was in good time for the third job, which was scheduled for 11am on Sunday morning, a local league soccer match at a ground, about 30 minutes drive from my house. I just needed 2 actions shots of the match, and I'd be home in time for the Coronation Street repeats (blog readers outside of Ireland and the UK may want to follow the link or contact me for further details on precisely where Coronation Street is - and what you've been missing!)

The problem was the game was canceled. No one from the paper had contacted me to tell me, there was no notice on closed and securely locked gates of the soccer pitch, and there was no one to ask, either. I drove away thinking that I might have got the time wrong, and stopped a man in the street, to ask if he know anything about it. This being Ireland ("a small country" - meaning that everyone knows everyone else in the small towns; which is really something to be very thankful for, especially when you've experienced the anonymity of large cities) the man pointed to a corner shop and said: "someone wearing a red coat has just gone into that shop - and he will be able to tell you". I went into the shop, found the young man in the red coat and politely asked him about the game, to be told "all local matches are off due to the weather". I thanked him, and drove home, wondering about my fee for the job - which now looked to be in jeopardy.

It's not easy being a freelance photographer. The work doesn't come regularly, you have to take what you get - or not work at all - and sometimes, the work is canceled at short notice, or, like today, it just doesn't happen at all. Not that long ago, I would have written it off as one of those things.

But when I got home today, I emailed the paper and told them that the game was canceled and that I would be billing them for the full amount, given that I had to find out about it from a man in a red coat in a corner shop - and not from the picture desk!

Luckily - the National Union of Journalists fees guide is on my side (sporting pun) and it recommends that a minimum of 100% of the job fee is claimed if work is canceled within 1 - 7 days of the scheduled date. Other rates are on the website (follow the link for more details and their views on cancellation policy).

I just hope that the picture editor (who is a union member) agrees with his union's advice!

Friday, November 7, 2008

How to Develop A Photography Business (3)

Find Free Advertising Space

Driving home from a meeting of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) - I'm Freelance Officer of the SW Ireland Branch - I noticed something odd about the view of my car's rear window.

There was an elliptical-shaped ob
ject on the bottom left hand corner of the window, that I hadn't noticed before - but which I immediately recognized as some sort of sticker.

When I got home, it didn't take me long to see that the sticker was an advertisement for the motor dealer from whom I'd bought my car, about a year ago. I had been so busy that I'd almost forgotten that I had taken my car in for its 25000km service, that day. The sequence of events was quite straightforward:

I took the car for a service. The dealer carried out the service. I paid the dealer for his work. The dealer used my car as free advertising space for his business.

Surely I have misunderstood something? I buy a car for €37000, and I pay for regular services and repairs. Then, the car dealer to whom I have paid all this money uses my property to advertise his business for nothing. No, I didn't misunderstand anything at all. And it happens all the time - go outside and check your car or your friend's car - or your T shirt, or your rucksack, or your phone or...need I continue?

So why don't I do the same to promote my business? I could do some work for a client and then find a way to use that work - or simply the fact that I did it - to promote myself further; having first been paid for the work, of course! Thus, getting two bites of the cherry.

But, what to do to avail of this fantastic free advertising scheme that motor dealers (to name but one of a thousand other astute businesses) have been exploiting for decades? More of that in another post.

But first, a competition. Use the comments link (below) to suggest ways to get free advertising for your photography business. For the best ones (that is, any original ideas that capture my imagination) I will offer free advertising for your business on this Blog (that is: a small "blurb" and a link to your own Blog or website) for 1 week.

How to Develop a Photography Business Part 2

How to Develop A Photography Business Part 1

Monday, November 3, 2008

How to Develop A Photography Business (2)

Identify your Income Streams

If, like me, you’ve made the leap into full time freelance photography work – or you’re at least thinking about it, you will need to also think about where your income will come from.

(Cue Homer Simpson impression) DOH! From photography, stupid!

OK, well then, what kind of photography? What will you specialise in? Will you be a jack-of-all-trades (some might add…and master of none)? Or will you find your niche in the marketplace and become a specialist in a particular strand of photography?

But that’s not all I’m referring to here – there is a bigger picture (pun intended) to look at before deciding on what sort of photographs you will (and will not) take to make a living.

First of all, you need to consider where all of your money will come from – and that can mean being, as a photographer, more than someone who takes photographs. What would happen if your single source of income - taking photographs suddenly dried up? Say you had a bad month because no one was getting married (I know a wedding photographer whose work ceases every October 31st until the following April) or the newspaper you freelanced for went bust? If you'd put all your proverbial eggs into that one basket, where would your next omelette and fries come from?

It was only when a good friend, with many years of experience in corporate banking – and huge savvy with regard to writing business plans – sat me down to consider from where my total income would be derived, that I began to consider the notion of “income streams”.

It was then that I realised that photography per se, might only account for a proportion of my income as a photographer – and that work could be further divided into several income streams (more of that in a future post).

I gave a lot of thought (and, it has to be said, I’m still thinking) about where my skills lie, and how those skills can be utilised to form a series of income streams that come together to form the river that becomes my monthly salary as a freelance photographer.

This is what I've come up with (so far):

I can Take Photographs to a Professional Standard that People are Prepared to Buy

Possible income streams

1) Identify my photographic Specialisms and potential markets and sell my photographs directly to those markets

2) Contribute stock images to one or more reputable and effective photographic stock agencies and sell my photographs to other unidentified markets, indirectly

3) Hold Photography exhibitions and sell my framed prints directly to the public

4) Build a website and sell my unframed images (either as prints or downloadable digital files) directly to the public.

I am a qualified teacher in the adult education sector

Possible income stream

Developing and running evening classes and day workshops on various aspects of photography from beginner to advanced standards.

I can write

Possible income streams

1) Producing articles on ‘spec’ for magazines & Newspapers.

2) Seeking commissioned articles by producing salable proposals for editors

4) Writing a photography advice column for a local newspaper, magazine or webzine.

5) Writing a Blog for an existing magazine and/or commercially sponsored Blog.

6) Writing my own Blog and Monetizing it (including through advertising and sponsorship .

This is an unfinished work in progress, but it certainly gave me food for thought – and I have already made some headway into developing – and reaping an income from - a number of the income streams on the list.

I’ll come back to discuss each of these streams in greater detail, in future blogs. But for now, I'll be thinking hard about income streams to ensure I don't drown in the choppy waters of freelance photography.

How to Develop A Photography Business - Part 1