Photography Contracts, Social Media and Business

I read an interesting article today online about a bride and groom who slammed their wedding photographer on their social media outlets, which allegedly resulted in a loss of business for the photographer and they were ordered to pay $1.08M. House surrounded by construction site, Atlantic City, NJThe article stated that the photographer’s contract required that the client must submit an order form and select a cover photo before the album could be completed (cost of the album was included) and the hi res photos could be released. Even though the couple had signed and submitted an order form, they objected to paying $125 for the cover because they felt that should be part of the album as they explained on their local NBC affiliate. After weeks of going back and forth, the photographer learned that the couple had taken the story to the media saying that the photographer was “holding their pictures hostage”. The couple also made other disparaging statements on social media and blogs, which resulted in a loss of business for the photographer.

After being in business for well over three decades and having been a member of my trade organization ASMP for the same amount of time, I know all about the importance of contracts. In the litigious society we live in, it’s imperative to have a contract when doing business. It’s also important to spell out the details clearly about what is included and what isn’t. In addition, because photographers are always being asked to sign their clients’ contracts, it is critical, yet tedious to scrutinize those contracts before you sign them and be prepared to negotiate terms if they are not acceptable. However, even when contracts have been agreed on and signed, things can still go south as in the case mentioned.

There will always be issues because all humans are different. Ultimately, I think some are honorable and some are not. We live at a time when rumors can go around the globe in a matter of seconds and the lines between truth and lies have been blurred with “alternative facts”. I think it all comes down to common sense and trust. I don’t shy away from social media but I don’t believe everything I read. I don’t think I have ever done business solely online with someone. At the very least I will have a phone conversation with them. There is a lot to be said about having a human connection with someone and what is gained by doing so.

The bottom line is that while it is incredibly important to have a contract when doing business that doesn’t mean it will always end well. It all depends on the human variables as far as how the story will end.


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.

6 Social Media Marketing Mistakes to Avoid

I must admit, I’m not an SEO or Social Media guru.  In fact, on a scale of 1 – 10 (10 being extremely interesting), I’d give this topic a 3.  But, after reading Gary Vaynerchuk’s book “Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook,” (which I would give a 10), I’ve shifted my thinking entirely.  I also realized why, the topic has had little interest for me – most of the books, articles and blogs I had read were full of formulaic tips  – but none of the advice and tips felt like a good fit who I was and what I had to offer.  And in fact if I had applied some those tips to my blog or my Facebook posts, I would have done myself and my business a disservice by not being “myself” – or authentic.

Some social media marketing mistakes to avoid:

  • Putting the wrong content on a platform – Each platform, (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram etc.) has it’s own “native” language or how the community communicates  and interacts with one another.  A good marketer understands that “context” is just as important as content.  Your content must provide the same value to the viewer that is native to that platform. Your content should fit in with what drives people to that platform.
  • Content is not memorable – Your content should be something that people want to share. ooe fb [age Facebook uses edge rank, which determines who and how many people see your posts.  The more shares, comments and likes, the better your edge rank and the more people who see your posts.  Keep your content, informative, entertaining or both and give people the desire to share.
  • Selling too often – You have to “give” more than you “sell” on social media platforms. If every post you make is a pitch for your products, no one will be interested, let alone want to share them.
  • Text is too long – Twitter has a cut off, but Facebook doesn’t.  Keep in mind that more and more people are viewing your posts on mobile devices and simply won’t read lots of information.  Provide more info via links. Make sure your text is provocative and entertaining.
  • No use of imagery – If you don’t have an image in your posts on platforms like Facebook or Tumblr, you won’t attract attention.  People will just move on to something that catches their eye on their news feed.  And, make sure the images you post are good and professional – they’re a reflection of your business. Make sure you overlay your logo on your images.
  • No call to action – Remember you are ultimately selling your products and your services, so don’t forget to give your viewers a call to action.  But don’t confuse them by giving them too many.

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.

I’m Not Cut Out For That

Systems thinking about the society
Systems thinking about the society (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Anyone who has been reading my blog knows that I’m not the sort of person who would think or say “I’m not cut out for that”.  Most times, I tell myself that anything is possible and set out to face my fears.  But, there have been times when I’ve had to question taking on an assignment or assuming a role and ask myself, if in fact, I’m cut out for it.

There are generally two types of scenarios that mandate a decision to be made:

  • When I am listening to my inner voice that is prompting me to do something.
  • When I am listening to family, friends or colleagues who are encouraging me to do something

I’ve learned the best thing for me to do in either scenario, in order to make the right decision is to think of it in terms of what is the right fit for me. Is it in harmony with who I am?

Right now, I am working on a marketing plan so I am not only looking at what markets to target in terms of where there is a demand but also in terms of which markets I am suited for.  That doesn’t necessarily mean I’m thinking of what’s in my comfort zone, it means that I am thinking about which markets I can provide the most value to. If I do it right, everybody wins.


10 Ways Photographers are Their Own Worst Enemies

  1. They talk themselves out of things.  – Telling themselves that it wouldn’t matter if they learned new skills or shot new images or whatever they didn’t want to make the effort to do.
  2. They try to “educate” their clients (sometimes a bit too much) instead of collaborating and possibly learning from them.  A lot of “older” photographers are like this when they are working with younger art buyers or directors. I think the energy needs to work both ways.House surrounded by construction site, Atlantic City, NJ
  3. They give themselves an A for effort for starting something but too many times their starts lead to nowhere if they don’t have an end goal in mind.
  4. They don’t open themselves up to networking with others by attending industry meetings or events.
  5. They treat their clients like their enemies where one needs to win instead working toward a positive outcome for both.
  6. They make the mistake of creating for an audience, instead of creating for them selves.  (Thanks to Seth Godin for that thought)
  7. They take workshops or pay for a service and then don’t utilize them. I’ve been guilty of this too many times.
  8. They don’t shoot for the pleasure of it.
  9. They rely too much on commissioned work instead of taking advantage of new opportunities and ways in which to market and sell their own projects.
  10. They don’t stay true to themselves.

10 Ways I’m Making the New Year More Analog

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what I miss from my “analog” days. I’m far from being a Luddite; in fact if anything I’m just the opposite, continually embracing technology and using it to grow creatively. I’m having the time of my life right now exploring a variety of mediums and I’m amazed at the global reach that I have as an artist and a member of the human race.

It’s a powerful time to be alive, because the world is literally at our fingertips. But I’m finding that as much as technology has “connected” more of us together, these “viral connections” are vastly different than our “analog” connections.  I’m not just referring to how we connect with each another, but also how we connect to ourselves and figure that out amongst all the noise.

So, I got to thinking about how I could be more “analog” in the New Year. Here’s some things I came up with:

  • Cut in half, the amount of time I spend interacting with people on social media platforms, and spend that time instead on personal interactions.
  • Get together more, face-to-face with clients, colleagues and friends.  Gosh, I think this is what I miss the most – people just don’t make the time for this anymore. And chatting via text, email and FB isn’t the same.
  • Write more letters, and send printed invitations and cards in the mail rather than always electronically.
  • Go online less often and have a specific purpose or task in mind when I do.
  • Make images the best I can in camera.  Just because I can change an image digitally in post – doesn’t mean that I always need to do that.
  • Create something printed – a photograph, a portfolio, an exhibition or a book.
  • Read more printed books on the couch, the porch, the beach or in bed.
  • Read a printed newspaper on a Sunday morning. ( If I can find one.)
  • Walk more in nature instead of on the treadmill.
  • Stare at a fire and look up at the sky more often.

Anyone else have suggestions on how to live more analog?

Making a Movie With a DSLR and (crowd) Funding It

The first thing I will say is – I did it!  I successfully created a movie

State Theater, Traverse City, MI

– from soup to nuts – with the smallest of micro-budgets, a tiny crew and a lot of hard work.  We’ve had some nice awards at film festivals along with a slew of rejections, and it has been one of the richest experiences of my life.

I’ve written about the journey and the technical aspects of the making of this film, on this blog and the Opening Our Eyes blog.  One of the most popular posts on this blog (it continues to get dozens of hits each day) is the post I wrote about gearing up for this movie. I’ve written so much about this project that I decided to collate a lot of my material and produce a couple of ePubs.  One is available now and hopefully, the 2nd one will be online soon.

A good idea, hard work and a lot of determination are essential in pulling off something like this – and to be crazy enough and confident in yourself to think you can do it.  I can tell you one thing – the confidence factor had its ebbs and tides.  I found that many times my level of confidence changed with my “hits” and my “misses”.  That certainly came into play during both my crowd funding campaigns on Kickstarter and IndieGoGo.  I’ve been thinking a lot about crowd funding lately because it seems like just about everybody is doing it these days. It certainly has exploded since I reached my Kickstarter goal, a year and a half ago. Seth Godin announced today that he is launching a Kickstarter campaign to publish his ePubs – sounds like his traditional publisher doesn’t want to take the risk and finance it until he sees if “the people” are interested.

I have to tell you that I was somewhat bothered when I read Godin’s blog. Kickstarter doesn’t accept every project that gets pitched to them.  When I did it the acceptance rate was about 40-45%.  I don’t know what it is now, but it’s got to have dropped significantly.  And that’s the thing – when “publishers” won’t take the risk, and high profile writers turn to their readers to back them, it’s going to be harder for the true “indie” to get noticed.  The same thing has happened with a lot of film festivals.  Film festivals started out, as a place for indie’s to screen their movies.  Now, at many of the festivals, the “indies” are competing with the big indie studios.

Things are constantly changing.  It becomes harder for the “indie” to get funded and noticed but it’s also easier because of social media. If  you are thinking of embarking on a project – a film or a book – and you aren’t sure if you should do it or can afford it – you can either talk yourself into it – or out of it.  It’s kind of like looking at the glass, half full or half empty.  I can choose to muse on my losses and put myself in a funk, or I can reflect on my wins and the rewards that have come into my life with the making of this film, and feel good about myself.  Each day, I ask myself which way do I want to tip? it’s up to me to determine my value – not anyone else. And today, I think I will feel pretty good about what I was able to achieve.

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.

Technology – Connecting our Past and our Future

These days with social media it is so easy to connect with people all over the globe.  We can make new friends and reconnect with old friends with ease. We can use social media to share knowledge and ideas or simply stay in touch with friends.

One thing I have learned in reconnecting with friends from the past is that even though time has passed and changes have transformed our lives – the underlying character traits of most people, remain the same.  If someone I knew had been an adventurous soul in college or high school – they were still adventurous souls.  At least this has been my experience when I have reconnected with people from my past.

Quite honestly at this point in my life, I am so involved with my “now”, I don’t really have the urge to dig into my past. I’ve never been to any of my high school reunions and there have been many.  But when I do reconnect with people from my past, they are always people I have a natural and lasting connection with.  What attracted me to those people then, are usually the same things that attract me to them now and vice versa.

With any type of relationship, I take the attitude that the people who are in my life are those that are meant to be there at this time. There’ll be good relationships and not so good relationships, but each is meant to play its purpose in my life.  The same holds true in business relationships – there’s always an ebb and tide in most relationships, and we learn by it…. Or we should.  There’s the sweet and the bitter side to anything in life and it’s almost like those two ingredients need to be there for a “life well lived.”

I’ve learned a lot about filmmaking and the art of storytelling over the last couple of years, and the one thing that stands out, is that every story needs a “conflict” or an “opposition”. Every story needs contrast.  If it doesn’t – it’s not a good story – at least in terms of the entertainment business of films, TV shows, books, magazines etc.  I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately and I try to identify those themes when I watch a movie or read a book.  There is always an element of conflict or opposition to almost all stories and stories are taken from real life.

So when I look at my ultimate story –my life’s story –I tell myself to accept both the pain and the joys of life, because they are meant to be there. They are part of the process. I tell myself to expect the unexpected and leave any and all possibilities open. I tell myself to bridge the past with the now and allow the future to be what it’s meant to be for a life well lived.

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