Archive for the ‘Lessons Learned’ Category

Lessons Learned – Following Your Own Path

With a bit of downtime, I like to organize my thoughts in the form of Lessons Learned and get some feedback from the creative community. Previously, I skimmed the surface with a whopping two posts on Following Up and Contracts, and I hope to make this a regular thing.

I would like to start with a phrase that has been kicked around a lot lately and I haven’t seen it paid its due diligence. “Follow your own path.”

This phrase is very reminiscent of my days on active duty. I would be invited to a ‘free lunch’ by one of my peers, only to find out that someone is trying to hustle me into joining a pyramid scheme. A moderator with a Rolex and a gold necklace would talk without interruption for 30 minutes about how they ‘made it,’ and never cite what they actually did to accomplish all this wonderful material wealth.

The same goes for this phrase. I hear a lot of creative types pay it lip service. All too often, I will take a look at their work after hearing this phrase tossed around and come to find out, they are just chasing fads.

One of the best compliments I’ve ever received was from a Georgia boy named Rex who once told me, “you are the biggest non-conformist I have ever met!” Thank you Rex. Having this attitude has led to many ups and downs, but I hope that what I am doing will help me solidify my photography voice.

Here is how I follow my own path, from capture to client:

  1. Sony Cameras – Consequently, when I mention this fact it raises a lot of brows. I love the look of Ziess glass coupled with Sony CMOS sensors and I know that I make up a distinct minority in the professional category.
  2. Photoshop – As familiar as I am with it, I choose not to use it extensively. I strive to create timeless imagery that will never fall out of fashion. Look at Velvia or any hand-painted ads of the 70’s, does anyone still look at them and wonder?
  3. Professionalism – I work diligently to present myself in the most professional manner.
  4. Web Site – Rather than using a Flash and/or site template, my web site is built from the ground up. It accurately reflects who I am and what I provide to my clients.
  5. Client Base – My niche is military photography. This extends to my wedding and editorial work, and I don’t actively pursue clients outside of those lanes.

My intent with this post is to encourage you, the creative professional to take a unbiased look at your work and ask yourself “am I following my own path?”

So I ask, are you running with the pack or have you blazed your own trail?

Lessons Learned – Contracts

Ding, ding, ding, round 2!

In this corner we have the small business owner and in the opposite corner we have the corporate giant! Ding goes the bell, both contenders come out swinging, excitement sweeps over the crowd and an 8 round slug fest ensues! Deep into the 9th round the giant gets caught in their own red tape! The small business owner sees an opening, returns with a devastating product that’s under deadline, and the match is over folks! The small business owner is the champ…but wait, where’s his paycheck?

Well, it looks like the champ is going to have to wait 3 months for his money to arrive since he didn’t draft up a contract before going into the bout.

While this may seem like a vivid and exaggerated story, I was once that fighter!

I suffered through this battle too many times with a variety of clients who always wanted the finished product ‘yesterday’. I’d deliver and expect a paycheck in return for my hard work and effort, only to find out that compensating me was at the bottom of their list. Not to mention, I saw a major gap in my vendor to client expectations. I made too many assumptions when I first stepped into professional photography 2 years ago, and I desperately needed to streamline this process.

This wasn’t a major issue back when I had a day job and a paycheck waiting for me monthly in the mailbox. Now that I am full-time, I know there will be occasions in the future when I absolutely need that payment and I refuse to leave this aspect of the business up to chance.

The present day fighter is much leaner and faster due to a one-two combo of price sheet and contract (anyone else getting tired of the boxing analogies?). One of my first goals after going full-time was to create a boiler plate contract for every aspect of photography that I cover. Much like a resume, I opted to have everything presented in plain English on a single page. My price sheets and contracts for event, corporate, portrait, family, and architecture photography are on a single sheet that is logically organized. Each contract clearly spells out what my rates are and what is included with my services. The document also outlines how and when payment is to be delivered, along with protections to safeguard my business and the images I produce. The only exception is my wedding contract, which is two pages long since it comesdirectly from PPA and I didn’t want to deviate too much from their guidance. Which segues to my next thought, drafting up your own contracts.

I took much of the existing language from PPA’s sample wedding contract and transposed any of the applicable legalese into the contracts listed above. I had two lawyer friends look them over, give the thumbs up, and I was on my way. If any of you would like to see one of my contracts, feel free to drop me a line and I’ll happily send them your way.

Digital Pro Photo’s Samuel Lewis recently published a phenomenal article titled Get It In Writing and closed on a great thought; contracts are not a one-time exercise. Your contracts should go through a number of evolutions based on your business experiences. I certainly plan build upon the existing structure and rewrite some of the language in my contracts. I know that in the future I will need to expand my contracts to cover a wider gamut of clients, but I hope they eventually plateau and only require minor revisions over time.

And of course you don’t ever want to step in the ring with your clients…but be ready to fight to get paid!

Lessons Learned – Following Up

Alright, we’re going to take a break here from the regularly scheduled action to go off on a tangent…or what I hope is a beneficial blog posting.

It’s been about 3 months since I started this full-time venture, and so far so good. My client list has been steadily expanding and I’m feeling confident that great things are just over the horizon. I’d like to credit a large part of my recent success to the amount of time that I have put back into the photography community teaching and mentoring just about anyone who asks. I have had an awesome time forming the Charlottesville Photography Meetup Group;teaching a day’s worth of Strobist workshops at my old high school, Walter Johnson; and spending time teaching people one-on-one in VA, MD, and DC. A vast majority of that time is simply spent going over how to take photos, however, knowing how to operate a camera is not the end all and be all of professional photography. A great quote that I probably cite way too often is, “you can be the best photographer in the world, but if you can’t sell it, you’re going to starve to death. Conversely, you can be the worst photographer in the world but if you can sell it, you’ll be eating steak dinners every night.” I wish I could remember where I originally heard that little quip since I know I just butchered the hell out of it!

The point is that being a good photographer only accounts for a portion of the workload a freelancer has to deal with. The business side of the house can be very daunting, and unfortunately there’s not much out there aside from John Harrington’s Best Business Practices For Photographers to serve as a road map for the nascent photographer. Not to worry, me and my whopping 3 months of experience are here to tell you how it is! Well…not really, but I would like to offer my fellow photographers and interested readers small nuggets of information that may not come instinctively. Initially, I was going to list everything out into one long post, but I think it’s better to break things up for the sake of brevity and discussion.

To kick things off slowly I want to talk about following up. This was completely counter intuitive to me coming from a military background where asking a question generally yields an answer in one form or another. When I announced that I was going full-time with my photography I received a ton of support, and with that came a lot of “oh yeah, I think I may have some work for you.” Well, surprisingly enough the phone calls didn’t come raining in and I quickly figured out that it was solely up to me to put bread on the table. It doesn’t take much, a simple note with “just following up on our conversation from last night” is a great tag line and I’ve found that people are very receptive to little reminders. Now, I always take note of when people say this in conversation and I absolutely make sure to send them an email as soon as I get to a computer. Time is of the essence, and wasted days can mean burnt brain cells that won’t recall conversations or potential clients.

Another aspect of the email follow-up is staying on top of your existing and potential clients. Most of my clients are people with busy lives, or corporate types who are in public relations, so photography is often an afterthought. Their supervisor will mention in a meeting that “we need a photographer, and Johnny, you’re going to find one!” Well either Johnny is busy with his own work, or has nothing on his plate, so be ready for both types.

Count your lucky stars when a creative director reaches out to you. I have had first-rate experiences with these individuals who genuinely care about the quality of images that you’re going to kick out, and usually there is no necessary follow-up with them. Like I mentioned, most of my corporate contacts are in public relations and it’s often up to me to offer some sort of creative direction. You may send the greatest email ever read outlining a phenomenal shoot…and then get nothing back for days. Do not be discouraged! Following up is a BIG part of this process, and it’s really up to you as the photographer to take the reins to make sure all the parties involved are on track with your ideas.

So like the gentlemen pictured above, follow up! These two put good time into following up on their conversation with the woman across the table and like them…I hope your efforts yield the results you’re looking for!

Next up: Contracts!