Recently I was invited to speak with students at a photography college on the business of the profession. Here is some of what we discussed.
Now vs “Then”
How I started out and the way new photographers do today is very different – but only on the surface. Whilst I may have used mailers, the telephone and door knocked more, many photographers now use email and social media to reach prospective clients.
In the end a face-to-face meeting is always better. It creates a more personal connection that’s simply not possible any other way.
After decades in business referrals are another important way of attracting clients. You can ask existing clients to recommend you. If you do a good job organic referrals will come your way. I’ve found people by nature like to help one another; by referring work to you and helping their contacts find a professional photographer.
Good Old Days
Years ago while having dinner with other well established photographers we reminisced about the “good old days”. Adelaide photographer Milt Wordley noted that for the emerging photographers at the table this is their good old days – now!
Long Standing Business Model
When I assisted photographers there was a well established path to becoming a professional spanning back many decades. Digital disrupted the traditional master/apprentice model with many photographers either starting out without a mentor or a definitive career pathway. If you’re not assisting or studying then professional photography associations, like the Australian Institute of Professional Photography offer a mentoring program.
Professional photography is very competitive. However it always has been. Indeed all creative professions are. In high school I was heading towards a career in graphic design and all the advice was there’s an over supply of designers. It was no different for photography and I suspect it always will be.
Nowadays it’s quite common for professional photography to be part of a mix of income streams for many in the industry. It’s supplemented with teaching, workshops, design or a corporate day job. There are also a lot career changers entering professional photography with some choosing to keep their current job on a part-time basis.
I realise as a full time professional photographer I’m in a very privileged position and don’t take it or my clients for granted.
Perceived Lower Cost of Entry
When starting professional photography I invested over $100 000. Some believe the cost to entry is lower today but I’ve found that not to be the case. At least not in the long term. To set up a similar quality, professional business the initial investment is marginally lower. Unlike film equipment and training that could last a decade or more, new technology requires replacement and updating every few years. Photographers have to be business savvy when looking at shiny new toys ensuring it’s ROI is viable. I’ve seen many a photographer over capitalise only to be out of business soon afterwards.
Less Skills to Start
There is a shallower learning curve for digital photography compared to film photography. Digital cameras are a great learning tool. It also means beginners plateau faster than before. It’s important not to rush too fast into professional photography and make sure you have the breadth of photography and business skills needed to prosper long term. Again, I’ve found being a member of and being involved in professional photography associations a huge benefit.
The More It Changes…
The more it’s the same thing. On a micro level the craft and business of photography continues to change. On a macro level professional photography is still about relationships and finding creative solutions for clients.
Not in a bitter way but to hope you go onto great success. Success never seems to come easy but rather is built upon stepping stones of failed ventures.
Many well known and not so famous entrepreneurs have a litany of ideas that did not succeed. But that did not stop them and they ultimately went on to achieve success.
Thomas Edison. Photo: U.S. Information Agency
Among Thomas Edison’s many inventions perhaps his best known is the electric light bulb. He wasn’t the first with many others competing to create one. By using a carbonised bamboo filament his team succeeded in making commercially viable electric light bulb that resulted in his 1879 patent. They reportedly went through thousands of combinations.
“I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
– Thomas A. Edison
Henry Ford in his first car. From the book ‘The truth about Henry Ford’ by Sarah T Bushnell
Henry Ford worked nights at Edison Illuminating Company while working days on building an automobile. Early versions failed because they could not be mass produced to be commercially viable.
“Failure is just a resting place. It is an opportunity to begin again more intelligently.”
– Henry Ford
His fourth attempt succeeded because Ford invented the modern assembly line that revolutionised how goods were manufactured.
Oprah Winfrey. Photo: Bill Ebbesen
Oprah Winfrey, fresh out of college, got a big break as a TV news anchor in Baltimore. Within few months Winfrey was fired, apparently due to poor marketing by the TV station. She went on to other TV shows and eventually form the Oprah empire.
“Failure is another stepping stone to greatness”
– Oprah Winfrey
J.K. Rowling. Photo: Steven Hill
While writing Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling had a failed marriage, lost her job, relied on welfare and with her daughter moved in with her sister. The early Harry Potter manuscript was rejected by 12 publishers before Bloomsbury accepted it. Rowling’s books have gone onto break sales records worldwide and make her the world’s highest paid author.
“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.”
– JK Rowling
Not everything you do will be successful. Success can be quantified in many ways: financial, personal, fame, career or by your own measure. Don’t let early failures put you off. They can be hard lessons that give you the experience needed to succeed in new ways.
This time of year new photography equipment is announced at the world’s largest photography expo, Photokina in Cologne Germany. Just like an Apple event, keen technology followers get excited and discuss the new gear. As a passionate photographer I too follow the reports. As a seasoned professional I also reflect on the key players in the industry. This post isn’t about the equipment, it’s about customer service and support.
When I decided to pursue photography as a profession I changed camera brands to Nikon. Yes I appreciated their aesthetic starting with my first Nikon F3, designed by Italian automotive designer Giorgetto Giugiaro. However the camera is just a tool and matters little in the end result. Looking at an image you can’t distinguish what camera was used by the photographer. So why then did I choose Nikon?
Nikon F3 designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro. Photo: Gbor Dobrocsi
For decades professional photographers have chosen Nikon or Canon. Typically professionals invest tens of thousands of dollars in camera equipment and both brands have the quality and variety of equipment required. However it’s the professional support that Nikon and Canon offer that make them stand out.
Nikon Professional Service (NPS) and Canon Professional Service (CPS) are worldwide programs offering priority repairs and loan equipment. For example:
- When my camera was locking up Nikon loaned me a camera until the repair was complete.
- Before investing in a new camera Nikon loaned me one to try out.
- Dropped camera damage was quoted for repair immediately.
- One of my lenses was out of collimation and would need to go to Japan to be fixed. Nikon replaced it so I wouldn’t be without one.
- Digital SLR camera sensors often get dirty when changing lenses. Nikon clean mine while I wait for no charge.
- Nikon staff and I have built a professional and loyal relationship.
You will see NPS or CPS at all major sporting events supporting the professional photographers covering the competition with on the spot repairs and loan gear. When you’re livelihood depends on cameras having reliable equipment is expected, but professional service and support is even more important.
Nikon have long been supporters of the photography community. Sponsoring major photography awards, competitions, education and workshops. Some I’ve attended:
- The Nikon-Walkley Press Awards (recognising excellence in photojournalism in Australia)
- The Nikon AIPP Event (Australia’s largest photography event)
- Digital Asset Management Workshop (bringing DAM guru Peter Krogh from the USA)
- Nikon School (supporting enthusiasts with professional instructors)
- Nikon Ambassadors (inspiring pros and enthusiasts alike)
Knowing Nikon has me covered, as well as my equipment and business, keeps me in their ecosystem. It’s a symbiotic relationship – I like to support the brands that support me and my profession.
For over 15 years these are some of the most common questions asked by clients looking for corporate headshots.
How long does it take?
Schedule 5 minutes per portrait; each person is in front of camera for 2-3 minutes. Set up (and pack down) takes 30 minutes.
Allow 5 minutes per person
Where do we do the photography?
The photography can be either in a studio or on location.
Most clients prefer photography at their office so staff are only away from their job for 5-10 minutes and people feel more at ease. As to where in your office an area 5m x 5m (16ft x 16ft) is good for a head and shoulder headshot. This can be a meeting room, boardroom or any open area in your office.
A small meeting room is good for corporate headshots
What should I tell people being photographed?
Consistency is the key. Establish a corporate style for your business be that conservative, relaxed, fun, casual, etc, and brief those being photographed.
Typically corporate headshots are jacket and tie, smiling to camera against a white background. These images are timeless and won’t date as quickly. For a more stylised look you can include parts of your office as a background, out of focus.
Email people their scheduled time – and send a reminder the day before!
Suggestions for corporate headshots
How many images do I get?
It depends on your photographer, I deliver at least 10 images per person to choose from.
A selection of images to choose from
When do I get the photos?
Usually within 24 hours or sooner if you need a rush service.
How much does it cost?
Fees depend on how many people are being photographed. The more people in a photography session the less it costs per person. To give you an idea my fees start at $360 for one person and scale to just $25 each for 70 people.
Ask for an estimate for your corporate headshots
Ask for a quote, and provide the number of people, where you’re located, and over how many days (sometimes shoots need to be spread over two or more days).
What do I get?
Images can be delivered many ways. Typically I send a low res, web ready version and a high resolution version so you can resize or edit them later for other uses.
Do you Photoshop the photos?
Yes, if you like. Experienced photographers will light and pose you so any retouching will be minimal – if required at all.
The goal is to make you look like you on your best day, not like a plastic mannequin. If possible do the photography earlier in the day and week while people are fresh.
Retouching is available but not necessary
Personally, corporate headshot photography gives me the opportunity to meet a variety of people and share some of their life. I’m lucky to have a glimpse of some interesting workplaces and no two jobs are ever the same.
Photography has many uses, more so now than at any other time. Closely linked to advances in technology the scope of how and what we photograph is rapidly expanding.
Visual media crosses many barriers: language, culture, literacy and age engaging a diverse audience. With only a quick glimpse an image can tell a story in a split second.
Like painting or illustration, photography is visual media
For centuries illustration, and painting before that, would communicate a message prescribed by its creator, or by those who commissioned the image. 150 years ago photography took over as the key medium for visual communications.
Rather than point the brush, pencil or lens just anywhere an artisan crafts an image aware of the visual language used to convey a specific message. Manipulating, guiding or isolating the viewer to influence how images are interpreted.
Advertisers would be the largest investors in photography for marketing. The goal is to persuade you to invest in a product, service or opinion. The photographs need to grab your attention before the bus ad speeds by, you turn the magazine page, or flick through to the next image online.
Advertising photography wants to sell.
There is a definite science to advertising photography using psychology, and an art using the latest styles to engage you in their message.
Photojournalists record history telling the story of humanity often in a single image. Documentary photographers dig deeper spending months or years to reveal a narrative through photo essays.
Part of the Fourth Estate news photography keeps leaders in check, exposing corruption and crimes against humanity.
The Australian: Good news also sells.
While bad news sells visual stories can also be upbeat and positive. Acknowledging achievement, overcoming adversity and celebrating the human spirit all make for important visual documents.
As a one-eyed machine removed from human interpretation photography was quickly used to depict truth. Newspapers, courts, medicine use photographs to scrutinise what happened at a particular moment in time.
Digital imaging has made it easier to manipulate images and with it the truth. In fact photographs have been manipulated since it was first invented, both when the picture was created or later in the darkroom. Digital imaging has made image manipulation in post-production easier and now tarnishes the reputation of photography to show the truth. The camera never lies but the photographer can and those with Photoshop too.
Image file verification. Image: Canon Japan.
Camera manufacturers have created systems to embed tamper proof signatures in images but I’m yet to see court accept them as evidence. Having photographed crime scenes the truth in the image is validated by the law officer next to me who can then testify the images are true.
Smartphones mean you always have a camera with you. You can record anything as a temporary record knowing it can be deleted when no longer needed. That could be to record a pair of shoes that grabbed your attention, where you parked your car, or a shopping list. Rather than write these reminders down we can now photograph them.
Today photographs are often taken to be shared on social media. It can be to show what you’re having for lunch, a selfie in front of a tourist spot, or enjoying the company of close friends.
It’s a visual diary that only ever exist digitally on web platforms for as long as they are relevant, for as long as the platform decides, or while it’s still around. Social media photography is ephemeral and treated as disposable.
Photography has a strange influence on our memory. We often remember our past not by the memory of the event but by the memory of a photo of that event. We recall the photo album not the experience itself.
Photography helps memorialise our existence on earth, to prove we were here. It can show our birth, birthdays and everything we hold precious until we pass. Then those images can be passed onto future generations to remember us and compare their lives and that of their offspring.
Again smartphones make recording memories easy so we tend to photograph everything. Not too long ago the family camera would only come out on special occasions. For the most important milestones we engaged a professional photographer to ensure they were captured and that’s still the case today.
I’ve probably only skimmed the surface of what photography can be used for. Let me know on Linkedin other areas that you use photography.
Media Pro (image courtesy Phase One)
I’m a long time user of Media Pro, a visual cataloguing application by Phase One. Starting as iView over 23 years ago it’s one of the longest running DAM apps of its type. It’s also one of the last standalone, single user digital asset management programs.
Designed for creatives it’s used mostly by photographers. Like Apple Photos and Adobe Lightroom, Media Pro uses a database. What sets it apart from those programs is that Media Pro can catalog any file type including images, fonts, movies, DTP files, text files and more.
DEVONthink (image courtesy DEVONtechnologies)
DEVONtechnologies also makes database applications (Mac and iOS only). DEVONthink, just like Media Pro, can catalog any file type. While you can use DEVONthink to catalog images I still prefer a dedicated media manager and Media Pro. I use DEVONthink as a digital filing cabinet for my reference material. DEVONthink’s target audience is researchers including educators, scientists, lawyers, students and journalists.
I was drawn to DEVONthink Pro Office in search of a replacement for Evernote, which was my previous digital filing cabinet. Both can use Optical Character Recognition so content in scanned documents can be searched.
Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. Wanting an alternative to Evernote’s subscription model I like that DEVONthink is a once only perpetual license. It also offers several sync options and a mobile version DEVONthink to Go to add new information to and access it from my iPhone. There is no web access like Evernote, which doesn’t affect me but may be a feature you need.
You don’t need a tin foil hat to appreciate DEVONtechnologies commitment to security and privacy. Recently they deleted their Facebook page and removed Google Analytics from their site. The software offers strong AES-256 encryption, biometric and/or password protection.
Perhaps its greatest feature is AI. Artificial Intelligence is a buzz word at the moment with companies like Google, Apple and Adobe demonstrating the potential of machine learning. DEVONthink uses its proprietary AI technology in a practical way, that admittedly I really don’t take full advantage of. I use it for simple searches and even for that using fuzzy logic it delivers precise results. Serious users such as academics collect reference information across multiple sources including the web and DEVONthink is able to discover and reveal links between sources unknown to the researcher.
DEVONthink Pro Office (image courtesy DEVONtechnologies)
DEVONthink come in various flavours but you’ll need the Pro Office version to get OCR. Unlike Evernote there’s no free version. However with their 2018 SummerFest special DEVONthink Pro Office is less than than a 12 month Evernote subscription and is yours to keep forever. This isn’t a sponsored post and there are no affiliate links, I’m just sharing my thoughts as a happy customer.
The traditional path to professional photography started with a formal education at a brick and mortar college. Students could assist photographers during or after graduation for hands on practical experience before establishing their own businesses.
Now, just as with photography itself, education has been disrupted by technology. Potential pro photographers can learn online through random YouTube videos or via informal training.
So is it worth investing $25 000 or more to attend university for a career in photography? Judged by economics alone, no it is not. You could watch how-to movies for free on the skills you would like to learn.
What prompted this post is I’ve started to see more and more pro photographers with gaps in their knowledge. The profession of photography is constantly changing and most of us subscribe to Continuing Professional Development. However CPD is built on top of foundation skills embedded at the beginning of our career.
With formal training there is a syllabus starting with the basics. It’s frustrating because most students have been keen enthusiasts so already know some of the basics of photography. Reviewing the basics is important because it irons out bad habits and fills the gaps in knowledge.
Some professions and trades are best learnt hands-on, face-to-face along with other students. That includes photography. You share the learning and find answers to questions asked by other participants. You learn faster face-to-face with tutors who can immediately review progress. Of course you can support the learning with online videos and yes even from books. Being a student is the time to make mistakes and grow from them, as well as those made by your cohort.
Aside from the practice you learn the theory and history of photography. You will challenge and debate one another especially as photography is based in science and art.
Tutors are practicing or retired professionals with a direct connection to the industry. These experienced practitioners who are qualified teachers know how to explain, demonstrate and inspire. Not all universities are equal and neither is the quality of their teaching. Shop around for the best college and tutors for you and your needs. Get opinions on the course from professional photographers and recent graduates.
Guest speakers give you access to successful professional photographers who willingly share their knowledge. Even better, potential clients such as art directors visit to give advice, folio reviews and valuable networking opportunities. Accredited courses will have links to professional associations with access to student membership and a pathway to full membership.
Learning at a brick and mortar college gives you access to facilities and professional equipment. Suppliers of pro equipment and software will offer discounts (sometimes free software licenses) in order to gain you as a lifetime customer.
Do clients care if you have qualifications? Most don’t but surprisingly many do particularly when dealing with other professionals and government. Being qualified has allowed me the opportunity to write courses, teach at colleges and run training programs.
Value can be measured many ways not just in dollar terms. If you are fortunate enough to have the option to study photography look at it holistically. Only decades after graduating can I now see how valuable the experience was.
The biggest takeaway for me from tertiary study was being on campus. The infectious passion of fellow students and tutors. The aspirational and youthful collective hope for the future. The opposing viewpoints and debates challenging the status quo. Both joining and being involved in the student association. Access to a fabulous library of books, monographs and journals; both current and long out of print. I loved my university education and it serves me well two decades later. How about you? Let me know on LinkedIn.
There are many aspects to finding a photographer. These may include, experience, location, availability, price and personality. Part of evaluating whether any creative is a good fit for your job involves looking at a portfolio of their work. But what if the work you’re presented with isn’t their own?
Many businesses use stock photography. Whether that’s the more exclusive and expensive rights managed photography or low cost royalty free micro-stock images used everywhere.
Businesses using stock images include media outlets, travel agents, and perhaps you do too. With micro-stock it’s impossible to control who else uses the image or where it’s used. For example, there is a popular micro-stock image of a happy Scandinavian family used by several health professionals – including their direct competitors. In another example a micro-stock image of adolescents was used for very different messaging: one to promote quality education and elsewhere the same photo was advertising condoms.
People Know The Difference
Consumers are visually astute when generic stock images are used. I previously posted about Jakob Nielsens’ study of how people are more engaged with “real” images than generic micro-stock images. Visitors to a travel website don’t necessarily believe the pilot in the photo is a real pilot and probably a model. No harm done as they know when they travel they will have real pilot flying their plane not the one pictured.
Where I Draw The Line
When you view a photographer’s portfolio on their website you assume they are the authors. If not then to me it’s the same as a retailer showing an photo of one product but delivering a very different product. It’s substitution and with photography it’s passing off.
Unfortunately I’ve seen photographers not disclosing the use micro-stock images in their portfolio including wedding, corporate and event photographers. One didn’t even bother changing the image which included the stock library’s filename and metadata that included the real photographers name and contact details.
Technically these photographers are doing what any business who uses stock images does. To paraphrase Jakob Nielsen they are using “fluffy pictures… to ‘jazz up’ web pages” (no disrespect to the stock photographer). When you visit a photographer’s website you look at the quality of work there to see if they have the ability to do the work you require. Not see if they know how to license stock images.
How You Can Tell
Visually literate people can pick a stock image. Vince Vaughn’s movie Unfinished Business was promoted, tough-in-cheek, using generic stock images and pasting the lead actors faces into the images.
‘Unfinished Business’ starring Vince Vaughn. Photo: Getty Images.
Look for an inconsistent style in the portfolio: different techniques, image processing, effects, etc. Of course if you’re daring enough you can ask the photographer.
Look For An Accredited Professional Photographer
Thankfully there is a way to know when it’s safe to assume a photographer’s images are their own: see if they are members of a professional association that mandates a code of conduct. The Australian Institute of Professional Photography has a Code of Professional Practice it’s members must abide by, as do sister associations the American Society of Media Photographers, the British Institute of Professional Photography and the New Zealand Institute of Professional Photography. The code of conduct will have other benefits for you as their members need to be adequately insured, experienced, educated and skilled in both photography and business.
As a visual communicator I’m hypersensitive to images that have been badly Photoshopped. Here are some common mistakes in no particular order and how to avoid them.
1. Distorting An Image When Transforming It.
A photo has a set aspect ratio and when rescaling it using a tool like Transform it’s easy to accidentally make it too tall or wide. The trick is to hold down the Shift key while resizing. If you know what image dimensions you need use the Image Size dialog box.
Don’t accidentally squash images.
2. Using Wrong Color Profile
Images have a color profile tag embedded that describes how to accurately display it. If you use a color profile in the wrong context it affects how an image looks. For example if your website images look flat and dull chances are they are in Adobe RGB (1998) or worse CMYK. Your photographer, designer or printer has supplied images intended for repurposing or printing but certainly not for the web.
Simulation of wrong colour profile.
When you edit images in Photoshop you can see what color profile an image has and should Convert it for the appropriate end use, e.g. sRGB for web or PowerPoint. Do not Assign a color profile for this as it doesn’t change the image but tags the photo with the wrong color profile.
3. Convert To CMYK
Have a professional do your CMYK conversions. Every printer, paper stock and ink-set has it’s own CMYK profile. Why not DIY? If you’re about to print hundreds of thousands of pages and you incorrectly convert to CMYK guess who has to pay for the the reprint?
4. Save As High Res 300DPI
I’ve previously posted on just this point alone! DPI indicates the scale an image is reproduced not it’s resolution. Image size is best described in pixels: e.g, 5383 x 3600 pixels. When you resize an image in Photoshop you will first see Pixel Dimensions and way down below Pixels/Inch.
Use Pixel Dimensions to determine high or low res.
5. Destructive Editing
Every time you edit a photo and save it you throw away pixels. Adjusting colour, contrast, brightness doesn’t create new pixels it deletes some to apply your enhancements. You can work non-destructively on TIFF or PSD files by using Adjustment Layers. You will also save on disk space by not creating multiple TIFF versions of the same image with new edits. As the name implies Adjustment Layers can be adjusted later without changing the pixels.
Adjustment Layers won’t degrade images.
Customer service is important to me, both as a service provider and as a consumer. I value good customer service and aim to offer the same to my clients. Great customer service makes a big impression on me and my spending habits. This post is about my personal beliefs and not meant to be a how-to guide. So your milage may vary.
What is Good Customer Service?
Authentic concern for your customer and what they need.
What it comes down to for me is a personal interaction. A genuine interest in helping someone purchase what they require. Yes there are metrics to gauge customer experience and I’ve been through several training programs.
Scripts, surveys, techniques, body language, psychology, etc, make good statistics for comparative data. But the face-to-face human interaction can’t be faked. I’m either talking with a human or a robot.
SPIFs, bonuses, etc, aren’t there to help the customer. They’re designed to motivate and drive sales of specific items. While I understand some businesses do this to move boxes I don’t see any place in my profession for such incentives.
Politeness doesn’t cost anything. Being abrupt and rude will costs sales. We all have bad days, we are human after all! Recognise those times and work around them.
Negotiating and bargaining is not a cultural thing, it’s just business. Being respectful and understanding goes a long way to create an agreement where both parties are happy and continue to work together in the future.
Typically we associate quality with price. If a customer is shopping on price, which is a legitimate motivator, then don’t write them off. There’s a saying, “Price, Quality, Time: pick any two.” If I can’t meet someone’s budget or I’m booked up I endeavour to help them out. With a large network to draw on I will recommend a colleague or an alternative. The bottom line here is I will try to help whether or not it’s going to lead to a booking.
What prompted me writing this is lately I’ve had to use after sales service with widely different experiences. I will continue to use Apple and well, here I am “singing their praises” because of their very friendly, blameless customer service. I happily pay more for this level of service and as a technology influencer recommend their products to others.
Another tech company who I won’t name and shame made me jump through hoops for a failed hard drive warranty repair. Tens of hours
spent wasted with online chats, emails, phone calls, in store and despatching has left a sour taste for their brand. I will never buy or recommend any of their electronic goods because of inconsistent, poor customer service.
From these experiences I ask myself how can I use what I learned from these two competing companies to offer better customer service for my clients. The takeaway is: admit when there’s a problem, apologise, offer a fix ASAP, and then deliver on that promise. Naturally that’s just the right thing to do.
Room For Improvement
Whenever possible I let a business owner know when I’ve had a really good customer experience – especially for the sake of the employee. Far from perfect I’m always learning and striving to improve customer service. If you’re a client of mine I welcome your feedback, good or bad, on how I can improve your experience.