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?”
Most cameras with a built-in flash deliver harsh, straight-on light that produces red-eye because of how close the flash is to the lens. Sometimes, a built-in flash is the only option you have, and in these cases, getting an imperfect photo is better than no photo at all. But it’s a big reason so many people’s photos have an amateurish look.
I was crouching in mud up to my knees trying to get a good angle of a farmer planting seedlings. Each time I tried to move, dollops of mud splashed over my camera and clothes. Already I had lost my shoes in the mud, so I had to abandon them and fish them out later when I finished photographing the planting. In fact, for most of the 10 days that I was on the island of Mindanao in the Philippines I was in mud — on a good day it only came up to my ankles.
I’m hooked on rubrics. And I have one of my colleagues, Keith Kenney, to thank for my addiction. Kenney is an associate professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of South Carolina. At a department meeting last September, Kenney shared his ideas about grading with rubrics. A rubric, or grading matrix, is a way to codify specific elements of student work, such as photographs, which do not easily lend themselves to points and percentages.
Recently while listening to one of my favorite podcasts, The Candid Frame, professional photographer and author Rick Sammon offered an old adage as his No. 1 photography tip: “The camera looks both ways.”
Running your photography business, or advancing in your photography career, is not the same as running for president of the United States — but there are some parallels that can teach us valuable lessons. Here are five:
Digital and computational photography, represented by the latest technological advances in image creation and processing, signifies a shift in how technology influences our visual culture. As we move from slower and more costly manual analog processes to faster and cheaper automated digital ones, there arises the danger of allowing technology to determine how reality is captured and constructed. In a very real sense, technology has become an agent of informational control.
So you’ve gone out and dropped your hard-earned money on one of those exotic lenses you see in the credits of the images you want to emulate. Or you’ve upgraded to the latest gigapixel SLR because you want your images to realize their full potential instead of plateauing in the “not quite” category. Yet somehow, after all the money you’ve spent, you’re less than thrilled — in fact, your images actually appear worse!
With all the video and multimedia on the Web these days, how is a person to choose? Last month, I wrote about videos on newspaper Web sites. Although there are many worthwhile videos, knowing which sites to visit and what to watch presents a challenge —- especially if you don’t have hours to spend drifting through cyberspace. Wouldn’t it be great if there were a single Web site you could visit that had a selection of the best journalistic videos and multimedia projects?
The PDN PhotoPlus Expo is New York’s big annual photography event, and it’s coming to the Javits Convention Center this week, Thursday through Saturday, October 23-25. The show is really two shows in one: an enormous trade show with literally hundreds of exhibitors showing off the latest cameras and accessories, and an educational conference featuring more than 100 seminars.