Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Photographer's Assistant

I'm not trying to mirror this great article - Ask Sports Shooter: Assisting by Jordan Murph, over at SportsShooter, but it got me to thinking. We use A LOT of assistants. So many, that we have former assistants running the office, managing all our post production, and as our special projects manager. When we travel, we've picked up local assistants in dozens of cities nationwide. We sure do see our fair share. One special shout out to one awesome one - John Birk. He's Philly-based, but is more than happy to travel. He's got it down. Cleans sensors (after asking if you want him to), anticipates what you need before you need it, and knows when to speak, and when to keep quiet. Oh, and he knows carry-on regulations so well he saved me from having to check my ThinkTank Airport Security full of cameras/lenses with a size change for a recent trip to the Baltics. AND, oh right, he can get you gear shipped to you when you have a problem...wait, this isn't about John, but you should use him in Philly for sure. This is about what makes a good assistant, and the path you can travel when you start that way.

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In addition to that link, here are two good books with information - The Photographer's Assistant Handbook, and then there's The Photographer's Assistant. Both are excellent resources, but you'll have to look past the references to film, as they were written in 2000 and 2001 respectively. Yet, the message points on things like "be seen and not heard, oh, and really, don't be seen either"; "when 'we' forget something, the assistant was the one who forgot it"; and "when the client asks your opinion, yours is whatever the photographers' is, even if the photographer hasn't given his yet", and so many more things.

If you're looking to find an assistant, visit this link at the ASMP website which lists all their chapters nationwide. Each chapter not only has a "Find a Photographer" listing, but most, if not all, have "Find an Assistant" listing, or they have a list of assistants on their website. No list? Call one of the photographers there and you'll find they know who the best ones are. So too, APA has a link to locate an assistant on their national website - here.

Make no mistake though, the Photographer's Assistant is NOT an Assistant Photographer. An assistant photographer is often also called a second photographer, a backup shooter, and so forth. If you are working for a photographer and you have a camera in hand that will deliver images to the client, you're an Assistant Photographer. If you are unpacking gear, setting up lights, driving, getting food, making photos/video of the shoot in progress and/or the setup for the photographer's use, holding an umbrella over the client's head, pulling power, and so forth, then you are the photographer's assistant.

Then there's the second, and the third. On large shoots, you have the First Assistant, Second Assistant, and sometimes a Third Assistant. After that, anyone assisting on set is usually called a Production Assistant. The First Assistant often travels with the photographer, and knows what the photographer wants, needs, and so forth. The second sometimes travels, but is often picked up locally. When you're the second assistant, you do what the First tells you. When you're the Third, again almost always picked up locally, you do what the Second tells you. Neither the Second nor the Third should be going to the photographer for anything. Go to the First.

Many photographers got their start as assistants, but not all. Then, there are people who never want to be photographers but really just love assisting - these are known as "professional assistants". To each their own, I say. Here's a 30 second vignette - Photography Assistant, but here's a really funny (and true) video about being a PA on a movie - PA Stories Episode 1 - The First Day; then there's the video "A Foot In The Door" with a hilarious "Mocha Run" scene.

What does a photographer's assistant make? It ranges from about $100 a day, to upwards of $300 or so. And that's usually for a 10-hour day.

The bottom line - you're there to make the photographers' life easier; make the photographer look better; remember everything that the photographer forgot; know what the photographer needs before they need it; load and unload all the gear - yourself; get up early & stay up late; make sure the photographer is awake; and whatever else the photographer says to do. Seriously, that's not an exaggeration.

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Friday, October 10, 2008

CosmoGirl - Good Riddance!

Daryl Lang over at PDNPulse - Breaking News: CosmoGirl To Fold - reports of the demise of CosmoGirl. Good Riddance I say.

Several years ago, I was speaking with a photographer who shared with me the response they got from a photo editor there, when they inquired to him about an image they wanted to use of his:

"Dear XXXX,

We really like the photo you sent, and think it's a great fit for the story. As to your question about payment, we don't pay to run photos, but we do provide a photo credit...."

Needless to say, his photo didn't run, because they were not paying. This publisher clearly wanted to improve their bottom line on the backs of creatives, and so, to that end, I say as they finally fail - GOOD RIDDANCE.

Word to the wise for photo editors making those demands of photographers: Don't do it. Stand up for the creatives you want to - or are - working for. You know that as your pool of free photos dies up, the quality of your content will diminish, and so to, the quality of samples of your work for future jobs.

I have little compassion for photo editors who, while they had their staff jobs, took advantage of photographers to get free and cheap work, and now are out of a job.

(Comments, if any, after the Jump)

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Proverbs & You

"A proverb is no proverb to you till your life has illustrated it."

~John Keats(1795-1821)


"Nothing ventured, nothing gained."

Enter Silicon Alley Insiders' piece - Sorry, Startups: Party's Over (10/9/08) which demonstrates the need to lower your burn-rate the "equivalent to 'raising an internal round' through cost reductions to buy you more time until you need to raise money again; hopefully when fund raising is more feasible."

When will that happen?
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Who the hell knows. It ain't gonna be soon, that's for sure.

All this belt-tightening is hitting many of us. For example, I've had on the burner a project to install a 20Kw generator to operate my business in the event of a power loss. Clients in California don't understand when there's no power in our offices in DC because of foul weather. While we are proceeding with the planning and estimation phase, until we see what the future holds, we won't be signing on the dotted line. When we have that available revenue, the plan will be in place to execute.

"Everyone must row with the oars he has."

You can expect colleagues looking to get the next line of equipment coming out to delay until there's more stability, and clients are calling more frequently.

Clients too will be delaying non-critical projects, which means fewer assignments for everyone.

"A penny saved is a penny earned."

But be patient, as:

"All good things come to those who wait."

And lastly:

"The early bird may get the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese."

As your life begins to illustrate these proverbs, Enjoy your weekend.

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Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Photojournalists Tired of Corporate Run Media Outlets?

If you're tired of Corporate America running your news media outlet - get over it! when you take that buyout (and far more than needed to took the recent rounds at the NJ Star Ledger, they needed 200 (more than a quarter) and they got 330 applications to take the buyout, which is roughly one half of the newsroom staff, according to the WSJ - Star-Ledger, L.A. Times Slice Costs Further) get used to the real world where you have to earn more than you spend, profits matter, ROI's matter, and so on, and so forth.

What's changed?

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Very little. If your aspiration is to be the next Ida Tarbell, it ain't gonna happen in today's news media. It might on your own blog, but not in the mainstream media.

Everyone wants the next Pulitzer - right? Guess what? Profiteering journalists have been around since Joseph Pulitzer was one of two people that originated - by embodying it - yellow journalism:
From Wikipedia:
The term originated during the Gilded Age with the circulation battles between Joseph Pulitzer's New York World and William Randolph Hearst's New York Journal. The battled peaked from 1895 to about 1898, and historical usage often refers specifically to this period. Both papers were accused by critics of sensationalizing the news in order to drive up circulation, although the newspapers did serious reporting as well.
Yes, friends, for-profit journalism has been around that long - in fact, likely much longer, and the holy grail of journalism - the Pulitzer, was fully endowed with profits - yes, profits - from yellow journalism.

The venerable Washington Post was sold at auction in a bankruptcy sale in 1933 by a member of the Federal Reserve's Board of Governors (sound familiar these days?), and just recently it was announced at the Washington Post Co's annual meeting that it was no longer a media company, it was an educational company, because of the majority of profits that came from places like their Kaplan testing and training services. Even for the Post - it was all about profits.

When you leave the safe cocoon of the staff world, where there is an alternate reality about what it costs to maintain a photographer, gear, computers, car, desk, software, support, health insurance, and so forth, you'll get smacked upside the head with the realities of the real world. We try to be helpful here and give you all the tools to make it, but you gotta apply those insights, not just shake your head and mutter under your breath - "yeah, I know, I gotta do something about that..." and keep doing the same unwise things you've been doing. SportsShooter has had two really interesting stories recently about this - Allen Murabayashi's "How To Fail As A Photographer", and Zach Honig's "Moving On: A Career Outside Photography", both about the harsh realities of being freelance.

For those of you with Tarbellian aspirations, build your own niche, try to attract a following, and either have a trust fund, or other profitable ventures to underwrite your venture. To date, the one outlet I have seen that really is making a go of it is Brian Storm's MediaStorm, where he's making a difference with his stories. But make no mistake, Brian's got staff payroll, and bills to pay. He's making a profit too.

Profit is not a four-letter word. Free, for credit only, we can't pay for photos, and lies of that ilk are far more offensive than many things that are defined as profane.

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Tuesday, October 7, 2008

UPDATED: Shame On Thank You, Yahoo!

In what can only be described as a tool to incur repetative breaches of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA), Yahoo (NASDAQ:YHOO) yesterday produced a tool that will purposefully strip out textual metadata, which includes copyright management information, ownership information, captions, and so forth, from images.

CNET reports (Yahoo web tool speeds up image shrinking, 10/6/08) on Smush It:

The operations Smush It can do include: convert GIF images to the PNG format; reduce the range of colours used in PNG files; strip out textual metadata from JPEG images.
If you're a lawyer representing photographers, you've got to be singing "Oh...happy day!"
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A read of the DMCA (THE DIGITAL MILLENNIUM COPYRIGHT ACT OF 1998, U.S. Copyright Office Summary, 12/98), page 6 lays out the problems this technology has:
Integrity of Copyright Management Information
New section 1202 is the provision implementing this obligation to protect the integrity of copyright management information (CMI). The scope of the protection The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 is set out in two separate paragraphs, the first dealing with false CMI and the second with removal or alteration of CMI. Subsection (a) prohibits the knowing provision or distribution of false CMI, if done with the intent to induce, enable, facilitate or conceal infringement. Subsection (b) bars the intentional removal or alteration of CMI without authority, as well as the dissemination of CMI or copies of works, knowing that the CMI has been removed or altered without authority.

It goes on to define CMI:
Subsection (c) defines CMI as identifying information about the work, the author, the copyright owner, and in certain cases, the performer, writer or director of the work, as well as the terms and conditions for use of the work, and such other information as the Register of Copyrights may prescribe by regulation. Information concerning users of works is explicitly excluded.
There can be little doubt that this well intentioned product, designed to speed downloads, will in fact, speed you into multiple DMCA violations.

In fact, checking Section 1201 of the DMCA:
Sec. 1201. Circumvention of copyright protection systems, subsection 3:
(b) ADDITIONAL VIOLATIONS- (1) No person shall manufacture, import, offer to the public, provide, or otherwise traffic in any technology, product, service, device, component, or part thereof, that--
`(A) is primarily designed or produced for the purpose of circumventing protection afforded by a technological measure that effectively protects a right of a copyright owner under this title in a work or a portion thereof;
`(B) has only limited commercially significant purpose or use other than to circumvent protection afforded by a technological measure that effectively protects a right of a copyright owner under this title in a work or a portion thereof; or
`(C) is marketed by that person or another acting in concert with that person with that person's knowledge for use in circumventing protection afforded by a technological measure that effectively protects a right of a copyright owner under this title in a work or a portion thereof.
`(2) As used in this subsection--
`(A) to `circumvent protection afforded by a technological measure' means avoiding, bypassing, removing, deactivating, or otherwise impairing a technological measure; and
`(B) a technological measure `effectively protects a right of a copyright owner under this title' if the measure, in the ordinary course of its operation, prevents, restricts, or otherwise limits the exercise of a right of a copyright owner under this title.
Thus, you need not even have registered your work, under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. §§ 1201 or §§ 1202, in order to be eligible to bring a civil (or criminal) suit. A great resource and FAQ on this: Chilling Effects.) In fact, it didn't take long for the US Department of Justice to indict a company for a "1201" violation (First Indictment Under Digital Millennium Copyright Act Returned Against Russian National, Company, in San Jose, California, 8/28/01):
The United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California announced that Elcom Ltd [was] indicted today by a federal grand jury in San Jose, California on five counts of copyright violations... The DMCA requires that the government prove a defendant offered to the public, provided, or trafficked in technology that was primarily designed to circumvent copyright protections, or was marketed for use in circumventing copyright protections...According to the indictment, Elcom and Mr. Sklyarov are alleged to have conspired, for commercial advantage and private financial gain, to traffic in a technology that was primarily designed and produced for the purpose of circumventing, and was marketed by the defendants for use in circumventing, the Adobe Acrobat eBook Reader.
I surely expect that Yahoo's promotion of this tool, with the expressed purpose of removing textual metadata, will get their Exceptional Performance Team in a bit of hot water. Check this Yahoo Developer blog video, about 34 seconds in, to see item #3 - "strip JPEG meta" (note - the audio is useless, but the screen visual makes the point) is where the problem lies. They could easily make it strip all the metadata BUT the copyright and ownership information.

Here's my image from yesterday's blog entry showing the before and after of both the visual effects, as well as the textual metadata wiping. (click the image below to open in a new window full size)

We need not look for "bad actors" looking to strip ownership information from our images under the soon to die and yet will reappear next year Orphan Works Act - well meaning people are producing products that will orphan every image it processes - intentionally.

Yet one more reason why Orphan Works, as written, is horrible for everyone.
Update: Check the comments below. It seems that the developers have been responsive to the issues raised, and have ensured the preservation of the metadata. Thank you, Yahoo!

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Monday, October 6, 2008

Evaluating An Upgrade

Do you need to upgrade? Perhaps, perhaps not. The cover at right was created by Bob Staake. Now, the remarkable thing is that Staake used Photoshop 3, running on OS 9. Yes friends, a 14 year-old application, and an ancient OS.


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I submit that he was trying to make a point, because he also did this video detailing just how he did it.

The point is - do you really need all the features of Photoshop? Do you need to upgrade from CS3 all the way to CS4? It seems that most people I've spoken with will upgrade just to get the latest Camera Raw. That doesn't seem much like a reason to upgrade. What else is there worthwhile - and more importantly, do you need it?

PhotoShop News reports (What's New In Photoshop CS4 by Martin Evening) "Photoshop CS3 had some mixed reviews. It didn’t have quite as many features of interest to photographers as say, previous versions of the program...The most noticeable changes are in the interface design appearance."

Interface? That's what you've got?

There's talk of speed increases, but I just can't see that being the reason to upgrade, on it's own. At each new version, I look to see that one or two features that makes me go "I gotta have it..." . I just don't see it right now. Heck, John Nack even said on his blog that CS4 on the Mac wouldn't even be 64-bit. Yes, for you PC users, it's both 32-bit and 64-bit, but not on a Mac. One less reason to upgrade.

Frankly, and especially for photographers, Photoshop seems to be reaching the law of diminishing returns, where there are fewer and fewer possibilities for "oh my God" features. Maybe Photoshop CS4 will be Adobe's Vista, in that everyone hops over it to the next version? Heck, if PS3 works for magazine illustrators, 5 generations later (i.e. CS3) should be plenty for 98% of photographers.

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Ensuring Proper Delivery

We, as do many businesses, rely on the receipt of paperwork via the US Postal Service. Some call it snail mail, and sometimes it is, in fact, slow. Other times, it's lightning fast - a thank you note dropped into the post office box down the street from my house not only arrives at it's intended recipient's home across town the next day, but I get a follow-up phone call of thanks from that person.

We do everything we can to ensure proper delivery to us, yet what do you do when you get an envelope with a stamp like the one at the right on it?

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Curse in frustration. As you can see, this wasn't some random solicitation - it was a check for just under $2k from a client. This check arrived in the mail to me on Saturday. Thankfully, the honesty of whomever recieved it, opened it, and returned it, I have to thank ever so much.

I looked closely at the address - had the client misspelled something? Nope. Was the zip code wrong? Nope - in fact, we use the USPS' Zip+4 to make it that much more certain that the mail would arrive. That was accurate as well.

Every single one of our clients gets their invoices via "Electronic Original", meaning it's a PDF that gets e-mailed to them. About 10% of our clients have some form of electronic payment/direct deposit set up. About 3% pay with credit cards. That means, like most of you, we are reliant on getting checks in the mail from clients for our survival.

We remain vigilant about checks that are delayed, contacting clients to ensure we are in their system to pay, determining when a check will be cut, and then following up when it's not. Occasionally, a client says they sent the check, but we have no record of recieving it. In that case, we ask the client to confirm it's been cashed. So far (knock on wood) they have all come back and said it had not. They issued a stop-payment on the check, and re-issued it.

Take note - until such time as you receive payment from a client, the onus is on them to pay you. Perhaps they mis-typed your address, or perhaps it got mis-routed, as this one did. Regardless, until such time as you get it, they are responsible - similar to F.O.B. for a product you've purchased. For example, suppose you ship original film to a client for review and consideration. Your terms of delivery state that you are responsible for the package until such time as the images arrive to the client. Once recieved, they become the responsibilty of them to ensure safe handling, as well as their safe return. When they ship them back to you, until such time as you sign for their return and confirm they have all been sent back (usually within 24 or 48 hours) the client is responsible. They chose the return shipper, they paid that shipper, and thus, are responsible.

I have had clients who have sent me payment via FedEx. Costs more - yes, but there are fewer mis-delivered packages that way. That client chose a safer/more secure form of delivery than a USPS delivery - especially when it's USPS without return receipt, or delivery confirmation.

This is also a cautionary tale - when the client says "The check is in the mail", they may well be telling you the truth. My approach in handling this - "trust but verify."

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You And Your Online Reputation

One thing that will likely live forever, somewhere on Google's servers, or on the Wayback Machine, is what you write. More importantly, though, is what other people might write about you.

Here's a case in point - photographer Steven E. Frischling, who writes the popular blog "Flying With Fish", markets himself as a corporate and editorial photographer as "FishPhotoWorldwide", and for his wedding business, as "FishPhoto". He's smart - very smart - to seperate out those two business lines. Crazy as it sounds, corporate/commercial clients won't generally hire a photographer for their work that lists "weddings" as something they do. Wrong, I know, but it's a fact of life. Steve has recognized this. He markets himself for weddings internationally using Craigslist in London, Paris, Tokyo, Boston, Sydney, Hong Kong, Dubai, and Miami. Each of those links shows you how he's promoted himself there. In fact, the Miami listing offers a 37% discount, and the DC listing offers a 44% discount off his regular rates. By his own account, he's racked up over 850,000 miles since 2005 alone. Clearly, he's been busy.

What reputation does he have on the internet? But, more importantly, is it even accurate?

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Since April of this year, several brides have penned unpleasant listings about him on, here. Are they accurate? Who knows. The Better Business Bureau website has four unresolved complaints against him here. Are those accurate? Again, no one knows. That's a bit of the negative, and people can write, post, complain, and otherwise be critical of you, and with the immediacy of the internet, it's spread everywhere - accurate or not. Now for the positive - Frischling appeared on Good Morning America (here) discussing the thefts at airports, and spends a great deal of time contributing over at a forum I read as well - FlyerTalk - which is the place where hardened travelers discuss all the nuances of travel and how to make it easier. Steve's published almost 1,000 posts there. You can check out his contributions at this link, he's fairly prolific, and he's very active over at, as seen here. So he's got positives, yes, but there are negatives that are still out there. Just as Steve needs to be attentive to them, so too should you be attentive to any that are critical of you.

All of this goes to show that what you write - helpful, critical, or otherwise, is stored in countless server dungeons around the world, and people can find it. Moreover, and more importantly, spending time locating and then correcting incorrect information is critical to maintaining a positive online reputation.

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Sunday, October 5, 2008

APA Executive Director Steps Down - Reconnecting With Creative Side

In an e-mail announcement to the membership this morning, APA Executive Director Constance Evans (LinkedIn: Profile) announced she is stepping down as the Executive Director of the Advertising Photographers of America " to devote full-time to my work as a professional artist - in short, to fulfill a life-long dream."

Evans, who's career spans over 30 years in the field, came on board at a time when the APA was facing challenges, and worked hard to chart a course and bolster relationships with organizations whom could sponsor APA, and help sustain it.

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I have known Constance for several years, and have spoken at her request at several APA-sponsored programs - Pro Sessions: The Business of Photography (NYC), and Pro Sessions: The Business of Photography (Chicago), as well as in March - Best Business Practices for Photographers - at WPPI's annual show in Las Vegas.

Constance has devoted much of her time during her tenure to fighting for photographers - specifically on copyright issues and battling the Orphan Works issue. I spend a great deal of my time here in DC on Capitol Hill, and more than once I'd pass her going through x-ray machines, walking alongside congressional office buildings, and also in the Capitol itself. I know that Constance was fighting for you, and doing so tirelessly. Fortunately, the photographic community will benefit from her knowledgebase, as she notes in her departure announcement "...we're not done yet. To be sure, l will continue working with the individuals and organizations that are allied with APA's position on the Orphan Works front."

I wish Constance well in her future endeavors as an artist, or wherever she may find herself.

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