Yes – We are still on Summer Break and I am working on my next book so for now DO get to nearest newsstand and get your copy of September issue of @shutterbugmag and check out my Business Trends article on “Turning Portraits into Profits”. Special thanks to our contributing photographers: Rick Dahms, Omayra Espino-Vázquez, Robert Houser, David Neff, Sara Press, and Michael Schmitt – you are all my heroes! Don’t miss the portrait photo assignment “war stories” they have to tell – love it!
Beyond learning how to handle cameras and photo equipment, working as a photo assistant will provide you with valuable lessons that can go a long way towards helping you build a successful career as a commercial photographer. Learning about: project management, studio protocols, location procedures, pre-production and post-production are all essential business skills. As important are the realities of today’s photo economy – as shared by our guest this month, James Sullivan of 1ProPhoto.com.
Maria Piscopo: What are the best ways to research and find assisting work?
James Sullivan: The most efficient first step towards getting work is making a list of those photographers whose images you admire, and putting them into some type of database for easy access (1ProPhoto.com created their own stand alone APP. ‘1ProPhoto.com -Photo Production DB’ based on FilemakerPro) and then making initial contact via social networks like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and others, as well as using traditional email to send a short (1-2 paragraphs) introduction with your resume as an attachment or a link to a down-loadable PDF, or if the resume is short you can embed it into the email.
Another great option is to create your own email newsletter (Mail Chimp offers a nice free option) to keep those potential clients in your database up to date on the jobs that you have been working on and your new skills and experiences. And lastly pick up the phone and call the photographers or their studios directly. This not only shows your level of ambition and commitment but it will also demonstrate your ability to communicate with the people you are trying to get work with. These days it is more word of mouth and recommendations than ever before; so you must be socially adept and great at networking and have exceptional communication skills!
MP: Realistically, what are the challenges and changes you have seen for photo assistants in the last 5-10 years?
JS: Specifically, for those with 4 to 6 years experience, the role of Photo Assistant has evolved and changed into the role of “Lighting Director” or “Lighting Tech”. These individuals have acquired a skill set that on the lean side, consists of knowing every piece of lighting and grip equipment manufactured in the last 20+ years as well as being able to accurately reproduce the lighting of ANY published images simply by looking at it and reverse engineering it. This job is not just about equipment knowledge on set lighting skills but also about working with a photographer or producer during the pre-production process, making equipment, studio, location and lighting recommendations that can best serve the shoot and the photographers vision. This inclusion in the production process can also go a long way towards keeping production budgets low; which in turn allows these highly skilled individuals to command a day rates between $1200 and $1600 a day or more depending on the job’s requirements.
And while the position of Photo Assistant can offer a great career path as well as offering exceptional learning opportunities; the day rates have not kept pace with the U.S. economy or current levels of neither inflation nor living expenses in most cities around the world. Unfortunately, there are still: Clients, Magazines and Photographers/Producers whom are trying to hire assistants for $150 a day, and trying convince them that this is a standard day rate. This is complete nonsense when you consider that the day rate for a 1st assistant in 1976 was $175! The base day rate for a Photo Assistant in the U.S. (as of Jan. 2016) is $300-$600. And that is an ‘Editorial Rate’ again based on your experience and ability to ask for what you know you are worth.
I am also of the opinion that the job estimates (provided by wonderfulmachine.com) and the low ball rates they have published on sites like APhotoEditor.com are not only misleading as to the true value of the products and services provided by photographers and their production team; but this incessant devaluation of photographers professional services as well as the production process and creation of image/video; is part of what is killing the long term viability of the commercial photo industry.
Unfortunately, the respect once afforded photo assistants for their skills and years of experience in years past which was not only appreciated but highly sought after by our peers, as well as the photo industry as a whole, has disintegrated right along with the level of ‘Craftsmanship’ that we all brought to each and every photo shoot. That respect has gone out the window except for a few old school reps, producers, and photographers that recognize that value of have someone skilled and experienced on their productions. This lack of respect also extends to the slow and sometimes non-payment for services rendered by the photo assistant. And these are two of the biggest reasons so many photo assistants have never been able to transition from assistant to photographer.
Now I’m sorry if this makes me sound like a ‘Debbie Downer’ (SNL reference) but my view point is hardly unique. In speaking with people around New York, Miami, and Los Angeles; many people who have worked in the photo industry for years are leaving and looking for work in other fields because very often it is no longer a viable career path unless you are already rich and/or have a lot of powerful connections!
MP: How do you think working as an assistant helps make the transition to full time photographer?
JS: Presently that only reason to venture into a career as a commercial photographer is because you are compelled to do so to the extent that mentally and physically you cannot find fulfillment pursuing anything else. Or you just don’t know how to do anything else. If you can survive the realities of today’s photo economy that I just spoke of, if you don’t mind having to wake up every day in order to work find your next job, are super resilient and don’t have a problem living from pay check to pay check; then the time spent working as an assistant will allow you to learn the real world skills that you will not learn in school or might otherwise not acquire should you choose to only work for one photographer for an extended period of time. Working for a diverse group of photographers on a multitude of shoots allows the assistant to learn from everyone else’s mistakes without that added expense of time and money that tends to kill many new photographer’s careers. This applies even more so when it comes to: producing shoots, dealing with clients, models, stylists, hair and makeup, booking studios, model agencies, renting equipment, location scouting, creating and managing a shoot budget. It is imperative that today’s crop of photo assistants recognize as well as realize that: “This is a business, this is your business, and you need to treat it as such”.
[The opinions expressed here are those of James Sullivan and are based upon his first hand experiences as well as information garnered from his recent conversations with photographers, photographer’s reps, and Photo Producers, and may not reflect the opinions of the publisher of the article.]
In this week’s post, we will send you to the Business Trends column for a look at some of the marketing aspects of fine art photography: getting established, finding clients, looking for gallery representation, marketing techniques, and finding your style and direction. Special thanks to these photographers: Sean Bagshaw (Outdoor Exposure Photography, LLC), David Bowman, John Granata (John Granata Fine Art), Robin Hill, and Cheyenne L Rouse. Read more at http://www.shutterbug.com/content/how-sell-your-fine-art-photography-tips-photographers-making-living-your-art#HUKOtTVUbTaL8hIb.99
As one of the most respected visual storytellers in the world, Michael Grecco’s conceptual vision and signature dramatic lighting create distinctive images that are evocative, sophisticated, and comedic. Photographing intimate portraits of entertainers, boxers, rappers, scientists, and business leaders, Grecco’s images captivate our attention and imagination. Grecco, talked with us about how to build a business as a portrait photographer, read more at http://www.shutterbug.com/content/how-build-portrait-photography-business-marketing-tips-one-world%E2%80%99s-leading-portrait#lrqWT0J8DKI1uU27.99
Photographers doing pro-bono work for charities is a long-time tradition. With social media platforms, this marriage of photography and doing good for others has some interesting potential for business. For this post, I want to introduce you to Miguel Pola, www.miguelpola.net and his work for Project Cuddle, www.projectcuddle.org
Piscopo: How did you get involved with the Project’s photography?
Pola: Project Cuddle is a non-profit organization that provides safe and legal alternatives to pregnant teens and women considering abandonment of their newborns. I got involved with Project Cuddle by photographing their annual Dinner by the Bay Fundraiser Gala. Another photographer who originally was to be there contracted me. The following year I asked him if he wouldn’t mind me taking over the event altogether. I felt that was the least I could do for Project Cuddle’s cause.
Piscopo: How do you think a photographer’s commitment to charitable organizations or non-profits can benefit, expand or promote his or her business?
Pola: Supporting a non-profit community organization builds your company’s credibility. Since we have been a part of Project Cuddle’s organization we have been able to increase our target clientele. Many supporters of these organizations are business owners or are involved with corporations that will need services that you may offer, whether they are headshots, a family member who may be getting married or even product photography for a product that they may solicit. In the past we have created fundraising opportunities for Project Cuddle that have raised money for their cause but also increased our bottom line. Affiliating yourself with your organization to give back to them shows you are human and you have compassion. People like doing business with companies who have similarities to themselves.
Piscopo: How do the non-profit you work with best use your photos for their cause?
Miguel Pola: Project Cuddle uses the images that we photograph for them to help build awareness for their cause. They use them for their websites, Facebook page, articles in magazines, slideshows, videos that get presented to thousands of people. They have even used them on several talk shows, “The Talk”, “Jeff Probst Show” to list a couple. With social media being such a part of everyone’s lives, images that get posted to Project Cuddle’s Facebook page get lots of views and become viral when people tag themselves in the images.
Piscopo: What is your best piece of advice for photographers before they start working with non-profits?
Pola: My best advice for someone who is interested in getting involved with a non-profit organization is be yourself, love what you do and pick an organization that you can relate to. If you pick an organization that you connect with, you will be more passionate about the work that you do for them and it will translate into great relationships. Their supporters will notice that. Be sure come up with a mutual agreement of how the photos are used. Having your logo on images should be a must in your agreement.
Piscopo: How do you run a business, make a difference, perhaps even be a photography activist, and still pay the rent?
Pola: Get involved, give back and give it your all. But remember that you are still running a business. Be generous, but also understand that you need to be fair to your business and most of all your family. Even when it comes down to your time!
Anthony Rogers attended my Self-Promotion class at the Academy of Art University in 2014 and (apparently) took many of the lessons to heart! Already in freelance business mode while in school, he started an online magazine, http://www.bobcutmag.com/ after graduation and has achieved a lot of success in a very short time. He recently gave my current class an informative guest lecture on “getting your business started” and here are some of his thoughts on the subject.
Piscopo: You already had fashion clients for your freelance photography business, why start an online magazine?
Rogers: I started my online magazine as a way for me to curate the work of others I really loved and to also write freely. While I was in school, I worked freelance for a couple of publications and did a lot of writing for them. Over time, I saw that the work that I had written was being edited down to a point where it didn’t even sound like myself. What I thought strung the piece together (whether it be the humor or what have you) the editors didn’t see it that way so I started Bob Cut in January of this year and haven’t looked back.
Piscopo: What advice do you have for those looking at photography as a business – pitfalls to avoid or opportunities to pursue?
Rogers: My photography is a business. Especially in the first two years, I took all the clients and partnership opportunities that came at me. I never said no. Now that I’m in my 6th year of working freelance as a photographer, I’m a lot pickier from job to job. Before you decide to go into business. really establish your voice as a photographer because, without that, you could be stuck shooting something you don’t even love. For me, I did a lot of events…but they were not EVER what I wanted to shoot.
Piscopo: What skills or areas of expertise (other than photography) do you think a photographer needs for a successful business?
Rogers: I believe a photographer should be a “jack of all trades, master of none”. Learn to do free-form writing, to design type, make short films, and take a business course. A little of everything goes a long way. For myself and Bob Cut, I really took time to dive into the topics I was reporting about…fashion, food, art, interviews, and beauty.
Piscopo: When you are looking at your overall marketing efforts, what seems to work best for you?
Rogers: I feel that the best marketing efforts come from my promos. Whether it be for Bob Cut or my personal brand. Having promo pieces does set the tone of who you are and your level of humor.
It is August, so let’s get personal! I have been thinking a lot about fear lately and how letting fear “be my friend” has helped me so much in my life and career. It started when I was thinking about raising children. When you are first raising little ones, you are most concerned with their safety and maintenance (“don’t put that in your month”, “don’t touch the stove, “do wash your hands, and “do brush your teeth”). This takes pretty much all your time, attention and energy. If you are lucky enough to get to do the same thing much later in your life, that part comes second-nature and allows you to focus more on the emotional well-being of the littles.
I noticed that when a little kid says “I’m scared” it is usually not the monster-under-the-bed fear but more of a WHOA-I-don’t-know-what’s-going-to-happen fear. As a creative professional, you should be able to totally relate to this for all of the business and marketing issues we deal with every day. Issues such as getting paid what you want, client conflict, production problems, asking for work, sometimes even asking for anything!
When the littles say “I’m scared” in a WHOA-I-don’t-know-what’s-going-to-happen situation, I now always reply the same way, “Yes, you are afraid because you have not done this a hundred times.” And then it struck me, that’s what I have always said to myself when faced with the same type of fear for business and career issues. Every time I push through and take action, confidence grows and fear subsides.
When you allow fear to stop you, you are not using it for its essential value – a warning, a caution. But a “stop” sign is just that – stop and then make your turn. Stop and then take the action. Stop – look both ways – then cross the street.
Don’t stay standing on the corner, you will be there forever.
Check it out! Within the Fold is a design community that produces affordable, high-quality black & white t-shirts, I just got my first one from @StefanGBucher. Great idea for business marketing and self-promotion, http://withinthefold.com/
BTW, please pardon the non-professional photo, the shirt came with instructions to post a “selfie” on Twitter! Anyone know a photographer??
This is the perfect time of year to stop and reflect: where have you been? Where are you going? How do you get there in one piece? One thing for certain, you will not make it on an “empty tank” so we asked an eclectic and diverse group of creative professionals to share their tips and techniques for resting and recharging. My personal thanks go to the owners of the Award-winning Sagewater Spa (www.sagewaterspa.com), Rhoni Epstein and Cristina Pestana, for seeking out and providing me with a number of creative professionals to be interviewed for this piece (the first version appeared in Communication Arts Magazine).
So, you can always run “out of gas” trying to balance conflicting needs, especially personal and professional. You need to dedicate yourself to your work and you want to spend time for yourself or with your family. You need to get work done and need to get some rest. Does this conflict sound familiar? Michael Fleishman is a freelance illustrator, teacher and author and lists the first most important technique– physical exercise. He also suggests that you plan some buffer time from when you walk in the door at work to when you start talking to clients.
It does not seem to matter what technique you choose for your recharging as long as you identify these two things: activities that you can turn to and a retreat you can look forward to. Annie Consoletti, graphic designer, says, “Play is a key element to creativity. I don’t think one can be freely creative without having a sense of play. I put all of my energy into whichever project I am working on and am equally as passionate about my design work as I am in cooking, gardening and landscaping my yard, which at the moment includes cementing and staining a wall in my back yard.”
Craig Wright, television writer for SIX FEET UNDER and LOST, validates physical exercise and adds another technique – walk away! He says, “Not to be painfully obvious, but everything seems better when I’ve had some sort of strenuous exercise. Other than that, I tend to work in short spurts, with short rests in between, unless there’s a looming deadline. Whenever a creative problem seems unworkable, I give up and walk away. A few moments later, the freedom of having given up usually allows for a new answer to show itself. The key is actually giving up. You can’t pretend to give up.”
A ‘laundry list’ of re-charging activities is good to have in hand before you need it. The worst time to try to create this list is when you are burned out – so do it NOW! Michael Fleishman shares his list, “Swearing can be fun and work miracles (I’m only half kidding here). Doing something you absolutely love to do. Being in the company of someone you cherish, someone who listens, and who you want to listen to. Laughing. Laughing hard. Making music. Listening to music. Making art. Looking at art. Reading. Watching movies. Certain foods (in moderation, of course) can be medicinal, as are certain friends (sometimes also in moderation). Sleep is good; very, very good for you.”
Don’t underestimate the value of planning and being organized. In his book, The Business of Graphic Design – A Sensible Approach, Edward Gold says “Creativity’s dirty little secret is that control is not the enemy: control is a necessary ingredient that makes creativity possible.” Vanessa Eckstein, founder of the design studio Bløk, validates this point, “I discovered that the only way to avoid stress is planning ahead the time frames of when projects should begin and end and allocating time to explore in the middle. Prioritizing what is important versus what is inevitable. That is the practical part but avoiding stress is also knowing that one way or the other (and sometimes I do wonder how!) we always get to finish the project on time and proudly.”
Another technique is to deliberately go outside your personal comfort zone. Vanessa Eckstein adds, “I do look for a place which will surprise me. Places in which things happen magically because I encounter differences to what I am accustomed to. I go where I can meet people who I would have never met had I stayed at home. I look for situations that end up being a mixture of the everyday and the extraordinary.”
Finding a special place to go is one of the most common techniques among the creative professionals I have interviewed over the years. Annie Consoletti explains, “I moved to Los Angeles from Boston and shortly thereafter discovered the desert. For me it is a very creative, magical place filled with great energy. I’ve always been a spa-goer and it happens that Sagewater Spa has the best water in the world. For me, it is my ‘No Stress Zone’. You feel like you’re on your own private island with beautiful magical mountains in the distance and the sweet smell of the desert wafting by as you absorb it all in. It definitely has Zen-elegance and I feel totally renewed after a stay and ready to face the blank canvas!”
For most creative professionals, Self-confidence is an issue (especially when selling or pricing your work). Here’s the thing…you must not wait to feel confident before taking action. You’d wait forever! No, it turns out that feelings follow behavior and not the other way around. In other words, the behavior of confidence (and the resulting success) will eventually bring the feeling of confidence to you. If you study successful creative people, the one thing you would find they all have in common is a very strong, calm, sense of confidence. This confidence is made, not born. It comes from actions, from testing yourself and winning the tests. This is true for your creativity and technical ability as well as your professionalism and business skills.
Don’t wait to overcome doubt and fear before facing any business or marketing challenge. Accept that they are part of the process of testing and winning. Anxiety and hesitancy may feel like negative feelings, but you have to look at them as indicators that you are doing something you are not really good at yet. For example, the first time you quote a big job or tell a client you can’t do that job for their tiny budget, you will feel fear and anxiety. Don’t worry! You are experiencing a perfectly normal reaction any business owner will feel when being assertive.
It turns out that there are three choices for a confident business attitude and you always making a choice of one, whether you are conscious of it or not.
- An aggressive attitude means you get what you want without care or concern for the other party.
- A non-assertive attitude means you give people whatever they want without care or regard for the cost to you (a common problem in creative services).
- An assertive attitude means you get what you need and the other party gets what they need.
Being aggressive could drive your clients away. Being non-assertive could put you out of business! Acting assertive (whether you feel it at first or not) may cause you some short-term discomfort, but will ensure you long-term career satisfaction and profitability.
The trick is to learn to accept the fear without waiting for it to go away and go on to do the work at hand. The most common technique for this is called visualization. You must see yourself accepting the challenge, mapping a strategy to meet it and then successfully accomplishing the task at hand. This behavior works to create your success and the feeling of self-confidence that follows.