I'm a sucker for eyes. Go figure. And an honesty is the best policy disclosure.

The late, great David Ogilvy was widely considered the ultimate godfather of modern advertising.  His agency was also among the first to scientifically test advertising.  According to Ogilvy, if you want to stop a reader of magazines dead in their tracks with an ad the sure fire method is to use an image of a person looking straight out at the reader.  It's human nature not to look away.  And it moves more readers to read headlines in print ads that any other technique.  That's why I love portraits.  And that's why my portrait subjects generally look directly into my camera.  In fact, I find it disturbing when the subjects of portraits look off to one side or the other.  I like an occasional profile but that's a rare pleasure like eating ribs.

I shot the image of Sarah above as a possible cover shot for my third book for Amherst Media.  There was another set that I liked even better that had Sarah on the pedestrian bridge spanning Lady Bird Lake here in Austin, Texas.  Let me see if I can find that.......Oh.  Here it is:

I shot this with a nice, soft diffuser right behind me blocking the direct, weak sun.  It was a 3/4 stop diffusion scrim from Westcott.  I never really heard why but the Publisher, Amherst Media, thought that the collage of images below was more suited to the subject matter.  And to a degree it is a more honest representation of what's in the book.  After all, the book has nothing to do with photographing beautiful women on bridges in central Texas.  It's a guidebook to actually make money doing things like taking photographs of beautiful women on bridges in central Texas.  I like the shot above pretty well but the people at Amherst know what they're doing and the book is selling well.  It's funny though.  Everyone I meet wants to become a professional photographer yet few of them have any interest at all in what I have to say about living through 25 years in the industry and making a good living year over year.  When I talk about marketing and advertising or billing (all things covered in this book) their eyes glaze over and they head over to the counter at our favorite coffee shop to order another strong drink.  

But when the conversation turns to gear everyone is all ears.  They want to know what kind of flash triggers I use and are routinely disappointed when I tell them that, most of the time, in the studio, I end up using a sync cord.  They want to know which camera art directors like best but they become disenchanted when I tell them that art directors are much more interested in the presentation of your portfolio images than by the gear you shoot with.  And when it comes to lights.....well you'd think Profoto was one of the original disciples.  

What is it about the whole subject of business that turns so many photographers off?  Is it the similarity to all the other businesses out there?  I guess people come to photography to escape what they see as a deadening routine.  They don't want to be told that, in order to be successful, they will have to do the same sort of week in and week out marketing that the dry cleaners and the coffee shops have to do.  People have to know where to find you, what you do and how you charge.

If you want to stay in this charming business you also have to know how to charge and how to license the rights to your photos without giving away the store.  But really,  most people flock to the business because they find the gear to be so much fun and the anticipation of shopping for and then buying even more gear even more fun.  This seems truly to be a business where nearly everyone seems to think the grass is always greener in the next photo system and once they buy brand X they immediately notice the emerald shade of green across the way at the other manufacturer's field.

So, I understand why my publisher chose to lead with the collage below.  It represents that subjects that are covered in the book.  They won't be blamed for bait and switch.  

I've done a  bunch of lighting workshops and a well received portrait workshop but now I'm thinking of doing a marketing and business workshop based on the subjects I cover in the third book.  I guess my question to all my readers is whether or not you think there would be any interest in this sort of workshop.  I suspect that the people who are already in the business will shy away for the same reason that owners of particular cameras feel duty bound to defend whichever choice they've already made.  If you just spent your yearly marketing budget on a page in Black Book (if it still exists) you probably don't want to be told that you could have stretched your dollars further in another area.  That leaves people who are in other fields who are thinking of switching.  And I don't think they'll be interested either since they are sure to be invested in the idea that it's a great and profitable business with more than enough profitable room for all comers.  The last thing they want to hear as they contemplate some sort of move is how hard the business has become and how much work they may have to do to become mildly successful.

At any rate, I'd love some feedback from the usual characters (whom I've come to count on for some really good and sometimes face-slappingly jarring advice).  Should I share my last few secrets?  Will anyone come to a workshop about writing contracts, personalizing model releases, dealing with billing and getting clients to pay you on time?  Will people be as excited figuring out a good marketing campaign as they are about opening the box surrounding a new D3s or 5Dmk2?

Or should I take the easy way out and keep doing the lighting workshops?  I guess everyone could just buy the book and be done with it but my wife, Belinda, constantly reminds me that everyone learns differently and for everyone who learns best from reading three or four learn best by watching and doing.

With that in mind I wanted to let everyone know two more things that are important to me.  First, the fourth book, Lighting Equipment, is at the printers and should be at Amazon and wherever else fine photographic books are sold, by the end of April or the beginning of May.  This book is a look at all the different tools you can use to customize your lighting so that, in the end, your photographs really look like your photographs. It's already available for presale at the big A.  I ordered one for my mom.  I hope she likes it. My favorite part of the book is the look at all the stuff they use in the movie industry.  Nice to know now that everyone is rushing to get their chops up to speed in the world of video.......

My other important thing is more in the way of a disclosure.  I want to always be honest with all you guys and I feel like any time a photographer develops a relationship with a camera manufacturer that goes beyond a hearty hello, the offer of a cup of Sprite at their booth and the surreptitious passing of a free lens cleaning cloth or two during a store visit by a rep, it's time to fess up and let people know. 

About a week ago the folks at Olympus approached me about being a speaker at the upcoming Photo Expo sponsored by Precision Camera and Video, here in Austin, Texas.  Happens in May.  Details to follow.  I'm going to put together a few slide shows and show my work and talk about the way in which I use Olympus cameras and lenses.  In exchange I'll get one or two pieces of gear that I always wanted to own but didn't want to dip into Ben's college account in order to afford. I can promise you that I won't be swayed by Olympus's largess but where you want to peg that on the credibility scale is now totally up to you.

And before you think this gives me any clout with Olympus remember two things:  I still don't have an EMA-1 microphone adapter for my EP2 cameras and second, I bought nearly all of my very cool Olympus gear long before anyone made me an offer I'd feel silly to refuse!!

Would it be over the top to point out that the image for the book cover just above was shot with an Olympus e3 and one of their really nice zoom lenses?  I didn't think so.

Want to know what I know about the business of photography?  Try this yummy book:


Michael Ferron said...

I'm tempted to give the E3 or E30 a try as both can be had for an attractive price but am a bit worried about dynamic range & noise at higher ISO's. Olympus lenses are said to among the best but still a bit worried over the performance of an older 510 body I once had. A constant fight to keep the highlights from clipping.

Nick Coyne said...

Hi Kirk. Love your writing. I'm busy reading your minimalist studio lighting book and wondering how much overlap there is with your new lighting equipment book. Is it a worthwhile addition?

On the topic of workshops, I think your primary audience for the biz stuff should be starting out photographers, and even those that are thinking about making that jump out of the cubicle-world. I'm in that category and would definitely consider it if I wasn't 10,000 miles away.

Kurt Shoens said...

Before I read the comments of your more insightful readers, let me ask why you put on the workshops? If you do them to share knowledge and be a good person, I think a business and marketing workshop would prevent some folks from failing in the photo biz. Good karma there.

On the other hand, if you're doing workshops to support your family, my guess is that the lighting stuff will be more successful. Consider that according to Amazon sales rank your "Minimalist Lighting" book outsells your "Commercial Photograph Handbook." "Hot Shoe Diaries" outsells John Harrington's "Best Business Practices."

To us beginners, lighting is simply magic. The business aspects feel more like cold hard reality. It's not surprising that people want to know about the magic and would prefer cast they eyes away from the realities.

Lots of people fantasize about self-employment. I bring myself back down to the ground through the examples of "dry cleaner" and "electrician" (my brother's one).

I don't understand the passion for gear. As I've gotten better stuff, the stuff has become less of an issue to me. It's as if the limitations of the kit have been removed so now the limitations are 100% my abilities instead of 99.9%. To some other people, new/improved gear doesn't seem to scratch the itch and they want ever more pixels, ISO, f-stop, reach, and watt-seconds.

Herman said...


I think there would be plenty of interest for a photography & business course.
I help run a major photoforum (well major for the netherlands, it is in Dutch) and twice a year there is such a workshop organized by one of our contributors. (completely seperate from the forum, but announces it on the forum and uses it as a way for people to register for the workshop).
It is a small event with around 15 people and it is always sold out.



Bernie Greene said...

Do I have an interest in a workshop on the business side? Totally Dude.

Unfortunately I'm a little far away, Sussex in England, but if you record it you may find a very good market for it.

Martin said...

I think you raise some very valid issues in this post, I personally think one of biggest impacts the advent of digital technology has brought forth is that everyone thinks they could be a photographer..

I mean this obviously in the job sense, this has occurred as a result of the improvement in technology, I have made a mantra of saying give a chimp an eos 1DSlll and it would turn out acceptable images, they may not be soul stirring but they will be correctly exposed etc..

The explosion of web based imagery has also been a catalyst for this, and yes I accept there are some very good photographers out there, but as you rightly point out photography as a business involves far more than just taking a picture. The flood of images has been instrumental in driving down prices for stock images, the photographic press don't assist in this area either. It is common place to see them asking for images to use but for non payment.

Developing any business means you have to be aware of the market you intend to aim for, how to generate interest in your product, whether or not to advertise, hidden costs, how to calculate your charges, and then the most important of all creating a customer base and then not letting them go off to another competitor.

The perfect blend would be to have a business partner to do all of this and allow you the photographer to just be an "artist" and create images. Unfortunately most folk don't fit the last bit so for me at least I think there is value in holding this sort of course, although given my distance from your good self there is very little chance I could ever attend..

Well done for the tie with Olympus, it's well deserved and as you say you have espoused worshiping at the four thirds shrine for some time so you are in no way prostituting your good self nor are you damaging your integrity.

Ed Z said...

If I were in Austin I'd love to see a more business oriented workshop. Heck, if the timing worked out I'd fly down for it :-) The book is great, but as mentioned I definitely learn better by watching/talking/brainstorming with folks I want to learn from

Honestly, I'm getting bored of the "gear stuff" I love my cameras, and I keeping up with all the new innovations in imaging technology, but right now I actually *am* really excited about the "business stuff" I would love to learn some tricks/techniques for effective marketing packages, client relations, mailings, cold calls, billing, contracts... the works.

That being said, I still think lighting workshops would be more profitable :-)

Bill Beebe said...

The most beautiful pair of eyes I ever fell in love with were former actress Natalie Woods. The second most beautiful belonged to my 12th grade English teacher, and she could have been Natalie Woods sister. I know what you mean about the eyes.

John Krumm said...

Kirk, are they proposing you be one of their Olympus "visionaries?" If so, I think you'd be in good company, and most of us Oly users wouldn't mind seeing a few shots with the 300mm 2.8 and 150 f2, not to mention the 90-250 2.8. If you start saying that the 4/3 cameras have much better noise control than the D3s we'll know you've gone over the line.

Keith said...

My Nikon's pixels can kick your wimpy Olympus'ass. Gear heads rock!

Mike Wilson said...

Thanks, Kirk!

Every pro-photographer I've met over the last few years has the same attitude towards gear. Canon? Nikon? (in my case) Pentax? Who cares? It's absolutely irrelevant. What's important is the image, and all of those cameras have the ability to get you to capture spectacular images. The equipment is just a tool.

I'm really looking forward to picking up the new books! I've enjoyed the two Minimalist Lighting books that I got over the holidays!

Mike said...

If you plan on doing one, and could possibly do it around the end of March, when I'm going to be in town . . . just sayin'.

I think I would definitely be interested in something like that. I think it's probably about as important as knowing which lens to select or which lighting style is in vogue at that particular time.

kirk tuck said...

John, just to clarify, I've just be asked to speak at a couple of fun expos in exchange for some gear. No talk of being a Visionary. Frankly, I don't think I've done enough really good work with the system to expect that yet. But I'd love to. Noise? What noise?

Jessica said...

Not sure if my opinion is worth much, but I think that a business oriented workshop is an excellent idea!

And I have some friends I need to visit in Austin, so let me know when you schedule it.

Brian said...

Hi Kirk,
Business is business.
Income in > Expenses out = Eat this week. :)

Executives can move from company to company and across different market sectors because marketing, accounting, legal, human resources, depreciation, taxes, overheads, partnerships, cash on hand, investments, rents, insurance, business loans, etc. change in detail but are generally the same. Most of those details are dry and can be overwhelming to people, but they are necessary if you want to maintain profitability. As you know, profitability allows you to buy food and clothes, make your house payment, pay for your kid’s braces, and not file for bankruptcy.

You may be looking more in general terms of marketing, sales, billing, and client relationships to keep a book below one volume or a seminar down to one day. Is there a small business seminar around that you may be able to tailor specifically to photography using your experiences? Maybe have one seminar for startups and one for more established businesses to address some of the different challenges for each.

The lighting and camera technique books and seminars are able to reach down into the audience of hobbyists and those new to photograph that know they aren’t going into the business so the potential market is larger from the start. Your Minimalist Lighting book is good for amateurs like me to help understand equipment needs and how light sources combine to make a final image. Plus, almost all of an amateur’s photos could be considered on location.

As for the gear, I'm here through a round about path from a gear forum (and your Minimalist Lighting book) after I bought a small Olympus DSLR and then spent too much on extra gear in an effort to get the camera to take better pictures. I was using the tool as a crutch and was frustrated with the number of photos that looked worse than those from a point and shoot for the money I was investing. I stopped buying gear and read a book or two instead. I put the camera in manual mode, practiced techniques, and paid more attention to what I was doing. I think there is a reason that a lot of photography 101 classes still require a manually operated, 35mm film camera, with a 50mm lens. It keeps the gear out of the way of learning. It did me good to learn that lesson early.

Janne Morén said...

I think you've got two pieces of reality going against your idea:

* The number of people that want to become better photographers is a lot larger than the number of people that want to make a living by becoming better photographers. That alone means the audience is much larger for a book about photography than about the photography business.

If you are a professional photographer then it's easy to think all photographers wants to become professional too. You find your own work amazingly rewarding and assume everybody else does (I'm a researcher and I'm at a loss why not everybody wants to become a scientist). You of course tend to meet other people that want to do what you do, while people that don't will be less likely to approach you. So judging interest from your personal experience can be quite misleading.

* When you write a photography book you compete with other photography books. When you write a small-business book you compete with other small-business books. You do well with photography books because you are a better photographer than most of your competition. But are you so much better at the business side than most other small businessmen that you can compete in the business-book field?

Anonymous said...

Keith, I heard there's one little shop off the Ginsu in Tokyo that sells raw pixels which are then painstakingly distributed across each manufacturer's sensors with very, very small tweezers. Like most things in life there are many grades of pixels. The very best pixels obviously go to Leica and then they are sorted in a hierarchy of quality and sold accordingly. Olympus is able to make such great small sensor cameras because they are second in line behind Leica. The pixels they choose are exemplary and so fewer of them are needed and they are small enough to fit on an optimum sensor size. Of course Nikon and Canon are only able to snap up remnants so they've had to make their sensors bigger to compensate for the poor selection of "b" stock pixels.

They make up with size and in some cases, quantity. It's a very sad state of affairs but there you have it.

Now the Oly and Leica people, having used the top pixels have to design incredible lenses to go with them. The Nikon and Canon people have the luxury of using whatever so-so glass they can eke out because they know that sharpness and acutance will largely go un-noticed.

kirk tuck said...

Janne, that's really good logic. Enough to make me rethink the benefits of undertaking a business workshop. thanks for some really good and "to the point" logic.

jefflynchdev said...

Q: Will anyone come to a workshop about writing contracts, personalizing model releases, dealing with billing and getting clients to pay you on time?

A: Perhaps, but do you really want to share business secrets with "potential" competitors? I'm all for teaching, mentoring and sharing my photographic experiences and techniques but if there's one thing I've learned (again) in the past two years, it's the business side of this business that makes or breaks a photographic career over the long haul. But if you do decide to hold a "photography business" workshop, count me in. You're a braver man than I am. :-)

Q: Will people be as excited figuring out a good marketing campaign as they are about opening the box surrounding a new D3s or 5Dmk2?

A: Not a chance. Gear lust runs deeper than almost any other emotion in Photography. But then, that's not such a bad thing in today's economy. While folks oogle the latest in gear I'd be happy to pick your brain about expanding my customer list.

Finally: I wouldn't worry too much about having a sponsor. Olympus makes very nice gear as most OEMs do these days and there's nothing wrong with telling folks your own, honest opinions about that gear. I think the folks at Olympus would be crazy not to work out some arrangement with you. I have a great relationship with the folks at CPS. I tell them my lens is back focusing and they tell me it's not the lens, it's my eyes. :-)

Mel said...

Frankly, my experience with new business owners is they need one-on-one guidance to deal with the daily hard work of making and running a business. A day or two at a seminar isn't enough time to get grounded in the details and management aspects of making the business run consistently and smoothly. I think your time would be better spent counseling a few photographers across the country who are serious about taking on the responsibility of running a photography business and contributing to the craft in a financial as well as artistic sense.

Dennis Elam said...

I am attending an 'art' class entitled seeing creatively. I discussed my project for promoting my class on accounting. While the group has discussed intellectual property, clearly they were bored with accounting as though it had nothing to do with promoting their craft, yet several people clearly wanted to sell their goods. Accounting is a system of controls designed tp produce results. As Mel says above, a day or two at a seminar will not likely connect them to the idea of a system, as he says, that runs consistently and smoothly. Marketing in fact dovetails with accounting but neither discipline talks to one another.

One writer observed that there are lots of car magazines but no refrigerator monthly, even though we all use refrigerators. There are lots of business magazines but publications like Forbes seem more concerned with the who the 400 richest are rather than how they got there. And so it is, we like to read about cars and cameras but not the harder craft of blending accounting with marketing to achieve results.
Even more amazing since I attended your portrait workshop is that photo magazines are all over new cameras but have little to say about lighting technique. People would like to think there is a magic bullet of a camera that will produce results. I suppose this is why more people are in leadership courses than accounting courses, leadership sounds like fun, but accounting and marketing systems, gee that sounds like work.
Reserve me a front seat at the upcoming Olympus seminar in Austin, I mean this camera stuff is fun .....

Neil Gaudet said...

Hey Kirk

Can you make them release the E5 already? :)

mike murrow said...


As far as workshops go, I'm pretty comfortable with my ability to light an image. Not to say that I'm stellar at it but rather I have a certain look I like and know how to get it.

I would be VERY interested in a marketing workshop. But I'm inclined to believe your workshop would be oriented toward commercial shooters where as I am a lifestyle/wedding photographer (well, trying to be). So in as much as the marketing/business workshop would be relevant to the kind of business I want to be in I would be interested.

Honestly, I could give a popcorn fart about gear. Some of my best work (and most praised by clients) was shot on gear that would draw condescending chuckles from other photographers. Enough with gear and technique. What I don't know how to do is market myself to the clients I want to shoot for.

Anonymous said...

I think you could also do a great workshop on getting books published. What number are you up to? What's next?

Ct Photo said...

Kirk I would think a workshop on evolving business models would be a good idea. The marketplace has changed dramatically over the last 20 years and you have been in the trenches all that time.

roteague said...

I'd be curious to hear what you think about the new Ektar 100. I've shot it in 35mm, but not done any portraits with it.

jason gold said...

Kirk, your site is simply amazing. Week after week, gems for all to see and read. I've done everything from school photography to heavy fashion..Later I decided to go back to the real world and photojournalism. Now my equipment cupboard got bigger and bigger as I "needed" more lenses, bodies, formats. Then I became "profound" almost grew a beard..and suddenly my world changed. The doors of the internet. Truthfully time will one day be marked BC,AD,CDE.. and "after internet arrived". AIA. Yup! I needed stuff for internet sites. Being mean, seeing no future in the whole mess, I spent as little as possible about 5 years ago. The scans of the time from my films were a disaster. So with a budget of $250.oo I succumbed to the digital era. A Pentax Optio, rechargeable AA's, a memory card(64MB !) a card reader and I was doing and sending stuff. I stayed with tiny cameras, the Pentax still working, added a Canon Supershot for $107.incl tax. last Christmas. I have almost forgotten about my Leicas,Nikon and Pentaxes..I adore these little wonders. Carry spare batteries, a memory card or two, the charger(for a long shoot)and I can shoot till next month.The Point and shoots have traveled all over the world.
No big bag, no extra lights,no heavy tripod. I am free. I am enjoying every moment. Would I use a DSLR.. maybe but not right now.PS. Scanning still sucks. TY again.