Providing Cover – Keeping Clients

still-life-4Finding someone to “cover” for you on a photography assignment can be tricky business. Not just for your client, but for you AND the person who you hire to do the shoot in your place.

Look, stuff happens. We all get sick or a relative passes away or there is emergency medical situations that make shooting the scheduled gig impossible. One sure thing we cannot do is to leave the client hanging. Simply not showing up is NOT an option.

The same thing can happen, to a lesser degree, when a long time client calls with an emergency shoot for a time period when you are not available. Simply saying, “nope… outta town dude” is not an option and it could cost you the client for future gigs.

So what do we do?

We find someone to cover for us. And that opens a can of worms filled with conundrums and highly charged with confusion, fear and paranoia.

Scenario One:

The client is in a rush and needs 25 photographs of the staff of a new company they had just acquired, and they need them shot next Tuesday at the official announcement meeting where all will be in attendance.

The timing sucks as it is the same day you are auditioning for “So You Think You Can Dance” and will be doing pirouettes and leaps on Tuesday.

You are unable to do the gig so you reach out to another photographer to ‘cover’ for you. I do hope you have made some good relationships with other photographers that allows that to happen… you have… right?


You cannot let this client down, they represent a good amount of fees over the course of a year, but you feel a bit reticent at sending over one of your ‘competitors’.

You know you have to service this client, so you tell them you are unable to do it, but have someone you will vouch for to cover it. Vouching for means you KNOW they will do a good job and a job that is up to yours and your client’s standards.

I have heard of photographers getting lesser qualified shooters to do a slightly less than excellent job to show the client how much better they are than other competitors. I will also say that usually ends up biting them in the ass… so don’t do it.

It is at this point that the paranoia part starts to wear down on you… what if the other guy ‘steals’ my client? What if the other guy does a better job than me? What if the client loves the other guy and wants to give him all the work… forever?

Get over it. Your professionalism is what counts.

You call your buddy, we’ll call him Tony, and give him the rundown. This is what the client wants, here are some of my lighting setups (you do photograph your setups so they can be replicated later, don’t you…), and the contact information for the client. You even let him know what to charge the client so that he doesn’t undercut your pricing or piss them off with a higher price.

“Call the client and get everything set up for the shoot, and let me know how it goes,” are the last words you say before hopping on the bus for LA and a chance at fame. Since you are actually incapable of dancing, you know you will be returning to the world of photography in a few days.

But hey, it was YOU who decided to make that bet… heh.

The above scenario is what happens – usually. And what else happens usually? The new photographer ends up with the client because they were there. THEY called and handled all the upfront logistics. They got the setup done and the people were thrilled and hey, he had such a great personality.

And to be fair, your buddy did not try to take your client. He didn’t hand out business cards or in any way try to solicit them. They just needed a few more shots done on Thursday, and called him direct.

Expecting him to turn down the client and send them back to you is not going to work – you are in the hospital with a badly mangled knee. Yes, hip hop IS that hard.

And that client is now your buddies client. It is quite awkward to expect that your buddy simply refuse the gig unless they offer it to you first… how does that work?


Scenario Two:

All transpires as above to the point of your call to the client. Yes, you have an associate who will cover the gig. Yes, they are right up to the level we need to do a great job. You get the “associate” on a three way call and introduce the “ASSOCIATE” to the client, go over logistics and make sure everyone is comfortable with the upcoming gig.

You send over the samples of the previous shots, lighting schema, and any personality quirks that the client perhaps displays from time to time… in other words you prepare them as you would an associate.

You go off to dance and your buddy takes care of the client. She calls to make last minute logistics, shows up and knocks everyone’s socks right off. She is pleasant and cool, and gets the images down just like you would have.

And then she delivers them… to you. You then send them on to the client.

And you bill the client, and pay the photographer. I am not going to get into percentages and all of that – ya’ll work that out on your own. Some do a cut and some negotiate a flat rate and some just pass it on through… whatever, it is plain as day to the client that the fill in photographer is under YOUR company banner.

When they need something on Thursday, they don’t call her, they call you and you call her. She is an associate of yours and working for you – not them.

Same outcome, but this time you keep the client and they love the fact that you can get the job done for them even when recovering from major dance injuries incurred while doing a hip-hop stunt on a whiskey keg… don’t ask. It wasn’t pretty.

Keeping our clients safe, happy and close is more important these days than ever. So be smart when finding someone to cover for you, and stay in control of the gig.


PS: If you are the one being hired to fill in, do that. Don’t try to sneak in a portfolio review, or hand them your business card because you forgot what was happening. Don’t try to take that client away from your buddy who entrusted this shoot to you.

It’s wrong, and karma can be a real bitch sometimes.

Thinning Down, Weeding Out… Hopefully


Gettin’ Skinny and Lovin’ It

I bet you’re wondering if this will be about a new diet program, and how I am slimming down and getting to be a lean mean fighting machine.

And it is… sorta.

It’s a diet of all things photography.

I am moved out of the big studio I share with Dave Siegel in Phoenix. We moved to a smaller studio (still with a cyc and all I need for a big shoot) but without all the excess stuff that really resulted in a cluttered space and working environment.

Clutter is not always things either. Sometimes it is thought processes and sometimes it is workflow and sometimes it is simply dealing with all the physical clutter that makes us have mental clutter… did you follow that?

When I started the process, I was a bit down. I am a collector. I love my little mementoes; of projects I did, models I knew, and experiences that were memorable. Getting the courage to toss a lot of that stuff made me dig deep… LOL.

I also found boxes that had been unopened from my original move in 2002. I was going to open a few to see what was in the them, but realized if I hadn’t touched it in 12 years it simply was not important. (Yes, my fear is that I will awaken in the middle of the night remembering I had stashed a Leica system in one of the boxes… arghh… but that will only be a nightmare.)

I pared down almost everything I had because of the changes in my interests in photography and the work I want to do and will be doing.

When I started out it was in the late 70’s. Natural light was my source.

By the mid 80’s a studio with tons of lights and booms and stands was home to me. 14 hour workdays were common. It had a kitchen and a shower, a full makeup area with two stations. The darkroom was spacious and featured three enlargers – one color. We did Cibachromes and black and white prints and poster sized enlargements.

The studio was always full of people… models, clients, art directors stopping by on the way to and from somewhere, assistants, makeup artists… it was a place of social interaction as well as a place to work.

That changed.

What was pretty cool to do in your thirties became less so as we get older and gain families and other social lives. Perhaps in some studios that still goes on.

In ours it doesn’t.

(We are adding some things to the new studio that will maybe help create a more fun environment with much more interaction between creatives.)

I have over the years gotten rid of a lot of the bigger lighting (Norman 2000 packs) and was down to only one pack and four heads. They went to a friend who is going to fix them up and use them in his studio. The stuff I had been clinging on to for years was in the end a lot of junk.

Dumpster divers will find old negatives, transparencies, and boxes of stuff they will not even have a clue about. Stuff that meant something to me at one time… now it is gone.

Or perhaps someone will reclaim those old pinup shots from the 80’s. or the tractor catalog I shot in 92 or better yet, the “Little Black Dress” poster I shot for the Leighton Agency back in 90.

LOL… lots of memories.

Interestingly the memories remain… only the box of stuff is gone.

I was going to toss out the print ‘collection’ (probably a thousand or more)  but decided to digitize it first. Probably use the iPhone and snap shots of each of the prints before tossing them as well. Perhaps… unless I just love the print and want to DO SOMETHING WITH IT. If it doesn’t go into a portfolio, it will be gone.

So what did I keep?

Booms – all five of them. And all my stands. Never have enough stands. I have four Profoto strobes and a plethora of modifiers, but my “kit” is now two heads, two Octaboxes (48”) and one 24” square softbox. Accompanied by four grids and a beauty dish, this is what I will be grabbing on the way out the door. I still have the one Dynalite as well. It may go or I may get rid of the Profotos and go all Dynalite. Much smaller footprint for sure.

I have a rolling rack that contains all of my gear except the booms. All stands and umbrellas are in Standbaggers, and the small stuff is in a cadre of tool boxes. One for small strobe stuff, one for big light shoots and one for the odds and ends I always need on a shoot. Pliers and wrenches and fasteners and velcro.

Organized it is getting. And I will be doing more now that I have pared it all down. That means I have to redo my packing sheets (obsolete now) for the new gear bags and boxes. Each box/bag has a laminated ‘packing sheet’ with exactly what is in them. This makes it easy to find the right part and easy to know where it goes when the shoot is over. Even thinking about color coding the items for the different boxes. Using small pieces of colored tape, each strobe, connector, cable or screwdriver can find its home easily.

When I used to go on location, we took a truck of gear. I am now finding I prefer one light and the world. Styles change, but also my personal work is becoming more about my vision rather than someone else’s. Yes, commercial photography was a lot of working your image to THEIR vision. I am climbing out of that hole, but after decades it is not as easy as I would have thought it to be.

The more gear I take on a shoot, the less ‘spontaneous’ I find myself. I want to change that up.

For nearly four decades I was focused on getting THE IMAGE. We would prep and light and re-light all day for that one perfect shot. Tweaking and ‘roiding, tweeking and ‘roiding. In the end a perfectly conceived and produced photograph was the goal.

That is not how I want to do it anymore. I want flexibility and whimsy and a much more loose feeling to my work – to my images. And that means thinking differently.

Thinking smaller in gear choice, looser in presentation, quicker in production. Spontaneous is exactly that and ‘staging’ spontaneity is as hard as it sounds. However, the actual image should look like it wasn’t staged at all. And that takes a loose approach to a tightly scripted production… loving that right now. The challenge is something I have always craved. If it is too easy, it can become a bit stale.

I still love to shoot in natural light, ‘real light’ so to speak. Working with what I am given seems to perk my creative ideas up a bit. But I also love to create light and create an emotion with that light that may move someone else when viewing the image.

Something else happened this week amongst the tossing of stuff and the paring down of gear… I am much more excited about shooting. I have so many more ideas now than I did two weeks ago. Perhaps the anchor of too much stuff began to wear on my creativity.

Stravinsky once said that the greatest freedom to create came with the tightest confines. If we have everything to choose from, perhaps the choosing gets in the way of the creation itself.

I went on a week long roadtrip with only one body and four lenses not wider than 28 and not longer than 85. I had the best shoot I could have imagined. In fact, I probably would love to do it again with a 35mm only. Maybe the constraints of the lens would spark a creativity I would have to dig deep for.


For now I have gone from an office the size of my living room to a corner in the garage (OK, a bit more than a corner) and I am feeling more like shooting than I have in quite a while.

Look, I am not telling you to pare down and go minimal. I have no dog in that hunt and would only prefer that you do what you want if it makes you happy and more creative. There are some incredibly gifted shooters with far more gear than I and Dave put together. They USE the tools for what they do.

And that is exactly what I want to get back to… using the tools I have to make the images I want to make.

It is really all about the image, and the freedom to create what you see in your minds eye. If there is something that is getting in the way of that endeavor it must go. It must.

I will post images of the new studio when it is ready. Lots of construction going on… we are putting in a real darkroom with sinks and all. Don’t ask… we are indulging ourselves a bit.

Photographing Mundane Subjects


I have always been a ‘commercial’ photographer. While that included some wonderful editorial and fashion along the way, the bulk of my income was from good old commercial photography. Photographs made for advertisements, brochures, product sheets, illustrative uses and corporate.

There is a growing difference between commercial photography and the world of editorial (which seems to be the focus of most blogs/sites/gurus) and that difference can make it a little difficult for many of you starting out.

Editorial, fashion, glamor portraiture and food are specialties whose niches have grown quite a bit in the last 20 years. Commercial has enveloped a lot of those niches as well, but it also has the genre of “stuff”.

We photograph ‘stuff’.

Mundane items like power strips and lamps and a cool new gizmo that keeps hard drives from overheating. Sometimes with a model, sometimes on a table top, and sometimes on location in a factory setting.

While not exactly a ‘jack of all trades’ a commercial photographer keeps their doors open by working the markets they have.


NOTE: If you are living in San Francisco, LA, Chicago, Dallas, and New York, this may not apply to you. The markets are very big and one can specialize in shooting one thing, in one way. No problem… and those are great places to live.

The rest of us live in Winnipeg, and Cleveland, and Albuquerque and Missoula. We could get every single fashion shot in those cities and still not make even a small living.

So we keep our doors open shooting all kinds of things.

While we work on those specialties that can give us regional and national reach. Yes, you can be a niche “Editorial Portraitist” and work for magazines the world over while living in Portland, Oregon or Portland, Maine.

But that takes time. And money.

Commercial shooters work as photographers instead of barristas, or cable repair while they work toward those more lofty goals.


One of the things we all have to do as a commercial shooter is to make images of mundane, everyday items. It is part of our general workweek in many studios.

Shoes, tools, consumer products, industrial materials. All must be shot for product sheets, consumer and trade ads, brochures, catalogs and websites.

However the bar is being raised all the time and you may find, as a recent “Summer 2013” Project 52 students did, that shooting something as mundane as a power strip is much harder than it seems.

This is where technique, lighting, style, and deliberateness come into play.

Can we take a power strip and lay it on a white seamless and bang it with a big softbox? Of course. So can eleventy-hundred other shooters.

If your imagery is not better than the product managers iPhone shots (done in the bathroom at a trade conference and run through Snapseed for more dynamic range… heh) then there is absolutely no reason for them to hire you.

Product manager doesn’t get any more money for his iPhone shots, and you want a grand or two a day… plus usage!

This is where you must differentiate yourself from the pack.

Lighting, composition, style, dynamic sand concept. Make a shot of that power strip that knocks people’s socks off. A power strip shot that sets a new level of awesome for multi-plug devices retailing for under $12. Give that bad boy some visual juice!!

How do you do that?

You work your ass off. You work deliberately. Ask questions… does that corner read well against the background? Will the plug holes show the unique pattern? Does the base blend in with the shadow too much? Is there a highlight on the cord? Does the cord read well against the background? Is the background a distraction? What can we do to make the light more interesting on this 12” piece of cheap plastic?

Determination, skill, technique and a deliberate approach to making a photograph.

Below are some images that take everyday items and make them look amazing.

A shoe gets a fancy approach in this series by a popular shoe designer.


A much more mundane pair of boots are made more interesting by texture and lighting. Photograph by Charles Ward.


Grab some items from the kitchen and make something cool with them. My friend Rick Gayle does it all the time.


Imagine getting an assignment to photograph notecards and small paper items. Annabelle Breakey makes it look amazing.


A simple, everyday pill bottle represents a cancer treatment. Careful lighting, angle and presentation makes it look as important as the client believes it to be. Adam Voorhes always delivers.


So the next time you hear yourself saying “there is nothing to photograph today” just run up to Home Depot or Bed, Bath and Beyond and grab something you need around the house anyway.

Then make some careful, deliberate, amazing shots of it before it goes into the drawer or closet.

Vacuum cleaners… very tough.
Weed Whackers… harder than you think.
Blenders… wow, reflections!
Electronic items… can be boring or cool.
Kitchen or Garden Tools… Impressively difficult.

Can you make mundane shots of mundane things? Of course. Anyone can.

But not anyone can make a killer shot of a garden spade or a car vacuum cleaner. That is where you shine and it can be where you get work too.

Building A WordPress Photography Site (Santino)

My friend Bob Knill wanted a bit of a hand on building his site. He chose the them Santino, and I did these videos for him, and you, to see how to build and maintain a WordPress website for photographers. We will add additional movies as we go through SEO, but this will give you a good idea on how to set up a WP theme.

NOTE: All themes are different, but most are pretty similar in function and tech.

Let’s get started:













Ten Free Photographs for Bloggers/Marketers



Briana and I spent a lot of time making photographs all over the country. We have decided to give some of these away to creatives who may want to do something with them. Our first freebie give away are ten shots from all over, and we have no idea what you all will do with the images.

But if you do use them, you must link back to this page, and give credit to Briana Austin and Don Giannatti. That is important and we have the following details for you to consider.

All ten images are in a zip file, and you are free to use them for any online use, even commercial.

You may use these images for online publications, websites, blogs or ezines.
You may not use them for print publications (we’re working on that for the future).
You may not include them in any collection or as part of another product that is licensed for sale (website template for instance).
You may not alter the photographs by any digital means other than to resize them for your usage. you may however, use them in designs with typography over them. Cropping is also allowed.
You may not refer to them in derogatory manner, nor use them in correlation to pornography, hate sites, or in any way denigrate the model. We are very serious about this.

Send us what you have done with the images on your blog or website.




Bri Don Image Giveaway #1 .ZIP


ReBranding With Photography


This was an interesting week.

An old friend and colleague reached out to renew a friendship and to discuss some epiphanies she had recently experienced.

Lunch was near my studio and it was with a bit of trepidation that I had agreed. While I think the world of this person, I also know that our working together can be fraught with frustration and no small measure of much needed patience.

I suck at patience, and life is too short to continually haggle with people. It simply is. We can be like water and oil at times… she with a close eye for microscopic detail, and with a heavy background in corporate people management, me with a ‘big picture’ approach, and eschewing nearly every corporate culture meme there is.

Lunch was always fun with her though… terrifically smart, very focused and with a zest for finding out everything about everything, she can match wits with most.

I was not expecting her exuberance to have faded in the last two years, and I was correct. But now there was something a bit different going on. She had found her voice, her ‘thing’ so to speak. That part of her that had made her so frustrating before was now morphed into a sureness and solidly focused professional.

“You were right,” she said almost at the beginning. “All the things you said I needed to do, were what exactly what I needed to do. I just wasn’t ready to commit to myself. I must have driven you crazy, huh?”

I smiled and brushed off the driving me crazy, although that nail was punched right on.

I had encouraged her to find her voice, find the thing that would make her, and her fledgling business, more unique and reflect more of her authentic person. Write like she speaks, be as personable on the page as she was in person. In short, be herself and stop trying to be what others thought she should be.

I am so proud of her now, that all of those frustrations are simply no worth thinking about. She has gone from a corporate ‘manager’ to someone who is confidently managing herself… and a whole slew of private clients that have been attracted to her systematic, well thought, and successful approach to her business.

We have set up a few projects together, and one of them involves an idea to share with you all.

One of the things we must remember is that what we package is sometimes not as interesting as HOW we package it.

Some of us older guys will remember the ads in magazines for the ability to “see through walls”… yes, this device would allow you to actually see through walls and doors. Like magic.

It was the little thing we put on our doors to see who is on the other side. He had purchased a warehouse full of them, and selling ‘door peepers’ just didn’t have the punch that “See Through Walls” did. He became a multi-millionaire.

Social Media, Personal Branding Photography is our package. And as of today, we have at least 5 shoots on the books for February. At a very decent rate for sure. (For sure I have mentioned it before… we have now been able to put a tighter ‘brand’ on it.)

What is included:
2 headshots: one ‘natural’ and one ‘professional’.
A full length shot to be used for purposes where that would make sense.
Two half length shots, and something with a strong environmental feel.

Facebook header – need interesting wide shot.
A Twitter background – tall shot for left hand side of twitter page.
An page.
A YouTube header.
A shot for their “About Me” web page.
Web Header images for their site.


We are taking a full day for the photography, providing styling and hair/mu where appropriate. Most images to be shot on location, with only two images in the studio.

Well researched up front, I will know what dimensions their social media images must be, so I can shoot to “layout” so to speak.

All of the scheduled clients are entrepreneurs and business people who are discovering their social media impact and want their brand to be consistent across platforms.

And while shooting photographs of someone is not new, knowing exactly how they will be used and shooting for the disparate formats that they need them for is somewhat refreshing. No more cropping out or filling in areas on haphazard iPhone shots… we shoot FOR their social media and website presentation.

A professional and creatively presented, cohesive set of images.

A win for our customers and a win for us.

Just thought you would be interested… take it and run with it in your town if you are so inclined.