The Image Is The Thing

donotenter-small

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

canyons-trip

wall

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.

390890

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.

xxpyramidpureblue_photobybertstern_1_1

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.



Does the Best Photographer Make the Most Money?

humboldt

rocks

Have you ever thought to yourself that as soon as you get to be the best photographer in your area, town, city, state, region, country, universe or whatever, you will be the highest paid?

You may be in for a shock – but that ain’t how the game is played, my friend.

The “Best” photographers are not necessarily the highest paid. And for now, we will not approach the obvious question of who defines “best”.

Here’s our thought process:

  1. We get some awesome gear.
  2. We learn to light very well.
  3. We take pictures that are pretty good.
  4. We start out business.
  5. Our photographs become instantly “professional”.
  6. We get more money because our work is better.
  7. We get huge accounts because of our outstanding portfolio
  8. We have to hire people to take care of all our cash.
  9. Choosing the right Grecian tile for our mansion foyers is time consuming.
  10. Celebrity friends invite you to lavish parties.

Yep. That’s it right there.

Except its not.

In a perfect world, we would be hired on our work alone. If we show what the client likes, we get the gig.

The plain truth is that while the work indeed matters, other considerations may actually take the lead and determine your ability to get higher paying gigs.

Considerations like;

  1. Can you deliver the job correctly?
  2. Can you solve the problems the job presents?
  3. Will you be needing more handholding than the other photographers?
  4. Do you understand the concepts?
  5. Can you communicate your vision and link it with the clients?
  6. Do you focus on the job at hand?
  7. Can you make it happen – no matter what challenges come your way on the gig?
  8. Are you personable and helpful?
  9. Will your work, attitude, personality, ethics and reputation be something the client will like?
  10. Will you make the art director / creative director look good because they chose you?

There are more, of course. And for individuals, some of these considerations matter more than others.

If we can focus the client on the work that must be done, how we do it and how well it will benefit their project, we can possibly win the job and get paid more money. Because we are not putting ourselves into the mix – we are putting the job first. The client first. We are there FOR THEM.

Other photographers can bid and send in lovely drafts and colorful PDF’s (as we can as well) but we add that extra/different approach of personalizing the response to focus on the job, project, assignment. We move the needle from being one of a group of people bidding, to THE person who is on board to help them sell their vision.

Yeah. It’s subtle, and it is not a guarantee – but it is something that will differentiate you from the pack when asked for a bid.

Some bids go out and they are looking for the cheapest ‘vendor’ to make the photographs.

We want to change their intension from going cheap to getting the best visual solution they can, and that means US. And US costs a bit more than the average ‘vendor’.

Being the “best” photographer is no guarantee of success. Best is an illusion, or a whimsical attachment at most. Being RIGHT for the job – in the clients mind – is far more of an important goal. One we should focus on at every opportunity.


“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.