Business Tips for Photographers in a Multi-Media World

In the blogging world of photography and motion, there is a lot written about gear and how to use it, red camerabut precious little written about “the business”.  Chances are, if you are photographer who has been in business for more than 10 years, then you know that technology has not only changed our tools, it has changed the way we do business.

For starters, we are doing business in a global economy, and with that comes pluses and minuses. One big plus is that we are able to reach a much wider audience, than ever before. That is, if you have an understanding of how to do that and take advantage of the opportunities that are out there.  The minus or downside is, if we don’t adapt our dated business models, in a business that has seen monumental changes, we will not be able to compete.

Commercial photographers are in the visual communications business.  We create imagery that delivers a message or tells a story for a variety of “markets” including; advertising, corporate, architectural and editorial.  Each market has a need for visual content and these days that encompasses both still photography and video.  In the last couple of years, the lines dividing these two mediums have faded away, at least in terms of how content is consumed in our culture.

Here are a couple of tips to help photographers prosper in our “multi-media” world:

  • Decide what your company will offer.  Will you only provide still imagery?  Or will you expand your business and offer both still photography and video? Are you quick to answer: “I don’t want anything to do with video” ? The problem with that answer is that most of your clients will probably have a need for video.  Are you going to send them away to your competition?  Or will you keep your clients “in house” and take care of their video needs and hire or outsource your competition? That’s a different way of thinking and has the potential to broaden your revenue stream.
  • Decide what role you will play if your company does offer video?  Will you be the director and work with a camera operator?  Or will you assume the role of a DP (Director of Photography) and direct as well as operate the camera?
  • What will you outsource and what will you keep in house?  Maybe you want to expand your business by offering both still photography and motion, but you’d prefer to just shoot the still photography and outsource the video.  In that case, you could assume the role of producer and oversee or outsource the video production.
  • Reassess your insurance.  Video productions have a lot more variables. They also usually have larger crews.  More than likely, you will need to upgrade your current insurance policy to accommodate and cover that.
  • Change your paperwork.  Make sure that you go through your talent and property releases and modify the language for multi-media.  Change any boilerplate contract language to include video (motion).
  • Licensing.  Regardless, if you decide not to expand into video production, you will have to contend with the fact that your still images won’t always be used in a stand-alone fashion.  Many still images will be commissioned and/or licensed as part of multi-media projects and that has a dramatic effect on licensing. And if you do decide to expand into video production, in your role as a producer, you will be licensing other people’s work.
  • Understand new business models.  Let’s face it, things have changed in the business of photography.  Photography has become ubiquitous and the competition is fierce.  You are not only competing with professional photographers – you’re competing with semi-pros, amateurs AND video production companies.  One thing is certain, it’s never been more important to have an understanding of multiple mediums and to be unique and stand out amongst the noise. There are no templates you should follow.  You have to be authentic and true to yourself.

Check out more tips and information in my ePub, The Craft and Commerce of Video and Motion.

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Past Predictions of the Future Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

One of the blogs that I regularly read is Copyblogger, which provides a lot of great information and insights into content marketing.  This past week, Brian Clark wrote a post entitled,  The Future of Content Marketing.   He writes:

“A bunch of really smart people got together in 1880 to predict the future, according to Jeff Stibel in his intriguing book Breakpoint. These experts were called on to predict how the rapidly growing Gotham would manage into the next century and beyond.

The prognosis was not positive.

NYC was a major source of American innovation in 1880. Skyscrapers, subways, stock exchanges — and it was doubling in size every 10 years. abb36e44-0c30-4a09-9279-0cd3c3fefa9b-A01867The experts were concerned by this growth, because they projected by 1980, you’d need six million horses to transport all the people who would live there.”

Folks were predicting the future of New York City, looking at it through the eyes of what was technologically possible then.  They were more concerned about all the horses and the “crap” that would be produced, than they were about greenhouse gases, because nobody knew what that was.

When I re-ran a blog post How Motion is Changing the Future of Photography, I used a similar analogy, that Ray Kurzweil had given when I heard him speak at NAB.  Ray said that, at the turn of the century (the beginning of the 1900’s), if you thought of yourself as being in the “horse and buggy business”, you were doomed to fail because of advent of the automobile.  But if you saw yourself in the “transportation business”, you thrived, no doubt because you broadened your view to include the automobile.  In my blog, I compared that analogy to what is happening in the still photography business, as the mediums of still imagery and video converge.  I received a lot of responses from that post, mostly from people who argued that still photographs would always be around. I don’t disagree with them.  I do think there will still be still images in the future – however, I think the still photography business will drastically change from how it is now.

Interestingly enough, every year I’m asked to bid on a still photography assignment for a tourism client.  Yesterday, I received the bid packet and there was a profound change.  They were not asking for a quote for still photography.  They were asking for a quote for video – and not just video – but video shot on a RED camera so that they could pull frame grabs from the footage and use those “still images” in their ads.  Now, that’s a game changer.

There’s always a danger in predicting the future and that’s because we tend to use and be influenced by the information and the knowledge that we have now – in the present.  What I’ve learned in my many years on this Earth is that the future will be nothing like how we imagine it will be.   I know that because what I imagined the future to be, some 35 years ago when I set out to make a career as a still photographer, was very limited in terms of how technology has changed things.

The human need to create will continue to mold a future that is way beyond what most of us could ever imagine.

Hitting a Nerve

English: camera Français : video
English: camera Français : video (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What an interesting week it has been. This past Friday (the day before a long holiday weekend), on impulse, and feeling a little lazy, I shared a link on Facebook to a blog that I had written 8 months ago, How Motion is Changing the Future of Photography.  I didn’t expect to get thousands of hits in 2 days time – it had barely gotten noticed when I posted it the first time, back in February, 2013.

What had happened was that Rob Haggart linked to it from his blog, APhotoEditor and it went viral after that – all around the world.  That’s what amazes me about the age we live in, that something someone says, or writes can be heard globally in record time.  It truly demonstrates the power of “one”.   It’s staggering and something I never would have imagined some 35 years ago when I began my career as a still photographer.  In fact, most of what is happening now in photography. I never could have imagined – not in my grandest dreams.

What surprised me most about the comments I received from that post, was that most folks just couldn’t begin to imagine the future that I was contemplating in my writings. With the convergence of cameras, in regards to stills and video, I imagined a future, where a still image might not be captured by a “still camera” or by a “still photographer” for that matter.  A still image may come from a “frame grab” captured by a video camera.  I struck a nerve for sure, and most people thought I was predicting the demise of still photographs – perhaps because of Ron’s headline, excerpted from my text “ I think we are at a tipping point as far as the future of the still photography business”.

To be clear, I do think the photography “business” is at a tipping point, but not just because of the convergence of still and video cameras, but because of the glut of imagery.  The iPhone has been the game changer in that sense. Everyone has become a photographer and has a camera on them at all times, taking, sending and sharing millions of still images globally every day.  What that means in terms of the still photography industry is that if you want to stay in business as a professional photographer, you will need to create something that is authentic and unique to only you AND more importantly, you will need to provide a product or service that a market is willing to pay for – and pay enough that will sustain you in an industry that requires a reinvestment in tech and gear every two years, minimally.

In my attempt to “get off easy”, by rerunning a blog that I had written and previously posted more than a half a year ago, I learned a couple of things:

  1. Timing is everything
  2. It’s all perspective.

That’s the one good thing about getting older; I have a lot more perspective.  I’ve learned that the future is not at all like I imagined it would be.  I never could have imagined half the things that are happening right now.  And I’m sure that if I’m still alive 20 years from now, it will be a future filled with things and ideas that I could never even begin to imagine.

I will be moderating a panel at PPE this year, sponsored by ASMP “How Motion is Changing the Future of Still Photography”.   Our panelists include, Vincent LaForet, Brian Storm and Chase Jarvis.  Join us, it will be a discussion you won’t want to miss.

6 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Take a DSLR Video Workshop

So many photographers think that buying a DSLR capable of shooting video and taking a workshop on how to use it, is all they’ll need to do in order to get into the business of video production.   They couldn’t be more wrong.  It’s kind of like someone buying a really “good” camera, and thinking that’s all they need to be able to shoot a professional photography assignment.  And yet, so many of my professional photographer colleagues continue to think that it’s about the camera, instead of the skill set.

For starters, most of the professional video productions I do,I wouldn’t be able to shoot with a DSLR camera.  Don’t get me wrong, a DSLR can produce stunning video, but those cameras  fall short on certain tasks.  More importantly, they won’t necessarily meet the expectations that many high-end advertising art directors require. red cameraYou’ll look like a fool if you show up with your DSLR kit when they expected a lot more in the way of gear.

I get quite annoyed when I see the proliferation of DSLR video and filmmaking workshops that mislead photographers that this “tool” or camera will be sufficient for any and all video assignments – because it won’t.  It may be fine for a wedding shoot and I even made a feature length film with a DSLR, but for a lot of corporate jobs I shoot – it just doesn’t cut it.

My advice to photographers who want to learn video:

  • Learn how to think and shoot video.  It’s not just about the camera. When I shoot motion, I’m thinking and shooting much differently than I do for stills.
  • Pick the right camera for the job.  That means you’ll have to know how to use a traditional video camera or a more sophisticated camera like a RED or hire someone who does.
  • If you contain your video experience and knowledge to the DSLR, realize that your competition will be fierce.  The buy in price is low – so you won’t be the only one who thinks they can buy a relatively inexpensive camera and go after video jobs.
  • Stay away from DSLR workshops.  They are way too limited and limiting.  Plus, they are based on technology that changes way too fast.  It may be tempting – but you’ll place yourself in the lower end crowd and will most likely be competing on price.  How low are you prepared to go – or can you go and stay in business.
  • Learn video and/or filmmaking the right way.  Don’t make it dependent on a particular camera.  Learn the cinematic language and how to translate the message in a motion medium.
  • The business of video is much different than that of still photography.  If the workshop you are thinking about taking doesn’t address sound business practices – move on. You can lose your shirt on a video production if you don’t know how to price and/or structure your shoots.

Think about it.  If you were just starting out and learning photography – would you take a workshop that was about a particular camera?  Obviously not, so why would you approach learning video that way?

For more information about video production check out Gail’s guide  The Craft and Commerce of Video and Motion

6 Ways Video has Made Me a Better Photographer

Lately, I’m finding that I “get the job” because I know how to shoot video. What’s odd is that these are still photography assignments and I was NOT hired to shoot video, but because I knew how to shoot video. What I’ve discovered is that many clients love the “eye” of the “hybrid”.

I’ve been thinking about what is it about the “eye of a hybrid” that clients are finding attractive. Forty Deuce burlesque club, Las Vegas, Nevada In a nutshell, it’s the eye of a master storyteller.  That’s because the medium of video is the perfect medium for telling a story. It encompasses movement, action, pace, rhythm and sound to engage, entice and feel.

I got a call this week for an editorial still photo assignment.  As usual, there was the customary business paperwork, but the client also provided a “shot list”.  I’ve been shooting editorial assignments for over 35 years and have had all kinds of direction. Sometimes, I’m given a writer’s manuscript and I’ve come up with my own shot list and sometimes I’m just told to come up with a variety of images.  But this “shot list” was intriguing because it read more like a shooting script for a video project.  As I read through the list, I could see how the person who had written it – had the “eye of a hybrid”.

Here are some of the suggested shots and “direction” from the list they provided:

(This is how I think and shoot in video. It has made me a better still photographer)

Cover it – Get comprehensive coverage – different perspectives, focal lengths, wide, medium and close-ups.  When I shoot video I will get a variety of angles as well as a variety of focal lengths because I know I will need plenty of b-roll to work with when editing the story together.

Get sequences – Get a variety of mini stories with people interacting. I am accustomed to thinking about how my “shots” will come together as part of the whole video that I’m working on.  Now, I approach a still editorial assignment like this as well. It’s kind of like of a moving pagination of imagery in my head.

Get storytelling images – With still photography I need to make sure those independent shots or moments in time also tell a story and stand on their own.  They can’t just be “wowy zowy” photos as Bob Gilka of the National Geographic used to say when I showed him an eye grabbing and colorful, abstract image.

Action/motion – make the images “feel”.  One that that motivated me to start exploring motion was because I was finding that it was difficult for me to convey the feeling of motion in a still image.  I’m finding that it’s easier for me to convey movement in a still image now because my eye is trained to look for it.

Give the images sound – (like a hammer hammering)Natural sound gives a video the element of reality.  It’s almost like it gives the video a well-needed extra layer or dimension.  When I’m shooting still images, I look for images that will illustrate the “sound” of an environment.

Shoot more – Give me more to choose from.  Again, you can never have enough b-roll when you are shooting video so I have naturally started shooting more on still photography shoots and my clients love having the abundance of choice.

How Video Has Helped My Still Photography Business

After a slow spell, which I can’t say I ever get used to after 30 plus years of freelancing, the phone started ringing.  The calls were all in regards to still photography assignments.  Having been a still photographer for most of my life, that wasn’t unusual, but what was interesting was that I beat out my competition – other still photographers – because I knew video.

Times have sure changed. When I started exploring the medium of video, over 15 years ago, I didn’t abandon my still photography10Ft.WaveI simply added another skill set.  Most of my clients over the years have hired me to shoot one or the other, and sometimes both.  But what I see happening now is that as print moves to electronic delivery, my still photographic clients are also looking for a “photographer” that can shoot video components on a still photography assignment.  They need multimedia content for mobile devices and online platforms that cry out for movement and sound.

I don’t think of myself as a “still photographer” or a “videographer”.  First of all, I absolutely hate the word videographer because it smacks of a dated notion of what video used to be.  I think of myself as an “imaging professional” or sometimes a “new media producer” or sometimes just a “storyteller” because that’s what I do – I tell a client’s story, or deliver their message to their targeting audience.  I don’t define myself by the tool I use.

With convergence happening not only in the cameras we shoot with but in the media we create, I will opt for the “tool” or camera(s) that enable me to tell the story I need to tell, in the best way possible.  I’ve been thinking that way since I first forayed into video.  It’s nice to know that now my clients are thinking that way too.

How Motion is Changing the Future of Photography

Mid-19th century "Brady stand" photo...
Mid-19th century “Brady stand” photo model’s armrest table (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A few years ago I heard visionary Ray Kurzweil speak at NAB (National Association of Broadcasting).  He was talking about the exponential rise of technology and how that would profoundly change people’s lives – and was.  His focus and predictions were mostly related to the advances we’ll see in medicine, but he relayed an analogy that has stuck with me.  He said:  (and I’ll paraphrase) that if you were in the horse and buggy industry at the turn of the century and thought of yourself as someone who sold buggies and whips, you most likely would  have gone out of business.  But if you were in the horse and buggy business and thought of yourself in the transportation business you most likely would have adapted, recognized that the future of transportation was in motor transport – and thrived.

The thing is, the ones who adapted early on – before the majority did – were the ones who made fortunes.  The ones, who waited until everyone embraced the automobile, either struggled to keep pace with the competition or died out.  I think we are at a tipping point as far as the future of the still photography business.  If we continue to think of still photography and motion as being two separate entities in the business of visual communications, it will be our demise.

Change never happens overnight.  Change is slow.  No one gets to be 400 lbs overnight; it’s a slow process.  But once it happens, it’s really hard to get back on track.  The changes that are taking place in the way we communicate are monumental, unlike any changes in the past.  I used to shoot a lot of annual reports, but not so many anymore.  I used to make a large portion of my income from the licensing of my stock images, but that income has dropped significantly because everyone has a camera and the supply of images is more than the demand.

I’m not an alarmist in predicting this change and in fact for someone my age who is on the tail end of his or her career, I wouldn’t be alarmed at all.  However, if I were just starting out in photography or even in my late 40’s or early 50’s and had another 20 + years ahead of me, I would not be complacent.

Some things still photographers should be thinking about:

  • Understand that there will probably not be a divide between the still photography and motion businesses.  This is really hard to envision because we tend to see things, by looking at the future in terms of the knowledge that we have on hand today.  But with motion cameras able to shoot 96 frames a second, and each frame being good enough to pull out and used as a still image, the changes for still photographers will be profound.
  • The concerns are not like those that a still photographer has had to face in the past, like when digital replaced film or when one needed to reinvent themselves as their markets changed. (For example when car shooters were phased out by CGI artists)  Shooting motion is a different mindset all together.  It also has profound differences in the way you run your business. While a still photographer of today, may find opportunities to shoot motion for their existing still clients, that too is rapidly changing.   I don’t think this will be an option much longer for still photographers. I think that motion shooters will be shooting motion and in the process creating stills as opposed to still photographers providing the motion content and the stills.  Just like a professional still photographer distinguishes his or herself from an amateur photographer who has an expensive camera, so do motion shooters distinguish themselves from the still photographer who seems to have little regard for the craft and knowledge of motion and thinks they will “just” start shooting motion when the time comes. It’s not going to be “just” that simple, especially if you’re late to the game.
  • Understand that technology affects everything and will continue to do so.  You may think  in terms of what’s possible today and that it would be incredibly labor intensive to go through tens of thousands of motion frames to pull out still images. But advances in technology will change that as well in the future. Technology affects everything.   Realize that software is changing too and that the edit process for pulling out frames will be easier and more streamlined in the future.  In fact, an editor’s job description will change greatly and that may be a job that is in high demand in the future. Even now, just do a quick search on LinkedIn and you’ll see that while there are very few job listings for still photographers, there’s a lot of demand for video editors.

Bottom line – start recognizing that photography and video are not separate businesses any longer.  Start understanding that will have an affect on the  future of the still photography business especially in terms of licensing, because traditionally motion camera operators work under work for hire agreements.  While still images won’t go away, that doesn’t mean that still photographers will be creating them in the future.