Having lived most of my life in New England, I can tell you that the old weather cliché “if you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes, it’s bound to change” is a lot more true than most photographers would like. It often seems that the moment I hop out of the car to set up the tripod and photograph a sunny scene, I start to feel raindrops on my back.
Here’s a question I get from time to time:
I need some contracts to use in my photography business. May I copy the language of agreements I find on the Internet or from friends?
Under Section 102 of the Copyright Act, copyright protection “subsists . . in original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression . . . [including] literary works . . . .” Therefore, writings generally are protected by copyright law, just as are photographs.
I thought I would be a photojournalist forever — traveling the country, maybe the world, documenting little and big moments for all to see. And everything was going according to plan, until the layoffs at my newspaper and others went into high gear a few years ago. I began to wonder if the future I had hoped for was still possible.
Every day we’re surrounded by people at work: men putting a new roof on the house next door, people selling produce at the farmers’ market–even just the crossing guard who gets your kids across Main Street safely. But how often do you stop and capture these bits of daily life with your camera?
In our changing world of photography, the myths and misconceptions abound. Here are 10 that come to mind:
1. Photojournalism is being killed by celebrity photographers. In fact, photographers who cover the celebrity scene, whether red carpet or street photographer, have the same ratio of good to bad photographers as in news. It takes some of the same skills to cover news and celebrity. Regardless, Time or Newsweek have not increased their celebrity photography coverage. They just have just lessened their news coverage.
Too many individuals allow themselves to become isolated in their jobs. Outside of their work, they are unknown. In today’s volatile economic times, this can be a costly mistake, with staff positions being cut and freelance photography clients trimming budgets or, even worse, going out of business.
As a photographer, you face unique challenges in optimizing your Web site for search engines. Fundamentally, you want your site to showcase your work; unfortunately, a picture is not worth a thousand words to Google.
What is Twitter? You may have heard of it from many different sources like the social media geeks in your life. Perhaps it was through corporate news like the recent Twittering Moms against Motrin incident or how the online shoe retailer Zappos uses this micro-blogging platform to transparently communicate with its customers.
A recent discussion thread in an online group for professional photographers raised the question of working for free. A photographer asked if others were receiving calls from assignment editors seeking free photography of people, events or both. While I don’t think it’s a good idea to take on such assignments, I’m not opposed to providing free photography in some cases. In fact, I’m all for it.
I had the tables turned on me a few weeks ago. Instead of being behind the camera asking the questions, I found myself on a TV set, commenting on photographs and the art of photography. OK, this was for a local cable channel, not the CNN Situation Room. But it seemed prime-time to me.
Every couple seeking a wedding photographer asks themselves this question: “How can we trust this person to create what we want for the price we want to pay for it?” A couple can’t see the final product in advance, so they must build trust based on a variety of qualifiers — word of mouth, referrals from other service providers, your Web site, phone and e-mail correspondence, and so forth.
There’s no denying the newspaper industry is in trouble. More than 13,700 newsroom employees have already lost jobs during 2008.
Instead of opining about how miserable any photojournalist’s chances of survival are, let’s address some business fundamentals for the foolhardy. In all circumstances, it’s wise for staffers or college students to think ahead and have business basics under control prior to separation or graduation. Waiting for the inevitable only creates crisis.
Young photographers ask for my help with a wide range of questions — from choosing the best equipment to buy, to deciding whether to study for a degree or spend three months shooting in Africa. But from full-time freelance photographers, I almost always get the same question: How can I find more editorial work?
Every year, I rant to my students about “photo illustration” as a label. Here’s the short version:
Readers have no clear idea what that means, it is unevenly applied, and using “photo illustration” may make journalists feel they’ve done the ethical thing, but it doesn’t tell readers much.
The manipulation and staging of news photographs has not always been a question of ethics. In the early days of photojournalism, it was often a question of technological limitations. Photojournalism as we know it today –- candid, “life as it is” photography –- was difficult if not impossible to achieve before the emergence of innovations like the flash bulb, electronic flash and Leica camera in the 1920s and 30s.
It is not really the photo industry that is in danger of extinction, but rather a weird and strange animal that appeared about 50 to 60 years ago out of pure greed.
Let me explain: When photography became a job, the first photographers were troopers who would get up in the morning with the firm intention to get an assignment, or two, before the end of the day. They would look for both stories and clients and when they fit together, they would be rewarded with money.
Lately I’ve been really getting into FriendFeed. Part of the reason that I like the site so much is that it provides a far superior experience to graze Flickr than Flickr itself. Don’t get me wrong, FriendFeed does not replace Flickr; rather, it enhances Flickr and provides functionality that Flickr itself does not. With that in mind, I put together a list of “The Top 10 Reasons Why FriendFeed is a Better Place to Browse Flickr Photos Than Flickr Itself.”
Last March, my wife and I drove from our home in Aiken, South Carolina, to Apalachicola, a small fishing town on the Florida panhandle that is trying to reinvent itself as a tourist resort. While visiting the nearby coastal islands, we couldn’t help but notice the number of “For Sale” signs. Nearly every house packed close together on narrow sandy strands fronting the Gulf of Mexico was on the market. Locals told us we were seeing the result of speculation and overbuilding, a blind faith that the housing bubble would never burst. I did not realize it at the time, but here was a visual image for the meltdown we are in the midst of today.
A job that pays you $1,000 can end up generating $1,000 for your business. Or, it can end up generating $30,000 — or more. What’s the difference? Stickiness.
If you’re “sticky” in that $1,000 client’s mind, you’ll be the first person they think of the next time they need a photographer. Over time, that client’s repeat business can earn you far more than just that one job. And conversely, losing that client will also cost you that much over your career.
Just yesterday, a colleague sent me a Facebook message saying that she had been laid off from her newspaper. She wanted some advice on finding freelance work; I know she is not alone. Over the years, I have seen many newspaper staffers suddenly find themselves without the support structure that a corporation can provide -– no camera gear, no assignment editor, no benefits, no work, no salary. It can be a rude awakening.
Several years ago, when I was accompanying a friend to get his first Capitol Hill press pass, I handed him one of the disposable razors I keep in my car and said, “You need to run this over your face.” “Why?” he asked? “It’s a simple matter of respect,” I told him. To this day, he gives me a hard time about it — but he did get his credential.
Tension has always existed between television and print journalists. While casual observers tend to write this off to ink-stained newspaper staffers being jealous of the higher profile –- and paychecks -– of their TV brethren, the reality is that significant differences exist in how TV and print news organizations gather the news.
Whew. It’s over. Wedding season is finally finished. Holiday deadlines are kicking in and I’ve been taking a breather. But not for long. Every year, it seems, I have the same problem. Right about now I run out of customers and I have to find new ones.
Effective use of time, to the creative person, is worth more than money. It’s the difference between building a career and dreaming about one. As a photographer, if you’re not using your time wisely, you’re like the lemonade stand proprietor who, without disciplining himself, drinks his profits. You’re going nowhere.
I have a photographer friend who couldn’t get out of the habit of snapping pictures of anything and everything on her photo excursions — then, after all the work was done, trying to figure out which (if any) of her photos would sell. She finally placed a label on the back of her camera that read: “Is it marketable?”