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Many interior designers avoid developing their web presence because they don’t have good images of their work. If you don’t have the resources to hire a professional photographer, your next best option may be to do it yourself. Here are five simple steps to help interior designers learn how to photograph interiors.
1. Start by purchasing a good camera and tripod — If you are planning on taking interior photos, do it right with a camera that can produce high quality images. We recommend the Canon G12 ($450 msrp); a good entry-level camera that can shoot HD images and manages light well. A tripod will help you reduce noise from “camera shake” while allowing you to step away from the camera and observe your interiors. Using a timer may also help you if you don’t have a steady hand.
2. Focus on one subject for each photo — One of the easiest mistakes you can make is trying to capture EVERYTHING in one photo. Think about the different ways your design highlights the room and focus your images around these elements. As a designer, many of the elements you focus design around (flow, colors, contrast, angles, materials, lighting) will be of more interest to your clients than capturing the entire space of a room. Eliminate any items that distract from the subject of your photo.
3. Use natural light to showcase the room— Unless you have proper training, complex flash systems and lighting will be nothing but trouble. Experiment using natural lighting and try to capture your rooms from different angles throughout the day. Once you get more comfortable with your camera, you will learn what times throughout the day warrant the best results. Your tendency may be to turn on all of the lamps to add additional light; don’t. Your camera is equipped to help you and will work best with a balanced quality of lighting.
4. Don’t edit your photos on scene— If you are new to photography your images likely won’t turn out perfect; you will need to do some basic editing. If you use a Mac computer you can do basic editing using a program that is often preloaded on your computer called iPhoto. If you don’t have access to iPhoto, free applications like Pixlr can help you make adjustments to your photos.
5. Borrow ideas from the pros— Pinterest is a great way to gather inspiration for your photo shoot. Create a pinboard of interiors that you love and take notes on what aspects of a room you want to capture. By doing this prep work you will begin to recognize themes between your photos and professional interior photos.
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How does one become a better photographer? To find the answer I decided to ask industry veteran Gerald Ratto. For over half a century Gerald has used film photography to capture the world. Gerald is a former student of Ansel Adams, Minor White, Imogen Cunningham and Edward Weston; the list of industry legends he has worked with is extensive. His work has been displayed at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and his client list includes some of the largest architectural firms in the world.
Gerald has worked with film since he was 12 and began photographing with a 15-cent box camera. Many of his most celebrated images (See his Children of the Fillmore and Vintage Collections) were shot traditionally. I began by inquiring about what differences exists between photographing with film and digital.
“Photography is really about seeing. We are in an age where people confuse photography with image capturing. When you hold up your phone or high megapixel camera are you really being a photographer? I don’t know. That depends on how intentional you are in the process. It’s easy to capture a huge amount of space today and then use Photoshop to retroactively tell a story, but something is lost in that process. You can make adjustments in Photoshop but you lose some of the expression because you didn’t really consider the content and the story that is being told.”
Is there any correlation between the physical developing process and the creation of an authentic photograph?
“Developing isn’t really a huge part of the process because of previsualization; seeing the story in your mind before you capture it with a camera. If you are doing it right you already know what the story is once you capture it. Then, it’s about going through a process to bring it from a small format to something people can see and display. Each camera is really the same. Each is simply a different instrument. If your process is the same then you can use different instruments to more accurately tell the story.”
Herein I realized the error of my initial question. The question is really not of whether we gain or lose something using film or digital methods, the question is how we remain intentional in an age where technology removes our limits. What are we doing as photographers to keep our content intentional and relevant?
I ask what advice Gerald can provide for how to stay relevant as a photographer.
“Photography is like discovery; every time you look in the viewfinder you’re closing in on an image that is part of something bigger—a little vignette of the greater world. You don’t want to go into any project with preconceived notions of what you are going to capture because by doing that you impose yourself upon the subject. Authenticity is the key to staying relevant. Allow the subject to tell the story and use your mastery of the instrument to capture it.”
Gerald’s work over the last 50 years showcases many different thematic elements; a testament to the depth of his abilities as photographer. I encourage you to take a look at Gerald’s portfolios and pay special attention to his mastery of light. From architecture models to portraiture, Gerald’s work showcases the breadth of his abilities as a photographer. As we finish up I ask Gerald what his favorite photo is. He smiles and replies, “The one I’m taking tomorrow.”
Gerald Ratto and his wife Marla manage a studio and reside in San Francisco, CA. You can view more of his work on his liveBooks site; www.geraldrattophotography.com.
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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 »
So far in this column I have touched on general issues of starting a photography business. Now we’ll explore the mystery of profits. If you want to make a profit, stay in business, and retire some day, you need to know your break-even point. Break-even is reached when your income is equal to all your costs: production, marketing, fixed overhead, taxes — everything.
Why is this useful to know? Because every decision you make impacts your costs and/or potential revenue, so you should be evaluating all options in the context of your cash flow and whether you will make a profit. When you print a new portfolio, buy a camera, or advertise in a source book, you are taking a calculated risk that these expenditures will yield jobs and revenue. If you can’t do the math and actually calculate that risk, it’s just risky.
Most of the photographers I know take every job they can, happy to be working and oblivious to the fact that some jobs cost them more money than they will earn. This happens because they don’t know their break-even and are not factoring in all their costs.
You simply must know if you can even afford to take a particular job before you consider it. Sometimes photographers take a loss for a great assignment that will help the portfolio. But if you rationalize a low fee because the job makes you feel better, or think it gives you momentum, think again. Sometimes we are asked to do a job as a favor with the promise that next time we’ll be paid properly. I can pretty much guarantee you that this promise is a lie 99 percent of the time. Especially in this economy.
You can go out of business in a hurry working under the illusion that being busy is the same thing as making a living. More likely you are just churning and burning resources without getting ahead. If things slow down, look out. Instead, be strategic. Your goal should be to make a profit to provide financial security and funding for future creative endeavors. Therefore, each job you accept should fit into what you defined in your business plan.
The next step is to understand your profit margin. This is where you can really refine your goals, focus your mind, and get the business in gear. This often-ignored tool is simple: profit margin equals your net profit after taxes divided by total revenue.
Say your net profit is $30,000 on $300,000 of revenue. Your profit margin is 10%, not so great. Average business margins are around 30%. With that knowledge, you know it’s time to cut overhead, raise your fees to earn more, or both. If you regularly check yourself against an ideal profit margin, you are utilizing a potent tool to analyze your business costs. Now you are starting to take control of your own destiny.
Let’s break it all down another way: Say your total yearly overhead at the moment (Fixed Expenses + estimated Cost of Goods Sold + estimated taxes) is in fact $300,000. That is the minimum amount you have to earn to break even. Now look at your income and how it is billed. If you bill per ad, and you’re getting an average of $10,000 per ad for usage fee, and you shoot about two ads per month, your total annual income is $240,000 — and you are losing money.
Until you do this math you probably think you are skating by because the checks are coming in. You are short and late on some bills, but you are working. But by not making a profit, you are actually way behind and won’t last long. You shot 24 ads at $10K each, but you need to do 30 ads at that rate just to break even. To make a profit you’ll need to significantly cut costs, raise your rate, or both.
Based on your break-even today, and considering your market, forecast a number of jobs for the year that seems conservatively realistic and how much you’ll need to charge to arrive at a 30 percent profit margin. Carve that in stone or on your forehead and aim for it. Now you can be strategic about every job you accept and every dollar you spend. You can keep track of your progress easily and push yourself and your team toward that goal. Profit. Make it part of your plan.
Miki Johnson: So tell me what you’ve been working on now.
Sol Neelman: I’ve been working on a long-term project, photographing weird sports and the culture of sports around the world. Recently, I photographed dog surfing in San Diego, pro wrestling in Mexico, the Lumberjack World Champs in Wisconsin, and bike polo in Seattle. Up next is a prison rodeo in Oklahoma.
I try to keep myself busy with fun sporting events. It’s an excuse to travel, which is one of my addictions. Along the way I’ll do some traditional sports, such as The Beijing Olympics and college football. I just went to my first Cubs game at Wrigley and photographed the fans in the bleachers. That was fun.
My goal is to get this work published in a book. Ideally it would encompass everything in sports – not just weird sports. It doesn’t need to be the Redneck Games to be good. But the Redneck Games were pretty good.
As far as work, last year I did a commission piece for a developer for whom I photographed downtown Portland for a year. They hung my photographs in the lobby and on each floor of their new building, which ironically is located right across the street from The Oregonian. I’ve also been doing work for Nike and a local bank, plus some weddings. Things are kind of hit or miss, so I try to stay busy with my own project to fill the time.
I’m still trying to figure out how to expose myself to more advertising firms. I recently signed up with Adbase and plan to contact firms that seem like a good fit. At the same time, I’m really trying hard to steer away from editorial clients, just because their rates are so low.
This week my writing career is in the toilet. Literally. I was standing in my hotel room lavatory recently, evacuating a few gin martinis, when I happened to glance at a fabulous picture hanging on the wall. This wasn’t some trashy iStock photo, this was a gorgeous image. (I love boutique hotels — they take the time and money to get the good stuff.)
I had a look around the rest of my room and realized that all the art was of equally high quality. Of course my next thought was, “Is there a money to be made in photography sales to hotels?” So I thought I’d find out.
I started with a call to Jill Crawford, a world famous interior decorator who you would recognize from TV’s Guess Who’s Coming To Decorate. She told me that she sources photography for her interior designs in two different ways: directly from the photographer or from an art consultant like Fresh Paint Art Advisors in Los Angeles.
Ms Crawford advises photographers to pursue both strategies — direct to the designer and via art consultants — if they want to get into this market. Also keep in mind that the people you connect with for hotel projects will also be your conduit to corporations, restaurants, bars, and large mansions with empty walls.
Speaking with Helene Brown, of Fresh Paint, one immediately gets the sense that she has a singular passion for art and photography, as well as a veteran sensibility for brokering it. Ms Brown explained that the usage rights for the photography she negotiates is based on 1) the quantity of the prints, and 2) the quality of the medium that the image is printed on.
Higher quality print processes will fetch a higher premium. But on the other side of the coin, a large run of offset lithographic reproductions can also get a good return. The rights granted are one time to print, with varying levels of exclusivity based on the negotiated deal.
If this all sounds like a good idea to you, you’ll want to do a little research before launching the hotel art section of your website. My suggestion is to do a cocktail crawl through a few five-star hotels and have a look at what is hanging on their walls. You’re not looking to emulate the work so much as you’re trying to understand the artwork’s tone and how it fits into the interior decorating palette.
Finally, remember that the designers and consultants you’ll be contacting are savvy people, so don’t try to pitch them crap. And if on your cocktail crawl you encounter a writer holding a martini glass in the washroom, that’ll be me looking for an idea for next week’s column.