Category "Expert Advice"

Expert Advice: How To Invoice A Client

- - Expert Advice

By Craig Oppenheimer, Wonderful Machine

I have to admit that one of the most satisfying parts of producing a shoot is when I compile an invoice and every dollar and cent is perfectly accounted for. That’s partially because it proves I did a great job and made sure the project stayed within budget, but it’s also satisfying because I have a habit of being overly organized. That mentality extends to invoices, and I wouldn’t think of sending a client a document that was in any way incomprehensible.

From a photographer’s perspective, I know compiling an invoice isn’t as satisfying as receiving payment or seeing your images on a billboard or in a magazine. However, a client will most definitely appreciate the neatly organized paperwork, and it’s these sorts of mannerisms that might just make them want to hire you again. There is of course no right or wrong way to compile an invoice … wait, strike that … what I mean to say is that there is no right or wrong format for an invoice, as long as it’s clear and easy to understand.

Since every project is different, the information included in the invoice and its presentation can dramatically scale up or down. Sometimes a client will require receipts for all of your expenses, but other times you might be working on a bid or for a flat project fee where you don’t need to show receipts for anything. The latter of the two of course makes for a simpler invoice. Sometimes you may also have receipts within receipts. For instance, it’s ideal to present receipts for all “meals” together, but your assistant might include a copy of a receipt for a coffee on their invoice to you along with an invoice for their time, which you then need to pass along to the agency. So, while each project will be billed on a case-by-case basis, you should simply do your best to organize everything appropriately, which might mean setting invoicing requirements for the subcontractors you hire. Also, always be sure to keep the original copies of your receipts for absolutely everything you buy for a shoot, whether you plan to charge your client for it or not.

The following is an example of an invoice that I feel is straightforward, clean and easy to comprehend:

The first page of the invoice acts as a summary of all fees and expenses, and also notes the advance payment received as well as the final balance due. All of the following pages are either invoices or scanned receipts to justify the expenses. When estimating the project before the shoot, you might consider including items such as “shoot processing for client review” and “selects processed for reproduction” as expenses rather than fees since you might ultimately outsource retouching, and because it helps to potentially increase the amount of an advance (if you’re only permitted to receive an advance on expenses). However, since we do not need to include a receipt or invoice to justify these items, I’ve included them in the “fees” section at the top. Organizing it this way makes it clear that the pages following the front of the invoice are to justify the expenses only.

You’ll see that each receipt/invoice used to justify the expenses is formatted differently (because they all come from different vendors) and it’s therefore important to add uniformity to make them easier to digest. That’s why on each page I use Adobe Acrobat Pro to add a title to the upper left hand corner, then circle the total and note the total again on the bottom right corner. The titles help to clarify which line item on the invoice the page corresponds to, and while adding the total at the bottom may seem redundant, it helps to summarize pages where there may be multiple receipts (like for meals).

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I also use Adobe Acrobat Pro to create PDFs of each invoice/receipt and to compile the final invoicing packet by merging all of the PDFs into one file. To create a page of receipts (for meals in this instance), I lay the receipts down on a flatbed scanner and set the preferences on my computer to automatically save a PDF. You might try to use your phone to take a picture of your receipts (or even take photos of your receipts with a DSLR), but the quality of the images you’ll receive from a flatbed scanner will be well worth the investment, and prices for scanners have dropped dramatically over the past few years.

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Sometimes you might not be able to get a receipt for an expense (like a tip for a bellman or charges for mileage) but you’ll still want to be reimbursed. In these instances we use the petty cash log below to document these expenses.

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As I mentioned previously, the scale of your production will determine the formatting and length of your invoice. For instance, an invoice I recently submitted for a large production had 30 pages dedicated to wardrobe styling alone. In cases like this, it may make sense to have cover pages for each section (to correspond to the line items on the invoice) rather than just adding section titles to each page.

No matter how you format an invoice, you just need to be organized and present everything in a manner that is easy to comprehend. If you take a few extra minutes to create a well-formatted invoice, you’ll save the time and energy you’ll otherwise spend going back and forth with your client to justify your fees and expenses. In the end, it should help you receive payment faster, and will make your client (and their accounting department) enjoy working with you.

If you have any questions, or if you need help estimating, producing or invoicing a project, please give us a call at (610) 260-0200. We’re available to help with any and all pricing and negotiating needs—from small stock sales to big ad campaigns

Expert Advice: Emailers & Print Mailers

by Joey Pasko, Wonderful Machine

All photographers should have a variety of promotional tools in their arsenal to help garner clients and bring attention to their work. Among these tools are email promotions and ever-popular print mailer promotions. If used correctly, both can help bring in a lot of new business and keep your name on the radar of your existing clients. However, it’s important to know the difference between email promotions and print promotions.

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An email promotion may seem like a cheap and easy method to get your name out there, but by no means should it be your sole marketing effort. In fact, the best way for photographers to promote themselves is by using both print and email promotional tools very strategically and specifically. Email promotions are a good way to send a large group of clients a quick reminder to check out your website and your new work. If you use the email analytics to see who actually opened the email and clicked to your website, you can create an even more tailored and effective list of clients to send a memorable print mailer to. Think of it this way: your email promotion should go out to a large general list of clients, and your print mailer should go out to a targeted and tailored list of clients.

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Print mailers are a great way to give a potential client something tactile and cool to constantly remind them that you’re the person to hire. But how do you make your mailer stand out? It’s easy to fall into the trap of a typical postcard. Many photographers would say anything more is a gimmick, but remember that your clients receive lots and lots of postcards from great photographers all the time. “Letting the photo speak for itself” sometimes isn’t enough to push your work above all the other promos hanging on the bulletin board.

The solution is to embrace the medium and create something that stands out. Utilizing modern design and printing techniques can help make your promo the most unique one in the crowd.

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At WM, we typically advise photographers to go one of two ways with print promos. The first option is to create a promo that is beyond just a postcard. By elevating the piece beyond the norm, you automatically are guaranteeing that what you send out will stand out amongst other print mailers. A great example of this would be Nashville photographer Josh Anderson’s printed promo. Rather than a single image, Josh added interest by utilizing a printing technique called foil stamping. His print promos included a hand printed board and buttons for the recipient to keep. These small additions to the concept turned what might have otherwise been a simple and forgettable card into a packet that feels more like a gift than anything else.

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Two printing options that people must also consider are digital printing versus offset printing. Digital printing applies ink to a page using a digital printer and offset printing applies ink to a page using metal plates and rollers. There are pros and cons to both. While you can get good digital print quality using a digital printer, offset printing’s quality is superior and has better color matching. Digital prints are far cheaper and better for small batches of prints, while offset is better for larger batches due to its higher set-up price for creating plates. However, unlike digital, offset printing gives you far more options of paper. Offset printing allows you to print on thicker paper, rougher paper and all sorts of specialty papers. It’s important to decide which of these methods will best suit your print mailer campaign. This designer’s humble opinion: while digital can be cheap and easy, offset printing is truly the way to show off photography.

There are a number of other printing techniques that can also be used to elevate a project! Here are some that could easily make your print promo stand out amongst the crowd:

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Letterpress: Letterpress printing is just that — pressing ink (traditionally type) into paper. Letterpress printing has been around since the 1400s, and with the more recent advancement of using photopolymer plates instead of traditional wood type, there are even more possibilities in this print method. With photopolymer plates, much more detail can be achieved. Nowadays, letterpress is prized for the deep impression that can be achieved when the ink is pressed into the paper, and offers really tactile and beautiful results. Whenever I’m given anything letterpressed, I’m more inclined to keep it.

Foil Stamping: Similar to letterpress, a foil press is used to apply foil to paper. Most popular are metallic foils applied to the print, giving an eye-catching and shiny appearance to specific elements on the page.

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Laser-cutting: Laser-cutting is a technique where machines are used to burn intricate designs into or even through various materials. From paper to metal to wood, the results can be dramatic. This technique can transform a simple mailer into something that gives depth and elegance to your work.

For advice or assistance with your own print or electronic promotions, contact us through our Consulting page.

Expert Advice: Estimate Worksheet

- - Expert Advice

By Craig Oppenheimer, Wonderful Machine

If you ask anyone to describe me (especially my colleagues or clients that I’ve produced shoots for), one thing they will all tell you is that I’m organized. When I head out of the office at the end of the day, my desk looks like an overhead shot from a Wes Anderson movie. Folders and post-it notes are aligned, and my pen, notepad and calculator are purposefully positioned next to each other. My orderly way of doing things extends to many aspects of my job, especially in the note-taking process when developing estimates.

Aside from determining creative and licensing fees, a lot of the skill required to create a proper estimate is about asking the right questions and having a method for taking notes. Large projects often require a handful of questions to be answered, while small projects may just need some points to be clarified. Either way, you want to be prepared for when you speak with a client by asking intelligent questions that will emphasize your ability to deliver the most cost efficient estimate based on their specific needs. I’ve developed the following worksheet that I use to write down my questions prior to hopping on the phone and to organize my thoughts as I compile an estimate:

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The first page starts with basic contact information, and I’ll use this space to write down the name of the photographer, client and agency (when applicable) along with the name of the agency/client contact as well as the estimate’s due date.

The next section is all about the W’s: who, what, where, when and why. Some of these questions can be answered based on general correspondence with the client before the phone conversation, and some I might be able to answer on my own. Keep in mind that every project is different and some require additional information. I use the large blank section to write down extra project-specific questions. To be even more organized, I’ll often write down the information I already have and the questions I want to ask in blue ink, and record the answers in red ink. This may sound like overkill, but it keeps the information clear and easy to read afterward.

The last section is dedicated to licensing. On the most basic level, I always want to know how many images a client wants to license, how they plan on using them and for how long they want to use them for. Oftentimes the client’s requested use doesn’t match up with their intended use, and that’s the reason why I have two different sections to record this information. It’s common that a client will request unlimited use, but really they only intend on using the images on their website–that’s a huge difference. (You can read our pricing & negotiating articles for tips on reconciling this.)

The very last item on the sheet is a section to record a client’s budget (if they are willing to tell you this information). I placed it last because it’s always important to show enthusiasm for a project and talk about the creative approach before asking about money. However, I do always ask this question because it certainly impacts my approach to the estimate.

The second page of the worksheet helps me organize the estimate as I’m building it. It primarily acts as a list of production elements to think about to keep all of the major elements in mind. As I mentioned earlier, each shoot requires a different approach, but this list helps me consider every aspect from start to finish. Here is how it came in handy for a recent estimate I compiled:

This is an email I received from a client about a shoot:

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As you see, the information is a bit vague. I wrote down all of my questions on the worksheet before I called the agency contact, and below is the filled out version after the phone call (blue ink shows my questions and missing info, and red ink shows the responses)

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Once I had the information I needed, I used the second page of the worksheet to think through each line of the estimate. Here is what that looked like:

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Here is the final estimate based on all of the above organized information:

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Read all of our Expert Advice articles here, and visit our consulting page for information on the estimating services we offer.

UPDATE: 2/28/14
To address the comments to this post, I’d like to note that the scope of the project changed from when I reached out to acquire information to the time the final estimate shown above was delivered. The following estimate was the original one I compiled based on the original description:

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Expert Advice: Print Portfolios

- - Expert Advice

by Sean Stone, Wonderful Machine

I’ve had the opportunity to consult with hundreds of photographers over the years, and while I love working on websites, promos, or creative coaching, print portfolios have always been my favorite. Just as art buyers tell us how much they enjoy the chance to thumb through books at meetings, I love to see the work come to life on paper. Photographers will sometimes ask “what’s the best kind of portfolio?” to which I can only respond, “well, that depends…” and launch into a questionnaire about budget, marketing strategy, overall brand, and zodiac sign.

You need to consider a number of factors to help you choose the type of portfolio that will serve your needs:

How much to spend? Like all marketing materials, a portfolio is an investment. It’s going to require time and money to put together, and you need to decide how much of each you can realistically afford. The biggest consideration is just how big of a part this book will play in your marketing plan for the coming months/years. If you are going to travel, meet clients as often as you are able, or attend a lot of portfolio events, the book is critical and needs to be a priority. Similarly, if your goal is to get more advertising assignments, expect your book to be more critical to successful marketing. On the other hand, if you are shooting mainly editorial, your website is going to do most of the heavy lifting. A book is still a must have, but may not require the same level of investment.

What are you going to show? Your website is a much larger piece of real estate than a print book. A good book edit shouldn’t exceed thirty spreads. I have seen books come into our office that are gorgeous, but so lengthy that I jump forward ten pages at a time, even though I love the work. It’s better to create an edit that is short and sweet, with every page a superstar, than to risk a potential client skipping right past a winning shot.

If you shoot strictly one thing, like automotive, the choice of what goes into the edit is pretty much made for you. If, on the other hand, you shoot industrial, corporate portraits, and food, one book might not be the best way to go. Creating a single book that is geared towards several different types of clients doesn’t effectively serve them, nor will it benefit your own marketing goals. Consider the types of clients you shoot for, would like to shoot for, and how much they will realistically want to see your book. You might decide that it makes sense to have two or three separate, specialized books. And remember that you might not need to include everything you shoot in a book at all!

How will it compliment your brand? A web portfolio can have infinite variations in design and edit, but in the end it shows up on a screen. The presentation options at your disposal for a printed piece are pretty much limitless. As you start thinking about the look and material that your print portfolio should have, I recommend you grab a friend to brainstorm. A consultant, editor, or other trusted collaborator will do nicely. Think about words that describe your photographic style, and consider materials that speak to those descriptors. Are you shooting bright, cheerful, kids lifestyle? Maybe steer away from the carbon fiber binding or glossy, cool-tone paper. Photographing surfers and rockstars for edgy youth brands? The stoic leather book with plastic sleeves might not be best for you. The materials you choose to work with can work like a logo; not the star of the show, but can go a long way to reinforce your visual brand and create a more polished, memorable presentation. Here are a few of the more common print portfolio styles I recommend:

iPad: Not a print portfolio per se, but it can be useful in meetings. If a client calls without much notice, you can download an app like padport or foliobook, and build a presentation in a couple of hours. It can be most effective as a supplemental tool; containing your motion reel, and a very broad range of images to share if the client asks about work not seen in your book. Looking for something versatile and a little different? Take note from Mark Katzman, whose portfolio consists of a walnut box with a built-in iPad as well as printed images.

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Pros: Fast and flexible for in-person meetings.

Cons: If you don’t already have one, they aren’t exactly cheap. Also not a good option if you are shipping for a client to review. They might have a hard time figuring out where to find the work without you there, pushing the buttons.

On-Demand book: These days, there are dozens of options for printers, some are very inexpensive, and they generally top out around $400. While your options for sizes, papers, and cover materials will be limited, there is nothing stopping you from gussying the book up yourself. Matthew Carbone printed his book with Artifact Uprising, then worked with a local press to imprint his logo on the cover. Letterpress, slip cases or a clamshell box, you can use an inexpensive book as the basis for your presentation, not the final product. Many companies will have set numbers of pages that they accommodate, so you will have to take that into consideration when editing. Check out a full list of printing companies on our resources page.

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Pros: Cost effective and convenient. Upload your layout to an online template, get a book a week or two later!

Cons: No control over printing. You send images off and hope for the best. Prints are not interchangeable, so when the time comes to update, you need a whole new book.

Screwpost book: The ol’ standby. Usually just two covers held together with long screws. Traditional materials are usually leather or cloth, but a custom bookmaker like Nicole Andersen can help you get creative and build a presentation that will stand out. If you choose to skip the custom route, companies like Pina Zangaro and Lost Luggage offer slick, modern covers in metal, acrylic, carbon fiber etc. I’ve also found some beautiful wood books on Etsy.

Roger Snider’s book is one of my favorite examples of getting creative on a budget. We used an inexpensive Pina Zangaro aluminum book that was customized to reflect his brand of big rig truck photography. Roger didn’t have to break the bank to make something memorable and distinctive. All we needed was a good idea and a really, really good painter. View Roger’s full portfolio here.

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You can find a few types of paper drilled and scored, ready to pop right into one of these bindings. If you’re not afraid of a little hard work, you can always cut and punch the pages by hand, as I have done when building books with luster or glossy papers. Some paper vendors sell sample packs of double sided papers, so you can pull a few test prints before you commit to the stock that’s best for you!

While plastic sleeves have largely fallen out of favor, they are unquestionably convenient and shouldn’t be ruled out automatically. Creating single prints and loading them into sleeves is worlds faster and easier than printing double sided. Constructing books with double sided prints has more than once left me in a screaming rage, pacing the office and violently threatening the printer. If you are in a hurry, sleeves can save the day. Better to have a current portfolio with prints behind plastic than an outdated book.

Pros: Very customizable, whether you work with a bookmaker or portfolio manufacturer. Lots of options for sizes, style, and material means you can create a look that reflects your style and brand. The same goes for papers. Pages can be removed and replaced, so once you have invested in a good binding, the cost of an update is just paper and ink.

Cons: Will almost always require a larger investment of time and money compared to an on-demand book.

Box of prints: I don’t see this done too often, but it can be quite effective. Nick Nacca put together a great example; a nicely branded leather box packed with sturdy prints. What makes his portfolio clever is that each print includes his logo and contact information right on the front. When he is meeting with clients and they comment on a particular image, he invites them to keep it. So he is essentially using a box of leave behinds in place of a bound book.

View Nick’s portfolio here:

Pros: Completely flexible, easy to update and replace images. If you are in a meeting with multiple creatives you can pass prints around and keep everybody’s hands busy.

Cons: No real control of sequencing. Depending on your style and edit, this can be a deal breaker.

Especially if it’s been a while since you put together a book, I know the number of choices can seem intimidating. Thoughtfully considering your branding, work, and marketing strategy can help you whittle down these options and create a book that you and your clients will love. Whether you spend $20 or $2,000, the most important thing is to have a book! If you have strong photography and a comprehensive edit, your stylistic choice for presentation will only serve to enhance an already strong portfolio. The short answer to the question, “what’s the best kind of portfolio?” is really, “the one you have ready for meetings.”

For more video examples of print portfolios, check out our YouTube channel. If you would like help editing and designing a print portfolio, or any other promotional materials, send me an email! You can also find links to on-demand printers, portfolios, and bookmakers on our full resources page.

 

Expert Advice: Identity Design

by Amanda Friend, Wonderful Machine

There’s an ongoing battle at my parent’s house. The culprit: pasta sauce. Here’s the scoop. My father is a thrifty shopper. He isn’t swayed by packaging or marketing when it comes to groceries. The generic sauce’s quality doesn’t concern him. According to Dad, the store brand tastes just as good as the kind advertized on TV.

Not so, says my mother. Mom prefers the name brand pasta sauce. Nothing too fancy, but she’ll shell out a dollar or two more at the register. She enjoys their taste, and the fancier label doesn’t hurt either. Simply put, my mother likes quality goods, and is willing to pay more for them.

So, what’s really going on here, and how does it relate to photography? I won’t weigh in on the pasta sauce debate—I’m sure you have your own opinion. The big take away for me is that your brand determines what types of clients you’ll attract. Reread those first two paragraphs, and replace the words “pasta sauce” with “photography.” Who would you rather be hired by?

If you want an edge attracting quality clients, you need a solid graphic identity. As a photographer, your brand is made up of your photographic and graphic identities. For the purposes of this article, we’ll assume your portfolio (photographic identity) is in good shape, and will focus on improving your graphic identity.

What is a graphic identity?

The term graphic identity describes all the visual elements that help communicate to the world who you are and what you do. They’re the typefaces, colors, illustrations and design that support your photographs, and give structure and personality to your marketing materials. It starts with a logo and branches out into your stationery, website, print portfolio, promotional mailers and more. A great graphic identity stands the test of time and is flexible enough that you can use it over the years with only minor updates.

Here are a couple examples of successful identities used across a variety of materials/platforms:

Mike Tittel’s business cards, leave behinds and print mailers.

Peter Baker’s website, portfolio, business cards, blog and more.

How do I know if I need a new graphic identity?

Does your logo consist of your name spelled out in Helvetica? Then you might be ready for a make-over. Beyond that, there isn’t one right answer to this question. Some photographers start focusing on different specialties and realize their old identity won’t fit with their new work. Others target new clients, and want their brand to attract them. Some haven’t updated their brand in years, and want a fresh look.

If you’re considering updating an existing identity, don’t be afraid to ask for an outside opinion. When you’re close to your work, it makes it hard to be objective. Ask someone in the field, as opposed to a family member. You want to work with someone who deals with this stuff for a living and will give you a real, objective opinion.

Where do I start?

I’d recommend hiring a professional designer to tackle your new visual identity. A designer’s experience is an invaluable asset. They not only will have more resources available (like a larger typeface library for example), but will probably consider design options/ideas you wouldn’t think of on your own. If you have an existing brand, they can think of inventive ways to update it, should you want to keep some elements the same.

That being said, if you’re going to tackle this yourself, start with some good ol’ fashioned research. The subject? You. Yes, you should research yourself. It might sound silly, but it pays off. Lots of factors can influence your brand, so write them down before you open up Illustrator (or more likely Photoshop in this case). If you change you mind later on and still need an identity, you can pass along your research to your designer.

Here are some questions I’ll ask photographers when creating new identities:

Who are your current clients? What new clients are you trying to appeal to?

Important questions. Your visual identity isn’t just a form of personal expression—it’s a tool to help you get hired. It should appeal to your clients. Now, by this, I don’t mean that you should pander. Nor do I mean that your identity can’t have any personal flourishes. But there is a difference between what appeals to you personally and how you present yourself professionally. You might like an industrial look, but if you want to shoot lifestyle, your logo shouldn’t include steel bolts and gritty textures. There would be a disconnect.

One example of good connection with clients/style: Matt Dutile’s business cards. Matt is predominantly a travel photographer, and his luggage tag business cards express this nicely.

Matt Dutile’s business cards.

What type of photography makes up the core of your work? Is there a type of photography you’d like to shoot more of?
Use your work as a compass to guide you. I wouldn’t create a delicate, ornate brand for an action adventure photographer. When designing, I often keep sample photos on hand so I can compare how a logo or colors work with the photographer’s images.

Some photographers shoot a few different specialties that would benefit from being shown on separate websites or in separate portfolios. In cases like this, consider creating a new brand for each portfolio. Some elements can carry over to each to establish a connection between the two.

Pretend you currently had no brand at all. What important aspects would you want your brand to convey clients?
Keep you list pertinent, but concise. A simple message will translate better than a complicated one. Some things, like a level of professionalism, are given. Beyond that, what else do you want clients to know about you?

Are their any brands, whether they be a another photographers or a company’s, that you particularly like?  Think less about the visual design and more about the message behind each brand.
Branding is a visual language, and one person’s “sophisticated” could be another person “simple”.  Here’s a reference board I sometimes send to photographers:


These photographer logos provide a range of styles, and I would consider them all well executed.  I’ll ask clients to let me know how they feel about each of these. I find out what they like and dislike, but I also find out what each of these logos express to them.

Complete this exercise so you can help define the look you’re searching for. Don’t be afraid to check out companies unrelated to photography for this either—inspiration can be found in strange places. Maybe enlist the help of a friend to gather example logos. They might find something you wouldn’t have considered on your own.

Who is your competition?
Alright, I confess: I don’t usually ask photographers this, but I do handle this research on my own. It’s a good thing to review before you get to work. It helps me see what others are doing, which forces me to be more innovative. Also, there’s less risk of accidentally copying someone. I wouldn’t define a brand solely one what your competition is doing, but I definitely recommend seeing what’s out there.

Design Tips

You’ve done your research, and you’re ready to execute. Grab a cup of coffee or two, and heed this advice:

  • Sketch. You’ll find better ideas faster by sketching with a pencil and paper, or by playing around with lots of rough drafts on the computer.
  • Location, location, location. Where will you use your logo? There’s your portfolio,  your print promotions and your email campaigns. But where else? Are you an avid tweeter, and need a killer avatar? Make sure you know everywhere your brand/logo will appear before getting started, so all of your needs are covered.
  • Start in black and white. When you’re ready to mock-up your logo ideas, hold off on color until you finalize the logo form. Your logo should look well executed without the assistance of color (though color can enhance its appearance).
  • Use appropriate typefaces. This relates to knowing your work and your audience well. You might need to purchase new font licenses to find the perfect match. Try FontFontH&FJ, or House Industries for typefaces with flair.
  • … and don’t stretch them, ever! You wouldn’t stretch the proportions of your photos, so don’t stretch the letters of another artist.
  • Pick colors that complement your work. Your color choices should enhance your brand and help you stand out. Again, think about all the places where you’ll be using your identity.
  • Execution above all. Spend extra time refining your work to make it top quality. Pay attention to small details like proportion, kerning (adjusting the space between letters), and scalability. Better to put time in now rather than after you’ve spend $1,000 on printing.

Additional Takeaways

Rules are made to broken. Yes, I am willing to put this in the section after dos and don’ts. The truth is that brands are complex. Sometimes, something that wouldn’t work for 99% of other photographers will work for you, or vice versa. The key is to know when a concept clicks, or if it’s too forced.

Branch out. A little variety within your collateral will go a long way. You can use the same layout for your emailer and postcard, but you’ll keep client interest longer with subtle variations throughout your brand. Ideally, your collateral will look like it belongs together without being exactly the same.

Oooh, shiny! If you have it in your budget, consider using different print techniques to distinguish your collateral. There’s foil stamping, die cutting, spot varnishes, and letter press to name a few (and for the look no one has, try printing your business cards with thermo-sensitive ink). Even selecting a heavier paper stock for your business cards can change the tone of your identity.

Don’t design in a vacuum. Take breaks. Look at your work with fresh eyes. Ask someone for feedback. Think about it, and then go watch a movie and come back later. Your work benefits when you’re in a good state of mind.

You can read about Wonderful Machine’s design services on our consulting page.

 

Expert Advice: Blogging for Photographers

By Maria Luci, Wonderful Machine

The blog… While some have embraced it as an easy and fun way to keep others up to date on their latest projects and daily activities, to others, the mere mention of the word makes them cringe. Keeping a blog up to date, knowing what to write, or even how to begin, has become the bane of many photographers’ existences.

But whatever your feelings towards blogs, I do believe they are an important part of every commercial photographer’s business. As Wonderful Machine’s publicist, I have been writing daily blog articles on photography for several years now—and I’ve picked up a trick or two along the way.  So, for all your blog-aphobics, or even for the blog-aholics looking for tips, here are a few things I’ve learned…

Why Blogs Matter

Why have a blog anyway? I’m sure a lot of photographers ask themselves this question—and then many come and ask me. There’s no one answer, but the reply I give most often is that a blog is the perfect way to keep creatives updated. While your website should only contain the best of the best, and most appropriate work for each portfolio, a blog allows you to expand on this. You can show your latest work, interesting personal projects, maybe some photos that aren’t exactly in line with the rest of your portfolio. It’s also a great way to connect and show some personality—and the chance, if you’d like, to show a different side of yourself. Sharing behind the scenes info and fun stories helps creatives get a better sense of who you are and what it would be like to work with you. Another great thing about blogs? They’re free! While promos, emailers and just about everything else related to sharing your work costs money, a blog is a free way to share your work with the world.

A few more reasons to have a blog:

  • Creatives love them! I’ve heard from a lot of art buyers and photo editors that they like looking at photographers’ blogs.
  • Search engines love them! While your website may have little to no copy on it, blogs can be filled with keyword heavy copy and tags, making it easier for search engines and creatives to find you online (increasing your SEO).  A picture may be worth a thousand words, but a thousand words is worth more to Google (not that you have to write a thousand words in every post…)
  • Blogs offer RSS feeds, which automatically allows for syndication of your entries to a wide audience. It’s a simple and free way for creatives to follow you.
  • It can help further your brand. Have a fun, quirky logo and photo style? Fun, quirky commentary on a blog (with matching branding, of course) will enhance your brand. Structured architecture photographer? A blog discussing the structures you shoot can help cement your style, and help you be known as the photographer as opposed to a photographer.

Types of Blogs

There are a number of great blog platforms out there. At Wonderful Machine, we use WordPress, which is easily updateable and good for those who like to write. One factor I really like about WordPress is how easily I can schedule posts in advance. Going on vacation for a week? I can write articles ahead of time and set them to post each day, at whatever time I desire. Also, WordPress is chock full of plug-ins to help design, share, promote and otherwise make your blog simple to use and snazzy to look at. I’d recommend this platform to anyone who enjoys both customization and writing.

For those who find posting a gaggle of photos preferable to writing prose, I’d highly recommend Tumblr. It’s a snap to post photo upon photo—and then have those pictures shared across the web. Effortless is a word Tumblr uses to describe itself, and I certainly agree.

As a side note, Tumblr is also customizable, but you may not find the same ease, or at least support, as you would with WordPress. I’d also like to add that Tumblr can be a great way to share a personal project—like with Julian Love’s Clara Hayward project. Tumblrs are a cinch to set up, making it an ideal way to highlight a special series or to separate your corporate from lifestyle work.

For inspiration, here are a few of my personal favorite photography Tumblrs:

Other blog platforms to consider:

What to Blog About

Your blog can take a number of directions, but I’d recommend deciding which works best for you before you get too involved. Plan, plan, plan! For many photographers, posting daily pictures, Instagrams and behind the scenes photos works just fine. They’re not big writers, but they want to keep clients and fans informed on what they’re up to. Then there are the Chase Javrises and Zack Araises of the world, who enjoy sharing knowledge and opinions. Their blogs are populated with photo industry news, tips and insights. Their astute posts have earned them huge followings and have helped propel their brands and careers to the next level (but as I bring up in the next paragraph, this type of blogging isn’t for everyone). Then there are the photographers who simply post tear sheets from their latest assignments. All of these can be viable options, but before you jump into one particular style, make sure you can keep up with it and that it fits your brand and personality, as well as your time constraints.

When you’re planning out your direction, make sure you also consider your audience. I frequently find photographer blogs that are targeted toward other photographers, rather than the creatives who can hire them. And yes, Zack’s blogs are aimed at photographers, but he can get away with this because he often hosts workshops and speaks at events. This means he earns revenue off of his audience. He also seems to really enjoy being a spokesperson for the photography community and dedicates a lot of time and energy into it. But, if your primary goal is reaching art buyers and photo editors, make sure you shape your blog accordingly. Ways to do this can include writing posts that highlight your technical skills or sharing BTS shots that demonstrate how fun/easy you can be to work with.

Once you’ve chosen a direction, and acknowledged your target audience, the next step is more planning (sorry, but only fools jump in!). Before you start posting away, I recommend putting together an editorial calendar. Do you have interesting assignments coming up? Make sure you plan on taking behind the scenes images and set a date to sit and write about the job. If you’re more of a knowledge sharer, keep up with trends and current photography news. Also, plan out topics you can write about in advance—and schedule dates to write and post these articles. And stick to it! Here at Wonderful Machine, I post seven or more articles a week—which believe me, is pretty much a full time job, and I don’t expect this from you—but, the way I accomplish this is by having a printed calendar on my desk at all times. I pencil in article ideas and check them off (by filling in a little black circle) once they’re scheduled. Then I know I can move on to the next post. This way, I never miss a day and I know what types of articles I’ve been writing about and what’s missing. I also keep a running list of all Expert Advice articles written by the WM staff, along with ideas for future articles. Again, this lets me see what we’ve covered and what needs to be covered in the future.

My calendar for the WM blog.My WM blog calendar. 

Sample of our Expert Advice calendarExcerpt from our Expert Advice calendar. Initials indicate who I’ve assignment to write the article. 

Categories are also a good way to keep yourself on track. Come up with a few before you get started. Here, we haveWeekend Links every Friday and SaTEARday posts on Saturdays. Ideas for individual photographers could include designated behind the scenes days, weekly advice posts, monthly video shares or an interview column with fellow photographers or favorite clients. Creating categories and setting schedules makes blogging easier and helps keep you going when you’re feeling stuck.

Mostly though, I’d say stick to what you know. If you’re the person everyone comes to for advice, share that advice on your blog. If you’ve got ton of Instagram followers or great personal pics that just don’t work in your portfolio, post those on your blog. If you have interesting behind the scenes photos, share those. If you’re a writer, write! If you’re funny, be funny! If you’re lazy, well, maybe don’t start a blog…

Sharing and Tracking

Just as it’s important to track your website’s analytics, it’s also important to track your blog. Through analytics, you can see what posts generate the most buzz and which may be falling flat. This is valuable information, you don’t want to be wasting your time on posts no one reads. There are a number of ways to track how well your blog posts are doing. Number one being Google Analytics. It’s easy to set up and will give you a great deal of useful information. A few things you can track through Google Analytic’s include:

  • Number of visitors to your blog
  • How long each visitor stayed, what pages/posts they viewed
  • Where those visitors live, what language they speak
  • What pages they entered on, what pages they exited from (which can help you see which posts continue to be popular over time. For example, our Writing a Photographer Bio post continues to bring in thousands of visitors a month, even though it’s over a year old)
  • Traffic sources to your blog

In tandem with Google Analytics, I would also recommend using some sort of RSS feed with your blog. Google Feedburner (which unfortunately looks like it may be going the way of doomed Google Reader) allows you to see how many people are subscribed to your blog through RSS, how many people view each post through RSS daily, and which posts are the most popular via RSS each month. This is important to add to your Google Analytics results since many people never actually click through to a site when viewing through readers and/or email feeds.

I’d also advise posting links to your blog posts on your other social media pages, like Twitter and Facebook. To do this, I  use a link tracking service called bitly. Bitly creates trackable links for you, so you can see how many people click each one.

BitlyBitly example 

If you’re using a Facebook page, you can also see how many people view each post, even if they’re not clicking—this is called the “total reach.”

Photographers Doing It Right

There are plenty of photographers out there already doing everything right, blog-wise. Reviewing and keeping up with their blogs can help inspire you to write your own follow-worthy blog. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Zack Arias’s Ask Me Anything blog. Recently back from hiatus, Zack’s “Ask” blog brings in thousands of viewers and helps brand him as the go-to man for any and all photography related questions.
  • Chase Jarvis‘s blog. Chase’s blog has helped make him a “household” name in the photography world. Everyone knows about it and a heck of a lot of people read it.
  • Dana Neibert’s photo journal. Dana’s blog lets his images do that talking. It’s all photos. Let me rephrase that, it’s all beautiful photos (and a few videos). It gives the viewer a glimpse into Dana’s assignments while also solidifying his elegant photo style and brand. And, unlike his well curated website, his blog allows Dana to share all of his best photographs, whether they work in his portfolio’s edit or not.
  • Joe McNally’s blog. Joe’s blog takes you behind the scenes, and gives insights into his recent and past projects. His thirty plus years of experience shines through and makes for an interesting feed to follow.
  • Matt and Agnes Hage’s blog. The Hages are adventure/outdoor sports photographers, and their blog sure lets you know it. They’re constantly updating about their wild adventures from across the globe. If you’re into skiing, climbing or hiking, their site is interesting, whether you’re interested in photography or not.

Well, that’s about all I can cram into one blog post. If you’re looking for more individualized attention, or have questions about blogging I haven’t addressed here, shoot me an email at maria@wonderfulmachine.com.

Expert Advice: Photo Editing in MoodShare

- - Expert Advice

by Paul Stanek, Wonderful Machine

Some of you may recall Sean’s Oscar-worthy performance in a stop motion piece we did together: The Portfolio Edit: Sean Stone Style. Well, I’ve been working with a modification of Sean’s photo editing process utilizing a new online platform, currently in beta form, called MoodShare.

MoodShare was not developed with photo editing specifically in mind. In fact, their team was quite pleasantly surprised and intrigued when I first reached out to them about my success using their site in my photo consulting. Regardless, if the shoe fits….

You may be familiar with the term “mood board.” From Wikipedia:

A mood board is a type of collage that may consist of images, text, and samples of objects in a composition of the choice of the mood board creator. Designers and others use mood boards to develop their design concepts and to communicate to other members of the design team.

MoodShare set out to create an online, interactive space where anyone given access to the same “digital mood board” could log on (all at once if desired) and easily toss in whatever images, videos, text, etc., that they felt was useful to a project. Multiple boards can be created for the same project, which is a helpful bonus in many ways. The live element—where you can literally see an image moving or a word forming—is really where MoodShare is making the most out of some of the ever-evolving technological capabilities available to us. It’s a natural augmentation to brainstorming conference calls of creatives scattered across cities, or even countries.

Where does photo editing come into the picture? First, I have to give props to Austin-based WM photographer King Lawrence for emailing me my first invite to a MoodShare board when we were working on his photographic identity. I found myself in a moveable and scalable grid with several of King’s images grouped together, with notes added. Along the left and top were navigation and tools, and along the bottom was an augmentable pool of resources he’d uploaded. I immediately knew I’d found the perfect digital complement to Sean’s table of “tiiiiiny prints.” After some tests, I decided to try it out on my next editing project, Mark Weinberg‘s print portfolio.

As usual, I used Adobe Bridge to perform the initial trimming down from several hundred images to a smaller group of selects. At that point, instead of printing these selects, I started a MoodShare project and uploaded them to a fresh board. I could drag my uploads from a library along the bottom into the manipulatable grid space, and once they were there, I could easily size and arrange them however I pleased. I found the broad range of the space’s scalability to be a real plus: I could get up close & personal with a couple of images to see if they were the perfect pair, or zoom way out on a large body of imagery to get the big picture. I began experimenting with pairings and sequences, and eventually had laid out a clean presentation of an edit draft that I was ready to share with Mark. I had the choices of exporting the board as a PDF, sharing it as an un-editable link, or give him full access to the guts of the board. I went with option C, wanting to give the real-time interaction a whirl. He accepted the invitation, reviewed my work, and added a couple images and notes for consideration. What would follow was one of the most fruitful series of phone conversations I’d ever had, as we’d both logged into the board and navigated/manipulated it simultaneously while talking. Here’s a snippet of the final result:

moodshareweinberg

And here’s a video of the finished portfolio:

I also used MoodShare while working on a print sequence for for Matthew Rakola. Here’s a brief time-lapse of the process:

As I’ve mentioned, MoodShare is currently in beta, and will be free as long as it remains so. So grab up an account and start checking it out while it’s on the house! Let me know if you have any questions regarding this process, or if you’re interested in working with myself or one of our other photo editors on a consulting project through a platform like this. I’m in continued talks with MoodShare about potential tweaks with editing in mind, and about a possible discount for Wonderful Machine members, so stay tuned!

Expert Advice: Finding A Rep

- - Expert Advice

By Craig Oppenheimer, Wonderful Machine

One of the most common conversations we have with photographers (apart from the iPad vs. print portfolio debate) is about finding and working with reps. Many photographers dream of a day when they can just be responsible for making pictures and have someone else find them assignments. But what’s it really like to have a rep and how close does that dream match up with reality? Mark Winer from The Gren Group and former rep Melissa Hennessy were kind enough to help me separate fact from fiction.

What does a rep do?

A rep (or photographer’s representative or photographer’s agent) is someone who serves as a liaison between photographers and clients. In simple terms, they help their photographers get assignments. But a great rep will have a deep understanding of the business opportunities out there, they’ll be able to exploit connections you might not have, they’ll be savvy about negotiating assignment fees and they’ll be able to give you perspective and guidance to propel your career.

Some reps lean more towards branding and marketing and farm out the production. Others lean more towards production and expect their photographers to take the lead on promotion. Nearly all reps handle cost estimates for their photographers. Some reps specialize in a particular genre of photography (especially fashion, reportage and architecture). Some focus on a particular type of client (advertising, corporate, editorial). Some reps only work with photographers in a particular geographic area. All reps build a roster of complementary photographers to cover the needs of whatever clients they’re going after.

What they don’t do is manage your entire business. You (or your studio manager) are still going to have to handle bookkeeping, insurance, payroll. And chances are, you’ll have to maintain all of your marketing materials (like a website, blog, print portfolio, print mailers, emailers, stationery) and execute your portion of an overall marketing plan.

Are you a good candidate for a rep? (Do you need them and do they need you?)

Many of our photographers have great relationships with their reps and their careers have flourished as a result. But as with any partnership, it’s better to be alone than wish you were. Finding the right match, where your interests, goals and expectations align, is crucial to a successful relationship. If you enjoy and are good at marketing, estimating and production, then a rep might just amount to one more cook in the kitchen. But if you think you could be more effective creatively by having a partner to handle some of those business details, then an agent might be an appropriate solution for you.

Even if you’re ready for a rep, you’ll need to realistically assess whether you’re an attractive candidate for them. If you’re not ready, you could waste a lot of time chasing reps when you could be chasing clients instead. The more established a rep is, the more demanding they will be of you. A successful rep will expect that you’re generating significant revenue already and that they’ll be able to share in that revenue right away. They’ll want to see that you can bring skills or other attributes to their group that they might be missing. They’ll want to see that you already have solid marketing materials. And it won’t hurt if they like you on a personal level too.

Understand that any rep who takes you on is going to have to spend significant time, energy and money getting to know your interests and skills, incorporating you into their business and introducing you to their clients. That represents a lot of risk for them. So they tend to not jump into relationships as quickly as a photographer might. I asked Melissa and Mark:What should photographers be looking for in a relationship with a rep?

Melissa: “An industry partner who will help them define their branding, marketing, and growth potential, as well as someone who can help them edit their work, inspire, and motivate them to keep making great pictures. Photographers are able to create so much more when they don’t have to carry the weight of other aspects of the business on their shoulders”

Mark: “Well, I hope they are not looking for the holy grail. I sometimes think that photographers believe finding a rep is the key to their success, which it is not. That is when the real hard work starts.”

How do you find a rep?

Once you understand what you’re looking for in a rep, you’ll need to contact appropriate reps just as you would reach out to potential clients. There are plenty of ways to find lists of reps. We have an extensive list of them on our Resources page. Rob Haggart of APhotoEditor has a great list, and you can find reps by looking through source books like at-edge.

Some rep’s websites don’t say exactly what aspects of your business they will offer support for, so you’ll need to contact appropriate reps directly to start the conversation. Narrow down your search by finding reps who work with photographers of your caliber, genre and geographic area. Send a thoughtful email to the person who handles photographer inquiries explaining a little bit about yourself and your business and what you like about them. Then follow up with a phone call. Don’t be discouraged if every rep isn’t clamoring to sign you right away. Even conversations that end in a “no” will help inform your search so you can get closer to a “yes” the next time.

How should a photographer approach you, and how do you decide if a photographer is right for you?

Melissa: “They should review the agent’s roster on his/her site and be able to answer the question of why they’d be a good fit for the group. Personal phone calls and individual emails are best, along with a PDF of 5-10 images. I look at the work first. It has to be consistent, have a definitive point of view, and be commercially applicable. After the work, I look at the photographer’s personality. I like to work with people who are driven and always looking forward.”

Mark: “If you’re just beginning your career, for example, you may be better off focusing on a smaller or mid-sized agency. And if your focus is on fashion and beauty, you should pursue an agent who shares that vision. Also, be patient and do research – take your time to find the right agent. You are much better off searching when you have some momentum on your side – a good rep will probably want you to bring some clients to the partnership. Most importantly, the work needs to fit within our niche, which is location, lifestyle and portrait work. And we also ask that the photographer have a good track record of producing national advertising campaigns. Most of our photographers had already had success on their own before joining The Gren Group.”

What about commissions and contracts?

Each rep will have their own approach to their photographer agreements, but here are a few major elements of a rep agreement that you should look for and understand:

1. Commissions:

Perhaps the most important element of a rep agreement is the commission that your rep will take on a project. Your contract should clearly specify what percentage the rep gets and what percentage the photographer gets. It also has to specify what items are subject to that commission. Will your rep get a percentage of just your creative/licensing fees or will they collect a percentage of some of your expense items too? We find that reps typically get between 20% and 30% of the fees they negotiate for their photographers. For Paula, that means on anything that is not reimbursed by the client as an expense. Mark says their commission (25%) is taken from “creative, usage, travel, prep, and tech scout fees.”

2. House Accounts and Exclusivity:

House accounts are clients that you currently work for (or have worked for) prior to entering into an agreement with a rep. Each rep will handle these differently. Some reps will take less than their regular commission on your house accounts, while others may not take any commission at all. Sometimes, reps might take less than their regular commission for the first year of your contract on house accounts, then take full commission after that year (or given time period) has ended. I’ve found that for the most part, reps will want to have an exclusive agreement where they take a commission on any project that you work on, regardless of your previous history with a client or whether they get you the job or not. Melissa describes her philosophy on exclusivity:

I’ve been fortunate that every photographer I have worked with truly understands the value of the partnership and brings any project to my attention that he/she was contacted directly for. With social media and both photographer and agent consistently promoting the work in a variety of platforms, it’s rare that an artist brings in a project solely on his/her own, unless it truly was a new connection or referral. Most of my artists’ projects were larger productions, far greater than what any one person could have handled, so every project was a team effort, regardless of where it originated. That may sound odd to a photographer, but if you know your agent is out there working for you every day with your best interest at heart, you’ll have no issue with paying commissions.”

3. Responsibilities:

It’s important to be clear about what you can expect from your rep, and what they will expect from you. What promotions are you responsible for paying for/doing, and what do you expect your photographers to do/pay for? Also, what is your level of involvement in estimating and/or production?

Mark: “Our philosophy is to Keep It Simple! We pay for all our own travel, website updates, portfolio shipping, trade shows, database subscriptions and email campaigns. The photographer pays for their own trade advertising, promotional trips and direct mail pieces – we offer to cover the mailing costs if they wish. We also do several large ‘group’ direct mail booklets each year, of which we do ask photographers to share some of the expense. We are involved in all the estimating and negotiating, and oversee most of the production. Since we specialize in location and travel work, there is usually a lot of production involved and we almost always hire a producer.”

Melissa: “My initial involvement begins with deciding on what goes in the book/portfolio, and who we will target or want to work with. From there we’ll decide on the marketing approach.  When we’re asked to bid a project, I prepare the estimates working closely with a producer (if budget allows) and review it with the artist before submitting to the client. I will also place crews on hold if the artist is on a job or out of the office. Once the job is awarded, I handle the advances, purchase orders, and other necessary paperwork, and the production aspects are handed over to the producer or photographer.  I still oversee the process as the liaison between the client and our team.”

For both Mark and Paula, the clients pay the photographers directly and then the photographers then pay the rep their share (and send along copies of receipts of all the expenses). Our experience is that it’s more typical that an agent will bill the client and then pay the photographer when they get paid.

4. Termination

Sometimes a relationship doesn’t work out for a variety of reasons, and it’s important to know upfront what happens if you decide to part ways. Who keeps the clients? Do you need to pay your rep if you work for clients they got for you after you’ve parted ways?

Melissa: “Most agents have a severance clause that stipulates that the photographer continues to pay a “severance fee” for six months plus one month for every year they are under contract. So if they’ve worked together for 5 years, the severance would be 11 months. Assuming the relationship has been in effect for at least a year, the severance is calculated by adding the total commissions paid in the prior year, divided by 12.  That amount is then considered the monthly “severance” payable to the agent every 30 days until the severance period expires.”

Mark: “We really have no specific rules on who owns the client relationship after the partnership. In general, I would say that it’s driven by the client. If the photographer has the better relationship with the creative director, then he or she can certainly take that client. If the agent and the art buyer have a great bond, then the rep can continue cultivating that relationship. I would say our contract is more of a good faith agreement. It is meant to lay the foundation for what is expected on both sides, with room for negotiation. Although there are spaces for signatures, we do not require them to be signed. Our photographers are free to leave whenever they like, with no penalty or grace period for commissions. We do not expect future commissions from clients we may have helped them obtain, just as we would not pay them a fee for a client they may have helped us obtain. In general, we believe that a strong rep/photographer partnership is based on trust, communication and shared ideals and no amount of paperwork or legal mumbo jumbo can replace that.”

All of the above elements are typically detailed in a contract. Many contracts are very detailed, long, and full of legal terms. However, to my surprise, Mark said his contract is more of a “handshake on paper” and is a simple document that outlines their general agreement. Mark was kind enough to supply a copy to me:

click to enlarge 

This one-page contract is pretty straightforward and easy to digest. But it may be the exception to the rule. Recently one of our photographers shared a contract for a different rep that as you’ll see, is quite different:

click to enlarge 

This 9-page document covers everything from their commission percentage to payment terms if a photographer dies. As you see, it’s quite elaborate and specific.

No matter what your agreement looks like, it’s important that you understand the relationship you’re entering into. Also, I recommend that you ultimately have your attorney review your agreement prior to signing it.

[Footnote: There used to be an organization called the Society Of Photographers And Artists Representatives. But their website spar.org seems to be disabled. Anyone know if they're still around?]

This post was created by the fine folks at Wonderful Machine.

Expert Advice: Marketing to Fine Art Galleries

- - Expert Advice

by Sean Stone, Wonderful Machine

Fine art photography is something that very few photographers can support themselves on. But what photographer hasn’t dreamed of trading assignment work for the life of an artist? Most commercial photographers continue to produce personal photographs of some kind or another throughout their career, and while a blog is all well and good, there’s nothing like the thrill of seeing your photos on the pristine white walls of a gallery. So how do you get there from here? Is promoting to galleries different than to commercial clients? I came to Wonderful Machine with a background in art gallery management, where I handled just about every medium; oil painting, sculptures made of teeth, bronze, and yes – photography. Gallery owners Brian Clamp and Jennifer Schwartz were good enough to answer a few of my questions about how commercial photographers can show their fine art work. And in addition to their insights, I’ll offer some advice of my own on how to get your foot in the door of an art gallery.

Commercial art buyers are accustomed to seeing “personal” or “fine art” categories on photographers’ websites, and in my experience they are generally positive on that. But how does the gallery world view commercial shooters? I spoke to Brian Clamp, owner and director of ClampArt, about how photographers can effectively move between the worlds of commercial and fine art. Many of the artists that Brian carries, including Jill Greenberg, Stephen Wilkes, and Manjari Sharma, are sought-after assignment photographers who also exhibit widely. Brian told me that while there was a time when commercial photographers weren’t taken seriously by curators, this is no longer the case. “I like to know that my photographers work commercially. Successful commercial photographers have artistic ideas that they can better realize with the resources they gain from assignment work. They also tend to have more business savvy than some photographers who shoot exclusively fine art. Experienced photographers understand that they are partners with my gallery; they have their own work to do to get pieces sold, and it doesn’t end when they drop off the work.” Collectors, too, like to know that photographers have created an ad or editorial piece that made a strong impression, which Brian says makes their work easier to sell.

So what are the actual steps you have to take to see your work on a wall outside of your own home?

1) Evaluate. Take a good look at your photographs. Do you have something to say? Do you have a unique, compelling, and cohesive body of work or just a mish-mash of “personal” photos without any unifying theme? Though it’s rare for collectors to purchase an entire series of photographs, a group of photographs that somehow relate to one another are much more interesting to galleries and collectors than one-off pieces. After all, it’s hard to make a profound artistic statement with one photograph. Successful fine art photographers tend to dig deep into a particular subject or style not only to make great art, but to build a brand. Cindy Sherman does self-portraits. Andreas Gursky shoots architecture and landscapes. Gregory Crewdson shoots elaborately staged scenes. What do you do? If you don’t see a cohesive body of work when you look at your photographs, keep shooting until you do.

2) Edit. Once you’ve decided that you do have something worth showing the world, you’ll need to select a finite set of pictures. I find it helpful to edit using tiny prints (the size of a playing cards). (My colleague Paul Stanek prefers editing on a screen using MoodShare.) You might start with a couple of hundred of them spread out on a big table or on the floor. Be open-minded about the editing process. Rather than thinking about how, when and where the photographs were made, let the photos guide you. Look for photographs that naturally go together and that add up to more than the sum of their parts. Edit down to a manageable number (30-40 images), eliminating the weakest photos, redundant photos and photos that don’t support the group. Next, work on your sequencing. People look at photos one at a time, but the order in which you look at them can affect the overall impact of the group even if there’s not a literal narrative. Start with one of your strongest images and one that exemplifies your theme well. Then see how the others fall into place. You might have a slightly different sequence for your website where you will typically display horizontals individually and verticals in pairs. Make sure that those pairs match up well.

3) Marketing materials. You’ll need some basic marketing materials to support your pictures, to make it easy to communicate with people, and to demonstrate your professionalism.

Most important is your portfolio. Commercial clients like to see photographs in book form because it makes it quick and easy to look at and it’s not so different from how they use photos themselves. Galleries will tend to want to see your photographs loose in a clamshell box. It helps them to see your individual photos as objects of art that they can hang on a wall and sell. Each photograph in that particular collection should be printed on the same type of paper. All of the prints should be the same size, which should match the size of the box. The images should have 1-2″ of white space around them. They should be unsigned on the front. The back of each print should be neatly labeled with your name and the title of the work (that way if you’re discussing the photos over the phone, they know what to call each print).

You’ll need simple stationery including letterhead, #10 envelope, crack-n-peel label, note card, and business card. If you don’t have a graphic identity already, working with a professional designer is well worth the investment.

You’ll need an artist statement. It should be just a few paragraphs describing your artistic journey in general and providing context for those photographs in particular.

You’ll need a website. There are so many excellent, inexpensive website templates out there now that there’s no excuse not to have one. (You can find a list on our Resources page.) It’s a great way for anyone anywhere to see your photos instantly. I recommend keeping it simple and elegant, with big pictures and intuitive navigation. The menu should include 1-5 sections of images, an artist statement page, a CV page, and a contact page with your name, email address and phone number (once you have gallery representation, you can substitute in that information).

4) Research. Get the lay of the land. There are many galleries, group shows and competitions out there, but they’re not all going to be right for you and your photographs. Some galleries don’t show photography at all. Some will be too competitive for you. Others will be not competitive enough. Before you contact anyone in the business, you should educate yourself about the industry and start to get a sense of how you might fit into it. See what’s going on in your local area and also nationally and internationally. There are lots of sources for this type of information. Every year, Art in America magazine publishes an extensive list of galleries, museums, and artists in North America. In September, they plan to launch an online versionArt-collecting.com has a great list of retail galleries by city and state. Wonderful Machine also has a list of galleries that show photography on our Resources page. Check with local arts organizations for exhibitions taking place in your area. And you can find opportunities to participate in group shows around the country through the Society for Photographic Education.

Younger galleries tend to be less concerned with exhibition history, and more willing to take a chance on a new photographer whose work they think is interesting and salable. Before you approach a more established gallery about carrying your work, it can be good to gain a bit of experience and exposure from group shows and contests. Jennifer Schwartz, owner of the Jennifer Schwartz Gallery in Atlanta, recommends that photographers consider entering even smalls shows at first. “But be selective about which open calls for group shows you submit to. Enter your work only to shows by jurors with a good reputation, and exhibitions that you are excited about.” She points out that nearly all of these require a submission fee, but not all are equally valuable. Consider the background of the organization putting on the show, and be aware that some are more about making money from those fees than curating top-notch work. As you participate in group shows, make sure you set your sites higher and higher. Galleries want to look at your CV and see that you’ve progressed to bigger and better shows over time. One group show tip from my own gallery experience: when participating in larger shows, sometimes you’ll be told to deliver work ready for hanging between “day x and day y.” This gives them time to deal with new inventory, but it can also mean that they plan to start hanging before the final deadline. Better to get your work in early and increase your chances of a prime spot!

Every time you discover a relevant gallery or industry contact, you’ll want to add them to your contact database so that you can refer to that information in the future. You might not be right for a particular gallery today, but at some point down the line you might be.

5) Submissions. Mass marketing can be an effective tool for commercial photographers. But you’ll need to take a more personalized approach in order to appeal to a gallery. Unless you’ve got a serious reputation already, I’d recommend starting locally. Compile a list of a handful of galleries that might be a good match for you. Then pick one and begin. Read their submission requirements carefully and follow them precisely. If they want to see your photographs on a CD, organize the photos in a way that makes them easy to view. Have the file name match the name of the image. Save them in a universally readable format like JPG or PDF. The files should be large enough to see clearly, but not so large as to take a long time to load or move around. Include in your package a hard copy of your cover letter, CV and artist statement and include digital versions on the CD as well. If they want to see prints, make sure you package them in a way that they won’t get damaged in transit and if you’re not going to pick them up yourself, make it easy for them to ship them back to you. At the submission stage, you don’t necessarily have to have prints framed and ready for hanging. There’s normally plenty of lead time for gallery shows, so you’ll have time for that. And the gallery may want to have a say in how big the prints should be and how they should be framed.

6) Feedback. If you’re doing your art strictly for your own pleasure or artistic expression, it won’t matter what anyone else thinks. But if you want other people to show it and buy it, you’re going to need to pay attention to how they respond to you and your photographs – and perhaps make adjustments along the way. Of course, you’ll have to take what any one person says with a grain of salt. Even the most experienced people will misjudge you from time to time. But the sum total of the feedback over the long term will tend to be pretty accurate. Keep in mind that your personality will play a big part in your success or failure. The way you interact with gallery owners and collectors will color the way they perceive your photographs. Everyone who buys your art is also buying a piece of you.

7) Pricing and editioning. At some point, you will have to start thinking about pricing and (gasp) editioning. As with advertising photography, pricing fine art is not a simple equation. Jennifer suggests that new photographers be prepared to price their work lower than they might like, in order to start building a base of collectors. She recommends that you consider your production costs and compare the price to similar artists’ work. When I asked Brian and Jennifer for some pointers on editions, the response I got from both was a cautious, “…it’s complicated.” Since (most) photographs are not unique objects, editioning is key to creating the perception of scarcity and value. But don’t feel like you have to rush into a finite number of prints before your market requires it! Brian recommends that photographers avoid printing in editions until they have a relationship with a gallery to help guide them through that process. Editions can feel artificial and limiting, but Jennifer points out that it does work in your favor; beyond rarefying your work and commanding higher value, prices tend to climb as an edition is sold off, giving buyers incentive to move quickly on a purchase. Keep in mind that editions are also made by size. The framed 18″x24″ print that looks great on the wall might not sell right away, but the less expensive, unframed 6″x8″, printed in a larger volume, might be easier to move.

8) What not to do. Jennifer Schwartz has written some helpful articles about how not to submit to a gallery that took me back in time to my days at the gallery. I received submissions just about every day, and they looked virtually identical: plain cardboard envelope containing a business card and a sharpied CD. The disc typically contained only images, no resume, no artist’s statement. Often the artist did not have website. Take the same care in branding your fine art materials as you would for your commercial work, and you’re already ahead of the competition. Time and space are precious things for gallery owners, so don’t think that you’re doing yourself any favors by going above and beyond the submission guidelines. Don’t send sample prints or finished pieces unless they’re requested. Most importantly, don’t drop by without an appointment and expect them to talk to you! Artists used to do this to me and it drove me crazy. Stick to their guidelines and work within them to create the most distinctive, eye-catching presentation you can.

For more assistance, contact me by email at sean@wonderfulmachine.com or by phone (610) 260-0200.

Expert Advice: Wealth Management For Photographers

- - Expert Advice

by Bill Cramer, Wonderful Machine

We’ve talked a lot about how to make money with photography, but saving it is a different matter altogether. It’s something that presents a special challenge for many photographers who don’t collect a regular paycheck or have employer sponsored retirement plans. And it’s made even tougher when there’s always some new piece of equipment, software or marketing directory demanding your hard-earned cash. But saving is essential for anyone interested in owning a home, sending their kids to college or retiring some day.

Saving is something that I’ve been conscious of since I was a little kid watching Wall Street Week with my dad on Friday nights. I can remember learning that there were some people in the world who had saved enough money that they didn’t need to work anymore. They had so much money that they could live off of just the interest and dividends from their investments. I remember thinking that that was a great idea and I was going to try to do that. Though I’ve never made a ton of money as a photographer, I’ve always been able to save; even when I was shooting fifty dollar assignments for the AP. Here are some basic tips that can help you get started:

1) Live within your means. Regardless of how much money you earn, you have to spend less than you make. For some people, that might mean living with their parents or buying a coffee maker instead of going to Starbucks. Being frugal is different from being cheap. Cheap is stiffing the waitress. Frugal is skipping dessert so you can tip the waitress. (Actually frugal is staying at home and cooking for yourself!)

2) Only borrow money to buy things that appreciate in value or generate revenue (like school loans, photographic equipment and home mortgages). Borrowing money to go on vacation is foolish because you’ll be paying for it long after your tan has faded. Borrowing money to buy a car is questionable. It’s a depreciating asset, but if you need it to get to your job, it may be worth it. Just don’t let the “free money” seduce you into buying a more extravagant ride than you can afford.

3) Pay off your credit card bills in full. The easy money of a credit card can be seductive, but it’s a Faustian bargain. It’s like buying all your groceries at 7-eleven. You’ll pay a steep premium for that convenience. Better to borrow a lump sum at a reasonable interest rate that you pay off each month. Even if you borrow money from a relative, write up an agreement with a payback plan and stick to it.

4) Reconcile your credit card and checkbook every month. (See how at the bottom of the page.) The process will not only keep you from overdrawing your accounts, but minding every penny you earn and spend is the first step towards saving. Keep your ATM and credit card receipts and make sure they match up with your statements. Those slips of paper will serve as a reminder to make smart choices all month long. Don’t pay ATM fees. Open an account at a local bank and use their free ATM when you need cash.

5) Be satisfied saving small amounts of money at first. Every journey begins with a single step. Develop a habit of saving each month and then gradually increase it as your income grows. Once you get into the habit, you’ll get as much of a thrill from saving as you do from spending.

6) Learn how compound interest works. Some claim that Albert Einstein said that “compound interest is the most powerful force in the universe.” In the short-term, interest may seem like a very small reward for your efforts. But over decades, it’s the interest on the interest that allows your money to grow exponentially. That’s why they say, “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.” Over an lifetime of saving, the interest that builds up can be double or triple the principle you’ve saved.

7) Charge as much as possible for your photography. There will certainly be times when you’ll do favors for friends and relatives or for a charitable cause. But everyone else should pay top dollar. Your pricing should be dynamic. Evaluate each assignment and stock sale individually and price it to maximize your income. Learn how licensing works, how to write a licensing agreement and how to charge for it. Share pricing information with other photographers. Ignorance drives prices down, knowledge drives them up.

8) Pay as only much as necessary for all of your business expenses. It’s true that you have to spend money to make money, but you have to do it wisely. Be realistic about what kind of return on investment you’re going to get with every person you hire and each purchase you make.

9) Understand the difference between your business and personal money. For a sole proprietor, it may be overkill to have separate credit cards and bank accounts for your personal and business transactions. The important thing is to keep good records of which is which for tax purposes. Don’t mentally spend money as you make it. A 1000.00 assignment fee shrinks dramatically once you pay for your overhead and taxes.

10) Even the 99% must embrace capitalism. The alternative is even worse.

11) Saving isn’t just green in dollars, it’s green in terms of sustainability too. It’s true that spending helps the economy in the short term. But spending is an economic dead end (both individually and collectively) without a proportional amount of savings to go along with it. (Savings provides capital for individuals to buy homes and companies to grow.)

Enough platitudes. Here’s what you actually have to do. Start by finding a no-fee (or very low fee) checking account at a bank near you. (Don’t expect that account to pay any interest.) Once you build up enough of a cushion where you can comfortably pay your bills each month, open an interest-bearing money market account (Vanguard is a good place to do that). Let’s say you decide to keep $5000 in your checking account. Each month, when you balance your checkbook, transfer any excess money to your money market account. Maybe you decide to keep $20,000 in your money market account as a reserve. Every quarter, as that money builds up, transfer it to a long-term (more than 5 years), low-cost index fund that invests in shares of lots of big companies (I recommend the Vanguard 500 Index Fund or Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund). That’s where you’ll get (on average) good appreciation in exchange for moderate risk. When you get close to a big purchase that you’re saving for, stop moving money into your long-term account and let it build up in your money market account.

You will want to set up two long-term accounts – one for retirement and one for other long-term goals like buying a home or college for your kids. The advantage of a retirement account like a Simple IRA or SEP IRA is that you don’t have to pay income tax on the money that you put in or on the resulting dividends or capital gains until you start withdrawing that money many years down the line. Consequently, it will grow much faster.

You might wonder how much money you need in order to retire comfortably. Certainly, it depends on the kind of lifestyle you’d like to grow accustomed to. On one hand, the cost of living in retirement can be less because you’ll probably have fewer mouths to feed (with any luck, your kids will be self-sufficient by then) and your house will be paid off and you won’t have to save for retirement anymore because you’re retired. But some things will cost more. Chances are your health will only get worse, which will be expensive. And if you’re lucky enough to stay healthy, you might want to travel and enjoy yourself a little after all of those years of hard work – and that ain’t cheap. So I say it’s a wash. Plan on giving yourself the income that you have towards the end of your career.

At the moment, a modestly middle-class life in America for a family of four will run you about $100k/year before taxes. In order to make that off of interest and dividends, you’ll need 17 times that or $1.7 million. Over the past 100 years, the stock market has provided the best return on investment compared to alternatives like bonds, commodities (like gold, silver, pork bellies) or real estate. Of course unlike putting your money in the bank (or in your mattress), any investment can lose money. But the longer your horizon time, the safer the bet is that you’ll be ahead of the game when it’s time to collect. The U.S. stock market has returned an average of 9% over the past 100 years. Inflation has been on average 3% over that period. So adjusting for inflation, you might reasonably expect to get a 6% appreciation on your money in the long run. (The numbers below allow you to see the appreciation in “today’s dollars,” as though there was no inflation to consider.)

So here’s one way you could map out your route to getting that $1.7 mil:

Of course, you’ll see that even after saving for more than 40 years, you could still come up a little short. I’m assuming that since you’re a sensible person and you’ve saved all along, your parents were probably sensible people too and that they left you a little something in their will (in this case, we’re hoping for $325k). And if not, maybe Social Security will not yet be bankrupt and help out a little. Saving for retirement isn’t easy. But with a little planning and discipline, it’s an attainable goal for most photographers.

How to reconcile your checkbook:

As you make each deposit and write each check, you’ll want to write an entry in your ledger to keep track. At the end of each month, your bank will send you a statement detailing all of the transactions that they’ve recorded. But since the checks you write aren’t necessarily cashed in the order that you write them and since many of them won’t show up on your new statement, you need to reconcile the bank’s records with yours to make sure every transaction eventually turns out the way it should.

If you use Quicken or some other personal bookkeeping application, it will prompt you to balance your account and guide you through the process. If you keep track on paper, you’ll have to reconcile your account manually, but it’s really easy. All you have to do is check off each transaction as it appears on your statement, then check off the corresponding transaction on your ledger. When you get through the whole bank statement, write out this equation, filling in the numbers for the following items:

ending statement balance
+ outstanding deposits
– outstanding withdrawals
– outstanding checks
= ending checkbook balance

If those items add up correctly, you’ve successfully reconciled (some call it “balanced”) your checkbook. If it doesn’t add up, you’ve either made an arithmetic error or you’ve omitted or incorrectly recorded a transaction. On rare occasion I’ve even found errors in my bank’s records. Go through your entries and rework the math until it comes out right. (One common mistake I used to make is putting a deposit in the withdrawal column.) Reconciling your bank account is worth the time and effort because it allows you to know exactly where your money is and it allows you to be decisive about moving your money around to where it needs to go.

How to reconcile your credit card statement:

The credit card statement is a little easier to reconcile. You don’t need to keep your own ledger the way you do with your checking account. You just need to keep all of your credit card slips and then match them up with the list of charges when you get your statement.

This post was created by the fine folks at Wonderful Machine.

Expert Advice: One-On-One Portfolio Reviews

- - Expert Advice

by Kayleen Kauffman, Wonderful Machine

One-on-one portfolio reviews should be an essential part of any photographer’s marketing plan. It’s a great opportunity to get your work literally under the noses of decision makers at ad agencies, magazines and design firms. We’ve found that creatives are more likely to work with photographers they know, and meetings are a great way to solidify those relationships. It’s your opportunity to present your brand, your work and yourself. However, many photographers find the idea of setting up meetings to be somewhat daunting, so I’ve put together a step-by-step guide to securing and preparing for your own portfolio reviews:

Preparing Your Promotional Materials

  • Make sure your print portfolio is up to date and well edited. Get a second opinion on your edit from a friend or consultant (see Sean’s Expert Advice: How To Edit Photographs).
  • Consider whether an iPad portfolio is appropriate for you. Print portfolios still get more attention from clients at our portfolio events than iPads do. But tablets are essential if you shoot motion and they’re also a nice supplement to show recent projects and to go into greater depth on a particular subject.
  • Have an appropriate leave-behind ready to go. A simple postcard can work. However, you’ll score extra points for something unique like a small booklet or even your own app (like Tony Burns’ Shooting The World). Whenever possible your leave-behind should be memorable, inventive and reflective of your brand.
  • Make sure your website is up to date and working properly. Nobody is going to make an appointment with you without first checking out your site. Make sure it’s solid (see Paul’s Expert Advice: Website Dos and Don’ts.)

Research

  • Whether you’re traveling across the country or just across town, you’ll need to do some research to make sure you’re barking up the right trees. Check out each client’s website to make sure that your photography matches up with their needs, so you don’t waste your time or theirs. Start close to home and then branch out from there. You will only be able to meet with a relatively small number of prospects over the course of your career, so you have to make each appointment count.
  • Put together a list of 40-50 clients that you can tackle. List services are a great place to start finding appropriate clients and building prospect lists.  When we’re setting up meetings for a photographer, we’ll first search for prospects in our internal database. Then we’ll visit Agency Access for additional names. As useful as list services are, nothing is more valuable than personal networking. When you find one client who really responds to your work, ask them if they know any others who might be a good match for you.
  • As you start to cultivate relationships with prospective clients, it will be important to keep good records of your interaction with them. See Craig’s Expert Advice: Understanding Contact Databases.

Requesting & Planning for Meetings

  • After you have your list of prospects complied, start reaching out. We’ve found that contacting people roughly a week before you’d like to meet is a good rule of thumb. Do it too far in advance and you risk having them forget about the meeting or cancel on you. Too little notice may find them already booked up. Start with a casual email that includes:
  1. The prospect’s name.
  2. A little about how your skills and interests might match up with their needs.
  3. A link to your site.
  4. The dates and times you’re available.
  • Don’t attach images to your email. I find that this increases the chance of your email getting stuck in spam filters.
  • Give the impression that you’re going to be in town for other meetings (even if you haven’t set up any others yet). You don’t want anyone to feel pressure that you’re making a special trip for them.
  • Don’t ask for too much time. “A few minutes” is what you should ask for. If get more than that, great. Here’s a basic template:

  • After a day or two, if you don’t get a reply, follow up with a phone call. Yes, this can be scary, but it’s good to be proactive. Don’t create an awkward moment by saying, “I was just calling to follow up on an email I sent you…” They will probably not remember your email among the other 100 they got that day. Simply reiterate that you’re going to be in town next week and you were wondering if they might have a few minutes to take a look at your book. Keep it friendly, short and to the point.
  • Sometimes it’s helpful to write out a script and practice it so you’re comfortable with what you’re going to say. You might have to practice it a few hundred times so you don’t sound like a robot. But creating a really succinct message that you can deliver in a relaxed way, will give you the best chance of success. Creating an alternate script for voice mails is a good idea, too.
  • Be assertive, but don’t be a pest. If you send someone an email and you leave a message and they still don’t respond, you should take that to mean that they don’t want to meet with you at this time. There are plenty of fish in the sea. Don’t get hung up on any one client. Just move on to the next one.
  • Once you start booking meetings, make sure you give yourself enough time for each meeting and time to get to the next one. If you’re going to New York, try to book as many meetings as possible within walking distance so you can maximize your time. If you have to drive from one meeting to the next, account for the time it takes to get your car out of the parking garage and then find parking at the next place. Give yourself enough time for meetings to run long. It’s not unusually for a meeting with one person to turn into a meeting with two or three people.
  • Build an itinerary for yourself including time of meetings, contact’s name, phone number, email address, physical address. Plan ahead how you’ll be getting around. (By the way, TripIt is a great (free) app for keeping track of meetings.)

The Meetings

  • Now that you’ve booked your meetings, it wouldn’t hurt to do a little additional research on those clients. Check out their blog and social media sites in addition to their website. You’ll want to demonstrate that you know their business and you’ll want to have enough to talk about. If you’re meeting with an agency because you think you’d be a great fit for their client, make sure they still have that client.
  • Once you’ve arrived at your meeting, it’s time to turn on the charm! Be relaxed but energetic. Start with a little small talk. Then walk them through your portfolio, explaining your creative process and telling interesting stories about your experiences. Listen. Speak. Listen. Speak.
  • Don’t ask clients to critique your photography or your presentation. That’s not their job and it will make you seem like an amateur. Just guide them through your work, then express an interest in their projects. Show that you’re interested in what they’re doing, but no hard sell.
  • Don’t expect to get an assignment on the spot. The purpose of these meetings is for creatives to get to know you and to hopefully build a comfort level so that they will ask you for a bid when an appropriate project comes up.

Follow up

After your meeting, it doesn’t hurt to send a hand-written thank-you note. If you have any “swag” (t-shirts, mugs, notebooks, etc.) or other promo pieces, that would be a good time to send something! From there, an occasional email or print promo update is appropriate (every few months).

If you need a hand building a client list or setting up meetings, please call us. Or you can visit our consulting page to learn more.

Expert Advice: Forming A Photo Cooperative

- - Expert Advice

by Bill Cramer, Wonderful Machine

With the recent shake-up at Luceo Images raising questions about the viability of photo cooperatives, I thought I’d share my own experiences with the photo cooperative business model.

Wonderful Machine didn’t always have 600 photographers. Back in 2004, we were a group of 3 working photographers (Chris CrismanRyan Donnell and me), a studio manager, a marketing director, a bookkeeper and a dozen interns. Unlike many of the cooperatives that have since appeared on the scene, which are primarily made up of photojournalists spread far and wide, we were all based in Philadelphia and we were interested in portraiture as much as photojournalism and commercial assignments as much as editorial.

I had been thinking of forming a cooperative for years before that. Every time I saw a successful law firm or medical practice, I wondered why photographers couldn’t do the same thing. I figured why not share facilities, staff, equipment, insurance, marketing and refer assignments back and forth in a way that would increase everyone’s revenue and decrease everyone’s expenses? I foolishly tried this years earlier when we were still shooting film, but it was too onerous to reconcile all those costs. When digital came along though, the whole dynamic changed. Without film, processing, Polaroid (and gels and filters for that matter), the variable costs dropped to near zero. And even though the fixed costs of cameras, computers and software increased dramatically, they were no more than the expendables we were used to paying for and they were much easier to share. (A busy commercial photographer might shoot 2-3 days/week, so that leaves 4-5 days for the others to use that equipment.)

While our cooperative only lasted for a few years before everyone went their separate ways and Wonderful Machine transformed into a marketing company, I thought we got most of the arrangement right, and I think it could be a good starting point for others to try. In a nutshell, each photographer billed all of his assignments and stock sales through our company. When a payment came in, the photographer and the company would be reimbursed for any out-of-pocket expenses related to the shoot and then the photographer and the company would split the remaining “effective fee” 50/50. The photographer was paid as an employee, through a payroll service, with taxes taken out. The company would cover all of the common costs: rent/utilities, staff salaries, photographic equipment, office computers/software/furniture/equipment, insurance and the employee portion of the photographers’ payroll taxes. Each photographer would pay for business expenses that were unique to them, including their personal computer and their promotional materials.

The logic of a 50/50 split was that the cost per photographer would scale up and down as the photographer was busy or slow. And with any luck, some photographers would be busy when others are slow. You could just as easily set up a system where each photographer would contribute the same dollar amount rather than percentage. But that would make it hard to have anyone in the group that made a lot less than the others. And if you had different people paying different amounts, you would find yourself constantly renegotiating.

Rather than hiring freelance assistants, we had a number of “apprentice photographers” who gave us two days of their time each week in exchange for being part of our group, with access to our equipment, facilities, supplies and insurance. We also gave them professional guidance and passed along assignments when appropriate ones came along. Those apprentices would help out on shoots or in the office depending on the needs at any given moment.

We found that there was definitely power in numbers. We ended up attracting several clients who liked the idea of coming to one place to solve most of their photographic problems. At one point, we had five different photographers working for a single client that we were billing as much as $90,000 a year. Clients liked the fact that we had full-time staff on hand to help set up shoots and process files when the photographer was out of the office. And as our more established photographers began to grow out of certain clients, rather than losing that revenue, we had younger photographers ready to step in to fill the void. Best of all, we were able to help each other out in lots of ways. There were many occasions where we referred clients to one another, shared creative ideas and even collaborated on shoots.

Also, many individual photographers would have a hard time justifying a studio manager, marketing person and bookkeeper. But our combined revenue afforded us that, which freed us up to concentrate more on photography and promotion and less on administrative work.

Here’s what our contract looked like (you can download a Word version here):

We also created a spreadsheet to keep track of the revenue from each job, which we called a Split Sheet. It had spaces for the invoice total, all the expenses, and who was to get reimbursed for what (you can download an Excel document here):

But before you get too excited about all the upsides of a cooperative, you should also know about the potential downsides. Photographers tend to be lone-wolf types (which is why they aren’t doctors and lawyers in the first place). Getting them to cooperate can be like herding cats. So it’s crucial to work with people who are smart, creative, generous, understand the risks and are willing to give it a good try. Also, unlike doctors and lawyers who are prone to take a business-like approach to their careers, many photographers view their photography in more personal terms. That mentality can tend toward possessiveness about equipment and clients, and work against a spirit of cooperation. And any time human beings share anything, some will feel short-changed or resent the success of others.

Taxes and insurance were also issues for us. I know this may come as a shock to you, but many photographers tend to overstate their expenses, under-report their revenue, avoid paying sales/use taxes and insurance. Individual photographers can get away with murder, but as a proper company, we couldn’t operate fast and loose like that. So for some photographers, the cooperative approach will not be as attractive as a life of crime.

The most important part of our contract was that all photography revenue went into the pot. Naturally, every photographer thought that there was revenue that shouldn’t be shared – whether it was from weddings or pre-existing clients or from stock sales. But our logic was that the organization (and everyone participating) was there to support the photographer in all things related to photography, so all the revenue should be shared. And the minute you exclude one kind of revenue, there will be no end to the negotiations. And if there’s no revenue to share, there’s no revenue to provide the support that everyone wants in the first place.

Of course, this agreement just covers the relationship between the photographer and the company. Forming the company is a separate matter. In our case, my wife Adrienne and I paid for all of the start-up costs and guaranteed the rent, salaries and all the other ongoing costs. So we owned all of the shares. In cases where you have more than one established photographer coming together, you’ll want to form a corporation (probably an LLC) with each person getting shares in proportion to the cash and equipment they contribute. Those partners will then assume the profit or loss of the company.

Tips:

  • Pick your partners and employees carefully.
  • Create a set of rules that apply to everyone and stick to them. Then update that agreement once a year.
  • Have enough cash in reserve to get started and to get you through the slow spots.

If you decide to go down this road, our producer Jess Dudley can assist you with any questions you might have.