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While iStockphoto is launching its 10th birthday bash, this New York Times story outlining the hard road ahead for photographers stirred up debate in the photo world (there’s even a follow-up article with reader and blog responses). Adding insult to injury, word also surfaced of a new business model for product photography called Via U!, where buyers can composite an image and purchase all rights for a flat $250 fee. A Photo Editor has details.
Blurb’s Photography Book Now competition has also launched its third year. In addition to $25,000, the grand prize winner will also be given the opportunity to show their work at ICP, the Annenberg Space for Photography, and the George Eastman House. The competition is a reminder of the potential of self-publishing, something we discussed extensively in our Future of Photobooks series.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 »
Bryan was a natural choice to moderate the discussion on photobook funding, since his post, The Netflix of Photobooks, includes a forward-thinking collaborative funding option with real potential:
“I wonder if some type of joint venture could be organized amongst bloggers and photography organizations to share photography books? I’m not talking about Steidl books here, more like the the Photography.Book.Now winners and other on-demand books. I would love to look at all these books, but there’s no way I can buy each of them. But there maybe a few that I would buy if I could see them first.“
His comment alludes to several larger questions: It’s easier than ever to create and print an entire book yourself, but will those books ever sell enough copies to be a financial boon to the photographer? To do that, there needs to be a much more efficient and wide reaching way to connect interested buyers with individually produced books.
Jörg Colberg (Conscientious) and Hester Keijser (Mrs. Deane) have taken a fundamental first step toward helping bring buyers together with at least one kind of photobook — independently produced ones that can’t be bought through online chain stores. Just yesterday they launched The Independent Photo Book, a blog where photographers can send their books and zines, along with information on how to purchase them, creating a simple online clearinghouse.
One remaining question for the endeavor, and one I’m sure Jörg and Hester will address as the project continues, is how do you draw people from outside the small photography and blogging world into the site?
Bryan’s comment also highlights a deeper problem with selling a physical book in the online world. I agree that I’d be more likely to buy a book if I could hold it in my hands first. I’ve settled before for being able to see a digital version of every page (instead of the one or two you can see on Amazon, etc.), but the ideal is to look through the physical book. As David Bram points out on the Fraction blog, “The print quality of the book is as important as the content of the book itself. If the photographs are not well printed in physical book form, the potential buyer needs to know this.”
What would be a good way to get books into potential buyers’ hands? What about a traveling pop-up shop that brings independently produced books to towns around the world? Are there photobook festivals that are affordable and approachable for industry non-insiders where you can see a large number of books in a short period of time?
Assuming that photobooks continue to be financial viable for larger publishers, though, most will likely continue to be bought online through major bookstores like Amazon. Todd Walker (the mediator of our CONSUMPTION discussion) suggested an interesting dilemma that stems from this process. Since books purchased online are often reduced to a “thumbnail” image, is this a system that disadvantages complex images, favoring simple, graphic ones that read well at smaller size?
The increasing ease with which photographers can create their own books also helps them take the step up to these larger publishers and markets — so the self-published book might not turn a profit, but it can help procure a larger run that might. Nathalie Belayche gave an example of this model in her post on Food For Your Eyes:
“Robin Maddock couldn’t wait to find a publisher for his book Our Kids Are Going To Hell and so he did a Blurb book, as a dummy and to make a test. A few months later the book was redesigned and came out with the help of a brick-and-mortar publisher.”
Jonathan Worth, whose blog explores alternate funding models for photographers, weighs in with this:
“The generation currently breaking into the industry have inherited a fond nostalgia for analogue processes (think Holga, Lomography or witness the dramatic rescue of Polaroid ). Developing and exploiting this demand is one of the areas that photographer’s business practices can and should focus looking forward. The book is just one element of this.” Are there photographers who are working this angle right now?
All of these models rely on the same assumption — that a photographer has the money to print a book in the first place. What about funding the initial investment needed for printing, especially not print-on-demand?
Bryan suggests the microfunding model could be a powerful tool. One encouraging example is the 13th issue of Hamburger Eyes (a San Francisco-based street photography magazine), which was funded through Kickstarter last summer. The magazine met it’s goal in only three days and even took in an extra $1,000, allowing them to print a larger magazine than ever before.
In this situation a magazine has an advantage over a book since it has serial issues that have gained them a loyal following. How can photographers build the same kind of audience for a single book (that is likely to include just their own work, not lots of potential funders’, like Hamburger Eyes)?
I would look at something like the We English blog that Simon Roberts created in the year running up to the publication of his book by the same name. Although he worked with publisher Chris Boot, he built a loyal audience by asking for ideas on how to photograph “Englishness,” offering a print to the first 150 people who sent him ideas.
As I explained in my first post, a brand is not a logo or a website or a design. A brand is a promise, what people trust, feel, and believe you or your product to be. Branding is how you express that promise to people. Here’s some tips to help you define your brand — only then can you express it through branding.
First, your brand will ultimately be defined by other people, mostly your customers and potential customers. They will make up their minds about you and you will usually have to live with it. Your job in building your brand is to try and influence them before their minds are made up. It is easier when they don’t yet know you and harder when they do.
Therefore, your brand can not be just anything you want it to be. It needs to be based on some truth about you, as well as client needs. Otherwise your brand will be rejected as not credible. Your brand also needs to be flexible so that it can evolve as you or the market change over time.
For example, while Polaroid’s brand was successfully built around innovation in instant imaging, its brand become too closely associated with chemical imaging in the minds of consumers and has struggled to stay connected with people in a digital world.
Second, be clear about what you need your brand to achieve at a strategic level. For most people this will be to set you apart from your competitors, to make you top of mind and memorable. By default, a brand should also say who you are not. A strong, healthy brand never tries to be all things to all people. Strategically your brand offers a way for clients and potential clients to quickly and easily categorize you. When they need what you’ve got, you want them to know exactly who to call. Ideally your brand should also make you look like the original or the best solution, making it hard for others to copy you.
Here are some great examples of photographers who have done this successfully.
Terry Richardson has one of the strongest brands I have ever seen. He has no logo and no real design to his website. Yet he stands out. He is unique, highly memorable. He shoots some of the world’s most famous people with a small, inexpensive digital camera. Why is his brand so strong? In a world full of smartly presented photographers who all look, shoot, and feel similar, Terry is distinctly different. (Check out the video, where Terry talks about his approach and his new Belvedere Vodka campaign.)
Another example is Australian landscape photographer Peter Lik. In a market saturated with great landscape photography, much of which never sells, Peter’s business generates more than $30,000,000 per year (US!!). Peter’s photography, while brilliant, is hardly the sole reason for his success. The essence of Peter Lik’s brand is the creation of a photographic experience. In particular, his galleries are must-see destinations. What you buy is not just a beautiful picture but a small part of everything that you experience in Peter’s world.
The critical third stage in defining your brand is determining what the attributes are that make up your brand. Attributes are like brand DNA. These are the tangible and intangible, emotional and functional characteristics that you and your business, product, or service are — or could credibly become. If expressed and managed correctly, these attributes become the reasons for people to trust and do business with you.
Here’s an example. I asked 10 people who know of Peter Lik to give me 20 words that describe what they believe him to be. I put every word, including those repeated, into Wordle, which creates a prioritized word cloud showing most-used bigger and least-used smaller. This this is a visual representation of Peter Lik’s brand attributes, according to these 10 people.
You’ll notice that the functional description of him as a “landscape photographer” is rated low. From a brand perspective, this is excellent because being a landscape photographer is just the cost of entry, it is not enough to define him as unique. Peter has purposefully built his brand around the attributes that help set him apart. That is how a strong brand works.
So, how do you determine your attributes? Here are eight questions that will help you find them. More »
Gene Higa is a destination wedding photographer based in San Francisco, but he’s got great tips for all kinds of photographers. In today’s Tip of the Week, Gene reminds photographers how important it is to meet new people and that helping others always pays off in the long run.
With the rapid change happening in the photography industry, we photographers are becoming part of a much larger, more competitive, more sophisticated global economy. Potential clients now have access to innumerable choices, and any photographer is now just one option in an overwhelming smorgasbord of photographic options. To compete in this economy, photographers need to have a new skill set that includes the ability to define, express, and manage their brand.
A well defined brand strategy can improve your profits, your reputation, and the likelihood you’ll be considered for future jobs. It may even effect whether your business succeeds or fails.
But I’m not here to convince you that you need a brand strategy, nor to tell you what it should be (I’ll discuss those another day). Rather, I want to take a step back and help you understand what a brand is. Unless you understand that, it will be difficult to ever build the most effective brand possible.
If we asked most people what a brand is, their answers would likely be tangible things like logos (the Nike swoosh) or colours (the red of a coke can) or words (BMW’s “The Ultimate Driving Machine”). Likewise, when people set out to build their brand, they usually focus on the same tangible things. “I need a brand” translates to “I need to build a ‘look’ or ‘style.'” While these are important elements or expressions of a brand, they are not the brand itself.
So what is a brand? A brand is a promise. It is whatever people think, feel, trust, and believe you, your business, or your product will give them if they buy from you. It exists inside people’s minds, out of your reach — yet it’s a big part of why they buy from you.
Logos, colours, fonts and words are simply how you try to convey your brand’s promise to people. Thus a “brand” is a promise and “branding” is all the tangible things you use to express that.
Confused? Let me give you an example. If you mention the name “Hasselblad” to photographers and ask them to describe the brand in a single word, you’ll get similar responses: expensive, quality, icon, fashionable, professional, reliable. Many photographers will express a deep desire to own one. That’s the sign of a great brand. But this deep desire to own a Hasselblad, and the positive way photographers describe the brand, does not come from a logo, website, or colour. It comes from a brand promise, which many photographers believe and which Hasselblad has spent decades cultivating.
What has helped make the Hasselblad brand so strong and effective? For starters, Hasselblad has clearly defined the promise it makes to customers. What’s more, it is a promise they make sure they keep. It is based on a truth about who Hasselblad is and what its customers need. More »