Tag Archives: SECP

Entering New Territory

During the past few weeks I put together an RFP package for a government contract. It was submitted on August 22, 2012 at precisely 2:45 pm. How do I know this? I hand delivered four, 3-ring binders, 24 pages each. It was due by 3pm on 8/22/12 and although I hadn’t planned on it going down to the wire, it did. Added a bit of stress to the process but it was a tremendous learning process. And for that I am grateful. And if I get “the call”, my reward will be doubled.

This is something I’ve always wanted to do and when the opportunity came up to do so…I initially hesitated…and then went for it. Why did I hesitate? Because it was a 39 page document that had provisions: scope of work, qualifications needed, insurance requirements, references, affidavits to be notarized amongst other to do items that were required prior to submittal. An onerous task, time consuming, costly and thought provoking in that I kept asking myself,  “how the heck do I fill this stuff out?”

I submitted as the prime contractor and I’ve brought in subcontractors to help out with the parts I cannot do as well, specifically aerial photography. Why was this proposal interesting to me in the first place? Let me go back a step or two to set this up. As a state certified micro-business I am given certain considerations on government contracts. A federal mandate that 30% of of any contract must to be awarded to the sector of small, minority and disabled veteran owned businesses puts me in select company. I am certified at the state and city levels. I’m a member their vendor networks and when interesting contracts come up, I have the option of pursuing or passing. This was one of the good ones IMHO.

I read the RFP (Request for Proposal) three times to fully comprehend what the requirements were. I began to talk with potential partners. Out of these talks a list of questions was developed asking for clarification of specific aspects of the RFP. This list was submitted as part of the RFP process. After receiving the answers it begins: fill out the documents in the RFP as well as gather up sales information, insurance documents, and scour through my archive to find the most appropriate examples of what was called for in the portfolio portion of the package. My photography is the area where I shine brightest but it gave me pause because I had to think about the flow and strength of my work when submitting to people I’ve yet to meet and may never. (it’s a distinct possibility)

I culled through hundreds of photographs: landscapes, portraits, political campaigns, my time-lapse project for The Huntington, etc. Spent dozens of hours deciding which photos made the first cut and then deciding how they might work together in the required portfolio. Mind-numbing effort but necessary and I got to do all the work myself! I also spent time learning more about the ZERO carbon footprint flying machine covering the aerial portion of the RFP.

Simultaneously I’m gathering the required documents, double and triple checking that they are filled in and out correctly, making sure the grammar and syntax are correct and so on. I never would’ve been able to complete this portion without the incredible help of Ms. Molly Moran, a thoughtful and smart writer with a particular expertise in RFP’s.

The documents and files are gathered, I spend $250.00 on four notebooks, 100 pages of document holders, 100 sheets of inkjet paper and seven ink cartridges. Printing 14 image files, burning and printing one CD, printing seven text files times four, plus assembly takes six hours. Oh and in between I make a trip to the notary to make my affidavit official. I am a beat dog by this point. And I still have to hand-deliver. Both of my printers run out of ink at the same time, (with 7 prints to go) I am now in overdrive mode: I shower quickly, dress, drive to store to buy more ink, (cartridges eight and nine) print, sleeve, load and hop into my car (which is almost on empty, oh great.) for the 35 mile trip to the client’s office. Mostly freeway through downtown LA. Traffic and idiot driver central. Oy!

Luckily I there is very little traffic, I arrive early, turn in the four notebooks, get a time-stamped verification and drive back to my office, with very little traffic. Who knew the traffic gremlins would take the afternoon off? I am humbled and grateful for this learning experience.

You may be asking yourself why subject oneself to this form of abuse? Four reasons: the government never seems to run out of money, the intellectual growth I’ve experienced through this process, the people I’ve met (did I mention Molly?) and the knowledge gained about how I’m perceived by other experts will prove to be invaluable….

A process I highly recommend.

Michael

Related Images:

Make the Most of Opportunities

 

I entered the 5th year anniversary artists contest held by the copyright alliance a few months back. My video won in the multi-media category. As part of my winnings (feelings of satisfaction and a happy client), they offered to interview me for their blog. As an SECP, I jumped at the chance to talk about my favorite subject: me! All kidding aside, always look for opportunities to spread the word about yourself, your thinking and your work. And why not? If you don’t have an agent (I let my rep go, a good story in itself and it involves Marilyn Monroe) and your mom is too busy, then it’s up to you.

If you don’t grab opportunities to promote your brand then what are you doing working for yourself? Hoping for the best? Hoping magical thinking will takeover and you’ll have everything you deserve? When was the last time that happened? I live by the credo of putting good karma out to the world and doing good things for people. It always come back to me.

You may be thinking so what, the Copyright Alliance is not a big organization. That’s true. They’re only five years old and don’t command the world stage like the Zuckerberg-led copyright rip off team at Facebook. But the Copyright Alliance is a large organization compared to what I’ve associated with in the past. I’m able to  capitalize on their SEO juice which will immediately add to my credibility as an artist, educator, author and speaker. My global reach steadily expands every time another organization focuses their attentions on me, what I’m about and what I have to say. In other words my world is growing, my influence is growing, organizations are recognizing this and more easily connect with me in meaningful ways.

As I’m now going for very large and complex contracts (involving multiple photographers) with huge agencies, this method of building my background profile gains in importance. It adds up and makes it easier for me to pry open new opportunities for my business model. This is my multi-pronged goal. To create more business. For myself. And others who connect with me.

Thanks for reading.

Michael

 

Lightroom 4 Custom Presets

For years I’ve been a Bridge and Photoshop workflow geek. I didn’t see the need for Lightroom or Aperture even though I purchased version 1 of both applications. But all that changed after I shot 100,000+ images for my time-lapse project and at the same time was asked to teach a class in Lightroom, Photoshop, color management and inkjet printing. I was forced into this learning curve by necessity but can accurately say I have no regrets. Lightroom is an incredible time-saver and allows for a measure of control that inspires me to envision new ways of interpreting my work. Hence this post.

 

Click on the images to see them at full resolution….no stealing!!!!

For each of these images, I was in the Develop Module. Working with many of these adjustments I was able to create what I call my “Bonanza Faded E-6 Film Look”. I was a huge fan of Bonanza and watched reruns religiously back in the 90’s. I’m a huge fan of the outdoors too. I also love the look of faded color slides. All three came together after I went on a camping trip to Sequoia National Forest in May. As I was looking at my take I started thinking about Bonanza, Little Joe, Hoss and Ben. And it hit me, the perfect storm of nostalgia, landscapes and historical photography….I was going to take these images to a place I usually never go…a place where I’m really interpreting a feeling and my emotional response to the work. You have to appreciate that most of my work is straight-forward interpretation. Except for my portrait work I usually deliver very clean documentary type imagery. This work represents a huge creative step for me. More below….

After each interpretation I saved the work as a preset to be called upon when needed. As I made a preset and saved it, I then made it active on subsequent images. If I liked the look, then all was good. If I went and tweaked the preset because I felt the current image needed a bit of additional work, then that was saved as a new preset. This method helped me build a collection of 18 presets for this catalog of work. And these presets can be used on subsequent catalogs of images. Sweet.

I want to add two items that don’t show on the screenshot of the Develop Panel above: Lens Corrections and Camera Calibration. I set my lens corrections so any distortions are removed and my camera calibration is always set to neutral so I am always working on a base RAW image without interpretation from Canon’s Picture Styles.

I haven’t had this much fun working on my files in quite awhile….

Comments welcomed.

Michael

Pat Swovelin 1951-2012 R. I. P.

Shooting one of his signature VR panoramas

Another brother has left us. I’ve been in a funk because my friend and long-time colleague (12+ years) died suddenly about a week ago, we don’t really know. And that’s the rub…he died alone and probably in pain. This SUCKS! Even though at times he could be a handful he always had my back. I appreciated that. He was also the best assistant I ever worked with, a lot of laughs and professionalism on the job. Over the years I’ve worked with plenty of hired guns but Pat was my number one by far. Always one step ahead and looking out for how I could turn in the best possible assignment, he was second to none. If he wasn’t checking my gear for dirt or checking my lighting to ensure it was firing, he was looking out for lens flare or any number things that can screw up a professional photo shoot. He was the best. His professionalism put me at ease so I could perform at the highest level…necessary for success in this business.

Lee and I had Pat as a guest in 2011. You can listen to his interview here.

We met while standing in a crowd waiting to get into one of the first NAPP Phoptoshopworld conferences in LA. I had my back turned and all I heard above the din was this loud laugh. I turned around in disgust to see whose body that voice was coming from and there he was, wearing the same Hawaiian shirt as I was! Couldn’t be all bad I thought. We became friends during the conference and worked together on numerous projects over the years. Most recently I was able to hook him up with my time-lapse client and they were starting to fill his dance card. Pat’s work was so specialized (VR panoramas) that it will be a long time before his shoes can be filled. If ever…..

Good-bye my friend.

 

Michael

Kwit Ur Bitchin’

As many readers know, I find value in spending time managing my presence and forum contributions on LinkedIn. The positive feedback I receive tells me that people appreciate my input. And the strategy is working. What strategy is that Mr. Stern? The strategy of building up credibility, contacts and opportunities for my photography, education, public speaking and training businesses. I’m a member of several groups, some in the photography industry and some not.

It’s amusing and annoying that so many folks start off a topic bitching about the lousy state of business today, either their own or their industries. Business is always bad and always good…for somebody. That’s the way it is now and has been since I hung out my first shingle some three decades ago. Who said it would be great? Or even good? No promises is what I remember being told. Talent was no guarantee. Business savvy was no guarantee. Doing all the right things was no guarantee. Hard work was no guarantee. Persistence was going to be really helpful however. Blend all five together and eventually success will show up. But will it stay? Again no guarantees.

My own story is that I was so caught up in becoming a successful commercial photographer that I didn’t plan or even think about managing success once it arrived. After three straight GREAT (’94-’96) years I began sliding towards lower sales, lower prices, lower profits and lower income. The slide backwards picked up speed until like the ending of Thelma and Louise, I went right off a cliff. I was overwhelmed by the wreckage…..lost business, income and confidence in that I began to feel I didn’t know what I was doing and that I didn’t belong in business as an SECP. (self-employed creative professional) I then went back to my business plan hatched in 1989…multiple income streams. Mind you I had been in business for 10 years at that point in time. And had multiple income streams set up. I didn’t tend to my business and my business died.

Multiple income streams are the hedge against business fluctuations. However you label it, it’s the same; have more than one source of revenue. Period. The concept is simple. It’s the execution that makes us nuts. And that’s where I screwed up. I forgot to listen to my mentors and I forgot about the beauty of the multiple income stream model. Getting back to success was imperative.

If all you want is to just shoot..well unless you’re supremely talented, supremely lucky and supremely positioned, you’ll need to generate multiple income streams…or do something else related to the industry to keep your name in the game.

As the title of this post says… Kwit Ur Bitchin’ and do something about your situation….PLAN!!!!! Spend time to imagine your future and the industries future and where you see yourself in that future. Think about and develop contacts throughout the industry…manufacturers, educational institutions, book publishers, bloggers and the like. Get your name out there. Become the acknowledged expert, a force to be reckoned with and sought after. There are so many opportunities today to make a name for yourself there is NO EXCUSE not to be successful. Read up on trends, practice your craft, talk to other shooters, develop a new technique, a new vision, try something you haven’t done yet. I got into blogging while writing my first book. My co-host and I have been producing a podcast for over a year. I spend time learning about the art and science of SEO.

Get nervous. Jump into the abyss. Or get eaten alive by those who are doing what needs to be done. And mind you has always needed to be done. Why am I militant? Because I’ve failed before. Three times since I started in the industry.

Several times a week I shoot (whether I’m paid or not), go to events, make contacts to meet people and exchange ideas. This informs my work and my process. Blog, teach, keep up with clients, friends and other contacts. Mind your resources (investments, cash, etc.). And plan, plan, plan. E. H. E. Endless hours of effort.

It takes consistent and persistent effort. Often it seems like WTF, it ain’t working, I’m not working, what do I do? But the multiple income stream system works if you do. Complaining is not action. No one but your mother wants to hear it. And sometimes not even her.

Plan your work and work your plan. Have faith. Put out good karma and good vibes. Put forth your best effort and you will be rewarded. The trick is you don’t know when it will break for you. Success is not on your schedule, it’s on its’ own. You do have to prepare for it, expect it and embrace it when it arrives. In whatever form it takes.

If you do as I have suggested you will become successful. And stay successful. Unless you’re that dumb. Or lazy. But if you were, you wouldn’t be reading this blog in the first place, so your good (:())

Believe and you will be. I’ve lived this credo since my college days and it has gotten me through several dark stages of my career. Look around you, it hasn’t been smooth sailing for anyone: corporations, governments or individuals. We all have our turn in the barrel. Learn how to roll with the punches, how to be your own best friend. Learn how to keep yourself out of harm’s way.

Most of all stop feeling sorry for yourself and be the provider of your own success.

Good luck to you.

Michael

Success is not the goal…..

…improvement is the goal. It seems to me  that all the coaching, selling, negotiating and business tips, (mine included) that we dispense with great abandon are usually about achieving success. I think that what we really should be doing is giving advice on how to improve on whatever shoot, negotiation, sales call, etc. we engaged in previously as the preferred and less threatening method for developing a path to success. For me, this process has been going on for years.

Improving oneself leads to success, growth, power, clarity and confidence. The goal is improvement. Success will follow. Guaranteed. Gradual, steady, persistent and consistent improvement leads to success. The equation is that simple. I think a lot of people wrongly believe that success is paramount and that they have been lead down this garden path by the cottage  industry of life and business coaches prowling around online, in workshops and seminars. They’ve been putting the cart before the horse, generated huge profits for themselves and have saddled up customers to take their advice. I wonder what the success rate is for these do-gooders?

I’m all for your success but I think about it differently. I take the gloss off the sales pitches, solutions and the like. My philosophy about what makes a successful photograph (small steps made correctly) carries over to my idea about how my daily routines and processes can help move me in the direction of success by enabling me to improve slightly every day. Think about what this approach means? 5-7 days of slight improvement times 4 weeks time 12 months. That’s a lot of success!!!! Put you in the previous paragraph and see how it feels.

Even the inevitable setbacks won’t negate a years worth of incremental improvement. Too slow you say? I say enjoy the ride and along the way have a cup of joe and smell the roses, spend time with family or whatever it is you want and need to do as your reward for the incremental improvements and inevitable successes that form the heart of your career.

Good luck!

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:

Copy Wrong to Copy Right

During last weeks episode (29) of Build A Better Photograph I mentioned that one of my photos had been abused by an online publication without my knowledge or permission. The image was cropped, the color was altered and the photo credit was removed. Nice! Oh joy, another knucklehead to deal regarding artists rights because not giving a wit about another persons art work has to be addressed. One can do this nicely but confrontation nonetheless is mandatory. As soon as I found out about this transgression I immediately sent an email to the publisher asking him to explain why he was using one of my photos without permission and from where did the photo come from? To his credit, he responded within minutes, apologized and took down the photo and related article. Score one for me.

I wanted to make this right for the publisher, clearly he was sorry but assumed the photo was OK to use  (a big mistake, making assumptions). I wrote back and offered to provide an approved photo he could use and re-post the story. He was agreeable. I sent an approved photo but for some reason the story has not yet reappeared. (happy ending?)

Following are the steps I took in approaching this issue, making an assessment and my conclusions about the resolution:

1)    Being made aware of the issue. In this case the photo was of my wife and she was the source for finding out about this transgression. I use Google Alerts for other types of notifications and just joined the PLUS Registry for future image rip offs. I’ve also used Digimarc in the past.

2)    Assess the gravity of the transgression. Is the issue worth pursuing? In this case it was for three reasons: 1) My wife was in the photo and upset. 2)  I have a local reputation with my client base and need to be vigilant in case this comes up in conversation. 3) Ripping off work is NEVER OK.

3)    Make a plan of action. Phone call? Email? In person? All three? In this case an email was the best choice. It’s written and there is a record of it…in case….

4)    Implementing the action plan. Don’t just think about what to do, do it and do it ASAP!

5)    Evaluation of the transgressors response. In this case the publisher got high marks for removing the photo but it would have been super if he had re-posted with the approved image. Oh well. What can you do? I did my best, received some action so I have to be satisfied with that. On to the next idiot!

6)    Follow up. I’ve since reached out to the publisher via email and phone but to no avail. Guess he had enough or it just wasn’t that important to him anymore..old news is no news, eh?

The steps above are right in line with my “a successful photograph is a series of small steps made correctly” mantra posted at the top of my home page. Everything we do as SECP’s is geared towards pushing out our bubbles of influence and it’s not just creating work and running the businesses. We also take into account protecting our work and reputations.  This is just my opinion of course, I could be right.

See ya!

Michael

 

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

Thy Muse Is Challenge

Tidepools

I’ve a muse to inspire push and motivate. As an SECP (self-employed creative professional) I want to get my bubbles of influence (creative, financial, relationship) out further and farther (or farther and further?) Every project I work on, every email I send, every letter I write, every negotiation I undertake, every sales presentation I make, every personal relationship I have present a challenge of some sort. The challenge is my muse.

Challenge calls to me like the Sirens. If I don’t approach each challenge wisely however (as the Sirens hoped for), I may not crash but most likely will not have the expected outcome. I’m always down for seeking new and unfamiliar ways to channel this muse to help me accomplish my goals. Do I always succeed? Of course not. But I do succeed enough to propel me, my family and career forward.

For instance, during my current time-lapse project I’ve worked out ways to photograph the subject to make it more interesting. Some of my ideas: fade in and fade out to convey the passage of time, zoom in, zoom out and pan while manually shooting a burst of frames. The end results are cinema type camera moves within a still photography time-lapse. My client is pleased with the result and this had led to discussions about future time-lapse projects. This of course encourages to think up new ways to increase the the value of the overall project for all involved parties.

Another challenge on this project; how to get the specialists (carpenters, roofers, plasterers, foremen) flown in from Japan to accept me. I wanted to be able to place my 2nd and 3rd cameras in locations of my choosing. These locations while great for my purposes may not be ideal for them. How to respect their boundaries, achieve what I want and come together for the sake of the project?

I’d planned to give prints as gifts near the end of the project. But after reviewing  the first days take from camera two (set inside where the carpenters were working), I noticed the carpenters had posed during a few of the exposures. One silly, one serious and one group with all of them. How great is that? I didn’t know they had posed. Once the camera was set, I leave for several hours, came back to retrieve the camera and leave again for my office. I discovered their self-portraits during my edit session. I remember telling them the camera was set to make an exposure every 90 seconds and that you could hear the sound of the shutter. I didn’t think anything of it. It was left up to them to act. They did. And I responded in kind.

     

                 Just for fun….

This simple gesture on both sides has resulted in a bonding of sorts. Subsequently they have suggested spots for camera placement. They are also very careful to ensure my cameras don’t get disturbed during its’ daily cycle. Challenge met and conquered.

I urge you to find your muse. In whatever shape it comes to you. Embrace it. Get to know it. Learn how to apply it to advance your goals.

Good luck.

Michael