Saturday, January 20, 2007

And The Staffers Go Marching One By One...

The bloodbath continues. Last week, we learned that Time Inc was slashing their most valuable resource, among those to go, staff photographers. What's that you say? The CEO two years ago, Ann Moore followed the mantra of everyone else at the time when she announced that it's employees were their most valuable resource. So, 300 or so people must go, but, well, they'll be able to freelance for the corporation, of course! It's just that, well, when they remodeled, they needed more desk space and fewer people in the elevators in the morning, since not enough parking spaces were vacated with the combined 350 that were slashed early last year. According to a Time Inc spokesperson they wanted to "focus on increasing efficiencies". Nice.

What truly blows, is that, for the folks at Sports Illustrated, they had to work last Monday, so they had been given Thursday, the day of all the layoffs, off, to make up for the earlier-in-the-week workday. So, guess what? An e-mail goes out to them. This one hits 3 photographers, and those that are photographers are being given the opportunity to "volunteer" to be laid-off, incase any of them were thinking of leaving anytime soon - now's the time!

This isn't the first time that Time Inc has slashed it's own wrists, as the lifeblood seeps from it's core, just it's most recent attempt at suicide. People Magazine used to have an amazing cadre of staff photographers who produced great images of people (yes, people, real, indepth stories about people, not just people who make movies or music), from the everyday to the extraordinary. Even the everyday person would be well photographed, well lit, and otherwise, happy to appear in the magzine.

Before People though, was Life. No less than Arnold Newman fought against Life - as a contractor - over the subject of photographers rights and won. However, a decade or so later, Life was slashing staff, and eventually, as the talented staff numbers declined, so did the readership, and thus, it closed it's doors except for the occasional special edition they put out now. The upper management at Time Inc, who seem to be immune from slashing within their own ranks, should look back, as history may well repeat itself.

And now, a happy tune that will take you back to your childhood (play along if you'd like with a click of the "play" button below):

The staffers go marching one by one, hurrah, hurrah
The staffers go marching one by one, hurrah, hurrah
The staffers go marching one by one,
The fired one stops to suck his thumb
And they all go marching down to the ground
To get out of the way, HIRE! HIRE! HIRE!
(for the full set of lyrics, visit (among many others) this site.Now that I've got that out my system, I think that these conglomerates should be doing just the opposite, and as I neatly modified the song -- HIRE some damn staffers!

This isn't the first time that cuts have been made in the name of greater profits. Look no further than the Seattle Times, The San Jose Mercury News, the New York Times, Gannett, and even The Washington Post. Several photographers there were given the opportunity to go, and the opportunity to freelance back for the paper. Of course they got a buyout package, but the bean counters who first determined that it was cheaper to hire freelancers and get the same "all rights/copright" package from them that they were getting from their employees, also did the math to make sure that the package that was offered, combined with the staff cost savings, minus the pay schedule for the same amount of work they had done in the previous year, resulted in lower costs for the paper, and thus less money for the soon to be freelancer.

If you are a staff photographer who is about to be, or has been laid-off, or forced to take a buyout, send me an e-mail. If you weren't somehow fired because you were kicking cats or something, I will send you a free copy of my book to start your soon to be freelance career off right.

I want more staffers, not less. I want freelancers to be paid more than staffers, since it is the freelancer who has all the added expenses of equipment, insurance, and so on, to carry in order to serve the publication, and the only way the photo editor can justify keeping a staffer on is if that staffer costs less than the freelancer. The beauty of the staffer is that they can provide a consistent visual feel to the publication, and, as a staffer who can't work for the competition, there is a way to differentiate between two competing publications, thus, the seemingly intangible benefit of a staffer.

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Headed to NYC (once again!) January 26

I'm headed to The Big City! The last time I was in New York I was Amazon's official blogger for the PhotoPlus Expo! This one will be a quick trip up and back for a preseantion at the Apple Store in SoHo.

I always enjoy the city, and I have to do an assignment half-way up there in Deleware for a magazine cover, so it will be nice to kill two birds with one stone!

Here are the details, as set forth by our friends at Apple, and the Advertising Photographers of America, who are jointly sponsoring this free lecture series.

Pro Sessions: The Business of Photography

Program description:
If you had your way, pro photography would be all about the photographs. But how you handle copyright issues, releases, and marketing is just as important to your success. Catch the current series of Pro Sessions—presentations that let you hear firsthand from creative professionals—to learn how top photographers manage the less glamorous side of things.

Program begins: 6:30pm

Directions to the store: Apple Store SoHo, New York CityOther lecture series details:

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Friday, January 19, 2007

The Art of the Retoucher

In business, it pays to hire a professional, and the value of a retoucher canot be underestimated. Yes, many of us do it ourselves, but that's often like asking uncle Joe to take photos at your wedding. Hire a professional retoucher when you need retouching. Below are a few folks who do an amazing job.

Consider this -- check out Rocket Studio, which did the retouching for the Apple iPod print ads. They show an amazing before and after of the images they did the retouching on, and I would submit that their retouching actually reaches a level that what they have produced is a new derivative work of the original. They further show a variety of different types of retouching.

Amy Dresser also illustrates the critical value of a talented retoucher, doing work ranging from Las Vegas casinos to Time Magazine covers.

Glenn Feron does a service to the retouching community, in that he lists his retouching rate, at $125/hr, with a two hour minimum. For many, who just list their own services, and then don't go into their hourly rate, the figure seems to come out of some secretive formula. By being open about his rates, he is also giving insight into those who aspire to be a retoucher, just what they should be charging at an hourly rate for their services. Feron spends most of his work (at least as demonstrated from his website) in retouching people (including many celebrities), and showing just what he can do for his clients.

In our office, for editorial clients, retouching is verbotten. However, for corporate or commercial clients, retouching is so integral to the final results of the project, that it is not optional. Currently, we are working our way through retouching 38 portraits from a portrait series we did. From things as simple as the removal of fly-away hair in a portrait, to the insertion of a missing executive (or the removal of a recently fired one) from a group portrait, it is a part of the service we provide. Retouching for corporate portraits is not a line item, it's a part of our fees, however, for many commercial assignments (ads, and so on), we do break out the retouching fees as a line item. Sometimes, it's just a few wrinkles, sometimes it's the removal of a double chin, but always, it makes CEO's, attorneys, and others much more comfortable with the final results from a photo shoot.

Many clients compare the bottom line, and do not realize just what we can do for them, or, what we can recommend to them for outsourcing of retouching needs. Every time I demonstrate simple retouching for a client in front of them, they are amazed, and almost always, they say "so that's how all those celebrities on magazine covers look so good", and I say "without question." Countless clients become long-term clients because we can demonstrate just how we will make their staff look great, right infront of them. We explain, however, that whatever we are doing infront of them is just a demonstration, and that we will do the actual, final, best retouching back at our office.

An absolutely amazing example of the value of the retoucher comes courtesy of Dove, the folks who bring you your daily bar of soap. They have available online a video which shows exactly what goes into an ad campaign on their Campaign for Real Beauty website, where they not only show you the shoot, but also, the retoucher, in action. It's a time-lapse video, spanning less than five minutes, but which gives you an understanding that here-to-fore was unknown. Thank you to Dove for these insights into the value that a retoucher brings to the project.

Next time you are preparing an estimate (or scrutinizing one you've received), be certain you understand all that goes into delivering superior-class service so that you an provide (or expect to receive) it.

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

It seems I've been Found

Today marks the day when several other blogs and sites picked up on this blog, something I've been doing for a while, as well as a private insights and counsel I've been giving for years now. However, today I was found by two clients online, at the same time. Interestingly enough, I can be found first on Google's Page 1 for the search term Washington DC Photographer, as well as first on Yahoo's Page 1 for the search term Washington DC Photographer, and second on MSN's Page 1 for the same Washington DC Photographer. Interestingly enough, the person that ranks #1 is someone who formerly worked for me (and good for him!).

My first call was from a magazine that needs an editorial portrait produced, and needed it done for $800. Small circulation, inside use. No problem, for their circulation and the difficulty of the portrait, that's an ok rate, however, I was successful in negotiating that up to $900. While on the phone discussing the details of that assignment, my caller ID clicks. Now, I make it a habit of never clicking over when talking to a client, and many times friends of mine have found themselves on indefinite hold when I clicked away from them to find a client on the other line, and remained (rightfully so) talking to the client. Thankfully, I have friends who are either photographers themselves, or are understanding non-photographers, so no one ever holds it against me. While on the line, I hopped over to my Vonage online account, which tracks, in real time, all inbound calls (and lets me forward my calls with a few mouse clicks to my cell) and discerned that the number that had called me was a 212 #, i.e. New York City.

Again, while getting the details from this client about the first portrait assignment, I took the prefix and first two digits of the inbound calls' number, and passed it to Google, which returned another media organization. The second I got off the phone, I immediately dialed the missed call, and caught the Art Director for another magazine, who had found me online, and who needed a cover photographed within the next 48 hours. I can be almost certain that he was working his way down his list of prospects, panicked that he'd not have a photographer for the cover shoot. I had gotten back to him within 90 seconds of his calling me, and, he was pleasantly surprised that I'd reached him so fast, and we began discussing the assignment, and I was able to book a $1,250 portait for the cover.

The first client located me from a Google search (I always ask the calling client "who can I thank for the referral", and when they say "oh, I found you online", I respond "which search engine, and do you recall your search terms?") and the second via ASMP's Find A Photographer.

In addition to the power of Google/et al, I want to impress upon you, dear reader, of the critical value of the NPPA's Find A Photographer, the ASMP's Find A Photographer, and APA's Find A Photographer, as well as PPA's Find A Photographer. If for no other reason than your inclusion in these, you should be members of ALL these organizations. Today I was talking to a colleague about whether or not they should be an ASMP member. They were considering it because of Find A Photographer, and wanted to know if it was worthwhile. I reported to them that it definately was, in fact, each year I can point to atleast $5k in assignments that came just via ASMP's list, and other revenue from the others. Spending about $1k combined for memberships in all the organizations is not only the best thing you can do for the industry by being supportive of their existence (and also they are deductable from your taxes), but can prove to be a revenue-positive way that you can be found by prospective clients. Clients who have, be their searching for you on a professional trade organizations' site, have usually pre-qualified themselves away from a lowball assignment fee.

Run, don't walk, to those organizations, and join. Join for the revenue-enhancing potential of being in their lists, and reap the benefits of them that you never new existed. I encourage you to share with others your experiences with all the organizations' Find A Photographer in the comments section below, so that others can know how beneficial these things are.

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

A Triumph of Hope over Experience

Remember when the client said "I don't have much money, but if you'll do this one at this price, I will make it up to you with the next one"?

I am reminded, when hearing this, of one of England's great literary figures, Oscar Wilde, who said that " while a first marriage is the triumph of imagination over intelligence, second marriages are the triumph of hope over experience." (sometimes also attributed to a Wilde predecessor, also a literary figure, Dr. Samuel Johnson).

Bringing up a more timely analogy, as Wimpy J. Wellington said to Popeye "I will gladly pay you Tuesday, for a Hamburger Today."

In over seventeen years, I have never experienced this as a promise kept, and have long since abandoned any hope. In fact, with all these litary references, I shall toss in one more -- "fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me."

One solution:
Here's the client's approach, who, in an attempt to get you to accept lower than acceptable terms (as defined by you), says "boy, am I glad to find you. We often have assignments in {enter your city here} and really like your work" and then they go on to say "...the thing is, we only have $400 for this assignment, but I can make it up to you in the future as we frequently have a need in {again, enter your city here} and would love to work with you on an ongoing basis."

Try this: "Wow, that's great. Who've you been working with before finding me?" since they said they often have a local need, why, all of a sudden, are they calling you?

To which you will get the response: "You know, I'd rather not say...", which is because, if you know your local colleagues, you will probably learn that they are either doing these low-ball assignments, or, this client is bluffing, and, moreover, at this lowball rate, the client is dissatisfied, and is literally getting what they paid for.

Either way, try this solution:
"You know, this sounds really enticing. How about this- $400 is really low, in fact, I can't justify it for an assignment like this. But, if it's as you say, and you'll have a frequent need for my services, then let's do this: Assuming that you'll have 10 assignments a year here, that works out to be $4,000, so, what I'll do is charge you $500 for the first eight, and then the 9th and 10th ones will be free. This way, you will stick within your budget over the year, and I'll be assured of a continued relationship and a revenue stream I can count on."

Think I've ever been taken up on this? Nope, and I've proposed it easily a dozen times. Yet, were I able to find a client willing to make that commitment, I would certainly uphold my end of the bargain.

What I have done, is say "let me send you an estimate at the rates I can do this assignment for you, and then let's have a conversation", and my estimate goes out, and I'd say that 80% of the time I complete the assignment at my rates, and moreover, those clients return time and time again.

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