New Business Models in Photography and Motion – in a Global Economy

Manchester Airport, Manchester, England

This topic comes up a lot these days.  You  could apply “new business models” to just about any business – not just photography and video. Photography and video, in and of themselves are not business models at all, but rather they are mediums that are used commercially, non-commercially and personally. The business end of photography and video comes when you determine how you want to apply them in terms of today’s markets.

Today’s markets are global.  That’s good news and bad news, depending on the type of work you do.  If you are a stock photographer or even if you have expanded that into also shooting stock motion footage – your inventory or your content must be unique in some way in order to sustain that type of business model in our global economy. You will need to stand out and offer something unique,  if you pursue this type of market.

If you are a commissioned commercial or editorial photographer, cinematographer, or director, the competition is fierce and once again, if you don’t have a unique style or vision, most likely you will end up playing by others’ rules or signing “their” lopsided contracts.  It comes down to supply and demand of talent and work, and you will either compete with price or offer something that you do better than your competition.

The good news is, if you are willing to do the work, the world is your stage.  The portals for distribution of your “content” are open to all and as “creatives” we are no longer dependent on middlemen.  When I get asked to talk about “new business models”, I always look for where the new opportunities are.  Where will I be able to carve out my own “new business model”, rather than having to adapt others’ ideas of what that may be.  There is a big difference in those two approaches.

I am carving out a business model for who I am creatively, and where I see the most opportunities for what I do well.  When I am authentic to who I am and apply this to my work, I am able to deliver my own unique vision and reach the right audience,  while maintaining ownership and control over the licensing of my work.  I am able to do that not only because technology has enabled me to do that, but more importantly because I have set myself apart from everyone else who has a camera.

Think about it.  What are your strengths? What are your passions?  Now imagine a business model based on your answers. The world is our stage.


Ten Things Photographers Should do in 2013

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. 500x_housecanon copyChange 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.

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.

Concentrate more 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.

Forget about the past except to 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”.

Realize that in the scheme of things, you are 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.

Personal Projects

When I first started out in photography – professionally speaking – it wasn’t customary to show “personal work” to a potential “commercial” customer.  At that time, in the late 70’s, art directors and designers wanted to see that you could “shoot” the things that they needed shot.  So, if you aspired to shoot the

English: Double Stuf Oreos, by Nabisco.
English: Double Stuf Oreos, by Nabisco. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Oreo cookie ads – you needed to have an image of Oreo cookies in your portfolio.

This was always a dilemma for me because my photography was “personal”. I became a photographer as a means to an end – the end being that it would enable me to live a lifestyle that I wanted to live.  I knew early on that I wanted to live a life, full of people, places and adventures along the way.  I wanted to live the kind of life that stories are written about.  And, I wanted to get paid for it. I wanted to make that lifestyle the foundation of my career. How bold and naïve of me to think that I could make my business – my pleasure.  Yet, somehow I managed to do just that and I have had the most extraordinary life because I was foolish enough to think I could.

Times have changed –they always do – and now art directors want to look at a photographer’s personal work.  They want to see what a photographer “has to” shoot to fulfill their vision.  It’s not only acceptable now to show personal work to a commercial client – it’s a must.  And it’s never been easier for a photographer to show many facets of their work and career via social media platforms and blogs. It’s also a lot of  hard work.

For me, it’s never been difficult to find something that I’m passionate enough about to be able to spend the kind of time and resources that’s necessary to complete it.  I think that’s the key to starting and completing anything – it has to be something that you really want to do. If you don’t really want to do something, even though you know it will be a good thing to do, you’ll just end up giving yourself reasons and excuses whenever a task needs doing.

For the most part, my personal projects have picked me, not the other way around.  They’ve all started with an idea that just wouldn’t leave my mind. Then I’d start to see my idea in vivid imagery as it played out cinematically in my head.  That’s how my film project, Opening Our Eyes, got started – with an idea that planted itself in my brain, until it was time for me to act on it.  Thankfully, the idea didn’t go away and that I did act on it.  It’s hard to believe that I’m still acting on this idea, more than two years later.  But, I have learned that making a film is a process.  A young filmmaker told me that “a film is never finished – but there comes a time when you are ready to let go”.

I supposed you could say that this film has been my ultimate personal project.  The fact that it was collaboration with my daughter Erin makes it even more personal.  But the lines between work and personal and family have always been blurred in my life.  That’s exactly the life that I set out to live.

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