A tangential answer to a reader request and a revisitation of a good book about the marketing and business side of commercial photography.

After the (unexpected) success of my first two books the folks at Amherst Media asked me to try my hand at writing a book about Commercial Photography. I was happy to oblige because I felt that after two practice rounds I had finally found my voice and, after nearly thirty years of being in and around the business, I felt pretty certain that I finally understood the things that worked (for me) and the things that didn't.

I had experienced professional photography from the other (client) side having spent nearly eight years working with photographers as a creative director in an ad agency. I understood the issues of copyright and licensing after having been indoctrinated for years by the ASMP and having recently served as a chapter president.

While the book was enthusiastically picked up by several colleges as a primer on the business of photography the more generally audiences seemed to be underwhelmed by the whole idea. And I guess it's fair because so many of my readers don't do photography for a living. Why should they soldier through the ins and outs?

But today, after a post on Fear, which was a thinly veiled post on marketing, Malcolm (a VSL stalwart) suggested that I pen a book on the subject. So this post is my response. It's my way of saying, "I already did" and I like it the very best of all the books I've written and illustrated for Amherst Media and wish it had the mighty sales legs of the Minimalist books.

If you want to be a photographer, or you run any sort of small service business, you might really enjoy and benefit from reading it. I think it reads-----nicely.

If you are dead set against works of non-fiction I can happily point you to the novel, THE LISBON PORTFOLIO. Either way we can hardly go wrong.

I'm loving the bidding posts on APhotoEditor! Wanna see how a well regarded photographer bids corporate jobs?

Tune in here: http://www.aphotoeditor.com/2014/08/11/pricing-and-negotiating-executive-portraits-for-a-large-agency/

Wonderful Machine ( a repping and photographer consulting firm) opens the trench coat to reveal a bid for a large, east coast, advertising agency who needed to hire a photographer to make executive portraits exactly the best way possible.

I'm both a little jealous by the wonderful-ness of the job but I am also more motivated (after reading) to make sure that my fees go up year after year and my tolerance for budget jobs goes down year after year.

The actual posted bid is the most interesting part of the article but it's sure nice to also see the thought process....

Come back here and let me know what you think in the comments!

Kirk (who is currently pricing too low!) Tuck.

Regression to the Prime(s).

Zeiss 80mm Planar on a Sony a77. Delicious combo.

Happens every time. I get a new camera from a new company and I start reading all the propaganda about how great their high speed zoom lenses are. When I shot with Canon, Nikon and Sony I drooled over and bought those fast zooms. How could I not when everyone else was doing so? The promise is always the same: a wide range of "must have" focal lengths instantly at my service, coupled with a maximum aperture that seems fast enough to do almost anything. And here's the sad part: Every time I ponied up and bought the holy trinity of fast zooms I found myself, one or two jobs later, pining for the primes.

Yes, the 16 or 17mm to 35mm f2.8 zooms seem sharp enough but are they sufficiently well corrected to be used for what I think they should be used for (architecture and technical work)? Invariably not. And I hardly need a wide zoom to photograph people. I would almost always be better off with the well corrected prime lens. Perhaps a nice 21mm f 2.8 Zeiss? Then, when I'm playing around with the longer zooms it always seems to me that f2.8 on an 85mm prime or a 100mm prime gives me a little extra pop and sparkle, a bit more bite than the wide open apertures of the 70-200mm behemoths.  Not to mention that there are times when one actually wants to experiment with what happens visually when we use our fast primes at or near their widest apertures. None of this takes into consideration the comfortable formalism of being cosseted by not having to choose variations in focal lengths...

I bought a Nikon D7100 a week or so ago with the idea of using it for quick events with on camera flash. Nikon's flash system has always been really good. I figured the camera, along with the 18-140mm zoom lens would be a great "grip and grin" system for walking around in dark conference halls and gala ballrooms making flash lit snapshots. No question that the focus is quick and the files are great. But within a day of buying the camera and zoom there I was, back to pick up an AF 50mm (even though I have  drawer of fun, manual focus 50's.).  And then a couple days later for a 35mm lens. I just like the way prime focal lengths work with my brain.

I have a Samsung camera that was sent to me for evaluation and it came with a nice 18-55mm zoom lens and a very competent 50-200mm zoom lens. I shot a bunch of "test" frames with the NX30 camera and the zooms and the images were good but I quickly got bored and put the camera in a drawer. Then I started getting unexpected boxes via Fed Ex. First came a 30mm f2, which got my attention. It's a fun lens and close to the 50mm focal length on a 35mm film camera. It was the lens that made me pull the camera back out of the drawer. But the fun quotient jumped up ten notches when the next box came and it had an 85mm f1.4 NX lens inside. Now the camera and the small collections of primes is packed in an Airport Security wheeled case for use on a job tomorrow. No question, the zooms would do the job well enough but the primes do it with added fun.

This is not a new phenomenon for me or anyone else who shoots both for fun and business. We're always covering the bases and then dropping in a bigger dose of fun. And it's usually all about the lenses. Take my Panasonic system as an example. I made my initial lens selection when I bought the GH4 and it included the 12-35mm f2.8, the 35-100mm f2.8 and the 7-14mm f4.  All great lenses and all more than enough for my use in still photography and video productions. But I just had to add those unique and quite sharp Sigma dn Art lenses (19, 30 and 60mm). Then I realized that I really wanted a fast 85-90mm equivalent so I grabbed one of the Olympus 45mm 1.8's. But that made me realize that a nice, two lens, travel and art system would be well served by tossing in a 17mm f1.8. The 45mm and the 17mm do make a nice duo but they are both well balanced by the addition of the 25mm f1.4. And so it goes.

When I pack the bags for work I tend to take the zooms. When I pack the bag for fun I tend to take the primes. Rarely do I pack both. When it comes to shooting I think I have the most binary brain. It's always this or that but never both. It's either an assortment of primes or two wide ranging zooms on two bodies. It all seems easier if you can start the day making that overarching choice and ignoring whatever you chose to leave behind.

When I need to go bare bones it always makes sense to consider a wide angle to short tele zoom as a sole optic but it never works that way for me. Maybe it's my history and habit born of repetition but if I can only bring one body and one lens it's invariably a prime that finally, after an agonizing selection process, makes it onto the camera and, nine times out of ten, it's a 50mm equivalent. Something about balance. Anything wider is too wide. Anything longer is too constricting.

When it all gets distilled down my taste in cameras and lenses is all about regression to the prime.

The Business of Photography and Fear.

It is so easy to become paralyzed by fear. Especially in a fragile, freelance business where nothing is certain and change is always on the menu, and the menu is always on fire.

Will the clients send the checks they promised? Is the marketing working? Will the economy tank again? Will your skill set become obsolete? Have you hedged your bets? Will your bookie break your legs?

Through my many years of hard won experience I can now tell you the answers:

Yes, some clients will send the checks they promised, right on time. No, some clients will always need to be cajoled, reminded and prodded to get a check to you and those are the first ones you cut loose and never work with again. Why? because they help fan the fires of work anxiety and you don't need em. Find the clients who keep their promises and nurture and respect them by always keeping your promises.

Is the marketing working?  Yes. No. Maybe. Good marketing is consistent and it's done over time not in sporadic binges. The marketing itself doesn't bring in signed contracts it brings you an invitation to come in and pitch in person. But you have to ask if you want to be invited in. Marketing is the introduction. Some of your marketing won't connect with the markets. Some will. The most important parts of the puzzle are to craft materials that show the benefits of your work to the client and to do this consistently. They want to know how you can help them and not the other way around. In advertising circles there is an old saying from clients: "Only half of my advertising works. If I only knew which half I could save a lot of money..."

Good marketing identifies client needs and offers products, services and features which benefit them.

Will the economy tank again? Yes, probably the split second you get yourself out of debt, get into a groove working on your marketing plan, and feel like you've finally found your pace. But if you can make it through the trough okay you'll have no trouble riding the next wave. That's the trade off. When the market tanks again the one thing you really can't do is to stop marketing. The players who market in the depths of the downturns aren't using marketing to look for work tomorrow they are making sure they are well positioned to ride the next wave.

Will your skill set become obsolete? No. Visual talent and good taste never go out of style. Yes. Everything we do now will need to be re-framed in a new way just minutes down the road. We had to learn the mechanics of digital imaging but digital cameras didn't change the way we saw. We had to learn the technical side of non-linear video editing but the new approach to technical issues didn't change the ever present need to tell good stories. Cameras and computers should be like water. They should swirl around the image and the story not BE the image or the story. Work on having a point of view. Work on crafting a narrative. Be flexible with the tools you use to record these treasures. Most people just have the tools. If your only mastery is of the tools then you sit precariously on the edge of constant obsolescence. If you can tell a story the tools are only tools....easily interchangeable.

Have you hedged your bets? Did you make those monthly contributions to the retirement account? If haven't you should know that crafty investors don't look at their retirement accounts so much as a final allowance to be carefully husbanded until the end but as a giant buffer against all kinds of lessons life delivers. The more you save the easier it is to say "no!" to bad clients and their bad work.
The more you have in the bank the easier it is to do good work. Did you start other businesses or pieces of business that are separate from your primary freelance business? It's nice to have a secondary source of income for those times when you need to spend a little while creating a new set tool set for the primary job. I write stuff. It makes life less scary when the photography business slows down.  If I couldn't write I would find something else. Make my own vodka. Own a laundry. Something unrelated.  Old wisdom says "invest in your business." New wisdom says, "Be diverse and spread the risks---and rewards."

Ah. the bookie. I'm betting most of us here don't gamble. Or at least don't gamble big. And certainly not with organized crime in the mix. But if you are running your own business you are already playing the odds and some are looking for the big pay off. I find that the business of photography is a long, long play with no big, unexpected payouts. It's the anti-lottery. You just pull on your boots everyday and go ride the fences of commerce and make sure your stock is healthy and the watering holes aren't dry.

Fear is a price we pay today for something that may never happen. It's good to be prepared. It's good to acknowledge risk and uncertainty, and it's certainly good to plan. But the way to deal with fear is to acknowledge the things that trigger fear and then move on. You'd never make payments on a car you'll never receive and that's how I try to look at fear and panic when they erupt in my brain. If I do my work as well as I can and I make decisions based on facts instead of emotion I generally have a fighting chance of talking myself out of the fear and anxiety and just do my work. When I finish each day I can stop and look over what I've done, figure out how to do it better tomorrow and then walk out the door----free and calm. At least that's the goal. Everyday.