If you are a solo entrepreneur, work from home, or know someone who is a solo entrepreneur who works from home, well, here is the real real life (but funny). By Colin Nissan:
I was one of several authors of a book published several years ago, the ASMP Guide To New Markets In Photography. My contribution was a series of oral-history interviews with thirty-two photographers totaling 21,000 words. The editor, the late Susan Carr, asked me to speak with photographers of a wide range of specialties and ages who were working professionals preoccupied with the never-ending labor of keeping their career – and work – fresh and engaged.
Some of these interviews have been published in ASMP’s Strictly Business blog, but most have never appeared outside the book. I’ve picked a few for my own blog, appearing as they were in the book. Other than the introduction, the words are the photographer’s.
MELISSA GOLDEN melissagolden.com
Started Career in 2006
Majored in International Affairs and Journalism. Worked as a staff newspaper photographer for six months then went freelance. Mostly editorial. Portraits, documentary projects, and photojournalism.
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Personal Work I try to make all of my work personal, even the assignments. I always try to shoot what the client wants, but if time allows I also shoot for myself on every assignment I have. And often that’s what I end up featuring from my assignment work, so when I say that all my work is personal work, most of it really, really is. For the most part I try to feature pictures I care about.
I pursue a lot of personal projects, things I shoot on spec or for my own artistic fulfillment, because if you’re just shooting for the paycheck, I think that your work gets stale, you stop loving it, and this is such a wonderful field, that to treat it as a job you have to do is just depressing.
I shoot two or three weddings in a year; it’s not a huge percentage of my income, but I treat the weddings in particular as grants – the money from the weddings I use to go shoot personal projects. Other things I want to pursue in other areas of photography, I allocate wedding money to do that.
The high end portrait has become my bread-and-butter; I’m still a photojournalist at heart, but the portrait photography certainly pays the bills. They always say, with your work, with your marketing, show what you want to shoot, and that’s what I try to do.
Copyright I want to drive home the point that, as an editorial freelancer, everybody and their mother is trying to get you to do work-for-hire and take your copyright, and it’s so essential to guard against that if you hope to sustain your career for any length of time. Either that, or have a staff job, but those are few and far between.
As a freelancer, you have to own your copyright or be properly compensated for your copyright. Otherwise, you’ll never make it very long.
I turned down a lot of work at first, when I switched my policy. And it hurt. But in the long term, I have really benefitted myself, and I keep making money off of pictures I’ve already been paid to take. Syndication is a beautiful thing.
Networking I didn’t even think of it as networking at the time, I just enjoyed my colleagues’ company so much that I sought out conferences and events; anything where there were going to be photographers and photojournalists. I made it a point to build that network of friends and colleagues nationally. I travelled to meet people, just photographers at first, but some photographers became editors, over time positions changed, and my network kept expanding. When I went freelance, I was able to call upon that network to get me started with some news organizations, wire services, national papers, and I built up myself from there.
Blog It took me a number of years to start a blog, but now I would say my blog brings in more viewers on a monthly basis than my website. That’s were I put all my fresh work, and my thoughts and musings. I use Twitter, Facebook, Google +, Tumbler, I use all the social media networks to spread the word when I have a new blog post, a new feature on my website, and I get a good number of hits off of that. People re-Tweet, they re-post, and that just spreads the word organically. I never do any direct mail marketing.
Contests and Awards I find that the ultimate bit of advertising for getting your name out to the ears and minds of editors is winning contests. I consider the entry fees as part of my marketing budget, and when I do place, invariably I get a dozen phone calls within a short time after the contest, usually from new clients, usually from editors saying “I just saw your work in such-and-such contest”. To me, that’s the absolute best way…but the odds are not good. It’s extraordinary what winning a contest can do for you, career-wise.
It’s more of a rocket-boost, it’s not a sustainable strategy unless you can win contests every damn year. A sustainable strategy at this point is keeping up with my blogging. I try to blog two-to-three days a week, and I keep track of my analytics for my blog, and incoming traffic, number of views, and there are noticeable spikes on the days that I blog, people coming in from all venues. My blog is really my public space, even more than my portfolio website.
Eddie Adams Workshop It really was the start of my work as a successful freelancer, and it boosted me towards the magazine world and away from newspapers and wires, and towards magazines, where I actually got to keep my copyright.
While I was there, I won an award, it was an assignment with Parade Magazine. A year went by, and I hadn’t heard anything from them, and I kept calling and I thought they forgot about me. One day they called me up, and they were familiar with my work from the 2008 campaign trail, and they asked me if I would like to spend a day in the life of Secretary Clinton, shadowing her at the State Department from dawn ‘till dusk. That level of exclusivity, and the pictures I got…those pictures still sell. That got me in front of some agencies when I was shopping that around looking for a place to syndicate, and that’s when I met with Redux and hooked up with them. And that all originated with the Eddie Adams Workshop and that award.
When I went to meetings with editors at newspapers and magazines, I carried my laptop and an iPad to show my work, though am now transitioning to show my work exclusively with a formal printed book. I was doing pretty well getting meetings on my own, but there was a certain level of clientele that I was trying to break through to reach, and it wasn’t until I hooked up with Redux Pictures, my agency where I’m a contributor, that they were able to get the meetings, the assignments at the higher-end magazines, like GQ and Esquire, that I had been wanting to meet with and work with, but couldn’t get in myself.
The combination of personal marketing, low-level things, social media, and Redux, and having my name up on their website, having them Tweet, and feature me as a photographer, it’s kind of that one-two punch that helps get my name out there.
I’m teaching an all-day workshop on business for photographers in Los Angeles on Saturday, January 14.
Like all my workshops, this one covers a lot of ground: marketing, websites, contracts, insurance, types of careers, social media, negotiating, digital workflow, affiliated trades, finding work and representation, and way more.
Everyone who attends gets pages of resources, including links to free and paid software, useful blogs and websites, continuing learning, and business books and publications. You also get a set of documents such as sample contracts and spreadsheets.
There will be breaks – including lunch, which is provided – and coffee all day. (There is no reason to suffer while you learn.)
The workshop is sponsored by three organizations: ASMP Los Angeles, the Lucie Foundation through their Month Of Photography (MOPLA), and by the Los Angeles Center of Photography (LACP), where the workshop is taking place.
This particular workshop has been designed to be inexpensive (or free!) to attend through the generosity of the three main sponsors and the support of two more: Dripbook and Yodelist.
Register and find out more, here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/what-it-takes-building-a-creative-career-tickets-30397360323
You can also find out more about the workshop by clicking on ABOUT in the menu.
Come On Down!
Ethan Iverson, the wonderful pianist, teacher, and member of The Bad Plus, has a terrific blog, Floyd Camembert Reports. This is his most recent post, #37: (ECM records, the moral of the story), about being engaged, showing up, and being ready.
“In the 1990s, I went out to see music whenever I could. I was broke but I found money to hang anyway. A lot of the time I was at Smalls seeing Kurt Rosenwinkel, Mark Turner, Ben Street, and Jeff Ballard play their near-weekly Wednesday gig. This band really taught me something about group sound: they all played so great, but together they all seemed even greater.
Things went well for the quartet, they signed record deals and eventually they played the Village Vanguard, which was a big step up from Smalls.”
Camera Girl is a title and job from the middle of the last century – but closer to the present than it might seem at first. It’s not a gender-specific reality.
“I’m what is known as a darkroom girl,” she added. “In other words, I’m supposed to be a photographer—I mean a real photographer—a chemist, a camera mechanic, an accountant, a stockroom clerk, and a practical psychologist, just in case the camera girl starts to blow her top, you know.”
From Hawkins Is Inside, By Berton Roueché in The New Yorker, November 30, 1946.
Joe Henry is a songwriter and performer. He’s also a well-respected producer, and when he’s working with someone else in the studio the process is “not about you and it’s not about them. It’s about it.”
Later, talking about a day in the studio:
“You could chase a song in different directions all day, but we have more work that we’re obliged to do. You don’t have endless resources and endless time. I don’t see that as an obstruction. Instead, I see it as something else that’s guiding us. Otherwise, you’ll just get really lost: ‘Okay, we have this, but what else could it be?’ It could be anything else. There are all kinds of things that it might be. But what about right now? Is the song being served and does the song then serve the whole project?”
From The Producers: Joe Henry
Interview by Stephen Deusner in The Bluegrass Situation.
Read the full interview here:
RESUME OF FAILURES
General Principles Edition, Photography
“Most of what I try fails, but these failures are often invisible, while the successes are visible. I have noticed that this sometimes gives others the impression that most things work out for me. As a result, they are more likely to attribute their own failures to themselves, rather than the fact that the world is stochastic, applications are crapshoots, and selection committees and referees have bad days. This CV of Failures is an attempt to balance the record and provide some perspective.”
Johannes Haushofer, CV OF FAILURES.
ASSIGNMENTS AND COMMISSIONS I DID NOT GET
Projects where I gave ballpark pricing on the first phone call, despite the warning voice in my head screaming “It’s a losing proposition!” (Number of these incidents has been redacted.)
Projects I priced too low so it looked like I didn’t know what I was doing. (Number of these incidents has been redacted.)
Projects I priced too high because I was afraid of pricing myself too low. (Number of these incidents has been redacted.)
Negotiations where I knew in advance of developing an estimate that I had been silently assigned by the art buyers to play the role of “beard” because they had already decided to hire someone else before contacting me, but were required to prove due diligence to their client by getting three bids. I tell myself these interludes are opportunities to perfect my negotiating techniques and maybe the beloved photographer would get hit by an asteroid and they would need a substitute, and, anyway, there was at least one other person who was never going to get that job, either, so what’s my problem? Or so I tell myself.
PROJECTS I CONTRACTED FOR BUT SHOULD NEVER HAVE DONE
Gigs where I knew there was not enough money in the project, but convinced myself they would be really painless, easy-to-accomplish, and go quickly. (Hah!)
Gigs where the clients didn’t know much about how the photo or design process worked, but where I convinced myself they could be made to understand the process, so, thereby, in the end, would be easy to work with anyway. (Hah! Hah!)
Projects that came to me through a graphics / branding / advertising agency where I assumed because they’d done this before they knew what they were doing and so would insulate me from their own client who was mostly clueless, and despite this fairly typical obstacle we would produce great work and make good money. (Oy.)
DOCUMENTS THAT WERE REALLY NOT VERY GOOD
Estimates and contracts that contained buckets of paranoid legalistic language that even scared the hell out of me. And where the font on the Terms & Conditions page was so tiny you would squint through an electron microscope to read it.
Emails whose tone was too casual, or, too coldly businesslike. Or some confusing combination of both. And too long. Much too long. No, really, seriously, they just went on and on and on and on. You know?
PERSONAL PROJECTS NOT COMPLETED, SO THEY’RE NOT ON MY WEBSITE TO INSPIRE CLIENTS TO HIRE ME BECAUSE OF MY OH SO VERY SPECIAL TALENTS AND ABILITIES.
Not going there.
Failing to remember I’ve learned more from my failures than my successes and who cares how much of a cliche that is? Anyway, I’m only human so I should just chill and give myself a break because I’m reasonably skillful at hiding my disasters, so, really, what’s the problem here?
(Based on Johannes Haushofer’s CV Of FAILURES. He’s an assistant professor of psychology and public affairs at Princeton University. See for yourself: https://www.princeton.edu/haushofer/Johannes_Haushofer_CV_of_Failures.pdf)
In Which I Write A Blog Post About Blogging
And The Symbiotic Spokes In The Wheel
That Is Social Media.
For the longest time I could not figure out what social media could do for me. So I did nothing. Or almost nothing: I had a mousy level of participation on Facebook which I joined only so people from my past could find me and everyone else would not think I was a total luddite, including my girlfriend, who was very active, staying in touch with her friends, family, colleagues, and several hundred thousand cat videos. I’m more into dog videos, myself.
It seemed like I should have a blog, everyone said so, but with what content and for what purpose? I have always read lots of blogs, following deep into the links social media sent me to, but was not able to imagine myself as an active, rather than passive, participant.
Then things got slow, business-wise. I knew well how social media could impact one’s business, specifically how a lack of social media participation could be linked to a lack of business. My mind became more focused.
Clients and employers use social media to research people they might hire: What is your personal work like? Who are you? Who are your friends, including professional colleagues? What kinds of hobbies or interests do you have? Are you obsessed with the Kardashians or Satanic practices or some combination of the two? Like that.
Getting a blog up-and-running is not enough in and of itself; a professional online presence has to connect with all the spokes of a social media wheel. I developed a semi-professional presence on Facebook, a thoroughly professional presence on Linkedin, put photos on Tumblr and Houzz, and got registered on Twitter, Instagram, Google +, and Pinterest without any other content than my contact information because…why not? It’s so easy. You never know where people will find you.
Professional blogs need a reason to exist: what’s it for? In addition to my primary gig as a photographer, I also write and teach college classes and workshops on professional practices for photographers. My photography website and Tumblr, along with Facebook, serve as outlets for my photography. The blog is focused on business issues and showing off my writing (and a little photography) in order to encourage people to hire me to teach and write in the same way my photography site is designed to get me hired to make photos. Every bit of my online presence links to every other bit of my online presence, my own little social media universe.
My blog (like my photo site) offers a way to track the comings-and-goings of viewers, and that’s no small thing when you’re trying to figure out why people hire you. Or don’t hire you. The blog and photo site feed and sustain each other in a symbiotic relationship. The spokes of the social media wheel serve as a way for photography clients who visit my website to see that I am a serious professional, someone they can trust to act correctly without adult supervision, and constitute proof I understand their own social media needs.
Since my classes and workshops are about the photography business, linking my blog to my photo website serves as proof I have professional grounds on which to base my teaching. Each post reappears automatically on Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, Google +, and Tumblr, and I regularly re-post on Medium.
I do have a modest selection of cat and dog images on my photo website, so I’m covered as far as that goes, even though no one has ever hired me to photograph them. I really like cats and dogs – same as lots of my clients.
For Photographers And Writers A Good Story Is A Virtuous Circle
It might go like this: a photographer makes a photo for themselves, not on assignment, and posts it online.
A photo buyer sees it and shows it to their client. The image suggests a solution for a story they want to tell to the client’s customers. They hire the photographer to further develop that story.
Here is the circle: the photographer > the art buyer > the art buyer’s client > the client’s customer and back around to the photographer who makes a picture, the art buyer who puts the picture in an ad, and onto the client’s customer: the viewer.
So now when the photographer is making a photo, instead of just doing it for themselves, they are being paid to please a specific audience. This does not preclude pleasing themselves, of course, which is where they started. They got hired because of their voice.
All creative works project a voice, good or bad, practiced or accidental, focused or aimless. Good photographs obey the same mandate as good writing: clarity, nuance, and detail. Clarity makes it easy to to understand. Nuance gives it depth. Detail makes it relatable. Voice.
A photographer’s professional writing may be non-fiction: a bio on a website, a letter of introduction to a potential client, a caption for an editorial photo, a blog post about recent work. It might also be fiction: text applied to a storyboard to explain a concept that illustrates a story they want to sell to an art buyer.
Voice develops from intention: Is the writing simply to please yourself? Is the writing to sell yourself? Is it to sell a concept? Is it to document what happened while a photo was being made to enable an editor to write descriptive text? Clarity, nuance, and detail: voice supports the story and story supports the voice. It’s a shortcut to meaning. Good writing – like a good photo – is not reductive, it does not have to clarify every little thing. It’s more personal for the reader to make the leap, and they’ll feel more engaged.
Engagement comes in myriad forms. While it’s a poor communications strategy to make a reader to feel stupid, there is nothing wrong with making them look up a definition. John McPhee is widely considered a writer’s writer, on staff at The New Yorker (arguably the most well-written magazine in the country) for over fifty years, a Pulitzer Prize winner, still going strong in his 80s, and there are words in every article that make me reach for a dictionary. His writing is so irresistible I don’t care, his voice so seductive I had to cure myself of trying to copy it. He doesn’t use those unfamiliar words to impress. He uses them because they are the best words he can find. He is a craftsman.
People respond to McPhee’s writing like they respond to a good photo. There is a compelling personality projecting his stories. (It does not hurt he sounds like a guy you’d want to have a drink with.) It gets under your skin. Good work is the result of the work that goes into it and McPhee’s writing is specific to him: clarity, nuance, and detail: his voice.
In my twenties I wanted to be a field biologist. I loved the idea of engaging with the elements and how naturalists develop broad conclusions based on specifics. Research never ends; there is always more to learn, deeper to look, farther to go.
In particular, I was attracted to a primary feature of the scientific method: that data could validate or deny preconceptions. The best and most successful scientists have open minds because data’s job is disprove preconceptions as much as prove them. That’s how science moves forward.
Chemistry is a requirement for a biology degree, but sadly, a neurotic disinclination towards algebra made passing chemistry an impossibility, so away went that dream. I got to know a few highly accomplished biologists pretty well, however, fascinated at how they studied their subjects up close and in detail while simultaneously casting attention far-and-wide to confirm if their efforts – and their data – were relevant to their research: context was everything. They were on the lookout for failures as well as successes while aiming for the validation – the proof – their preconceptions were correct. It’s a nice feeling to be validated, scientist or not.
I try to do the same as I hunt for my clients. I photograph the built environment and people, so any article that mentions an architect or designer gets my notice: data. Trade and shelter magazines and websites publish newsletters promoting their content: more data. Out in the field, architects conveniently like to put their names on construction sites, along with their contact information. Contractor’s websites, even though they are not my primary clients, sometimes list their design partners. Data is everywhere, and it’s mainly represented in websites.
Designer’s websites quickly reveal two things: if their work is any good and if they care enough to hire professional photographers to document it. Designers who don’t meet these criteria are unlikely to pay my rates, so they get voted off my private island. If the designer is not in my geographic area and all their work is local to them, they are not relevant to me. If their website is old (tiny fonts, small pictures, old-style design), they are not relevant.
If they meet my standards and have pictures of people in their architectural photography, even better, since I also produce portraits and documentary work, and sometimes get hired specifically because I do both, a particularly pleasing form of data validation.
I used to think the more data I developed – large lists of potential clients – the better, telling myself that even people with crummy websites were dying to get their hands on a clever professional like myself to bring their marketing to a higher level. That theory turned out to be a bad use of data for a simple reason: it was not true, thought it turned to be (temporarily) a good use of data because it cured me of believing that larger data samples would lead to more work; an unbelievable waste of time. When you’re self-employed, time really is money. I want to be sure I have enough free time to fall asleep on the couch in front of the TV like a normal person instead of contacting people who will never hire me.
Once I’ve sifted my data and located a possible client I click to their website to discover the person who hires people like me and call to introduce myself. If that information is not listed, I call the company anyway to suss out who I should be speaking with or sending an email to. I look for responses validating my preconception they need my services, testing my data. If they turn out to be my kind of client, great, I enter their information into a database. If not, off the island they go.
Then I start the process all over again, looking for data and validation. There is no greater validation than getting hired, and no way to get there without good data, which, hopefully, develops into something that allows me, later, to fall asleep on my couch instead of wasting my time.