Breakthrough in your communications

Octane Coffee Bar in West End Atlanta. [Fuji X-E3, 18-55mm, ISO 200, ƒ/8, 1/420]

This is how I start most days–a cup of coffee. Everyone has a time of day that we are most productive. Over time, we will try to be most effective during our sweet spot of the day.

Today more than any other time in my life, trying to get any message to an audience is more like trying to get people’s attention on the highway.

Chick-fil-A Cows Billboard in downtown Atlanta. [Fuji X-E3, 18-55mm, ISO 200, ƒ/4, 1/2400]

Do Billboards Work?

According to the Arbitron study, billboard advertising is effective. According to the survey, 71 percent of Americans “often look at the messages on roadside billboards,” Most Americans at one time or another learned about an event that interested them or a restaurant they later patronized.

However, consumers no longer look at billboards like they did twenty or thirty years ago. While they may still be considered a premium advertising space, consumers are engrossed in their smartphones, tablets, and gaming systems. Eyes are down, not up, for much of our lives.

Six Words or Six Seconds

Six seconds has been touted as the industry average for reading a billboard. So, around six words are all you should use to get the message across.

The Superhighway

In the 1990s, we started to call the internet the Superhighway. Our messaging has become more like a billboard on the highway.

If you can get your message to be short and sweet and it delivers all one needs to know to take action, then you are poised to make people’s daily commute in life worthwhile and more productive.

The More Billboards, The Better.

Making sure your audience gets your message on the highways often requires more billboards. Your statement must be concise. As billboard experts will tell you, if you use a headline that explains your visual, you’re wasting words.

When you are limited to 5 to 10 seconds for messaging, you need to be sure they see it. It would help if you had your billboard on the bypass and downtown to be sure you are reaching your audience.

Engage & Deliver

We all get ticked when someone takes more of our time because they are not well organized. I get even more frustrated when someone has done a great job hooking me and leading me through well-written or visual communication but, in the end, doesn’t deliver.

Before you can talk you must listen.

In most conversations, the person who speaks most minor benefits most, and the person who speaks most benefits least. This is why social media is often preferred over mainstream media; they get to talk and be heard on those platforms.

Instagram, Facebook, Google, Pinterest

Some Friends TV show set part of the tour at Warner Brothers Studios. [Nikon D4, 28-300mm, ISO 11400, ƒ/3.5, 1/125]

Today due to Starbucks, Seinfeld, and Friends in the late 80s and early 90s, we have the third space–The coffee shop. Today brands realize that people are looking for an experience. They are looking for a place beyond work for an encounter that leaves an impression. They want a place they can interact with others.

BREAKTHROUGH with your audience!

Don’t think of your job as creating content. Think of your job being like a counselor, parent, or friend. If you care for someone, you want to know how they are doing. You want them to be happy.

As a counselor, you are trained not just to take what someone is telling you are being the real problem. Often what they are talking about is a symptom.

As a parent, you tend to know your child’s personality and how that can shape how they see the world and how this can affect their child’s view of circumstances.

As a friend, you often tolerate some traits because you know their heart.

Can you, as a communicator, say you know your audience well enough to know their hopes and fears?

Your breakthrough is probably pretty straightforward, but it will start with understanding others more than just knowing yourself and what you can do.

Sometimes your breakthrough isn’t about your skills or service at all. Often it will be in helping someone with something other than your product.

Look what guides on of the Gold Standard brands the Ritz Carlton:

The Ritz-Carlton Hotel is a place where the genuine care and comfort of our guests is our highest mission.

We pledge to provide the most exemplary personal service and facilities for our guests, who will always enjoy a warm, relaxed, yet refined ambiance.

The Ritz-Carlton experience enlivens the senses, instills well-being, and fulfills even our guests’ unexpressed wishes and needs.

I love the words “Genuine Care” in that first sentence.

Genuine – indeed what something is said to be; authentic.

All about first impressions

We’re built to size each other up quickly. Even if we’re presented with lots of evidence to the contrary, we’re attached to our initial impressions of people — which is why you should be aware of the impression you make on others.

How long does it take to make a first impression? Is it the length of your elevator pitch? Forget all you have heard because it happens in the blink of an eye.  

A series of experiments by Princeton psychologists Janine Willis and Alexander Todorov reveal that all it takes is a 1/10th of a second to form an impression of a stranger from their face and that longer exposures don’t significantly alter those impressions (although they might boost your confidence in your judgments).

Kalyn Wood [Nikon D4, 85mm ƒ/1.4, ISO 400, ƒ/1.4, 1/125] 

Here are a few headshots showing how easy it is with just a photo to say something different about yourself.

Kalyn Wood [Nikon D4, 85mm ƒ/1.4, ISO 200, ƒ/8, 1/200]

You need to control the message of your brand.

Kalyn Wood [Nikon D4, 85mm ƒ/1.4, ISO 400, ƒ/1.4, 1/80]

Your expression, clothes, and makeup can change your appearance and how you are perceived.

Kalyn Wood [Nikon D4, 85mm ƒ/1.4, ISO 800, ƒ/1.4, 1/160]

This is an actress photo shoot for her to use in her portfolio. She needs to show people the looks she can portray and understand they need to see it to understand what she can become. When it comes to your company headshots, do they look uniform?

Do you have headshots when people go to your website and click on your team?  If not, you need to seriously consider adding these in today’s “Social Media” environment.  Ask your kids what they call a person who doesn’t have a headshot with their profile – “Creeper.”

Notice the difference between the modern white look versus the traditional dark background can change the mood of the portraits. Both work, and you must decide which is best for your brand.

While having a headshot will help you not look like a “Creeper.” having all different headshots can look unprofessional.  Are you saving any real money by taking your snapshot of your team to put on the website or your blog?

Remember, you only have about 1/10th of a second to make a first impression.

They are not reading your bio to make that decision–they are looking at your photo!

What does your “About Us” page have for your potential clients to learn about you?  Are you a “Creeper” with no headshots?  Do you look like you cut corners, try to save money, and take your headshots?  Do all your headshots match, or does it look like someone missed picture day at the high school and had a snapshot sent in for their senior year yearbook photo?

Call me if you want all your company headshots to look similar and help “brand” your company.

Where is the “B” [Business] button on my camera?

Many who first buy a camera put their camera on the Green “P” button or like on this camera the Green Camera. That is the mode where the camera does all the thinking for you.

Soon you realize that to get the results you were looking for, you have to tell the camera what to do. This is when you learn what M, A, S, and the other settings on that dial do other than the green camera or P mode.

When photographers start trying to make a living at this, they look for their camera’s green “B” mode. They want a simple business model that thinks for them and tells them what they need to do to be successful.

If they are not careful on some camera models, the B mode stands for “bulb,” which is another discussion for another day.


What prompted this blog post was a Facebook post.

Facebook post question: What are editors, photo buyers, and parents sick of the most regarding buying photos?

My first response: Photographer is over-explaining their prices. Just tell us the price. Please give me a low, medium, and high price option, and let me pick.

Facebook response: Are you talking about editors’ parents or both?

My response: Everyone

Facebook Response: I just got foto big X. Is there a way to package that for people?

My long response:

Yes, there is. The software is designed for editorial freelancers who do B2B versus B2C. However, you can create your price items. It doesn’t make a price list that you hand to people. It is used to create estimates and invoices.

I notice you and many others post many detailed questions that cannot be adequately answered on a Facebook or even blog post. Those business questions often show a lack of understanding of business practices.

This is quite common in photography. People take up photography, and most realize at some point that putting their camera on “P” doesn’t mean professional photos.

The learning curve then becomes quite steep as they go from pointing and shooting to making the camera see the way they want it to. Most will spend some money on classes or workshops.

Once you then decide to charge for your services and try to make money doing photography, you quickly realize the “B” setting on trying to run your business doesn’t work. It is even more difficult than photography because there is no “B” setting.

You need to take a class in business practices for the profession. You can pay a photographer with more than three years of successful experience to help you get started. I recommend talking to photographers who are members of ASMP.org or PPA.com. Both organizations have business practices at the core of the company’s formation.

Because where you live can also impact how you run your business due to tax laws, you also need to talk to an accountant and an attorney. Each of the organizations has a list of those who work with photographers. Nothing can be worst than making money and then finding out that you owe more taxes because you didn’t do something right.

In most communities, there is the US Small Business Administration that offers many classes for free. They want you to be successful. Here is where you can find out more about their “FREE” help https://www.sba.gov/.

You are going back to your original question that started this thread. You have asked about two types of businesses: business-to-business model and industry-to-customer.

Talking to a customer who is part of the industry [i.e., editor at a publication] is different than talking to someone not a part of the industry [i.e., a mother wanting photos of the family]. One person hires photographers regularly and will discuss hiring you differently.

While you can create an essential price list for services, you will have to make custom estimates pretty often in this industry. It is much easier to do when you understand how you create a price for a service.

You must know how much you must bring home to cover your base. You know your phone, rent, gear, software, marketing materials, and more are ongoing expenses to run your business. You must know this number; if you don’t, you cannot create a price for anything. You don’t even know what you must charge to break even.

99% of every photographer I have ever helped that came to me about business practices was losing money on every job. They were paying most people to shoot for them, but because they didn’t know what their bottom line was to run their business, they were charging 50% or lower than the price they needed to break even.

I wrote a blog post about just getting to know your expenses.

Here is a blog post on tips on price estimating.

FREE is not necessary for photographer with a portfolio

[Nikon D750, Sigma 35mm ƒ/1.4, ISO 125, ƒ/1.4, 1/100]

One of the best ways for restaurants to get you to buy their food is to sample it. Walk through almost any mall’s food court and one of the restaurants is giving out samples. When you have low market awareness of your food then you have to do something to get people to know you exist and that what you offer is good.

Now photographers don’t have to give their photos away for people to know what they will get if they purchase a photo from you. They can look at your portfolio and it serves the same purpose.

A successful business model is a win-win deal for all involved. The problem for most people starting in business is they don’t know what they don’t know.

The devil doesn’t come dressed in pointy horns. He comes in everything you wished for …

Drug dealers give free samples to get you hooked. They don’t work in back alleys all the time. Today many are selling what appear to be legitimate prescription drugs. There are even doctors who have been doing this because it is so lucrative to them because of the kickbacks they get from drug companies.

When most successful businesses start they hired lawyers, accountants, and other experts to help guide them so they would be successful.

When you start I cannot recommend enough getting expert help. One of the best photography organizations I know is ASMP [American Society of Media Photographers]. I have been a member since 1987.

The group was founded to help represent magazine photographers in matters of wages and working conditions. In those early years ASMP was acting as a union for photographers. While today it isn’t a union the purpose of ASMP at its core is to help photographers be successful businesses.

Remember Groupon? Businesses thought that giving a super discount to get customers in their doors would have them later pay full price. A study by Lightspeed Research shows that 63% of Groupons are purchased by existing customers. … Sucking value out of the small business market will ultimately damage the local merchants that are the bread and butter of Groupon’s base. Groupon’s model is not sustainable.

Now if Groupon which is a discounted price sucks value out of small businesses what do you think of Unsplash?

Beautiful, free photos.
Gifted by the world’s most generous community of photographers.

Remember photographers do not have to give photos away as you see in a mall’s food court. They can show their images on websites or displays. People can get a taste of what you offer without you giving anything away.

Remember: “Successful business model is a win-win deal for all involved.

Mikael Cho is a graphic designer who was solving “his problem” when he started Unsplash.

Mikael’s problem was that when he needed samples for an idea he was working on he realized that when he went to Google Images he couldn’t just use those images. Not sure exactly how he knew that those were copyrighted and not for free, but I am guessing it would be similar to others who start. They made mistake and someone pointed out you cannot do that without paying for the images.

By the way, Mikael had his bills paid in another way it appears than graphic design. He thinks of himself as an artist. He just wants to create and share.

This is great if you have a job. Then your creativity is a hobby and not a career. The problem is that Mikael sucked people who want to do this for a career into his creative vortex.

Mikael seems to be talking as an artist. I have heard this many times before. Usually, in the past, I would then hear they don’t want to “sell out.” Wikipedia defines: “Selling out” as a common idiomatic pejorative expression for the compromising of a person’s integrity, morality, authenticity, or principles in exchange for personal gains, such as money.[1] In terms of music or art, selling out is associated with attempts to tailor material to a mainstream or commercial audience; for example, a musician who alters his material to encompass a wider audience, and in turn generates greater revenue, may be labeled by fans who pre-date the change as a “sellout.” A sellout also refers to someone who gives up, or disregards, hence the term ‘sells’ – someone or something – for some other thing or person.

Simply put, you can’t live out your purpose if you aren’t selling and that’s why sales is a critical skill for artists to develop.

Even if you don’t participate in Unsplash and give your images away you should be very concerned. You cannot stay in business if your clients can get what you could provide through a “FREE” service like Unsplash.

All working photographers need to educate the public and especially those who are trying to be photographers on the pitfalls of highly discounting their work or giving it away for free.

I understand shooting your first wedding for a friend to get samples to show for a portfolio. You do have to do some work for free to create a portfolio, but once you have examples you no longer have to do free to show what customers can expect when they hire you.

Your goal as a successful business should be to have customers who are willing to pay full price and come back to you over and over.

7 Tips for the financially struggling photographer

A few weeks ago, I had a Facebook friend request. It was another photographer. Now, this scenario has happened more than just once to me. I want to walk you through what happened and what I want to share with those photographers who are struggling financially.

Since I didn’t recognize the name, I went to his profile and clicked on his “About” section. Here you can see my information.

Little did he know that I wasn’t just a photographer; I hire photographers throughout the year for a few of my clients. I act as a director of photography and other roles for those corporations.

I was looking for a few things that show me you are a successful professional photographer growing their business.

Do you have a way for me to contact you other than Facebook? I like to see three things: 1) phone number, 2) email, & 3) website.

It wasn’t long in our messaging that he said something like he is struggling as a freelancer because his market is over-saturated.

When I asked if he had a website, he said I needed to work on that. He even said he knew that was important.

7 Tips to get more jobs

1 Get a website. You don’t have to know much at all to make this work. You can go to WordPress [https://wordpress.com] and create one for free. You can also go to places like PhotoShelter [www.photoshelter.com], Godaddy [https://www.godaddy.com/], and many other sites that cater to photographers.

2 Create a domain name. I recommend Godaddy, but there are others. This is where you create your personalized web address. A .com address runs about $12 a year, but if you buy it for many years, the price drops. You rent these addresses. You can also “mask” your website domain with your custom domain name.

3 Create an email with your domain name. I have had so many email addresses through the years that I cannot remember them all. I started with Compuserve, and it was a number. The cool thing is that once you own your domain name, you can “mask” your @gmail.com address to [email protected] People send you an email to your address, which can go to your @gmail.com address. The advantage here is that in 20 years, when Google goes out of business or is bought and the email address changes to all your customers and prospects, you are still [email protected]

Back of Card
Front of Business Card

4 Create a business card. Be sure your card has: 1) your name, 2) phone number, 3) email address, 4) website address, 5) your town & 6) your specialty. You want people to find you, but you don’t have to put your street address on there to advertise to people where all your camera gear is located. You want people to know if you are close by for an assignment. Don’t put just the photographer on the card. That is as useful as putting a human on the card. Put what you are the very best at doing on your card.

5 Buy business software. I recommend to photographers Cradoc’s FotoBiz. It will help you with creating cover letters, creating estimates & invoices, and tracking your receivables and payables. It also includes FotoQuote, the industry standard pricing guide for freelance photographers.

6 Create a home budget. This should be the very first thing you do. You cannot know what to charge if you don’t see what you need to pay your household bills. Once you have created a home budget that considers everything you spend money on during a year, from rent, food, and the basics, it should also include things like vacations and retirement.

When done, celebrate! This is what I would call the foundation for your business.

7 Last step is a Marketing Plan. In a nutshell, this is where you will identify all those potential customers who need your specialty.

Rule-of-thumb marketing. If you contact 1,000 contacts, only about 100 of these will be interested in your services. That means that 900 have various reasons that they are not interested. The reasons they are not interested come from everything from having someone they are happy with or that your work style doesn’t mesh with their style.

Out of the remaining 100, only ten will hire you. Again there are many factors here. The best way to put this is that 90 are willing to date you but not marry you.

No matter what you are doing, you are marketing yourself. Either you are helping your brand or hurting it. How many know you are a photographer when you meet new people?

Since I used the marriage metaphor earlier, your marketing should be like the process you find your mate. You are working on building a relationship. So the first time you meet someone, you don’t ask them to marry you. Also, it would help if you were clear that you want to date or if you never make it clear that you are interested.

I have written many articles on marketing that you can search for on my blog here.

I hope this has given you some things that can turn your lack of getting work into the road to prosperity.

Don’t raise Cain in your business

Story of Cain and Abel [Fujifilm X-E3, 18-55mm, ISO 1000, ƒ/4, 1/200]

Yesterday, when I was in my Sunday School class, we studied the story of Cain and Abel. While I have read this story repeatedly since I was a little child, I come to the scripture a little differently each time. Life experiences and where I am in life really can impact one’s perspective.

Reading this as a business owner, I saw this in a new light. I thought of how I know this story lives out in business daily.

Just read the story with a customer being God, while Cain and Abel are two freelancers giving estimates to get a job.

Genesis 4:1-15

4 Adam made love to his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, “With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man.” 2 Later she gave birth to his brother Abel.

Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. 3 In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. 4 And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, 5 but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.

6 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? 7 If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”

8 Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.

9 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”

“I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

10 The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. 11 Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.”

13 Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is more than I can bear. 14 Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.”

15 But the Lord said to him, “Not so; anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him.

While discussing this passage in class, I was struck by why God didn’t treat both Cain and Abels’s gifts equally. The scripture doesn’t say why he treated them the way he did.

You would think God should treat them equally.

I can think of many Christmas and birthdays where opening a present I was disappointed, or one of my family/friends was disappointed with a present. It was always important in my circles that you appreciated the gift.

So I can get why God might like one gift more than the other; I am that way. Our customers and potential clients also have reasons they pick one vendor over another, and they don’t always tell you why.

Instead of dealing directly with God over his gift Cain got angry with his brother Abel. Sound familiar. We often are upset with our competition.

Instead of taking our anger out on others, we need to work on ourselves. We need to remember there is always the next time. Maybe not with that client, but with another.

Maybe you are like Cain and realize you only have  “fruits of the soil” as a farmer and not an animal to sacrifice because you are a farmer and not the cowboy. Don’t be shortsighted and think eliminating your competition is the only way to win a contract. [You could be just talking about your competition badly to the customer.]

Look at what you have to offer and do everything you can to be sure that your presentation of your gifts is as good as the gifts themselves.

Focus on your Audience’s Needs. … As you prepare the presentation, you must remember what the audience needs and wants to know, not what you can tell them. While giving the presentation, you also need to focus on your audience’s response and react to that.

What are your “Business New Year’s Resolutions?”

One of my wife and I’s favorite photos of our daughter Chelle. She has her first Shirley Temple drink at the beach. Her expression of how much fun she was having and that we had this experience with her and the photo now helps us remember that moment like it just happened.

This is the time of year we make New Year’s resolutions, which are typically about taking care of ourselves. What are your Business New Year’s Resolutions?

Most likely, whatever you come up with is a way to build your brand. Let me give you some business topics you should be very concerned about this year.

Number One _________________

I want to leave that blank for now for a reason. I will come back to it shortly for you. Now let’s look at some of those hot topics.

Quality Control – You should always be concerned that you are giving your customers the very best they can get in the open market. Notice I didn’t say the best that you can give them. If you lack something that is keeping your quality behind, that should be one of the things you want to address this year.

In my industry, photographers always try to keep their camera gear as new as possible. The images from the latest cameras are superior to the quality of older models. I know many photographers who update immediately and others who upgrade every other model.

[Nikon D5, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8, TC-2001, ISO 22800, ƒ/5.6, 1/4000]

Speed of Service – If you are not careful, your competition will take away your business because you are too slow. Customers have problems for which a company has a solution to fix. If you are too slow, the customer will go elsewhere to solve those problems.

Pricing – There are many things that affect pricing, so you need to be sure you are on top of everything.

One thing about pricing is the cost-of-doing business. You must be sure you are covering to make a living. However, have you considered how your pricing comes across to the customer?

Too many businesses are more concerned with what they make and covering their costs that their pricing is worded to how they think and not about how the customer feels.

I am a big proponent of at least giving a customer three to four prices: bare minimum, medium, and high price packages and even the Whoop Ti Doo for a fourth option.

How you differentiate the pricing points also gives a better understanding of the different services you can provide.

I want to return to the Number One thing I started with but left blank. What core values guide your business?

This core value is what I think of as the culture you exhibit to your client. When you go into a hotel where the décor is all about a log cabin compared to going into a castle, it sets a tone for the business.

I also think about the restaurant chains Texas Roadhouse, The Ground Round, and Logan’s Roadhouse that all served peanuts, and customers tossed the shells on the ground. The waitress greets you with Howdy as much as a Hello.

Now, these core values often will have you doing things that do not make the most business sense. We often talk about a person having a moral compass. A moral compass is an internalized set of values and objectives that guide a person regarding ethical behavior and decision-making.

I know of one man who confronted a young man when he discovered that his employee was drinking on the job. As long as an employee would come clean and own up to their digressions, he would do all he could to help that employee.

He helped that employee overcome his drinking problem. It made no business sense to do this, but this was his core value of giving those who need help and willing to make changes the help. Now he would fire many people as well, and the line in the sand appeared to me to be one of if the person would own up to their mistakes.

Here are some ways that you might want to evaluate how your character is coming across and revealing a lack of core values that show a moral compass.

How do you speak to your spouse? Let me say I am preaching to myself on this one. We all need to show respect and not get so short with those closest to us. Whenever you answer your phone, and it is your spouse, others in earshot hear how you treat your spouse.

How do you speak to your children? Now, if you don’t have any, this could be anyone who is a subordinate that depends on you. You always want to talk with respect and love to them. You still need to discipline, but how you do it should help to build them up and not tear them down.

How do you speak to those serving you? Our son works in a restaurant as a server, and the stories he tells horrifying how people treat others. You need to be able to request things you need and correct a mistake in a way that honors those who serve you. Now, if you get horrible service and are mistreated, you still can handle this in a way that demonstrates the high road.

How do you speak to your enemies? Truly listening to others and addressing their concerns in a calm voice is a powerful way to win friends. Stay with the facts over disagreements and explain what you can and are unwilling to do.

Lincoln Memorial

Your attitude can jeopardize the situation more than the words themselves. Abraham Lincoln wisely said, “Better to be silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.”

Put your moral compass first this year. Focus on relationships and not on transactions. If you do this, then you will be successful.

Over the digital learning curve and on a plateau

First Snow for Winter 2017 in Roswell, Georgia. Christmas Tree with our Magnolia tree in the backyard. [Nikon D5, Sigma 24-105mm ƒ/4, ISO 400, ƒ/14, 1/40 – Godox V860IIN with MAGMOD MagSphere]

One of the biggest things to ever hit photography was the move to digital.

No matter how experienced you were in photography if you were a film shooter and went to digital, you went through the digital learning curve.

In the 1980s, I went to learn about computers. I remember learning Quicken to track my checkbook and credit cards. I used a dial-up modem to connect to the internet and go to the NPPA forums, similar to the message board; here was my first time connecting to photographers worldwide.

In the early 1990s, I experienced the learning curve for scanning film and learning PhotoShop. I kept waiting for the digital camera to surpass the film so I could jump to digital capture.

In 2002 I bought my first digital Nikon D100 camera. Just one year earlier, a similar 6-megapixel camera cost $25,000, and then I was able to buy the Nikon D100 for $1,999.

Jimmy Carter peanut Christmas Tree Ornament [Fujifilm X-E3, 18-55mm, ISO 200, ƒ/11, 6 sec]

All my colleagues and newbies to photography were all part of the digital learning curve.

I remember being told to shoot Adobe RGB, yet when I took the pictures to the local pro lab, they came out all screwed up. This is when I started learning about color space and realized the printers could read sRGB at the time, not Adobe RGB.

This was when photography workshops exploded. We all needed help to learn PhotoShop and then later Lightroom.

Other advances were also happening. Most in the industry with the film were using the hot shoe Vivitar 283, an automatic flash where you dialed the output by picking yellow or red, and if you bought the adapter, you could control it by power.

Hummel design Christmas Tree Ornament [Fujifilm X-E3, 18-55mm, ISO 200, ƒ/11, 6.5 sec]

Nikon introduced a pretty complex TTL hot shoe system that changed lighting. Again we needed workshops to learn to use them.

The web evolved from forums to delivering videos. Now you can Google almost anything on YouTube and find a video showing you how to do just about anything, including everything around photography.

This meant workshops started dropping off in attendance.

Camera stores started building online stores, which also changed the industry.

We no longer have the entire industry on the same learning curve at the same time as we did with the change from film to digital capture.

Now we are back to where we were just before the digital revolution hit. We are talking about the subject.

Wreaths Across America Day at Roswell Presbyterian Church Cemetery. [Fujifilm X-E3, 18-55mm, ISO 200, ƒ/7.1, 1/105]

Workshops are now coming full circle. We are now talking about how to make a living in this industry again, concentrating on capturing subjects and telling stories.

We are also talking about the business side—excellent customer service and how to protect yourself when working with clients.

Who do we seek out now to listen to? I am now having a more challenging time finding those “trending.” There are just so many mediums in specialties that you may not even know about some incredible photographers because we no longer have just a few publications as in the past.

We are looking for those people producing great images and want to learn from them.

What I think we want more than anything in the future is a way to find great work produced worldwide.

The problem is that most pros are scared to promote other work for fear of losing jobs. Therefore how do you find great work? I think whoever creates the new place to point us to great work is what will be the next big thing in photography.

Who has your back?

[Nikon D2X, Sigma 18-50mm ƒ/2.8, ISO 400, ƒ/2.8, 1/320]

If you are a freelancer or a business owner, you might be like me and wake up in the middle of the night sweating from the anxiety of how I will pay my bills this month. There is nothing on the books for a while, and you wonder if the phone will ring again or if you will get an email.

Matthew 6:25-34

Worry
25 I tell you not to worry about your life. Don’t worry about having something to eat, drink, or wear. Isn’t life more than food or clothing? 26 Look at the birds in the sky! They don’t plant or harvest. They don’t even store grain in barns. Yet your Father in heaven takes care of them. Aren’t you worth more than birds?

27 Can worry make you live longer?[a] 28 Why worry about clothes? Look how the wild flowers grow. They don’t work hard to make their clothes. 29 But I tell you that Solomon with all his wealth[b] wasn’t as well clothed as one of them. 30 God gives such beauty to everything that grows in the fields, even though it is here today and thrown into a fire tomorrow. He will surely do even more for you! Why do you have such little faith?

31 Don’t worry and ask yourselves, “Will we have anything to eat? Will we have anything to drink? Will we have any clothes to wear?” 32 Only people who don’t know God are always worrying about such things. Your Father in heaven knows that you need all of these. 33 But more than anything else, put God’s work first and do what he wants. Then the other things will be yours as well.

34 Don’t worry about tomorrow. It will take care of itself. You have enough to worry about today.

So I know that scripture, and I still wake up in a cold sweat. My main concern is getting a paying job from a client or potential client. This is the core issue.

[Nikon D2X, Sigma 18-50mm ƒ/2.8, ISO 100, ƒ/2.8, 1/200]

One of the best things about being young was not having these worries. My parents carried those worries for me. I went out and played with my friends.

I think the key to solving the “cold sweats” at night is the same key to building solid friendships.

One of the most incredible things I can remember growing up was when someone knocked on the door and wanted to play with me. Today I still enjoy it when a friend calls me up and asks me to play golf with them.

This feeling of euphoria is one of the most powerful emotions.

[Nikon D2X, Sigma 18-50mm ƒ/2.8, ISO 400, ƒ/2.8, 1/80]

What was even better than just having a friend knock on my door was the invitation to do something they had already planned. Do you want to go bowling? Some of the best memories were when I had a friend create an experience for me and asked me to join them.

One way to have your “cold sweat” disappear is for the client to call with a project. That solves my problem right away. This does happen, but what I have found that solves this problem more than receiving a request is to be just like that friend of mine knocking on the door asking me if I wanted to go out on the lake in their boat for skiing.

You see, most of your clients also have those “cold sweats” of some sort. They need ideas as well.

Solve your clients problem and you will solve your own

What is your client’s problem? This takes a lot of time to figure out. Steve Jobs solved problems for the world. One of the first problems he solved was a way to carry around a lot of music and help musicians sell their music through the iPod and iTunes.

Another problem Steve Jobs solved was needing a computer with you all the time to be able to solve problems at a moment’s notice. The iPhone allowed you to search the web right in the palm of your hand.

[Nikon D2X, 20-200mm ƒ/2.8, ISO 4100, ƒ/2.8, 1/80]

You need to put your clients first, and success will find you. Once you have clients, getting to know them and learning their needs is much easier than if they are prospects.

If you do a great job of providing a solution to their problems, then you are on the way to a profitable career.

Not every solution should involve you. If you are genuinely concerned for a client, there are times that you will give your client an answer that doesn’t affect you directly.  When you do this regularly rather than just once, you will be communicating that you are looking out for their best interests over your own.

By not always coming to a client with solutions that only you can fulfill, but others are better at meeting those needs, you become the fixer for them. They will be more likely to listen to you than if the only time you are coming to them is the solution.

[Nikon D2X, Sigma 18-50mm ƒ/2.8, ISO 400, ƒ/4, 1/640]

When you are the person calling your clients with ideas for their problems, you are just like the friend knocking on their door asking them to come and join you on an adventure.

What do I charge, and how do I word something with a client?

This is the most helpful software package I own for my business. While I have Adobe Creative Cloud Suite, which I use Lightroom, PhotoShop, and Premier Pro regularly, it is fotoBiz X that runs the business side of my work. Here is a link to the software. I am an affiliate of their program. This is an affiliate link, meaning I receive a commission from any purchases made using the affiliate link. This is at no additional cost to you.

I knew about the software for years but didn’t use it. I couldn’t figure out the advantages of the software.

Now many years later, I regret having not purchased this earlier. The experience started to teach me that I needed help.

When you first open the program, you should go to setup and put in your information and if you have a logo, put that in as well.

They show examples of what it will look like on a #10 envelope or an invoice.

One thing you will need early on is a model release.

Under “Forms and Releases,” you will find five different templates. There is one for:

  • Adult Model Release
  • Minor Model Release
  • Photographer’s Portfolio Release
  • Property Release
  • Simplified Adult Release

It will drop your name or company name into the form, and then you can print it out.

Another problem I was always running into was how you word your cover letters, late payment letters, and even a copyright violation letter. Well, the software comes with many email templates you can use and modify for your correspondence uses.

A question I often had early on and continue today is what to charge for specific uses. The fotoBiz comes with fotoquote, which will help you know what you should charge for not only stock used but also assignment work. Here is a link to buy fotoquote.

fotoQuote was just updated to version 7. This includes social media use now in the latest version.

It also has a video and all the possible ways you might want to use it. Now while you may not always get the prices they recommend, these are the prices many are getting in the industry.

This information about prices gives you a better idea of the range of a job and what you can quote. I have learned that fotoQuote has helped me better understand a job’s low, medium, and high prices. I give clients three prices most of the time.

The low, medium, and high price quote is based on uses that the client can get and how long they may use the images. Without fotoQuote, I didn’t know how to offer three different prices.

fotoBiz also helps you create estimates that can easily be transformed into an invoice with just a click. You can always make the invoice as well.

When you sell a stock image, the software lets you embed a thumbnail into the invoice with all the information about the sale. It will ask if you want a reminder on your calendar when the usage is up. This way, you can write a letter not to remind the people that the time is up but to ask if they want to extend it with estimates for developing the usage.

You can download the demo and try it for 14 days free. fotoBiz is just $299. This is not subscription-based software. You own it and can use it forever.

I can tell you that this software will help the freelancer know what to charge and help you communicate with your prospects and clients in putting together estimates, invoices, and even email correspondence.

FotoBiz® has a 30-day money-back guarantee, so what do you have to lose?

Here is a video showing you how it works.

Learn to say “YES”

This is Mark Johnson’s Advanced Photojournalism Class at UGA’s Grady School of Journalism. [Fuji X-E2, 18-55mm, ISO 6400, ƒ/3.2, 1/80]

For the past ten years, Mark Johnson has invited me to speak to his advanced Photojournalism Class at UGA on business practices.

One of the tips I always share with the class is to Learn To Say YES.

I learned how to say yes from my friend Tony Messano, a creative director and a voice-over talent. This tip had a significant impact on my life in many ways.

Tony was not advocating becoming a “Yes Man” where you agree to “anything” regardless of how crazy or stupid – and sometimes illegal – it is. You still will say no to things that you ethically disagree with doing.

Patrick Murphy-Racey keeps things positive for his clients by solving their problems rather than becoming a problem. [Nikon D5, Sigma 24-105mm ƒ/4, ISO 100, ƒ/4, 1/160]

Tony advocated that we turn ourselves into problem solvers for our clients and bosses rather than becoming a problem.

The way this whole topic came up in the first place with Tony was over me trying to deal with clients that kept on saying since you are here, can you do _______? Tony helped me see how to take this request and not only meet the demand but also make more money.

I learned how to price for the project, and then when this type of request came up, I could say “Yes.” Yes, I can make that happen; however, since this wasn’t part of the proposal and is outside the scope of it, I need to charge XYZ for the additional work.

I had been handling these requests or similar variations for my whole life up to then responded with a “NO.”

What Tony helped me understand was that when I was saying no, I wasn’t helping the client at all. If they still needed it done, they would find someone who could make it happen, and often then, I would usually no longer be used for future projects.

Why do I want to say no?

Before I could say yes, I learned I needed to know why I wanted to say no.

When I was in a staff job, I often said no because I didn’t have time with all the other things on my plate. As a freelancer, I was saying no because they were asking for more without offering more pay.

Had I learned this tip earlier in my career, I would have become a more valuable team member. When someone asked me to do something, I would now say how I want to help them. I would be saying YES–IF.

Yes, I can make that happen for you if you tell me which of these other projects I can delay or not do to be able to take on this extra work.

As a freelancer, I am saying YES–IF you decide what on the list we were shooting comes off because I don’t have time to do all you have, or I might be saying yes if you agree to the extra XYZ cost.

On the far right at the computer is Akili Ramsess, executive director for NPPA, reviewing a student’s work at the Southwestern Photojournalism Student Workshop. What I like here is not just that Akili is helping and the student is engaged, but it reminds me that others are watching us help.

Let the client say NO

Tony said my goal is to say yes as much as possible and to be sure the client is the one saying no, not me.

As a freelancer, the client asks me to do something, and my response is I would love to help you. The additional cost to make this happen is XYZ. Just sign right here to the changes on the contract, and I will make it happen.

The client will then respond great or no; we cannot afford to do that. If they have to have this done, then you are not the reason it gets done; they don’t have the resources to make it happen, or maybe the request then no longer necessary.

As a staff person, I am not asking for more money. I am taking the burden of what is on my plate and the difficulties of making it happen back onto their plate.

My boss asked me to take photos of their event; in the past, I would have said no, I am already booked. I now say I am already covering another event at the same time. I am more than willing to cover this event if you need me to. Which event do you want me to cover, and would you like me to get another photographer to cover the event I cannot hide?

Seeing this photo of my daughter with Bell from Beauty and the Beast reminds me of how the Beast had to change and learn to love. The latest movie gives us the back story of how self-centered the man was and why he was turned into a Beast. He said no to the old lady rather than helping her.

Saying No makes you a problem–Saying Yes Makes you a problem solver.

When you say no, the person requesting your help will have to find someone else. Had you said yes, their problem is solved.

Today when I get a request for something, and I am already booked, I always offer to find someone for them. One of the best ways to keep those clients returning is to handle the booking of the photographer and have the photographer work as a subcontractor for you. This way, they show up to shoot the project, and you handle the billing. This way, they continue to come back to you.


Another tip I share with the students is about how to network. I tell them to act like a first-year student and not a senior. Here is a previous blog post that I did explaining this tip for you.


A side note about speaking to the class is I get to spend time with Mark Johnson. Every time I go, I have lunch with Mark, and I learn much each time.

This time I listened and watched how Mark worked hard to present content to the students in a positive manner. He doesn’t speak down to the students. He challenges them so that he is also communicating that he knows they can do whatever he asks of them.

It is a joy to visit UGA and spend time with the students and Mark.

How to handle client negotiations

The Slam Dunk

A Slam Dunk in business is when you exceed the client’s expectations. I have made a mistake many times throughout my career of not doing a great job of managing those expectations.

We have all had the client call and the bills stacking up, and due to our need to get the job, we rush to do whatever is necessary to get the job. This is like going to the grocery store when you are hungry. You will make unnecessary purchases.

Houston Astros Chick-fil-A night [NIKON D3, 122.0-300.0 mm f/2.8, Mode = Manual, ISO 6400, 1/1000, ƒ/4, (35mm = 190)]

Know the client’s expectations

When you have a brand new client, managing expectations is so important. You need not just listen and hear what they are saying, but I often ask for examples of what they are used to working with or if they have not worked with a photographer, examples of what they would like that they have seen somewhere before.

This week I had two new clients I had never worked with before. In both cases, I asked if they could send me some examples of what they are looking for so that we are on the same page.

I had one client send me work that would take little effort to meet and exceed the quality of work they showed me. However, the other client was talking to me about a photojournalistic coverage of where I was shadowing someone. Still, the photos they sent me were well-crafted lifestyle photos that would be used in an effective advertising campaign.

The funny thing is that one client’s budget was more like a campaign budget, and the other was a beer budget.

In the case where the budget was cheap, the taste was luxury. This is where your attitude and negotiation skills help educate the client or price the job correctly to ensure you can deliver the product to meet those expectations.

Father Flor Maria Rigoni is a missionary with the San Carlos Scalabrini and works in the town of Tapachula, Chiapas, Mexico. [NIKON D3S, 24.0-120.0 mm f/3.5-5.6, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 800, 1/250, ƒ/5.6, (35mm = 82)]

It is a conversation

Be careful not to jump to the very end of the process and write a contract that is a take it or leave it situation. Pace yourself.

I talked with my contact and let them know that the price range would be three to four times more than we had first discussed if the images they showed were precisely what they wanted. I also asked if they were offering a situation or more the quality they are looking for in the photo.

I don’t need to spend much time producing an estimate for an advertising shoot when they need a groundbreaking photo.

I always do my best to start with how I am able and more than willing to meet their expectations and can make it happen for them. I let them know my concern is always getting them the most for their budget.

Ryan Patrylo’s family [NIKON D4, 28.0-300.0 mm f/3.5-5.6, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 100, 1/500, ƒ/5.3, (35mm = 98)]

Don’t be shortsighted, Have Foresight

Your creativity should not be limited to your work with the camera. You need to make the entire experience for your client so unique that they love your work and tell others about you.

Your goal should be to surprise your client. One of the ways I started to shake my clients was to use an off-camera flash. Just like here with this family photo.

Mike Dodson [NIKON D4, 28.0-300.0 mm f/3.5-5.6, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 1000, 1/50, ƒ/5.6, (35mm = 200)]

In this photo of the hunter, it was raining. My flash is covered in zip lock bags. Had I not used the moment, the skin color would not be as accurate, and the dynamic range would have made the photo look incredibly flat.

One way I continue to surprise my customers is a quick turnaround. I shot a client’s son’s wedding before the Bride and Groom left for the honeymoon the next day; they had all the photos in an online gallery. Compared to most wedding photographers who take a month or two to get those photos of the bride and groom, I had surprised them.

I have many clients constantly changing things at the last moment. My response is always that it is OK. I am here to make it happen for you—[Side Note: I do price to cover my need to be flexible]. My clients often make changes, and I will do my best to move things to work to get their projects done. However, if I cannot make it happen for me to be there, I line up a photographer/video person to give them the same quality as me or better.

Fossil Rim Wildlife Center [NIKON D4, 14.0-24.0 mm f/2.8, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 10000, 1/2000, ƒ/10, (35mm = 14)]

Take care of your photographer colleagues

This reminds me to be sure you are developing great friends in the industry. You want to give them work when you can, and they should do the same for you over time.

If a job is not suited well for you, take care of the client and find a photographer who will be a good fit. They often will come back to you for other assignments when you show them you are looking out for their best interests over just yourself.

On The Same Page

When you and the client are working from the same page of notes, your ability to meet and exceed their expectations is something you can manage. However, suppose at any point you make assumptions and don’t verify their expectations for a job. In that case, you can often find yourself reshooting for the same underestimated budget and therefore losing money or the customer overall.

Here is a little secret I discovered over time. When you ask these questions to the client to clarify the scope of a job, it makes you look more like an expert, and their trust increases in you.