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

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.

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?”

Paying it Forward – It’s Amazing

I got the best email yesterday. It was from a young man who had attended a seminar I had given at Yale for ASMP on “Should I Be Thinking of Video”. I remember that evening well. I had recently returned from a 3-month journey circling the globe with my daughter creating a documentary on people making a positive difference in the world.
I was still very much in the same head-set that I had been for the past few months – one full of peace and belief in myself. I had just come off an intensive period where I was “walkin’ the walk” and I was practicing what I preached.

The young man, Brian, wrote, that he had attended my seminar with his father, who was a photographer and that he, himself had grown up wanting to make movies. So, my seminar was a perfect combination for them. Then Brian wrote “That night you inspired me.” My heart jumped when I read it. He went on to remind me of things that I had said that evening – about overcoming fears in order to realize your dreams – in my case traveling the world to make a movie. Leaving the known behind – for the unknown. Telling yourself “yes” instead of giving yourself reasons not to.

Brian said that he had recently landed his first job of his career as a structural engineer. He loved it, but he also had a great desire to travel. That night he went home and furiously “googled” anything about traveling the world and beyond. He came across the website of “Engineers Without Borders” and as serendipity would have it, they were having their monthly meeting that week.

To make a long, but interesting story, short, Brian went to that meeting that week, and talked with some people during a break who were organizing a trip to a village in India.

©Brian Skelcher

Then they invited him to go with them in February. He was astounded. And then he did the same thing many of us do in similar situations – he started giving himself every rational reason why he shouldn’t/couldn’t possibly do something like this. In Brian’s case – how could he ask his new boss for 3 weeks of time off?

That night when Brian heard me speak, was about a year and a half ago. In the email he sent to me yesterday, he talked about spending the last year editing his 15 hours of footage, down to a 40 minute piece. He told me that it hadn’t been easy and that he frequently read my blog posts where I had written about my similar experiences with post-production – magnified. What I had shared had helped him through it – angst and all.

My favorite line in his email read:

“So, I’m finally done with my movie, although there’s things I wish I had done differently, I did my best and I’m glad it’s finished! The final product is one thing, but the journey to get there is another, and the past 18 months have been such an amazing experience for me! I owe it all to you! Sorry for the long email but I’ve been waiting 18 months to tell you my story!!”

Brian just launched a Kickstarter campaign to send another engineer to Nepal for a similar project. You can find out more about it here: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/videotaping/welcome-to-abheypur-the-movie

I think back on that evening and the year and a half in between. I’ve gone through two tough winters, doing the kind of work that needs to be done, but nevertheless takes its toll on my heart and my soul. That evening, my spirit was alive and well. Brian and others felt it and it moved them to a place they wanted to be. And now, after a tough winter, that same “energy” has come back around to me through Brian’s email. It has reminded me to stay the course and stay on purpose. Thanks Brian.

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Looking Back

Today, I’ve been looking back through two year’s worth of blog posts that I have written. Wow – I’ve written a lot!  I really surprised myself at just how much when I started gathering the content that I had written in regards to the making of my documentary, Opening Our Eyes. I’m putting together my 2nd ePub that will be a companion to my first ePub, recently published on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

My focus is centered on the “craft” and the making of the film, and I talk about everything from “the gear” I put together for our 99-day journey around the world to the distribution process for the final film. A bulk of the content has already been written with photographs ready to upload and links.  It’s just a matter of consolidating the information and presenting it in a more concise way.

Earlier in the year, I paid my dues in the learning department when I put together the first ePub.  After my experience working with a professional formatter, I quickly realized what not to do.  One big thing I learned was not to get too heavy with the images because the first generations of Kindles have only b&w displays.  I also learned not to create intricate designs in Pages because later I had to undo all the work I had done for a PDF version of the printed book.

I am amazed at how much I have written over the last few years.  It was interesting to look back through some of my blog entries, and see how I was “processing things”  at the time I was writing those posts.  I’ve never really kept a journal before, accept for a one year period in my life, between the ages of 19 and 20, when I was making my first journey around the world.

I’m really happy that I have archived these stories and records of my life, but that’s not what motivated me to first start writing. I used to wake up super early in the morning – my mind spinning with ideas and random thoughts, not allowing me to get back to sleep.  So, I would get up and I started writing down my random thoughts and I found it therapeutic.  It was like having a conversation with someone and sorting things out.

There are chunks of time in my life that I simply don’t feel like writing or that I have nothing to really say.  My mind seems to go into a dormant phase where I convalesce with other distractions – usually mindless ones. But then there are days when I just have the need to get my thoughts down on paper.  I’m grateful for those days – on days like this when I take the time to look back from where I’ve been.

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