The cost of doing business as a professional photographer…

Adrianne Killin

Another delightful (and favorite!) model; Adrianne Killin helping with a lighting test.

Lately I have had some interesting conversations when I’m at various business and networking events. After exchanging the usual pleasantries and asking the person that I’m talking with about what they do, invariably (at least most of the time!) the other person will ask me what I do for a living. I like to answer that I’m a problem solver for my clients and that I help make them and their product or service look their best. I do this through my photographic services and knowledge base.

The first question I’m asked is about what camera gear I use. I have found that the answer I give can have a polarizing effect, from “Oh, yes, those cameras are the best and they take great pictures!”, to “How come you don’t use a XXXXX camera? My dad / Mr. Professional / I used to have (you can fill in the blank) always uses an XXXXX and they take the BEST pictures!” The conversation can sometimes take a turn for the worst; with the other person deciding they will tell me what’s wrong with my gear and why brand XXXXX is so much better. What fun!

The second question I get, is why professional photography is so expensive (in their mind)? To them, a camera and a few lenses from Costco or Best Buy and we’re in business! Yes, it’s true, expensive gear a photographer does not make. But the gear we use are tools, just like any other professional. Most top end mechanics use Snap-on, SK or another top of the line tool set. They invest in their craft because they want to be able to do the job without having tool failures and when there is a failure the tool is guaranteed for life and is replaced. Unfortunately, even though we invest in the top of the line professional gear, it is not warranted for life (not even close). So we invest in servicing said gear. A shooting pro can invest tens of thousands of dollars in camera bodies, only to have them wear out or become obsolete in only a few years. At least lenses have a longer life span.

Professional lighting, lighting modifiers, grip (light stands, booms & support), camera supports (tripods, monopods, studio stands) and computers and their software all cost money. And speaking of computers and software, there is always another upgrade waiting in the wings thanks to planned obsolescence. There are things like memory cards, batteries, radio remotes and a whole host of other necessities for day to day photographic capture and production. What about utilities? Power, phone and internet access come to mind. Commercial versions of these cost considerably more than their household counterparts. What about the lease cost for a space? Travel costs, even when in town, like fuel, parking, etc.?

Then we get to the things that most people forget about; insurances, licenses, professional memberships, accountant and attorney. What about marketing and advertising? All of these things add up, and are not much different from any other “professional” business. So why do people think we as photographers should do our livelihood for cheap? Don’t we deserve to put a roof over our head? Send a child to school? Pay for health insurance? Take a vacation? But I digress…

Just the other day I wound up sending in a couple of camera bodies, a lens, two small flashes and a battery grip all for servicing. Thankfully the team at CPS (Canon Professional Services) takes really good care of me! They sent me out loaner gear and covered all of the FedEx shipping both ways, had my gear all repaired within a week and with our Platinum membership it all cost me less than a thousand dollars. Again, one more example of the cost of doing business, and a place I recommend not skimping!

I guess all this is to say, running a professional business or any business for that matter, has expenses and if that business is a specialty it can get quite expensive. Maybe take a look at it from the standpoint that you are investing in great photography rather than the cost of the service, and that way we professional photographers may invest in your product or service too!

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Stop allowing others to take advantage of you!

20150321_CHS_FW_Bridal_BW-0003As a long time professional photographer, I still am thrilled when a publication contacts me and offers me an opportunity to do photography for them. It usually goes something like this;

“Hi! This is So-and-So from XYZ publication. We’ve seen your work and would love to have you cover a photo project for us!”

Well thank you for noticing my work. Where was it that you saw my work? (I’m always interested in finding out which images others find compelling.) Please tell me a little about your project.

“We have a couple of stories that need accompanying images for our upcoming issue, including a cover shot. Would you be available in the next week or two?”

Checking my schedule, I mention several dates that are open. Now comes the fun part…

What kind of budget are you offering? What’s involved and how much time will be required? I ask.

“Oh, we’re pretty tight, and this will be used for editorial. It shouldn’t take more than an hour or so!” says the happy voice on the other end of the line.

With this in mind, we agree on a price for our first collaboration, and then I ask about how their accounts payable would like to have the invoice and how quickly I may expect payment after the shoot. I find out that they normally pay after the issue comes out which can be a month or more. At this point, I give my little speech about not being the Bank of Stan, and that they can have price or terms, but not both. The happy voice tells me that they can expedite it if needed. It’s needed. Before bidding each other farewell, they mention that they will need to have me fill out their W9 and sign a contract. I’ve seen a lot of contracts, and there’s never anything in it for the photographer.

When the contract shows up in my e-mail, sure enough, they want it all and are giving no quarter. A couple of things get my attention. If they decide not to publish the images, no pay will be forthcoming. They require all copyrights to be transferred to them in perpetuity and the photographer may not use them whatsoever. All of the liability during the shoot lies with the photographer (which isn’t really an issue as I have liability and E&O insurance), including securing all model & property releases. Most people tend to glaze over when reading any sort of contract as the boilerplate is mind numbing, but when it comes to your livelihood, I highly suggest taking the time to examine it thoroughly.

So maybe the next time you get the “opportunity “ to do Work Made For Hire, you might take the time to look out for your interests as well. Just remember, if you don’t, nobody else will!

Safe travels!

2015 – The year of CunningFox Photo Education

Contrary to popular belief, I have not been trapped by a large piece of office furniture or kidnapped since the end of December!

As some of you may know, I have been very fortunate to partner up with other wonderful photographers over the past four decades and last year brought together three of us on a new project. It all started from a desire to create something bigger than each of us was capable of by ourselves, and to be able to “give back” through speaking engagements, workshops and mentoring. The culmination of several months of meeting and brainstorming resulted in CunningFox Photo Education, with partners Douglas Carr Cunningham and Iveta Butler.

We began in earnest with a free monthly speaking series hosted through the City of North Charleston, featuring photographic topics for all levels of photographers. Douglas was able to bring ThinkTank camera bags on board as our first corporate sponsor, allowing us to give away some of the best bags in the industry to our participants!

At the same time, we’ve been working hard to finish The Charleston Darkroom, the premier black and white darkroom in the region, along with a workshop / classroom for lighting, posing, product and presentations. To say all of this has been a labor of love for us is quite the understatement and we are so looking forward to sharing this with the photographic community. Best of all, we get to have a blast doing this together.

For now, I leave you with a few images to show what we’ve been up to. Normal service to resume soon!

The-Charleston_Darkroom-001 The-Charleston_Darkroom-004 20150202_CFPE_ThinkTank_winner-001 20141201_CFPE-004 20141201_CFPE-005 20141201_CFPE-006 20141103_CFPE_Presentation_winner-001

Camera Gear, part 2 ~ Or the tools in the toolbox continued…

I have been asked once again by people getting into photography; what’s the best camera and what do I use? There seems to be this ever-present mystery in the eyes of the general public (and quite a number of photographers!) is that there is some special gear still out there that can create the perfect image and that what ever they have isn’t good enough. Maybe this is what is fueling the latest mumblings going on in my brain.

Wait, what?

Yep, even found myself feeling the same way, but for a different reason.

These days I have been wondering what the perfect setup for me would be when I cover next year’s Sperry Top-Sider Race Week here in Charleston SC and a race week in the Bahamas. The second part of this dilemma, is that for the sailing race in the Bahamas, we’ve been invited to set sail from here in Charleston aboard our friends’ beautiful 43’ Beneteau. In becoming shot-term live-a-boards, space will be a premium, so bringing along all sorts of gear that I would usually have (like the EF400mm 2.8L II that’s not much smaller or lighter than a horses leg!) will not work.

With this limitation in place, I’ve been having some serious gear lust for the Olympus OM-D pro system. They have built a pro-level micro four thirds system that is dust proof, water proof and even freeze proof, and have just come out with another pro zoom lens; the 40-15mm f/2.8 Zuiko (equivalent of 80-300mm on Full Frame) . I had already tested the fantastic 12-80mm f/2.8 Zuiko lens (equivalent to a 24-80mm on full frame) on the OM-D EM-1 and was quite impressed with its sharpness and clarity. I have already heard from my friend, Olympus Visionary Jay Dickman, that this was even better! And to round things out, they are planning to roll out the pro-line Zuiko 7-14mm f/2.8 & 300mm f/4 for micro four thirds sometime next year. Four lenses giving me a focal range of 14mm to 600mm in full frame equivalency plus two pro bodies, all waterproof, weighing in at less than half of my normal kit.

Pretty sweet. But would it also cover my needs for the rest of the photographic work I do? Maybe not.

I look at photographic gear in terms of buying in to a “system”. In other words; what kind of lighting systems will it interface with? It gets old when you have to cobble gear together in an attempt to make things work reliable, and in commercial work repeatability is essential. Right now Canon has the best OEM small flash system available, complete with built in wireless transmission. No need to purchase third party accessories in an attempted work around. There may be in time, something available from Quantum that talks with the Micro Four Thirds systems of Olympus and Panasonic, but they have been working on it for a few years with no signs of a release.

So I guess this is my way of explaining my answer to the original question in depth. The best camera system is the one that covers what you, the photographer, need it to do very well. And in my case, more tools in the toolbox!

One more thing to think of when looking at upgrading cameras or making your foray into a new gear purchase, is how it feels in your hands. No matter how technologically advanced the latest camera and lens combo is, if you aren’t comfortable with the way your gear handles, you won’t enjoy creating images with it.

I hope you all have a Happy Thanksgiving and don’t forget to make those holiday captures with the ones you love!

Next time; The ProActive Photographer ~ Photographic Inspiration

Ciao!Olympus_OMD_EM1 001 20141119_Gibbes_Luncheon_Preview-021 2014 Sperry Top-Sider Race Week Friday 20141120_NanoScreen_Orion_web-017 SI Solutions, Inc., Columbia SC

Why I love being the secondary photographer at weddings

I love being the secondary photographer at weddings!

You might think that someone who has photographed as many weddings as I have over the past three decades would want to be the lead photographer, but you would be wrong.

I love being able to capture all of the details and ephemeral moments that make up a wedding. From the groom fumbling with tying his bow tie with trembling fingers, to all of the little details at the reception, I have the honor to create images that I wouldn’t necessarily have the time to capture if I was the lead photographer. It also means the groom and his groomsmen get to have equal time in being represented!

Another reason is that it gives me a chance to push my creativity further when I know that the lead photographer is capturing all of the required shots. Most of the time, the bride, groom, bridal party, family and guests are paying attention to the lead photographer during formals, processional, cake cutting, toasts and family photos which means I can also capture many unguarded moments without drawing notice. These images complete the story and add dimension in creating a much fuller view of a very special day in that couple’s lives.

I also enjoy being a problem solver. Something happens to one of the lead photographer’s lights? I bring with four spare location strobes & stands. A button pops off the tux? We have a sewing kit. No one knows how to pin on the boutonnieres? No worries! By making things run smoothly, it allows the lead photographer to concentrate on their job at hand, and the bride and groom are relaxed knowing that we’ve got it covered.

The bonus to this; I get to help my fellow photographer build his or her business, which means more opportunities for me to second shoot! I also build trust with the lead wedding photographer / studio owner, as I have no desire to go after their target market: weddings. You can imagine that the last thing a professional wedding photographer wishes for is to train and work with their second shooter only to have them as direct competition next year!

Thanks for checking out my From The Fox blog! Next week’s topic: The life-long pursuit of the next great image.

Ciao!20140911_RDP_Second_Shooter-001 20140911_RDP_Second_Shooter-002 20140911_RDP_Second_Shooter-003 20140911_RDP_Second_Shooter-004 20140911_RDP_Second_Shooter-005 20140911_RDP_Second_Shooter-006 20140913_RDP-001 20140913_RDP-002 20140913_RDP-003 20140913_RDP-004 20140913_RDP-005 20141004_RDP-001 20141004_RDP-002 20141004_RDP-003

My professional photography support group

A funny thing happened to me the other day. I had been at a SCORE business workshop (for us creative types, something I highly advise going to!), wanting to energize my business brain. The speaker mentioned how businesses should make it a point to use images unique to their own company. While she was speaking about not using stock images (as everyone has the same image, what sets you apart?) I was nodding my head in agreement. And then she said something that stuck in my brain; “Don’t steal images to use on your website and marketing materials.” It got me to wonder, as I am a long time professional photographer, if anyone had stolen my images to use on their site in the digital age.

So I decided to do a rudimentary search using Google, and low and behold found a batch of wedding images I had done for a client / friend a few years back. The problem was they were showcased on another photographer’s blog, with their watermark, and some bad editing, and a statement telling her reading public that I had given my client the images without editing them. That she “had come to the rescue!” and had just finished these wonderful “edits” for them. I felt like I had been kicked between the legs and slightly nauseated. Who was this person I had never heard of telling people that I wasn’t professional enough to finish the images before presenting them to my client. That hurt. (The client had been given finished files plus an archive of the RAW images for safekeeping at their request.)

Enter the calm, cool, collective thoughts I had; Why, I’ll sue! I’ll make a scene! I’ll call Professional Photographers of America! Copyright infringement! Argh! Sputter….

Maybe before I fly off the handle, I should get another perspective on this. I belong to a great group of photographers located in beautiful Charleston SC. So I thought I would put the question to them, especially since my friend and fellow pro Chris Smith had just posted yesterday about image theft. I made it a point to make screen captures of the offending site, just in case.

What I got in response was amazing! Within minutes there was an outpouring of support from my fellow professional photographers, with many recommendations on how to proceed. I decided to start by requesting the offending photographer remove the post with my images that they had post-processed and added their watermark. I dug around and also found their phone number and proceeded to call. Without going into all the details, let’s just say the first call wasn’t as fulfilling as I had hoped, with a rather curt response, no apology and finally an agreement that they would take down the post. Well, I thought, at least that (post removal) is done. Fifteen minutes later, the phone rang. It was the photographer, sounding a little nicer this time. I actually think I got an apology, in between the justifications for why it was done.

Two things came from this for me. The first was that we should all remain diligent in protecting our intellectual property and company reputation. Yes it is a little time consuming, but know when these things happen and dealing with them quickly and efficiently is key.

The second was much more meaningful for me. The power of support and friendship from my peers in a tough industry that has such a profound impact on my wellbeing, that it actually put me in a much better space which carried over into the rest of my day! Sometimes we don’t realize how many people we have out there willing to take up the charge for us or cover our back. How do you even put a value on that? Pretty cool, indeed!

B&W Photography

The least desirable position on a WWII B17G heavy bomber was the underbelly ball turret. Only one way in and one way out, so if the ball should jamb in another position, the hatch could not be operated. Part of my Black & White Photo Challenge series.

Next week, The ProActive Photographer; Why I love being the second shooter at weddings.

Safe journey!

And now for something completely different…

I’ve had the primal photographic urge to expose some black & white film lately. I do love all film formats, but the one that I have enjoyed most since the 1970’s is medium format. Back then it was split up between my trusty Mamiya 645 (later added the 1000s model!), a friends Brooks VeriWide, and a Bronica S2.

Back then, my best friend at the time Scott Champion, had the darkroom at his house where we were able to experiment with different developers & processing times. I wonder how many people at that time besides us were working with Tri-X and pushing it to 8000 ASA (ISO) with very acceptable results?

I know that we have ultra high ISO’s these days, and there is no need to mix chemicals, testing with varying developer temps and times. Yes the digital age is a wondrous thing for sure, but I keep getting the feeling that there is something missing; something tactile, something surprising and most definitely something unique. In the days of film, each roll of 120 film would net me 12 frames. I could of course utilize my Polaroid back to verify that my exposure was good and the camera was working properly. Most of the time, I would just pull the back off the camera and look through the back of the camera to see if the lens and flash were syncing because Polaroid was expensive!

There is something refreshing and wonderful about having to wait and see my work instead of just looking on the back of my camera. This isn’t to say that I don’t love being able to check on each image while on a commissioned photo shoot. Two different animals for sure, digital is the way to go for me to create client work in the commercial world.

To help push me along, the other day my friend Mahmood passed along a couple rolls of Ilford FP4 black and white film so I could break out the Bronica and dust off my film shooting cobwebs. Hmmm, twelve images… What to photograph?

In the mean time, here’s my film weapon of choice and a few images (scanned from prints!) created way back when…

Is it time for you to break out an old camera?

All cleaned up, loaded and ready for action, my trusty Bronica SQ-B medium format film camera waits for me!

All cleaned up, loaded and ready for action, my trusty Bronica SQ-B medium format film camera waits for me!

Medium Format Medium Format EPSON scanner image  Medium Format EPSON scanner image  Medium Format