Tag Archives: metrics

16 Gigs Later….

Getting Blasted

16 gigs was what I shot on a recent assignment. The client was extremely happy with my work, attitude and professionalism. This occurs when I show up for an assignment, build my photographs and deliver results. The difference this time, the client didn’t budget for photography even though they said, “we need photos for post-production reference and online promotion.” Let’s see, they need professional photography but didn’t budget for it. Huh? Yet they budgeted $100,000 for the trailer. Hey can I get some of that? Seriously. You have to send some my way.

Let me explain….I was contacted by a director/producer friend who was directing/producing the live-action portion of a trailer for a yet-to-be-released video game. The company releasing this game didn’t budget for photography. Professional or otherwise. My good director/producer friend explained to them why it was necessary and important to pay a professional for the required and necessary photography.

We negotiated a price that was obviously way more than they expected/wanted and I worked for a fee that was just about correct for the usages required.

So in the end it worked out but of course I was going to politely decline if the client insisted they had no money. Thank goodness for good friends and a good reputation.

As always, thanks for reading.

Cheers!

Create Your Own Moment

In 2003, after 24 years in business for myself as a commercial photographer and photo lab services provider, I was ready to move beyond photography and into the next phase of my professional life: creation of an online presence through blogging, public speaking, writing, teaching and consulting. It was also a goal of mine to become a celebrity in the process. Eight years later, after concentrated effort and focus, trial and error, missteps and success I find myself in the catbird seat ready to push out to the world all that is me via my very own internet-based radio show on photography. (:()) How’s that!

I’m now at the spot I envisioned eight years ago, but I’m not surprised: hard work, relentless effort, laser focus and karma all mixed together will do that for any self-employed creative professional (SECP). I control my destiny, it’s up to me, sink or swim to make this a long-term success.

How did I get here?

Follow me:

1)     I fully committed to this from the jump. It was necessary to reaffirm this many times but I began at 100% full throttle. For me this was the only way to begin, no time for toe-dipping here, jump in and swim with purpose and a plan. When the inevitable forks in the road popped up I knew which ones to take advantage of. My fork collection is huge.

2)     I was fortunate to have been offered a teaching job at world famous Brooks Institute. From 2003-2009 I taught twice a week at the Ventura, CA campus. Met 100’s of students and many of them will be coming onto my show as interviewees. Cool. How did I get this gig? By paying it forward. Several years earlier I had occasion to view a photography show by Brooks Institute students at a gallery in Santa Barbara. The teacher of these students was looking for someone to help with a field trip to LA area photo studios. I didn’t know this teacher but I volunteered anyway as LA is my hometown, I like to be in the service of others (Makes me feel complete) and I had a studio. . The field trip successful. Everyone enjoyed themselves. When I called the school in ’03 to inquire about a teaching position, this teacher had become the Provost. He remembered that field trip and how I had volunteered to help him and his students. I was hired shortly after that phone call. KARMA.

3)     I’ve worked my connection with the school into opportunities to speak, run workshops, give interviews and to appear as Mr. Pixel on Phototalkradio.

4)     I began a blog on 6/22/08 and have acquired over 5,000 unique visitors and over 7,000 hits. Small in the world of the web but big for me and growing daily.

5)     My book was released on 11/17/09. It stayed in the top 100 (of its’ category) at Amazon for seven months.

6)     Credibility has led many companies to partner up with me more easily than if I had no book, no blog and no connection to a world class school.

7)     Not to be one to rest on my laurels, I went to a marketing boot camp in September of 2010 run by Craig Duswalt. There I met internet guru Tom Antion and was inspired by both of them to rethink my marketing efforts. While following Craig’s online presence I discovered his radio show on toginet.

8)     After speaking with Craig about his radio show (and having an empty credit card, always always a dangerous thing) I pulled the trigger on 50 hours of prime radio time programming.

I go live 2/4/11 at 9am: Build A Better Photograph with Michael E. Stern

Hard work, laser focus, relentless effort, karma and here I am!

What are you doing?

Michael

Bad Habit Bridge Words

Winter View Looking East, Lake Tahoe, 2010.

So, I’m like ya know listening to a ya know like radio program and do you, ya know ever, um, like listen to you know someone talk and they like um take a long time to get their point across? When people of all walks of life use  these bridge words, I go nuts! And I also get turned off to the message they’re trying to get across. Bad habit bridge words are the bane of good conversation, interviews and just regular person to person communication. People don’t write like this but they um you know talk like this.

For the next week, really listen to how people talk. To others and to you. On radio, tv and in person. Which ones sound intelligent and which ones don’t? When speaking to your clients and potential clients, how do they sound? Which ones speak in thoughtful language (which makes you feel comfortable and reaffirms you’re dealing with the right person) and which ones make you think otherwise? For example, eleven years ago I was part of an audience listening to a speaker who didn’t use a single obvious or annoying bridge word the entire time she spoke. I was mesmerized at how she commanded me to listen. She was a real pro and her message was properly sent and (at least for me), properly received. Since that eventful day, I practice good speech habits.

How do you talk? Record your own voice and find out. Try it and you’ll be surprised at how well you sound…. or horrified at how difficult it is to follow your speech. Come across as an intelligent, thoughtful person and your pricing structure and sales pitches are protected from being perceived as less intelligent or educated than they could be. Most clients have college degrees and hang out with other educated people and/or have had to mingle with company bigwigs (who are highly educated). This breeds a certain level of expectations when it comes to conversation. A poor conversation (using basically, um, ya know, like bridge words) is an obstacle to success.

Why do this to yourself? With effort and time, this problem is fixable. Monitor your conversations via a digital voice recorder, listen to others speak (radio interview are a great source), take notes and be prepared to change what is usually a long-standing bad habit.

Here is a small list of annoying bridge words: um, ya know, you know, like, basically and ah. Please add to this list.

Cheers!

Social Media Doesn’t Trump Personal Relationships



Nature's Beauty & The Chance To Connect

I want to inform you about a surprising phenomenon that has increasingly repeated itself this year: new business opportunities are being generated not because of my web presence but because of my personal relationships. I’m online with a business website, this blog, LinkedIn, Facebook, Slideshare and Youtube and all of these together aren’t doing as much as my ability to personally connect with people and pitch my services. My website has a Google page rank of 4, which is almost unheard of for a single-person business, much less one run by a self-employed creative professional. (SECP) Google has a page rank of 7. Facebook is a 10. Being a 4 when most businesses my size are either 0 or 1 is a tremendous achievement. Rate your online presence.

Try as I might I cannot relate my online status directly to sales. What has translated into sales is phone calls, meetings, email, promos, posting to all of my social media outposts and connecting with people whenever I’m out and about, both professionally and socially.

Here are two examples: In November I was hired as the official photographer for a 3-day animation expo. During this assignment a client from Disney, (whom I had met briefly last year on a shoot) came up to me. We talked a bit about this and that, work, family and friends. During this friendly conversation I pitched her a little bit on what I’ve been working on but generally it was in a social context. A few weeks later I get a call from another person at Disney whom I’ve never met but who was referred to me by the Disney client mentioned earlier. The conversation turned into the project currently on my homepage. No social media required, just strong social skills.

Secondly a call came in from a client whom I have been friends with during and after his stint working for the mouse. He is now an independent producer and filmmaker and I’ve been doing unit work for him for on a few of his shows. These low budget shorts were fun to be a part of. I was helping him out as a friend and I wanted to practice using a new lighting idea. His newest gig has a decent budget for a photographer and who do you think he called?

It pays to connect in as many ways as possible but, don’t rely on social media alone. Especially for a creative business, we need to reach out in person as much as possible.

Good luck and Happy 2011!

Michael

5 Steps To Nurturing A Vision

Sunrise at 6:45am

Many times I’ve been asked by non-professional practitioners of photography how I create my distinctive imagery. This post is dedicated to providing some answers…

To be clear there are two types of creativity I wish to discuss here, the planned creation, (commercial assignment) and the “I must do it today”, creation (personal). Self-imposed deadlines are crucial for they train me to work within client-driven deadlines with a minimum of stress.

1)  On days I feel compelled to create for my book, I make a worthy attempt as soon as possible for I won’t be right inside until I do. When I was younger I fought against this urge. I don’t anymore because it became unhealthy (emotionally and intellectually) for me to ignore this creative drive. Money and sales will come in due time, I don’t fancy putting the cart before the horse anymore.

Late Evening Multiple Exposure

2)  Once I accept that today is the day to create, I plow ahead and begin my creative process. For example: I recently spent time in Lake Tahoe, CA. The views of the lake from the house we were staying at were remarkable. After several successful photos during the day and evening, I knew I had to get up early and shoot a sunrise photo and stay up very late to shoot an evening series to round out the collection.

Everybody Needs A Pier Picture

3)  Actually do the work. With joy in my heart and an eye towards the finished image. I don’t filter at this stage, I just make my exposures in as many flavors of shutter speed and aperture combinations as I deem appropriate.

4)  ASAP I look at the images and begin the assembly process. Since I’ve already gotten my image hit while shooting (page one of my book), all I’m doing is shuffling the files into the vision I desire.

5)  On commercial assignment work the difference in working through the creative process is that I’m working towards a vision the client has imparted to me. I check their ideas against the production issues and deadlines and if all goes well, I deliver an image as solid as any in my portfolio. All the previous steps are the same whether for myself or clients.

Happy New Year from Lake Tahoe, CA.

Michael

The Morning Sun Melts Away The Snow

Early Morning Warmth

A Gray Day For Sure

You Gotta Get The Shot…No Matter What

Nat Doing His Thing In Squaw Valley

I cannot ever return from an assignment and not have the shot I need (and my clients want and are paying for). Shooting for my book is no different. I have to get the shot. Period. So it was my goal for the day to photograph my son snowboarding in Squaw Valley, CA. I wanted to practice my action photography techniques and run my new 5D Mark II through some additional tests.

All was good until I slipped on a patch of black ice (as I was heading towards the snowboarding area), and hit the back of my head on the ground. The ski patrol came and took me to the emergency room to be examined. I had a mild concussion and I was embarrassed because I knew the footing was slippery, I was being careful and still slipped like I had stepped on a banana peel in a Three Stooges two-reeler.

The worst part was my gear: the meter was knocked out of calibration to the tune of five stops! I was not a happy camper. After careful examination of the 5D body and double-checking the IS and AF features of my 24-105 F/4 L series lens, I knew I could work in manual exposure mode if the shutter and aperture camera controls still worked. As a pro I know how work in full manual mode, but I’m a big fan of the Av and Tv modes too. They work great and under the right circumstances frequently build better photographs by using these other two exposure modes.

As I walked back towards the area where my son was at, I tested the camera a few times to make sure I could count on it to perform the way I needed it to. (I didn’t have my backup body with me, my bad)

As you can tell by the photo, I got my shot. Plenty of them so other than the gear issue, the day was a smashing success. This is the same attitude I bring to my assignment work, nothing short of a complete catastrophe will keep me from my goal, which is to build better photographs for my clientele. There is usually something that can go and will often go wrong right when you least expect it and yet you have to perform admirably and professionally. This attitude separates the amateurs from the pros and this attitude also helps to protect your pricing structure…absolute professionalism under less than ideal conditions.

Go get ’em and good shooting!

Michael

Build Photographs, Don’t Take Pictures

DisneyToon Studios 2010

My mantra is, “I build photographs, I don’t take pictures.” It’s the way I sell my commercial photographic services today. And it’s working.

As a professional photographer I prepare for a shoot by considering the many demanding chores required before the first test image is exposed. For instance, I received a call (a referral, the best kind) from a new person working at  Disney. She represented DisneyToon Studios and they wanted a group portrait taken in front of the theatre on the studio lot. (It’s a gift when clients refer new business and it’s one great metric to gauge how your business is perceived in your marketplace!)

I must stop at this point a give a little back story. A year ago I did this group portrait for Disney. As part of my continuing marketing efforts, I reached out to the point person for this portrait in late October to inquire if there were any holiday-themed events coming up where they might need my services. I was referred to a new point person. I did my duty and introduced myself. A month later I’m working the CTN expo in Burbank and I run into the previous point person. We have a great chat and catch up a bit. So I’m fresh on her mind when the DisneyToon person asks her where to go for their group portrait. I’m convinced this is how the referral came to me and no one else. The lesson here is: you’re always in sales mode when you’re an (SECP) and every contact with a client (and for that matter, vendors) is an opportunity to burnish your reputation or damage it.

Getting back to this post…part of my sales strategy is to let my clients know the difference between me and my competition. I never phone it in, when I can I always do a site survey. I did this for this shoot. I brought a measuring tape, a ladder, a note pad, business cards and my camera for some test shots. After gathering the pertinent info, (taking measurements, shooting some test files, and planning for the lighting) we chatted a bit to get to know each other. After getting back to my office, I looked at my tests, made some calculations on how best to build this portrait. I got a rate from my assistant and my lab quoted the print costs. At this stage I developed my budget and sent it to my client.

We scheduled the shoot and it went well. Here are a few production shots:

Getting Everyone to Buy Into My Ideas

A View From My POV

The Sun Was Directly Shining Into My Lens

Starting To Break Down My Gear

Related Images:

3 Tiered Pricing Model

Old Time Feelings

One of the many issues we self-employed commercial artists face is how much to charge for our art. One usually factors in monthly living expenses, taxes (sales, income and business), vendor invoices, equipment leases, training, etc. You should also factor in how many hours per week you want to work. Mix in the requested usage (duration, exclusivity and distribution) stir well, add a dash of anxiety and presto you have a price. This is my preferred method and it has worked for years.

At this point in my career I want to simplify this pricing process so I hit upon a 3-tiered model. For photography it’s usage, licensing rights, production value and copyright ownership. For the market I service (and for my creative/licensing fees only), I’m considering three levels of commercial pricing to make it easier for my clients to digest: $2500/day for limited use, $5000/day for unlimited use and $10000/day for unlimited use and a copyright transfer. Of course out-of-pocket production costs and labor would be added to the final bill.

As the world changes so must we. It’s in our best interest to review and revise our business practices (including pricing) so that we afford our clients more opportunities to engage us. They need to feel like we are looking out for them as well as us.

Don’t be afraid to look at your pricing model, to ask pertinent questions of your clients and to dig deep to understand their needs and concerns. This will go a long way in developing your professional demeanor, your self-confidence and your long-term viability. Remember, it’s GREAT to be self-employed! It’s also a ton of hard and relentless effort.

Good luck.

© Alliance—-OWN YOUR WORK!

The View From Our Campsite

This post is in response to a request by Jane Smith and the Copyright Alliance. All of us professional, commercial, fine and part-time creatives must endure to protect our creations. Not only is it a money issue but it is our sworn duty to look out for ourselves and others of our ilk. At the very least inform your supporters, clients and patrons the lay of the land when it comes to ownership, copyrights and licensing of creative work. You say you don’t know a thing about these topics? Shame on you! Get your fingers a’ typin’ and RESEARCH SO YOU ARE INFORMED! There is no excuse for not becoming familiar with these topics. If you don’t want to know about them then get a job and have someone else “take care” of you and yours. If you want to live on the outside, then protect your work and inform others! It’s our collective call to arms!

Many years ago I negotiated a licensing agreement with the Walt Disney Company. In 1998, Roy E. Disney commissioned me to create a portrait of him for the book “Fantasia/2000: Visions of Hope”. It appears on page seven and along with my customary and usual photo credit, the © also appears. That’s the power we own if we know how to wield it correctly. Many years later as I was writing my book, it wasn’t a problem using this photo in my discussion about my portrait work. All I needed was a model release from Roy, which he willingly signed in 2005.

All of my proposals and contract spell out the usage and ownership issues. My metadata also spells this out. And when I send my images to the Library of Congress for © registrations, it’s spelled out there too.

What are you all doing about this?

Related Images:

Networking Never Stops

You Never Know Where The Steps Will Take You

Last evening I attended and Apple sponsored event held at Alt Systems in Burbank, my old stomping grounds. They supply hard and soft data solutions to production companies in movies and television. No photography at all. So why did I go? I went because the talk and demonstration was how to push content out to your audience. I have an audience albeit much different than Alt Systems clientele. Apple has integrated so much of their technology that it’s easier than ever to collect, edit, archive and send large video files to wherever they needs to go. Very impressive.

As per my usual way, I arrived early and stayed late. Alt Systems is a first class joint. The client area is sweet: a full kitchen, bar and theatre. Jon (president and owner) came out to greet me. He was charming and enthusiastic about his company. I got the royal tour and afterwards he invited me to partake of the wonderful spread of food laid out on the buffet table. His wife Lynn was also present and she was as gracious as he. While eating my apple sausage, I met another attendee whose son is looking for working professionals to develop and present advanced educational videos online. He introduced me to a woman he had invited. She knows how to produce and market videos. This is the area I’m weakest in and she will be evaluating my offer of working together. Reason one for attending: making contacts. We exchanged contact info and I will be calling the son this week. They all live in Pasadena near me. How great is that?

Reason two: I pitched Jon on having me develop and write his blog. This is something he has thought about and after speaking with one of his employees about the work they do I was able to present Jon with a few topic ideas. Whether or not Jon decides on his own blog, he now knows I exist, knows I write and he’ll be able to refer his contacts if it comes up in his conversations. And at the very least I got to practice my pitch. I try not to let opportunities to practice go by without at least trying something.

Like the title says, networking never stops.

Who have you talked to lately?