1.There’s been a lot of talk on the internet recently about the “free” business model, whether it be giving work away to get increased access, or for promotional purposes and so forth. What are your thoughts on this?
This is something that new photographers have done forever. I wouldn’t suggest ever that a photographer gives work away, however the reality is that when a photographer is brand new to the business, they will work with clients on certain projects, and it should be certain projects only, that will hopefully give them the visibility that they want in exchange for a lowered rate; in exchange for copies of the tearsheets or in exchange for a really big photo credit. As a general rule, I do not agree with giving work away; I want to start with that premise. However, the reality is that a lot of new photographers do that and it has sometimes benefited them. I say that very cautiously because I do not want your viewers and readers to ever go into a negotiation thinking they’re going to give their work away.
There are so many ways and so many places to go before you land on the free giveaway. To build a business on it is not at all suggested. To take that option assignment by assignment in the very beginning of one’s career is certainly a thought after other alternatives of trade – big copyright notice, lots of copies of the images, tearsheets, real visible credit – have already been explored and then if the photographer feels that this job really is a visual, talent based assignment that’s going to get them visibility, they need to sit down and justify to themselves, “what would this visibility really look like?” Would I really get visibility and what’s the benefit to me of giving away this work versus the downside versus what could happen if I did? Conversely they need to ask themselves : What would happen if I didn’t give this away? What would happen if I walked from this job? So this is a really big question and I would sum it up by saying don’t ever go into a negotiation with the understanding you’re going to give work away. Don’t go into business initially thinking that’s the way you need to develop relationships. The reality is that the relationships a photographer develops at the beginning of their career when they have clients that are unsophisticated enough to ask you to give the work away are rarely the people that you’re going to be wanting to work with in the next year, two years, three years.
When a photographer makes a habit of giving their work away, it’s almost like there’s a secret club and one person tells the other and everybody that is referred to by this client is going to assume that you’re going to give work away. Then you don’t have a business, then you have a hobby. So in photography, we don’t go into it attempting or thinking we’re ever going to give our work away and I would say for the most part a photographer should not. However, if a photographer has taken on a project specifically as a pro-bono project, that this is work that they want to contribute to because in their soul and in their heart they feel that contributing to the AIDS Foundation, contributing to breast cancer, helping out a local food pantry with their art is something they want to do, then go for it. To work with a profit organization and give your work away is generally not suggested.
Please remember that when you make the decision to give your work away you devalue photography as a business not just on your world but in the greater universe of photographers. If you consistently give away your work, you have a hobby not a business.
2. In photographer David du Chemin’s book “Within The Frame “, he says “Photographers, like artists in all disciplines, face a temptation to fall more deeply in love with the way we create our images than with the images themselves and the reasons for those images”. What is your take on this – do creatives run the risk of placing too much attention on the mechanics of creation?
I think that there are times they might. Clearly when a person enters the world of photography it’s all new to them and as with anything that we learn, there’s a time of attention that’s needed to the specifics; learning how light works; learning how composition works. Photography has long been described as a combination of science and magic and the science portion of photography – understanding how the camera works, understanding how the camera sees differently than the eye, understanding light, understanding composition – it’s a process that takes photographers years. So certainly, the attention to the process is critical but there’s also the attention to the magic, and that magic I describe as the opportunity to channel the moment between two people; to channel the energy of a person that’s coming through the camera when a photographer takes a portrait. The magic is really what we as viewers, when we look at images, get from the photograph. Clearly a photographer needs to have the science portion down. He or she needs to know how to create a good photograph from the scientific aspect but they also need to know eventually how to bring their vision in and they need to know how to let that moment of divinity channel through the camera. That’s the moment that allows a person to come through the camera and the portrait to be not a picture of them but a picture about them. So I would say that the work that a photographer needs to do and the awareness that they bring to the craft, that revolves around the magic is as important as the portion of attention that needs to be placed around the science, so photography is science and magic and both areas need to be paid attention to.
3. Photographer Annie Leibovitz’s financial troubles led to her place the copyright to all her works as collateral in seeking assistance to get out of debt. If someone works so hard to overcome resistance and forge a life as a highly creative person, should they ever consider doing something like this?
I think this is a very extreme case and I certainly have no details, as none of us do,as to what Annie Leibovitz went through and my heart goes out to her because clearly she felt very strapped. I would think that she’s quite fond of her images and taking a measure like this is really pretty drastic. I think the bigger picture and the bigger question really comes down to the concept of photographers needing to be financially responsible and I think what we can learn from this situation is the fact that we are in a business. As businesspeople, the skills of a businessperson and the talents of a businessperson need to be considered. I would encourage every photographer who goes into business to begin by sitting down with an accountant and understanding what a profit and loss sheet looks like . I would suggest that every photographer understand how their business works financially. I would encourage them to have a trusted accountant and I would hope they understand or learn what a profit margin looks like and to know how much profit they need to build in their business for it to be sustainable.
I’d encourage photographers to really look to develop different market streams as well as, especially when they’re starting out. Find different ways to provide income for themselves so that they can be sustainable. There are many business topics that photographers need to look at that don’t have to do with the licensing end of our business; they have to do with very practical questions about running a business, so I think the bigger question here is that photographers need to look at the fact that they’re not just in a creative business but that they are creative people in business.
The old paradigm of the poor struggling artist is just that, OLD. Photographers need to take ownership of this financial piece and understand what it looks like to run a business. How much profit do they want? How many days do they need to work at the fee that they’ve set for themselves on a daily rate to keep their business open. Certainly when we quote prices to clients we don’t quote them a daily rate but photographers need to know how much they need to make on a daily basis to keep the doors open. They need to be financially responsible, they need to know more than most photographers generally do about the financial end of running a business. That’s the bigger question here.
4. In your book How to Succeed in Commercial Photography: Insights from a Leading Consultant you emphasize the necessity of photographers getting their books worked on, completed and in front of buyers. In today’s connected world, where buyers/editors/ADs may be on the other side of the world to the photographer, what would you advise? Should photographers send their book(s) to prospective buyers by courier, or perhaps try to schedule a week or two for a marketing trip to New York/London/ wherever and set up lots of appointments in a short time?
Certainly I do emphasize the necessity of photographers developing their bodies of work. A body of work is shown in two places in today’s market. It’s shown on websites which go globally and it’s shown in print books when photographers books are called in for specific assignments and when the photographer utilizes the print book as a front end sell to buyers. There are very few photographers in the United States that have built up national programs, let alone international programs. So the necessity of a photographer getting on a plane and having to go to France or going to England really doesn’t come into the mix until that photographer is well established in the US. This is the same for shooters in Europe, Canada, Australia or Asia. Certainly there are enough contacts to reach here at home before a photographer might get on a plane and go to London. That being said, I have photographers in the US who sell to Canada, who sell to the UK; I have Canadian photographers coming into the United States selling here as well. What does that mean? Photographers need to create a plan. They need to include a sales section as well as material for front and back end sales visits that will also serve as stand alone outreach efforts.
A sales program (selected contacts that will be visited by the photographer or agent) is a very integral part of an overall sales and marketing program and it certainly needs to have attention placed on it. Here’s how you might begin the process.
Sit down at the beginning of the year, or at any point during the year when you decide to get serious about your marketing and start looking at whether you have a vision in place and if so, do you have the body of work. When the body of work is there and you’re ready to create your sales and marketing program, look to create five to six different sales trails; different ways to reach buyers. One sales trail is indeed the in-person visit. Make sure you have a website, make sure you have a print book and make sure both of these are fueled and filled with visuals that represent your vision. Then you create a database of potential clients. Build a large database of somewhere between 700 and 1500 people to send your direct mail and email to, to build up visibility. Then you call from that larger list, to do research on 75-100 people who may be potentials for in-person visits. For instance you may be a portrait photographer and one of the markets that you’re going into is editorial and if you find that the majority of your buyers are in New York, then it makes sense to create a New York sales trip.
So to answer the question, the trips that we create are built into an overall yearly program. We create a yearly program and see where our buyers are. On the other end of the spectrum we have people who are looking to sell locally and regionally and not nationally and they’re going to do the same thing. They’re going to look at their visuals, they’re going to develop a portfolio, direct mail, visual mail and a website; they’re going to create a database that has contacts locally and regionally within three to four different markets that they could sell to, and they’re going to be looking at an hour to two hours north, south, east and west to see where they can drive to see people. Then they’re going to do the same thing. They’re going to start to create a program that would allow them to see buyers. Instead of it being a two or three time trip to New York, because they’re going north, south, east and west by 1-200 miles, they might look at monthly goals. They may think to go out onto the road and have at least 8-10 people a month who see their portfolio. If that’s not possible, the minimum is at least four people a month. In-person visits should indeed be a very important part to a photographers overall sales and marketing program. There’s a thinking that happens and it really is very individual for each photographer but I hope I’ve given you a bit of scope to share with your readers in terms of how you go about doing that.
5. Social media seems to be the biggest buzz around at the moment. What are your thoughts on this? For me personally, the inspiration I get from some of the exciting photographers I’ve found via social media is possibly worth more than the extra work I’ve gained through it.
I have a new lecture program and it really breaks down where social media comes into marketing for photographers. Social media is a big part of today’s marketing mix. It does not replace traditional tools; it is layered on top of traditional tools. A photographer who wants to be competitive in the marketplace needs to have a vision; needs to have that vision showcased in a website and a print book; they need to have identified three to five markets they can sell that vision to; they need to have developed a database of buyers within that market. They then need to have developed traditional marketing tools and I think what’s very important to put across here is that photographers very often hook onto one tool and based on opinions they hear, whether that tool happens to work for certain photographers or certain buyers, they’ll either run to it or run from it. My advice is that the following tools are all needed and regardless of what you hear at individual conferences or with individuals, you need to utilize them. The tools that every photographer needs to utilize are direct mail, visual email, a website, web portals, sales visits where photographers go to see buyers, follow up to the sales visits on top of those materials. If they want to utilize a blog, they can create a blog as long as it’s utilized as a marketing tool and not just an area to talk to other photographers or their friends. Those would be traditional marketing tools. Social marketing tools to consider? Consider Twitter, Linked In, Facebook. Just looking at these three tools, if a photographer had a Facebook fan page that they created for their business, if they had a Linked In page and they used all the different aspects of LinkedIn, and they tweeted out on Twitter, they could then interconnect all of their traditional and new social media tools.
What social networking does is give us an opportunity to reach people the way that direct mail does or the way that visual email does but it’s a softer sell. It needs to be handled properly meaning that the photographer needs to remember when they Tweet out to create a personality on Twitter that has to do with what they want buyers to get about them. Twitter is a wonderful place – I’ve met lots of great people and got lots of great information – but Twitter isn’t just about that. From a business perspective, photographers need to create an identity. They need to know what their message is and they need to remember that they’re going to be asking people that they see on portfolio visits if they can tweet to them, can they hook up on Twitter and follow each other? If you have professionals, buyers, who are following you, then you want to make sure that your Twitter posts are really what you would want your clients to know about you. Maybe you’re taking photographs, posting them on Twitpics or Flickr, but your photographs that are not an extension of what you do professionally. Big mistake. Choose your images carefully. Yes, this is a place for people to get to know a more personal side of you, but still keep the awareness on business. Consider DM’ing a contact once you’ve posted new images and asking them to take a look. This becomes another reason to connect and it becomes an extra contact. There’s tons of ways to use Linked In and there’s tons of things to do with Facebook.
The bottom line is that social networking is all about creating an extra layer of visibility for the photographer. It doesn’t replace the marketing tools that we already have. It supplements and gets layered on top of them. The key here is the integration of all of the marketing tools. If a photographer is not going to be going on portfolio visits, then there are fewer people to ask if we can tweet or facebook each other. So it’s important to go on visits and that’s a great opportunity then to take the relationship you built on the visit and carry it forward with social networking. On the other end, a photographer that does a lot of social networking and never gets out of the studio or office to show his book really isn’t going to get very far at all, he’s just going to be doing a lot of social networking. A photographer that sends out visual email and never sends out direct mail, never goes out to show his book and doesn’t do social networking is going to get nowhere. It’s really a day and age where photographers have to work as hard as they can utilizing all of the tools in a very intelligent and well thought-out manner.
I can’t stress enough how important it is to treat your business like a business, and at the beginning of the year, or whenever a photographer decides to really take their business seriously, sit down and create a sales and marketing program. If you need help, hire a consultant. If you can’t afford a consultant, talk to a friend who’s in business. Go online and google business plans. Start to learn how to create a sales and marketing program. It’s important to do this in a well thought out way. All too often, photographers work in fits and starts and they look at one way as THE way that’s going to build their business. Every good business person knows that marketing is cumulative and every businessperson who deals with marketing understands that they have to have a specific message to market. For photographers, it’s their vision. Then they need an audience; they need to know who their audience is. Then they need to have three to four markets to go after and then they need to have four or five ways of reaching that market. And then, photographers have to do that consistently for three to five years. So I believe social networking is critically important – we haven’t even begun to see photographers, professionals tapping in. It’s my feeling and the feeling of the people I’ve spoken to who are on Twitter, who are on Linked In, who are actively working and communicating with people through Facebook that the majority of photographers out there are either newer photographers or are prosumers who are just coming into our market. I think a very small percentage of photographers are really utilizing the social networking but I guarantee you that is going to change very quickly, very soon!
For those interested there are some other great interviews with Selina Maitreya to be found. Don Gianatti at Lighting Essentials has a three part interview (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) as well as an audio interview. Rob Haggert of A Photo Editor also has an interview.
That was the Daily PhotoTip number 20. If this post was useful to you, why don’t you subscribe to my feed, leave a comment and share it with your friends. You can also get access to exclusive content and special offers by subscribing to my newsletter. Sign up today. Thank you.