Focus on Your Business with Judy Herrmann & Richard Kelly

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I’ve known Richard Kelly and Judy Herrmann for several years now through the ASMP and different panels and events I’ve been a part of, so when I heard from Richard that they were launching a new educational series for photographers I was intrigued. I think they are both excellent people, so I simply asked them to tell us all about it and you can decide if it’s something you want to check out.

Can you give me a little background on yourself and Judy?
We’re both working photographers and experienced educators. Judy and her partner, Mike Starke, run Herrmann + Starke in the Baltimore-Washington corridor. In 1994, as early adopters of digital photography, they recognized the business opportunities and competitive advantages of the technology. Frustrated by the lack of available information for photographers making that transition, they took it upon themselves to educate the professional community about digital photography and business practices. Since then, Judy has given literally hundreds of seminars on professional business practices for photographers. In fact, we met when Richard attended Working Digitally, a day-long workshop Judy & Mike presented in Pittsburgh on his 40th birthday.

Richard’s photography practice started in New York City, assisting and producing for fashion photographers. He began shooting front of the book for some major magazines and eventually relocated to Pittsburgh, where he realized how much he didn’t understand about business. He joined the local ASMP chapter and, with the help of some great mentors, began learning on the job. Not content to keep what he learned to himself, Richard began giving seminars and teaching at Pittsburgh Filmmakers where he helps students master both the craft and the business of photography. You can see his work at RichardKelly.com.

In the early 1990’s, we each separately attended an ASMP weekend workshop called Strictly Business, where we were both struck by concept of photographers helping photographers. We share a strong desire to use the challenges we’ve overcome and the hard-won knowledge we’ve gained to make the road easier for others to follow. It’s no surprise that we both became chapter leaders and later national ASMP presidents. Our experiences in our own businesses and in leadership roles at ASMP have given us a strong understanding of the variety of paths that can lead to professional success and the need for constant adaptation and evolution as creative entrepreneurs.

Through your involvement with ASMP and different panels and presentations to photographers groups you’ve seen the industry change quite a bit. What’s different today from when you started?
There are so many changes, it would be hard to list them all. Many of them, though, can be traced back to changes in how photography is created and viewed. On the craft side, the learning curve is not as steep and the tools are less expensive, so far more people are taking photographs than ever before. This is great and has led to a fantastic creative renaissance, but it also means that much of the bread and butter work that was profitable for professionals has gone away.

When people do hire professionals today, it’s often for very different reasons than in the past. When we were starting out, mastering the gear – knowing how to use a 4×5 camera or professional strobes – was enough of a differentiator to earn a living wage. Since everyone now has access to affordable tools that allow them to take technically perfect photographs, professionals have to bring a lot more to the table. It’s not enough to create great photographs – to have honed your craft and mastered the tools of your trade – that’s just the cost of entry. Today, more then ever, your understanding of all the complex elements that form the business side of the business matter more than ever before.

The connectivity that we all now have is awesome and also creates a radically different environment for the professional. We can see so many wonderful projects that people are creating – not just locally but all over the globe. For the first time in history, professional photographers have the opportunity to build and connect directly with vast audiences without going through a publisher or really any gatekeeper at all. That was not possible even 15 years ago. This new accessibility to the tools of production and distribution place us smack in the infancy of a new age of enlightenment for photography and it will be very exciting to see where it goes.

Tell us about the online series you’re launching?
Richard has been teaching at Pittsburgh Filmmakers the past nine years and every year, sees what he calls the two week rule kick in: about two weeks after students graduate from their photo programs, he starts to get the panicked calls from students wanting to know what they should do next. Many of these students had wonderful educational programs but for the first time in four years they don’t have an assignment. They know they should be doing something, but what?

We’ve both given countless seminars on business, marketing, copyright, licensing, releases, pricing, etc. and have seen first-hand that students and emerging photographers are not the only ones struggling with business practices. We’ve met hundreds of mid-career photographers with “gaps” in their practices that are really holding them back.

For several years, we’ve talked about running some kind of intensive bootcamp but presenting an in-person program that’s accessible to people all over the country was just too cost-prohibitive. So we’re taking advantage of digital technologies to build a modular series of e-learning courses that will guide the emerging photographer through the process of building their careers, while also filling the gaps for those who’ve already started down the path and don’t want to reinvent every single wheel themselves.

The series will allow us to share everything we’ve learned about starting, growing, running and reinventing a photography career – not just our own experiences but also everything we’ve learned from the thousands of photographers who’ve shared their stories with us over the years. Instead of locking our audience into a linear path, the modular structure will let them pick and choose which topics are the best investment for them.

We’re kicking off the series at 2:00 pm eastern, Thursday, June 26 with a free 60 minute introductory class called What You Really Need to Know. It provides a soup to nuts overview of everything professional photographers need to understand to build a successful business. Registration is open at http://asmp.adobeconnect.com/e29xfy2u5y7/event/registration.html and all registrants will get free access to the recording.

Our first module, Launching Your Career, runs from July 10 – 24. Designed for students, recent graduates or anyone transitioning into the field, it provides an in-depth understanding of the nuts and bolts of starting and running your own business. Registration is open at http://focusonyourbusiness.eventbrite.com/?aff=1a0

APhotoEditor.com readers can save $40 by registering here or entering the promo code APFgo at the main registration site [APE does not receive any kind of commission for this].

How does your program differ from others photographers may be considering?
From a philosophical standpoint, the big difference is that neither of us believes that there’s a one-size-fits-all formula for how to build a successful photography career. We’re not saying, “Do what I do” or selling a non-existent magic bullet. Instead, we’re providing a toolkit – we’re sharing information and insights we’ve gained from a wide range of sources along with a framework for thinking about your business that will help people figure out what’s going to give them the best outcomes no matter what their goals are or the challenges they encounter.

We’ve also designed a unique format. Not only does our modular approach allow registrants to choose the topics they want but each module includes lectures, readings, exercises and live online office hours where we log into the e-learning platform with our students to take questions and discuss whatever they’re struggling with. The lectures provide insights and information. The readings deepen your understanding. The exercises personalize the information and foster deeper thinking. But it’s the Office Hours – where we’re interacting with our students and providing real time answers after they’ve had a chance to process and apply the information – that really set us apart.

Does the future of photography look bright to you? What can emerging photographers expect?
We are absolutely living through a new golden age for photography; the accessibility of capture tools and editing software plus the ease of getting your work out into the world has heralded a creative resurgence that shows no signs of slowing.

For professional photographers, though, the rate of change has created some significant challenges. There used to be clear career paths in this industry – you might become a staffer, a freelancer or start your own studio but if you followed certain steps you were almost guaranteed a decent living. Today, those paths are less clear and there are far fewer guarantees, but as communications become increasingly visual and audiences get more visually sophisticated, we’re seeing some great opportunities moving forward.

There are more collaborative opportunities for creative working together rather than going it alone. Our clients are starting to use photography in new and unique ways – often with the photographer as the lead creative – which allows for exciting new business models. Companies are starting to realize that repurposing print & TV content or taking a “DIY” approach to online and social media uses isn’t effective and are hiring professionals to create work just for these channels. So yes, despite the challenge of learning how to adapt to ongoing change (which is one of the big factors that drove us to create this new series), we see a bright future for professional photographers as well.

That’s not to say it will be easy. Emerging photographers – you need to be prepared to work your ass off. You’ll need a solid work ethic and a fierce commitment to this profession. You’ll need to invest the same time and energy into mastering the business side as you put into mastering your craft. But, if you put some real thought into designing your career, master some basic business practices and learn how to apply your creative problem solving skills to business decisions, we believe you can build a sustainable and satisfying career as a professional photographer.

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