Thursday, April 29, 2010

Thoughts for New Photographers - a Big Boy Pants Post - Read with Caution.

So you’ve decided to enter the world of professional photography! Congratulations. It’s exciting isn’t it? And a little scary too. Especially with all of these seasoned photographers talking about how tough things are. I think there are a few things you should know, so I’m writing this just for you. With this said though, I always warn people that my posts can be pretty blunt. To keep that light I’ll ask if you have your big-boy pants on (Big girl pants work too). Here’s why. If you don’t then some of what I’m going to write will be insulting. You won’t be able to see through that and you’ll get mad. If that’s going to be you then stop reading now. We’ll be friends anyway. But if you think you’re ready, keep going.

The first thing you need to know is this. As with most businesses, the fun stuff is only about 25% of the time you’ll spend. The rest of it is actual work. There is nothing easy about succeeding as a photographer. (That is, unless you have a rich uncle who is underwriting all of your costs). Building a business that lets you charge enough to make a profit after all of your expenses are paid is the hardest part. Learning to take great pictures is also tough. You need to do both. So get ready to spend some time being humbled, getting better, being humbled again, getting better again, etc. And be ready for a lifetime of that.

There are those who have jumped in because you take good pictures. I think the thing you need to understand is that’s a good start, but you have to dedicate yourself to becoming a master of your craft. Here’s why. People aren’t hiring you for good pictures, they’re hiring you for great pictures. These days they can get good pictures for free. Taking great pictures is one part luck and nine parts skill. The settings are rarely perfect. The light is flat. The people are NOT always attractive. The dresses clash with the paint on the walls. The church won’t let you shoot with a flash or work downstairs. The bride gets drunk. (If you’re a bride and you’re reading this somehow please don’t get drunk. It makes it REALLY hard to take good pictures of you.). The groom’s mom is 100 lbs overweight, is wearing a sleeveless white dress and has said she wants some really nice pictures for her husband. If you’re the master of your craft then none of these situations present an insurmountable challenge. If you’re not, your pictures will suck, your clients will not be pleased and you will fail. (And - you also discredit the industry as people will assume that all professional photographers are just amateurs who charge).

There are those of you who’ve jumped in because the day job just wasn’t working out. Congratulations! You have a day job again. Working professional photographers spend most of their time doing actual work. Between editing events, having sales meetings with prospective clients, bookkeeping, rewriting marketing materials, working with vendors, etc., there is a lot of “slog” that has to happen between the “fun times” taking pictures. You’re your own boss now and there’s definitely an upside to that, but in that capacity you have to discipline yourself to actually doing these things. Otherwise when the tax bill comes at the end of the year you’re going to get an awful shock. (and the health insurance and the ... you get my point).

The biggest mistake most of you will make is undercharging. This is a tough topic to understand and I don’t have enough time or room to really explain it but suffice it to say that if you’re going to work an 8 hour wedding or a 3 hour location portrait shoot you need to charge enough to cover the time, plus a portion of your costs as a photographer and then have enough left over to help you pay the bills. I know you’re charging a low price to help you build a portfolio and a referral base (your life blood as a photographer) but you need to understand that if you’re charging too little, that referral base will simply refer other people who only want to pay that price. You have to be disciplined about continuously creeping up your pricing or you will quickly get pigeonholed as a cheap photographer.

Photographers who are successful over the long haul understand that more than half of their profit is going to come from post-shoot sales. For this reason, they are protective of their images. The images you shoot belong to you - not your clients. When they hire you to take their pictures they’re paying for your time, not for your images. You can include a disk of images with your packages, but you need to understand that when you do that you significantly diminish the chances that you will succeed. At the bare minimum, recommend to them that they buy any “enlargements” from you. They can go to Wallmart and get all the 4X6’s they want, but if they want an 11X14 or a 16X20 they want that to look great on their wall and the way to ensure that is by working with you. Your monitor is calibrated. You have access to professional quality labs that print on archival paper. You or your lab can properly mount the print. And most importantly, you can make money on it.

Here’s the thing. I’m certainly not trying to discourage you. I want you to succeed. There are a lot of things Pictage and others can do to help, but you have to understand that a lot of your success will be determined by your willingness to do the hard work I’ve touched on here. There are a lot of great resources and a lot of folks who can help and one of the most critical pieces of advice I’d give is to listen to what they have to say. (Especially on "closed" forums where they can be completely candid).



Monday, April 26, 2010

Getting a job in today's market.

I got a bunch of emails from folks wanting to know why I decided to do a free employment seminar and a bunch more from people who said they would have liked to attend but couldn’t make. I decided this was a good place to answer with some of the tips I shared and just as importantly, the big reason why I did it.

I think it’s important for people who are seeking jobs today to understand that both sides of the table are a little shellshocked. What we all went through last year, as employers and as employed/unemployed, was a very big deal. Folks seeking jobs are desperate to get back to work and employers are scared to death that if they over hire or hire wrong they’ll end up back in the same boat. We all need to take a deep breath, but it’s hard and I get that.

The thing that prompted me to do the seminar was a series of conversations I’d had with people who, after rejections, unreturned calls, 100’s of applications via internet sites, etc., were losing hope. For these folks, it’s so important to understand that the reasons for the rejections in most cases have nothing to do with them. In fact, the rejections themselves aren’t actually rejections, they’re simply applying for jobs that are already actually filled...

So from here on out I’m going to talk to folks looking for work and tell you what I told the folks who were able to be there on Saturday.

The first thing you need to understand is that the job market is beginning to stabilize and add jobs. For more than 16 months, the marketplace actually subtracted jobs. So if you lost your job you were forced into a situation where more people were actually looking for less jobs. That sucks. That’s turning around. Slowly, but it’s happening. So there is hope.

The second thing to understand is that in a market with a lot of applicants and companies that are scared to hire your materials need to be impeccable. Your resume needs to be flawless and it needs to tell the story of your working life in a way that someone scanning it can readily see your value. It can’t be too long either. That’s a common mistake when people have been working for a while. 3 pages Max is the rule I use. I told the folks who came to the seminar yesterday that I would review their resumes for them. I wish I could do that for everyone. I can’t. But find someone you trust and have them go through it with you to make sure it works. It’s important.

The third thing to understand is that the internet is your friend for research, but it is not your friend for open jobs, hiring, etc. In fact, it hurts you. There is a recent University of Washington study that confirms this. The reason is that you can spend hours sifting through open jobs, etc. (most sites are actually designed to keep you online) and submitting resumes. 90% of the resumes you submit will provoke no response. (Because the jobs are already filled). Of the responses you get most will be rejections (same reason). This flood of “no’s” can’t help but be disheartening. So instead of helping you, this medium is actually hurting you by giving you a false impression that you have no value. And that’s the thing you need most to understand... Working through friends and business contacts is a much better approach that gives you a much better chance of finding a job. I tell people this. Next time you feel the urge to log on to Monster go for a "thinking walk" instead. Sift through your mental memory banks for all the people you know. Where do they work? Does that sound fun and in your wheelhouse? If so, call them up and have coffee and ask them for help.

In this market no one is going to think you're a bad person because you are out of work. Everyone knows last year sucked. Get over that stigma and get yourself out there. It'll happen.

Prepare for the interview. Learn everything you can about the company and the people you’ll be talking to. Have a specific reason why you want to work there and make it something tangible. Hint, “It seems like a cool place to work” is not what I’m suggesting. Be on time. Have fresh copies of the resume you sent the company. Know how long they expect you to be there and be prepared to stay longer. Make the interviews a dialog. When you sit down remind yourself of this one important fact. What’s next is what’s important. You need to make the interview about why you’re excited about this position. You absolutely must keep it from being a conversation about the wrongs of the past. The company you’re talking to wants you to be motivated by who they are and what they do and what this job is. They want you to be excited about the job for which you are interviewing (as opposed to the one you can move up to from there). They don’t want to be your rebound relationship. They want to be your happy future.

Lastly - and MOST IMPORTANTLY. Understand this. You have value. The rejections and frustrations you’ve faced, so long as you’ve got a great resume and you prepare adequately for interviews are about the market. They’re not about you. The next one could be the one, or the one after that. There is no quality more necessary for someone looking for a job in today’s market than perseverance. There is good reason to hope. You have value. Someone will see that and they will hire you and this will be a memory. What’s next is what’s important.

Friday, April 16, 2010

A great dish on the side or all by itself. Rice with Peas and Ham

Rice with Peas and Ham

If you’re like me, you get tired of the same old sides. Let’s see, we can have rice, dirty rice, potatoes (though I like the newly available fingerling potatoes we see in the stores), mashed potatoes. Every once in a while I make a pasta side like a risotto but that can be time consuming. This recipe, which is based on a recipe from a cookbook I had years ago, is a family favorite and a fun side for almost any grilled dish


Healthy splash of olive oil (not Extra Virgin)
4 tablespoons butter (divided)
1 large chopped yellow onion
1 ½ cups long grain rice
4 tablespoons sherry (buy a decent Sherry such as Drysack - I use “medium” rather than dry or sweet)
1 16 ounce packages thawed frozen peas (or whatever size you can find)
1 cup diced smoked ham (I have used canned - just fry it to dry it - and also smoked ham from the meat section. Both work fine)
3 cups hot chicken stock (note “hot.” Don’t use cold or your rice will turn out mushy and gross!)
1 ½ teaspoons salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan

In a heavy two quart saucepan with a tight fitting lid heat the oil and two tablespoons of butter. Saute the onion for about 5 minutes. Add the rice and stir until it is translucent. Add the sherry (to boil off alcohol – about 30 seconds). Add peas, ham 2 cups of the hot stock, salt, pepper. Cover and bring to a boil, then cook over low heat for 10 minutes. Add the remaining stock, recover and cook for 10 minutes longer, or until the rice is at the desired consistency. Mix in the cheese and serve.

I think this recipe came out of one of the Jeff Smith Frugal Gourmet Cookbooks, but to be honest I don’t know. I’ve been making it so long that I basically make it from memory. When Ang and I were younger we had this sometimes for dinner - all by itself. Whether you’re having guests or just looking for something easy and satisfying this dish works great. Enjoy!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Are You Sure it's the Competition?

Saturday morning at a community event, I was chatting with a friend. We were talking about my ongoing wine cellar project, when he looked up and said, hang on a sec, and ran to catch a guy who was walking by. I caught up with him a little while later and he apologized for running off. “That was my daughter’s wedding photographer and I’ve been trying to get in touch with him about the album.” We went on to chat chillers, etc. but I ended up asking him what was going on with the album (Ang and I were at the wedding last July). He laughed and said, “near as I can tell, nothing.” I asked him a little more about it ...

The album was a part of the package they chose when they asked him to shoot the wedding. He arrived with another photographer in tow, shooting the exact same Mark II, 24-70, 70-200, 16-35 two body, two 580EXII kits. They shot the ceremony and a pretty traditional reception, table shots, cake cutting, obligatory bouquet, garter ceremony and all. We were in the middle of a great conversation when one of the photogs interrupted us to tell us it was time for our table pictures. Stand around the table, bang bang bang with the flash, off we go.

I asked them right after the wedding if they’d been pleased with their photographer. “Yes, wasn’t he great?” (They hadn’t even seen any pictures!) About four months ago her mom asked me about how long it usually takes to see pictures, etc... I’m always sensitive about questions like this so I told her it varies, but at that point all they’d seen was the blog. She made a comment that there have been lots of events posted since on the blog, but that they still don’t have anything, “and it’s so frustrating when we want to talk about the wedding with someone!”

My friend’s frustration was pretty clear. Is he going to get referrals from them? No. Is he going to get referrals from anyone who knows them well? No. Why? Because he failed to deliver the pictures back to them during a timeframe that they felt was reasonable. But not only that! He also failed to deliver the images back to them during a time when they spent lots and lots of time and energy talking with their friends about the wedding. When they were struck with the costs and in post-traumatic stress and wondering if it had all been worth it, they had nothing to convince them that it was. Now, this many months later, they want their album because “they want to check it off of their list.” “And we paid for it and we’re not going to let him just keep the money.” Oof!

On the way out I bumped into the photographer. I introduced myself. He knew Pictage. ‘Used to be a member.’ Left because it wasn’t worth it. I’m actually sure he was right and that’s ironic. He’d gone on a long diatribe about how he does everything himself and didn’t need any of the services and didn’t understand why he was supposed to pay for them. He finally said that his business was really suffering, that his referrals were way down and that “no one wants to pay for a real photographer anymore anyway.”

I couldn’t help but shake my head. If he’d outsourced any or all of his fulfillment, these clients would likely have remained happy. Moreover, they would have shared their memories with their friends using HIS pictures. What better advertising could he have? Is his studio really failing because there is competition? Or is his studio failing because he isn’t meeting his clients’ expectations and therefore he’s not getting any referrals? To be sure, it’s a tough, competitive environment but in these times you have to pick up your game. If you’re going to sit on the sidelines and mope then you might as well go ahead and sell your gear now. New cameras are coming out and your equipment’s value is going to drop and you won’t even be able to sell the gear for your failed photography business for enough to cover your credit card bills...

Does that sound harsh? I hope so. Whether you like it or not, success or failure is in your hands. You don’t praise the market when you succeed. Why do you blame the market when you fail? If you persist in doing it all yourself, fine. But be disciplined enough to really get it all done. If you outsource, fine. I’m not even saying that Pictage is necessarily the best answer! Do your research, outsource to the place that’s the best fit for your business and then make sure you’re taking the best advantage of what they have to offer. Most importantly, make sure you’re being honest with yourself about why you’re struggling and once you have it figured out, move. In business, stagnancy is death.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Heroes Helping Kids

Now that’s inspiring ...

Tim Co. is a Pictage member, Pictage User Group (PUG) leader, Wedding Photographer, terrific guy, hero. Hero you say? Yes, hero. At least in my book. Here’s why.

Lots of people talk about building great relationships with their clients. Tim does it. In fact, right now he’s somewhere on the East Coast of Florida walking 500 miles with one of his brides. This isn’t just any bride and it isn’t just any walk. That’s why Tim’s such a hero. Here’s some background...

Growing up wasn’t as easy as it should have been for Lauren Book-Lim. In fact, she endured the nightmare of child abuse by her nanny from the age of 10 until she was 16. She never told anyone because she was ashamed and scared. That would have been enough to break most people, especially when the abuse turned toward something akin to torture, but Lauren Book-Lim hasn’t just survived, she is thriving. Where most would want to leave this nightmare behind, she has turned around and she’s taking this cause on head on, founding an organization called Laurenskids to get the message out that “It’s Ok to Tell.” Her courage and her character are an inspiration.

Tim Co photographed her wedding in 2008 and her story inspired him to get involved. He has photographed many Laurenskids events and has stayed close to this friend/client. When he heard she was going to walk 500 miles up the coast of Florida, he dropped everything to get involved and is walking the walk with her, 30 miles a day, and frequently jogging back to get on the bus to edit and upload pictures to the blog (image on the bottom of this post). When Tim took a break for 30 miles to shoot video, Sara Kauss grabbed her cameras and filled in with stills, showing that Tim’s not the only wedding photographer willing to jump in for a cause. Way to go Sara! (You can see Tim and Sara with Lauren in the picture above. Tim's got the 'flip' and Sara is shooting away (yellow shorts) as Lauren greets an inspired young admirer.

I asked Tim why he was doing this. “Because there was really no option.” I love that. Sure there was Tim. You could have told her, ‘good luck’ and stayed home like most people would have. Instead, you’re there.

“I am not good at very many things,” Tim said, “I was determined to use the one thing I can do to significantly impact Lauren's efforts to raise awareness for her cause.”

And that awareness is important. Current statistics suggest that as many as 1 in 3 girls is sexually abused (1 in 6 boys) before they reach the age of 18. There are an estimated 39MM abuse survivors in the US today. (That’s more than the population of California). April is sexual abuse month so Tim decided there was nothing left to do but walk.

They’re out there somewhere along the way right now. It’s evening in Florida. You can find their blog here and if you’re in Florida swing by and honk or walk a little and say hello. It isn’t often you get to rub elbows with heroes and that’s what Tim and Lauren are.

In my book heroes are the folks who decide that something needs to change and they step up and do everything they can to change it. They are the voice of the silent. They are the hands and feet of the disabled. They are the identity of the unknown. Their courage is based on their conviction that whatever bad might come to them is eclipsed by the good that can come from what they do. They know the cost. They move ahead anyway and step by step, these two courageous souls and the folks who are walking along with them, following online on twitter and through the blog with Tim’s images and Lauren’s heartfelt words, are making a difference...and if that impacts just one child’s life, it will have been worthwhile.

Thanks for sharing your story Tim and give Lauren a hug for me and tell her we know about her and we’re here for her and we’re standing up and cheering...and I know that thousands of other wedding and portrait photographers will be too!

Monday, April 5, 2010

How's this for transparency?

About Pictage Sponsor/Endorser Programs.

Wow ... So I’ve been waiting for the industry unrest to turn our way and I guess it has. Even though that’s true, I’m actually still enjoying reading most of what I’m seeing because it’s amazing how much you learn when someone is unhappy. (So hard to get people to tell you why though! ugh!). Anyway, the current stream of consciousness happens to be around whether or not Pictage pays photographers to say we’re great. I like the idea of that, but I have a sense that if we did that for any length of time we’d probably be in trouble, so the answer is no, we don’t. In the interest of transparency though, let’s take a look at what we do, do. (which I hope is not easily confused with doo doo!) ...

Pictage treats Joe Buissink like a member of our own staff (Hey, a guy can dream can’t he?) He’s the only “endorser” who’s actually on the Payroll. Think about that relationship kind of like a shoe company and a basketball player. Nike/Jordan if you will. Joe’s a heavy user. (Actually usually drops off his film himself!). He utilizes many of Pictage’s services and provides consistent feedback with regard to what he sees. In addition, I see Joe’s talks, conversations, etc., as helpful to the community (they are always bursting at the doors) and so I have no compunctions about this relationship and I make no apologies for it. Several other members of Pictage’s ad-hoc advisory board may get discounts on Pictage products or services as a form of compensation for the time they spend helping us get better. (that takes a lot of time). There is no other direct compensation for anyone who endorses Pictage. (so far as I know!)

Everyone else falls into a different category. All of Pictage’s educational activities are on a user volunteer basis. We don’t sponsor paid workshops. We may, in some cases, provide a free membership or other type of product for a photographer to use as a giveaway for a paid event but that’s about it. As an example, in the case of Mike Colon, we sponsor a dinner on the night of his workshops (we do the same for Dane’s where we provide lunch). Speakers for our own conference, PartnerCon, are selected through a process of abstract submission and user survey. (Who do you want to hear from?)

In addition, Pictage provides a level of financial support for events that we believe have educational value for Photographers. Recently we sponsored “Inspire Boston” and “Rebirth” (just concluded on the Mississippi Delta), two workshops with a slate of relatively unknown speakers (all working professional photographers), and a focus on providing a high quality experience to their attendees. We think this is inline with our own event, PartnerCon, held in New Orleans last year and this year in November. Pictage seeks to be a resource in these events, but we do not attempt to influence speakers, agenda, etc. We don’t see that as our place. (ask the organizers). I personally endorsed Carlos Baez’s workshop in Las Vegas because I knew it would be a hands on, direct learning experience with a lot of value for the attendees. I think Pictage bought Pizza for the folks who came.

Pictage does pay expenses in some cases. These are usually when there is a large expected turnout due to a lot of regional demand. (It’s important to note that Pictage only provides speakers like this when there is significant regional demand.). These expenses, in varying degrees can include travel, facilities rental, etc. Pictage only pays these expenses in situations where there is no charge to the photographer for attending the event.

Lastly, for all PUG leaders, and a few other folks, Pictage grants the membership fees for free. These folks bust their butts scheduling, planning, promoting and hosting the activities in their areas and that’s the least that we can do to help them out. Pictage pays for meals, etc., in these meetings, but we do not force a curriculum, speakers (including yours truly) or anything else. My view is that what happens in a particular community should be up to that community and not us or anyone else.

In the spirit of transparency I think that’s really the exhaustive list of everything we do. I’m not sure there’s much there to apologize for either. Times change. Where last year our users might have been clamoring for one speaker, this year they may be wanting to hear from someone else. The speakers with staying power are the ones who meet their audience’s needs. The ones who don’t meet those needs are charting their own courses. Supplying these speakers to the marketplace in a free to attend - free to not attend forum - is one of the services Pictage’s users expect and I think it is just that, a service. If you hear someone who rings your bell and you want to go to their workshop. Good for you and good for them. If you decide you can’t stand someone. Well, that’s ok too. (just let me know!)

I hope that helps to clear things up.