Robots are taking over photography

Sunday Night 60 Minutes did the story Are robots hurting job growth?

If you are interested in watching the story you can see it here.

Using the 60 Minutes definition of a Robot as a machine that can perform the job of a human, I now see this is what happened and happening to photography.

Why should you read this?

I want to outline the way to avoid obsolescence of today’s photographer, but I need you to understand why this is happening.

Many people understand how many people lost their jobs to outsourcing, but this is also happening due to a machine that performs a job of a human.

I think many newspaper photographer for example are now “Technologically Unemployed” due to things like smarter cameras and smarter phones.

Early 35mm film cameras didn’t even have a light meter in them and today there is a computer in the camera doing much of the computations that a professional photographer would do in the past. 

Today’s camera is a robot that took over the job of the human: getting a good exposure and even focusing. This applies to all the clients that were hiring photographers for jobs that they knew what they wanted, but just didn’t know how to technologically make it happen.  That is no longer a problem for those clients.

How to avoid obsolescence

Evaluate everything you are doing for clients. If any part of what you do can be automated assume this doesn’t give clients reason to hire you.

This doesn’t mean get rid of this service, but know that this is more of a commodity.  

Evaluate all the resources your clients have and see what they have already designated to a machine. 


Selfies are a good example where the machine has replace the photographer. In Wikipedia it says:

A selfie is a type of self-portrait photograph, typically taken with a hand-held digital camera or camera phone. The appeal of selfies comes from how easy they are to create and share, and the control they give self-photographers over how they present themselves. Many selfies are intended to present a flattering image of the person, especially to friends whom the photographer expects to be supportive. However, a 2013 study of Facebook users found that posting photos of oneself correlates with lower levels of social support from and intimacy with Facebook friends (except for those marked as Close Friends).

While self portraits go back to the brownie camera and using a mirror to take ones on photo, it was the advent of the camera phone and social media that these began to go viral.

I am sure this has hurt the portrait market.  What I thought was interesting that these Selfies are viewed as narcissistic if people are not close friends. This means that Selfies on Linkedin are probably not a good idea.

Be remarkable

Look to personalize your business model. Look for things you can do that are not easily automated. These personal touches are what clients will come back to you for over and over.

Too many photographers are looking to technology to separate them from the crowd, this is what makes them so easy to copy. Concentrate on your ideas, personality and creativity to separate yourself from the pack.

Look for the new technology and be an early adapter, because if you are the first in your community to offer something you can ride that for a while till the others start to copy you. Sometimes you can build your brand on always being the first to offer things in your market. You can charge a premium if this is your approach. If you are the late adopter to a fad you are entering a commodity market.

Here is a good exercise to help you think of ways to distinguish yourself. Think of those people you know that everyone enjoys. Now describe them on paper. After you do this with a few people you will see that their brand isn’t a machine, so why do so many photographers try and identify themselves by the camera they shoot? 

Be innovative. Be creative. Be yourself.  

Time for Kickoff events

Rib eating contest at Slope’s BBQ to kickoff the Roswell High School football season with the community.

Back to school

Around the country schools have either started or getting ready to start.

[Sidebar] I wish the first day of school was the same around the country. It would make for easier planning for vacations and coordinating of calendars.
Maybe it never was all the same, but I felt like we all started back around Labor Day at one time in our country history.

Communities plan parties around events celebrating. One example is while the kickoff football games for college come this weekend the parties have already begun.  This is a chance for the cheerleaders, football teams and bands to get out in front of their fans and help start the rally cry early.

Importance of Ritual

In creating and experiencing personal ritual, you can find strength and comfort in your life, gain perspective, and move deliberately into your future. People engage in rituals with the intention of achieving a wide set of desired outcomes, from reducing their anxiety to boosting their confidence, alleviating their grief to performing well in a competition – or even making it rain.

Ritual and ceremony provide a sense of “before and after” and people come away knowing their lives have been positively touched by the experience.

This year my daughter celebrates her first time with High School rituals as a Freshman. Each year she celebrates them it will be done as a way to count down and help her move towards her future.

Create your own rituals

Going out for ice cream is something that has been done in our family. My earliest memories are with my grand parents and all of us getting in the car and going to get some ice cream.

Honestly from a miser perspective it makes no sense to drive to an ice cream shop and spend on one ice cream cone what you could have bought a few for if you had gone to the grocery store.

Doing this with family created lasting memory for me. Another memory I had with my grand parents was my grand mother making popcorn on the stove.

The one I cherish the most was our family devotion time. I remember all of us taking turns reading the devotional and reading all the missionary names that we would then pray for as well as for our own family and friends.

To be a ritual it must be done more than once and preferably all the time.

Rituals for business are how we deliver performance. You most likely already have some rituals like coffee time, lunches, and other things that are part of your daily routine.

Maybe you need to create some big events each year to help your company grow. A simple birthday celebration of the company is a way to have a party and maybe take a moment to commemorate the growth from the previous year.

Successful sports coaches typically use rituals to build social bonds between team members. It brings team members’ external networks into the family.

I know many companies give out rewards at annual meetings [Rituals]. They invite the spouses to these events often so the spouses may see the rewards and encourage their spouses to work hard so next year they can win the cruise.

What is your kickoff event for this year?

This is the question that I am asking myself. I don’t have any formal rituals and therefore I don’t really take the time to celebrate what I have accomplished and then taken the time to formally make the necessary changes for the future.

This will be the 32nd year of me covering football. What will be different this year? Stay tuned this week as I tell you how I plan to do some things the same and some things differently. 

Print Size Matters

My cubical

I have a cubical at an office I do some consulting and they asked me to decorate my cubical so people know it is used and not empty. I had some prints at home that I brought in and realized after putting them up I started something.

You see the prints that are up in my office are 20″ x 30″ prints. As groups go on tours through the office I have noticed they are paying attention to my cubical. I am helping everyone know what I enjoy doing.

A consultant’s cubical at the same office

 Now as I walk by other people’s cubicles I realize you must actually go into their cubical to see their photos and know who is in them.

The reason you want to put up photos is not just for yourself, you are helping people know something about you.

This is true also with your home. You don’t want people to have to walk across the room to see your family portrait or another image that you took. They should be able to enjoy it from across the room.

What size print? Use the face size as a guide.  Have the face size the same as a clock face. If it were on your wrist then maybe a 4″ x 6″ print is fine. Same photo on a wall may require a 40″ x 60″ print to have the same affect.

One of the best ways to determine the best size is to project the image on the wall.  The general rule would be in a normal size living room 20′ x 24′ is a face size of at least 3″ to 5″. 

If the person is part of a scene you may need a very large print. If however the photo is a head and shoulder portrait then a smaller print will work.

My friend now has larger prints up of water projects she did around the world. She is always raising money to help drill wells to help in places there is no fresh water. What a great way to use photos to keep her passion in front of her co-workers.

Besides using photos in your office at work to help people know your passions, use photos throughout your office to help communicate your companies passions.

This nonprofit uses large photos of the children’s lives it touches.

With people coming and going throughout your offices each day are you using the wall space to help communicate your story?  You should and give me a call and I will help you have photos that tell your story.

Meeting expectations comes first

Many in today’s iGeneration have had a childhood of T-ball, soccer, and dance classes where if they just participated, they were given a trophy. I assume most people know there is more to life than showing up on time — but you’d be surprised how often meeting minimum standards will put you way ahead of the competition.

I taught in photojournalism at a local college. Every project I assigned was designed to give the students a real-world experience. They had three assignments: an environmental portrait, covering an event and a photo story.

The students were asked to turn in their assignments as if they were submitting them to an editor. They needed a cover letter to tell me about what they were submitting. They needed a folder with their selects and another folder with all the images they shot. Each of the photos in the selects needed to have a caption embedded in the IPTC fields. Most editors enjoy being able to send a photo to the designer which already has the caption in the photo. 

IPTC fields

This shows the Metadata panel of Bridge with IPTC IM, showing these fields are written to the file header. This screenshot shows the fields and includes a short description of what tags can be placed in the fields.

Some students forgot the captions, some forgot the cover letter and, yes, some were late handing them in. While most had everything done properly, we still had some where the captions were lacking the essential five Ws.

  • Who is it about?
  • What happened?
  • Where did it take place?
  • When did it take place?
  • Why did it happen?

I continue to hear horror stories from clients about photographers who didn’t meet their minimum expectations. I even know of photographers who did the work and never handed in an invoice! It is amazing how just being sure all the elements are done for a project and turning them on time (or early!) will be received with excitement.
[vimeo w=500&h=281] One of my favorite creative directors is Tony Messano. He gives sage advice. I can understand why he is asked to judge advertising work all over the world.

Tony expects a photographer to shoot the assignment the way Tony conceives it — but his favorite photographers not only give him what he wants; they go beyond his concept and shoot it their way, too. Often, they will shoot it just as he says and then will push the idea a bit further with lighting composition or another element. They bring something extra to the table.

If you are meeting the expectations of your clients, you are doing better than most others in the industry. To rise to the top, go a little beyond the expectations.

Don’t be satisfied with the trophy everyone gets for just showing up. Be the person singled out for going beyond the call of duty. Never stop looking for a unique approach or something different. The stretching will keep you youthful and nimble in today’s ever-changing marketplace.

Second mile service assumes the first mile served

Today we hear so many talking about second mile service.  

Second mile service is something that comes from the Sermon on the Mount: “If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles” (Matthew 5:41). In biblical times, a Roman soldier could compel someone to carry his pack for one mile, or 1,000 paces (two steps per pace). Jesus told his listeners to stop grudgingly counting their steps and instead to carry the pack a second mile.

Second mile service as Christ was trying to teach his followers is doing what is expected well and then doing even more. Christ’s earlier statement in the Sermon—“Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven”—was letting the followers know this not only brought favor on them but God was honored as well. This is a good lesson for today’s marketing student about the power of branding.

You are building a good reputation by giving superior service.

What is expected in the “First Mile?”

  • Treating people with honor, dignity and respect
  • Listening to the request of the client
  • Meeting the needs of the client
    • Well exposed photos
    • In focus
    • Photos of what was requested
  • Delivered on time
  • Invoiced in a timely matter

“Second Mile Service” possibilities

  • Early delivery of images
  • Well packaged presentation of the images
  • WOW factor photos
    • Different angle than they have seen before
    • Maybe a print of a special photo
    • Coffee table book of the photos
    • Slide show
  • Hand written thank you note

What is the number one thing you can do? Listen

Are you a good steward of the photographs for your company?

Do you have an archiving system take a moment and take the poll above, then check back in a day or so and see what others also checked. I predict that if everyone I know took this toll that more than half of all the companies would have no archiving searchable database for their photography.

Are you adding value to the company?

Take a moment and see if you can put your hands on the last couple of projects that you used photography. Where did you look?

Did you look in your top drawer of your desk? Did you go to someone and they pulled the Disc of images from their desk?

Maybe your office is really organized and they were in a project folder in the filing cabinet.

Historical Photos

Does your company have a place that all the historical photos of the company reside? Do you have copies of the ground breaking for the first building? Do you have the ribbon cutting photos from the grand opening? Do you have photos of the CEO and the board?

Back in the early 1980s Georgia Institute of Technology was planning their centennial celebration.  They wanted to do a coffee table book of all that had happened since 1885.

So they started digging for images. They were going everywhere and finding very little.  They didn’t have a central location for their images.  This sound familiar?

It was this process that led them to create a department that had photography. Up until then, most all the photos were from the students and an occasional freelancer hired by the school.

When I started with them some 10 years later, I was assigned the task to create a searchable computer database.  We used the Cumulus software and shared the images on our internal network.

IT Department Lost it all: TWICE!!

After about 5 years of scanning slides and negatives we had a disaster.  The IT department was in charge of the server and backing it up.  They backed it up on a tape system. Well that system was corrupted and we lost 5 years of work.

You see we had the original file and a backup.  You need three to be safe and they only had two.

We hired a new person that all they did for one year was to rescan and help us rebuild the database. 

Five years after that disaster the same thing happened again. My trust of IT departments was at an all time low.

Cost of online storage

All electronics have a life expectancy and do not last forever.  Today you can buy an external hard with 1TB of storage for around $100.  Using the formula that you need a minimum of 3 different places for a digital file to reside for it to be safe would mean you need to spend about $300 for three 1 TB hard drives. 

You can spend for just the storage alone from about $9 per month or $108 a year.  They do the backups for you.  So, for the price of a hard drive you can store all you need online for the same price as just 1 hard drive.

Join me on PhotoShelter

Click on this link [photo] and get $15 discount. I also get a small fee back to help support this blog.

Sharing on-line

The best solution today is to have not just your images stored on-line, but searchable on-line. I would highly recommend PhotoShelter for most companies and individuals. There are different levels of service. You can signup for an individual or corporate account.  The advantages of the corporate account is having many photographers, editors and more working all at the same time on the system. This is important on the back end where the posting the images to the system and organizing them takes place.

On the front end to those searching there is little difference between the two. You can give access to search your images based on three basic approaches. First, you may choose that anyone can see your photos or just you. Second, you can make it viewable by those with passwords or third they can see them by logging in with an email and a password just for that email. 

Now there are many variables of those basic three concepts of access to the photos.

Search is King

The best part of having an online presence is the ability of people to search your images. Of course the key is you must put text with each photo. We do this through metadata.  This is text that is buried in the image in code. Using software like Adobe PhotoShop, Adobe Lightroom, PhotoMechanic and other photo editing software you can embed photos with caption, keywords, photographers name, company name and more.

Most likely today you are working with images that were shot on a digital camera which also puts searchable information on every image in the metadata as well. They put things like date, time, f/stop, shutter-speed and things like even GPS into the metadata.

PhotoShelter makes this simple to search giving you some fields to help narrow down the search like keywords, city it was shot in and is it model released or not.

When you find an image

What can you do once you find an image–that depends on how you set it up. You can make it that they can only see the image, can download a low res or high resolution images, or they can order things like prints or items like a coffee mug with the photo on it.


The key to all this online storage is that now your images that you had paid to have created are not just accessible by you, but you can easily share them with the rest of your company or even the world. 

Every company and organization that I have worked with almost always says this is one of the hallmark services they now offer their organizations. Having all the images online helps them with using the material over and over.

They can now use the images: on their website more often, their social media, send access to the media to download images, to their employees to use in their presentations, and more places.

While the initial cost of hiring a photographer to shoot for your organization may seem costly, having this material used in more places to help promote your company makes the images worth a lot more to the brand.

One Use or Less

Are you using the photos one time that you hired a photographer to produce? What about all the similar shots that were not used. Do they go to waste or does your company use them in other places? 

Two things will happen if you choose to use an online system that is accessible to your people no matter where they are in the world as long as they have access to the web. First of all you will start to get phone calls and emails from more and more people asking for access to your database of photos. Second, you will get emails saying people are not finding photos.

I can’t find something

People will start to think that their are photographers shooting all the time for this database and surely there is a photo of something they need. You will soon be saying, no we don’t have that image in the database, no one has shot that.  Would you like to pay to have that done?  Maybe you have the budget and say we can get a photographer to shoot that for you.

The demand will go up and your value to the company will rise as well. Make your companies brand stronger by making images available.

Advice for those going from staff position to freelance

Landing in a sand trap is how I would describe my layoff. You don’t want to be in one, but it is something you can get out of. (Nikon D2x, ISO 200, f/5.6, 1/750, 600mm)

In 2002 I was laid off from what I considered a great job. Well truthfully I was very frustrated with the environment for the last few years I was on staff. While I enjoyed the opportunities to shoot a variety of subjects, I was finding myself out of sync with my coworkers.

I should have left earlier, but I didn’t think I could made it as a freelancer. I liked having people just give me things to photograph and go home and come in the next day and do it again.

When I got called in and told that my position had been eliminated I was devastated. I called my wife and friend to come and help me pack up my gear and books and move out. As we were packing up my things my friend was trying to comfort me and made a very profound comment. “Stanley if you put in the amount of effort you have been doing here in your freelance, you will be a very successful photographer.”

I thought about his comment a lot that first year of freelancing.  He had said it to me with such conviction that I realized he really believed it to be true. Later even my wife would comment and say that he was right.

My life did change and each day I got up and worked hard. I didn’t drive to downtown Atlanta every morning, but I did put in many hours of work. Here are the things I did and still do today. I call these tips for the freelancer.

Take your time and get your thoughts in order. Just like this golfer has to read the green to sink the putt, look at your goal and you too will see how you will need to plan some path to success. (Nikon D2x, ISO 400, f/5.6, 1/1000, 400mm with 1.4 extender)

Tips for the freelancer

  • Keep a similar work schedule to the one you had on staff. Get up and go to work. While you may not have to drive anywhere to commute, still get out of bed eat breakfast and then take that commute to another part of your house/apartment.
  • Get dressed for work. One of my friends Ken Touchton told me in those early days that he used to get dressed and put on a tie just to go to the next room. It helps put you psychologically in a different frame of mind.
  • Create a calendar of events. Just like you had in your last job, schedule time for different thing you need to be doing. You need to create; meetings, lunch dates, and find events from things like the Chamber of Commerce to attend in your community.
  • Create a database of clients, prospects, and family/friends. You may need to buy a list to add to your present list. You may need to go to the library and find those resources with contacts in them for your niche´. Remember this formula that for every 1,000 contact names in your database only 100 of them will be interested in your services. Of those 100 contacts only 10 of them will become a client.
  • Create a plan on connecting to those in your database. Another formula is to know that it takes about 6 – 8 touches with a contact before they remember you. Therefore you need to have a plan on how to contact these folks in a way that is positive and not annoying. I recommend mixing up your arsenal. I use: Phone Calls, emails, eNewsletters, Blogging, Postcards, and events as ways that I can make contact with my prospects and clients.
  • Develop an elevator speech. You need to be able at a moments notice explain to anyone what you do. Here is a link to mine.

Attitude Adjustment

When on staff you had a role. You would contact people asking if they needed your services. If this is how you worked then you need to change.

Your goal should be to develop friendships. You need to get to know people so well, that as they talk about their life, you can see ways you could help them. This is a lot of listening and offering good advice that isn’t solicited. Once you are at this level in a friendship, it is much easier to give them suggestions of something that might help them.

With my best friends I listen and often if I have a suggestion to help them I am pointing them to a friend and not me. This is how I have learned to build my business. I am there as a resource and to help point my friends (clients) to solutions and other friends I have to help them.

My friends (clients) see me as someone looking out for them and helping them to be successful. When my friends do the same things for me I know I can go to them with even more things. I try and include them even more in my life.

We all have those acquaintances that are always trying to get us to use them. We do use them when they are a good fit, but we don’t go to them and talk about our life. We can’t trust them like our friends.

Continuing Education

You need to continue to get better and more relevant for your prospects and clients. Set aside time to do research on your industry. Find out what is next on the horizon. Go to associational meetings and hear what others are doing.

Join a professional association. Become friends with your competition and you will discover they are your colleagues. I am often booked and have just a few friends that I can trust with helping my clients and not trying to steal my clients.

Get involved in those professional associations by helping with meetings and serving as an officer. It will help you grow in knowledge and make you more valuable to your clients.

A team works together for the good of all. The practice together so they can perform flawlessly. (Nikon D3S, ISO 200, f/5.6, 1/640, 300mm)

Build a team

You need to find an accountant, lawyer, and maybe someone to assist you on a contract basis. As you grow you will need to farm out things that take up your time that can be done by someone else.

When you start out you need to consult experts. One of those should be a mentor/coach. Find someone who will help you navigate the waters of freelancing. They may live in another city. Whoever you find, be sure you regularly work with them.


Freelancing is like a farmer. You will be plowing the fields, weeding and doing a lot of work long before you will be able to harvest the crop.

If the farmer doesn’t put in the time and investment then there is no harvest.

Just like the farmer you can do everything right, but there are things outside your control. Most of the farmers I know have a tremendous faith in God and know that while they can do everything right there is much out of their control. They pray for guidance and wisdom. Most of all they pray for grace.

Photo Marketing 101: Step one (Old School)

Even if you are still in school the business card is one of the most valuable Old Schoolbusiness tools you can use. If you are in school the goal is to get a job and you need to start now networking and the business card is one of the most valuable tools I use.

What is shocking to me is how often I go to meetings and people do not have business cards. Usually these are the same folks saying they need to learn more about business practices.
How they are used
You never know when you will need one, so I always carry a stack of them. Networking is happening at any moment and not necessarily just for those planned networking events.

When I meet someone at a meeting I like the Old School way of getting their business card and writing a note to myself to help me remember them on their card I was given by them.
If I am at a conference for a few days I find that those really unique size cards are more annoying than unique and helping them standout. 

When I meet someone at the event I think it is important to see if I can get an appointment with them later.  I find that once we find something in common I like to say how about we get together later and have a cup of coffee or lunch to talk more about it when we don’t have any other distractions.

This is when I typically get their card and say I will be in touch later to schedule some time together.

If someone doesn’t have a card I have to pull out a pen and paper and write the information down or put it on my phone.  This takes some time to do and sometimes in loud areas very hard to hear them talking.

When it is so critical that the difference of a dot when you are trying to find someone on the web is important, don’t you think it should be important enough to be sure they can find you?

This is the QR Code for my website

QR Code (abbreviated from Quick Response Code) is the trademark for a type of matrix barcode (or two-dimensional code) first designed for the automotive industry. More recently, the system has become popular outside of the industry due to its fast readability and large storage capacity compared to standard UPC barcodes.

If you want to generate a QR Code to put on your business card or create stickers then go here  

What should be on a business card?

While many are starting to ad QR Codes to their business cards here is some other basic information

1.     Full name
2.     Email address (Use your domain to host
3.     Website/online portfolio (register a domain name
4.     Phone number
5.     Social Media (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter)
6.     Blog

Some things you can leave off today
1.     Street Address
2.     Photograph

Electronic Business Cards

You may want a virtual business card. One of these examples is the CardCloud.  Unlike traditional cards they never run out. You can share it with anyone; they don’t need the app for you to use it. It lets you track whom you gave your card to and therefore helps you to reconnect easier in the future.

CardCloud is a digital business card application that is looking to replace the traditional printed business card. Rather than trading contact info by passing out a printed business card, CardCloud allows you to share your contact info directly from your iPhone to anyone in the room which is then stored automatically through .vcf or .vCard format. Alternatives to CardCloud include contxts, dub, Bump and BusinessCard2.

vCard is a file format standard for electronic business cards. vCards are often attached to e-mail messages, but can be exchanged in other ways, such as on the World Wide Web or Instant Messaging. They can contain name and address information, phone numbers, e-mail addresses, URLs, logos, photographs, and audio clips.

With LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and other ways to connect on the spot when you meet someone what good is a business card? I can tell you from being a journalist for more than 30 years when someone tells me how to spell their name many times we still get it wrong due to the accent or lack of articulation by some folks.

While many in sales are saying the business card maybe on the way out—I think it is here to stay.  I think the difference is now in what information you put on your card.
is where I get my business cards printed.  You can get 2,500 business cards with 4-color on the front and back for only $35.

Do me a favor and send me your vCard so I have your business card.

A college freshman has advantages over a senior

Photography advice for the college student

So you want to be a photographer. I have some general suggestions after having written numerous students lately. I want to help others who want to become photographers.


If you are reading this and you are a freshman in college or younger you will benefit more from my suggestions than a senior getting ready to graduate in May.

The time to start looking for your job after college is now.  Where do you start? 

Your Dream Job

First you need to actually have in mind a dream job that you would like to be doing. The sad thing is there are seniors getting ready to graduate who cannot tell you their dream job.  Ouch! Four years of wandering, when they could have been focused and know what they were working towards.

You need to find someone who is doing pretty much what you would like to do when you graduate. 

There are two types of people you may want to have their jobs—staff or freelancer.  It is OK whichever job you choose. The point is that you now have a target in mind. The surest way not to find a job after college is not to know what kind of job you want.

You need to make contact with the person holding that job or someone in a similar job. There is a very simple question you need to ask them.  How do I get a job like yours?

A Master Plan

After you have this discussion with a professional doing the job you would like to have later, you will find that you can put together a plan on how to proceed.

I can give you one thing that almost every pro will recommend to you right now; take some business courses.  What they are saying is take business courses that will help you run a small business.  Even if you are in a staff position you need to know more about how the bills get paid.

They may recommend classes that would help you. If you want to work for National Geographic Magazine, they most likely would encourage you to become an expert in a subject other than photography.  Some of their best photographers are anthropologists, biologist or something else.  They can go on projects because they know something about what they will be photographing.

Most likely they will give you some baby steps to get you started and recommend you keep in touch.

It’s about whom you know and whom they know

People are hired more because of a relationship than about their portfolio. There are many arrogant photographers with outstanding portfolios that no one wants to work with.  You need to be a team player. You will most likely need to show how you can be a team player and not a loner.

When there is an opening it is the last person they can remember who could do the job they call. This is why as a freshman you need to start building relationships.


You need to join a photographic association like PPofA, ASMP, NPPA, or another professional group as a student.  They all have student rates and most all of them give out scholarships as well.

Don’t just pay your membership dues; get involved. Volunteer to help at meetings. You do this in order to get your face in front of as many people in the industry as possible.  You may find people wanting to take you under their wing and help you out.

Go to the meetings and don’t hang out with other students while you are there all the time. Why? Are they going to hire you in four years? I don’t think so.  You need to learn how to speed date.

What I mean by speed dating is learning how to be genuinely interested in every person making your best impression so that you land a date/job.  Often at speed dating after the event people talk about whom they met and compare notes. If you come off not so good to one of the people’s friends that you were interested in that can kill your chances with them. 

It is this way in the photo business.  Photographers talk to other photographers about recommendation for assistants, interns and possible hires. Remember you are building your brand all the time. Don’t screw it up by an off handed comment that tarnishes you for a long time.


Besides taking some classes in photography in school you need to have a mentor other than your professor. You need to find someone to help coach you. It could be the person in your dream job, or someone between you and them that can get you down the road.

You need to shoot assignments for class, for your school paper and yearbook.  Send these to your mentor/coach and ask for a critique from them. After they give you feedback, be sure you implement people’s recommendations.

If you are really smart you will reshoot an assignment so it now is perfect for your portfolio if possible.  If you do reshoot the assignment then resend this to your coach/mentor and ask if this is what they meant for you to change or do.

Personally I would have a mentor and also be sending your updates to places that might hire interns or you would like to work long term.  Let them see you grow and improve.

Are you teachable?

By keeping in touch you will demonstrate either that you are listening to their advice and implementing it or you demonstrate you cannot listen.  You will miss the mark a few times. Sometimes by reshooting and submitting the work to them again can help you see that you didn’t understand a concept. Go and reshoot it again and then resubmit it.

This will show more than anything else you can do that you want to improve and you are looking for their advice. Most importantly it shows you are listening and asking for clarification.

Sophomores & Juniors

Do the same as I recommend to the freshman. Continue to expand your database of names in the industry. Continue to refine your portfolio.

As a true student you can get more internship opportunities than when you have graduated. There are legal reasons for this. Employers cannot hire someone who isn’t in school and say it is an internship.

What this means is apply for internships all the time. Do not wait till your senior year—you may have waited too long and now there are none to find. Better to get one your freshman year than not get one your senior year. 

You cannot do enough internships in my opinion. What you learn in the classroom will help a great deal in your job. Just about every class will at sometime find useful as a photographer. The reason is will encounter someone whose job is in that subject. You can hold some kind of a conversation with them if you paid attention in class.


If you are graduating in May and haven’t done an internship, found your dream job and have a coach or mentor it isn’t too late, but your opportunities are greatly diminished.
You need to spend as much time building that database of names to contact as you do studying for finals.  Having straight “A’s” and no contacts is not as good as “B’s” and contacts.


Manage your brand all the time. Watch what you post on Facebook and Twitter. When you go to parties remember others are taking photos and posting them to social media.

I recommend learning to help anyone you can and not just those who you think will get you somewhere.  Your reputation as someone who is kind is better than someone who is only in it for him or herself.


People want to work with their friends. Do your best to build good relationships and try to be a friend to others.

How long does it take to become successful photographer?

This is my actual gross sales numbers from the time I started out full-time shooting freelance back in 2002.  I started in April of 2002.  My wife was working full-time and it wasn’t until about the second or third year I was making enough to fully support our family.

If starting a business with perfection is your dream then it will never happen.  It takes time to become successful.

Six to eighteen months

If you do everything right to market yourself, from your first contact to the first sale can take easily 6 to 18 months for you to close the deal and get paid.  This is why almost experts advise to have at least 6 months of money for living and business expenses on hand before venturing out.

Why does it take so long?

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter Announces Three Countries Left in Guinea Worm Eradication Campaign: Nigeria and Niger Honored as Most Recent Nations to Halt Disease Transmission.

Event photography

A client hires a photographer once a year for an event. They have a photographer booked for that event. You introduce yourself and they not only love your work but want to hire you.  They have already signed a photographer with a contract in place for this year.  That means that the earliest they can hire you is a year from the date of the event. If the event for this year is 6 months off then you can see how it is 18 months before you see any money from a perfectly executed presentation.

Kid Rock signs an album cover for Alisha Mullen of Point Pleasant, WV, at the Waffle House restaurant in Duluth, Georgia on Tuesday, March 11, 2008 for local non-profit charity, Nicholas House, Inc., a homeless Family shelter in Dekalb County.

Editorial Photography

You get a meeting with the editor and they love your work.  They expect you to have story ideas. Your ideas were just done by the magazine.  In this scenario it will most likely be 5 years before they do those stories again.  You now need time to come up with more stories.  This takes some time.  You did an almost perfect presentation–they like your work, but need some ideas as well.

They may add you to their list of freelancers. Most editors give those who have served them well first shot at assignments.  Until this photographer or photographers are booked they will not be calling.  However, if they think your style is a better fit for an assignment they will call.

Sports photography has changed more for me than any other segment in my business.

Industry changes

One of the biggest changes for me has been sports. When I started to freelance I had numerous teams that would call and have me cover their games.

Today those same people are having parents and alumni calling them up to shoot on the sidelines. The difference is today’s cameras will let anyone get sharp in focus and well exposed photos. These photographers all have other jobs that allow them the resources to buy they latest cameras and lenses to cover the game.

Most of them started shooting their kids playing sports through high school and then realized they would like to stand on the sidelines of college and pro games.

While most of their photos are not on the same level as Sports Illustrated, they are good enough that for the price of “free” the sports information directors of the teams will use them and help save their club money.

While I depended heavily on sports when I started out freelancing full-time I have had to grow other parts of the business to make up for this which actually plummeted in sales volume.

Change in management

You have a great meeting with a client and then when you check back with them in a month or so about some possibilities you find they either were promoted or moved to another company.  Either way they no longer hire photographers. You have to start over with the new person that replaced them.  You loose a few months just figuring out all the changes.

Monthly I send out an eNewsletter. Each month I have numerous emails that did not go through because of changes of employment. Many of my contacts have changed companies. This is very common with agencies. It is easier for a person to go from agency to agency and increase their income than it is for them to stay with one agency and get the same increase in salary over time.

While many people are moving around in order to move up, recently many of the emails I had returned were agencies failing and going out of business. 

Recession and budget cuts

The company you have been in talks with about a project has frozen their money and have decided not to do any new projects and any projects not already started are killed. You did everything right, they just now do not have the funds to pay you for projects.  You decide not to walk away completely, because they may start back in the near future.

You were again successful in your marketing, but things beyond your control continue to happen.

Experience (the unmentionables)

You are a big risk when you first start out in this business.  Your first job is a major risk to the client.  You have no track record and they have no way of knowing if you can do what you say and if you will deliver on time.

Think of it this way, would you have bought a Kia or Hyundai when they were first on the market?  Would you have been like many people and decided to go with something more reliable like a Toyota or a Honda?

It is difficult at first not because of how good your work is or your ability to meet your obligations, but people’s careers are on the line if you don’t deliver.


How long you are in business affects how much more business you can get.

For a long time it was said that 50 percent of businesses fail in the first year and that 90-95 percent were gone by the fifth year. Good news those are not the real numbers being reported now. According to the SBA, about two-thirds, or 66 percent last past the first two years, leaving only a third of businesses that fail within these two years. Extended to four years, the number of surviving businesses decreases to only 44 percent, meaning that about 56 percent of businesses fail at the five-year mark, a far cry from the 90 to 95 percent previously claimed.

For my business I can point to a few points where I could feel the difference in the response to my marketing.

Starting out

Since I had been working on a staff as a photographer, when I went full-time freelancing many of these clients used me right away. They knew me and trusted my work. However, for the most part all the new clients while impressed with my work were not jumping at using me.

This was a time when I had a hard time sleeping at night. I was constantly worried about paying my bills and I believe this stress is noticeable to clients and potential clients.

Year two

I could honestly say there was a change in attitude about the second year. My postcards had been going to these potential customers now for two years. They were getting my eNewsletters and occasional phone call from me now for a while. I was a known photographer and was more established.

Year five

This is when I became more comfortable with freelancing. I was sleeping more than I did the first five years. I was not as worried about the jobs coming in. I felt like I was in the flow of things.

Funny thing is that this was true for me when I was on staff. I always remember that around year five I was confident and those around me treated me as a senior employee and not the new kid anymore.

This confidence is what I think helped me get bigger clients.

Tony Messano created my first logo that I started to use in 2001.

Year Seven

They say to most store front photographers that at year seven you most likely have enough presence in the market that you could now move your place of business and your clients would follow.  Earlier than this you risk much more and most likely will be starting over.

I was now being asked to speak more often at industry events and to my colleagues. This was when I knew I was doing something right, because I was getting phone calls from so many wanting to be photographers.

Tony Messano designed this logo for me my seven year being a full-time freelancer

Tony Messano, a creative director friend of mine, recommended I change my logo. He had designed my first one and thought I needed a new one.

He recommended a bolder font to reflect the confidence he was seeing in me.  I think Tony was right, I felt so much better than I did when I started.


Looking back over all these years I am amazed out how blessed my family and business has become. When I started out we were in debt and I went further in debt to buy some equipment.  I don’t recommend doing this, but we had no choice. I didn’t plan to start in 2002 freelancing, I lost my job and had to do something.

Freelancing full-time isn’t for everyone. There are major risks you must take. Not knowing from day to day what you are doing can be very stressful. 

While I did everything I knew and worked very hard to get where I am today–I know that everyone of my clients had other choices. There are many better photographers than me in the market place.

I see much of where I am today as a divine thing. I don’t think I could have done nothing and God would have made it all happen for me, but I don’t think I did it alone with out God.

I frankly would have jumped off the cliff long ago had it not been for my faith. I also had an incredible support system. My number one support comes from my wife Dorie. Her father was an entrepreneur.  She grew up in this lifestyle, I had not. Dorie new things would be fine when I had no confidence we would be paying our bills the next day.

Today the business is still growing. We are debt free except for a mortgage payment for our house.

Freelancing full-time is a faith walk

While I grew up going to church every Sunday and even went to seminary later in my life, it is freelancing full-time that made me grow in my walk with God. I could not think of nor looking back can I see much more that I could have done to be successful. I was frankly working very hard.

For me my faith played a very huge part. I believe it helped to give me hope. I know it helped in keeping my sanity. I drew a lot of strength from biblical characters like Jacob who overcame many adversities.

When it comes to marketing: Act like a freshman and not a senior

Yesterday I was privileged to speak at THE BUSINESS OF VISUAL JOURNALISM WORKSHOP held at the Grady School of Journalism on the campus of University of Georgia.

Mark Johnson, Senior Lecturer in the Grady School of Journalism, welcomes everyone to the workshop.

The first speaker was Allen Murabayashi, CEO and co-founder of PhotoShelter, who covered fundamental web marketing tactics, essential website design requirements and critical features (plus some advance concepts) that helps photographers better utilize their website as a business and marketing tool and grown their online presence to best generate new business.

Some of the points that Murabayashi covered were very similar to my topics, but a little different perspective.  Hopefully by the end of it all people are realizing that if a few people are mentioning similar things then maybe it is something they should pay attention to.

Allen Murabayashi is very vivacious speaker and kept everyone entertained and informed.

One of the things that we were trying to do in our talks was to help those who are starting out or struggling on what we are doing with our time.  Earlier I wrote a post about how I spend much of my time.  Here is a link to that blog post.

It doesn’t take long before you start to see some common themes when you try to apply marketing to any industry.  First of all you must realize that not everyone is a candidate for your services. When you run the numbers it is more likely in the 10% range of those who are interested in hiring you.

You need a large fishing net to be successful when fishing for clients. In that earlier blog post I talked about this process of the Marketing Funnel.

This is the process I talked about earlier.  The idea is to get as many people in the first stage of being aware you are there in the marketplace. At each step you improve that area to help increase the likelihood of people choosing you.

Allen Murabayashi also used the marketing funnel.  He was also letting everyone know that the first thing is to make people aware of your services.  It is very important that you define your niche because otherwise your awareness group has to be even larger than if you are more defined in your niche.

Allen Murabayashi talks about the marketing funnel and how to get people to visit your website and then to use your website to help move them to becoming a client.

Freshman vs Senior Social Networking Skills

Since most in the audience were college students I felt like the best illustration I could use was for all of them to remember what it was like as a freshman.  How when they went to parties they had to go around and introduce themselves and meet folks.  They were proactive and needed to find some friends.

I contrasted how they went to parties as a freshman to as when they are a senior. As a senior you go and usually meet with your friends and just enjoy each other.  You are not looking for more friends you have them.

I challenged the class to act like freshman again and never loose this perspective–looking for friends.

What happens your senior year is graduation. After you leave you discover that many of those friends you had move on and you loose touch.  You are forced to be a freshman again–you are new at your first job and have to make friends again.

Old School Social Networking

I highly recommend getting off your computer where you are on Facebook and Twitter and try the old style of social networking.  Go to meetings, parties and social mixers in your community.

Join an organization and get involved. As you serve you will meet more people. If you have done a good job in defining your niche then it will be easy to identify those organizations where your potential clients are already.

Get involved and serve. One of the best ways to meet everyone is to volunteer to work a registration desk.

How do you grow your business?

The first step in that marketing funnel, after defining your niché, is creating awareness of your services to those who need them. How do you grow your business, grow the numbers of people you come into contact with.