Category Shop Talk

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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Protecting your digital content is easy as 3-2-1

rocket man
 Superhero series # 3, ©Brian Fitzgerald

The past three months of constraint and restraint have underscored how important it is to a have a deep content library.  My clients have been unable to commission new shoots due to the pandemic, but for those with a deep image library it isn’t a problem. We’ve gone back over their images and realized that many are still usable and relevant.

That brings up another issue: storage and archiving of your image library and other digital assets. If you had to access images and videos taken months or years ago, would you be able to find them easily….or at all?

I’ve written before about how important it is to archive your images and other digital assets. For most brands, their image and video libraries–compiled through time-consuming and costly shoots, purchases of stock assets, and contributions by staff–represents a huge value and investment in time and money.

Yet, they don’t have a central area where these images are stored. Their assets are spread out over multiple local computers and perhaps online, making them far less useful. If they are in one place, that one place is often a single computer or drive with no backup, no redundancy and no options in case of drive failure.

As certain as the sun rising tomorrow, your computer drives will fail. I recommend all of my clients have at least one extra copy of their digital assets that everyone in their organization has access to.

Several times a year, clients email me with requests to locate images taken in the past—some more than a decade ago—that they’ve misplaced or lost.  No problem, I tell them. I’ve got it.

Our simple policy is the 3-2-1 backup rule evangelized by Peter Krough, digital asset management “DAM” guru to protect against any failure scenario: Store at least three copies of your data using at least two different types of storage media with one of them located ‘offsite’, or off premises.

We store a minimum of 3 copies of all digital files, whether it’s the original, raw, unprocessed images taken with the camera or the final ‘derivative’ versions delivered to our clients and pressed into use. One is stored on local external drives. Another is backed up to external drives located offsite. The third is stored on the cloud (which has its own redundant backup). For the ‘final’ delivered images, I also store these in a fourth location: an online digital archive that I can give clients direct access to as needed. Some of my clients depend on this digital archive as one of their copies.

So if you work with a professional photographer, ask them about their archiving procedures and standards. They should be able to clearly explain what happens to your images, how they are backed up and protected, and if you ever need to retrieve images you’ve lost, they will be able to quickly provide you with copies of the originals.

 

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Working Together in the Time of COVID-19

Over the past month, we’ve been busy here at the studio preparing for a safe and responsible return to business.  I can’t predict what’s going to happen in the foreseeable future, but it’s clear that COVID-19 will continue to impact our families, our clients and our daily life in ways small and large.

As Maine enters the second phase of business reopenings, we’ve posted our COVID plan along with a Q&A section on our website. In the plan we detail the efforts we’re taking per state and federal guidelines to mitigate any spread of the Coronavirus as we take on limited shoots here at the studio and on location.

We’re also working with clients in other ways, from utilizing their existing imagery where possible, to scheduling shoots outdoors and even doing planning, production and image review sessions virtually.  I will expand in future blog posts on how some of these new processes and workflows work for us and how they could be adapted for use by our clients and others.

Please read more about our COVID-19 plan here.  Continue to stay safe. 

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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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Useful Stuff for Thinking People, Free (for Now)

Inspiring Message

Everyone likes free stuff.

I thought I’d share a few resources that are being offered by companies for free right now that might make you healthier, wealthier or wiser during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Not to be too glib about what we’re all experiencing, but I don’t want to look back on this months and years later and wish I’d somehow taken more advantage of those things I have in abundance now: primarily, time.

So if you’re sick of watching Tiger King on Netflix and you’re done perfecting your Sourdough baking skills like I have, read on and learn some useful stuff (Note: I don’t endorse any of these programs and these are not affiliate links.  Just trying to spread the word.  Did I mention I dig free stuff?):

Nikon School Online classes free for month of April

CreativeLive is offering their streaming Health & Wellness courses, free

Poynter Journalism Courses (these are great!) for free

LinkedIn’s Work Remotely Learning Path (16 courses to help when working from home), free

Scribd’s Learning Resources free for 30 days (no credit card required). Like Audiobooks?  Access Scribd’s huge library for free for a month. 

60 Days of Skillshare Courses —you guessed it, for FREE

Bitdegree is offering a number of different learning paths, free during the Covid-19 pandemic, including:  

Blogging for Business course by Ahrefs Academy (normally $799, now free)

Yoast’s All-Around SEO Course (normally $699, now for free before June 1st).

Limitless Entrepreneur (5 day learning retreat) by Melissa Griffin, free

Edit:  How could I forget Arnold Schwarzenegger’s classic at-home exercise plan?   It’s free, you don’t need weights, and you’re out of excuses. 

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Five Clicks: My Favorite Podcasts

During this time of forced isolation, it’s easy to fall into the trap of bad habits—eating terribly, watching too much tv, not getting exercise.
The daily news is stressful, and consuming too much of the negativity makes it even easier to fall into bad habits and wallow.


I like to balance the negative news with some positive input. While I’m working on editing images or video, I plug in and listen to my favorite podcasts and find that I’m more focused, inspired and hopeful. And given the uncertainties around us, a bit of hope goes a long way.


Here’s a short list of four of my favorite listens (plus one read) that I think you might find useful right now.

Building a Story Brand, Donald Miller
If you’re responsible for letting the world know about your brand, service or products, then this is a great podcast that’ll make you rethink your approach.

Start Today Podcast with Chris Cavallini
A short hit of motivation that reminds you to take personal responsibilty for your life.

The James Altucher Show
James is my guy. I love the way he approaches his interviews and the fact that he’ll ask questions I’ve never even thought about.

The Tim Ferriss Show
Tim is the original proponent of designing your life in optimal ways. There’s always something interesting and actionable here.

Lastly—and this isn’t a ‘listen’ but since you invariably do need to keep up with important and relevant news—let me recommend Dave Pell’s daily news roundup, NextDraft. It’s a smart, witty and short compendium of the news you need to know, with relevant links (“I am the algorithm”, writes Dave, who pores through dozens of sources to provide the content). During the crisis he now publishes seven days a week and you can sign up at the link above.

Have Studio, Will Travel

During my photojournalism career, my ‘office’ was my car, complete with police scanners, reporter’s notebooks, a Domke bag of gear and strobe lights in the trunk.    Now, as a commercial and editorial photographer, I’m based out of a studio in downtown Portland (far nicer than most newspapers I called home and with much more gear). 

I always imagined two types of photographers existed:  studio photographers, usually specializing in portrait or product photography, and location shooters, who travel to clients and whose studio is wherever they happen to be on assignment.  Wedding photographers, photojournalists and editorial shooters and architectural photographers are among those for whom an assignment is everywhere but, obviously, a studio. 

At heart, I’ll always be an editorial photographer—a storyteller— who is flexible enough to adjust to the changing circumstances of a location shoot but who uses flash and strobes fully, where appropriate.   Not a studio photographer, but a photographer with a studio. 

When I moved into my first studio over a decade ago, I figured it was mainly to store my gear outside of the home, where it was gradually taking over the basement.   I thought I’d meet clients there and that’s about it.  But, it turns out that my studio has remained busy because it gives my clients options.   When the weather or a location isn’t working out for us, or if we need absolute control over lighting, we have the studio.   

My studio now has become just one more tool in my bag and helps me to deliver another option to my clients.    I may miss the days when everything I owned could fit in a shoulder bag, but I’d much rather have the flexibility to choose the best approach for my clients—in studio or on location—instead of having my approach dictated by a lack of options.

On location, Old Orchard Beach, ME

 

Portland Maine Studio
Fitzgerald Photo Studio, downtown Portland.

 

Portland Maine Studio
Fitzgerald Photo Studio, downtown Portland.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Cinematic, environmental portraits

I love creating environmental portraits.  That’s good, because I make an awful lot of these as a commercial photographer.

One challenge when doing such location portraits is that the benefit—the environment, which can offer very cool, very visually striking contextual cues—can also be a severe liability.  Imagine showing up to a shoot to find you are limited to shooting portraits inside a tiny conference room with orange walls, or in the middle of summer using an interior of a steel shipping container (both are recent examples).

So what do you do when the environment detracts from,  instead of adds to, your portraits?

I opt to shoot portraits with very shallow depth of field, in order to throw my distracting backgrounds out of focus.  Then I carefully add in lights to create depth and color as needed. Given the time of day or the situation, this may require using ND (neutral density) filters or high-speed sync to achieve this look, but it’s worth the extra effort.

The results are tack-sharp portraits that pop from the soft background, minimizing the things I don’t want while giving a sort of cinematic feel that I love.

 

 

 

 

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.