Saturday, October 27, 2007

Week In Review, October 21th - 26th, 2007

This week's Week In Review takes us on location to the National College Media Convention being held in Washington DC, as well as the first of three stops of the Flying Short Course during it's local Washington DC stop, enroute Chicago and San Jose, CA.

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Thank You Notes

The value of thank you notes - hand written ones - should not be under-estimated.

You've spent a great deal of effort cultivating that great client of yours, one you've wanted to work with for so long, and they've finally entrusted you with your first assignment. After you've delivered the images, and the invoice, what's next? Thanking them for the assignment!

The Washington Post this morning has a short story that had a huge photo illustration of various stationary types - Putting Your Stamp on the Mail, which starts:

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"There's nothing quite like sorting through a seemingly endless pile of bills, credit card offers and catalogues and unearthing an unexpected prize: a handwritten envelope addressed just to you."
So true. We send out thank you notes all the time, letting our clients know that we appreciate not only the assignments, but even being considered for the assignments we didn't get.

Find a local stationer in your community, and go in and get some attractive and professionally printed thank you notes done. You could just get generic cards, but why not go the extra step and have them printed with your name - or better yet - your company's name, on them?

Send the card along with a complimentary print, or a book you think a client would enjoy, or even by itself just to express your appreciation for the opportunity to have worked with them. Above is one we sent out this morning - simple, and to the point.

Go ahead, it's really easier than you think, and gratifying as well.

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Monday, October 22, 2007

A Housekeeping Note

It has come to my attention that some readers would rather I not post items about how bad spec is, or what Getty/et al are doing to damage the business, and that, somehow, I should just ignore it, and instead, just do pieces about how we can improve our own businesses.

Not gonna happen. But....

What I will endeavor to do, is whenever I do a piece on an agency, or a piece on spec, or otherwise some form of a criticism, or all-out dissertation on how an organization is bad for photographers, I will post a second piece, at the same time, that fills the requests for "solutions" articles, or otherwise useful information, so, those days will become "two-fer" days, where you'll get two pieces, not just one.

Something for everyone. Everyone benefits. Everyone remains informed.

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Where Does All Your Time Go?

One of the challenges of being self-employed, and especially as a photographer, is the presumption of how our time is spent. Few, if any, photographers know how their day is spent. We can all say, with near certainty, that it's not spent shooting every moment of every day. I would go so far as to say we're not doing nearly as much shooting as we'd like to be.

The follow-on questions become - how do we discern this information, and why would we want to in the first place?

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To start, grab a notebook, one you can carry around easily. Begin by jotting down everything you do for the next two weeks. 15 minute segments work. Personal items note as such. Categories such as "paying bills, billing clients, paperwork, client conversations, other paperwork, researching online, eating, travel (i.e. in your car/bus/plane), post-production, marketing, networking, and so on. Oh, yeah, include actually making pictures too!

At the end of the two weeks, I think you'll be surprised at the numbers. Anything that takes away from making pictures or activities directly and specifically related to growing your business should be the things you do most. Yet, you will learn that the day-to-day "small stuff" gets in the way of all that. Don't take my word for it - try it on your own and see for yourself.

Learn how to outsource what you're doing that is distracting. Just as we outsourced color printing and slide processing back in the day, and we continue to outsource having our dress clothes dry-cleaned, so to is there value in outsourcing things that are not directly related to growing your business or making photos.

Begin by contemplating outsourcing your scanning of analog to digital files, if you still have any. Consider bringing in someone to do your post-production work, and take calls when you're out of the office - even if that office is a small portion of your home.

You've got a pretty good list of the distractions from your two-week research. Begin by determining what you could outsource immediately, and what you could outsource if you invested time in training someone to do it the way you do.

Then, find the right person - the right fit - to begin to make that happen. You'll be surprised at just how much free time you have now, and how much more focused you can be on your future success.

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Speculative Photography - Introduction

It seems that my post "From the 'Are You Kidding Me?' Department" (October 15, 2007) has engaged a great many photographers in the debate over at Sportsshooter, with 75+ people going back and forth on the subject in this and this message series.

Many of the folks who were writing on the subject opposing speculative photography (a.k.a. "spec") had cogent arguments and interesting perspectives, and many of the folks trying to defend it took the attitude that it was a second or third job, or, a "loss leader", for them. I thought I'd write and echo some of the points, and add a few more of my own. Because this will be a long piece, I am going to break it down into several sections, for your ease of reading.

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Speculative Photography - The Loss of Assets to Leagues and Teams

Allowing Spec photographers to clutter the sidelines is not the same as allowing the AP, Reuters, AFP, Gannett, Knight-Ridder/McClatchy to be there. Each shooting position is, and should be considered, an asset by the leagues and maximized. If you have speculative photographers taking positions that could be better monetized by the team to greater coverage by the local papers/outlets, then allowing organizations who's only investment in the coverage is making a phone call to get a credential, is diminishing the value of these very limited locations.

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All too often, SID's and PR departments turn away legitimate requests for credentials by media outlets because of space considerations. If Sports Illustrated were to complain about not having enough positions to effectively cover a game because of speculative photographers taking up positions...oh, wait - one of their photographers is listed here as the Managing Member of one of those speculative agencies taking those spaces, so that's not likely to happen. Here's their latest annual filing, as of 4/10/2007, and which we also reported on - US Presswire - Introduction.

It stands to reason that these limited locations should be reserved for people who are going to actually publish a photograph, not look at the seats courtside/on-the-sidelines as the camera being a ticket to the best seats in the house, with ancillary revenues as a fringe benefit, rather than the reason to be there. Those are the expensive "super fan" and big donor seats, so pony up if you want to be there.

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Speculative Photography - Risks and Liabilities for Leagues, Venues, and Teams

A common practice in business is to carry liability insurance. I certainly carry a $2m policy in the event that an incident takes place on an assignment and I am sued to determine liability. Every time there is a major event at the US Capitol, they require me and all other press organizations to provide a Certificate of Insurance, listing them as an "also insured", so, in the event I drop something onto someone from my perch making images, or otherwise injure someone, that the Congress isn't liable. Further, on the occasions that I have done weddings, venues like the Four Seasons hotel have a contract that protects them, that requires me to provide a COI.

The leagues have language that talks about errant fly balls, and so forth, but with photographers so close to multi-million dollar player-assets, the risk of their being injured is significant.

Examples abound of problems that have happened:

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  • When John Iacono of Sports Illustrated laid a 600mm lens down on a slanted roof above a seating section during Game 2 of the 2004 World Series, and it slid off, it apparently missed a direct hit onto a fan, but the debris alledgedly was enough to cause one California baseball fan to sue both Sports Illustrated and the photographer, according to the Boston Hearld.

  • Sports Illustrated reported an incident where, just before a playoff game a TV cameraman tripped up Yankees first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz. "It's not a problem. It's not going to stop me. It's not that bad.. I've played through a heck of a lot worse." But it could have been a lot worse. And who would be responsible for the millions that player is worth, or for the damage to the playing ability of the team, and lost revenues from a shortened post-season run?

  • An ESPN cameraman was knocked over, as shown here during the College World Series in 2006, and while it could have just as easily been an injury to a player, it was apparently only the cameraman who came away with limited injuries.

  • Here is a video showing a photographer causing one of the lead cyclists in the Tour De France to crash.

  • Here is a video showing someone not paying attention during warmups, and getting crashed into by a runner. From the looks of it, she was probably hurt, but what about the athlete?

  • On a lesser note, ESPN reported "John Daly was injured trying to stop his backswing after being distracted by a fan taking his picture...". While this may be a risk of the game for the player, and not attributable to the professional photographers on hand, for the inexperienced, it could easily happen with hair triggers, especially if those fingers are inexperienced.

If you were a league attorney, you'd want to ensure that those operating a business in your venue has the proper coverage in the event that these things happen to your athletes and fans. Same for Sports Information Directors and team PR staff. WIth all the security on the field protecting the athletes from errant fans, those entrusted to be within the secure perimeter must also be experienced enough to know what they are doing so as to not get in the way, and when an accident does happen, the proper insurance is in place so that damaged assets can have their diminished values recovered.

Further, leagues which allow overhead photo equipment have very specific requirements for safety cables/cords, power, and so forth. They too should be concerned about other things that could affect their player-assets on the side-lines.

Major organizations like Sports Illustrated, ESPN, and the newspaper conglomerates all carry a standard package of insurance, covering their employees' actions while working. Many professional photographers, who earn a living as a photographer, carry insurance covering their loss of equipment from theft, and so forth, and most all of those packages also include either $1M or $2M in liability coverage, standard.

The risk comes when an organization hires a part-time photographer, where they earn their living from another non-photo-related job, and see shooting sports as a way to get better seats, or make a few extra dollars on the side. Most, if not all of these photographers are not carrying standard insurance coverages, if for no other reason than they can't afford it, or they rely on their homeowner's insurance to cover their cameras, and don't carry a separate business policy. If a photographer is producing work at hometown/youth-league sporting games, and carry insurance for that, that coverage will likely not include protections for the photographer working a stadium or other sporting venue on a regular basis.

It would be as simple as those photographers getting season passes to provide a Certificate of Insurance naming the league, venue, and team as an "also insured", or for the media organization to provide the same. The one additional requirement would be that organizations also certify that their coverage covers contractors. One organization - US Presswire, has the following language in their contract, absolving the organization of all liability that results from their photographers:
Indemnification. Photographer hereby agrees to indemnify, defend and hold Agency, its affiliates and subsidiaries, and their respective officers, directors, employees, representatives and agents, harmless from and against any and all claims, demands, actions, causes of action, settlements, damages and expenses (including reasonable attorney's fees and court costs) arising directly or indirectly from: (i)the breach or alleged breach by Photographer of any representations, warranties, covenants or agreements made by Photographer hereunder; (ii)from any erroneous or inaccurate information supplied to Agency regarding the Images; and (iii) personal injury (including death) or property damage caused by Photographer at any event under credentials issued to Photographer by or through Agency. (emphasis added)
The above language in some form or another, is probably also found in other organizations' contracts, so USPW is not alone in this requirement. However, this type of clause would extract the agency from having to pay, in the event of a lawsuit, and place the league/venue/team in the position of suing an individual photographer, who, for the most part, is "judgement proof." Insuring that your remedies are not limited by a contractual clause between and organization and it's sub-contractors ensures that you can obtain relief in the event of an incident where a loss occurs.

Requiring all photographers to have proper coverage and liability limits is just common sense. In speaking with one of the sub-contractors of one of the major sports leagues' photography departments, the league requires all sub-contractors to carry that insurance. With all the incidents reported above, it's only prudent to require the same of the rest of those working on-field. In fact, not doing so is more than likely accepting an unnecessary liability, and thus, irresponsible.

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Speculative Photography - The Credentialing Spectrum

There is a continuum of those needing credentials to cover sports and news events, they are:

  • Employees of media outlets on assignment - these are actual employees of the company being paid their normal salary to cover the assignment.
  • Retained Contractors of media outlets on assignment - these are contractors who regularly serve the company, and the work they are doing is covered by their retainer. These contractors usually have a contract which transfers specific rights and also details liability for the company and for the contractor.
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  • Freelance Contractors of media outlets on assignment - these are essentially "day laborers", working only when called, for a set rate, often plus expenses, but not always. These contractors always have a contract which transfers specific rights and also specifies that the contractor is liable for all work done on assignment, and absolves the company from all liability.
  • Speculative Photographers - These are photographers who, in exchange for a credential, have agreed to cover the event for free, absorbing all expenses associated with the work, in hopes of making images that will be sold and generate enough revenue to cover their costs and generate a profit, or to produce images which they can then use in marketing themselves. Further, they're almost always NOT on assignment for a specific publication, but rather, they are there collecting image assets they hope to sell.
  • Purchased Credentials - These are photographers who have paid a fee for a "press credential", and the service of having letters written on their behalf from an organization set up for the sole purpose of selling press credential kits and the letter-writing service.
    For example:
    "Lifetime dues are only $74....IFPO gives you the affiliation and back-up you need to get you and your camera where you want to go. To start you off right, you receive a handsome laminated membership ID card and parchment membership certificate..." which then goes on to promote"THE GAIN ACCESS PROGRAM." The Gold Press Credentials will get you and your camera where you could never go alone - behind the scenes at sports, entertainment and breaking news events. The unique IFPO PRESS program which includes the Press Passport and Badge Credentials is available to IFPO members only. The backbone of the IFPO Press Program is Today's Photographer magazine. IFPO member photographers who participate in the program are on assignment for the magazine and often submit their work to be considered for publication.
While coverage of news events includes a 1st amendment right to be present for media in almost all cases, courts have held that these rights do not wholly apply to entertainment activities such as sports, suggesting that, save for a significantly newsworthy event such as a riot, or other major incident, sports is entertainment, taking place on private property, and governed by restrict-able rules of privacy. Many SID's and team PR offices are familiar with the "pay for access" credentialling offered by IFPO, and others, but some may not be. However, it's critical that freelance photographers on assignment not be confused with speculative photographers "on assignment". Freelancers have been paid by a media outlet to be there, and the likelihood is very good that their images will see ink-on-paper, whereas speculative photographers' images often only go as far as the servers that proffer the images.

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Speculative Photography - The SPEC-photographer's Mentality

"... I don´t have to do the assignment if I don´t want or don´t need to...."

"...I never thought of sticking with them in the long term, really...I´m already in the changing process, since I need to shift my focus to more reliable assignments/clients. Time to grow up..."

Gone are the days where your ability to be hired was based significantly on the source of the tear-sheet/clip. Yet, far too many people think that getting established should be easy - or easier. If you've not put in your time covering the non-glamourous work, learning the craft, then being able to make images at "the big game", is going to mean giving up something - revenue.

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Just because, however, you understand the argument against spec, doesn't mean you have a valid counter to it. The prevailing attitude is a combination of "I make my money elsewhere, I don't have to care if I am hurting others" combined with "it's not really hurting others...". Others then write "Really the bottom line is this. What I do should not affect you.", but it does. If a photographer is willing to shoot for free, that diminishes the value of the work that everyone else is doing. The argument from drunk drivers caught is "I didn't hurt anyone", and smokers opine about how their smoking isn't hurting others, despite reports to the contrary about second-hand smoke risks. It certainly does increase the costs of healthcare to everyone. Shooting spec does affect others as well.

Another photographer suggested that shooting "on 'spec' meaning give back to the community type of work for some small colleges and high schools. I also made money on them from parents and relatives of the players...", which reveals not the magnanimous nature of the photographer, but rather, the profit-making angle, as he then goes on to say "don't brand me as someone who gives away his work. Just ask my kids if I EVER give anything away and they'll tell you NO in an instant." Thus, this photographer is, in fact, operating a business on the sidelines - turning up to local games and making images with the intent to sell prints. If these are semi-pro or youth-sports leagues he's doing this at, there may be limits on earning income from non-professional athletes.

One photographer, who, after 20 years in the business of information technology, suggested that "perception is reality for everyone", and, were that the case, anarchy would rule the day. Reality is not maleable to one's circumstances or perspective. Just because very smart early historians perceived that the earth was flat, didn't make it a reality.

Further, the attitude is that photographs of pop warner football, to demonstrate ability, just won't cut it. This just isn't the case. In fact, at pop warner games, you can actually make arrangements with coaches and staff much easier to get access into the locker room beforehand, and afterwards, to be able to make the same behind-the-scenes great images that an SI or ESPN photographer can get of the major sports leagues of athletes "preparing for battle", celebrating victory, or wallowing in a bad defeat. Showing that behind-the-scenes coverage along with strong game-time imagery will let prospective paying editors know that you can tell the whole story, not just what happens within your narrow purview of your 400 2.8.

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Speculative Photography - Leveraging League and Team Assets to Promote External Income Sources

The frequent defense of spec photographers' actions is the "intangibles" defense. Some sentiments that might be being expressed could be - "I can get more work if I can just show that I can shoot well in the big leagues", or, it was actually said that " For me it's a great trade off and I have gotten business in my youth sports photography from people seeing images I shot on spec." This suggests that the purpose for their being there is to garner images to be used in marketing. In other words, you feel you're being 'paid' by being able to have these images because you can then use them as marketing/advertising tools for your business. Yet, the idea that shooting on spec is a "building block towards getting paid", is a loosing proposition for almost all providers, and moreover, you're building a foundation on clients who don't pay up front, only when they like your work. That's not a solid foundation, it's one built on sand.

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One photographer on the Sportshooter thread wrote "...this type of shooting is basically a third job. I have a day job and photography wise my main source of income comes from youth sports..... I don't have the time to work at this anywhere near fulltime at the pro level. I also don't have the time to try and market the images nor do I have the contacts even if I had the time. The last thing I want right now is a $50K job in full time photography. helps my youth sports business because I actively shooting at the pro level", yet, this photographer would no doubt be upset if the DWC and MWC (Dad's with cameras, Moms with cameras) came along on picture day and started shooting over their shoulder, because that is where their livelihoods come from. What's good for the goose is good for the gander, so too are your actions detrimental. When I've photographed a wedding, and family has done this, I'm less bothered because, while it may hit my print sales a few dollars, I am earning all my major revenue from the package fee. this isn't the case here.

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Speculative Photography - The SPEC-agency's Mentality

Simply put - aside from storage and server space, and a phone call/e-mail, there is little effort required to procure images from a free source. Yes, after the assignment, there may be an edit done of the work, and a rating of the photographer's overall ability - relevant to potential future assignments. But spec agencies - Cal Sports Media, Icon, and US Presswire are not sharing any of the financial risk of having you cover a game - and they are reaping 50% of the profits.

If, on the other hand, the agency said "we'll guarantee you a minimum of $400 against future sales from the game we assign you to", that would begin to be fair. They participate in the costs of coverage, and you don't see any income beyond the $400, unless they sell $800 in images from a game. After that - if you've got a winning shot, both you and they participate in the revenues from the images.

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One photographer, who reports working in this way, says "I don't think CSM or Icon really expect too much out of you. They pay for my parking pass and other than gas I'm in and out of the venues with very little cost." Really? Why wouldn't you want to work for an organization that has high expectations of you? The reason they have such little expectations is that, A) there's little (no) cost to doing so, and if you mess up, they're not out anything. Where's the commitment to excellence? The drive to be better, or, dare I say, the best?

Cal Sport's Media's John Green, said "I can’t speak for anyone other than CSM", and then went on to say "We decided to invest our capital, our time, and our heart and soul, no matter how daunting the task, and take control of our destinies, instead of have the terms dictated to us by others. If that’s destroying the industry, then industry be dammed." Yet, the the limited capital you've invested is in paying for the Digital Railroad platform, at $800 a month for 50GB of space an all the photographers you want, plus $50-$100/month per 50-100 additional gigabytes, to store all of the photos you're selling, and the rest is your time, and heart, and soul. Where's your "heart and soul", when trying to think about your photographers? You say "we understand, and value, the hard work of the photographers that contribute to us", yet, you're unwilling to compensate them - give them a commitment of payment, for doing so. How is that valuing them? You write "we charge industry standard rates" - of your clients, generating a profit to you in excess of that of a Getty because Getty has to pay it's photographers and their expenses " and we pay the photographers above industry standard rates", but only when you happen to make a sale for them.

Green suggests " I don’t think a lot of places would be in business if they were paying $400 day rates to their photographers, sad but true." Yes, that's correct if you have the wrong business model in place. As Mark Loundy said later on - with an average of 100 assignments for a freelancer in a year, that equates to $40k gross, less expenses and taxes, leaving you with little in the end.

"it’s not our goal to threaten anyone’s livelihood. Unfortunately, we can’t stop pursuing our goals because they affect your goals and vise versa I’m sure", said Green. Try that same reckless sentiment, as referenced in another piece, as a drunk driver - "it's not my goal to crash my car into yours, but I have to get myself home somehow. I can't not drive home because it might affect you." Just as a civilized society has precluded, by law, drunk driving, so too does a civilized photo community look with rightful disdain at anyone or anything that actually or potentially does harm to the profession.

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