Having “The Talk” with clients

Sometimes, it’s hard to have “The Talk” with clients but if you don’t, then not only are you asking for trouble on this shoot but also future shoots so you may as well get it over with.

What is “The Talk” you ask?  It is when you explain to your client who may or may not be experienced in commissioning photography (or video, illustration, design etc.) that the price you are quoting is dependent entirely on the usage of the work. It has to do with the number of eyeballs that see your work in their marketing materials, on their website, on the outdoor advertising etc.

As an example, I had a new client contact me to do an image of a country music artist for a life sized cardboard cutout. Immediately, I began thinking of all the logistical things that have to happen in order to create this file and I turned in a quote.  Then some weeks later when I was driving back from an out of town shoot (I get my best thinking done in the car)  it hit me.  I hadn’t asked one of the most important questions!

It was my understanding that they were in need of one cardboard cutout and when I asked where they were planning on putting it, the client replied “in our stores”.  Oops. I then had to ask how many stores they had and she replied 8300 across the country!

Obviously I had under estimated the usage portion of the shoot and so I had to admit that I had misunderstood the assignment and politely ask her to take a Bic lighter to the estimate that I had already sent as the number of eyeballs that were going to be seeing my work went through the roof.

Getting your head around the requirements of a shoot is imperative if you are going to submit an accurate estimate!

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Shooting for the stars

I think that ideas, specifically original ideas are what will set you apart from your competition.  Always being receptive to new things and then being able to act on those ideas is key. The catch is that the ideas that you pursue should probably be at least a little similar to your main career path or you will run the risk of being too scattered and your career will become unfocused.

I just started a new video project last week that will probably not be complete until early next year.  It is unlike anything I have ever done before but is still within the bounds of my main career path.  It is exciting and scary all at the same time and there will  undoubtedly be a steep learning curve that will need to be conquered.  Learning new things is exciting to me and I can’t wait to dig further into this project.  More details to come….

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The 48 hour film project

A few weekends ago, I once again fielded a team for the 48 hour film project.  For those who don’t know what that is, it is a worldwide film competition where teams create a movie entirely over a 48 hour weekend.  Doesn’t sound that difficult right?  The catch is that they give you a genre, line of dialog, character (with occupation) and a prop that you have to use in the movie and you don’t find out those details until 7pm on Friday night and you have to turn in a complete 4-7 minute movie by 7pm on Sunday night.

There is only so much pre-planning you can do like finding locations, lining up cast and crew and gathering music and the rest has to happen beginning at 7pm on Friday night.  Over the 48 hours, you have to be able to write, shoot, edit, score, color and output your movie.  It is a fast paced and exciting weekend of film making for sure and every year I have done it, I have wished for more time as the clock ran down.  Below is the link to the movie after we did a little sweetening:



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When the cash is not flowing…

Cash flow (or lack of it) is one of those issues that can kill an otherwise healthy business.  When you are slow, it is painful to also experience cash flow troubles but when you are busy, it is just plain weird.  Your receivables are on the rise and yet your checkbook is quickly being depleted and your cash is dwindling.  Why is that?  You are working hard and billing for the work you are doing but the checks are not rolling in (which is where I find myself this week).

When you get used to your steady clients paying in 30 days and all of a sudden, they start taking 45 days to pay, that is when the cash flow problems begin.  You have to be willing  to ask for money that is owed to you and having bookkeeping software to help you keep track of that is essential.  I have to be able to know when a payment is due so that I can be sure to follow up with the client to remind them that I have not been paid.  Personally, I use QuickBooks for the Mac which does everything that I need it to and can easily be exported for my accountant to do my year end filings.  There are other options like Quicken for Business, Peachtree Accounting and yes, even paper ledgers if need be.

Photographers have several options for studio management software like PhotoBiz, PhotoByte and HindSight but none of them will do heavy accounting like Quickbooks or the others listed above.  Keep a close eye on your cash flow so that you can even out your stream of income.  It will make your life much easier!

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What a week

Here is a post that I forgot to convert from a draft to published!

It was a great week to be self-unemployed.  Sunday, I photographed a high school friend’s father being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame as a songwriter. Wednesday, I shot at a celebrity’s house for Country Weekly and the last shot of the morning, was him jumping into his pool fully dressed, boots and all.  Later that afternoon, I borrowed a friend’s 4×5 and shot the Opry stage to create a 10 foot wide image for a trade show booth.  Thursday night, we left for Knoxville where I shot with a really great model and all day Friday I shot models for a talent agency.  And to wrap up the week, we shot a bunch of priceless guitars for a 7 x 24 foot display going in the new Opry Backstage restaurant.

That is about as wide a variety of shoots that I have ever had in one week and it was great.   I wonder what next week will bring…

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shooting film for a client, back when…

In the past, when shooting film for a client and showing them a polaroid, there had to be a certain amount of trust.  Think about it, clients had to really trust that based upon the polaroid they were being shown, they were going to get the images they needed.  I am sure it was more than a little scary for them but that was the only way to do it.  They had to trust you.  I distinctly remember when Photoshop started making it’s way onto client’s computers because that was when clients started saying things like: “I can work with that” and “We can Photoshop that out” etc.  (BTW, I love how Photoshop became a verb)

I used to hate to hear that because that meant that I was not accomplishing what was being asked of me by the client.  I was close, but not close enough to hear; “Wow, that is perfect!”.

Prior to Photoshop, there was a machine called a Scitex scanner that you could always use if you had to retouch an image.  It was a machine that took up an entire room (usually at an engraver or film house), had a highly trained operator and cost upwards of $300 per hour to use.  Leaving an extension chord in the background of  a shot or worse yet, leaving one of your own polaroids in the shot was a really expensive error that often times would kill your budget if not your profit.

Now that we shoot digitally, clients want to see the back of the camera, want you to zoom in to check for stray hairs or wrinkles or if you shoot tethered like I often do, want to see the images as they flow into your laptop. Showing the client full res images on your laptop can be a good thing if they notice something that is out of place but the trouble comes when you get too many opinions.  Sometimes you have to just untether or close the laptop and see if the client really trusts you as they should.

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Where is the artistry?

It occurs to me that nowadays, the artistry of photography seems to be in the post production rather than the original photography which makes me a little sad.  Believe me, I don’t begrudge anyone the right to alter their images using Photoshop or whatever pixel editor you like, but it does seem like image post production is now overpowering the original photography.  There are photographers who can do wonderful things like compositing, layering multiple images, etc. in post, it’s just not my thing.

For one thing, that means more time behind a computer which is something I am trying to avoid.  Photography is already more about sales, marketing and finance than actual photography unfortunately and I don’t want to add too much post production to that list.  I try to limit the number of hours behind the computer by shooting it the way I want the final image to look, by limiting the number of applications used in post and by creating shortcuts that I can use over and over for specific shoot or clients.

I know photographers who shoot tethered into Capture One, process in Capture One then import into Lightroom, then export to Photoshop for retouching or compositing, maybe run through Portrait Professional and then put back into Lightroom to catalog, print and make web galleries.  Then they use Dropstuff to compress images and Fetch to upload to their server for delivery.

I try to work smarter not harder.

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Time Lapse

This past week, I was helping a still photographer friend by shooting behind the scenes video of a job he was working on.  His job was a highly technical job involving reproducing approximately 360 square feet of a mural piece by piece and stitching some 244 images together.  I set up a time lapse of the two nights of shooting and thought it might make for an interesting view…


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Buckets of stuff at the Flea Market

This gallery contains 25 photos.

I go to the flea market almost every month, not because I am looking to buy anything but because I love walking around and looking at the people mainly.  This weekend, I took my point and shoot and concentrated on … Continue reading

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Handling change

It doesn’t matter what the job, there will always be change.  Things will throw off the schedule, gear will break, weather will interfere and crew will get lost.  I find it is not so much the things that go wrong, but rather the way you react to them that matter.

Last week, I had a nice two day shoot for an agency out of Chicago.  It happened to coincide with another snow fall here in Nashville that turned 30 minute commutes into two to three hour ordeals, mainly because it happened mid afternoon while everyone was still at work.  It was a mess and it caused major changes in the shoot locations and times.

The agency asked me to add video to the shoot so on day two, I brought in an associate to capture video as I was shooting stills.  They really wanted to take home the footage with them at the end of the second day of shooting so I also hired a media manager to help download our files so that we would not get bogged down at the end of the day.

The card reader specific to the video camera did not make it to the shoot so we had someone bring it to us half way through the day.  The card reader would not mount a card on my computer or his so we had no way to download footage except to plug the camera straight into the laptop.  This of course means that while the camera is downloading it is not shooting so our video coverage of the day was not what it could have been.  It got to the point where we had to keep shooting and eventually ran out of cards for the video camera.  Just when we thought we had shot the last shot and filled the last card to capacity, the client walks over and asks if we could shoot some video testimonials.

Now, we were not really prepared for this request.  Realizing that we just didn’t have time to download a video card, we grabbed a DSLR, a small LED light and went to it.  We both have experience shooting motion with a DSLR so it was not that much of a problem, however we did have to take a quick run through the camera’s menu system to make sure we shot it right.  There are any number of things that could have gone wrong there but we ended up with good footage.

Without the working card reader for the video camera, we were not able to deliver the drive at the end of the day due to their flight schedule but we got it to FedEx and delivered by the start of the next business day.

Point is, plenty of things went wrong that day.  The client was probably not aware of most of them (except for the lousy weather) and appreciated us being able to accomplish the task at hand.  We motored through, got the job done and above all had the “yes we can” attitude that made the shoot a success.

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