Off Topic Sunday…

Off Topic Sunday…

Been reading a really interesting book this past couple of weeks… lots to digest. “The Power of Visual Storytelling” by Ekaterina Walter and Jessica Gioglio is about how visuals are beginning to dominate not only our news and information channels, but the ways people interact with each other on many other social platforms.

If you are a photographer/designer, this is very good reading for you.

Pick it up for Kindle or in paperback.

Another book I am really enjoying is “The Freaks Shall Inherit the Earth: Entrepreneurship for Weirdos, Misfits, and World Dominators” by Chris Brogan. If you are an entrepreneur in life or in spirit, this book is for you. I am most definitely all those things… and still working on the ‘world domination’ thing…

Also for Kindle and hardcover. I think you will really enjoy it.


 

Joe Sample passed this week. He was a pianist with a lot of charm, and I have many of his recordings. Funny how you can go back and listen to music made by people no longer with us. The power of technology that continues to surprise me.


 

Hey, did you know that Photoshop has a “Background Eraser”? Heh… this is pretty cool.

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This from Graphic Design Blender:

Freelancing is a legitimate business model, which means you need to treat it like a business. Here’s a brief look at the various roles you need to fulfil in your day-to-day operations:

  • The CEO – the person who does the strategic thinking and calls all of the shots.
  • The Designer – the person who actually puts in the work and ships client projects.
  • The CFO – the person who manages all of the finances for the business.
  • The HR Manager – the person who manages all of the people you bring in to help grow your business.
  • The Administration Assistant – the person who takes care of all of the emails, bookings, file management to ensure things are in order.
  • The Marketing Manager – the person who actively markets your business to ensure you always have new leads coming in.

There are 6 main roles in total, and in case you haven’t picked up on it already, you are all of these roles. I don’t want to freak you out, but this is the reality.

How we handle all these different rolls of our business persona is all important for the freelancer.

Read this important article here.

 

What About Critics?

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Should We Listen To Critics or Show Them The Door?

Ahhh… the world of the artist. A place where we can nurture our ideas and share our bountiful creativity to others who will accept it into their lives with open arms, and smiles of gratitude.

Or… not.

There seems to always be someone who doesn’t get what we are doing. Someone who finds it so desperately wanting as to cause them to sit at a keyboard and tell us that we are wrong… our work is wrong… our art is wrong.

“It’s just wrong, dagnabbit!”

And all this time, we were laboring under the impression that we were creating something that others would find appealing, not wrong. What does that mean anyway?

How can a piece of art, a photograph, a frame from our experience be “wrong”?

I will answer this in a few, so hang tight.

Critics. They produce nothing. They rarely know much about the art we create. They are usually not prepared for much of anything in the way of actually having much to say, rather it is the saying of that nothing that is their reason for being.

Now, I am not talking about critics who actually know a bit about the work, who delve into the motivations and the artistic goals of the artist, who can compare and contrast and understand the value of the work as it stands before them. There are a few of those out there, and while we may not agree with them all the time, we do know their knowledge runs deep, and that counts for something.

No, I am discussing the critics that are unsolicited noise brought to a higher volume with the social media frenzy of armchair experts. Followers of movements, online gurus, and phocelebs who create a frenzy with every “off camera flash” image they create. Being a devotee of someone else seems to be all that is needed to have permission to spew unrelated criticism of others work, or make judgements as to its value.

How we deal with this noise is important. Many budding artists have been sidelined by the nagging doubt as to their spot in the art world brought on by a casual remark on Facebook, or an unflattering note made by ‘someone on twitter’… and that, that is wrong!

A couple of interesting phenomena here.

Artists seem to give more weight to the negative remarks than the good ones.

Why? Why do we do that?

100 people see our image: 90 people like it, 8 people are non-committal, and two of them do not like it. One of those detractors adds a personal note like “This work is getting boring to me. I think you need to kick it up a notch or you will never be any good.”

Who does the artist seem to remember the most? Those ninety people who love it? Nope. The ones that didn’t? Nope… the one who decided to add a bit of criticism to the mix. The artist will focus on that one negative and bring themselves to a panic wondering if they really do need to ‘kick it up a notch’ even though no one on the planet has any idea what that really means…

How do we stop that from happening?

We stop it. Ourselves.

Having detractors is part of the way we know we are doing something right. No artist can please everyone. Avedon did not get every job he wanted. Spielberg has had to ‘sell’ himself as a director, and even the greatest actors around still have to audition.

The creation of art focused on the smallest common denominator usually produces art that is of no value anyway. If you want to make photographs that fly off the shelf at Walmart, you will be sad to find out that there are still those who will not buy them.

Detractors are not important. We simply stop giving them power. Know they exist, forget about any usefulness for them other than to remind you that you are not creating work for everyone.

And you shouldn’t.

The end of the ‘expert’ phenomena has not been of much help, that is for sure. People have gone through a lifetime of believing that every opinion matters, everyone’s ideas should be heard.

While that may play well in the skules, it is pure bullshit in the real world. An opinion that 4+4=9 is of no value, nor should we give accolades for being close. If I want to know why my refrigerator is acting up, I need not bother with my 10 year old daughter, nor the guy who sells slurpies at the QuikMart. I need someone who knows refrigerators. An expert.

Today, too many people think they are experts in photography. They are well versed in the lingo, have themselves an “off camera flash” and can ‘beat the sun’ for a cool looking picture. So naturally they have all that is needed to tell you what you are doing wrong. And they want to do it from the anonymity of the interwebs… safe from all retribution or inquiry.

STFU, dude.

If I want to get portfolio help, I will go to someone who I respect, who has similar sensibilities, who I can believe in for realistic ideas and motivations. I would not seek out someone who simply did not meet that criteria.

Nor would any of you…

So why do we even listen when the criticism is offered without our solicitation? Is a remark on Facebook telling us to ‘work on our processing’ really worthy of much attention?

If it comes from Rob Haggard or Selina Maitreya, then perhaps it is worth exploring. If it comes from someone who lacks the credentials and experience of those two, perhaps it is simply an opinion… and opinions are like… well, you know that line.

Opinions are not criticism. Opinions tell us more about the one who has it than of what they have an opinion. An ‘opinion’ that Avedon was a terrible photographer tells me more about the one with the opinion than it does about Avedon.

Stop confusing opinions with genuine critique.

A critique is something that you request. It must have parameters around it that indicate what the artist wanted to create what the goals of the work were and how well they think they accomplished that mission. Only then can a critique be given… with care and acknowledgement of those stated goals.

Critiques have value, opinions are are personal polls. And polls don’t mean much to artists, especially when they are a poll of one.

At least, they shouldn’t.

Lastly, those who love your work and what you do should be rewarded by your faith in them, your attention and goodwill toward them. Haters are hating on them by proxy. It is the detractors gift to themselves to turn someone who is a fan of yours into a non-fan. Giving the detractor fuel by ignoring those who care is not productive. Forget the detractor, pay more attention to your fans.

Let’s wrap it up with a small list, shall we.

1. When you receive an unsolicited critique, first remind yourself that it is not a critique, but an opinion. Ask what that opinion means to you or your work. Weigh it against what you know to be true, and dismiss it.

2. When you get an unsolicited opinion, investigate your detractor a bit. Click and see… do they have the chops to really give this opinion? Are they really worthy of the power they are trying to wield, or are they simply sharing their complete lack of tact and knowledge with you?

3. Understand that having detractors is a good thing. Nothing of value can please everyone. A photographer must create work that they love themselves, and not try to create a ‘one-size-fits-all’ image that will offend no one. Those images are used for picture frame sales and cheap calendars. And even then… heh

4. Know the value of your own opinion of your own work. If you believe in it, do not let someone who does not detract you from your work. Instead, let it be a force for creating more images that you love.

5. Turn your attention toward those who support you. The 90% of your followers, fans, customers who love your work. Don’t insult them by giving more weight to the detractors than you do to those who are on your side. Reinforce their commitment to you by ignoring those who are denigrating them by criticizing you.

6. And lastly… don’t let them win. Don’t let a week, small, petty person with nothing to do but try to make those who are actually out there doing stuff feel bad. Never give someone like that any power… not over you, or your work, or your fans and tribe… ignore them. And that is what destroys them the most. Not angry responses or tears of shame… ignoring them brings them the self awareness that they really have nothing to contribute, and they have even less power than they think they do.

Stay committed to your work, and be true to those who support you.

Have a great week, everyone. And tell the unsolicited critics not to let the door hit them on the way out.

The Image Is The Thing

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Becoming a “Photographer” – or being a “Photographer”… what does that mean, really?

Does it mean that you now have a top of the line camera? Does it mean a bag of lenses? Does it mean an awesome set of studio lights? Or a light meter? Boom?

Storbs? (inside joke, sorry)

Nope. Sorry, none of those things mean a damn to whether you are a photographer or not. What matters is that you make photographs. Images. Snaps… whatever you want to call them.

And that is ALL that it means.

And the emphasis for photographers is the making of and viewing of their images. The goal line is the image. The product is the image. The whole enchilada is the image!

And I am not sure that we are all on the same page with that.

Look, I love to ‘make’ images. Working with lights, being in the studio with booms and stands and all that those tools entail is a thrill. I love to work on making a photograph.

But it is the photograph that is the ultimate thrill. The image that was created, not the effort that went into its creation.

I remember being at a workshop with Bret Weston. It was an exquisite time for me… 8×10 Deardorff and a stack of film holders at the ready. We were at a small beach near Carmel and it dawned on me that we were where Edward had made some of his most incredible images.

We spent time looking first. Before anything else, we looked. We looked in order to see. Before we make the image, we have to “see” the image. That ability to find the photograph in a full 360 degree scene is quite difficult when you are used to only looking through the camera when taking photographs. And we were asked to ‘see’ as a camera in order to find the image we wanted to make before seeing it through the camera.

I will say that the ability to do that was not won on the beach that day. But it indeed was won over several years of shooting and seeing and seeing then shooting. I look at the world much as a camera would now before bringing it out into the world.

I still refer to it as pre-visualization, although Ansel Adams rightly noted that was a term that was redundant. Visualization is what it was. To add the ‘pre’ was to allude to the visualization twice.

No matter, I am stuck in the redundant of the redundancy of pre-visualization so if you hear me say that at some point, you can be aware that I am aware of the redundancy of saying it that way. Sorry, Ansel.

The goal of the visualization is to take the camera out of the equation for a bit, and be deliberate in the choices to be made. Of course serendipity arises, and one can certainly make changes with the camera at the ready, but in many ways the deliberate choice becomes the correct choice over time.

We become the master of the tools, not at their mercy. We choose to make the photograph we see, not the photograph that simply appears in the viewfinder.

In other words, a photographer is a photographer even without the camera, because they are always visualizing the photograph that would be taken.

After a wonderful morning at the beach in Carmel (which included a berating from Mr. Weston with the most colorful choice of four lettered terms) we returned to the studio to process our images.

I had taken eight sheets of film with me, and had managed to expose only four.

Processing and printing took a little over two hours and the rest of the afternoon was spent pouring over each of the students work. My berating still stung, but the subtle compliments paid me by Mr Weston took most of pain away.

Imagine a workshop where the taking of the images is but one small part of the day, and the viewing of, dissecting of, criticising of, and joyously immersion of the imagery was the greater.

We talked about composition, and compared images to see how putting the subject in different areas actually gave it different contexts, and different relationships to the surroundings.

And different relationships to the viewers. We looked at how exposure could change the mood of the shot as well as create an emotion – intended or not.

Framing, light, shadow and viewpoint were discussed in length. We spoke into the night and slept with dreams of images, tripods and Dektol…

I would suggest such a workshop today would be somewhat difficult to sell. The emphasis in many circles seems to be more on other things, the taking / making of the image, not the image itself. “How do I do it” becomes the main question when “what will I end up with” should be.

There are noted exceptions of course. Jorge Colberg’s wonderful Conscientious for one. I do not always agree with him, but he always makes me think about imagery. And thinking about photographs, looking at photographs and understanding photographs is what a photographer should do when not actually making photographs.

I think, anyway.

John Szarkowski wrote a book entitled “Looking At Photographs” in 1973. This was a seminal book for this newest of art forms. I suggest you pick up a copy and spend some intimate moments with great photographs (at least taken previously to 1973).

Looking at Photographs: 100 Pictures from the Collection of The Museum of Modern Art

Here is a link to some clips of Szarkowski discussing many of the contemporary and modern photographers featured in the book. It is well worth an hour or so of your time, believe me.

No discussion of camera gear can hold a candle to the actual examination of the images produced by those cameras.

The image is the culmination of all that we experience in our lives, and how we bring those experiences into the medium of the photograph. The photograph gives us context for our vision and we give the photograph its own context with our experiences.

Shared experiences and personal experiences are the basis for the extraordinary image that we strive to make with our cameras. Whether they are iPhones, P&S’s, ‘grampacams’ or extraordinarily expensive professional tools, the end product is a two dimensional ‘glyph’ captured with the personal context and values of the photographer.

The most successful of them are created with a deliberateness that is unfathomable to most beginning practitioners, even if they are shot in an instant of a moment. The seeming grab-shot can be as deliberate an image as the most deliberate tripod mounted view camera shot.

The long practiced synapses are simply firing quickly, and the vision is the driving factor. The time it took to make the shot is of no consequence to the emotion it evokes in the viewer.

The image can stand on its own.

I love photography. I love photographs even more.

If I could no longer make them, I would immerse myself in the best of them made by others. They are precious to me. Always have been, and I see no waning in my intense love affair with the photographic image.

How about you?

Look at photographs. Print photographs. Put photographs all around you. LIVE with photography. Live as a photographer.

It sure is an interesting life.

What Do You Charge For… Part Four

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What is the value of a photograph?

(What Do You Charge For...   Part 1Part 2 Part 3 /)

Seriously… what IS the value of a photograph?

If you need a calculator, go ahead and get it… I’ll wait.

What’s that… you need more information to make that calculation?

OK, sure… well, let’s see… it was taken on an old Nikon, with a manual focus lens on black and white film. I am not sure of the shutterspeed, but the aperture looks somewhere between f-5.6 and f-8, and the image is a bit blurry in some parts. Oh, and it was taken in a little village somewhere.

How’s that?

How about this one then… a color photograph of a martini glass in the sand with a pyramid upside down in the reflection of the liquid. Shot on location with a MF camera on a tripod at a bit of a wide aperture, normal lens, natural light. Shutterspeed unkown.

What… you cannot tell the value of the photograph from all that information? And you think it was a trick question too?

Oh come now, gentle reader… would I trick you?

One more… color shot of a baby laying on a maroon towel in window light taken on a P&S camera from above. Not sharp, not remarkable. (BTW, the value of that one is priceless. It simply is.)

There is value to a photograph. And finding that value means we have to take important considerations in mind when making that call.

A photograph generally carries two values. One is given to it by its creator – you, the other by its value to others. A photograph can be priceless to you, but of little value to others. The baby shot I described is the first photograph I made of my first born on her first day at home. Priceless to me – meh snapshot to you.

Eddie Adams

A grainy black and white shot taken in little village may mean little, unless it is THE grainy black and white shot taken of a South Vietnamese Policeman executing a captive with such a seeming cold bloodedness that it could be considered one of the seminal moments that turned a nation away from war.

One single frame on a roll of Tri-X. And a nation was sent reeling.

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Bert Stern:

An up and coming photographer was hired to do some creative work for a small, very new company wanting to introduce a Russian drink made from potatoes to America during the height of the cold war.

Stern wanted the image to be iconic of the “Driest of the Dry” indicating the very dry Vodka Martini. He also insisted on shooting it on location, in Egypt. And he held his ground.

The ad is considered to have opened the doors to the little Vodka company, Smirnoff, a $5.5 Billion dollar company today.

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So let’s see… at the time it was taken it was a single image on a piece of Ektachrome, value $.40, then it became an ad shot which launched a new product worth billions. It is now an image that stands alone and is for sale at Christies for $4000.

Pyramid shot at Christies

Valuable photograph? Or still a frame from a roll of film.

The value our work has is many times dependant on the value it represents for someone else. Can you imagine Stern considering his shot worth $4? That is serious markup for a 40 cent image (materials). Let’s say he throws in travel and such… and it comes to $1500.40. Tacking on a comfortable margin of 50% he adds another $750.20 to the image.

Silly?

For a shot that helped a company increase profits by millions?

Silly for sure.

The value of our work is tied to the values we place on it and the values our customers place on it – combined.

Take one of your favorite shots and find an out-take from that shoot. Is it of much value to you? Perhaps you don’t like the expression of the subject, or the background is a bit out of focus… whatever, you did not choose it.

Cool… now let’s say I see it and ask if I can use it.

You ask me what I am going to use it for and I answer I want to blur it and use it for the background of a banner for my new personal website.

What is the value of that image now?

Well, it’s a personal website, and we are friends (we are friends, right?) and I let you know that I am happy to pay you $50 for it. Do we have a deal?

Probably. From a value of 0 to $50 – not bad.

How about if I exclaim that I am knocked out by that image… that it is the most perfect image I could have ever thought of for launching a new line of Jimmy Choo shoes. In fact, I want to build an entire campaign around that image, and our ad budget is $17,000,000 for North America alone.

Still worth $50 to you? We are still friends… so why would it be worth more than what you quoted me for my personal use banner?

BECAUSE IT IS!

It will be representing a 17milliondamndollar ad campaign. If they are thinking about spending $17M on ads, they are planning to make a BILLION.

And that image is key for that to happen. It has value. A lot of value.

A hell of a lot of value.

Now how do we understand that value as we begin working with people who want to give us their hard earned money for our hard earned photographs… and create a win-win situation?

(HINT: Win-Win situations make happy photographers and happy clients that like to work together.)

We research and learn. What is the image being used for? How will this benefit the client? How much is the client worth? How much will this image mean to them at the bottom line?

Hard questions… made harder by a lot of people in business who don’t have any idea how important good photography is, and how it can help their bottom line. We can try to educate them, and we can look for clients that do indeed know the value that great work carries.

Educating the client to great work, and why it matters could be done in person, or in the proposal you make… showing the value you think great work provides by demonstrating it.

Clean, neat and professionally presented proposal.
Clean, professional logo.
A professional website.
A professional portfolio.
A professional set of working documents (Rights/Releases/Business Forms)
A professional demeanor and being professional in your presentation.

I have seen proposals on dull, uninteresting emails. I have seen websites that are subdomains of the same website my 10 year old daughter used for her “My Little Pony” website. I have seen slovenly produced books and business forms that were right out of Microsoft Word.

And they want to tell me that the visuals matter? Apparently they have not understood their own message. Walk the talk, folks. Visuals matter… to us as well as them.

I think that mood boards are also an important tool when working with clients who may not understand the value of the work and how it relates to the bottom line effectiveness of the communications you are working on.

(What about the people who don’t want to meet with us, or only want an answer via email? Well – then send them a well designed email with some links to previous work, a set of links you have for similar work (high end) and a justification for them to use you OVER and above the dollar sign attached. You know, most others will never do that… help the client understand the value and you stand out. Even if you are too expensive for them now, they remember the value you added, and the fact that you are a premium brand.)

A mom and pop simply may not have the big bucks to spend that an ad agency would spend for a franchise. They will also see much smaller gains in real dollars, although the percentage of increased value may be the same. You must price accordingly.

Scenarios:

Author calls you for a headshot for his new book. The book, an E-Book is his first, and he is putting it on Kindle at a price point of $2.99. A schoolteacher by day, he is a hopeful Science Fiction author with a new blog and big dreams. He lives in your area and would come to your studio for the shot.

Author’s Public Relations firm calls for an author headshot. They need it for the back cover of his 10th novel, and want North American and European rights for a usage period of two years. Paperback rights will be negotiated when the time comes. He lives in your area and will come to your studio for the shot.

Same bid? Not hardly… one could be a $150 – $200 shoot and the other a $10,000 shoot. You will have to figure out which is which.

A local pet groomer (two stores) wants some photographs of happy owners and their pets for her website, and possible use on some ads in the local / regional magazine. You would be able to be totally creative with the images, as long as they would fit her vertical format. Estimate 4 hours for four portraits. You are on your own for the shoot.

A national pet store wants some shots of happy people with their pets. You can be totally creative with the people you shoot, but must stay within their vertical layout. You will be joined by the Creative Director, Art Director, copywriter, and Client Rel from the agency as well as a VP of marketing and his assistant from the client side. You will need a stylist, a MUA and a digital tech. Oh, and each of the talent is coming with their ‘handler’ as they animals are well trained. Estimate 4 hours for the shoot.

Will these shoots be priced the same?

Of course not. But where they fall will be as much research and ‘gut’ feelings as you can muster for the first one, and a bid program like BlinkBid or assistance from someone like Agency Access for the latter.

Welcome to the wonderfully nebulous world of foggy inaccuracy, gut decisions and seemingly pure guesswork – pulled from thin air – that is bidding commercial photography. I have seen bids vary by tens of thousands of dollars… and one time the bids ranged over a hundred thousand dollars difference.

So we are back to that question?

What is a photograph worth?

Depends a lot on you and your client reaching a mutual understanding based on the knowledge that the image will help do what they want to do.

Sell more stuff.
Get more clients.
Increase awareness.
Recruit better employees.

It is up to you to make a photograph that does what it needs to do, striving to make it the best it can be and comfortable that you are doing the best job you can for your client. And the true value is derived from doing just that.

I hope you have enjoyed this set of posts on bidding and charging for your work.

ALL FOUR INSTALLMENTS IN ONE DOCUMENT:
If you would like a PDF copy of this entire series, you can download it here: What do you charge for… a PDF Ebook. Please do not copy the information in any way, but be free to share the document without changes or modifications.


“In The Frame” is my weekly dispatch covering lots of tips and interesting points of view for emerging photographers. Some articles end up on Lighting Essentials, and some of them are only for my newsletter subscribers. No Spam, and we never give names to anyone.