Struggling and being successful both bring stress

Stress from taxes

Early in my full-time freelance career I would have sleepless nights.  No jobs on the calendar yet I could see the bills on my calendar.

Every April the IRS helps me to evaluate my year and help me to project earnings into the New Year.

The good news is every year I have watched my business grow.  I credit the stress as the major factor of growth.  I feared failure so much and how it would impact my family that it motivated me to take on cold calling and other aspects of business not so exciting.

The first couple of years I had so many expenses as compared to income that my taxes were not that much.  As the years went by the taxes increased each year with the income.  Some folks will be upset about all the money going out to the government, but for me I was excited that I was finally paying taxes.  Early in my career it was pretty common as a newspaper photographer to make so little that I got most all my taxes back.

The hard part in recent years is being successful in a terrible economy.  I am aware that every job I get is really a blessing.  However, the IRS expects those who are self employed to pay quarterly taxes based on their last year’s earnings.

I am having a good year and doing OK, but I have to admit it the stress of knowing the economy is so fragile and my clients may not have work really makes me worry about something I have really no control over.

A different perspective on taxes

What is common for every business just starting to large corporations is your present business may disappear not because of you, but for reasons beyond your control. You need to always looking for new business not just so you can grow your business, but also to make up for the inevitable loss of business from customers who can no longer use your services.

What are you doing to stay a float and get new business?

Measuring your efforts of marketing

Do you know your ROI—Return On Investment?  While often we can use this to measure a financial purchase for your work—like a new camera or lens you need to also look at your time.
Let me talk about four things I do to connect with customers and potential customers.
Front of my latest postcard
First of all this is one of my first things I used to get my images into people’s hands outside of sitting down and showing my portfolio.  My friend Tony Messano helped me with a template to use.  Tony also gave me some great insight into using postcards.
back of the postcard
“Everyone has one good photo in them,” Tony would say, “so put some other photos on the backside of the same shoot to show how much variety you deliver—it will help set you apart.”
I have purchased and created a database of names that at one point was close to 6,500 names.  With the poor economy this has shrunk to 4,700 names.  I need to work on this as well.
I mail the postcards quarterly and sometime have gotten behind.  The advantage of these verses using email is the person has to touch the card before it goes into the wastebasket.
My hope is that it gets pinned on the wall with other examples the art directors keep.
I have been sending this out for many years now on a monthly basis.  Sometimes I was excited about a new topic and sent out more than one a month.  This has proven very helpful.  I give away photography advice and tips I am picking up.  I am no longer just a photographer but considered an expert, because of my sharing of my knowledge.
This does pretty good and I can track it to see who looked at the email, whereas the postcard I just put out there.
My Website
This to me is my online portfolio and more.  The main reason I have it is for those folks looking for a photographer can maybe find me and see my work and based on what they see hire me.
This is a very static way to market.  I use my postcards, emails, Facebook, Find a Photographer links on National Press Photographers Association and American Society of Media Photographers to drive people to my website.
Besides the photos it also has all my e.Newsletters, videos, bio and links to make it more of a resource tool for folks that visit.
I can track the number of visitors to the website using Google Analytics.  Here is a sample of the last month of visitors.
google analytics
Google Analytics
The largest traffic I get daily is my blog.  I am posting 3 or more times a week similar things that I used to only send as an e.Newsletter.  Blogs are not like spam in the people chooses to revisit and often will subscribe to get emails so they know when I have posted new material.
The number of folks coming to my blog each day and month are 10 to 20 times that of any other thing I do.
Here you can see the analytics showing the past month.
Blog Analytics
You cannot pick just one of these to do.  All of them help each other and build my brand.  I ask folks when they call to book me where they found me and believe it or not all of them are getting me jobs.  But the one thing I hear the most often is after they discover me and go to my website they are impressed with the depth of material there that can help them.
Use Google Analytics or something similar to track visitors to your website, blog and e.Newsletters and you will know your ROI score.

I always travel with a tripod

Gitzo GT-0531 Mountaineer 6X Carbon Fiber tripod
I always try and have a tripod with me at all times.  Finding a sturdy tripod was pretty easy to do.  However, once you start to fly and carry your tripod through airports worldwide you quickly will look for something much lighter.
Carbon fiber has high tensile strength, low weight, and low thermal expansion make it a perfect solution to make tripods strong durable and lightweight.  So a few years ago I researched and tried a few tripods before buying my Gitzo GT-0531 Mountaineer 6X Carbon Fiber tripod. 
Weighing only 1.6 lbs, 20.9” tall folded, extends to a height of 51.6″ and can go as low as 10.6” with legs spread. 
When looking for a tripod the smaller it is folded and then combined with a really tall height when expanded will make a tripod cost more.  The carbon fiber cuts the weight by 1/3 as compared to a similar tripod made of metal.
Manfrotto 492 Micro Ball Head
This tripod doesn’t come with a head.  I liked ball heads and needed again something small yet strong.  I bought the Manfrotto 492 Micro Ball Head.
This combination fits in a small carry on bag and keeps my camera steady when I need it.  

Want to be a full-time freelancer?

This is an article written for Shuttterbug magazine a couple years ago and after being called for another interview I revisited what was written and think the tips apply today.

Take a moment and read it and give me your feedback in the comments below.

Click on picture to go to the article where you can read it online or print out the PDF on your printer.

shutterbug article

Active Listening

Vince Stanton attempts Troublemaker during the Professional Bull Riders Atlanta Classic at the Georgia Dome.
From Wikipedia
Active listening is a communication technique that requires the listener to understand, interpret, and evaluate what (s)he hears. The ability to listen actively can improve personal relationships through reducing conflicts, strengthening cooperation, and fostering understanding.

When interacting, people often are not listening attentively. They may be distracted, thinking about other things, or thinking about what they are going to say next (the latter case is particularly true in conflict situations or disagreements). Active listening is a structured way of listening and responding to others, focusing attention on the speaker. Suspending one’s own frame of reference, suspending judgment and avoiding other internal mental activities are important to fully attend to the speaker.

“The Most Dangerous Eight Seconds in Sports,” is how, National Geographic writer, Zoltan Istvan describes bull riding.  Death is a real possibility to the bull rider.  The bulls are 15 times the size of the rider.  Imagine a defensive lineman in football being 15 times the size of the quarterback.

One of my photography friends is also a bull riding coach.  His name is Maxy Pinson.  When you meet Maxey you see a well-dressed and groomed elderly gentleman.  He is from Oklahoma and in his earlier career was a scientist for the oil industry. 
Reuben Geleynse hangs on to Long John during the PBR Atlanta Classic at the Georgia Dome.

I was fascinated with Maxy’s career and really interested in what a coach does to help a cowboy ride a bull.  I think what he teaches these bull riders parallels what we need to know about being a good listener.

Maxy teaches the bull rider to focus his “full attention” on the bull’s head.  “The bulls head will let you know what the bull is doing and going to do,” says Maxy.  You cannot take your eye off it.  You have to stay focused for 8 seconds to ride the bull.

Active listening requires you to make eye contact and listen so as to understand the message and not just hear the words.

You cannot allow yourself to become distracted by whatever else may be going on around you, or by forming counter arguments that you’ll make when the other person stops speaking. Nor can you allow yourself to get bored, and lose focus on what the other person is saying. All of these contribute to a lack of listening and understanding.

You also need to communicate to the person you are listening.  Sometimes just an “uh-huh” or nod will let them know you are listening.  This isn’t saying you are agreeing, but communicates you are listening.

An occasional question or comment to recap what they are saying not only helps them know you are interested but will remind you to stay interested.

Let them finish their thought before interrupting.  This can be very distracting to them and irritating as well.  If you find what they are saying getting you emotional, this is a good time to say something and to clarify what you are hearing.  “I may be misunderstanding what you are saying and find myself taking this personally, is this what you are saying ________?”

10% of what we read
20% of what we hear
30% of what we see
50% of what we hear and see
70% of what we discuss with others
80% of what we personally experience
95% of what we teach others
–Edgar Dale

For me the first step to becoming a better listener was acknowledging that my personal style of communicating has been less than stellar.  While I was getting better at getting my ideas across as I matured, my relationships were not getting better with people.  I had to stop and evaluate my communication style.  It needed an overhaul.

I can see that the successes I have had in life have usually been when I practiced “active listening.”  There are still many relationships where I need to do a better job implementing these skills. 

What I have discovered is Edgar Dale is right, I remember more of what I need to do to be more successful by writing and sharing what I have discovered on this blog. 

While you might get something out of the blog, just the very nature of writing these posts has helped me improve in so many ways.
Bart Jackson attempts to ride Smokin Joe during the PBR Atlanta Classic at the Georgia Dome. 
You will go down just like the bull rider if you don’t actively listen to those who need your attention.

What will they buy? —Not what do I have to sell?

Are you selling prints, DVDs and digital files or are you selling the memories you capture?
Too often photographers look only at the cost of making a photo—pushing the button.  In the days of film many of these same photographers would try and sell a 25¢ piece of paper.  Both then and now these photographers miss the point—the medium is only a vehicle. 
Photographers of people sell moments.  The better the photographer is able to raise the feelings in the beholder’s mind the monetary value of that image is increased. 
The door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman isn’t selling appliances—he is selling a clean house.
The key for photographers is to realize they are not selling pictures, but what those pictures capture.  Even in advertising photos of products, the great photos help capture a mood and create a craving with the audience in some way. 
Photography has five stages in selling
1.    Attention
2.    Interest
3.    Desire
4.    Need
5.    Action
You need to in some way have their attention first.  There are many ways to get this. One of the best ways is through a referral from a happy customer. This is based on relationships.  The relationship you as a photographer have built with a client and the excitement they have and want to share you with their friends is by far in my book the best way to get someone’s attention.
Great images will also get someone’s attention.  These are often done through your advertising.  You must get your work in front of someone to get his or her attention.
The next step is creating an interest in your product. Your referral will use their testimonial to help you create interest.  They will tell their friends about how you impressed them in some way. 
Many photographers may have celebrities in their portfolio, some photographers have exotic locations and as you can see these things create an interest in the photographer and their work. 
This interest should lead to desire. This is where they start to inquire and want to know more and are engaged with you.  You have to move them from seeing you as a commodity; otherwise they will just look for another photographer.  You have to establish a real need for your services. This is where your ability to demonstrate to them how you are the best choice for them. This may be how you communicate your ability to take care of them and you might demonstrate this by just how attentive you are in the sales process. 
Questions for yourself:
·      Did you offer them something to drink?
·      Did you listen and ask thoughtful questions based on what you heard them say? 
·      Did you have good eye contact with them?
·      Did your greet them with a genuine smile?
·   Are you conscious of their time and clear and succinct in your answers to their questions?
If you established your ability to meet their need then it is on to action. The client wants to sign the contract and hand you the money to make it happen. If you find you are seldom getting to this stage where the client is taking the initiative to close the sale for you—then a real need for “you” was never established.  You are being seen as a commodity and that someone else can fill the need as well as you. 

Why is my color off?

Spyder2Express Color Calibration

From the moment you click the shutter to make a photo till the final place the photo is to be viewed can make or break a photo.

After you transfer your images from your digital camera to your computer you can view the images on the screen of your computer.  If you choose to make any changes to the photo’s colors this is where if your monitor is not calibrated correctly you could be changing colors that need no change at all.

I use the DataColor Spyder2Express to calibrate my monitor.  There are many different tools you can use to calibrate.  Pantone huey, X-Rite Eye One and there are other devices to help you calibrate.

The difference between the devices is how many monitors you can calibrate and how many choices of colors that you can choose to calibrate.

If you are using PhotoShop, Lightroom, or any other software to manipulate images then you need to calibrate your monitor so you as you work you are seeing the most accurate color possible with your monitor.

Calibrating the blue channel
Calibrating the red channel

Good photographers play checkers, while great photographers play chess

If you have played checkers you know that each piece moves the same. When a piece reaches the furthest row from the player who controls that piece, it is crowned and becomes a king.

The other game that uses the same board is chess.  Chess has 6 different pieces of which each one moves differently than the other pieces.  One of the many problems a beginner faces in a chess game, once he is familiar with the rules, is what to do when playing the game, how should he start the game, how to attack his opponent position and defend his own at the same time?  

The difference between the two games that I want to use for illustration is that in checkers all the pieces are the same and in chess they are different.

I remember taking lessons on how to play chess from a grand master who played on the Princeton team in college.  There were two pieces I had more trouble learning how to play than all the others.  The pawn and the knight for me were difficult to understand.

It took a while to understand that the pawn’s first move can be one or two squares straight ahead and unlike the other pieces where it can move to is not how it takes the opponents pieces, rather it takes them diagonally.  The en passant capture is when your opponent moves his pawn two spaces trying to avoid capture by your pawn on the first square.  You may take their pawn if they make that move. Also unlike the other pieces the pawn cannot move backwards. As you can see this can make your head spin and this is just the pawn.

Once you learn what all the pieces can do then you realize in combination things they can do that alone they cannot.

My teacher taught me how military leaders used chess to help them plan their attacks on enemies and how to respond.  The pieces represent the people and their roles.  If you watched Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, you will have seen how the pieces of the board came to life as they played. Even today you will find around the world humans used as pieces on large boards of chess games.

There are two ways photographers play either chess or checkers that I see. The first way is how they treat their subjects in their viewfinders.

Many photographers see people as just an object to fill a space, but great photographers like Henri Cartier-Bresson know that not just any subject will do for a particular composition.  His photos became iconic due to how everything in the frame all worked together at the right moment—the decisive moment.

So the first lesson we can learn as photographers is to see people like chess pieces—each one as unique and moving differently.  This requires you to get to know your subjects and the more you know about them the better your photographs.

The second place photographers are often playing checkers and not chess is in their business practices. You may only make headshots in your business as opposed to another photographer who offers a wide variety of services.  The mistake is often made not by the photographer offering only 1 product, but by the photographer who thinks their variety of services makes them more service oriented.

If you want to play chess instead of checkers with your business, then you need to see each client as different and learn to listen to them.  While you may only offer headshots, they may need you to come to them or be more flexible with your schedule.  They may need large prints or just a Facebook size photo and the question is, are you flexible to offer them what they need?

If you are playing chess with your photographs then:

  1. You know your subjects names in your photos
  2. The photos reveal their personality—not necessarily yours
  3. You know something about your subject—how else were you going to tell their story if you didn’t know it
  4. You are making new friends with your subjects

If you are playing chess with your clients of your photo business

  1. You have accommodated a request you don’t normally offer—you may charge more to do this, but you were willing and excited to meet their expectations
  2. You are asking what they want and need, rather than just showing them a menu of your services
  3. You listen more than you talk
  4. You are thinking after you are no longer interacting with the client about them and how you can do something else to help them
  5. You are making new lifelong friends with your clients

    What can I photograph?

    If I could tell the story in words, I wouldn’t need to lug around a camera. 
    – Lewis Wickes Hine

    Addie Card, 12 years. Spinner in North Pormal [i.e., Pownal] Cotton Mill. Vt.
    Lewis Hine is a photographer I have studied and admired and I think of him when I struggle for something to photograph. Like Hine, I started my studies in the social sciences.  I studied social work and would quickly realize my calling was to be photojournalism. 

    Lewis Hine studied sociology at the University of Chicago, Columbia University and New York University. He became a teacher in New York City at the Ethical Culture School, where he encouraged his students to use photography as an educational medium. The classes traveled to Ellis Island in New York Harbor, photographing the thousands of immigrants who arrived each day. Between 1904 and 1909, Hine took over 200 photographs, and eventually came to the realization that his vocation was photojournalism.

    Hine went on to work for the Russell Sage Foundation, created to improvement of social and living conditions in the United States. After just a couple of years with the foundation, he went to work for the National Child Labor Committee. He did this for 10 years where his work helped to change the labor laws for children.

    During WWII he worked for the American Red Cross covering the work in Europe. In 1930 he would photograph the workers building the Empire State building.  To get the photos of workers through the years he would take similar risks the workers were taking. To get that unique angle while working on the Empire State Building project he was in a special basket 1,000 feet out over 5th Avenue.

    Raising the Mast, Empire State Building, 1932
    The reason Lewis Hine’s work is so powerful is he knew what he was photographing and why he was doing it.  He was doing something useful with his photography.  Hine said, “If I could tell the story in words, I wouldn’t need to lug around a camera.”

    The fun in photography is when you take on a challenge and bring all your creativity to it to help communicate an idea or concept to your audience.  When you use a lot of routine cliché’s it quickly becomes boring.

    Not knowing what to photograph is a good time to ask yourself what you stand for as a person.  You need to have an understanding of your relationship to the things around you and their meaning to you.  This is how you form thoughts and convictions about the world. It is not from formal education—it is from a sense of caring about people and the world in which you live.

    Child laborers in glassworks. Indiana, 1908
    When you have this gut check it will give you the inspiration to take on a subject and communicate how you feel about it and not just a documentation of its existence, but rather its significance to you.  You want people to respond and this is what motivates you.

    Struggling to find subjects is often lack of personal convictions

    The secret for me is to think about where the photos will be used when I am done. This gives me a goal in mind. I must really love the subject or hate it to get my emotions going and create a mood and feelings that I want to communicate beyond the obvious.
    A moment’s glimpse of the outer world. Said she was 11 years old. Been working over a year. Rhodes Mfg. Co. Lincolnton, North Carolina.
    When you find yourself in a mental block there is a tendency to scapegoat your responsibilities.  This is where you often will look for a formula or even copy someone else’s concept.  I see this most often in sports photography.  You see the photographers all standing together.  One of my friends Scott Cunningham who photographs the NBA for Getty Images is rarely sitting next to other photographers.  He is in the stands and always looking for something different. 

    Another scapegoat photographer’s use is they don’t have a piece of equipment or their equipment is limiting them. Remember we still haven’t exhausted all that is possible with the simple point and shoot. Be careful that you are not buying new equipment as a way to inspire you.  Take the time to think and feel about your world.

    “What shall I photograph?” will not be an issue. Instead, the problem becomes “How can I say it clearly and with enough emotion that my audience is moved to action because of my photos?”