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Vietnam-based photographer Justin Mott was recognized by PDN in 2008 for his images of Agent Orange orphans and he’s been honored with several awards for his documentary work. But like any good freelancer, he’s also aware of commercial opportunities — including promo videos for resorts and other tourist destinations. His experiences packaging these DSLR-shot videos with still images provide great insights for photographers looking to do the same.

Anantara Bophut Web Commercial from Mott Visuals on Vimeo.


Miki Johnson: Tell me about what you’ve been working on these days.

Justin Mott: My calendar has been pretty diverse since I began to organize and market my commercial work halfway through 2009. Getting my commercial work organized and branded has eaten up a huge chunk of my free time. Work in Vietnam is pretty diverse so you have to be able to do a little bit of everything.

My assignments over the last two months came from; German Red Cross, the United Nations, Forbes, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, three 5-star resorts, Microsoft, the World Health Organization, and the Smithsonian. I shot a wedding and I have been involved with a commissioned book project in Beijing and Shanghai about Chabad communities. I’m also working on my own book along with shooting a few other long-term personal projects.

The most lucrative has easily been the resort work because I’m able to sell packages of both stills and video. Commercial work simply pays more, a lot more, and in this region the market is expanding. I’m still searching for the right balance of commercial work and editorial but I completely love both in different ways.

Trangire Treetops. ©Mott Visuals

MJ: Tell me about this video you did for Anantara Bophut (above).

JM: I’ve built up a good relationship with a luxury line of resorts over the past year shooting stills for them. I’ve worked for them in Thailand and Tanzania shooting more than seven resorts.

I first pitched the video as an add-on for a stills shoot I was scheduled to do for them. It’s hard to pitch a product without a good example piece already, so I offered to do it for free, knowing the potential was huge.

I know many photographers get upset hearing things like that, but I wasn’t giving anything away. I was upfront about wanting to show them one piece in hopes of doing a series for them on an agreed price. Without having a strong piece to show them, I had to offer a preview instead. I was also confident that we could deliver them something they would be excited about.

My producer, Camille Faylona, scripted the story for them using stills as visual cues of what the final product might look like. In a face-to-face meeting we talked over the script and about pricing. We also discussed videos that had been done for them in the past and why they were unhappy with them. I was pitching them a different technique with a more TV-commercial feel and more of a story instead of just footage of their facility.

I shot the whole piece all on the Canon 5D Mark II, frequently using a Merlin Steadicam to give a first-person perspective. It’s a new process for me, so we figured a lot of things out on the fly, but overall everything worked out really well. That way I was also offering the client new technology. I could give a cinematic feel to the final piece at a fraction of the former price. They were extremely happy with the final product and we are now discussing a 6 resort video shoot.

Anantara Lawana. ©Mott Visuals

An important thing to realize about the pitch is, not only do you have to pitch the quality of the video, but you also have to help the client understand potential outlets for it. With stills they know how they are going to use them for their website, brochure, email promos, etc. For the videos you have to help them see the potential for more than just a video for their website. They can be used as web commercials on travel magazine websites, DVD’s for travel agents, in-room cross commercials, and more.

MJ: You said you see this part of your business’ growth in the future. In what ways and why?

JM: I feel like digital magazines are right around the corner, and with the iPad being released, the potential for video content demand is massive. Editorial and commercial clients need videos as their marketing outlets become more digital, so I see huge potential in both markets. I envision travel magazines doing videos more like a Discovery Channel piece, rather than just a slideshow of images. With new technology it’s affordable and not so intimidating for the photographer.

Video DLSR’s are still in the “wow” stage, and it’s easy to excite clients with their amazing footage when coupled with nice lenses. I’m not saying that the camera will do all the work, but the technology is rather revolutionary so it provides a great head start. Pretty soon it will be standard; but for now I plan to capitalize on this “wow” factor — the feedback so far has been extremely positive.

It also helps that we can offer  a one-stop production. Packages from Mott Visuals include stills and videos that have a similar style, so it’s one less thing for the client to worry about.

Anantara Phuket. ©Mott Visuals

MJ: Is this the first promo video you’d done with a DSLR? What did you learn from the process?

JM: This was our fist piece using the steadicam and time-lapse, so there was a learning curve to figure out how to use the device technically and stylistically. Plus the whole production process takes more time than with stills. We have to script the story before and get the client’s approval, then we  do the same at the end of shooting.

It’s also different because I’m working with a producer who has creative input, so we have two heads instead of one, which is good for video. I tend to think like a photographer; I want to leap from one thing to the next, while she reminds me we need to find a way to get there.

MJ: What else about this project was interesting or challenging for you?

JM: The challenge for me was not having a system in place yet like I do for stills. I know my “go to” shots for commercial shoots; after getting those I can experiment. For video I’m still fairly new, so I’m learning on the fly.

For me, transitioning has been the biggest challenge, making sure I visually lead the viewer from point A to point B. I’ve learned the value of a good producer who understands storytelling — and I also learned I need to pay her more so I don’t lose her.

The other challenge is how to market this work myself, online and through my agency, Redux Pictures. I’m still trying to figure out better ways than to simply include clips and trailers on my website and blog, but for now that is what we are limited to. Hopefully that will make for another blog post further down the road.

Doug has written extensively on RESOLVE and his blog about the development of his photography business during his decades in the industry. So we were eager to talk with him about his newest endeavor, the Menuez Archive Projects. Below you can see a selection of images from the personal stock archive, which launched yesterday alongside his interactive portfolio site. If you’re in NYC, don’t miss the MAP launch party Thursday, Feb. 18, 6:30 at 526 W. 26th St., No. 304. And if you’d like to hear more about the archive, check out Doug’s interview with Heather Morton today.


Miki Johnson:
How did the idea for the Menuez Archive Projects arise?

Doug Menuez: After Stanford Library acquired my archive they began to preserve, research, and scan the 250,000 images from my Silicon Valley documentary project from the ’80s and ’90s. A few years ago they called and said their budget was cut and asked if I had any ideas for funding.

I was sitting on a couple hundred thousand model-released, timeless lifestyle advertising images that we’d often thought about doing something with, but I was always busy with assignment work. This was the catalyst. I was very lucky to meet an experienced and creative entrepreneur, David Mendez, and together we wrote a business plan around selling high-end stock to this growing niche in advertising. Amazingly, we managed to secure funding from investors despite the down economy.

MJ: Who do you imagine being the primary audience and/or buyers for the archive? What kind of imagery is it providing?

DM: Ad agencies seeking never seen before, intimate, emotionally-compelling moments from everyday life for high-end ad campaigns. We have been getting a lot of calls over the past few years as more big brand campaigns go to stock and creatives seek images that are more special and not so widely seen as what’s offered by the giant houses. We are a boutique and are bringing old fashioned research and service in our collaborations with creatives on their campaigns. You can search our archive easily, but you can also send your layouts and we will custom search and present the results to you.

We are including a lot of my personal documentary work that is released, and we just completed our first shoot in Miami, covering a wide range of stories, including a working mom, an afternoon with a Hispanic family, a teen house party, Parcours daredevils, an older boomer couple traveling, and much more.

What’s exciting is that we researched and found real stories of real lives, just as on any other personal project I do. These stories and images are therefore compelling and authentic, but also model released. We also have a variety of editorial material, some historical, some current, and we are selling limited edition prints of my fine art projects.

From the Menuez Archive Projects' first guest curated gallery, LOVE.

MJ: How does MAP fit in with your larger business plan?

DM: MAP is a huge breakthrough for me in that it allows me to develop all the work I’ve done over the years, and create revenue from material sitting in boxes. That new material from assignments and stock shoots will help me stay relevant and replenish the archive over time.

I have so many projects and images that it’s hard to finish any one thing. MAP will provide a platform to build on for the next phase of my career. That includes continuing to produce documentary projects, films, and books. More »

This was one of the first recurring features we ever ran and one that still fascinates me. If you didn’t get a chance to check it out the first time around, I highly recommend it. Michael Shaw, founder of the BAGnewsNotes blog, and photojournalist Alan Chin, who he assigned to cover the Democratic National Convention, discuss the challenges of shooting for blogs and the potential of the model moving forward. (Click on the photo below and scroll to the bottom to see the first post and read them in order.)

When I heard that editorial and commercial photographer Jeffrey Thayer was heading to New York City for his first round of face-to-face meetings with editors and art buyers, I was eager to have him share the experience with RESOLVE. The NYC pilgrimage is an important (often nerve-wracking) right of passage for many photographers. Through Jeff’s eyes — with posts on preparing for the trip, the meetings, and the follow-ups — photographers planning a similar trip can get a peak inside the process.
©Jeffrey Thayer

©Jeffrey Thayer

I arrived at JFK Sunday afternoon, got dropped off at my hotel, and went out to meet with some friends who were in charge of my nightlife while I was in the city. Six in the morning the next day my alarms went off and I looked over my list of things to do.

It wasn’t the best week to get meetings with everyone I wanted — blame it on Fashion Week — but I got some. I was familiar with the first two publications I was to meet with, so I hopped on the train and headed downtown with my portfolio and leave-behinds in hand.

The meetings were short and good. I was able to discuss the publications’ visions and to show where mine could complement it. They both enjoyed my work and, the greatest compliment, said that some of my images “are such (insert magazine title here) shots.”

I was close by some other people I wanted to meet with but could never get on the phone, so I called everyone in the photo department until I got a human voice. I explained what I was doing, “in the city to meet with some reps and other creatives,” and asked if they had time to meet. Most didn’t but wanted a copy of my mini-book. So I dropped them off at different offices this until my feet were angry with me.

5:30 headed back to my room to shower and get ready for a little party. 1 a.m. back at the hotel to review tomorrow’s to-do list and a little sleep. Tuesday got up bright and early again, re-reviewed my list, and hit the street.

Portfolios, mini-books, and camera can get pretty heavy, but luckily the city functions at the same fast pace as I do and it fueled me on. That day I had meetings with a couple reps to get some insight on what more I could do. They looked through my book, gave me some great ideas, and told me some things that are always hard for me to believe: “Your work is strong, you have a good eye,” things like that.  I get bored with my images and I’m always super critical of myself but I think that is what keeps you progressing and growing.

©Jeffrey Thayer

©Jeffrey Thayer

Next I got to spend some time with Gray Scott, a great fashion photographer who creates amazing fine-art and conceptual fashion stories. We talked about all sorts of things: photography, what inspires us as artists, the relationship between recent vampire mania and the economic climate. Even though our styles are very different, the driving force behind why we create is similar. It always makes me feel good to meet someone who I see as passionate and inspired, as I hope people see me.  Thank you again, Gray, it was truly a pleasure.

Then I wanted to take a little break so I left my book back at the hotel and went out to see what I could see, to shoot a little, and to drop off some minis for more people who simply couldn’t meet up. Life felt good sans the couple extra pounds.

Wednesday I met with another rep that pointed me in the direction of a freelance editor I should meet because she works with a lot of people. All the reps I met and spoke with were great and helped me immensely — one even said she would pick me up in a heartbeat if I was living in NYC.

Hit the phone a little more. Met with another editor and we chatted and had fun. The general consensus from everyone I got face time with was that I have the right attitude, some definite talent, and they could work with me.

More »

When I heard that editorial and commercial photographer Jeffrey Thayer was heading to New York City for his first round of face-to-face meetings with editors and art buyers, I was eager to have him share the experience with RESOLVE. The NYC pilgrimage is an important (often nerve-wracking) right of passage for many photographers. Through Jeff’s eyes — with posts on preparing for the trip, the meetings, and the follow-ups — photographers planning a similar trip can get a peak inside the process.
©Jeffrey Thayer

©Jeffrey Thayer

My name is Jeffrey Thayer and I am a photographer. I am early in my career, but I have been using the camera as a medium for expression as long as I can remember. I can’t paint or maybe I’d be a painter.

At the moment I am trying to push my career up a notch. I have great clients, from boutique designers to smaller editorial, but I want more. I want the clients with huge visions that are a challenge to create and who want to make them with me. I want clients that embody the laughter in life and fun lifestyle that I enjoy.

So how does one go from being an assist to a photog? That was the question I asked myself — and to be honest, I needed some help. I have worked with a lot of great photographers in the Los Angeles area, as well as some of the ones who came to town for shoots. I have shot pre-production stuff for one of today’s most in-demand photographers … and all of this means nothing in the end.

So I started asking these guys and gals I work with what I should do to move forward. I also started attending every possible APA event on these topics. I went to portfolio reviews and was told I seemed to have multiple personality problems. I narrowed my vision and started to do some e-mail blasts, which got a good reception, and then did a postcard.

But budgets are tight due to this awesome economic climate, and I still wasn’t getting the calls I wanted. So I hired Leslie Burns-Dell’Acqua at Burns Auto Parts, who told me I was using too much of a “shotgun” marketing technique. I was sending things to people who probably wouldn’t hire me and I probably wouldn’t want to shoot for. What I needed to be was a self-promotion sniper. So Leslie helped me fine-tune my contact list and market only to the clients who use images like mine and the companies/magazines I want. We also trimmed a couple more images out of portfolio.

“Get in front of them and sell your personality, your images — do whatever you have to.”

More »

When Joe McNally, a legendary photojournalist and lighting guru, stopped by the liveBooks office during some rare down time in San Francisco, I couldn’t resist setting up a video interview. (Thanks to videographer Drew Gurian.) Joe has contributed to National Geographic for 20 years and was a staff photographer for LIFE magazine. He works with huge commercial clients and produced a seminal portrait series of September 11 heroes. He’s also the author of two must-read instructional books and writes a very popular blog — which brings us to the video below.

Joe started his blog in 2008 after prodding from friends (and avid bloggers) including Moose Peterson, David Hobby, and Scott Kelby. Now the blog is an important part of his business, especially since “big pipelines” for assignments have dried up in recent years.

“Any photographer out there now is stitching together things,” he says. “Work comes now in all sorts of strange ways.” Smart photographers like Joe understand that blogs and social media are an important part of that patchwork. They bring in assignments, create buzz, and help build community with other top professionals. (If you haven’t seen Joe’s parody of Chase Jarvis’ Consequences of Creativity video, I recommend you watch that too.)

Marc Asnin, an experienced editorial photographer, had the idea a couple years ago to help photographers get their work in front of the many NYC editors in his Rolodex. He’s revamped the idea this year as the NYCFotoWorks Portfolio Review and has signed up editors from big publications like ESPN, Vanity Fair, Fortune, New York Magazine, Time, and Real Simple. (The original Aug. 1 deadline has been extended, and applications are still being accepted.) Marc and I talked about what makes this review different, as well as what advice he has for photographers when they meet with top editors.
Ray Kelly, New York City Police Commissioner, atop a building overlooking Ground Zero. Marc Asnin/Redux

Ray Kelly, New York City Police Commissioner, atop a building that overlooks Ground Zero. Marc Asnin/Redux

Miki Johnson: How many editors would a participant in the NYCFotoWorks Portfolio Review potentially get to see?

Marc Asnin: You’ll see 14 if you sign up for two sessions. Our thing right now is that it’s an incredible list of editorial people. Last time we had one of these sessions, most of the people came from out of town, which I thought was very interesting. I think they realized that if you’re paying $399 and you’re getting to meet with seven editors — you can’t FedEx your portfolio for that. And how many people are going to look at your portfolio online? Does it get through the spam filter? All the editors are really into it. It’s refreshing to see that you can get 50 editors to participate. Even in this difficult time, they still want to see new work.

This year, meetings are during the day and into the evening. So let’s say you come in the morning and you have three sessions out of your seven, you’ll be able to hang out. So maybe you only got seven minutes with someone from Vanity Fair, but then you could also talk to them during the intermission. We will also have a wrap party so that the participants can all get to know each other. It’s good to hang out with your peers, too. When I taught at SVA, I always told the students, you can learn much more from each other than you can ever learn from me; you’re the same age, you’re in the same world.

One thing we did last time and we’re doing again is making sure that there’s a certain quality of photography we’re showing. It’s not like I’m expecting everyone to be Annie Leibowitz. But we wouldn’t ask photo editors to give their time to look at work that’s not on a professional level.

We’re also not pigeon-holing people. So if you’re a reportage photographer, that doesn’t mean you can’t see Vanity Fair. That’s an important thing for photographers to understand. For instance, I’ve worked with Bruce Perez at Redbook. If you don’t understand the magazine world, you might wonder, what would Marc ever do for a woman’s magazine? Well, I did a story on breast cancer and another on a boy with brain caner. So you can get interesting reportage work at a woman’s magazine. I used to work a lot for Good Housekeeping and did some other incredible stories there.

A portrait of David Rockwell, design impresario, for Business Week. Marc Asnin/Redux

A portrait of David Rockwell, design impresario, for Business Week. Marc Asnin/Redux

MJ: What tips do you give photographers about their meetings with editors? More »

Many photojournalists love the idea of working with NGOs since it lines up well with their philosophy and style of image making. The reality, however, is that most NGOs have an unsophisticated understanding of visual storytelling and are used to getting photos for free. With that in mind, Chris Tyree and Stephen Katz, along with a crack team including other former staffers, founded Wéyo, a visual consulting firm and content producer for nonprofits. I knew the potential impact of inventive image collaboration from talking with Valenda Campbell, CARE’s senior photo editor, and Najlah Hicks, the founder of Do1Thing.
An image from Wéyo illustrating a program in the Dominican Republic that teaches young mothers pre-natal and infant care.

An image from Wéyo illustrating a program in the Dominican Republic that teaches young mothers pre-natal and infant care.

Chris Tyree

In the beginning, Wéyo co-founder Stephen Katz and I started talking about how we could turn our photojournalistic skills and passion for working with nonprofits into a full-time career. We researched the nonprofit sector, talked to numerous organizations, and started to assemble like-minded journalists from a variety of disciplines (photography, film, writing, editing, designing), as well as marketing specialists.

Our goal has been to build a team that produces award-winning stories about nonprofits and then uses (markets) them in a way that can make a difference. Sometimes that is through designing websites and blogs around the content and sometimes it is crafting unique marketing projects utilizing our narrative-based material. Our fundamental principle is that, for people to act they must truly believe, and that comes from showing/telling them in compelling ways what it is exactly that our clients are doing to make this world a better place.

Starting a business in the middle of the greatest recession since the great depression may seem like a crazy move, and maybe we are a bit crazy, but it also presents a lot of opportunities. Nonprofits need us more than ever to tell their stories, and we have been able to attract people with not only great talent, but also great souls. We’ve grown (slowly) without taking loans or reaching too deeply into our personal finances, in part by appealing to nonprofits that we’d worked with when we were on staff at daily newspapers. Until now we’ve existed almost entirely by word of mouth, but we are currently in the early stages of a larger marketing campaign. So, we are growing at a comfortable pace,getting calls on a national level daily,but are ready for a larger role as organizations realize the potential we can tap into through our compelling work.

A Wéyo image of George Washington University students who set up clinic care in an unserviced Rwandan village.

A Wéyo image of George Washington University students who set up clinic care in an unserviced Rwandan village.

We decided on a model for the business that brings together different disciplines in large part after looking at thousands of nonrprofit websites — we realized 90% or more have a hard time telling people what they actually do with the donations they receive. The images on these sites are often of smiling kids, if there are images at all, and the videos and words leave people more confused. Our group understands the importance of showing and telling the story. It has been an amazing experience working with all these talented individuals, whose hearts are as big as their ideas. It’s not the hustle and bustle of the newsroom, much of what we do is in the virtual office online, but when those kind of talented people collaborate for a great cause, there is an excitement and creative buzz that is unmatched.

There are two main concerns working in this sector. First, these organizations have generally relied on donated content. And now everybody with a digital camera considers themselves a photographer, so and there is a ton of really awful, but free, imagery available. Most of the nonprofits we’ve worked with realize the power of strong documentary photography, but can’t come to grips with paying for it — even though these same groups will pay a decent amount of money to an PR agency or consulting group to utilize the donated images. There is only so much they can do with bad photography and most of these agencies really have no concept in how to use strong documentary material.

Second, you really aren’t your own boss. I don’t think any of us imagined at the start how long it would take to get a project started. In the newspaper business, you get an assignment, an hour later you’re shooting it, a few hours later you’re editing it, and a few hours after that it is in print and sitting on your doorstep. Not so in this new world. We have proposal meetings, then contract reviews, then board approvals, lawyer approvals … then perhaps you get the chance to work. Wéyo has proposals out that are over a year old and still in contract review, awaiting board approval. So, you have to have a lot of patience and take solace in the knowledge that what you are doing has the potential to change many lives for the better.

Be Part of the RESOLUTION: Have you been frustrated working with NGOs? Have you found any that have a more sophisticated understanding of visual storytellling?

Click here for a list of all other “After Staff” posts.

We asked a wide variety of former staff photographers the same question, and here’s what they told us. Please share your own stories — as you can see, you’re not alone. Follow the “more” link to see all photographers, and check out Monday’s “Group Therapy” for photographers’ back stories and websites. Click here for a list of all other “After Staff” posts.

  • What did you do to build awareness of your photography and your new availability?

Stuart Thurlkill
I talked with everyone I knew and then went and talked to everyone I didn’t know. I found out what each person’s greatest need was and tried to find a way to fill that need. I made it a point to go everywhere with advertising and marketing material. I worked with some great photographers here in Arizona who gave me a chance to cut my teeth while I built a portfolio. I also built my own flash website. I don’t recommend this unless you have a lot of time on your hands. I also put together a print portfolio and started to shop it around to as many people in my community as I could get an appointment with.

Christopher Record
I would say a strong website is the most important first step for people starting out. I was lucky in that I had worked as a photojournalist for many years, in which time I had assembled a diverse portfolio. I also started doing weddings on the side while working at The Charlotte Observer. I was able to build my wedding portfolio while working full-time at the paper. By the time my wife and I decided to go out on our own, I had already been photographing weddings for six years. The newspaper industry has been going through so many problems and the timing just seemed right to go out on our own. We’ve been lucky that our websites have been able to attract clients from across the country.

Michael Mulvey
I instantly jumped on getting my website together and I happened to use liveBooks. I also started a blog. This allows me to routinely update a photo area with what I am immediately doing at the moment. I joined several associations and jumped into the business end of photography concerning branding, copyright law, marketing, etc. I also started networking and using the various social media sites to get the word out, build new relationships, and keep the ones I always had. More »

It’s not just photographers who are looking for new ways to apply well-developed skills. Matt Randall, who managed the editorial photo department at the L.A. Times for 15 years, recently founded the Pro Photography Network as a way to keep doing what he does best — organize a photo staff and hand out assignments.

Miki Johnson: How did the idea for Pro Photography Network come about and when was it officially launched?

Matt Randall: The idea came to me through various portals. Some from just brainstorming ideas and some from advice given to me about “doing what you do best.” Since I had managed the editorial photo department for 15 years at the L.A. Times and knew all of these photographers very well, it was just a natural thing to do. Let’s get them back together again so we can market their skills as photographers, and I’ll do what I like to do, which is logistics, financial innovations, and event planning.

MJ: How does the group work logistically? How are assignments handled?

MR: I will start by working with the needs of the client and confirming the who, what, where, when and why. Once I have the logistics of the shoot, I can work with the client and find the right photographer for their needs: male, female, bilingual, or any other special needs that require a photographer with a particular skill set.

“We can always find a photographer for any job.”

I then send out a request based on the needs of the client to the pool of photographers that meet the clients criteria. Since we all have our Blackberry/iPhone devices, reaching the group is easy. I then hook up the photographer with the client. From this point on, the photographer can focus on being a photographer and doing what they do best. At the L.A. Times, we are always trying to find the best photographer for every assignment too. But the beauty of this approach is the client has more input up front when hiring a photographer. More »

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