Tag Archives: Professional

Demand Responsibility

They appear to be the responsible type......

I’ve worked for myself since 1980 and have learned several important things. My favorite is: Don’t give in or up when you’re in the right. In reality it’s a matter of balance, (time vs. results gained) but sometimes you have to fight the good fight whether you want to or not. Be responsible and demand responsibility. When I’m called on something I did or said that didn’t fly with someone else, (and they have a valid point) I own up to it straight away, take responsibility, make amends and move on. It’s much better to eat crow when it’s warm. Own it. Deal with it. Move on.

When this policy isn’t reciprocated back by companies or individuals, then I have a problem. Talk about tiger blood. I demand responsibility. What goes around comes around. I don’t like to be messed with and more often than not will pursue amends. In the process I get satisfaction many more times than not. My 30+ years working for myself has made me strong, savvy and relentless. I’m good at writing, speaking and arguing my points. I’m detail oriented. I’ve had misunderstandings in business. One way to create leverage is by keeping detailed notes: dates, times, names, discussion summaries and correspondence. I learned this technique by using a sales tickler system.

When I believe I’ve been wronged and have the facts to prove it, I’ll begin the process of getting the other party to do the right thing. Case in point: I signed up with a company that promised to generate “qualified” leads for my commercial photography business. I hesitated to sign with them but I need to delegate my sales efforts. The sales rep and intake counselor were so sweet. It wasn’t sugar it was BS. They read their contract over the phone and you have to agree orally. I knew this was funky, yet I went forward. I bear some responsibility here.

From the beginning this company sucked on multiple levels: issues getting their system to recognize my email address. I questioned how they qualified leads after one fellow who was looking for an out of state local photographer, filled in their online form and I got the call. I don’t travel and this was in my profile at the time. I received another lead that was “qualified” even though my profile at the time was incomplete and no photographs of my work had yet been posted. As part of the sales process I was offered one unconditional credit. They reneged. Their lack of response to my inquiries after I signed up. The incompetence of “senior” account people who said they would clear up the problem.

My experience with this company was AWFUL. I got one of their “senior” people to credit back the charges to my credit card but in actuality she did not. This is what fried my cookies. The systemic lack of integrity was not going to go unrewarded. They underestimated who they screwed with. I play the game better than most. (I may write about my Bank of America experience, are they sorry they took me on!) (:())

I called the credit card company to request a conditional credit. This got the attention of the company. Another senior level person got on the phone and she explained their side. After she blathered on, I informed her I would write to the FTC, the BBB and the attorney general in their home state to complain about their business practices. She relented and agreed to the credit.

Ten days later I received two emails from this company stating that my account is going to collections for lack of payment. Huh? I wrote back and their response was that since I had not released the conditional credit it was my fault for this continuing issue. Huh? I called the credit card company to inquire about the refund. I was told the conditional credit was dropped a week prior because the company had sent the refund as agreed. This meant the books were balanced but the bank for this company had not yet processed the paperwork. It was another problem on their end.

Are we surprised?

The company is Service Magic. I recommend staying away from them if you’re a commercial photographer. They don’t understand our business well enough and don’t seem interested in learning from their mistakes.

Michael

 

 

Don’t Burn Your Bridges, You May Need Them Later….

Lake Tahoe Pier-2006

 

Of the many aspects about teaching that I’m fond of, the process of reaching out to companies and asking for review copies of their products is up near the top. To date this has worked so well that I’ve become expert at asking and receiving. Of course I offer something in return: my expertise in reviewing said products and my loyal audience who have grown to trust my judgment when I bring the information to them. Everybody wins. It’s actually a great system.

I’m happy to report that I don’t burn bridges as a matter of course, (you won’t get very far being self-employed) What happened yesterday bears repeating: I reached out to a company to ask for review copies of their entire product line. (how bold of me, but if you don’t ask you don’t get) I heard about this particular software from a woman who attended the Los Angeles Photshop User Group monthly meeting during which I presented my compositing work, thought processes and business approach. Anyway the marketing person from this company calls me in response to my inquiry.

She wanted to know a bit more about my show’s philosophy and why I want their product for my show’s product showcase segment. We chatted a bit and found out that we are on the same page when it comes to education and training. She liked my ideas for presenting their products and offered to send me download links and serial numbers straight away. (she did)

We ended the phone call with her asking me if I remembered her… Can you say GULP? She and I met when we worked at Brooks Institute. She left in ’06 and I’ve not taught there since ’09. (low enrollment = no classes for adjuncts) Oh well. Get your own radio show.

One can only imagine  the outcome had there been no bridge connecting us…….the conversation would have had a decidedly different tone. (if she had responded at all)

Be well.

Michael

Create Your Own Opportunities

Opportunities Await!

Last evening I presented my first ever webinar. This moment (and opportunity) was  a long time coming. But I knew it was coming. I planned it that way. I created this opportunity for myself through mindful thought, careful effort, professional persistence and indefatigable follow through. The comments from last night’s program can be found along the right side of this page. You bet I will turn this into more opportunities, more press and more income. This is part of the responsibility I bear as an SECP. (self-employed creative professional) SECP‘s are compelled to push out their bubbles of influence: marketing, sales, publicity, customer service, areas of expertise and the like.

The question is how does an opportunity get created? I will explain how I created this opportunity but keep in mind this is just one way to achieve what you want, there are almost as any others as there are successful SECP’s. Amazing really.

I went to a meeting of the PIASC in early 2008. As a photographer I knew that going to a program for professionals outside of my profession (in this case, printers) I would meet people who may need to buy what I offer. (photography, consulting, teaching) I positioned myself in the room so that my back was turned to on one. I listened to people questions and comments. I also offered up pertinent commentary. (I always do, big surprise there, eh?) One of the attendees comment made  my ears perk up. During a break I went to speak with him. Turned out he was an instructor at FIDM and he informed me that FIDM needed additional photography teachers. Guess where I began teaching soon after?

I also joined the PIASC to get access to their members only educational programs. One of these programs was presented by onlineinstruct.com. This business is owned by Kelly McCathran who also happens to run the group which put on last nights presentation. Guess where I hang my teaching hat these days?

I knew I wanted to teach online. The task was to find a good online business. I went through a number of them before I found Kelly’s business: I wrote letters, sent emails, made phone calls. Kelly’s was the best fit for me.

Creating your own opportunities is a powerful and effective way to grow ones connections and business.

Try it. Practice it. Refine it. Above all else, do it. Today.

Cheers!

Michael

 

Almost Anything can be the Subject of a Photograph

This is a 3D scan from a tiny subject

As some of you know from my Facebook posts, we have an owl living in one of our palm trees. This owl is prolific in the amount of pellets that have fallen to the ground. As weird as it sounds, I’ve been collecting them for my fine art series: Remnants. The two images above are from different individuals but the same type of creature. I think it’s a mouse as the skull is under an inch in length.

For me almost anything is worthy of being a photographic subject and to further my point on my radio show’s Fan Page is an image I built last evening in darkness, a high ISO and a long shutter speed.

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!

Post Production Software

Straight Out of RAW!

As this blog is usually dedicated to artists who choose to work for themselves and the thinking that goes into becoming a self-employed creative professional (SECP), I’ve digressed a bit to bring you the success I’ve been having lately using Nik Software.

The first image is what came out of my 5D in the RAW format.

What I Did in ACR

The second image is after processing that 5D RAW image in Photoshop’s ACR.

Using Color Efex Pro 3.0

The final image is what I came up with using Nik’s Color Efex Pro 3.0’s Glamour and Graduated filters in sequence and in combination with Smart Objects. I also added a bit of Nik’s Viveza 2, too. This allows me to achieve the maximum effect coupled with maximum control. And it’s editable!

As a professional I appreciate the thought put into this product. The thing that amazes me most is how smart NIK’s products are, they work today like we used to work with film, color correction, graduated and neutral density filters. Thanks guys!

Don’t forget to catch my show, Fridays at 9am, PST at: buildabetterphotograph.com

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

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

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: