Category Marketing

You’ve Hired Us. Now What?

 

Beach Path
© Brian Fitzgerald

If you’ve made the decision to hire a professional commercial photographer for your brand, company or organization, you’re likely wondering: what happens now? At Fitzgerald Photo, our goal is to showcase your brand and make your products, people and services shine. In order to do so, we follow a well-defined path that we know leads to great results.

Onboarding
As soon as the ink is dried on your contract and terms, planning starts in earnest on your project. From your perspective as the client, you can expect to receive regular and clear communication from your visuals team. If you’ve never worked with us before, you’ll get a welcome packet with information about our company, the services you’ll be using and our workflow. We use specific software and other tools to collaborate on projects and this is where you’ll find out how that all works. You’ll also discover the answers to many of the logistical questions you might have; everything from the size and type of image files you’ll receive to our post-production process and the protection and long-term storage of your image assets.

Planning
Planning for success includes meetings to discuss expectations, goals and logistics (whether in-person or, these days, online or over the phone).  We’ve found that the more work and care put in at this stage, the smoother (and better) things are when it counts—on shoot day.  These meetings don’t have to be a huge time commitment; we have no love for unneeded meetings and can guess you don’t either.  Depending on the project, this may simply be a series of detailed emails outlining and getting consensus on the shoot day plan.  At no point should you be wondering why you haven’t heard a word from your photographer a few days before a big shoot.

Scouting
Site visits are an important part of the planning process. There’s nothing like seeing the spaces we’ll be shooting in to prepare us for the possible hitches we may encounter or the opportunities we can take advantage of.  In cases where an in-person visit isn’t possible, we may request phone snapshots of the site(s), which in combination with Google street view images help form as complete a picture of the location as possible.

Useful Communication
We believe in clear and appropriate communication. This means that you’ll know when and if anything changes that might affect you, from the weather on shoot day to unanticipated changes that affect delivery schedules (unlikely, but it can happen). You’ll get confirmation every step of the way, including the shoot day schedule, the specific team members you’ll be dealing with, as well as arrival, setup, breakdown and departure times. While we can’t keep surprises from occurring, we can minimize the amount that occur just through regular communication.

Shoot Day
Shoot day often involves last-minute, unexpected and unanticipated events. These can be as minor as a model getting delayed in traffic by five minutes or as dramatic as a power failure that shuts down the site an hour before shoot time. Most are somewhere in between. You’ll be prepared because we will have outlined what to expect should many of these minor or major events occur, ahead of time. You can trust that we have the experience to roll with whatever changes come;  in fact, we welcome changes and believe that flexibility leads to more creativity and better results. The last thing we want to do is be so rigid in our planning that we stick to the schedule no matter what, instead of taking advantage of a better visual opportunity—or a serendipitous need—that arises on the fly.

Having a solid plan, but being flexible to changing the plan as needed, enables shoots to proceed and be successful no matter the circumstances. Unplanned changes often mask new visual opportunities that may end up showcasing your brand in ways we hadn’t imagined, but end up being far more interesting, genuine and authentic.

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Want to know more about our process? You might be interested in our post on what to do when looking to hire a photographer.

Before hiring a photographer, interview yourself

 

Tough Guy
©Brian Fitzgerald

Hiring a photographer can be a challenge. For those who don’t go through the process very often, it usually means spending hours on Google or social media to find qualified professional photographers; having multiple discussions; then vetting estimates that (hopefully) come in under budget and on time. That’s in addition to whatever work is already on your plate.

Things change quickly  in the photography world. If you don’t regularly work with a preferred photographer, you might find that the one you last relied on is no longer in business, or is too busy to take on new work. You’re soon typing terms like “best commercial photographers” into your search bar and scratching your head at results that include everything from weddings to pet portraits to products for catalogs.

Sorting all of this out takes time, and then once you’ve connected with a likely short list of photographers, the process of outlining goals and requirements begins. This is followed by evaluating the estimates, which can vary wildly between photographers due to their varying backgrounds, experience and preferred ways of doing business.

I’ve written before about the questions to ask when hiring a professional photographer. Before your initial conversation, here are a few tips to better prepare you for the process of determining the “best” photography professional for your needs. Doing just a little prep work before you make that call or send that email will reduce your effort, frustration and will maximize good results.

Where are your photographer leads coming from?
You can make some quick assumptions depending on where your leads are coming from.  Referrals from a trusted colleague or other source are great because you can assume the photographer is a known quantity, and move on from that basis. Referrals from a professional photography association or paid listing website (ASMP, APA National, NPPA,
, and others) allow you to view photographers by specialty and portfolio. You can assume these are experienced pros that have the experience to guide you through the requirements process and will ask questions you might never have considered. The most common referral source, Google and social media, is great but requires a bigger investment of time to sort, weed out and establish fit. I’d recommend it as a supplement to the first two sources.

What is your brand all about?
How would you describe your brand and brand mission? What key adjectives best describe your brand? What are your long-term brand goals and objectives?

What are your goals for this project?
Is this photography project a quick one-off or are you building a brand-consistent visual library that you’ll use for years to come? If you’re after a quick hit, you can always pivot if it doesn’t work as you’d like, or if the photographer isn’t the best fit. If it’s the latter, choosing a photographer for a long-term relationship is a better approach.

What is your budget?
Photographers will always ask—or should. Knowing your numbers isn’t a license for the photographer to charge the maximum fees they can while hitting strategically below your top line. What it does is put you in the driver’s seat. Of all the variables that comprise a good estimate—time, money and quality—a photographer needs to have a sense of your limits and expectations for all three in order to come up with an estimate that works best for you. A budget helps orient your photographer and gives them necessary information. Is the budget close to what they feel the job is worth, requiring a little negotiation or adjustment of services to meet? Or is the gulf between the two so vast that it’s a waste of your time and theirs to proceed? It’s helpful to know this fairly early in the process. It doesn’t have to be uncomfortable; for professional photographers it’s a routine and necessary question and they’ll respect you for having defined what you can spend ahead of time.

What are the ideal outcomes from doing this project?
Do you hae specific outcomes in mind (selling a service or product), or more general (creating brand awareness)?

How long do you plan on using the images?
Will these images really be useful to you in a couple of years? What about after 10 years, when (perhaps) many of the team members in the images are no longer with the company and the clothing/hair styles start to look a bit dated? Depending on your brand and industry, images may age very quickly or very slowly.  Knowing the answers to this question can save you money, since in most cases the longer you use an image (i.e., the more value you derive from it over time), the more it can cost. 

How do you plan to use the images?
Are the images going to be used for a specific print or online campaign? Will they be part of a display ad? Or will they be added to your library, to be used in less specific and more numerous ways for years to come?  Will they be part of local or regional advertising or will they be used nationally or world-wide?  


Who are your target audience/clients/customers? Why are you reaching out to them?
Who are you trying to reach?  When they see these images or video, how do you want them to feel?  Do you want them to take specific action (buy something) or to emotionally connect with you and your message, building a long-term relationship?

What problems can the photographer help you to solve?
Professional photographers are more than just button pushers. We are masters of organization and logistics. We help hire models, makeup stylists, arrange for locations, art direct, and can help strategize with you on the creative direction a shoot should go in. We can be a straight service provider, creating images to a pre-defined specification, or we can be a creative partner using their vision to create something unique. What is helpful to you, your brand and your organization at this time?


These are the types of questions that you can expect your photographer candidates, in one form or another, to ask to you. Knowing what photographers are looking for and the information they most need will help you to be prepared to make decisions based on your brand values and goals, and will lead to a much better process and estimates, too.

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What’s Your Image Worth?

Portland Firefighter
Firefighter Chris Tillotson, @Brian Fitzgerald


As a professional commercial photographer, my job is to protect my client’s images as well as their image. This entails safely archiving their digital files so they can found months or years after a shoot, but it also means that I safeguard how those images are used and who gains access to my clients’ images in the future.

Depending on my specific contracts and releases,  I often have the legal right to reuse images for multiple purposes after they are first used. Aside from incorporating some of the images into my blog and portfolio, I almost never do so, especially if the images were taken on assignment for a client (rather than taken as part of a self-assigned project). Why? Because once I photograph someone, I take on the responsibility—sometimes legally, always ethically—to safeguard their images so they aren’t used in ways my clients wouldn’t be comfortable with.

The most obvious example might involving selling images I’d taken for a corporate client as ‘stock’ images through a stock agency like Getty. Imagine my client’s surprise when they see a billboard advertising a competitor across town using an image of their staff or clients that they paid me to take a year before. In very short order, I’d be looking for another line of work.

The number one job of a professional photographer is to serve our clients and their interests first, not our own. In effect, we’re a member of their team and need to be careful to make sure their images are not used in off-brand or unapproved ways.

A less obvious example occurred this past April.  It appeared in the form of an email sent by a photographer agency to its member photographers including me, requesting we submit gritty portraits of workers on the front lines of the pandemic: rescue personnel, healthcare providers, delivery drivers and others. A national (and unnamed) insurance agency wanted to use these images in a 6 month national ad campaign. They’d pay $3000 per image used, split evenly between photographer and the agency.

I considered the request. I have a large library of images of front line workers, mostly created not for clients but as part of personal editorial projects. Technically, I have the copyright and releases allowing me to reuse and resell these images. Back in April, with the pandemic shut-downs in full swing and uncertainty about future income, it was a tempting offer.

I could imagine the result of the campaign—a video depicting grave-faced police officers, firemen and nurses with a dramatic voiceover and swelling background music. At the end, the logo of some national insurance company would appear, and the unwritten message would be: we want to associate our brand with these popular heroes so you’ll think we’re special too.

Then I imagined the surprise of my portrait subjects in seeing their image being used to shill for a company that they’ve never heard of for a service they’ve never received. I thought of them, essentially being used to confer their heroic status to a large insurance company that doesn’t care about them personally but just want them for the uniforms they wear and the trust they confer.

I declined to participate.  Just because I can legally do something doesn’t mean that I should.   Whether a paying client or not, anyone who ends up in front of my camera are relying on me to protect their single most valuable asset—their image—and make good choices on their behalf.

I can’t judge photographers who chose to participate, either because of their financial situation or due to agreements negotiated between them and their subjects beforehand.

This anecdote highlight the importance of having discussions about future image use between photographers and their clients and subjects, with clear expectations written into a contract. In absence of such an explicit agreement, photographers should always remember that image, and reputation, is worth more than a quick hit of cash. Protect your brand and your images and make sure your photographer does, too.

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Five Clicks: Covid-19 Resources for Artists (and others)

As we await the reopening of services, businesses and schools, I’m passing along five great resources that fellow photographers, creatives and others might find useful. Many of these listed below are free during this timeframe and will hopefully help you weather the storm. 


1) Yale Science of Wellbeing course
Looking to be happier and more productive?  This is a great course offered free by one of the world’s premiere universities. 


2) Covid-19 Freelance Artist Resource
From playwrights to visual artists, composers to stage managers, actors to art patrons, there is something here for you in this list of mostly free opportunities to support your art (or your artist).

3) 198 Free tools to help you through the pandemic (Entrepreneur.com)
We’ve all heard of Zoom by now…but there are 197 other tools on this list you may not be aware of and should.

4)Covid Resources for Photographers
This comprehensive list of ideas, resources, and initiatives from lenscultures is meant to support the global photography community. Check it out or forward it to a photographer you know.


5) Pixel computer glasses
Last but not least, something to ease the strain of looking at a screen for hours-long Zoom calls (not free, but a nice discount)

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Adjust Your Hustle

Tech Worker

We hear so much these days about the ‘pivot’. Faced with unprecedented health and economic crises, small businesses and freelancers are hunkering down to weather the storm. Many are panicking, understandably. Those who can are using the opportunity to shift their focus to the things they can do: becoming more useful, more disciplined and more prepared to safely get back to work when it’s time to do so.

I’m most grateful that I’m healthy and that my very large, far-flung family is as well. Number one priority for me has been to stay healthy and to keep my business healthy as possible.

I’ve had more family time than I’m used to, and it’s been both challenging and rewarding. My daughter Maggie is 13 and in seventh grade. She’s not the World’s Biggest Fan of online learning and misses her friends, but by now she’s turned into a bit of a corporate lawyer: from waking up at 5:30 to get work done before her school day starts, to pausing her earbuds, forefinger raised, to tell her parents that “I’ve got back to back Zooms from 9:30 to noon; I’ll catch up with you for lunch before my 1 o’clock.”

I’ve been using my time to brush up on skills—taking a handwriting course, of all things, and studying Russian again—and to work on new ones, like shooting video and editing in Premiere Pro.  That’s been fun and I’ll have more work to show soon.

It’s also been a welcome opportunity to re-edit my work and website. I’m embarrassed to say how long it’s been since my last major website portfolio update, but it’s not for lack of new work.  Finally I’m incorporating personal and client images from the past couple of years and can’t wait to reveal those soon. As I refocus my marketing and other business systems, I’m streamlining things to make my workflows easier and my client experience better.

My studio is clean, organized and prepped for reopening. I’ve even done a few no-contact and social-distancing client shoots this week, following the state guidelines as service businesses like mine reopen.

In this time of social distancing, the most surprising and unexpected benefit has been connecting (and reconnecting) with friends and family sadly too long neglected (by me, usually, not by them): a high school friend now serving in the Navy in Spain (a nurse, no less); my octogenarian Uncle Michael in Washington State who proudly wears a ponytail; former newspaper colleagues around the country.  I love Virtual Happy Hours….a bit too much. I’ve learned not to schedule more than two of these in a weekend.

In April, I helped to form a group of fellow creatives located around the world. We meet weekly to discuss marketing, how to elevate our work and our value, and to hold each other accountable. The group includes a photographer from Montreal; a Florida filmmaker; a podcaster and a designer, both from Portugal; a Budapest furniture designer and a German copywriter. After just one month, it’s become a hugely valuable part of my week and one positive outcome of this strange time that I plan to continue long after the pandemic ends.


I’ve realized that just because the world slows down, there is work to be done: maintaining health, relationships, and working hard to pivot your business, your career and your skills.  I’m adjusting my hustle, though more work needs to be done.  

Now if I can just wean myself off of these happy hours, I think I’ll be in good shape.


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Five Ways to Rock Content Marketing (plus One)

If you’re responsible for marketing at your company (or one-person shop), one single word can induce sweating, bouts of self-doubt and even some wistful headshaking: content.  Since the online platforms for content delivery are so ubiquitous, it’s likely any bottleneck in producing consistent, high-quality (and brand-appropriate) content is on the production side (you), not on the delivery side.

So what’s your strategy when it comes to producing and sharing content?

Content isn’t just what you produce—writing (blogs, articles, white papers) and visuals (graphics, images, videos), but also those things you discover, curate and share.

The content you publish might be very slick and professionally-done. It might also utilize unedited smartphone photos, Instagram stories or short video snippets. This kind of grab-and-go visual content is raw, but also authentic, organic and real.

Both types can have a place in your content strategy.

A solid ongoing content approach may include targeted shoots to build up a library of appropriate imagery—of people, processes, places; of faces and evergreen details—that are on brand message. It also involves defining what sorts of ‘raw’ content should be considered, and the triggers and standards for that kind of content.It all starts with an editorial content calendar—whether in the form of a spreadsheet, a physical white board or an actual calendar (digital or physical). On this calendar are listed all of the planned blogs, articles, social media posts and other content planned for the next months or year.

Looking at a blank screen it can be overwhelming, thinking about how to proceed.  I start with the easy wins.  Here are some strategies that can help you produce great content consistently and take the stress out of the process. 

Recurring Content
This is the easiest to schedule. For me, it starts with my end of year wrap-up blog post. I also do a series of assignment showcases that celebrate completed recent projects—usually one a month—and so I just schedule those even if all I can write for some of them is “client highlight”.  I can fill in the specifics later. The important part is to fill out my editorial calendar so that I have content each week in the form of blogs and social media posts. For others, it might make sense to tie content to annual events or seasons, like the start of spring or baseball season.

Leverage others’ content
I don’t do all the content heavy lifting myself. I make sure I’m curating interesting content from others. This means commenting on social media posts, sharing content I find valuable, and even allowing guest posts on my sites and platforms.

Behind the Scenes
People love to see the unscripted ‘inner workings’ of an operation. This tends to be the ‘raw’ unpolished stuff. I try to have a stream of visual content that shows me and my team at work, or on location, as part of my mix. This is where some of the more creative, quirky or fun images can go. This is what Seth Godin might refer to as, “showing your scuffed shoes”. I schedule this as well in my calendar.

Evergreen Content
This is content that always stays fresh no matter the season. It can be a quick hit list of tips, a short how-to article or feature. These can be done ahead of time and sprinkled around where needed.  Brainstorm and produce this during your slower season and you’ll be ready no matter how busy things become later. 

Targeted Shoots
Custom, highly tactical content generation. Coming up with a shot list (including video) and executing with the idea of creating an image library good for specific uses.

I have many clients who hire us for targeted, planned shoots of content meant primarily for social media—these may be less polished, and include a mix of micro-video snippets and images that can be easily shared. Then they spread out these posts over the course of several months so they have plenty of content even during their busier times of year. If you plan ahead, these targeted shoots don’t have to be onerous, time consuming or costly—we strategize with our clients to come up with creative approaches that are fun and fit their brand, whether it’s a restaurant wanting ‘in-situ’ portraits of their dishes or a recycling company wanting “product” shots of the sometimes strange and unusual types of items that end up being processed in their facilities. Often, we help set the strategy that our client’s marketing teams can continue to do themselves in the future in a pinch.

Recommendations and favorites
Recommended lists of books. Favorite peices of software. Best blogs. Top resources for others in your industry. This is a fun way to share your knowledge with others and create a conversation. 

Having a balance of polished, high-value content as well as social media-focused content will keep your audience engaged and will help you be successful at actually maintaining the consistency needed to grow your audience.

Have questions about how to make this happen for you and your business? We build custom plans for our client partners and would be glad to discuss whether we’d be a good fit for yours.

Images Matter, Now More than Ever

 

image library
The visuals that represent your brand can easily communicate your values, your assets, and what you offer. In the case of a community health clinic, it’s quality, human-centered healthcare where patients (no matter their age) feel empowered.

 

Building an image library is a top priority for any brand that wants to tell their story effectively and connect with their target audience.

You likely already know that quality, relevant, custom images are no longer a ‘nice to have’. Your content—specifically, your visual content—is your advertising.

In short: Your visuals are your brand.

The gatekeepers are gone and you—the independent businessperson, the marketing professional—are in charge of your own media channels.

Remember Spider-Man: With great power comes great responsibility.

All of the digital tools, many free or nearly so, are at your fingertips. Are you purposefully telling the story of your brand: what you do, why you do it, what sets you apart?  Or are you hoping that your haphazard efforts will cause others to automatically ‘get’ you?

If you’re using someone else’s images, words or campaigns, then you’re not telling your own unique story. You’re in the best position to do so.

Cutting through the Noise
People react and connect with authenticity. A stock image isn’t likely to make anyone sit up and take notice, but a real moment, whether shot on an iPhone or a Hasselblad that costs more than your car.

What you Need When you Need it
Content marketing is built on consistently delivering targeted content that is on-brand and on-message. Having an image library means you’ve always got good content that can work for your purposes. Without one, your marketing is going to be less consistent, less frequent and less impactful.

image library
A custom stock image, taken with your people and at your place of business, is specific to your brand.

Gives Structure and Meaning
Having a plan for your visuals and keeping your brand story in mind automatically provides a structure and gives purpose to your photo shoots. Instead of floundering you’ll be producing relevant content that’s meaningful to your brand and useful for the forseeable future.

What are your Seasons?
Every business has seasons. Periods of high or low volume. Cycles of growth and cycles of maintenance. Holidays. When are your seasons? When do you tend to get new clients, and why? When do you tend to be focused on new initiatives and what external events can you build content to match?

image library
Having a plan that extends for months or a year is helpful when targeting activities and processes to photograph before you miss them. Harvest only comes once a year.

Evergreen Content
A good image library has a mix of content which may include video as well as still images. Some is very specific for a campaign, a product, a season, or a person or team. Other images are more ‘evergreen’, meaning they can be used any time of year or perhaps for years to come. They are classic and timeless. Chief among these are……

….Details
Get lots of details. These are the visual metaphors that may punctuate a blog post or marketing piece in a more powerful way than can otherwise be done. These give a sense of your point but allow the audience to fill in the blanks. They aren’t specific to a person, a time, or a location and designers (web and print) love them because of their versatility and timelessness.
image library

Imperfect Shots and Unscripted Moments
I’m not suggesting that the only way you can build an image library is by hiring a professional photographer (like me or my ilk) or spending all of your time producing elaborate photo shoots. A carefully-managed, well thought-out campaign will include professionally-produced content where appropriate and will have a place for less-scripted, less technically perfect images taken by you, your staff, others in your organization, clients, or the public. Depending on your brand, this may be necessary. There should be a place for both.

Less is More
I love crafted, long-form films and videos. The reality is, even if Martin Scorcese produced your video, if it’s longer than three minutes I’d have a hard time watching it. One minute would be better. In fact, video snippets are sometimes the best of all. These short blurbs may get more engagement than longer ones and can be easily done, leading to more consistent content over time. So do video…but keep it super short, as in this behind-the-scenes clip that shows one of the hazards in making custom wooden baseball bats:

 

Behind the Scenes
Show us visuals that takes us places we wouldn’t normally go.  Show us the secret sauce that makes it all work in your organization:  the team members, the interactions, the tools, the back warehouse.  Show us how the sausage is made, showing the care and the humanity that go into a great product or service.

image library
Another image from a custom baseball bat maker’s shop, where custom wooden ‘blanks’ line the walls, with hand-written notes on each one. This kind of detail tells a lot about the quality and care that goes into each finished product.

Faces, People!
People love to see other people. Show them faces. If you make a product or sell a service, show us the faces and lives of the people whose lives are improved by your brand. Show us what your brand means reflected in the faces of your fans, customers, clients, or even your team members.

image library

Keep it Real
If your job is to promote your brand or company, then you can get caught up in your product or service features. Instead, let your visuals show your people, your products, your brand, out in the real world. That’s the one the rest of us inhabit. Some brands seem to lend themselves to this sort of approach, like Nike, but even law firms, hospitals, and others can do this. They just may have to be a bit more creative and less obvious–exactly the criteria needed to create interest and connection.

Five Clicks: Tools for Keeping on Track

 

Being an independent photography professional or content creator is a great, amazing, beautiful thing.

Except when it isn’t.

When you first start as a photographer or designer, it’s like falling in love with a beautiful/handsome other person. Everything is great, and when you’re with that person, time seems to stand still.  Then you get married, and the relationship matures, and as wonderful as it is to spend time together, you also can’t help but notice that the dishes are piled up, the bills need to be paid and the in-laws are coming to visit, again.

If every day could be spent behind the lens while getting a ride with the Blue Angels or documenting a religious festival in the mountains of Catalonia, it would be like that spouse that never gets old, gets angry or challenges you in any way.  But the reality of marriage and of creative careers is that 80 percent of it is the ‘unsexy’ stuff—in the case of content creation it’s the production work, marketing and other tasks that keep the lights on—that makes the other 20 percent possible.

The problem is, it’s hard to stay focused and on track when the tasks are not so fun.  That’s why I love tools that make my job easier, are useful and help keep my animal brain on track. When my willpower or my resolve falters, I just let these pieces of software guide the way:

Activity Timer (iOS and Mac)
This is a very simple custom timer app that allows you to specify and save time blocks of custom length for various activities, and a custom “success” message. I know by experience that 90 minutes is about the longest I can focus on any given task, so most of my time sprints are anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour and a half. I have a stand-up desk and I use this tool to remind me to sit down and stand about every 20 minutes throughout my workday in front of the computer.

Trello (Web, Android, IOS, Mac, PC)
I’ve used Trello for at least 4 years. In that time, I’ve found other project management tools but the ‘kanban’ style visual drag-and-drop interface always brings me back. I use it to set up various ‘workflows’ relating to client work, my sales pipeline, and even for my editorial calendar. It’s great for collaborating between teams, too. Using this tool for my work ensures that I keep track of a lot of moving pieces in a consistent way.

Todoist (Web, Android, IOS, Mac, PC)
This is about the 1,000th ‘to do’ app I’ve tried, but at this point it’s won the award for longevity. It’s very simple to use and can interpret deadlines from text (i.e., ‘in two weeks’, or ‘next January 1’) easily. I use it all the time….and I like the way it gamifies item completion—the more you complete, the more ‘karma’ you earn and the more enlightened you become. One of these days, I’ll be a Grandmaster. But not today.

Routinist (iOS, Android soon)
I’m fascinated by the idea of creating good habits (and getting rid of negative ones) by ritualizing them into a routine that you perform daily until they become deeply ingrained. This little app helps create and define routines based on a sequence of actions and habits that, once triggered, run in sequence until they are complete. I’ve used this app to change the way I approach my morning routine.

Streak CRM (Web, IOS, Android)
This software is a CRM (which stands for “customer relationship management” tool) which is a fancy way of saying that it is used for sales, projects, leads, and anything else related to your clients.  It’s capable of far more.  I use it to do project management, sales and client pipelines in situations where most communications are email conversation-based. First I define the stages of a pipeline and also set up email templates for some of the stages. I then create a box for each new client/story/item/lead and move it through each stage of the pipeline until done. It saves me a lot of time but more importantly, Streak is a powerful way to stay consistent on predefined processes built around email. In fact, it’s designed to be used exclusively with gmail, and it operates inside your email browser.   If you’re a gmail or Google apps user, Streak is worth checking out.  It’s particularly powerful for teams, including editors, journalists and bloggers. It allows you to schedule and track emails as well.

I hope you enjoy these tools—and more importantly, find them useful for keeping your own messy business life on track. Hopefully, that unsexy stuff just got a little more sexy.

Why professional photography isn’t cheap

maine commercial photographer

There’s a question I hear more than almost any other, in a few variations:  why do photographers charge so much?

The implied statement is that photography, and professional photographers, are prohibitively expensive.

It’s easy to dismiss the questioner as being cheap, and unwilling to see the value in professional photography.   Instead, I think it indicates a lack of clarity around what photography costs and the reasoning behind it.   In other words, it’s a very appropriate question to ask.   Photographers are sometimes their own worst enemy when it comes to pricing their photography, and it’s no surprise that to the casual outside observer it looks like voodoo trickery.

Being a professional photographer is expensive.  It costs money to pay for equipment, insurance, professional fees and development, marketing and everything else that goes into a photo business.  When they hire assistants, producers and others to help those contractors are getting paid out of pocket, up front.  Things add up, quickly.

When you figure in all of the costs and divide that number by the number of full days per year that a professional photographer might expect to actually create images for clients, you get the Cost of Doing Business (COBD) number. For example, if a photographer has total costs and expenses of $60,000 per year and plans to photograph 60 days per year, their CODB would be $1000 per shooting day, on average.   This is their nut—the number they must make each day they shoot in order to break even. Anything less, and they are losing money.

Photographers who charge less than their COBD fall into one of three categories:  1) They don’t know their ‘numbers’, 2) They are purposefully (strategically) low-balling to get the work or 3) They don’t rely on photography as the main source of their income and livelihood.

Photographers in the former two categories need to adjust their approach if they want to stay in business long-term.

At the same time, images have never been cheaper. There is a glut of relatively high-quality stock imagery on the market, available for free or close to free (and I’m not counting the photos that are ‘borrowed’ and illegally used, a common practice).

For sake of discussion, I’m leaving out the discussion of stock photography.   I’m writing primarily about “custom photography”—that is, when a photographer is hired to create specific, high-quality images of for a brand or company that are completely unique and exist nowhere else.

In a world of endless choice and imitation, ‘unique’ takes effort. ‘Unique’ has value. Effort plus value equals fair compensation. Clients can expect to pay a higher fee—higher, at least, when compared to the almost-free price of images freely available on the internet—because you’re getting so much more. It’s not necessarily expensive….it’s comparatively expensive.

So there are two things, really, that clients are paying for when they purchase ‘custom’ photography.  One is the creativity, experience, vision and effort of the photographer. Let’s call this the ‘service’ component. The second is the value that they get out of the images they receive—i.e.,what they actually use the images for, whether it’s advertising, general marketing on a company website, printed brochures or to hang on public display.  These are all different uses, spelled out with a license agreement, and come with different price points. Let’s call this factor, ‘value’. The more value you need (the more the images are going to be used), the higher the price.

Photographers are all different.  Some will package both their service and the usage together, while others will line-item every single use.  Whichever way they choose to do it, it should make sense and fill two needs: their need to charge enough to keep their business going and the client’s need to get the best quality for the best possible price.   In most cases, quality comes with a price, but also with the peace of mind in knowing your work is being handled by a pro.

The good news is that, in this world of endless choice, there is a photographer—and a quality—to match every budget.

Why Story Matters More Than Ever

brand stories
Alex Bessler, a young Mason at the Triangle Lodge No. 1 in Portland, Maine. These portraits of Maine Masons help tell the story of an evolving and dynamic fraternal organization with a deep sense of tradition and history.

What makes a good image a great image?

Conventional wisdom is that great images should be perfectly formed, flawless, masterpieces of technical expertise combined with a singular artistic sensibility.

If that were true, Robert Capa’s blurry, darkroom-damaged images taken during the Allied landing on Omaha Beach on D-Day would have never seen the light of day.

Instead, they are considered among the most iconic images of the 20th century. Once seen, the haunting images are never forgotten.

Capa’s images are compelling not because they are perfect, but because they tell a story of the hardships, danger and drama of war.

Brands looking to create connection with fans should keep in mind that when it comes to great imagery, ‘story’ is Job One.

Visual content—whether still images or video—should reflect a unique brand story.

All the rest of it—technical aspects like framing, layering, rule of thirds—are just icing on the cake. For some brands, where refinement and elegance is part of their ‘story’, such precise technicality becomes a critical part of their story. For other brands, images that are too highly polished and contrived would be out of place.

So when you think about your brand and the images you’d choose to represent it, think first about what your brand story is and approach your content creation with that story in mind.

brand stories