Saturday, January 13, 2007

You're My First

Do you remember your first time? I do. How you remember looking quizically when someone said to you "you're my first"? Did you think twice about the honesty of the statement? Consider that their interaction with you was just a little too good. Their words an tone just a little to well said? Question, as Stephen Colbert puts it, the Truthiness of what was said? I do.

Now, don't get your dander up. In fact, get your mind out of where it is. I am not talking about the most intimate of intimates, I am talking about the first time a client said to you "you know, you're the first person who insisted on being paid for this photo assignment. Usually we get paid from photographers who want to shoot for us, and, if they're lucky, they get a photo credit in 6pt type, depending upon the whim of the designer, and if they like your name."

Sounds silly when put like that, doesn't it? Yet you hear variations on that "no, we own what you shoot, you're the first photographer to object to that." Or, "well, we don't pay expenses, it's $250 flat, and all your expenses have to come out of that total figure, you're the first person who has said they can't work within that budget."

Just because someone says that something they tell you is "standard", or no one has ever objected to a clause before, doesn't mean you have to accept it, or can't negotiate it. Everything is negotiable.

From "pay by" periods, to placement of photo credit, to receipt requirements, everything is negotiable. Period.

Please post your comments by clicking the link below. If you've got questions, please pose them in our Photo Business Forum Flickr Group Discussion Threads.

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Friday, January 12, 2007

Wise Words for your Client Dialog - When there's a problem or Question

Woe be the photographer who does not respect the value of customer service as a key to their longevity in the business. Your choice of words can make a big difference when dealing with clients and ensure that you keep them coming back. Consider these two sets of sentiments, from the book Customer Service for Dummies:

Just choosing how you convey these simple sentiments can make a world of difference during your brief client interaction on the phone when you are working to resolve a client concern or get information that may not be readily available.

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Thursday, January 11, 2007

At least the Hypocrite Knows Right from Wrong

I have a great regard for photojournalist P.F. Bentley. Back in 1989, when I was a young, inexperienced buck, I ran across P.F. in San Francisco while I was covering the San Francisco Earthquake and he and I talked for awhile. We looked on with amazement as another photojournalist took some "police line do not cross" yellow tape and moved it so it looked better in her photo. We both shook our heads at this ethical breach, yet I was probably more shaking my head because PF was, not because I disagreed, but because, I was taking a que from him, as he affirmed what I knew to be wrong.

PF was celebrated by the President of Time in this article, which reads, in part, "...Gingrich's heady first 100 days were documented close-up by TIME's prizewinning photographer P.F. Bentley. "P.F.'s passion is recording history as it happens," says picture editor Michele Stephenson. "He has great instincts, and he gets rare access because his subjects trust him."

Yet, this trust seemed to actually not carry much weight with the folks at Time, when they devolved their contract with onerous additional rights demands without increasing compensation to their contributors several years back. PF was chosen by the Time contract photographers around March of 2000 to handle negotiations regarding the new contract, which he did, full time for four months, without pay, on behalf of all the contractors (who were able to remain out earning a living completing assignments), and in that proposed contract they raised the day rate by only about $200 (a nominal increase from where it had remained stagnant since the mid 1970's). The contract also had an overbearing rights grab that was not fair. When discussions broke down, and the contractors were talking the talk, both PF and Dirck put their money where their mouth was. Many of the loudest voices of objection to the new contract simply chickened out and caved, and PF and Dirck stood their ground. It didn't make sense for Time to have taken that stand and they lost out. PF either got some well deserved time off, or was (more than likely) booked by others who knew what he brought to the table.

However, most of those that looked up to PF, sought his counsel, followed his lead, or otherwise considered him someone to aspire to be like, chose not to stand in solidarity with him, also objecting to the new contract. They were quick to see this not as an opportunity to do the right thing, but rather, an opportunity to get all those assignments that PF would no longer be doing. I was not one of them. PF did the right thing, and as I was looking to grow my assignment load, I made not one attempt to secure assignments from Time because in doing so, I would be dismissing the actions-as-silent-advice I was getting from PF. Once again, PF and I were standing there at a dinner in Washington discussing the matter some ten or so years later, shaking our heads again, as a line was wrongly being crossed, this time, it wasn't a yellow-taped police line, it was moral line, hypocrites all of them, knowing they shouldn't be doing so, but doing it none-the-less.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Border Bound

I'm heading to Texas -- to the Professional Photographer's of America gathering known as ImagingUSA, where I will be presenting on, what else? Best Business Practices for Photographers. My Monday session, January 15, causes me to be an early riser that day, but I am excited about this presentation. To learn more, visit

Please post your comments by clicking the link below. If you've got questions, please pose them in our Photo Business Forum Flickr Group Discussion Threads.

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Commentary on Dilbert Commentary

Dilbert, so synonymous with office/job malaise, that The Dilbert Effect term has been coined, and used countless times to describe dissatisfaction with one's job, or station in life.

This week marks two years when, around January 12, of 2005, Dilbert's sights were aimed squarely at the freelance photographer in this series of three strips. I would have made a more timely comment at that time, yet what I had to say was limited to my encouraging my colleagues to get the paper and check it out. Here, in this forum, I can now share my commentary beyond just those few phone calls. Here's the series of strips :

Why is this? Because, sadly, freelancers are being forced from their chosen profession, and into desk jobs. Now, if you work a desk job, that's cool, because you are doing what you love to do there, but, if you're a freelance photographer, riding a desk is not what you want to do. These Dilbert strips illustrate that the phenomenon of freelancers leaving photography is not uncommon. Certainly it had reached a point where the concept became funny and would appeal to the mass audience that the strip reaches.

Freelancers will quickly, as the strip points out, have a hard time adapting, and so, an attention to the business realities that surround photography will ensure that you can remain "wild and unsupervised", "free-ranging" as Dilbert so eloquently put it.

Ed. While the display of this image is a commentary on the strip, and thus, "fair use" should apply, we took the cautious step and secured permission to display these strips from Universal Features Syndicate's clearing house, for those of you who might be wondering. J.H.

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Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Teachable moments

There are times where you are more succepible to learning-and retaining-knowledge than others. Take the proverbial parent who said to me once "Johnny, don't touch that hotplate, it's hot. That's what cooks the pancakes." and what did I do? Defiantely looked at my mother square in the eyes, and put my hand on it. Lesson learned.

It's when you sign a contract with bad terms in it that you learn not to do it again. It's when you estimate an assignment for a portrait that is outdoors and that you will be using a large softbox on it, and you don't include an assistant to keep hold of the soon-to-be airborne softbox, lightstand, and flash head, that you learn to always book atleast one assistant for an outdoor assignment. It's a costly mistake to repair that head, one that you cannot pass on to the client and must now absorb.

When you encounter a client who may not understand just why you've got a web exclusion in your contract, why you charge for post production services, why because they hired you doesn't mean they own the resulting work outright, or why your rates are what they are, this is not the time to get flustered. Take the time to explain, thoughtfully and courtesously, exactly why.

This, however, requires a strong grasp of the reasons. "...because everyone else does..." is not going to float, nor is "...because that's always the way we've done it..." going to cut it.

Explaining, for example, that the use of photography in a company or organization's web site is almost always going to be considered an electronic brochure, and as such, will require model releases from everyone in the photos, just as a printed brochure or advertisement would, will not only give the client a reason to take to their boss or their end-client your understandable reasoning, but will engender in your clients mind the fact that you are a professional and are knowledgable about the rights and responsibilities of producing photography for client use. Further pointing out to clients that you are, in fact, protecting them from a seemingly innoncent misuse of someone's likeness because you are precluding the use of your photograph in that way, and the sharing of these insights is an integral part of the services you offer as a professional photographer. In all of our estimates, we include the URL so that clients can review this as well as provide this link to their senior staff of end-client which has always lead to a greater understanding by all.

Sometimes, it takes consideration by an organization's attorneys to concur with our position, but always the client comes away having experienced a teachable moment, and we have grown our relationship with our client.

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Monday, January 8, 2007

Recommended Online Columns & Resources

  • Mark Loundy's Common Cents column on the photo business. Loundy updates this column monthly, and it appears in not only in the NPPA's News Photographer magazine, but also on the website Digital Journalist.

  • David Hobby's Strobist blog about off-camera lighting by Baltimore Sun photographer. Hobby presents a frequently updated site with a lot of great information.

  • Sportshooter, a site devoted to sports photography (and has expanded to all aspects beyond it)

  • ProPhoto Resource, a good site with a lot of information which sticks to the standard that highly regarded Will Crockett contributes to.

  • Photo Forums, another good site with information about the business of photography

  • Pro Photo Community, the well regarded archives of the Rob Galbraith site, has been taken over by these folks.

  • Photo District News' photo business forum is also a good resource as well.

What with all the above resources, one might wonder how and why this forum exists. Well, it's different. Simply, it's not so much a place where a Q&A takes place, but rather, much like a column in a newspaper or magazine, a place where I, the columnist can share with some insights -- some timely, others timeless. In addition, I will endeavor to expand this list.

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