Friday, March 30, 2012

The Best Photo Conference... The One YOU create.

Every presentation isn’t perfect. The presenters aren’t always cute or funny (at least not intentionally). Sometimes their delivery is downright boring. And these are all of the best reasons to be at conferences like Inspire Photo in Boston. I know what you’re thinking ... Huh? Here’s what I mean...

The speakers at Inspire_Photo weren’t there because this was another stop on the tour. Few of them ever do workshops and almost none have ever traveled to teach. Every single one is a working, professional photographer with a successful studio. They may not have been polished, but every presentation was chalk full of very practical advice. Note pages were filled. The time went too fast.

As great as the teaching was it wasn’t the only reason to attend the conference. The reason to attend was the breakfasts and lunches and dinners and after dinners. The karaoke and the dancing (mostly very bad!) and the laughter and most importantly, the connection. These are the reasons to attend Inspire. (well - maybe not the Karaoke ...)

Inspire is different. It is a conference put on by photographers for photographers. While Pictage is a financial sponsor, along with Adorama, Shoot dot Edit, and a number of others, we have little voice in the organization and no voice in who speaks and on what subjects, let alone what they say. Frankly, I think that’s how it should be. It’s one of the reasons I love this conference.

I wish there were more Inspires. To me, this is the conference format that works. Regional conferences put on by photographers in that region to teach and discuss topics that are important within that region. Thanks so much to all of the great folks who did the hard work to make it happen.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

No More Anonymous

On my last blog post there was an anonymous comment. It was the only comment that mentioned a workshop by name. I find that interesting. I'm not going to allow anonymous comments anymore because I think the unwillingness to tell someone you think their workshop didn't work is a big part of the problem. There is the distinct possibility, however farfetched you might think, that they don't know. Hearing it might help them get better.

There is also this. The same experience may work great for one person and not work at all for another. I think it's interesting that the first person may become a dedicated evangelist for that experience and the second a vitriolic rock thrower. Frankly I don't think either extreme is all that healthy. It's a little like the Canon vs. Nikon discussion. One works for one and one works for another. Live and let live.

There is a respectfulness and conviviality in truthful discourse that makes us all better. In the end I guess that's what I'd love to see. If something works say so. If it doesn't work say so. Say it like this -"Yes, that experience didn't work for me because I didn't think the examples were applicable to my business." Don't say it like this, "So and so and so and so suck."

You'd think I wouldn't have to write this... Right? I probably don't. Now you can say I suck! Ha! But it's something to think about on a rainy Saturday morning with my dog on my feet.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Why is This Person Qualified to Teach ME Photography?

Someone asked me the other day what the most surprising thing about serving the professional photography business has been. Truthfully, it has been that so much time and effort is spent by so many on so much that has so little to do with capturing great images. Think what would happen if a contractor spent all of her time online commiserating with others about how little framing business there is since all of these new contractors came along or if an accountant chose to offer marketing seminars for accountants instead of doing accounting? It’s funny. Do you know who teaches marketing seminars at accounting conferences? Marketing professionals. Do you know who teaches accounting seminars at marketing conferences? Accounting professionals. Doesn’t that make just a little more sense?

With those things said let’s talk about the problem - the thing that really seems to drive the established photography community batty. In a nutshell that boils down to, ‘why do all of these people who really know nothing about photography teach photography seminars?’ Why do people pay for them? (I also wonder when I hear these relative diatribes if there isn’t a little, ‘those people should be paying ME.’)

So with the preamble out of the way, let’s talk a little about seminars. This is meant both as a qualifier for attendees and a heads up for teachers (and those who wish they were teaching).

  1. Seminars and workshops are a buyer-beware world. There are many great teachers in this marketplace and there are many people who shouldn’t be teaching at all. As a rule, if someone tells you there’s a one-size-fits-all approach to capturing great images or that there is a sure-fire “if you follow these steps you will be happy” method they’re leading you down the garden path. If you don’t know what that phrase means you may be easy to lead there. If you take everything they say literally and apply it to your shooting or your business and you fail, it’s your fault. Not theirs.

  2. Before you pay someone to consult for you make sure that the person you are paying is qualified to teach. Just because they are well known or have a lot of twitter followers doesn’t mean they are an expert. Getting bad advice for free is bad enough. Paying for it is worse. If the person is going to give you business advice what are their business qualifications? If the person is going to give you marketing advice what are their marketing qualifications? Did they REALLY build a great photography business? If so, why do they have time to teach? How much of their time is spent on each thing and how is what they know relevant to your business, your shooting style, your target clients and your region?

  3. The hardest part of this business is keeping the fire. The only thing that drives me battier then new photographers bellyaching about how hard the business is is old photographers bellyaching about how hard the business has become. There is no easy path. This is a business, not daycare. To continue to be successful over time you must continue to grow and change. It wasn’t easy when you started and it’s not easy now. Are you going to get up and get moving? If you don’t your failure is on you. Seminars aren’t the reason it is hard and ‘lots of new photographers‘ isn’t either.

  4. If your photography business isn’t giving you the living you want, teaching photographers to be in business should not be the thing that does. There are a few notable exceptions but these are all people who came from teaching in the first place. There must be somebody out there teaching you all that the way to make a living in the business of photography is to spend a year or so spinning up a brand and then go on the road and teach photographers how to do it. This business model is unsustainable. If you have to ask why that’s a problem.

  5. Your greatness is capturing beauty through the lens. It is not speaking or teaching seminars or in anything else. I don’t want you to take this the wrong way, but the best of you are mediocre speakers. If you don’t believe me then you’ve never heard someone truly great. Many of you know your subject matter well and that has value and I commend it, but you still aren’t ‘speaking’ stars. At your best you are image-capturing superstars whose work inspires less talented souls like me to wish we had the skill and vision you have. Why isn’t that, and a solid business built on that, good enough? Why do so many of you want to mess it up with ‘fame?’

Just because this business has an art as its basis doesn’t mean it isn’t a business. To be successful in business you must be great at what that business is. Anyone can get into a business, but only those with the skill to satisfy their customers can stay. Do you have that skill? The only person who can truly answer that question is you. (and your clients). And that’s something to think about.



ETA: Folks. I deleted the comment thread attached to this post. Frankly I think we all wanted it to go away. Breathe. Eyes Up. Move On.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

A Challenge to New Photographers... (only if you want to succeed).

If you go back a ways in my blog you will find a series of posts called, “big boy pants” posts. This is one of them. Probably long overdue. It grows from a conversation I had yesterday with the truly inimitable Gary Fong and it also grows from lots of conversations with new photographers who think they’re doing everything right, but who find themselves in tough - and in some cases business ending - situations. Every once in a while I feel a need to put my foot down and say, ‘Doggone-it folks ... get better!’ (I rarely say Doggone-it!)

Here is my challenge to new professional photographers.

  1. If you take money from someone to take pictures of something then you’ve made a commitment to that person to do the best possible work for them. This means you must be adaptable. It isn’t their problem if there isn’t enough light (or too much) it’s yours. It isn’t their problem if they aren’t terribly photogenic. It’s yours. It isn’t their problem if circumstances create challenges with moods. It’s yours. You took money from them to make great images of them. Make sure you can do that; anywhere, anytime, of anyone. That’s your job.

  2. It’s not ALL about the equipment, but your equipment is definitely a part of it. There are a lot of “Pros” who don’t have anything approaching pro gear. That’s a problem. For why see #1 and also understand this. There is a BIG difference between the sensor in a Rebel and the Sensor in a 1DX. A 5D or a D700 has much more robust internal components than a kit camera. The breadth of aperture (I recently heard this referred to in a workshop as “the thingy that opens and closes” and I actually think the ‘teacher’ was confusing the function of the aperture with the function of the shutter), frames per second, focusing speed (or lack thereof), and data capture (megapixels), all serve to give those who know how to use true pro gear much greater latitude in tough situations. Ask the bride whose $20,000 wedding was not captured because the photographer’s Rebel or D70 malfunctioned just after the processional whether she is happy with her photographer. Ask the photographer if they’re happy with themselves.

  3. You must learn light. I saw a great image the other day of a couple standing and looking at the sunset. He said, ‘great sunset’ and she said, ‘F8 at about 1/250.’ I think that’s about right. Great photographers are motivated to train themselves to see the world this way. Do you?

  4. Posing isn’t a four letter word. Even if you are a “PJ” photographer (and this doesn’t mean you take pictures in your jammies), you need to have a really good understanding of the angles necessary to shoot different body types and faces. Anyone can take a decent picture of a model. Few people can take good pictures of me (cuz I’m an UGLY bastard!). If you are a pro you must be able to size up the big nose, the wide set eyes, the high forehead, the jutting chin, the jowls, the gut and the back boobs and immediately have a plan that doesn’t include changing what they look like in Photoshop. (for the record, I only have back boobs when I wear my strapless dress)...

  5. Your gear must be an extension of your body. I have a very good friend who is an amazing guitar player. I recently asked him how he is able to shift so seamlessly to play virtually any kind of stringed instrument. He looked at me and smiled and said, “Practice, and the knowledge that the only way to know you’ve practiced enough is that you stop playing the instrument and you start playing the music.” Is that where you are with your gear? Are it’s functions and capabilities second nature to you? Do you play the guitar or do you play the music?

This may sound a little rantish ... it probably is. Here’s the thing. I hear so often from so many new photographers that they’re tired of established professionals wagging their fingers in their face and telling them they have to learn this stuff. Trust me, I get tired of the wagging too and I get plenty of it, but that doesn’t make these people wrong. If you are a photographer than photography is your business. Marketing, branding (if you must make it a different science than marketing), accounting, etc. are all aspects of the business to be sure, but it starts and ends when you look through the viewfinder and compose an image that makes your client smile. Be great at that first and then worry about all of the other stuff...


Friday, March 9, 2012

The best SMALL Photography Experience... For Pros Only

What if you could go to a photo conference that was all about photography? What if the whole point of the conference was to remind you why you fell in love with the photographic process? I think this is so relevant. I hear so often from photographers who are ‘burned out’ or struggling to find their passion. This conference is the antidote to a lack of passion. It is kindling.

Less than 20 photographers get to attend rebirth on an annual basis. It is held in some of the most texturally diverse and beautiful country in the US, incorporating the natural and human landscape of the Mississippi delta into the experience. The images that come from the photographers at Rebirth are arresting. One cannot help but sit and stare.

I’ll be there for the first time this year myself. I’m looking forward to it. I’ll be taking my camera but I will not be taking my spreadsheets. My rebirth is different than yours. Yours is different than someone else’s. How we press our mental reset buttons is as varied as we are. I’m looking forward to it though and I can’t wait to meet and see the folks who are there. Only two spots remain. If this sounds interesting to you check it out. It’s a lifetime experience.


Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Secret to Success in Professional Photography, Part Two.

This post applies to all small businesses, not just to photographers. In a recent post (Click here) I talked about the secret to photographer success. The number one most important thing a photographer has to do to succeed. Not surprisingly, given the name of the business, that ‘secret’ is that a professional photographer needs to take great pictures, all the time and in all circumstances. Makes sense right? If you are an accountant you need to be a great accountant, an attorney, a contractor, a painter, etc. So this isn’t unusual. I am frequently surprised that this seems to be overlooked. So if that’s not you go and practice. If you feel like you’ve got that down and you’re ready for the next step read on.

Step two to success. You must make evangelists of your clients. The second key characteristic of a successful photography business is that they connect so deeply with their clients that their clients become their sales people. It is a mistake to think this will happen just because we make great pictures. The process of doing this is an intentional and (hopefully) authentic connection between the photographer and the client and anyone else with whom they come into contact. Without exception, today’s successful photographers do this well. Here’s how.

  1. They understand it isn’t all about social media. These photographers go beyond their clients’ expectations in meeting them ahead of time, providing inexpensive but meaningful ‘surprises.’ They make a point of in-person contact and they make sure they are fully present when this occurs.

  2. They spread the web. Successful photographers understand that their direct client, IE a Bride and Groom or portrait client, isn’t the only person with whom they need a connection. 80% of the money spent on weddings is spent not by the bride and groom but by their mothers. Portrait photographers know that the after shoot opportunity is significantly increased when family members beyond the direct client get involved in gift giving. These people understand that mom and dad aren’t a burden and they strive to make sure they are as happy as their primary subjects.

    They also understand that the friends, and relatives who surround the subject are all potential future clients. They make sure their connections with these people are just as deep as with those most directly involved in a shoot.

  3. They cheer for their clients. The personal connection between the photographer and the client goes deeper than the time spent on either side of the lens. Successful photographers monitor their clients’ life events and cheer for them unobtrusively when they see opportunities for connection. This is perhaps the most powerful use of social media. A quick “like” or comment on a thread as simple as a post about a fun dinner reminds the client that you are in their fan club.

These things may seem basic, overwhelming, or outside of your comfort zone. You may be saying, I can’t do that, and to be sure some photographer businesses find success in other ways. However, the majority of successful sole practitioner practices have this trait in common and a deep connection with your clients ensures that they will be your best source of new business.

I'm too old for that is no excuse!

Figuring out opportunities to make these things happen in authentic and meaningful ways can make the biggest difference between photographers who succeed and those who struggle and fail. It is in these areas where the generation gap for those of us who are over 40 can create the biggest challenge. We need to remember that our age is not an excuse. We need to connect, and cheer for these damn kids that hire us no matter what we think of their taste in music... :-) And a lot of times we find out that that’s actually pretty fun.

Friday, March 2, 2012

I Love My Clients ...

You sort of have to have been around from the beginning to understand this post. Pictage is a weird company. Like no company I’ve ever been involved with, if we do well our clients do well. When we suck we hurt out clients. They let us know. I like that. This isn’t about that.

I started at Pictage in March of 2009. It’s been a wild ride since then. I’ve learned a lot along the way. Luckily for me, the founders got a lot more right than wrong. The market changed (and continues to change) and we’ve had to move quickly to change with the market. Moving a company of this size quickly isn’t as easy as I would like. It should have been easier but it’s no one’s fault that it wasn’t. Sometimes that’s the way things are.

For me, it’s always been about our clients. I was pretty infatuated with y’all at first. For a life long photo hobbyist, getting to know so many professionals has been energizing. I take better pictures now than I used to but I would say here as I’ve said on my cooking blog, I’m much better than average and nowhere near as good as great. That’s not being apologetic or self deprecating. Great is about where you spend your time. I spend mine running a business. You spend yours behind a viewfinder (if you’re great). And that’s not to say that I’m a great businessman. That’s a big world.

I’ve been among you long enough now to know you’re not perfect. You have your foibles and your rough spots. You’ve gotten to know me well enough that you know I do too... and I can be mighty prickly if you poke the wrong place. Here’s the thing. After all of that your success is still the thing that gets me out of bed in the morning. Here’s why.

Over the last three years I’ve had the privilege of working with many of you in special circumstances. You’ve called to say you needed help. A client, a family member or a friend had a special need. There’d been a death or the prediction that one was eminent. There was someone who needed the warmth of shared memory in images to buoy them through tough times. There were the things we did together, ‘Katrina Families’ in New Orleans and ‘Lens and Learns’ with special kids all over the country. Those days were emotionally and physically draining for me and I know many of you were just as tired as I was and yet you ran off to shoot a wedding or portrait session the next day. (I could hardly get out of bed). In most of these cases we’ve made sure that Pictage received no publicity for what we may have done. That’s not the point. When it is our purpose gets cloudy. I’d rather see a child smile when they discover that something they thought was impossible is attainable or get a quiet thank you from someone who got something just in time. It’s easier that way.

Every single one of those opportunities, whether large or small has been an honor. I’m glad that those moments will go on.

There are big changes coming from Pictage. We’ve been hard at work rebuilding our technology from the bottom up and over the next couple of months we will be launching new systems. These systems enable us to approach your business, and the privilege of helping you, in new and pretty remarkable ways. Ultimately this is what I came to do. I’m glad I’ll finally be able to do it. I’m not going to divulge much more than that. Suffice it to say that when we’re done any professional photographer anywhere will be able to find products and services here that meet their needs their way. No piece of the old business model will have been left unchanged. Pictage photographers will be provided with more information, more options, more customizability, more brand-ability (in all aspects of their businesses), more great products (at lower and lower prices), and more responsiveness than they’ve ever experienced.

I strongly believe that giving you the information to make the right decisions about your business, and then giving you the options necessary to tailor our services to meet your needs is the key to your success.

If what’s next is what’s important then we’re headed for some pretty interesting times... I, for one, can’t wait...



Thursday, March 1, 2012

An Interesting Move for Pinterest

It is so fascinating to watch a business evolve. Just a few days ago I posted some thoughts on Pinterest and why photographers should espouse this new social media environment, not as a curiosity, but as a highly focused search engine. There has been much controversy in the world of professional photography about whether or not the posting of an image on Pinterest constitutes a copyright violation for the photographer. Many were concerned that Pinterest's own user policies seemed to put the blame squarely on the "Pinner." Well, evidently, at Pinterest things are evolving.

Early this morning one of our photographer clients received this email, ostensibly from Ben Silbermann, the co-founder of Pinterest. (I removed her name and the links to protect her privacy).

"Hi Photographer,

I'm Ben, the co-founder of Pinterest. I removed one (or more) of your pins today at the request of a copyright owner who preferred that their images do not appear on Pinterest. The photo is here for your own records: (Link removed)

This is a rare - we usually find that people are excited to have their photos shared with a larger audience because it can drive traffic back to their site. However, when we do get requests to remove these materials, we try to respect the wishes of the content owner efficiently. If you have any questions, please email our Community Manager, (removed personal email address for practicality).

I just wanted to give you a heads up. Thanks so much for using Pinterest. I hope you're enjoying the site! If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to get in touch.

Pinterest DMCA #ID 1571839017

- Ben and the Pinterest Team

For what it's worth, I think the photographer who demanded that their images be removed is incredibly short-sighted. You may as well grab a lance and charge a windmill or try to get a clock to run backwards. This medium has enormous potential - but I've written about that elsewhere.

I think this message is fascinating for many reasons. First, I think for Pinterest it's the right thing to do. The turmoil being kicked up by a few disgruntled folks can often become a distraction and there is no question that the legal community would have been circling. Shifting their stance, taking responsibility to be responsive (there is an elegant legal wrinkle here that I admire but it is too detailed for a blog post), will free Pinterest to continue to pursue their core vision, which I again believe to be a re-invention of search.

I admire this move for two reasons. One, it shows a level of business maturity that we don't often see. Too many young entrepreneurs get so tied up in their 'ideals' and lose the forest for the trees. Peter Drucker (who essentially founded the modern school of management) always challenged business leaders to make sure they were maintaining focus on what is important in a business. Making this change means that Pinterest will be doing just that.

I also admire it because it takes courage for a leader to listen and respond, especially on a position one may hold dear. Congratulations Mr. Silbermann! Lead on...