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The following are ten things “not” to do to ensure your website remains listed on any search index and, most importantly, to ensure that people can find your work through search engines.
1. Keyword Stuffing: If you use the same keyword repeatedly within your website’s text or in your keyword tags, you’ll find yourself penalized and likely removed from the search results index. How much repetition is too much? Use a keyword density checker to make sure that you’re not over the legal limit. Experts say 3-7% for your major keywords and 1-2% for your minor keywords. We touched on this in our last blog post about keywording, Licensing Fundamentals: Keywording for Search Results.
2. Duplicate Content: Duplicate content deliberately tries to trick search engines into improving a website’s ranking. Search Engines have built-in algorithms that analyze pages with similar content. How much similarity are they looking for? Use this duplicate content tool to see if your pages duplicate too much information. If so, the search engines may omit your web pages or site from the search index. A good place to read more on duplicate content is the Google Webmaster Central Blog. If you need to see a more visual presentation on the subject, check out the blog posted by SEOMOZ.org.
3. Free-For-All Link Exchange Programs: There is a difference between natural link building and free-for-all link exchange programs. With natural link building, you’re linking to relevant sites or reciprocating links with partners or associations. Free-for-all linking occurs when you use software to put your links out to hundreds of thousands of sites.
Free-for-all programs are essentially spam, and if a search engine discovers this practice, they will likely penalize your website and lower your ranking (if not blacklist you). Stay honest — start a link-building program by establishing reciprocal links with relevant, reputable websites. It really is that simple. If you’d like a good online resource to learn more about this, check out this blog by SEOMOZ.org on link building.
4. Robots: Do not use a robot to rewrite your content. Such robots alter content just enough to generate a set of new, duplicate pages for search engine indexing, with the ultimate goal of increasing your search engine ranking. You may be seduced by the offer of having your website rewritten for you. Don’t fall for it.
Such robots, or programs, typically rewrite your content with very few changes. If you’re caught with duplicate content, your search ranking is likely to plummet so far that no one will ever find it. Needless to say, if you use the LicenseStream HTML code to publicize your store on your blog or personal website, don’t submit it for a robot to rewrite — not only will it affect search engine rankings for your personal website, but it could also affect rankings for your LicenseStream store.
5. Keyword Dilution: Focus on the main keywords that pay off for your online content. To get an idea of what keywords people are looking for, use the free service from Wordtracker. Plug in your keywords and see how many searches they have initiated. Focus the copy on your website and each page on a specific theme. This will naturally ensure your keywords are specific to the types of content and images that someone can find at your website. You may want to refer to the previous ImageSpan blog post about keywording practices.
For all ten tips and other helpful information, check out ImageSpan’s blog.
I am the director of the Open Society Institute’s Documentary Photography Project, based in New York City. Through exhibits, workshops, grantmaking, and public programs, this project explores how photography can shape public perception and effect social change.
I joined OSI in 1994, helped establish the Moving Walls exhibition in 1998, and in 2004 developed and launched OSI’s Documentary Photography Project. Prior to OSI, I worked in Washington, D.C., as the director of government relations for NAFSA: Association of International Educators, where I represented U.S. colleges and universities in lobbying the U.S. Congress and government agencies on immigration policies affecting foreign students and the hiring of foreign faculty and researchers. I received a BA in history from the University of Michigan.
I’ve spent a decade supporting documentary photographers who devote years to personal projects. These photographers are thinking beyond getting a few images published in a newspaper or magazine — they want to have real impact. This happens when they:
Working with advocates/NGOs can greatly enhance a project’s reach and provide a photographer with on-the-ground contacts and assistance, as well as financial support. But there are challenges as well.
NGOs are not media organizations and have a different relationship to photographers. They also have their own agendas, which may or may not dovetail with a photographer’s. Sometimes there is a match. Sometimes not –- in which case, it may just be an assignment, not a long term relationship.
Click here for a list of all other “After Staff” posts.
I was to a friend recently why I am writing these posts for RESOLVE. She said, “You’re doing this for free?” I replied that she was missing the point of social networking. Every bit of exposure has value. Every email, every crosslink, every mention of your name. In that vein, I recently started a blog to complement our hugely popular (and free) BIRDS AS ART Bulletins, which are emailed to more than 10,500 folks several times a month.
Several times while leading a tour at a popular spot like the Venice Rookery in Florida I’ve had a member of my group ask me at lunch, “Artie, that guy asked you a question about exposure. Why did you answer him? He didn’t pay for the tour.” I usually answer by saying, “I’m a nice guy” (and that is true). But folks need to understand that every tiny encounter like that counts.
When I think back to the first slideshow that I ever did (I got paid a whole $10), somebody who saw it said, “Hey, my nephew works for Natural History magazine, why don’t you send him some pictures?” Add up two decades of things like that, all those folks you’re nice to at a workshop, all of those e-mails, and the result is success.
When I was doing lots of articles for Bird Watcher’s Digest, I took a rare assignment to do an interview with John Kenneth Terres, the editor of the Audubon Encyclopedia of North American Birds. He told a story about how it was raining in New York and he had an umbrella and went out in front of this building to get a cab. A guy without an umbrella came running towards the cab, and John said, “Go ahead, you take it.” And the guy said, “Oh thanks,” and got in the cab.
A week later, John went in for an interview; he was hoping to get hired as editor of Audubon magazine. Who was sitting behind the desk? The guy that he gave the cab to. John Kenneth Terres was a very literary person and he eventually found an anonymous quote in Barlett’s Book of Quotations: “Be kind to strangers, you may be entertaining an angel unawares.” That quote has pretty much dictated one of them major philosophies my adult life: Why not be nice? The more love you put out, the more love is going to come back at you. One of the most rewarding things for me is that every day I get emails saying, “Oh, Artie, thanks; you helped me so much.” And e-mails like that are quite rejuvenating — they keep me going.
If you’re open to chance encounters, encounters that seem innocuous at best, they can turn out to be life changing. My friend John Shaw had done a great book for Amphoto, The Nature Photographer’s Complete Guide to Professional Field Techniques. For years I dreamed of doing a similar book for Amphoto on bird photography. I called Robin Simmen and left a phone message: “I’d really love to do a bird photography book for you.” I never heard from her.
Then about six week later, at a North American Nature Photography Association summit, I was standing in line to make a phone call. I turned around and there’s a short woman standing there. Her name tag says “Robin Simmen, Amphoto.” I said, “Hi Robin, I left you a phone message in December and never heard from you.” She came to my booth, looked at my work, and said, “OK, we’re going to do this.”
That led to the original publication of The Art of Bird Photography. It wound up selling more than 30,000 for Amphoto and becoming the linchpin of my career. When the book went out of print, it was still in huge demand, selling for as much as $500 on e-Bay, so we recently bought the rights from Amphoto and reprinted 5,000 copies in Hong Kong.
I often give people who are interested in the business of photography a quiz: “Say I print 10,000 copies of a little booklet on bird photography that costs me $20,000. Does it make any sense for me to sell them for $2?” Everybody says, “No, you just broke even.” I respond, “Not exactly.”
If you sell all 10,000, that’s 10,000 people out there who think you know what you’re doing when it comes to bird photography. We actually went that route (although we sold the booklets for $10 not $2 — *smile*). That little book became a calling card and the pedestal of what’s turned out for me to be an amazing career. I could never have dreamed of the huge success that I’ve had, could never have envisioned being where I am today. As I say often, “You gotta love it.”
Miki Johnson: Let’s talk a little bit about your book.
Ian Shive: The book is a 224-page, hard cover, coffee table book on the American National Parks. This is the latest and a most updated look at the parks, a modern look at a classic subject. We included six or seven places that you’ll know — the other 185 pages you’ll have to read the caption to know where that is.
The layout is also unusual. Traditionally national park books have been grouped by region or park. We bounced back and forth across all these different parks. We might show a red maple leaf on a brown pine needles in Maine, and then that color or shape relates to something in Yellowstone National Park in the middle of winter. It was our goal to show the colors and collaborations that happen in nature and are so similar no matter where you go.
MJ: And was this something that the national parks came to you about? Or was this an idea you had?
IS: The parks turn 100 years old in 2016, and I wanted to do a book on the Centennial. I have great collection of images, and I decided to work on a book over five years and develop this idea. So I started sending some emails around to gauge interest from publishers.
Cristina Mittermeier at International League of Conservation Photographers hooked me up with a publisher in California. They called and were like, we love your idea — how would you like to do the book in four months? I said okay, but I needed to pick up a few shots in the meantime. It’s pretty exciting because, from what I understand, every Borders in the country is going to having it on their front table.
MJ: That’s exciting. Is that something that you arranged or the publisher did? How did that happen?
IS: It was through the publisher. And once I had made the deal with the publisher to do this book I brought in the National Park Conservation Association as a partner. I had done a lot of work with them, and the two lead editors of the magazine have been instrumental in guiding my career as a national park photographer. So I asked them to write two essays for the front of the book, and then the president of the organization also contributed the book’s forward. They also have an insert in the book, so it helps further their message, and I’ve given a percentage of the proceeds back to the NPCA.
MJ: So tell me about these webisodes you’re doing.
IS: I’ve been working on multimedia for a while, exploring the collaboration between film, video, and still photography. For the book I had to go and pick up some shots; I had this great archive of national park sites but I didn’t have the obvious shots of Old Faithful, or Delicate Arch, or the Grand Canyon from Angel Point. The publisher said, you can do whatever you want on the other 200 pages, but there’s certain things that we need in a national park book from a market perspective. And I agreed.
So I put together a road trip to travel through the entire American West over about five weeks. I brought Russell Chadwick, who is my partner in video and multimedia, and he shot footage with his HD video camera. The idea was to get a little bit of the park, show me doing my thing, and build a multimedia piece for the web. At first we were just going to do one piece, about the making of the book, as a promo tool.
When we got back and looked at everything, the footage was stunning. We had time lapses of fog going over the mountains in Glacier and Logan Pass, and thunderstorms in White Sands, New Mexico. We had so much stuff, we decided to turn it into four six-minute segments, called Wild Exposure.
I came from a strong motion picture background, so I shared the videos with some friends in the industry and they were like, this is incredible. You’ve got to do something else with it. So I showed it around to a few people in the television network world, which has been a more arduous journey than I anticipated. But I’ve persevered, and the show’s scheduled to air this week on Current Television.
I had a meeting in San Francisco and shared the first segment with them. They thought it was really different and it fit really well with their programming. They weren’t all about changing it. They were into what the show embodies, the kind of Zen moments and a soft conservation message. They’ve agreed to run the four-part series, so 50 million U.S. households and 142,000 web visitors a day will be exposed to the show.
MJ: And they’re running these short pieces?
IS: Current has a unique approach to how they do the programming. It’s not like ABC where something begins at 7:00 and ends at 7:30 and has seven minutes worth of commercials or whatever. They have five-minute shows, two-minute shows, twenty-three-minute shows, and they all flow together. So there was no need to expand or force an expansion on the pieces.
We feel like the web has really shortened people’s attention spans. To get somebody to sit down and watch a show for 30 minutes is difficult these days. One of the strengths with Current is you can do a tightly edited, compelling six-minute show and achieve your goal, either a message of conservation or even advertising. So the show will exist as six-minute units that are spaced out. We are also looking at potentially marrying all four to be a twenty-four-minute segment.
MJ: So how do these episodes fit into your larger marketing strategy for the book?
IS: I think getting people to invest in what you’re doing is the most important part of marketing. Let’s say you walk into a Borders and you look at this book, but you’ve never seen anything else besides it. It might sell itself, certainly. But you can really augment that emotional connection that people have to the book if they have seen this six-minute segment on Glacier National Park. Somehow they feel a more personal connection with what you’re doing, and that’s when they actually buy to the book. Or they decide to crack it open and give it a longer look than they would have before.
MJ: Have you thought about how the book and episodes translate into increased visibility for you as a photographer?
IS: With 50 million U.S. households, it’s going to be very interesting. I have no idea what I’m in for. I’m hoping nothing. The last thing I want to do is get to a national park and have a ranger ask if I have a commercial filming permit.
I hope that Wild Exposure will continue beyond the book. And one thing that I have begun to discuss with the network is making the show more interactive. How cool would it be to have me in the field, and let’s say I’m doing a story on poaching in Africa, you can actually meet that poacher and hear his perspective, then introduce other characters who embody this type of conservation photography.
I also want it to stay true to Current’s prime demographic, which is 18- to 34-year-olds. I want it to continue to appeal to a younger, sophisticated, edgier, hip audience. I feel like that group is so often overlooked — certainly in nature photography. I think it’s usually geared toward older audiences, but the conservation message is all over.
MJ: Did you fund these Wild Exposure episodes yourself?
IS: I did. The payoff is the marketing. Right now there’s no money being made off it. It’s purely a marketing and promotional tool that I hope will grow into something that generates income at some point, maybe as a regular television series. Or at the very least, you know, just boosting my profile as a photographer. It’s an incredibly crowded marketplace, and everybody’s looking to get their voice heard. If you’re a book publisher and you’re looking to do a book on anything, and if your photographer shooting things, then producing a series that can be placed on the web or television seems obvious.
MJ: It sounds like it’s all paying off, but I suppose it’s always a gamble.
IS: It is. People might not respond to it. It’s very exciting, but I’m putting myself out there in many ways. I’m putting myself out there not only in print in a book, but also the show, too. People are seeing me peeking out of a tent. They’re seeing what I’m shooting, how I’m shooting it, what results I’m getting, and then they see the product I’m putting out. One thing about today’s media, and especially the web, there is a brutal honesty that I love, but it’s also brutally honest. So I’m prepared a little bit for that. I just hope people like what I’m putting out there so that I can continue to do what I love.
For years I’ve been hiking in China, and just about any time I can squeeze out a few free days, I jump on a plane to Sichuan or Yunnan province, in Southwest China. I always shoot during my trips and have grown adept at both executing these treks and coming back with images suitable for a published story. In other words, I’m well versed in extreme altitude, extreme weather, and cameras.
So it was with delight that I took an assignment in June to document the religious mountain of Meili Xue Shan in Southeastern Tibet. The “holy mountain” is sacred to Tibetan Buddhists and is home to a kora, or “holy trek,” that is ranked China’s most difficult trek by the China Mountaineering Association. Pilgrims make the trek around the holy mountain, a complete circumnavigation that is said to cleanse the soul.
Sitting in my apartment in Shanghai, it was difficult to contemplate a ten-day, 300-kilometer trek through Tibet. A series of questions began running through my mind: How was I supposed to walk 12 hours a day and still make strong images? Was there a road? Was there mobile phone access? Was there electricity?
My first decision was to shoot film — digital just wasn’t going to cut it for this trip. Not only would electricity be scarce, but extreme temperature fluctuations would drain the batteries and potentially be too tough for my Canon 5D MII’s. So I dusted off my Canon 1Ns and bought 200 rolls of Fuji Provia. Luckily I already had all the gear, clothes, and footwear to attempt such a journey. Excitement was beginning to sink in.
A few days later, fear began to sink in, too. When I researched, I was disturbed by how little information existed about this trek, including crucial details like the length of the trek, it’s difficulty, and possible villages along the route. I was finally dug up two resources: a China Trekking site compiled by a person who had obviously never trekked in his/her life and a travel website by two German hikers who had done the trek 3-4 years earlier.
The Germans had estimated the kora to be around 300 km (185 miles), meaning that I needed to cover 15-to-20 miles a day to complete the trek in a reasonable amount of time. That meant I probably needed to sleep in a tent every night, cook my own food, and walk for 8-to-10 hours a day — at altitude — all while visually documenting the journey. Did I mention that each day was a vertical assent or descent? And that there are three passes over 4,500 meters (15,000 feet)? This was starting to sound like mission impossible.
I decided to travel with a writer for two reasons. First, we are very close friends and we’ve been hiking together in the Himalayas since well before either of us was getting published. Second, he is an expert in the region. It’s rare to find someone you can hike 12 hours a day with, for 10 days, and still be on speaking terms with, but we complement each other and I would never have considered going alone.
I knew to never go wandering into Tibet without a Tibetan. In this part of the world, people die on the mountains — the only safety you can count on is experience. Finding a guide proved difficult, and in the end I decided that I would find the right person in the village where I would start my journey. That was a potentially risky move, but like everywhere in the world, you can usually make things happen once you are on the ground.
My flight to Zhongdian, now named Shangri-la, was easy enough. Zhongdian is the first town on the Tibetan plateau in China’s Southwestern Yunnan province. I decided to fly in and rest there for two days; at 3,200 meters (10,500 feet) it would be an ideal place to acclimatize before making more aggressive moves into the mountains. Taking the time to acclimatize in this part of the world is as essential as remembering to bring film for your camera. Without spending the first day or two resting, you are setting yourself up for attitude sickness and possibly worse.
From there, getting to the mountains was easy enough. And as the initial adrenaline rush gave way to reality, the trek revealed itself to be the most visually beautiful, emotionally rewarding, and physically and mentally challenging experience of my life. And all that was crammed into just nine days.
Without giving away too much of a story that is not yet published, I can say that the Germans were wrong in their calculations — the trek is around 400km (250 miles), when taking into account the switch backs and detours. That made for about 30 miles a day.
My writing partner and I completed the journey in nine days and suffered some of the most extreme weather conditions I’ve witnessed in my decade of traveling in the region. We were rained on, snowed on, and hailed on. On the last day, it was 25C (77F) when we woke up and -20C (-4F) just seven hours later, at 4,900 meters, with wind strong enough to knock you off your feet. I lost about 20 pounds in the process and gained a completely new respect for our Tibetan guides, who floated effortlessly over high passes and across windy plateaus.
As far as the gear was concerned, the Northface tent, sleeping bags, and jackets performed wonderfully, especially with violent temperature fluctuations. The Canon 1Ns held up beautifully in rain, snow, and sleet. The Fuji Provia was, as always, the right color film for the job. And after walking up and down mountains for ten hours a day in the remote Himalaya’s, I feel as though I could face down Michael Phelps, on dry land at least.
Planning thoroughly and planning well are key to a large-scale assignment. However, staying flexible and being willing to throw out the plan at a moments notice is equally important. If you are prepared for both, there is a good chance your trip will be successful.
Traveling in rural China is not the best place to have a specific plan. Like most of us, I live in a large city where I am used to trains turning up on time, buses criss-crossing the city at all times of the day, and convenience at my fingertips almost everywhere. As soon as you step out of China’s major cities, a lot of this evaporates.
In my plan, I had penciled in one week for each location. As far as details — timing, when to arrive, when to leave, etc. — my notebook held no more information than, for example, “Week 1 – Inner Mongolia.” I knew exactly I where I wanted to go and what I wanted to achieve there, but it was impossible for me to predict how and when I would arrive and leave a certain place. In this respect, I had to remain completely flexible and not become frustrated if I could not get to a location on ‘x’ day, as ‘y’ day would probably be ok, too. This was a luxury I had working for the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, which afforded me much more time than most assignments.
Adapting to change was the only constant on my trip. Mid-way through our journey, my assistant had to unexpectedly return to Beijing, forcing me to work alone for a small portion of the trip. I had anticipated something like this, so I focused on subjects I could cover without an assistant.
The biggest challenge during my Pulitzer assignment was when my “chapter” on abandoned cities appeared to have fallen through. I had researched and planned a trip to a spectacular abandoned city in the Inner Mongolian deserts. The day before embarking, we discovered that the area had just been shut off to outsiders because the route to the city passed through one of China’s space rocket launch centers. I had no other back-up location for abandoned cities, so I was concerned that this important chapter would be missed.
As we called hotels to book rooms for our future stops, we mentioned our predicament to a hotelier. This hotelier happened to be a professional guide to explorers and told us of another abandoned city rarely visited by outsiders. A quick search online revealed that the demise of the city fell inline with desertification, so we decided it was our final (and only) option. The old city of Yinpan turned out to be one of the highlights of the whole trip, despite coming about completely by chance.
Over the years there’s been more than a few bird photographers who have said, “Look at Artie, he’s getting 15 people on a tour at $999 a person — do the math. And he does three tours a row in New Mexico. I can do that too.” But with the exception of people who really enjoy being around people, they pretty much all failed. It comes back to the principle of hard work. I think the most important thing to make a successful workshop is to put your heart and soul into it and to give a damn.
Ask yourself, “Am I a people person?” “Do I want to work 17 hours a day?” “Do I want to put every ounce of effort I have into finding a good situation for these people?” I’ve seen other instructors who will go to a spot that’s traditionally good, and if it’s terrible, they stay in the same spot and waste the folks’ time. On a typical morning at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, I often move the group up to five times in the first one-and-a-half hours. If you’re lazy, workshops are not for you. Likewise, if you don’t like people, you’re not all of a sudden going to become a people-person because you’re running a workshop.
I don’t know how the template for BIRDS AS ART Instructional Photo-Tours (IPTs) came to be, but they’re not much different now than when I ran the first workshop with one person. The formula came to me naturally: tell people what they will be doing, get up early and go photograph, help them in the field, and then review the images.
We still do an introduction on the first night. We show the students what we’re going to be photographing and talk about the various techniques that we will be using. The second evening we do critiques, and the third night we take a close look at composition. Each year we put more emphasis on the photography itself. We always find time for some Photoshop lessons. Many good photographers make their images look worse in Photoshop rather than better. That’s why we came up with the Digital Basics File, a PDF that we send by e-mail.
Originally we took as many as 15 people out, but now we’ve reduced the group size to 6-10 and raised the prices. It took me a long time to realize that if I take two groups for three days I have to do all the ground work twice. Now that I’ve started doing these longer trips there’s much less pressure with regards to the weather and the really great photo ops; I feel much more relaxed throughout the trip.
People always comment that I’m one of the few leaders who eats almost every meal with the students. Most of the big-name tour companies have professional leaders whose primary job is to open the door of the van. I have my laptop on and I’m teaching pretty much all the time except when we’re chewing. An IPT is pretty much total immersion.
My mother will ask me, “Are you going to retire?” And I say, “Ma, I love what I do, I love every second of it.” Even when I’m working 16-hours-a-day, I love it. People often ask if I take a vacation without a camera and a big lens, and I just laugh. Why would anyone do that if they’re doing what they love?
I think that most folks who are starting out in photography, whether they come from another career or not, their goal is to not have to go back to their first career. There was one guy who worked for me early on, he was working for IBM and they were offering him a buyout. And I said, “I’d take it in a heartbeat. If you can make it on your own, even for a year, that’s one year you didn’t have to wear a tie and sit in a cubicle. And now, 15 years later, he’s taking people all over the world teaching photography.
You gotta be yourself. You can fool people for a little bit, but not for long. I’m opinionated, and I’m not humble. Some folks are going to be rubbed the wrong way by that. (My people skills have improved dramatically over the past decade and I try never to be arrogant.) I like to say that 80% of the people love me and 20% hate me — nobody is neutral about me. And many of the 20% have never even met me. You gotta love that. It’s commonplace for people to say, “Oh my god, you went on a tour with Artie Morris? He is arrogant and he will push you out of the way to get a picture, he doesn’t care if you learn anything.” When someone asks, “Have you ever been on one of his trips?” the person always responds, “No, but that’s what I heard.” I never take it personally.
Call me nuts: I am one of those rare folks who would rather be out photographing with a group than be out by myself. I just love leading IPTs. (P.S. Most of my seven BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year-honored images were created while teaching.)
There’s nothing more ego shattering than interviewing a photographer who is as old as my career is long and finding out that she has kicked my ass in a market place that I coveted for years. Shooting book covers for literary works is downright respectable in a bizarre, pseudo-erudite sort of way.
“Did you read Rolling’s Recalcitrant Ruminations of Ruskin?”
“Why no darling, but I did shoot the image for the cover of the hardback.”
“Oh, bravo. Glass of sherry?”
I tried to get into that publishing circle for years. To say that they didn’t give two shits about me is, to be honest, crediting myself with one shit too many. Which brings me to my guest, photographer Claire Rosen. She was recently contacted by the boutique global publishing firm Random House to shoot the cover (left) of Sarah Addison Allen’s book The Girl who Chased the Moon.
The folks at Random House were intrigued by Miss Rosen’s distinct style of photography when they came across it at one of her gallery openings. The assignment (I’m not joking): Read the book and pitch some ideas of how the cover should be shot. The folks at Random House chose one of the ideas and Claire was, (I promise, I’m not joking), free to go shoot it and send in the results.
That kind of paid creative freedom with a high-profile client is practically nonexistent in contemporary society. Not only do you get paid to do your creative thing, you can window shop at a Barnes and Noble on a date and feign surprise when you see your book cover. If I want to accidentally-on-purpose show off my book cover I have to start a fire in the café of the book store, convince my date that it’s safest in the photography section and then use my book to fan away the smoke. “You okay? Hey look at that!”
Gigs like Miss Rosen’s can become a wonderful source of work. In just a week since receiving her first assignment, she has landed another book cover. If you’re interested in doing this type of work, you need to keep one thing in mind: The people at publishing houses who are green-lighting covers aren’t looking for photographers. They are looking for covers.
I reached out to a senior art director at Little, Brown Books to find out what he’s looking for from photographers. He suggests going to the bookstore to find covers, illustrated or photographic, that are similar to your narrative style. Check the imprint names on the books’ spines and contact those publishers to get the name of their art director.
The best way to reach out art directors is by mailing a hard-copy promo with an example of your work. Email promos have become the bane of art directors, my contact said. The barrage of email promos from listing services has resulted in a backlash, and they are routinely deleted out of hand.
One phrase that stood out in my interview with the Little, Brown art director was “cover appropriate.” Take the time to do your research. If your work doesn’t look like any cover you’ve seen, then don’t send it to the publishers.
With all that in mind, take a day and hang out at the bookstore — you could find a whole new direction for your photography business. Just please pretend not to notice if you see a guy in the café torching a pile of coffee beans.
When most photographers set up shop, they focus on becoming better photographers, naturally. Few photographers, however, develop even the most basic skills they need to run their own business. They hope to hang on long enough to be discovered before they sink under their own lack of knowledge. That’s like building an intricate jeweled house atop quicksand. (Look in the mirror, repeat after me: “You want fries with that?”)
The “get discovered” strategy implies that someone else will take responsibility for your own financial well-being. Ideally, we’d all be born independently wealthy, have our spouse deal with the money, or find the perfect business manager or agent who can do this for us. I’m here to tell you — snap out of that lovely fantasy! Not. Gonna. Happen. And even if, by the grace of the angels, it did, you would still need to learn the basics in order to participate in the decisions being made about your money. Even the best business managers need your help to help you succeed. You really don’t want to be one of those poor schmucks who got super successful but are now penniless because you trusted someone else to handle all your business decisions.
In my new column for RESOLVE, “Seeing Money,” I’ll be sharing what I learned the hard way about the business side of photography during nearly 30 years in the industry. I started as a fine-art student, moved into photojournalism, built a multimillion-dollar advertising studio with a staff of 15, then closed that monster and reconfigured with a minimal crew and low overhead. Along the way I made and lost fortunes.
I never understood money; money was not my goal. I was — and am — all about making great images. But I learned to respect and understand that money has the power to support my most important work. I hope to help you realize the same thing by explaining what works, what mistakes to avoid, and how to recognize the ways our creative brains sometimes sabotage our own success — especially whenever it comes to managing money.
I am constantly trying to answer the difficult question, “How do you reconcile the conflict between art and commerce?” I give the long answer in my workshops. The short answer is, “Get paid to shoot what you love to shoot.” To achieve that, you have to build a solid foundation, step by step, to financial security.
Many photographers have a lot of fear around money; they think it will dilute their talent and corrupt their values, or they just can’t handle the math. I’ll provide pain-free financial management tips you can apply right away. OK, that statement was a lie — there is no such thing as pain-free financial management. But rest assured that my lessons will be less painful than if you did not learn these skills at all. Plus, you are benefiting from all the pain I’ve already gone through to get where I am today. Best of all, as you begin to learn and apply fundamental business lessons, you will find that you gain confidence and actually begin to enjoy the business part of your photography business.
In this “Seeing Money” column, I will discuss the steps you need to take right now to start (or save) your business. Check back soon if you wish you knew more (or didn’t realize you needed to know more) about: