This photograph was a quick grab on a recent corporate assignment. I liked it enough to add it as the opening photo to my corporate web gallery – NJ Corporate Photographer . Any comments, positive or negative, are welcome.
I’m not a sport photographer by trade, but I do dabble on occasion. I had the opportunity to shoot some NASCAR racing photographs several years ago. I didn’t see much difference though between the speed of these cars and the ones that pass me by on Route 80.
Yesterday I finally realized that on January 1st of this year I had been in business as a self-employed photographer (aka – “freelancer”) for 10 years. Wow. I couldn’t believe it. That anniversary had come and gone and I didn’t even notice. So I did something that I should have done, as a businessman, sooner – made a list of the years I’ve been self-employed with the number of jobs I had each month of each year and my gross income for each year. There it was, in black & white, my company “Rich Green Photography“. The Good. The Bad. The Ugly. To be fair, some years were up and some were down as with any business in this recession.
I thought about the changes I have gone through:
1- I took business courses at a local college in the first month – January 2002.
2- I was shooting film – color/b&w/slide/negative.
3- My equipment was 35mm and medium format.
4- I had a darkroom but only processed and printed b&W.
5- I did a lot of driving to labs for processing.
6- Early in the year I put up my first website.
7- January 2005 – I converted to digital. (Canon)
8- By this time, my darkroom was not being used for personal or business anymore.
9- I continued expanding my digital horizons – reading/taking courses/etc.
10- My website slowly improved but I was probably on page 15 in a google search.
11- November 2006 I decided to upload some images to a stock photo company.
12- I continued upgrading my camera gear, computer & software.
13- I sold off my darkroom equipment keeping a few items for sentimental reasons.
14- Clients came. Clients left.
15- I continued uploading stock images. They started being licensed.
16- I persisted tweaking my website. I’m now on page 1 of a google search.
17- I still, on a rare occasion, shoot with film for fun.
18- I love shooting for stock. It’s not a big earner but it keeps me sharp.
19- I’m still amazed when a potential client contacts me from overseas (like England).
20- And on and on and on.
Anyway, it’s 10 years and I’m still standing.
What else can I do? I’m too old for breaking & entering.
Remember that scene at the end of the first Indiana Jones movie – “Raiders of the Lost Ark” – when the Ark of the Covenant is put into storage. The camera pulls back to reveal an immense warehouse with thousands, possibly 100’s of thousands, of items in storage. Well the photo above is not that warehouse but it made me think of it. I had an corporate assignment from a client to photograph his place of business. When I was in the warehouse section I was raised up on a lift. I thought, “Here’s an opportunity to photograph a widescreen view of the plant.” Capturing such images usually requires, or at least is recommended, a tripod with panoramic head. I had the tripod but no specialty head. But I thought, “What the hell!”, I’ll try anyway. The 3 individual photos are shown with the “stitched” final image at the bottom.
I’ve been photographing portraits for many years. These are basic portraits – usually a 3 light setup with the person standing in front of a seamless background. It’s a straightforward exercise in practice but every once in awhile I get to be creative. Several years ago I was given the task of photographing a group of department chairmen and women. I made the suggestion that instead of taking another “typical” portrait of them, that I ask them what their hobbies/interests were and, if possible, to photograph them holding/dressed/somehow engaged with their hobby/interest. It was pretty exciting to be given the go-ahead for the project. I set up the lights and background in a slightly more stylized fashion. Then the folks arrived. There was baseball and tennis. A guy in a motorcycle jacket and a woman holding a statue. Someone with a keyboard (a musician) and another with a golf club (not unexpected). One gentleman brought in a model airplane. Now that took me back to my childhood. These chairmen and woman have had their portraits taken countless times over the years, but on this particular day you could see the smiles on their faces.
My only wish is that someone had shown up wearing a NASA spacesuit. That would’ve been amazing!
We all know that this is a tough “new” economy and I wonder how successful college grads will be in looking for work in their fields. But I also wonder what would I do if I was in my 20’s, finishing school and wanted to be a photographer. Where would I start looking for work? I was a staff photographer for the first 20 years of my working life, and staff positions still exist, but not as many, and I’m not sure where. Plus, I assume, the photographers in those jobs aren’t leaving until they retire. Newspapers are also laying off staff and TV news channels are relying on the “public” to share their pictures with them (CNN Lays off Staff). Photographers interested in stock photography will discover the falling of prices and competition from the general “non-pro” shooter who posts their images on Flickr and Getty decides to use those images. “Yikes! Ma. I gotta compete against some guy who just happened to get a lucky shot, or if my image is chosen they’re gonna pay me only $3?!” (Time Magazine uses iStock photo dirt cheap.) Then there is assisting other photographers to learn the ropes on both the business and technical side. I never assisted. I landed my staff position and when I was laid off, just like all those other photographers, I opened my own business. What I needed at that point was assistance in learning how to “run” a business so I struggled through it but I wonder how many “new” photographers are getting the opportunity to assist and learn. I say this because I see many seasoned pros turning to “educating” the newcomer – lectures for a fee. And other pros who are leaving the photo business thus not providing opportunities for the newbie to assist and learn. And other photographers, like myself, who are reasonably busy but don’t hire assistants because the jobs don’t demand it. I’m getting more and more requests from recent college grads wanting to assist. I know that I’m not the only one they’re contacting, but I always feel bad when I have to say that I don’t need their help. It’s always been a scary world, but it just feels like it’s getting scarier, at least if you’re looking for work as a photographer.
The image above was taken as a test shot before taking the actual portrait. It was used as a background for the portrait.
Even in the new economy there are some jobs that I wouldn’t be able to do. But also in this new economy it has been difficult to adapt to the new lower pricing clients expect. It is easy to state that everyone wants everything cheaper. Heck, I’m one of those people. But then there’s the problem that many prices are still being raised based on higher fuel costs. So, at the end of the day, what do I do when a client asks how much does the job cost? I see a number of columns with business advisors suggesting “bringing more value to the table”, “improving negotiation skills,” “don’t become a bottom feeder”, etc. but these tactics aren’t helping me. I have more and more calls from people who just want to know “what does it cost?” You can’t negotiate with companies that don’t want talk to you. You’re advised to “find better clients.” Okay, but it seems that there’s fewer of them and harder to find. And then many of us, me included, have lost clients because they now have their own cameras and are happy to accept that their photos are “good enough.”
I do not have unrealistic expectations. I’m not 20 years old anymore thinking that I’m going to be the photographer to the stars. The next George Hurrell. I’m older, just want to pay my bills, have some fun and find some more clients that don’t think that my “modest fee” is still too high.
The window washers above are working on the Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas.
One of my concerns is what image to display on the homepage of my corporate website. When a potential client clicks onto my site, within 5 seconds or less he or she has decided to stay or go. While my work falls into several categories, I usually put a scenic style photograph. My feeling has been, “I’ll hit them with something pretty or interesting and then they’ll click to see my portfolio.” Obviously this works some of the time but the trick is to increase the number of visitors who click through. I haven’t been able to figure out what really works best for me, so I change images often. But on this occasion I decided to take the “throw’em all in” approach. Let’s see what happens.
My childhood and teenage years were spent growing up in an Italian-American neighborhood. And when I say “Italian-American” I mean the immigrants who found the courage to move thousands of miles, to leave their homes and everything they knew, to relocate and rebuild their lives in a foreign country. I know that I wouldn’t have the courage to do that.
I hope everyone enjoys my photo blog because I may not be around much longer. An article for the LA Times pretty much describes what is happening to my profession. And it’s happening to me – Photography Article.