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Tag Archives: profits

Why Does It Cost So Much?

Money

 Why Does It cost so much? –or– Why don’t I own it?

 

Filed under, “If I had a nickel for every time I heard this….”

 Knowledge & Power

The education of commercial art buyers at the client direct level is awash in a sea of misinformation and self-appointed know-it-alls. Some days I see the advantage of having a personal firing squad.

 

Professional Photography costs X dollars because commercial licensing of intellectual property is a component of the service we sell.  Referring specifically to professional photography, we don’t make widgets. We don’t sell real estate. We don’t collect data and mine it for you. We do work on commission, we work at creating intellectual property in the form of visuals and it’s the intellectual property rights built into each and every photograph we build that provides us the ability to make a living wage. Licensing the use of intellectual property for your business or personal needs is part of our business model.

 

If one works in a situation where someone else carries the weight for you, (benefits, salary, retirement, etc.) then the idea of artists’ intellectual property rights may indeed be a mystery. Add in the costs of doing business, the need to make a reasonable profit and our pricing structure and you have our business model just about summed up.

 

It’s painful when we negotiate and end up not only having been denied our licensing rights, but maddening when those rights aren’t even acknowledged. It’s not a gift or an entitlement. It’s a right. Artists own their creative works unless they sign them away. It’s the creative-art-patent.

 

 Product vs. Expression

We do not create products. We create the expression of an idea. It’s custom designed to fit your needs and desires. If you’re willing to pay for it you can own our intellectual property rights by an outright purchase and transfer of our copyright. Not recommended of course due to the expense, but it ‘s available. I’ve sold it a few times in my career.

 

If you’re unable or unwilling to purchase our intellectual work outright then we’ll come to an agreement that let’s you license the portions you need and we’ll keep the rest. We’re then free (through our ingenuity and efforts) to look for other opportunities and revenue streams. Again, this is our business model.

 

When you purchase a home you are purchasing the property rights to that home and land. When you buy a DVD you own the physical disk but not its’ content. You’ve licensed the content for a specific use. Period. That intellectual property is the property of the creating party….movie studio or independent filmmaker.

 

I lose projects because ownership issues (my rights) drive costs past what seem like arbitrarily low budgets. Education about this issue is important to both sides so a mutually beneficial understanding is developed.

 

I’m not inflexible in my pricing either. I’ve adjusted with the state of the economy but it isn’t enough; a request for a quote came in: ten business professional headshots, retouched and ready to post online. The shoot was to be on location about 13 miles from my studio. I normally charge $600.00 a shot for volume jobs like this. But I wanted to see where the bottom was so I came in at the ridiculously low price of $95.00 a shot. I was crazy to let this quote out of my office but I needed to see where bottom was. But in fact I was too high! Some other knucklehead (dumber than me) low-balled the crap out of it after I already low-balled the crap out of it. That’s four low balls! And it wasn’t enough.

 

Now where’s that firing squad?

 

 And Yet There’s More

But it’s also something much more. More profound. More disturbing than at any other time in my career.

 

It’s the inability of individuals and businesses to accept that bargaining for these rights (or even the effort to understand and grasp the concept of ownership, licensing, copyright and associated costs) makes us crazy. Ready. Aim….

 

It costs more than you realize, or want to spend, or have been told is your budget to spend because it’s convenient not to think about what it takes to engage a professional who trades in the photographic arts.

 

The copyright law that protects every creative’s intellectual property rights includes photographers. And movie studios. And authors. And songwriters. And poets. And comedy acts. And TV shows. And professional sports leagues. We’re in good company and we aim to stay put.

 

So please listen when we tell you the proper way to license or purchase our intellectual property. It protects you from unauthorized use. If you use protected work that has been registered it gets expensive in a hurry.

 

But you know that right?

 Let’s Work Together

You don’t think I’m going to press my advantage if I catch you? Most likely I will. It’s about respect and acknowledgement of what our rights and protections are. Rights and protections we fight to keep in spite of what our government of the United States of Business tries to do. Daily. You have rights and protections that you want honored and enforced, company trademarks, patents and the like.

 

It’s a two-way street and today’s economic environment is no excuse for fostering an attitude that belittles the process, diminishes the relationship and adds to everyone’s stress level.

 

Thanks for reading.

 

Michael

Your Intellectual Property Rights!

time-lapse sequence of re-assembly of Japanese Tea House

There’s been an interesting discussion lately on Linked In about quoting prices for selling copyrights to another party. People have different ideas about what that should cost and what it practically means to you as an artist when selling your claim of authorship. I’ve been working on a blog post covering how to sell the idea of intellectual property rights transfers to your clients but it’s not ready for prime time. In the meantime I will be appearing on a panel next week that discusses how to make money from licensing your intellectual property rights and how to sell the idea to your markets…

This live webinar will be recorded for later playback. In addition to myself, Jason Horejs from Xanadu Gallery in Scottsdale AZ, and entertainment law attorneys Todd and Jeff  Brabec fill out this interesting and dynamic panel. More information and sign up is here.

Hope to see you on the broadcast with your questions…and our answers.

This program is being put on by the Copyright Alliance, an organization I proudly support.
Michael

What You Don’t Know, Learn

Regarding my ten month time-lapse project; principal photography is complete. Post production is under way. What began as an email inquiry from a representative of The Huntington May 2011, ended with a flourish as dignitaries and donors visited the Japanese Garden for the dedication ceremony and reception April 12th. Over 103,000 photographs, video clips and sound effects were generated during the course of this 10 month assignment. What a gas!

As I begin the post-production process in earnest, (I’ve already spent about a hundred hours designing, practicing and refining the workflow) I took stock of all the applications I was unfamiliar with at the beginning of this project and the ones I use now as a result of this project.

The list above is in order of familiarity: Photoshop, Quicktime and Keynote were all applications I’ve been working with for years. Garage Band, Lightroom, Premiere, Soundbooth and Media Encoder are the applications I’ve had to learn in order to produce the contract deliverables.

It’s not that I don’t particularly want help from other specialists (I’m currently looking for a composer) it’s just that in order to know what I wanted I had to be able to create variations so I could finalize the look. Additionally today’s technological breakthroughs have allowed us SECP types to flourish in ways we never could before. The potential contained in the last sentence is awesome.

After going through many, many iterations, I finally have the look I want.

Some of the conclusions I’ve come to during this learning curve: editing is crucial to the success of any motion picture project. Jump cuts, dissolves, playback rate and cropping help drive audience reaction the visual elements. Volume, cross fades and wild sounds are just as important to the audio content. This is by no means an exhaustive list but you get the idea. There is A LOT that goes into a time-lapse, especially one with a strong narrative.

As part of my post-production protocol, I’ve been partaking in webinars, reading blogs, talking to experts and experimenting based on my new knowledge and skill sets. This IMHO is what is required to deliver new and innovative content for a fast-evolving marketplace and client expectations.

Good luck and let me know if I can help you.

Thanks for reading and comments welcome.

Michael

Thumbtack Marketing; It’s A Long Road


I am a professional photographer. I work for money. (usually) I need to get the word out. In as many ways as possible. Often. Thumbtack.com is one of the myriad ways I get the word out on a frequent and consistent basis. I have opted to pay a monthly subscription fee for job leads. It is reasonably priced and will pay for itself for a year with just one commission. For me it’s worth the investment. In my business. In my career. In my marketing partner.

Here is my listing on Thumbtack: I offer portrait, architectural, event and time-lapse photography products and services. Everyone has a story to tell and we’ll have a few laughs in the process. Expert photo restoration and printing services also available. I build photographs, I don’t take pictures.

When you’re self-employed, use all available resources that enhance your brand and services.

Good luck and good business to all of us!

Michael

Be Selfish and Volunteer Your Way to Success

A sampling of the days session

September 8, 2011 I volunteered once again to photograph those less fortunate than myself. I did the same thing back in 2009, when I was not getting enough photography assignments (or other work of any substance) and my monthly cash flow was shall we say….inadequate. Thank goodness for my other income streams: investments and real estate.

Volunteering is a way for me to give rather than receive, it feeds my soul. I receive many benefits from volunteering: I meet new people, I get to practice my interpersonal portraiture schtick, lighting ratios, RAW processing, color management, retouching, JPEG compression and emailing skills.

The sum total is that I become enriched. When paying projects do come my way, because I’m prepared, I know exactly how to handle anything that comes up. With personal style and professional confidence.

Over time the good people I help, help spread the good word about me. I’ve received recommendations on my LinkedIn profile and many heartfelt emails. It feels good. Over time the sum total of my efforts drives my credibility to ever higher levels. This in turn leads to more business and art opportunities that allow me live life on my terms.

Isn’t that what we’re all after?

Be selfish and volunteer.

It will do us all good.

Michael

Related Images:

My Competition is My Past

Knock Yourself Out

As part of my daily duties as a professional photographer and self-employed businessperson, I evaluate multiple aspects of running my business: finances, investments creative mojo, technical understanding/practical application, sales, marketing, interpersonal skills, pricing, vendor relationships, likeability factors and more.

It never ends. I’m not complaining. Just explaining what I do to keep my oarsmen in the correct rhythm so I head in the direction of my business and career plans. No easy task. I’m distracted and bore easily. How do I do it then? For 30 years I’ve worked on these duties a little bit at a time, just a few at a time, slowly. I learn and absorb the process, knowledge and practical applications on my time frame: slow and steady wins the race. For example: as a professional photographer I feel it’s my responsibility to look critically at my work on a regular basis and ask myself what can I do better than I’m doing now? More thoughtful approach to my lighting angles? More awareness of my contrast ratios? More competent lens/aperture/shutter speed selection criteria? I want to keep pushing my quality until there isn’t a single location lighting situation I can’t handle. Lit or not I want to conquer all  technical and creative situations. This is my goal. It’s beyond my grasp. I may never arrive at the level my sights are set on. But my constant evaluation process will move me in that direction. And I will always improve. You see, I’m competing with myself, not anyone else. This flys in the face of the conventional wisdom that states you compete against like-minded small businesses.

If photographers are different and offer different levels of quality, creativity and customer service, then how can I be in competition with anyone but me? I am aware of who’s in my market. Sure. I’m aware of what others charge and what issues others have regarding running their careers and lives profitably. This isn’t to say I don’t learn from the success and mistakes of others. I do. Frequently.

But I compete with my past. With my performance from yesterday. From last week. Last Month. Last Year. My competition is my past. This logic keeps me focused on the goals I’ve identified, sane and relatively stress-free.

I would love to hear your thoughts.

Thanks for reading.

Michael

RAW vs. JPEG. Which is better?

I’m a member of several professional groups on Linked In and the debate that has been raging for months on which format is better is interesting in that it touches a nerve with so many and that there are so many “experts” weighing in. This appears to be a thoughtful question on its’ face but ridiculous when you compare: pens vs. pencils, hammers vs. saws, Yankees vs. Dodgers (bottom of the ninth, 2 out and 2 on), sex vs. celibacy, dirt vs. grass and on and on. You get the idea.

Here’s my take. When it’s important, for a client or my portfolio, I shoot RAW. When it’s for my wife, I shoot JPEG. No seriously don’t go, I’m just getting started. JPEG has it’s place at the photography table, it’s just not as fun as a RAW meal. On the occasions when you know exactly what you’re going to do with the files and you’re working under ideal (the scene brightness range or SBR is within the range of the sensor) conditions and you don’t have to do significant color correction, contrast toning or up sizing, then go ahead and shoot JPEG till the cows come home. Today’s cameras do a wonderful job with the JPEGs. And you can edit them in the Adobe RAW converter (ACR). Quality will be compromised, don’t kid yourself. If you scrutinize an edited JPEG, you’ll see banding and posterization issues in the tonal transition zones: highlight to mid-tone and mid-tone to shadow. Look closely. And I mean with a professional’s eye towards a quality output. Borrow both of mine if you want but look….you’ll be surprised.

If you work under challenging conditions: you cannot fill shadows, cut down the contrast or otherwise minimize the impact of an extended scene brightness range then use a RAW file processor and you will redeem your photographs’ soul.

For example on this location I am capturing frames from early morning to late afternoon. I have sweet light until 9 or so and UGLY light until about 3. In between the SBR is out of the range of the sensor by 5 stops or more. RAW to the rescue, JPEG need not apply, you’ll be shown the door.

These top to bottom comparisons provide proof of the superiority of RAW files in uncontrollable lighting and contrast conditions. In the first set the early morning light does not pose a challenge as the SBR is well within sensor parameters. The next set shows the power and flexibility of the RAW format. Finally the last set is much the same as the second set but with a lighting angle that is more off to the edge of the scene.

Early morning SBR

Mid-morning SBR

Late pm SBR

Notice how the highlights have been toned down and the shadows have been toned (opened) up? The skin tones have been warmed, the mid-tones have been boosted (clarity slider) and a slight vignette has been placed around the perimeter of each processed image. This heavy editing can be done on a JPEG file but the output quality will be compromised and less than acceptable especially when measured by professional standards. Keep your standards high, your clientele informed and your rates profitable.

Good shooting!

35,000 Frames Later

I began a new time-lapse project this week. At the Huntington Botanical Gardens in San Marino, CA. 16 weeks of 9 hour  days, one frame every two minutes. Additionally I’ll shoot four specific daily sequences of the project as it progresses. What is the subject of this project? The re-assembly of the first Japanese tea house built in the US post WWII. how did I get this job? Having the correct keywords in my site header, the right SEO and the right amount of effort to make sure it all works together.

I ordered a custom-built weather proof housing with state-of-the-art electronics, a new camera and lens combo and software to run it all. Sweet. Getting to spend money on new stuff is a gas. The photos give you a sense of what my installation looks like. All I have to do with this is walk up, unlock the download station, jack into the system and suck up the days shoot. Simple. Efficient. Profitable.

To get to this point I did my research, found the right fabricators, made the right deal, received the right training and programming, deployed in the field and ran a day of testing under shoot conditions. This is what separates the low-ball hacks from us pros. Knowing what needs to be done and doing it..without fail. As often as possible. My track record is up near 100%. What’s yours? The game is afoot!

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 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