10 Things Freelancers (Photographers & Filmmakers) Should Do in 2017

Marathon swimming, East River, New York City

Be optimistic – I’m going to start with the hardest one of all, because it’s really difficult to be optimistic these days. But I find that if I can maintain a positive attitude and turn my thoughts to what is possible, I actually open myself up to more opportunities in my life, instead of creating more roadblocks.

Be open to possibilities. – Be more flexible in how you perceive things and who you are. Change is always happening, but it’s usually gradual. Most people don’t take notice until “change” forces their hand to act. It’s always better to be proactive than reactive so embrace “change” as an ever-present fact of life that creates opportunities for those who are open to seeing them.

Collaborate – Photographers are very independent creatures and collaboration is not part of their norm. As the “photography” business continues to change, photographers will find that collaborating with other artists will make their own businesses stronger. There is so much more to running a business than there used to be. While social media marketing has opened up numerous possibilities, it can also be overwhelming to a solo photographer. You can’t do it all. Work with people who can bring out each other’s strong suits.

Diversify – I’m not quite so sure why so many photographers are so rigid in how they define who they are and what they do. Having a “style” is great, but the trick is to not to be so narrowly defined by that style, so that when styles change, you don’t find yourself obsolete by your own design. It’s kind of like being type cast, where your audience or your clients can only see you in one way. Diversifying might be creating a whole new niche of your business. I recently created a business niche that is more geared toward the retail market. We create high end “Ken Burns” style family biography videos to preserve a family’s legacy with personal interviews with ones loved ones combined with old photos and home movies.

Concentrate on “the story”– I had the opportunity to speak with a lot of still photographers and filmmakers this past year and I began to notice a difference in the conversations I was having with each. Most times, filmmakers would be telling me a story, whereas still photographers would be telling me how they executed a photograph, or essentially telling me the “back story” of the creation of the image. It’s all interesting but “the story” is the bottom line – if that doesn’t come through to the viewer – the rest doesn’t matter – including how it was executed.

Be authentic – be true to yourself. That means that you have to trust your gut instead of second guessing it. This is hard, especially when things don’t always work out the way you had hoped. Step away from the “noise” and listen to the voice inside.

Fail more. – Rejection is a tough pill to swallow but it usually means that you are either pushing yourself to try new things, you are too far ahead of your time or it just wasn’t meant to be. If you look at successful people you’ll see that most have had failures and rejections in their lives but they stuck with it – instead of letting failure defeat them.

Self-Initiate more projects. – I don’t like to call non-commissioned work, “personal projects”. That co notates that there is no monetary value, and these days just the opposite could be true. With more and more lopsided contracts being presented to photographers for commissioned work a photographer has a better chance to make more money and keep ownership of their work by creating self-initiated projects. But they need to be prepared to work hard. We’ve been working on a project entitled “Like A Woman” where we shoot environmental portraits and a short video about women who are working in traditionally male professions. It is a subject I know all too well after working in the career of photography and now filmmaking my entire adult life.

Forget about the past and learn from mistakes. – You can’t change the past but you can learn from it and then, move on. Look toward the future but make sure you take time to enjoy the “now”.

In the scheme of things, you’re just one small speck in the universe. – I think we all get way too stressed about things that really don’t matter and we let those things control our life. When we become more conscious of that, we really begin to live life.

Business Tips for Photographers in a Multiple Media World

In the blogging sphere of photography and video there is a lot written about gear and how to use it, but precious little written about 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.

Cuba-3858
Havana, Cuba

One huge 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.  One minus or downside is if we don’t adapt our dated business models in a business that has seen monumental changes we won’t be able to compete.

As commercial photographers we 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, editorial and others.  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. What’s next – VR (virtual reality)?

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 the question with; “I don’t want anything to do with video” ? The problem with that answer is that most of your clients probably have a dual need for stills and 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 by hiring or outsourcing? 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 the 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 and all 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 you too 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.  Be authentic and true to yourself.
  • Keep an eye out for the next big thing. At this year’s NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) Virtual Reality had a big presence. I’m not quite sure if it’s for me but I will follow the trend and keep my options open.

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

 

Pricing, Photographers & the Race to the Bottom

The bottom is getting crowded.

I read Seth Godin’s blog daily. He’s usually concise and right on target. His post entitled,”Clawing your way to the bottom” really hits the mark as far as what professional photographers and other visual creators are up against.

I used to make a lot of money shooting stock – that is before the consolidation of agencies and the commoditization of stock. While it’s understandable why that happened when the world went “digital”, the prices and value of images has dropped so far that an “average” stock shooter can no longer make a living shooting stock.

I’m grateful that I never relied solely on stock photography to make a living. However, commissioned photography has not escaped the race to the bottom as far as photographers pricing themselves out of business. There’s only so low one can go on their fees. It’s a short fix to nowhere.

The solution is there for anyone who is willing to do the work – that is, make the effort to stay at the top of your game. Focus on the big picture. Be curious. Don’t panic. Stay away from trends., Focus on the story – not on the gear. Tell them a story. Live life because if you don’t – your work will show it.

 

 

 

What I Would Say to my 30-Year-Old Self

Most folks would write about what they would say to their 20-year-old self, but I chose to address myself a decade later when I’ve had some time to experience more of life.

You’ll be OK – How many of us have thought at times that things will never work out? I have survived a lot of experiences that I thought I would never get through. I’ve done some stupid things and made some dumb decisions. Some have taken their toll but I’m OK.

Don’t confuse “young” with “emerging” – It’s common in our culture to equate youth with fresh or emerging. Don’t tell yourself that this will be the only time in your life that you will “emerge”. I was young when I first started out but I am only now “emerging” in terms of my craft. I am creating from a lifetime of experience and my authentic self.

 Business is personal – Relationships are what it’s all about. People will come and go in your life in both business and personal. Be mindful of the relationships that have value and keep those connections secure. As singer/songwriter Don Henley wrote, “you get the best light from a burning bridge”.

Don’t preach to the choir – Don’t just hang out with likeminded people. It’s boring and provincial. Broaden your perspective by connecting with people who are different ages, genders, races or religions. It will bring more understanding and tolerance in your life and others.

Don’t be a quitter – but know when to walk away – I tell folks, “I’m not a quitter. I don’t even walk out of a bad movie”. I’m tenacious and it has gotten me far in my life. At a film festival where I won best documentary, I told a filmmaker that I might have never started to make my movie if I knew that I would still be involved with it, 3 years later. He told me “that’s normal” and then said “you’ll know when it’s time to walk away”. I have found that to be true with all kinds of things – not just making movies.

Make each day count – I’m paraphrasing a bit,

LeonardoTitanic
Leonardo di Caprio, Titanic

but in the movie Titanic, Leonardo di Caprio’s character, Jack makes a remark about making each day count. I love that scene. Life goes by in a blink.

Are You a Woman in a Man’s World?

“Hey, it’s an ice cream man who’s a lady!  I was the lady…

It was the first year that Good Humor hired women as ice cream truck drivers. It was the summer after my freshman year at college, when I applied for a job as a driver. I fibbed and said that I could drive a standard transmission so I would get the job.  I got the job and as I bucked out of the Good Humor lot on my first day, I learned how.

I have always been the “token” female in my professional circles throughout my life.  To be honest, I never set out to be a front-runner for my gender or to prove a point. I simply followed my interests and and didn’t let the naysayers stop me from what I wanted to do. I just went for it.

In my profession of still photography there are definitely more women in the business now, than when I started.  At times it has been challenging and no doubt many opportunities were lost simply because of my gender.  But I was tenacious and I was passionate about photography and the access my cameras would give me to the lifestyle I wanted. I wanted to explore the world and experience places and events and share them with others. I’ve spent a lifetime doing just that.

I’m amazed at what technology has enabled me to do in my life and in my profession. I have been able to utilize the tools of today and the plentiful electronic distribution portals to bring awareness to various issues or cultures through my still images and motion. Currently, I’m working alongside my partner, Tom Kelly on a project entitled Like a Woman. It’s a series of short films and environmental still portraits of women who are working in male dominated professions – a subject I can certainly relate to.  We’ve just finished our

Taylor Laverty, Pilot of Good Year Blimp, Carson, CA
Taylor Laverty, Pilot of Good Year Blimp Spirit of America

 latest film about Taylor Laverty, a female pilot for the Goodyear blimp, the Spirit of America. She is one of only three female blimp pilots in the world. Taylor amazes me with her skills and professionalism and I am grateful to see the strides going forward in gender equality. 

Change happens slowly,  until it eventually becomes the norm.  By creating these short films I hope to nudge change along a little quicker and  inspire other women to reach for opportunities that are out there and used to be off bounds – not that long ago. I am always looking for interesting stories about women who are paving the way in fields where few women have gone before.  Please contact me.

Video Editing – Some Tips Not to Forget

I have a love/hate relationship with video editing, depending on which point I’m at. HotShoeExtensionExtenderMy initial ingestion of content and first edit is always tedious, but once I’ve edited the time line sound bites, I feel as though I’m more than half way there. But sometimes I lose sight of some critical thoughts in the process. Here’s a few:

  • Remember your commitment / story. Your story gets told and comes alive in the editing. If you don’t have a clear and concise message or story that you want to tell, then go no further, until you do. I have found when editing the latest short film in the Like A Woman series, that there is more than one message to relay. This video is about Simona de Silvestro, one of the few female professional race car drivers who races for the Andretti Autosport Team in Formula E (electric). It has two themes – one, about a woman in a man’s profession and another about electric racing. It’s tough to get across one theme in a film that is less than 3 minutes long, let alone two themes. I knew that I needed to be concise and to deliver the messages organically without forcing the issues. As much as Simona is one of the few females in this profession, she still wants to be known as the best driver she can be .
  • Let a piece breathe. I always make the mistake of trying to squeeze too much dialog into a short piece. It took me a dozen cuts, each time, taking out soundbites and stretching them over added b-roll to get the balance just right. Breathing gives the audience a rest and allows them to digest the information better.
  • Don’t try to be perfect. In an effort to leave no stone unturned in regards to my b-roll, I initially went through everything and then put all the selects on a timeline (or in a event). It was the first time we shot 4K GoPro footage and I put that in a separate event on a timeline. It was a big mistake. It took me a long time to make the timeline and an even longer time to look for a clip within the timeline. Next time, I will edit my clips from my bin and mark “favorites” as I go along, which is what I usually do, and is much faster.. Not sure why I departed from that approach, but I learned my lesson.
  • Audio is everything. The interview with Simona was challenging. We were literally in a tent set up on the side of an active roadway. Even with a shotgun mics and a lavalier with an undercover we still picked up some background noise of the traffic. I did everything I could think of to blend the sound including S-Curve transitions and adding another noise track to fill in the dead air spots. I’m not totally happy with it, but I’d like to up my skills in audio mixing. My only consolation is that the story is about racing, so the audio is somewhat acceptable.
  • 4K – What a memory suck! I love the results from the GoPro Hero 4 Black but the clips are difficult to view as it can be sluggish. But, because my final output is HD 1920X1080, I was able to crop the 4K and/or blow it up and it looked great.

Check out the other short videos and portraits on the Like A Woman channel. And please like our FB page.

VR – Virtual Reality – Will it Replace the Real Experience?

I just returned from the NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) Show held annually each April in Las Vegas. With 4 huge convention halls displaying the latest and greatest technology and gear used in broadcasting, it’s simply overwhelming. Since I’ve never been enamored with just the NAB 2016gear component of my business (still photography and video), but rather in how I can apply or enhance the story that I’m working on, I spend most of my time attending the conference tracks.

Every year, there seems to be a new buzzword. Two years ago it was all about 4K. Last year it was drones (UAVs) and this year it was all about VR (virtual reality) but not the VR of the 1980’s. I’m talking about VR that provides a totally immersive experience for the viewer. Even though I was a bit skeptical and didn’t really see opportunities beyond the gaming sector, I made it a point to check out the VR Pavilion and take a look at some cameras ranging from Kodak’s PixPro SP360 4 K ($499-$899) to Spericam’s V2 a 360° video camera (actually 6 cameras) no bigger than a tennis ball that records in 4K with automatic-stitching, WiFi and streaming baked right in, making viewing and sharing content easy (around $2500), to the high end Nokia Ozo selling for $60,000! As far as the viewer end, here are some of the headset options out there: Oculus Rift, Google Cardboard, and Samsung Gear VR

It wasn’t until I attended a session entitled, Being There – VR in News & Documentary that I began to realize the potential and possibilities of this technology. The panel consisted of filmmakers, journalists, and creative directors from news outlets (USA Today and Sky TV) who talked about how they were applying the tools and utilizing the medium. Like any new technology there are plenty of challenges in both the production and postproduction process, but with technology’s fast moving pace in this niche it’s only a matter of time before just about anyone and everyone will be able to create using this medium. One challenge right now is in stitching together the content in post that is created by 6 -10 cameras. It can be cumbersome and slow accompanied by hours of angst if the cameras haven’t been perfectly aligned and in sync with one another. A question was raised about the reluctance that viewers might have with not wanting to wear the necessary headset, which was one of the obstacles that kept 3D TV sets from being ubiquitous in all of our homes. The panelists answered by predicting that in a year’s time the headset will give way to a contact lens worn by the viewer.

As a story driven content creator, I needed to know why I would want to deliver a story in VR. After this session the light bulbs went off. Because it’s an immersive experience for the viewer, it can also be an incredibly empathic and emotional medium. Imagine the possibilities – red carpet events, concerts or documentaries where you want the viewer to have a truly immersive experience. VR also provides an opportunity for authenticity because it removes the layers between the journalist and the viewer as opposed to 2D, which could have been created on a sound stage.

Even though the principles of storytelling haven’t changed this is a medium that requires a new language or lexicon with new rules. For instance, there is no cropping in VR. There are two important considerations when creating VR. One is proximity and you have to get the camera in close – no more than 2 feet from a subject that the camera may be following. The other component is to have a narrator or presenter – a kind of tour guide that can direct the viewer through the experience. Usually it’s the journalist rather than a voiceover talent, which can be a bit unnerving in this medium or like the voice of God coming out of nowhere. An alternative to using a narrator would be to use graphical overlays that guide the viewer visually. All the panelists agreed that because it’s such an authentic experience for the viewer it’s a medium that’s conducive to creating empathy and moving people to take action. Some said because it is so authentic it may mislead people inadvertently to disconnect because they have no sense of danger and we run the risk of viewers becoming numb to the experience but only if the filmmaker doesn’t provide the opportunity for a call to action. Live streaming in VR is a game changer because now filmmakers can influence in real time.

I’m not yet convinced that it’s a medium for me or if I’m ready to be a pioneer and deal with what comes with that. The rewards and opportunities are there, as they usually are for frontrunners. That is if it isn’t just a passing fad and you’re willing to take that risk. There is already a trade association for VR creators, IVRPA (The International Virtual Reality Photography Association) so my guess is it’s more than a passing fad. In a world of couch potatoes or those stifled by fear, there may be plenty of people who will choose VR over the real experience.

Check it out for yourself.

VR Stories by USA Today Network

Immerse Yourself in Stories of America 

Google Play
https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.gannett.vrstories&hl=enand

iTunes App Store
https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/vr-stories-by-usa-today/id975006820?mt=8

Condition One*
Experience a Perilous World with At-Risk Species, and at a Factory Farm

Google Play
https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.conditionone.vrplayer_cardboard&hl=en

Platform agnostic streaming with or without Cardboard:
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC3VWeehBnL_VL-92K6VImiw

Ryot – VR
Go Around the World to See New Perspectives, Regions, Cultures and People

Google Play
https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.apto.ryot_vr&hl=en

iTunes App Store
https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/ryot-vr/id1046058227?mt=8

Platform agnostic streaming with or without Cardboard:
http://www.ryot.org/virtualreality/the-second-line-a-parade-against-violence
(This piece is a RYOT and AP collaboration. Go inside New Orleans, one of our nation’s most culturally rich cities in a socially, politically, and emotionally potent moment in time.)

Google Cardboard
Launch Your Favorite VR Experiences, Discover New Apps, and Set Up a Viewer

Google Play
https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.google.samples.apps.cardboarddemo&hl=en

iTunes App Store
https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/google-cardboard/id987962261?mt=8

Platform agnostic streaming with or without Cardboard:
youtube.com/360