Thursday, July 30, 2009

Getty's Got Game - (A Perfect One)

Regular readers of this blog will note that more often than not we take Getty to task for their actions, and how detrimental they can be to the business of photography. Yet, when Getty gets it right, credit must be paid where credit is due. Enter the players: Getty, Ron Vesely, MLB Photos, and Sports Illustrated, all focused on one thing - Mark Buehrle. The date? July 23rd, 2009.

Buehrle sets the stage, pitching a perfect game for the Chicago White Sox, beating the Tampa Bay Rays, 5-0. Since I am not a sports enthusiast, let's move on to the matter at hand - the business of the photographs that captured that historic event.

Ron Vesely, an immensely talented photographer who understands quite clearly that being a photographer means being in business, is no patsy to all the "we have to own all rights exclusively..." rights grabs made by some. Vesely keeps copyright to his images, and that's a smart businessman.

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When Vesely captured what he probably knew to be "the shot" that illustrated the perfect game, getting those images out became priority number 1. Ron, you see, has his work on the Getty site, as well as having relationships with MLB photos. A cursory review of the Getty Images sporting collection shows that Ron has chops.

As prospective clients scrambled for images, surprisingly, the only magazine that had that image was Sports Illustrated, yet SI did not have photographers at that game. Thus, they were going to Getty after-the-fact for a stock image. Since it's nowhere else editorially, it is reasonable to conclude that SI paid a premium for exclusive access to the image for a period of time that would preclude their competition from having the same image.

Here's where the interesting part comes in. An image from the same game by Ron is is in this Gatorade ad (at left) - IN the same issue. It's also appeared elsewhere. For example, a colleague of mine mentioned that it was also a full page ad in the Chicago Tribune. (see other images from the take here).

So, let's see - microstock cover on Time Magazine for $30 (The Real 'New Frugality' - Time Style, 7/25/09), or several thousand dollars for the exclusive on the SI cover as well as a ton of money for the Gatorade ad, which could only have been had via Getty, since Getty is the exclusive licensor of images of MLB for commercial use. Getty wins, Vesely wins, MLB Photos wins, SI wins, and Buehrle - he no doubt won as well.

It is imperative that you recognize the value of your images, and not let them go for pennies on the dollar. Vesely likely has several house payments covered thanks to this, whereas $30 wouldn't have covered parking and a hot dog at the stadium that day. Well done Ron, Well done Getty.

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The Tax Man Cometh - Microstock Edition

You can always spot the least liked person just off stage at every presentation of lottery winnings. They are the people who are not outwardly smiling, likely wearing a dark suit, and carrying a briefcase of some sort. This is the IRS agent, cooly waiting to advise you of the taxes you now owe, and you owe them now. (IRS regulations here). Your 25% or so goes straight to the tax man. So, that $100k oversized check? Actually not cashable. The real check will be just $75k, since the lottery payor has to withhold those winnings. Why? Because many lottery winners squander all their winnings, and then when it came time to pay the taxes, they had no money.

For some time, I have been trying to get into the heads of microstock photographers that they are running a business, whether they think they are, or not. No more 1040EZ forms, you must report that money you got when it was reported and you got a 1099. A rude awakening comes for the microstock photographer who sold 2,000 five-dollar-downloads, and collected their 20%, or $2,000. You'd think that was a sweet deal, until you had to pay half of it to the government, leaving you with $1,000. But, well, it seems that maybe more than a few micro-stockers are not paying their taxes properly, perhaps? Foreigners, who have been getting the full payments are - gosh, the shock! - not paying taxes on the income?

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According to the IRS website (here), "U.S. source income paid to foreign individuals amounts to $140 billion each year. Most types of U.S. source income paid to a foreign person are subject to a withholding tax of 30%." Here's the big kicker - "The person making the payment is considered to be the withholding agent. You are a withholding agent if you are a U.S.or foreign person that has control of any item of income of a foreign person that is subject to withholding....As a withholding agent, the payer is personally liable for any tax required to be withheld, independent of the tax liability of the foreign person to whom the payment is made."


This is likely to mean that if there are several thousand micro-stockers who are foreigners and have recieved payments and - (again) gosh the shock! - not paid their taxes, the microstock company could be liable for that tax. Uh oh. The IRS stipulates "The penalty for not filing Forms 1042-S and1042 when due (including extensions) is usually 5% of the unpaid tax for each month or part of a month the return is late, but not more than 25% of the unpaid tax. Additional penalties apply for failure to provide complete and correct information or if you fail to provide a complete and correct statement to each recipient. The maximum penalty is $100,000 per year."

I guess maybe a few microstock agencies will be looking at a few $100k bills for the past few years, perhaps?

According to Microstock Diaries (here), "Shutterstock have announced that they’ll be withholding 30% tax for non-US contributors in order to comply with US tax laws."

Microstock Diaries characterizes contributor reactions by saying "Affected contributors are understandably upset." Then they outline several of the complaints (followed by our answers):

Q: taxes haven’t been withheld before, so why are Shutterstock starting now?

PBN&F Answer: Because it's the law, and they were not in compliance with the law, which will cost them a lot of money.

Q: other agencies don’t do this, so why is Shutterstock doing it?

PBN&F Answer: Because other agencies are making the same mistake, and just like everyone is now charging for a paper airline ticket, and checked baggage, the rest of the microstock agencies will fall in line.

Q: why do I have to pay tax to the US government when I have nothing do to with them?

PBN&F Answer: Because your assets earned money on US soil, among other reasons.

Q: why do I have to give personal information to the US government?

PBN&F Answer: Because a US company is paying you money, among other reasons.

Q: can’t Shutterstock pay for this themselves and not penalize foreign contributors?

PBN&F Answer: Because this is the tax on YOUR portion of the income, that YOU owe! Shutterstock will be paying their own taxes on their profits as well. You are not being penalized - you are paying what you owe, fair and square.

Microstock diaries then takes a slight (albeit deserving) swipe at the contributors, when they say "The demonstrated gaps in understanding of international business in these complaints extended to misdirecting blame and anger toward Shutterstock." And here, they are right. Shutterstock is not doing anything wrong here - in point-of-fact, they WERE doing something wrong in not withholding, and now they are getting in compliance.

Many members are apparently deleting their portfolios from Shutterstock. Good. A few thousand less images there means fewer $30 Time Magazine covers.

Microstock Diaries characterizes contributors thusly - "Most microstock contributors are in business so they’re used to doing things like filling out forms and paying taxes. However, a not-so-small number of contributors, it seems, are not so comfortable with this change."

I believe that if you look at the number of microstock contributors who actually earn a full-time living off of microstock versus those that just get their kicks from seeing their images in print and whose income cannot support them full-time, you would find that the vast majority of them are running their businesses very poorly - essentially at a net loss.

Oh, and one more thing - you can run your business at a loss, but not forever.

The IRS, (here), states:
An activity is presumed carried on for profit if it makes a profit in at least three of the last five tax years, including the current year (or at least two of the last seven years for activities that consist primarily of breeding, showing, training or racing horses).

If your activity is not carried on for profit, allowable deductions cannot exceed the gross receipts for the activity.
Welcome to the real world my fellow photographers.

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Saturday, July 25, 2009

The REAL 'New Frugality' - Time Style

Times are tough for everybody, especially, apparently, Time Magazine. Used to paying a stock fee of $3,000 for a cover, or $1,500 or so if it's an assignment (last I checked), take a guess how much the cover below cost Time?

Stylists for the coins, glass jar, studio rental, lighting and camera equipment? How much?

(Continued after the Jump)

If you guessed 1% of the standard stock fee, you'd be right - and insane to accept a fee that low. Yet Robert Lam, of Los Angeles, did just that. Robert Lam, who works for a furniture store in Culver City, who, according to his website, is "...always looking for models for TFCD."

For $30 (the sale went through iStockphoto - image here) Lam got screwed out of several thousand dollars in income. In a dialog on ModelMayhem, Robert was asked about the payment, and responded "yes only 30.00 from Istock", followed by some online-atta-boys and then he says "yes. I am happy." When another commenter wrote to him "you got screwed", his response was "ok", followed by what can be characterized by his laughing at his last check from iStockphoto, when he writes "last check..". The only one laughing, really, is the Time Magazine Photo Department -- who is laughing all the way to the bank. A continued cast of characters then go on to somehow just accept that the $30 is fair and reasonable, and I expect the rest of the part-time photographer part-time furniture salespeople, accountants, IHOP servers, and so on to come out and defend what he did here, and elsewhere.

Congratulations Robert, you've just become the poster-boy for exactly what is wrong about iStockphoto. A stock rate previously known to be $3,000 for the cover of Time Magazine you just sold for $30 - a 99% discount. After all big "wins", the winner usually gets asked where they'll go to celebrate. I'd ask you where you're going with that dough, but you can't even go to Disneyland, like winners in the past. I know, as I was just in the Disney Store an hour ago buying tickets for the trip I can afford to Disneyland because I don't make the dream of the profession of stock photography into a nightmare as you have done. Try talking to the owner of Natural Tique where you work if his business could survive by offering 99% discounts to his customers.

You write on your Model Mayhem page "NO SECOND CHANCES FOR FLAKES", and then go on to say "Photography is an enormous passion for me", but then you say "I am open for TFCD with female models at this time. email to me if you are interested." So, is that passion a ploy to work with female models for trade? What's with that?

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Friday, July 24, 2009

Facebook Ads With Your Photos - Steps to Stop

If you'd rather not have Facebook's advertisers using photographs of YOU in their ads - TO YOUR FRIENDS, you'll want to rush over and change your privacy settings on Facebook ASAP!

Facebook buries several pages into their privacy settings the ability to turn off permission you grant to Facebook to allow their advertisers to take any photos you have uploaded. Here is the text from the settings page:

Facebook occasionally pairs advertisements with relevant social actions from a user's friends to create Facebook Ads. Facebook Ads make advertisements more interesting and more tailored to you and your friends. These respect all privacy rules. You may opt out of appearing in your friends' Facebook Ads below.

It is unpleasant to note that you are automatically OPTED-IN to this permission, and you must take action to opt-out.

Below is a step-by-step illustration so you can stop commercial interests from using you and/or your photographs in their advertisements:

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Now that you've done this, send this URL to your friends. Your automatic opt-in granting by facebook of the use of your photographs in ads could create liability if other people in those photos have not granted permission!

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Ron Edmonds - Retiring but "Not Dead Yet"

Longtime friend and colleague Ron Edmunds, of the Associated Press, has decided to retire after a remarkable 28 years. His cold weather cap from the 1997 inauguration of President Clinton, clearly indicates though, that he is "Not Dead Yet." I can attest to this fact - I spoke with Ron just a week or so ago during a White House event, and he was indicating he retirement was coming soon. I said to him "the most fear is no doubt coming from the bass", my referencing his second greatest talent and favored past-time - bass fishing, to which he just laughed.

Ron Edmonds, January 20, 1997 covering President Clinton's second inauguration.(to see the full frame of the center stand where Ron was shooting from, click the photo to see it full size)

Edmonds leaves a legacy that will, for a very very long time, be unparalleled. More importantly though, his friendship for all his colleagues - and those with whom he honorably competed for the best picture (and often won) will remain as a benchmark which other photojournalists will strive to achieve. For almost two decades, I have had the privilege of shooting alongside Ron, and he was always a good guy. Yet, if someone threw an elbow his way, Ron was not one to acquiesce - he would just shoot a circle around you as you were trying to rearrange yourself - I witnessed this more than once.

I wish Ron the best as he heads off into the next chapter of his life. For a glimpse at just some of Ron's iconic images, check out Ron's web page.
(Comments, if any, after the Jump)

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Usher v. Corbis

I am getting really sick and tired of know-nothings opining about the Usher v. Corbis case, and the railroading he got by his agent. (By the way, PDN did a nice job reporting on it here, as did Haggart here.) Corbis, and every other stock photography agency at the time valued every analog image at $1,500 per image, because it was a one of a kind image that, once lost, cannot be recovered. Yes yes, the image that was shot a moment before and a moment after might have been similar, and, in some cases, were close to identical. However, it is precisely because SOME images are similar, and some images are significantly different and thus, over the life of the image, have a value much higher than $1,500, Corbis required its' clients to agree that $1,500 was a fair AND MUTUALLY AGREED UPON valuation to apply overall. Thus, since some that are similar might be worth less, and others that are not would be worth a whole lot more, valuing the work at $1,500 each was a fair figure.

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Further, Chris is in the NEWS business, and Chris was traveling with a Presidential candidate, where you are trying to work as the motorcade screams along at 50 miles-per-hour and you can't look up because you are trying to work with your gear, and when you board a plane you have to hand-off your valuable film to a courier to get it to the publication (or your agent) on deadline. In many cases, your AGENT is entrusted with processing the film, captioning it, and being the steward of your best interests.

It has been a foregone conclusion that Sotomayor would be confirmed, so there's little reason to squawk and pitch a fit thinking that it will impact her nomination. When you have 60 votes in the Senate that you own, it's fast-track time for whatever you want. The business of news photography does not allow for the careful cataloging of each and every image before delivering it to your agent, or your client because seconds and minutes of delay count. After or before the fact, it was Corbis' responsibility to have done that. For people who have suggested that he had poor paperwork and somehow thus deserved what he got, think again. Corbis' own $1,500 valuation they caused their clients to accept when analog images were delivered to them should have been the basis for the award, not $7. That's ridiculous. EVEN if you figured that every roll of 36 images that Chris produced had 30% in waste (blank, out of focus, missed moment, etc) Chris still got railroaded.

If anything, it was Corbis' responsibility to organize, track, and number all the images he had coming in during his time there. Their failure to do so showed their disregard for the photographers they were supposedly representing. It appears from everything I have read and heard, that Corbis was utterly derelict in their responsibility to Usher, and to other photographers as well. The final nail in the coffin was when Corbis' lawyers equated Chris' images to, yes, wait for it..... "nails", and suggested that his work is just a commodity.

I can't imagine a more solid argument for why any photographer represented by any major stock photography agency wouldn't pull every single image of theirs and use a service like PhotoShelter (as Art Wolfe/et al did) and manage their own affairs. Certainly nowadays it is so easy to do with digital, and then Corbis/et al could begin trying to sell all those empty filing cabinets. This doesn't make anything better or easier for Usher, but moving forward, know that, A) if you want something done right, do it yourself, and B) look with a cautionary eye at people who say they are your agent, because from photographers to actors, sports figures to musicians, those that wear the badge "agent" are more often than not not living up to that obligation.

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Monday, July 20, 2009

Distinguishing Yourself

While I spent the formative years as a photographer switching seamlessly between my Hasselblad and my 35mm film cameras, frankly, my preference for shooting, for example, weddings, was 35mm. I was of the opinion that I could be more free and able to catch that fleeting moment with a 35mm autofocus camera, than my manual focus Hasselblad. Yet, somehow, when I sat down with a prospective bride and groom, they asked about my camera. "Will you be shooting with a medium format camera?" was the question. The reality is that I could have said yes, and turned up with my 35mm and they would not have known the difference. Yet, somehow (whether a magazine article, or another photographer) they had been told that photographers using a medium format camera were somehow distinguished as more of a professional, and the quality of the work would be better.

When I talk to a prospective client for an ad shoot, there are ways to distinguish yourself too.

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"we'll of course have a certificate of insurance for this shoot incase there is an issue, and I want to encourage you as you're talking to other photographers to be sure they have that too." A full 50% of any collection of photographers I am competing against for work will not only not know what that is (a COI) when the client asks, but won't have the ability to get one either.

About the only time having a diploma from a college from the standpoint of getting a job is when you are trying to get a full-time job at an organization with an HR department. In 20 years as a photographer, I have never had any client ask if I have a degree, let alone a degree in photography.

One of the great things that the Professional Photographers of America (PPA) does is they have a certification program. Their Certified Photographer program gives you a variety of designators that follow your name. So, just as there is "PhD", or "Esq" as a designator after your name, so too is there "CPP", which stands for "Certified Professional Photographer". PPA encourages you to distinguish yourself thusly - "It’s like quality assurance because certification is a credential consumers and businesses understand. More importantly, it provides you with a tool for telling the world—and all those potential clients—why they should call you rather than the competitor down the street." PPA has other designators as well, "M Photog. Cr" which is "Master Photographer Craftsman", and others. The key here, is to actually market your credentials.

If you are in the enviable position where you know the client is only calling you, then saying something like "and be sure when comparing us to others..." you give them idea that maybe they should. I often ask "are you just talking to me, or are there others you're considering?" Often, I get "I was referred to you by several of my colleagues, and I haven't called anyone else." If, however, I get "we are talking to several other photographers", then I know it is time to set forth my credentials. Sometimes, when the location is a hotel venue, you can define yourself easily by saying "oh, we've worked in that ballroom several times, and are very familiar with that space. The location is tricky be sure you're talking to other photographers who have worked there before." Or, it could be "...that hotel requires all vendors have a COI, and we've provided ours to them previously...". Or, it could be that you distinguish yourself by saying "as you're talking to other photographers, be sure they are certified as a professional photographer. We are, and it's a characteristic that ensures you'll get a level of quality over taking your chances with another photographer who is not certified."

Besides the PPA certifications, utilize your memberships in professional organizations. "We are members of the American Society of Media Photographers..." or "We are members of the National Press Photographers Association", and then there's "We are members of the Advertising Photographers of America". Each of these distinguishes you as a professional, to one degree or another, and demonstrates your commitment to being a full time professional photographer.

Maybe though, you have none of these memberships or credentials? "I was a staff photographer at {insert publication name here} for X years...." is a distinguishing characteristic. Or, "my website demonstrates that I specialize in {insert type here} photography, and I would love to bring that specialization to this assignment."

The key is to know your prospective client type, and convey to them reassurances that you are indeed capable, skilled, and reliable for the photo shoot you are being considered for.

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Saturday, July 18, 2009

J-Schools & B-Schools

Richard Sine, who writes for free (as do all HuffPo writers) over at the Huffington Post, wraps up his article "Close the J-Schools" (7/15/09) with the following sentiment:

"It dawned on me that the new business models that may save journalism were much more likely to come from the business school than the journalism school. At times I felt like closing down the J-school and sending most of those kids straight across campus, to the shiny new B-school."
While Mr. Sine is correct about the business models, closing down the journalism schools is a bad idea.
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The two core years of journalism classes instill in future journalists in ways few others can, the critical value of integrity, truth, and how to translate that to the written word. History of failed reporters' past, from plagiarism to just plain making stories up, are dissected. How to write a compelling story by deconstructing well written ones, and so on. The same holds true for photography schools, from Western Kentucky to Missouri, Syracuse, to RIT, to Brooks. All teach photography, and some specialize in photojournalism. Sine defends his suggestion of limiting enrollment or closing schools by saying "If you screw up, nobody dies, and nothing collapses." While true in a direct manner, it is indirectly not true. People take action all the time based upon reports in the press. When a city mayor is being criticized in the press for delays on a local construction project, he in turn could put undue pressure on those in charge who would have to take short cuts which could cause a collapse. Peoples' lives are changed over press reports, jobs lost (fairly or unfairly), and so on. Such is the power of the press. When a reporter or photographer picks up the tools of their trade and wields them under the constitutionally protected "free press" First Amendment, those people should have skills and training to wield that power.

Reporters and photographers as they are thrown into the freelance world, are going to have no choice but to follow common business practices and adhere to standards as simple as "income must exceed expense" or they will not be in journalism very long. The businesses that employ staffers are collapsing all around the country, because those at the top have no idea how to properly monetize their content in the "it should all be free online" mentality. As such, some remedial business school learning for the executives is in order, I'd think.

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Interfering With A Free Press

Thursday July 2nd, as the MTV production "Real World" arrived officially in Washington DC, accredited members of the news media, on public property, documented their arrival, including an interview done by a crew from the local CBS affiliate.

Here is the footage from the CBS crew, which illustrates just how inappropriate the actions of the MTV crew were:

Now, the MTV cameraman has responded. What did he say?

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In short - "mea culpa".

MetroMix first reported the apology of videographer Ryan Romkema. Here is his public apology:

Dear Lindsey Mastis,

I would like to extend an apology for my conduct on July 2. My actions on that day were ill advised and an overreaction to the pressures of the moment. Many people were and are excited for "The Real World DC" and the opportunities that lay ahead. A camera instruction was given to document the situation and it was too much. The nation's capital has given a warm welcome to "The Real World DC" and it is our desire to present this great city in the best light possible. I regret my actions that day and hope you will accept this apology. ~Ryan Romkema

Take very careful note in the video of how professional Lindsey was throughout. Here, on a public sidewalk, the Real World photographer thought he could harass and bully another reporter into stopping/leaving. Not cool.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Re-Mixing Content

One of the most effective infomercials was the sham-wow sales pitch, with the "are ya following me camera guy" line. Then, the pitchman goes up in flames with press about an incident where the police get involved. So much for his career, right?

Enter the slap-chop product and a new infomercial (here). No doubt, they got this guy for a song, because he was trying to revive his career, and with slap chop the slap chop remix, he has done just that. So the question is - why are we discussing this on Photo Business News?

What originally happened was the copyrighted "slap chop" commercial was re-mixed. From everything I can find, it was remixed without the copyright owners' permission. However, in this case, the re-mix became so popular, the the copyright owner of the commercial decided to make it an official commercial and use it to sell the product (as reported here). You really can't appreciate the talent that went into the remix, until you see the original content he had to work with, (here). Now, here is the mesmerizing result:

More and more, photographers are rightfully standing up for the unauthorized use of their images. However, as copyright evolves, it may be that people re-mix your photography without your permission, and then you like the result even more. Who then owns that copyright? Who then profits from that derivative work?

(Comments, if any, after the Jump)

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Monday, July 13, 2009

Burning Bridges

So, how often have you heard the phrase "don't burn bridges, you never know...." usually followed by some reason for not burning that particular bridge.

The bigger question - the one that should serve as guidance, is - "should I ever burn a bridge?"

The short answer is "no", but that doesn't mean that bridges aren't being burned all around you.

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The more verbose way of saying "don't burn bridges", is to say "don't take a proactive action where the purpose of that action is to destroy an ongoing interaction pathway between you, and someone else."

This does, however, leave A LOT of wiggle room.

If someone takes an action that torches the bridge you built, there's the possibility that you might nuke it. Consider the client who, when you say to them "if you'd like to use that photograph of so-and-so for an ad campaign, we'll need to discuss an extended rights package and the associated fees for that", says "huh? We own the photo, we're not paying you another dime, and we're doing what we want with it." That blatantly F-U response warrants calling in the lawyers and filing suit. Result? Bridge burned.

What if, however, you observe a fellow photojournalist working for the organization you do staging a news photograph, and your photo editor, knowing you were there, comes to you and says "hey, did Jane Doe set that photo up, or did it just happen spontaneously, like Jane says?" By answering truthfully, you know that Jane might be fired at worse, and at best, she will be angry with you and never speak to, or trust you again because you wouldn't cover for her. Your truthful answer would burn the bridge. I submit that you should speak the truth, and not further the cover-up.

Suppose you are a working photographer and an educator at a local university, and a friend/colleague of yours is being critisized because, for example, they were shooting at a sports event and their actions changed the outcome of the game. For example, a shutter click at a golf tournament, an errant lens on a basketball court in-bounds that trips up a player running down court, or being in the pit and inadvertently interfering with a refueling stop for a driver that penalizes them a few seconds. When your students say "what do you think of the news about Jim Smith messing up that game...", and your saying "well I know Jim, and he's generally a responsible photographer, but he was in the wrong on that one..." and Jim gets wind of it. If he's honest with himself, he will acknowledge he was in the wrong, but more than likely, he won't like that you criticised him.

On the other hand - suppose you overheard some of your peers taking smack about you, or your photography? Should you get sucked in and defend yourself, and in turn, start talking smack about them, either to their face, or behind their back? No. While you can pretend you don't hear what's being said, you can realize that those that are not only talking smack, but more importantly, those in that group that you thought were your friends are not sticking up for you, aren't really your friends. Don't engage, just apply the old adage - keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.

Frankly, when I have something critical to say of someone, it must be something that I am willing to also say to that person's face. Do I, for example, think there are people who are doing a grave disservice to the photographic profession? Do I think that there are people who are just plain jackasses? Do I think that there are people who talk smack about or to others, and hope that those they are talking smack about don't learn about it? In all three situations, the answer is yes. Also, in all three situations, I would (and in some cases have when the opportunity arose) suggested as much to them.

Do I know that there are people in the photographic community that feel that I have burned my bridges to them? Sure. Yet, during the burning, it was because I stood up for what I believed to be right (and over time, those beliefs have turned out to be truths) despite the easy path being to just say nothing. The measure of a man is not where he stands in times of comfort and ease, but where he stands in times of adversity and challenge. Over time, instead of me recognizing that the bridges were burnt and saying to hell with so-and-so, the smarter path is to just remain silent, and let the other side re-build the bridge. On more than one occasion, that has happened to me.

If the consequences of doing what is right, honest, truthful, and just, is that a bridge is burned, then, so be it. In those instances, it wasn't your actions per se that caused the bridge to be burned, but rather, a consequence of someone doing something wrong, dishonest, deceitful, or unjust.

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Sunday, July 12, 2009

Behind The Cover - Vogue Magazine

Years ago, I had the opportunity to work with R.J. Cutler when he produced The War Room, and another project. Now, RJ has turned his documentary style on Anna Wintour at Vogue, for an amazing look behind the scenes at what goes into the most important fashion tome of every year, the September Issue of Vogue. Rivaling many cities' entire phone book in size, the best fashion and best fashion photography are showcased every year in this issue. This is a real-life incarnation of The Devil Wears Prada, which was based upon Wintour, and played by Glenn Close. I can't wait to see the movie. Here's the trailer.

(Comments, if any, after the Jump)

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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Send In The Clowns

When you don't hire a professional, it's not just your organization that can get a black eye, it's the entire press corps that can. Enter the amateur photographer who arguably caused golfer Ian Poulter to lose the lead-in to the French Open, dashing his chances to win that.

Poulter is quoted, in Sporting Life (Poulter Snaps Over Photographer), as saying "That's what happens when you let novice people come in and ruin our livelihoods. We are playing for world ranking points and I want to move up as high as I can."

Indeed Mr. Poulter, I agree with you.

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This is not the first time this has happened. In March of 2008 Tiger Woods cited a photographers' camera noise as halting his momentum, and in 2007, golfer John Daly tore a muscle in his abdomen over a camera noise (albeit a fans, in this case) but the list of photographers that are untrained and have an adverse impact on events like golf goes on and on.

Already a very crowded scene with too many photographers covering these events, photographers are going to be pushed farther and farther away. Further, it may not be unreasonable soon to expect that photographers closer than, say, 20 feet, if they are allowed that close at all, will have to use a sound blimp similar to those used on movie sets. (See Jacobsen Sound Blimp video we did awhile back).

Amateurs somehow always worm their way into press pens they don't belong in. Sure signs? A point-and-shoot covering a concert. A person who is admonished not to use their flash during concert photography, and responds - "what do you mean I can't use my flash?!?!" It's a dead giveaway. Someone in a press area during any event that is applauding during a speakers' remarks. These, and many more are sure signs you have an amateur making getting your job done just that much harder.

If you're going to pretend to be the press, don't applaud in the press area. Don't bring a point-and-shoot to a press conference, that's like bringing a knife to a gunfight, and for gods' sake, don't go asking for autographs from the people you are supposed to be there photographing. Lastly, learn when it's appropriate to take a photo, and when it's not, and then stick to it. If you can't figure it out, follow the lead of those around you.

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Friday, July 3, 2009

Washington Post Sells Out - More Details

We wrote in Washington Post Sells Out about the dirty little secret of the Post Post (NYSE: WPO) selling access to its' reporters, and to elected and administration officials. The Post today continued their own self-flagelation, in Post Co. Cancels Corporate Dinners.

Well, it appears that the marketing department of the Washington Post, who, as we previously suggested might be considering booking the staff photographers out for non-editorial work, didn't think that the staff photographers' work was good enough for use in the marketing materials promoting the "salon" or to shoot something for it?

Nicely done Washington Post.
So, then, where did they get the image from?

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It is a royalty-free image from Photodisc, and for under $500 you can get the full disc of 100 images. Here's the image:

There's just something wrong with this picture, and I don't mean the actual image.

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Washington Post Sells Out

The Washington Post (NYSE: WPO) continues its' downward turn. Not content to watch their own freefall, they instead turned the nose straight towards the ground and powered the engines to full, accelerating their plummet.

I've photographed my share of "salons" in Washington over the years. Here's how it goes, when it's a pure event: A high profile organizer invites a half-dozen elected officials, a half-dozen administration officials, a half-dozen think-tank policy wonks, and a half-dozen industry lobbyists. The salons are always off the record, and the conversation flows freely, and frankly. In all of these instances, everyone comes away better informed, and, yes, relationships are built.

The problem is, when you take that last half-dozen lobbyists, and condition their "invitation" on a $25k to $250k fee, you create a really really big problem.

Enter The Washington Post.

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First, with the details and links. Post Ombudsman Andrew Alexander, opines in The Post's 'Salon' Plan: A Public Relations Disaster, "For a storied newspaper that cherishes its reputation for ethical purity, this comes pretty close to a public relations disaster" who then goes on to say "The story, accurately reported by Politico (and former Post) reporter Mike Allen, is based on a flier being circulated by a new marketing arm of The Post." The Washington Post publisher Katharine Weymouth is cited in the Politico article, Washington Post cancels lobbyist event amid uproar, taking the position that "...The Post, which lost $19.5 million in the first quarter, sees bringing together Washington figures as a future revenue source."

Now, listen carefully, as this matter rises to the level of the daily briefing at the White House. (I was there Friday, and happened to watch this exchange between the Press Secretary and the reporters.)

What's next?

How long before Washingtonians can book a Pulitzer-Prize winning photojournalist to photograph their wedding? These photographers have slow days, especially on Saturdays, so why not schedule them for $10k to shoot a wedding? Heck, with the newsroom interventions this salon offer seems to have been making available, it might not be unreasonable that that "standalone art" or "weather feature" hole that needed filling in the paper instead gets filled with a select from that wedding the Post booked for its' under-utilized staff photographer. Heck, they could even book a freelancer, at a day rate of $200 to do it!

What is most remarkable, is that the elected officials and administration officials likely would never have known that they were the literal bait to get the lobbyists to pony up $250k to get their message heard in a "salon" forum. Fortunately, a genuinely honest lobbyist for the health care industry felt it was a conflict of interest, and brought it to Politico's reporting staff.

The flier from the Washington Post, as reported by Politico solicits: "Underwriting Opportunity: An evening with the right people can alter the debate". It then goes on to offer:
"Underwrite and participate in this intimate and exclusive Washington Post Salon, an off-the-record dinner and discussion at the home of CEO and Publisher Katharine Weymouth. ... Bring your organization’s CEO or executive director literally to the table. Interact with key Obama administration and congressional leaders."
If that offer isn't selling out, I don't know what is. And you don't think they wouldn't consider selling out the photo staff too? Don't be so sure.

Related: Washington Post Sells Out - More Details

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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Weighing One Against The Other

Martin Luther King Jr. once famously said "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy." But, how do you measure and weigh the good and the bad that one has contributed in weighing whether or not you have respect for them?

The timely example (we'll get to more specific ones in a minute), is to judge Michael Jackson. Now, he has met his maker, and been judged where it matters most. However, where does he stack up in ones' own heart and mind? The easy comparison is to pit his music against the allegations and resulting settlements for his 'issues'. Yet, that does not factor in the good he did for charities, nor the odd manner in which he raised his children. The pendulum swings back and forth, and I could go on with hundreds of pluses and minuses. Thus, you get the point. Measure and celebrate just his music, and you have a hands-down showcase for any number of musical halls of fame. Add in other issues, and the matter gets decidedly cloudy.

While we don't have unions, per se, how do you qualify a "scab" in the world of photography? And, when you do, is it okay to break bread with them and play nicey-nice? What would a reader of this column surmise if they witnessed me having lunch with the greatest proponent of work-made-for-hire, or microstock? I don't know if any one individual or company fits that bill, but what would a reader think?

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Without knowing the topics of conversation, it would be hard to draw a thoughtful conclusion. Suppose, I was trying very hard to convince them to step away from the dark side? Sometimes, these types of conversations are incremental, or relationship building. Successes can be measured in inches, and are sometimes imperceptible to the untrained eye. The President, regardless of administration, meets with other world leaders to find places of agreement, not to argue (at least not at first) over matters of disagreement.

What, however, would be your reaction if a friend did a job you had turned down, because it was a work-made-for-hire job, or a $1k job that paid $100? And, if this same friend seemingly was echoing your anti-WMFH attitude, but you knew they had signed a WMFH contract to do that job, how would you react? Does your personal friendship survive and your business discourse with them get short circuited?

If, for example, Time Magazine had named Saddam Hussein or Osama bin Laden Person of the Year, would you cancel your subscription? Was American Photo's celebration of the work of Robert Maplethorpe (a long time ago) enough to get people to cancel their subscriptions? When news outlets get metaphorically 'spanked' by fake news (like the fake reports of George Clooney's death) does the mindset "you reap what you sow" enter into the equation?

As newspapers begin to actually rely on 'citizen journalists' for their content, over their journalistically trained professionals, will you accept the occasional assignment from them and lend your credibility to the publication, knowing that it adds to the credibility of the free 'citizen journalist' content? What if you got sent out to do the cover assignments for the publication every issue, but all the inside pages were filled with 'citizen journalism' and the frequent bad image, would you associate yourself with that?

Lots of questions here, what do you think?

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