It’s almost here! Long time labor of love…check out my new 5th Edition of Photographer’s Guide to Marketing & Self-Promotion and available for pre-order! I am very excited about the up-to-date coverage of social media and marketing techniques and the thirty-seven interviews and new case studies with both consumer (wedding/portrait) and commercial photographers and photo reps. https://www.amazon.com/dp/1621535479
Visit this month’s online Business Trends column for an educational and inspirational interview with six successful portrait photographers. Their subjects include toddlers, high school seniors, corporate executives, goatherds (not kidding!) http://www.shutterbug.com/content/turning-portraits-profits-how-run-portrait-photography-business#bepifKCrYU8tdg6D.97. Special thanks to our contributing photographers: Rick Dahms, Omayra Espino-Vázquez, Robert Houser, David Neff, Sara Press, and Michael Schmitt
Back from Summer Break and I have a new product announcement! Luke Copping was one of my featured photographers last year for my Business Trends column (he made the April issue cover!) and now he, Shauna Haider (of We Are Branch and The Nubby Twiglet Blog and Paul Jarvis (former writer for Lifehacker, Forbes, and Fast Company) have just launched a new workflow tool for emerging commercial photographers called Project Prescription.
From Luke, “Developed by a team of photographers and designers with a combined 40 years of experience in the business, this set of digital documents, checklists and processes enables photographers to streamline their workflow with a ‘tried-and-true’ blueprint for landing, handling, and pleasing clients from start to finish. Offering a comprehensive workflow system and customizable documents for photographers, Project Prescription eliminates much of the guesswork that comes with incorporating sound business practices for photographers. The package will be especially useful to young and emerging photographers, those transitioning from journalism staff positions to the freelance world, and to those moving from consumer to commercial-based markets.”
Yes – We are still on Summer Break and I am working on my next book so for now DO get to nearest newsstand and get your copy of September issue of @shutterbugmag and check out my Business Trends article on “Turning Portraits into Profits”. Special thanks to our contributing photographers: Rick Dahms, Omayra Espino-Vázquez, Robert Houser, David Neff, Sara Press, and Michael Schmitt – you are all my heroes! Don’t miss the portrait photo assignment “war stories” they have to tell – love it!
We are still on our somewhat non-voluntary summer break…2016, whew! So summer is here and all I have to post for you is the California “Lost Coast” photo. A completely deserted (and difficult to reach) stretch of Northern California beach somewhere between San Francisco and Eureka. Where is my Star Trek Transporter when I need it??
Starting our Summer Break early this year! One quick note, do mark your calendars for @Shutterbug July issue! This “Wildlife and Nature” issue hits newsstands on June 3 with my Business Trends column interviews and photos by Natures Photo Adventures – David Hemmings Photography Tours, www.naturesphotoadventures.com. Check out their “Grizzly Bears of Alaska Fishing for Salmon” workshop tour this July. Special thanks to Jennifer Hemmings and David Hemmings for the great photo business tips and wildlife images.
Maria Piscopo: What business changes have you seen in the last few years in your event photography assignments? Chris Rakoczy: Speed of delivery is not an option anymore. It’s a requirement. People are so accustomed to sharing life instantly from their mobile devices, they expect similar speed from the professional photographers they hire. Whether they’re a non-profit using social media to stay in front of their audience while memories of the event are still fresh or a corporate client posting to their intranet Monday morning to foster employee engagement and recognize achievement, the client expects to have at least a representative selection of images within 24 hours (or sooner!). I’ve been delivering about two dozens of images representative of the overall event to the client the following day, with the rest of the images following no more than a few days later. My newest branding to target the event market specifically includes these “FlashBack” images as a guaranteed deliverable.
Maria Piscopo: How do you market and find clients – using the traditional marketing or newer marketing tools? Chris Rakoczy: My web sites are http://www.hartfordeventphotographer.com and
http://www.rakoczyphoto.com. I’ve primarily marketed through networking groups and social media. Not only have traditional B2B (Business To Business) groups led to some work, but even networking with other photographers has proven beneficial. My membership in ASMP has connected me with other shooters. We all have our specialties and I’ve been able to take on clients a colleague wasn’t available for or suited to handle. I’ve hired photographers to be my subcontractors on larger jobs, who have in turn hired me back to help on their gigs. So many of us operate as one-person businesses yet so many events, especially larger corporate ones, need a crew of 3, 4, 5 or more people. It’s great to have a strong network of trusted peers to draw on. For social media, I tend to use Facebook a lot. In fact, it’s through a Facebook Group of photographers that led to working with several of them. Even if you never see someone face-to-face, you get to know and trust them through their posts, comments, shared work, and peer referrals. Also, I post on Facebook and Twitter before and after shooting an event. I don’t make the posts “about me” instead I research the client’s social presence first and then leverage the @mentions and #hashtags to put the attention on them and their event. I also try to give shout-outs and public thanks to the people I worked with, whether an event coordinator or my vendors.
Maria Piscopo: What “war stories” from your event photography assignments can you share with our readers? Chris Rakoczy: A new event planner client asked me if I could shoot and print photos on site at an event. For several subsequent events on-site printing became a common add-on so perhaps I got complacent. I didn’t test one of my two printers before this rather large corporate event and I forgot my spare pack of paper. After the cocktail hour, while my digital tech Kris Orlowski printed, I and two other shooters roamed the venue capturing the gala event. That’s when we discovered the clogged print heads and missing paper. For the next three hours, I was sweating bullets hoping we’d not only be able to print fast enough with half our intended equipment, but have enough paper to not short-change any guest. Kris earned his pay that night, finishing every print, on time, with just 2 sheets left over! Next time, not only will I be sure to test the printers but I’ll bring a head cleaning kit (swabs, alcohol) and extra paper!
Maria Piscopo: What skills or knowledge (other than photography) do you think an event photographer has to develop for a successful business model? Chris Rakoczy: The biggest thing has been developing a managerial skill. Very few corporate events I’ve done have been one-man jobs. I’ve needed to build and maintain a quality network of vendors and colleagues. So I charge for Production Management, because it takes a lot of time to coordinate the resources needed to provide a crew of, say, four photographers, two assistants, multiple portrait and printing stations, transportation, and whatever else the client requests. You have to have backup people, not just backup gear. You have to know and trust those people will work to make you look good, and know when to give specific directions even if their own approach would be different, or seek their input because it IS different. And when it all works, you will get the next job.
Visit this month’s online column for an educational and inspirational interview with R.J. Kern, a successful and creative Minneapolis-based wedding photographer! http://www.shutterbug.com/content/wedding-photography-fun-and-profit-r-j-kern-how-be-creative-and-competitive-wedding#cH84fdWQheqIrAle.97
In this week’s post, we will send you to the Business Trends column for a look at some of the marketing aspects of documentary photography: getting established, making the career move, marketing techniques, and major industry changes. Special thanks to these photographers: Deanne Fitzmaurice, Jian Gao, Ron Haviv, Ed Kashi, Zoë Meyers, Sim Chi Yin and Unnikrishnan Raveendranathen. Read more at http://www.shutterbug.com/content/survival-tips-photojournalists-how-make-living-documentary-photographer#UbE8TrFiQhTzTXaR.97
Beyond learning how to handle cameras and photo equipment, working as a photo assistant will provide you with valuable lessons that can go a long way towards helping you build a successful career as a commercial photographer. Learning about: project management, studio protocols, location procedures, pre-production and post-production are all essential business skills. As important are the realities of today’s photo economy – as shared by our guest this month, James Sullivan of 1ProPhoto.com.
Maria Piscopo: What are the best ways to research and find assisting work?
James Sullivan: The most efficient first step towards getting work is making a list of those photographers whose images you admire, and putting them into some type of database for easy access (1ProPhoto.com created their own stand alone APP. ‘1ProPhoto.com -Photo Production DB’ based on FilemakerPro) and then making initial contact via social networks like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and others, as well as using traditional email to send a short (1-2 paragraphs) introduction with your resume as an attachment or a link to a down-loadable PDF, or if the resume is short you can embed it into the email.
Another great option is to create your own email newsletter (Mail Chimp offers a nice free option) to keep those potential clients in your database up to date on the jobs that you have been working on and your new skills and experiences. And lastly pick up the phone and call the photographers or their studios directly. This not only shows your level of ambition and commitment but it will also demonstrate your ability to communicate with the people you are trying to get work with. These days it is more word of mouth and recommendations than ever before; so you must be socially adept and great at networking and have exceptional communication skills!
MP: Realistically, what are the challenges and changes you have seen for photo assistants in the last 5-10 years?
JS: Specifically, for those with 4 to 6 years experience, the role of Photo Assistant has evolved and changed into the role of “Lighting Director” or “Lighting Tech”. These individuals have acquired a skill set that on the lean side, consists of knowing every piece of lighting and grip equipment manufactured in the last 20+ years as well as being able to accurately reproduce the lighting of ANY published images simply by looking at it and reverse engineering it. This job is not just about equipment knowledge on set lighting skills but also about working with a photographer or producer during the pre-production process, making equipment, studio, location and lighting recommendations that can best serve the shoot and the photographers vision. This inclusion in the production process can also go a long way towards keeping production budgets low; which in turn allows these highly skilled individuals to command a day rates between $1200 and $1600 a day or more depending on the job’s requirements.
And while the position of Photo Assistant can offer a great career path as well as offering exceptional learning opportunities; the day rates have not kept pace with the U.S. economy or current levels of neither inflation nor living expenses in most cities around the world. Unfortunately, there are still: Clients, Magazines and Photographers/Producers whom are trying to hire assistants for $150 a day, and trying convince them that this is a standard day rate. This is complete nonsense when you consider that the day rate for a 1st assistant in 1976 was $175! The base day rate for a Photo Assistant in the U.S. (as of Jan. 2016) is $300-$600. And that is an ‘Editorial Rate’ again based on your experience and ability to ask for what you know you are worth.
I am also of the opinion that the job estimates (provided by wonderfulmachine.com) and the low ball rates they have published on sites like APhotoEditor.com are not only misleading as to the true value of the products and services provided by photographers and their production team; but this incessant devaluation of photographers professional services as well as the production process and creation of image/video; is part of what is killing the long term viability of the commercial photo industry.
Unfortunately, the respect once afforded photo assistants for their skills and years of experience in years past which was not only appreciated but highly sought after by our peers, as well as the photo industry as a whole, has disintegrated right along with the level of ‘Craftsmanship’ that we all brought to each and every photo shoot. That respect has gone out the window except for a few old school reps, producers, and photographers that recognize that value of have someone skilled and experienced on their productions. This lack of respect also extends to the slow and sometimes non-payment for services rendered by the photo assistant. And these are two of the biggest reasons so many photo assistants have never been able to transition from assistant to photographer.
Now I’m sorry if this makes me sound like a ‘Debbie Downer’ (SNL reference) but my view point is hardly unique. In speaking with people around New York, Miami, and Los Angeles; many people who have worked in the photo industry for years are leaving and looking for work in other fields because very often it is no longer a viable career path unless you are already rich and/or have a lot of powerful connections!
MP: How do you think working as an assistant helps make the transition to full time photographer?
JS: Presently that only reason to venture into a career as a commercial photographer is because you are compelled to do so to the extent that mentally and physically you cannot find fulfillment pursuing anything else. Or you just don’t know how to do anything else. If you can survive the realities of today’s photo economy that I just spoke of, if you don’t mind having to wake up every day in order to work find your next job, are super resilient and don’t have a problem living from pay check to pay check; then the time spent working as an assistant will allow you to learn the real world skills that you will not learn in school or might otherwise not acquire should you choose to only work for one photographer for an extended period of time. Working for a diverse group of photographers on a multitude of shoots allows the assistant to learn from everyone else’s mistakes without that added expense of time and money that tends to kill many new photographer’s careers. This applies even more so when it comes to: producing shoots, dealing with clients, models, stylists, hair and makeup, booking studios, model agencies, renting equipment, location scouting, creating and managing a shoot budget. It is imperative that today’s crop of photo assistants recognize as well as realize that: “This is a business, this is your business, and you need to treat it as such”.
[The opinions expressed here are those of James Sullivan and are based upon his first hand experiences as well as information garnered from his recent conversations with photographers, photographer’s reps, and Photo Producers, and may not reflect the opinions of the publisher of the article.]