Are We Clear About What We Do as Photographers?

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Are We?

Two things recently formed today’s article. One was a note from a commercial shooter who was being setup to fail, and the other from a consumer shooter angry that the client kept wanting more and more retouching… and feeling trapped that it must be done.

To both I responded with one word: contract.

I know we all hate that contract crap… at least I know I do. It starts out a relationship saying “I trust you, but I really don’t so sign this.” Maybe I am being a little melodramatic, but it seems that way to me.

The commercial situation was this:

The photographer had submitted a bid for the job and the client said “Wonderful. We love the bid. It’s a go… with just a few minor changes. Of course.

1. We want every shot you take in RAW.
2. We want there to be very little Photoshopping on the images (how does that square with #1?)
3. We want the images to look like the images in your portfolio.
4. We want the images to look just like what we want them to look like although we can’t really tell you what that is until we see them.
5. We want 60 days to pay instead of 30.
6. We want the copyright to all the images forever.

He was concerned about these requests… as he should be.

Whether intentional or not, they were setting him up for a major fail. Conflicting expectations and demands that are clearly not in the normal way of working will always create confusion. And give the client something to use as leverage to bash your price down.

The photographer asked me to review his response which was lengthy and detailed with explanations of why he doesn’t feel good about giving the RAW files, and what copyright really means to him and how he wants to do a great job for them but is a little confused about some of the terms.

I simplified the response to only a few lines.

60 Days is acceptable (from billing date).
Backup RAW Files for the chosen 16 images.
Responsible client representative to art direct the imagery and/or provide a shot list.
Responsible client representative to approve images on set.
Copyright will be retained by the photographer, but client can have a buyout for chosen images for this much more money.

Done.

I always hear photographers talking about educating the client. Well, I am not one that believes the art department of a major corporation needs educating. They know this stuff, they are only playing politics.

By the way, they said yes to the revised bid with 5 paragraphs stating what the PHOTOGRAPHER was going to do.

If I sound jaded, I apologize only slightly. I have seen too damned much of it, and on occasion been on the receiving end. In my case it doesn’t last long because I have a contract and a clear method of working that prevents that.

I have a very simple contract that has the deliverables plainly stated. You get this. This way. By this date.

The client is responsible for the shot list, and someone with the responsibility to do so, must approve all images. Without client approval process, they get what they get. In writing this is.

The consumer shooter had a customer from hell… asking for more than 15 rounds of ‘editing’… from ‘fly away hair’ (shot in a breeze) to making a chin smaller and opening up the eye a bit.

The photographer was mad at the client for all these demands and that shouldn’t be the case. I am happy to make all the changes you want. At $90 per hour.

The contract should state what is included: Color Correcting, skin cleanup, some creative expression (hey, it’s consumer… gotta love them actions). Additional changes are happily made at $90 an hour (or whatever your charge is).

“While every attempt is made to provide a perfect photograph for you, changes in reality can be costly and time intensive. Digital liposuction/cosmetic alterations are supplied at a rate of $90 per hour and estimates must be approved before work commences.”

In the design/web business we call that “Change of Work Order”.

Since we were clear in what we are going to deliver, it is a change to that deliverable schedule when things are added. This also goes for the “Hey, you’re here with your camera already out… can you get a shot of the whole facility from that forklift?”

“Absodamnlutely I can. Hold on, that will require a change of work order… I have one right here. I can add the fee to it and we can get that shot.”

You will quickly find out if they want the shot that bad.

Or you can just go shoot it for them… I don’t care. Just don’t whine about being taken advantage of later. Gift the client that shot since you already had your camera out… or don’t. You have the ability to do either because you have a specific job to do.

Inherent in all of this is the comfort level you have for ‘walking away’. In Trump’s book, “The Art of the Deal” he makes a very important point several times; if you are not willing to walk away from the deal, you aren’t in the deal, you are taking an order. Desperation breeds a bad deal if you are the one that is desperate.

Your choice. Are you an order taker or are you negotiating a position or compensation. Being willing to walk away gives the confidence to make your demands known, and feel as powerful making YOURS as they do making theirs.

I don’t usually do full RAW file transfers. It’s rare. 16BIT Tiffs… whatever. But RAW generally stays in my purview, just like my negatives and transparencies. And I don’t transfer copyright. Ever.

I can negotiate most other things and depending on the client and the gig, I can be pretty flexible. But core principals will not be swapped away, and I am totally fine with walking away. No gig is worth giving up my core values and deeply held beliefs.

Be smart, be clear and be deliberate. Eliminating those things that can go wrong upfront is the best way to make the ending a smoother, more enjoyable one.

PS: If your contract requires a Harvard Law Professor to make sense of it, then it’s wrong. Plain old speech is fine. Spell it out clearly with clearly understood words… it’ll hold up.

Two Lenses: A Day in the North Country

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Yesterday I spent the morning wandering around an area north of Phoenix for a few hours. Joined by photographers Dennis Mong and Miachelle DePiano, we took a loop through a beautiful part of central / north Arizona.

I had no expectations other than hoping I could capture a few shots of the fall colors that seem to last but a moment each Autumn. We took the I17 North to Camp Verde, had breakfast while hoping the very gray skies would open up with some sun, but moved on toward Strawberry, AZ when that didn’t materialize. As we went up the mountain toward Strawberry, Pine, and Payson, the sun began peeking out just a bit. The resulting soft light was really pretty.

I used two cameras, with only two lenses. The drive wasn’t formally constructed to do that, but it ended up that I used a moderate wide and a telephoto for all the images.

Cameras:

Nikon Df, 35MM f2.0
Canon 6D, 200MM f2.8L

Gear Links

So I either chose a moderate wide or a tighter tele for all the shots I did, not once changing the lenses on the two cameras. That forced me to look for tight or compressed images or things that could be presented within a wider context.

I may do this again in a week or so… 28mm on the DF and 135MM on the 6D and look for shots that fit those two specific image views. Or not… LOL. I do not have any idea what I will do in a couple of weeks.

5 Photographs with the Nikon Df and the 35MM f2:

steampunk-cactusB prairie1-smallb buildings-payson-2b tree-red-wallb leaves-oneb

5 Photographs from the Canon 6D, 200MM f2.8L.

bush-wallb color-leaves-2b busted looped-plantsb stunted-treeb

Halloween Shoot: Project 52 Members

Halloween Shoot: Project 52 Members

The assignment was to illustrate a double truck (2 page spread) magazine story on the Origins of Halloween. Layout was furnished as a layered PSD file and the P52 students had to shoot TO that layout – reversed copy and all. The assignment was a great example of how photographers can take a single topic and make something totally different than other photographers. (NOTE: a few of our photographers are from areas in the world that do not celebrate Halloween. They chose something more in tune with their regions.)

The images:

Basic Systems for Commercial Photographers

hunts-tombMy recent Lighting Essentials post on “Systems” (Don’t Be Afraid of Systems) was an overview of some simple checklists that I use to keep focused and create content in an overwhelmingly busy world. The amount of people, information, education, entertainment and sheer braincell killing stupidity that competes for our attention at nearly every turn makes it hard to stay on task.

I have a few larger systems that work for me, and of course they are constantly being challenged by the fact that day to day, my days are usually not the same.

Being a photographer and a designer means that there are all kinds of distractions, and a constantly changing landscape of what must be done that day.

A shoot day usually means no design gets done. A heavy design day means lots of ass sitting (and you know how I feel about that). A day on the road kills creation for both the photography and the design. Getting any design done while transferring planes and flyint through bumps is not gonna happen, and the constant shift of attention makes a 30 minute time frame better for reading than actually designing or editin images. Most of the time.

I do get a lot done while traveling, but most of that output is directed to writing, reading and catching up with correspondence. (Once in San Francisco I was so intently working on a page design that I missed the boarding call. At one point I looked up and there was nearly no one in the area. I had to wait another 2 hours for a flight… it was a crazy evening.)

So my system has to be big enough, flexible enough and ‘open’ enough to encompass those wild swings of priorities.

The post on Lighting Essentials talked about checklists and systems for packing/unpacking gear and how to focus time through the day.

But focusing through the kind of days that photographers have is more difficult than a cubicle gig.

I use a ‘system’ that allows for serendipity.

Part of this system is to be very, very careful on promising delivery. I build in time, double check my schedule and make sure I can deliver when I say I can. Editing and post takes time, and we can sometimes find it takes longer than we thought it would. Finding a design problem may lead to more complex changes than were expected, and I want to be able to make sure that I always under promise and over deliver.

It is so much better to tell a client you will get it to them in two weeks and deliver it in a week than it is to promise it in a week and deliver it in two.

Trust me.

None of us like it when the promised due date goes by without nary a word.

MY SYSTEM IS FLEXIBLE AND ONLY HAS FOUR STEPS

1. Handle all emergencies as they spring up… UNLESS they are not really emergencies. If they are truly an emergency, we take care of it RIGHT NOW. Putting off the challenges only lets them stack up. Make sure you have room in your schedule for the occasional burning house.

2. Keep clients apprised. Nobody likes surprises – especially delivery surprises. If it is going to take a bit longer to get those files edited, let the client know as soon as you realize it. Tell them why it is going to take a bit longer and then under promise / over deliver.

3. Be prepared for all contingencies. Just as it is necessary to have a backup camera or two, it is necessary to have backups to your planning/productivity. Do you have someone who can step in and take some of this work off of your desk and let you handle a higher level priority? I hope you do, otherwise long, sleepless (and not nearly as productive as you think they are) nights await you.

4. Stay on top of marketing. No matter how busy you are, there must be time set aside for your marketing work. Don’t let the week go by without that scheduled email to go out to local ad agencies. If you have scheduled it for that week, make it a priority to get it out. We can be very busy, but if we do not keep the marketing forefront, we can then have the roller coaster of no business / lots of business.

If we are not marketing while we are busy, then we end up getting slow, and then we market like crazed banshees amped up on Red Bull till we get busy again and stop marketing.

And that is nuts!

I would also recommend Steven Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” and David Allen’s “Getting Things Done”. Both are go-to’s on my shelves. And the great thing is you can adjust to fit.

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity (Amazon)

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change (25th Anniversary Edition) (Amazon)

The most important thing is to make sure you have some simple systems in place to handle the bigger issues of time management. No, don’t go all nuts with huge spread-sheets and such. Just work it out so you have a ‘typical’ way of dealing with the rigors of running a small creative business.

Project 52 “The Catalog”

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In this assignment, the photographers had to jump through a few hoops. The previous week they had to submit a “Creative Direction” shoot showing at least two different approaches to doing the fictitious catalog.

Those approaches had to meet some criteria. First is that there are 200 similar items, and the art director wants the catalog (traditional paper and online) to be as consistent as possible. The second is that there is a limited budget, and while the money is pretty good for a two day shoot, it dwindles fast past that point. Shooting 100 items in a day, and having them all be matching takes some planning and a stylistic approach that will allow them to be shot quickly and efficiently. (NOTE: In the fictitious brief all items are similar in size.)

So the photographers have to show a creative direction that also makes it possible to do this catalog in two days, not a week.

The students did a bang up job of it as well. The creative direction shots were reviewed and we assigned that look. This is the finished catalog page in that creative style. The layout was delivered to them as a layered PSD and they could not change anything on it – just insert the photographs. Understanding how to work with a layout, and shooting to that layout is a very important part of commercial photography.

The results are wonderful.