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.

10 Tips For Getting GOOD Audio When Using a DSLR

If you’re like most of the professional still photographers I know, you have either expanded your business and offer videomicrophones (in addition to your still photography) to your clients, or have plans to.  If you do have future plans to offer video to your clients, then you are either learning the particulars of that skill set, or you are collaborating with others who are in the know, or both.

Perhaps, one of the most daunting components of video, for still photographers is audio. Capturing audio is totally foreign to a still photographer, yet it is the most important component of all, in video production.

Here are a few tips for getting good audio:

  • You’ll never get good audio using the camera’s built in microphone, – at least not for interviews. Don’t turn the camera’s audio off however.  You can use it later for reference audio when syncing sound later in post-production.
  • Use external microphones for capturing audio interviews.  Ideally, you should record your interview audio using a digital recorder like the Samson Zoom H6 or the Tascam DR-60D with XLR connections.  I usually place a “lav” microphone on my subjects. I will also use a shotgun microphone, mounted (with shock mount) on a boom pole that’s on a fixed stand.  I rely on the microphone on the fixed stand, as opposed to hiring a boom operator, especially if I don’t have the budget for a big crew. If you should decide to use an amateur or assistant as a “boom operator”, rather than hire an experienced operator who knows how to capture “consistent” audio, you’ll most likely end up with poor audio captured at inconsistent levels. The shotgun microphone should be about 12-18 inches away from your subject. You can sync the sound with the video, later in post- production, using the software Plural Eyes.
  • Don’t cross your audio cords with your electrical cords. This causes a hum that you will detect if you are wearing headphones.
  • For run and gun” situations, you can probably get away with using a microphone mounted on the camera, as long as you are close to your audio source. You can either run a microphone (with a mini plug) directly to the camera OR you can run a microphone with an XLR adaptor through a pre-amp like a JuicedLink or a Beachtek, which will yield a cleaner audio capture. This works well for capturing ambient sound for b-roll or live action, and your audio will be recorded to the same card as your video. If you do want to capture your interview audio using a microphone mounted on the camera, make sure that you get your camera in close to your subject (not more than 18 inches away), and that you us a mixer or a pre-amp.
  • Microphones – Use an omni-directional or cardiod microphone when you are in a more controlled situation and you want your sound coming from more directions – like on a sound stage.  “Lav” microphones can be used for interviews, either hard wired or with a wireless kit. Be careful when you attach it to your subject and position it to avoid any unnecessary noise coming from hair or jewelry rubbing up against it. A good camera mounted microphone is the Sennheiser MKE 400 (compact shotgun). For interviews I use my cardiod Sennheiser ME66 with K6 powering module.
  • Use a wireless system only when you NEED to. In cities like New York you can get a lot of interference on various frequencies. Always go wired when you can. A great and affordable hard-wired “lav”, is the SonyECM44B And if you find yourself needing a wireless system, spend the money to get a system that has a good range.
  • Use a good windscreen or “dead cat” when outside. Even if you’re inside, on a windy day, with windows open, you can pick up wind noise.
  • Use headphones. Don’t just look at your meters.  Your meter may indicate that you are recording sound, but it may not be good sound – it could be you are picking up interference or getting distorted and clipped audio. Wear headphones and make sure that you are getting quality sound.
  • Always consider that you will be using the audio – even for your b-roll.  You will need clean usable audio for b-roll, even if it’s only intended as ambient, background sound.
  • Pay attention to audio. Start by letting your ears do more of the work. Every room and situation has its own sound. Listen up. Be quiet and tell your crew to be quiet as well. You never know when you’ll want to use the audio – even if you think you won’t need it.

You can read more about what I brought with me in the way of gear, when I literally circled the globe, creating my first feature length film.  The film is now available on DVD.

If you’d like to know more about “moving into motion”, check out my book, The Craft and Commerce of Motion and Video.

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

5 Tips for Filmmakers (and other artists) for Building an Audience

The good news for Indie filmmakers, musicians, photographers and new media artists is that technology enables us to take control and distribute our own work to the masses or a more targeted niche audience.  The bad news is that even though we are able to reach a global audience without giving the lion’s share of our profits to an agent or distributor – it’s a lot of hard work.

When I completed final production on my first feature documentary, Opening Our Eyes, I knew I was hardly finished with this film, not if I wanted people to see it. theater interioeIMG_0150Since most filmmakers make their movies to be seen, they need to decide how they want their movies distributed and marketed.  As a filmmaker, do you want to delegate this task to a distribution company or do it yourself?  Will you be one of the lucky 1% of filmmakers who get their films picked up for distribution?  If not, do you have a plan on how to do that?

1. Identify and build audience – Regardless if you decide to sign with a distributor or distribute your work yourself, the most important part of marketing and distributing a film is to identify and build your audience – and you should start building your audience before the film is finished.  As soon as I made a commitment to make a film, I started blogging about it.  I created a blog specifically about the film where my daughter and I talked about preparing for and taking a 99-day journey around the world. I also wrote about the making of the film on this blog where I talked about gearing up for it as well as the post-production process.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was building our niche audience.

2. Have a social media plan:

  • Decide on platforms – Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Google+, YouTube, Vimeo
  • Carve out the time to engage
  • Decide where the content will come from – behind the scenes photos or footage, blogs, podcasts?
  • Who and where is your audience? Find other Facebook groups or pages and followers who are interested in the same topic as yours.  Collaborate. Build your Twitter followers same way.

3. Finding true fans – Since most filmmakers will most likely NOT have a mega hit with huge profits, the best thing a filmmaker can do is build their “true fan” base.  First you should ask yourself how many “true fans” would you need to sustain yourself as a filmmaker? And by true fan, I mean people who are willing to buy whatever you are selling, be it a book, a DVD, a music download or a t-shirt.  The key to growing your core “true fans” is to engage them by sharing interesting content as opposed to just selling something.

4. Be consistent and stick with it – Like anything else, building an audience takes time.  Be prepared to constantly interact and engage your audience by sharing relevant and interesting content with them.  You’re building a tribe or a community.

5. Find likely partners – Making films is a collaborative effort.  Similarly, for filmmakers to be successful in marketing their films they need to find their core niche.  One great way to find your niche audience is to identify like minded groups and share links.  The non-profit my daughter works for partnered with us and we frequently share each other’s news with our followers.

The Difference Between Photographers & Filmmakers

Red carpet of the Palais des Festivals et des ...
Red carpet of the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès during the 2001 Cannes Film Festival. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am winding down after a couple of intense months, traveling the film festival circuit with my documentary Opening Our Eyes.  I have enjoyed every bit of it, but it wore me out – in a good way.

I find that when I am “out there”, I get richly rewarded in many ways.  I think what I enjoyed the most about the film festivals, and what was the most beneficial to me, was the opportunity to dialog with other filmmakers.  I learned a lot in the process. But what stood out to me was how different these conversations were from conversations that I have with my still photographer colleagues.

Many times the conversations I was having with other filmmakers were centered on a story.  That should come as no surprise because that’s what filmmakers do – they tell stories.  But filmmakers tell stories “cinematically”, so when they are talking about the story that they are currently working, or a story idea they want to pursue, they speak in great visual detail so I see a very clear picture in my head.

My conversations with my still photographer peers, in terms of craft, are more apt to be about how they created an image.  Photographers generally talk more about the role they played in making the photo, like how they lit it or the gear they used.  Sometimes, photographers will tell me a story about what they went through to make a photograph and those stories can be very interesting and entertaining, but again the conversation is more about the execution of the image – than the story of the image.

Lately I’ve been trying to figure out how and where I fit into the mix. The truth is, I remain in the middle – a true hybrid.  I realize that ever since I can remember, I have always seen stories playing out cinematically in my head, so I guess I have always had a filmmaker’s mind even though it lay dormant for most of my professional career.  On the other hand, as a still photographer and one who has been an observer of life through my camera I see things like light and composition.

So, I am a true hybrid and I can see my still photographic “eye” in the motion work I create. Others who have seen my film have remarked about the composition and lighting, because it does look different and stands out from other documentaries.  Sometimes that has been a good thing and sometimes not.  Regardless, it is what it is – a creation from a still photographer’s eye applied to motion.

Embrace the differences – see what happens.

Mistakes Professional Still Photographers Make When “Moving” to Video

1.  They forget about the story – it’s not your camera that tells the story – it’s the person using the camera. Pretty visuals, slapped into a motion timeline with music, doesn’t necessarily tell a story.  Video is a story telling medium – don’t forget that.

2.  They think they already know how to shoot – if you think because you are a professional photographer and all you need to do is get a camera with a “video mode” on it, you are mistaken. Shooting in motion is far different than shooting still images. An experienced motion shooter can spot a video shot by a still photographer with little know how, right away.

3.  Thinking audio isn’t important – audio is more important than the visual when producing video.  Hire a sound person to do it right, but don’t discount it.

4.  Thinking the DSLR camera is all you need for video productions – this is a biggie.  How are you going to go after professional video jobs if this is the only tool in your kit?  Sure you can rent a RED – but make sure you are as proficient with this tool as your competition is before hanging out your “motion” shingle.

5.  Positioning themselves just as DP’s or Directors and thinking you’ll maintain ownership of your work. If you assume the role of a camera operator, DP or even a director – you will be in a work for hire position in most markets.  Position yourself as a producer – shoot if you want to – and direct – but realize that you’ll be just one rung on the “content ladder”.

6.  They don’t learn interview skills – this is what separates the pros from the still shooters who have DSLR cameras and think that’s all they need.  I’d say about  70% of my work includes on camera interviews.  Even though I ask the questions- I’m not on camera, my subject is.   I not only need to know how to ask the right questions and get great audio, but I need to produce a usable interview clip for an editor. That means knowing how to get great soundbites. This is one area I excel in – it’s all about rapport with your subject.

7.  They try to compete in “old business model” markets – Everyone wants to shoot broadcast spots and feature films (or short films) so they think that after shooting motion for only a few months – or even a year – they will be able to compete in the high end business of video production.  First, this market, like the still photography market,  has changed drastically, mostly marginalized by still photographers who are just starting to shoot motion,  shooting jobs for next to nothing because they have no understanding of this “business”.

8.  Learning the “how to’s” in terms of gear – but nothing about the business – this is also a biggie.  There are so many “how to shoot motion” workshops and roadshows out there but no one seems to be teaching the business end of things.  Still photographers think they already know “the business” but quickly realize that they don’t, and they put themselves out of business in this medium – before they’ve barely started.

9.  Teaching “how to” workshops in video with little or no experience – I can’t tell you how many photographers have called me for technical advice about some pretty basic stuff in terms of video,  and four months later they are teaching workshops. Please don’t become part of the problem and send more shooters out into this field without teaching them something about business. And if you are considering taking a workshop – do your homework and take the workshop from someone who is accomplished in this field and has done something.

10. They forget about the story – I know that’s #1 but it needs reinforcing.

ASMP and Motion

I’m on the National Board of Directors of the ASMP, The American Society of Media Photographers.  About four years ago, I was asked if I had ever thought about running for the board.  The person who had asked me this question, knew that I had been shooting video in addition to still photography and thought that it might be a good idea to have someone on the board who had an understanding of this medium.  That was four years ago, and even though I had been shooting video for over 10 years – the “explosion” of this medium (in terms of the demand) had really just started.

I did run, served three years, ran again and got elected. I’ve shared my knowledge of this medium through meetings, seminars, blogs, emails and during Q&A’s when I screen my film.

Gail Mooney, Tom Kelly and Chris Hollo at ASMP booth, DV East

This past Wednesday, I spent my day manning the ASMP booth at DV East Expo. Former national board member (and now President of the ASMP Tennessee Chapter) Chris Hollo and my partner Tom Kelly joined me.  We were well prepared with a large flat screen monitor displaying a loop of our members work. I was intimate with the reel as I had just finished editing it and I was very impressed with the quality of the work.  It certainly was an attention grabber.

So, what was ASMP, a trade organization of still photographers, doing at a video expo? Essentially, we were there to provide a community and reach out to other professionals who are shooting both mediums and provide information about sound business practices.  If this demographic does not understand the value of copyright or value the concept of licensing, then it will ultimately affect the way business is done in the still photography industry.

Some people may think that ASMP is becoming too inclusive or is creating more of a problem by suggesting that video may be the answer for its members, only for them to find out, that industry is glutted as well.  The old business models of bloated production companies with fat budgets are hanging on for dear life, along with the old business models of the film industry.  But if you think outside the box, especially in terms of how you structure your photography business – the opportunities are out there.

ASMP doesn’t cease to be an advocate for its still photographers who have no interest in motion – it’s actually making the entire industry healthier by educating the hybrid competition.  A lot of the people I talked to yesterday, shot both still photography and video, but even the ones who just shot video – called themselves “photographers” and they all had questions about “the business”.

I’m so closely associated with  “video” by members of this society; they tend to forget that I am a photographer.  I don’t call myself a photographer simply because I spend 50% of my time shooting still images, or call myself a videographer because I spend the other 50% of my time producing video. I don’t want to define myself by my tools, at all. I “see” as a photographer, with the vision of a filmmaker and the heart of a storyteller.  I also have a strong desire to stay in business doing what I love to do.  By being an advocate for sound business practices across these mediums, I get a lot more back than I give.  All photographers’ benefit, regardless of what type of cameras they shoot with.

Friend and fellow board member Ed McDonald, tells his own story about how he had become too rigid at one point in his career, as far as how he perceived himself and what kind of photographer he was. He found that when he became more flexible in how he “defined” himself, his business got better. As I think about Ed’s story, I know we have a lot in common.  For me, when I stopped restricting myself to just shooting still images – not only my business got better – so did my still photography. Shooting motion has made me a better still photographer because it has made me a better storyteller.

I got an email late last night from someone I ran into at the expo.  They wrote:

“Thanks for your vision and inspiration and all you’ve done for ASMP.”  So simple and so poignant and I thought – “isn’t that what I was supposed to do?”