Category "Expert Advice"

Expert Advice: The Creative Call

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Craig Oppenheimer, Wonderful Machine

Just as often as I consult with photographers when they need pricing and negotiation support, I work closely with agencies to oversee projects from initial photographer recommendations through production and retouching. This experience on both sides of productions has allowed me to thoroughly understand what clients are looking for, and many times it’s the photographer’s personality and ability to be a problem solver that lands them the gig. While a photographer’s portfolio and body of work will get them to the point of consideration by a client for a given project, they can articulate their experience and ability to add value to the production that will help them cross the finish line. So, how do clients find out if a photographer will be a sure bet when everything is on the line? Enter the creative call.

Creative calls can take many forms. Sometimes a client (typically an art buyer at an ad agency or a photo editor at a magazine) will send a photographer some notes in an email and will want to hop on a quick call to gauge interest and availability for a small project. Other times (and this is typically the case for larger assignments), these phone calls will be scheduled in advance and involve not only the art buyer or agency producer, but also their creative director, art director, and/or account executives that are involved with the project. These phone calls can make or break a photographer’s chance of being awarded a project, no matter how on-point their numbers are or how great their portfolios look.

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It’s important to understand a few things about these phone calls. First, you should always assume that the agency/client is considering other photographers, and when they finish a conversation with you, they are likely jumping on a call to talk through the same details with another photographer…or maybe two or three more photographers. For that reason, it’s important to express enthusiasm for a project, be energetic, have questions prepared and generally put your best foot forward. I’ve been on many creative calls where photographers have responded to questions in one-word answers, or don’t have any questions about the project, and this is a sure-fire way for the agency/client to lose interest in you. Clients don’t just want a great photographer; they want a great collaborator as well. They want to work with someone who they’ll enjoy traveling with and be spending a lot of time with in high-pressure situations, and they want to make sure you are like-minded and easy to work with. Above all, they want to make sure that you understand the overall goals from a creative standpoint and a marketing strategy perspective. During the call, it’s therefore important for a photographer to prove that they have fully internalized the project, and explain how they can add value to the production and therefore the entire campaign. First impressions are crucial, and when you are meeting over the phone, it’s your voice and energy that matter, so make it count.

The second important thing to understand about these calls is that clients are trying to figure out if they can trust you. They want to hear how your experience can translate into success, whether that means being a problem solver in tough situations, or being a specialist in a certain genre. Creative calls are the perfect time to brag about recent accomplishments and tell clients about other projects you’ve worked on. Don’t be afraid to drop some names of other clients you’ve worked with, and take the opportunity to relay anecdotes about other shoots. Clients want to know that you are confident in your abilities and that you can handle the pressure of a big assignment. Sometimes clients are looking for you to come up with a plan and drive a given project with confidence from start to finish. That means they might be relying on you to tell them the best way to accomplish a difficult task or suggest production approaches that they may not have thought of.  However, it’s also important to realize when the client will want to be heavily involved in each step, and when they are just relying on you to be a technician to accomplish their fully thought out concept. So, showcase your confidence in a way that lets them know they can trust you, but also expresses enthusiasm for collaboration.

Third, it’s important to know that creative calls are not usually the time to talk about numbers. Save that conversation for a separate call between you and the art buyer or agency producer. The point of the creative call is to talk about…well, the creative! What are you photographing? Where will it take place? What do they want the final images to look like? What’s the story they are trying to tell? How are you going to accomplish it? These are the types of topics to focus on, and this is why the creative directors, art directors, and account executives are also joining the call. So, as much as you are dying to know how much money a client might have to spend, save that question for another conversation.

Fourth, this might seem like common sense, but be sure to take the call in a quiet place where you can focus on the conversation. Don’t jump on the call while you are driving in the car. Don’t be in the middle of the woods with poor reception. Don’t be somewhere noisy. Clients want to know that they have your undivided attention and that you can focus on the project. It’s ok to tell a client that you need to schedule a call when you will be in an appropriate location to talk (your house, a hotel room, a quiet studio), and although your schedule might be busy with other productions, it’s important to show a client that their project is equally (if not more) important as any other production you might be working on.

Lastly, it doesn’t hurt to have a producer on the line with you when you jump on a creative call. They can help you show confidence in your ability to execute a concept by drawing on their experience, and they can ensure that you’ve received all the information you might need to develop a cost estimate when the time comes. It also shows your ability to pull a team together quickly, and lets the agency/client know that you have a team to rely on to execute the project seamlessly.

So, let’s review. Here are the top tips for a successful creative call:

  1. Assume you are one of many options for them. Make them like you more than other contenders.
  2. Exude confidence, but just the right amount. Show them that you have ideas and will be a team player.
  3. Don’t talk about the budget. Save that conversation for another time.
  4. Take the call in a quiet place where you can focus on the conversation.
  5. Invite a producer to join the call. It will help to showcase your capabilities.

If you need help preparing for a creative call, or if you are interested in pricing/negotiation support, don’t hesitate to call 610.260.0200 or reach out. Our consulting services are available to everyone, and we’re always happy to help.

Expert Advice: Twitter for Photographers

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Alyssa Shand-Perreault, Wonderful Machine

Social media is an important part of self-promotion and marketing for any business, large or small. And having a wide variety of social media tools at your disposal is important. While it’s true that you can link all your social media accounts together so you can conveniently create one post that will appear on all your accounts, each platform is unique. Twitter, specifically, might be stereotyped as just a funny, witty place to spew out 140 characters of charm, but it has features that distinguish it from its competitors and can help you build your brand and implement your business strategies. For photographers, the short and sweet style of Twitter can help you effortlessly get your photos out there.

TWITTER FUNDAMENTALS

Once you’ve decided to join Twitter and set up an account for your photography business, there are a few crucial steps you should take. Keeping in mind that Twitter and other social media platforms are an extension of your brand, make sure your profile reflects how you identify yourself in your portfolio, on your website, and in person.

Theme Color: The theme color you set on your Twitter profile should match your brand identity that you use on your business cards, stationery, website, etc.

Profile & Cover Images: The images you use for your account should show who you are and the type of work you do. For the profile picture, use a professional headshot or your logo. The cover photo should be an example of your strongest work and lure viewers to stay on your profile and look around. As you integrate new photos in your portfolio, you can refresh your cover image to keep your profile interesting and be reflective of your recent work.

Bio: Keep the bio on your profile concise, to match Twitter’s style. This can be a trimmed down version of the one on your website, or you can write a new one that shows a little more personality. Either way, you should customize your bio for the type of profile you want to have on Twitter. If you want your account to show off who you are and what people can expect when they work with you, keep it light, humorous, and full of personality. If you want to use Twitter as an extension of your portfolio and keep it strictly about the imagery, then make your bio more professional and simple.

“Agency Producers are the new Art Buyers and are who you want to connect with via social channels such as Twitter … Use Twitter to let your work and personality breathe, this is why agencies hire you.”

– Ryan Hill, 8183 Studio

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8183 Studio‘s Twitter Account is a great example of how you can let your Twitter be representative of your brand and really show off your work! 

TWEETING 101

With only 140 characters of text, you have to be concise. Twitter has made some updates so that URLs account for fewer characters than they did in the past, which makes it easier to convey your message. But, don’t forget to leave some space in your tweet for relevant hashtags!

Hashtags

Using hashtags is a great way to attract viewers to your profile, and ultimately to your website. Here are three rules to keep in mind when adding hashtags to your posts:

  1. Don’t Over-Hashtag  As a rule, when adding hashtags, less is more. Since they count in the 140-character limit on Twitter, you don’t want to cut out some of your meaningful content to add more hashtags. If you’re showing off a new photo, you want there to be a caption that details the project, not just a bunch of hashtags.
  2. Remember your SEO Hashtagging is crucial for your posts’ SEO, though. It’s a good way of including a bunch of keywords that might not fit so smoothly into your caption. Be aware of what’s trending (we’ll get into that later) and be aware of what’s working for you already!
  3. Make sure they’re relevant to your contentWhen adding a hashtag, it’s tempting to just throw in random popular trending hashtags that have nothing to do with your post just to draw maximum viewers. This is a mistake. You want to make sure that the hashtag you’re including has something to do with you, your photography, or your content. Other users can report your content if they feel that you are wrongly using hashtags as self-promotion and eventually your account can be blocked, so maintain ethical hashtag practices!

FOLLOWING OTHER PEOPLE

If you’re using Twitter for personal reasons, then feel free to follow whoever you want and retweet anything you find relevant or humorous. But it’s important to keep those practices separate from your professional Twitter account. Similarly to other social media accounts, who you follow can have a huge impact on your own following and on your reputation on Twitter. You want to make sure you’re following people or companies that you’ve worked with, have a connection with, those you admire, those whose content you enjoy viewing, and those you hope to work with in the future. Think of this as a networking tool – the minute you follow someone, they’re inclined to come look at your profile and if you’re in the same industry, they’ll likely follow you back.

Keep in mind that there are limitations on the number of users Twitter allows you to follow. Once you reach 5000, you get cut off and then have to go through the painful process of weeding out your list. It’s much easier to make sure you’re following the most relevant accounts first!

PINNING TWEETS

If you recently worked on a big project and you want to give it a larger amount of exposure, you can post a tweet and then pin it to your profile. Pinning a tweet means that it will stay at the top of your profile, even as you add new tweets. This can be a great tool to showcase a particular project, while still tweeting daily to maintain your following and attract new viewers.

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Example of a pinned tweet on Dom Romney’s Twitter

USING YOUR LIKES WISELY

Whenever you “like” another tweet, it gets saved on your profile under a tab called Likes. Think of likes as more than just literally enjoying a tweet, but rather a way of “saving” important information you might want to refer to later. There are two main ways you should be thinking of Likes.

Likes are public, so make sure you’re careful about how you use this feature. You should like things that are relevant to your brand, tweets written by people that you want to follow you, important news. Because this is visible on your profile, you want to make sure you’re not liking everything under the sun, and that you utilize this function as a continuation of your brand.

You can also use likes as a way of building a reference list. Like tweets that are written by potential prospects, feature an upcoming project you want to take part in, or showcase creative ideas you might want to call on in the future. You should definitely like any positive tweets that someone has written about you. That way, you can both demonstrate your appreciation for the kind words and also keep track of favorable engagement.

USING IMAGES ON TWITTER

While Twitter hasn’t always been the most photo friendly, recent changes to the platform have made it easier to showcase your images. In the past, pictures took up a portion of the word count allotted, and at 140 characters, that was pretty detrimental. Images in Twitter were also previously cropped so they could fit comfortably in the feed, and you could only share one at a time. Oftentimes, photographers will link their Instagram to their Twitter and share pictures that way. The problem with this approach is that the viewer doesn’t see the image, just a URL and hashtags. It would be better to share any images directly on Twitter, as a Hubspot survey showed that:

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2016 HubSpot blog post also talks about some of the ways Twitter has updated its platform to better accommodate images. Here are a few ways Twitter has improved to better serve photographers who want to include photos in their tweets:

  • Adding images no longer takes up characters.
  • The image size requirements have changed so they won’t be as cropped as they used to be.
  • A new viewing option was added where you can add multiple photos in one Tweet. The first image you add will be the dominant image and the rest will be visible in thumbnail view. When you click on the image, you’ll be able to toggle through all the images in full-size. This is great for photographers who want to showcase a few images from a shoot or project they recently worked on.

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Mercieca tweets about a Timothy Hogan and Morgan Lockyer shoot for Winsor and Newton, featuring three images from the campaign.

MAXIMIZING YOUR TWITTER POTENTIAL

Once you’re comfortable with Twitter, there are a few steps you can take to make the most out of your account.

Lists

Lists are an organizational tool on Twitter where you can neatly categorize who you’re following by subject, organization, etc. More importantly for photographers, you can create lists for Brands, Agencies, and Publications. Then you can add people/groups/organizations into these lists as appropriate. This is useful for keeping track of the kinds of tweets these prospects post, retweet, and like, making it easier for you to track what they’re focusing on and tailor your tweets accordingly.

You can also use lists to follow other photographers that shoot the same specialties as you in order to keep tabs on the competition. You can use lists for people that inspire you. You can build a list of people you’ve worked with in the past and stay up-to-date on their activities. Essentially, there’s no limit to who you put in a list and what the list is about.

Lists do default to public, so everyone can see what lists you have created and who is included in them, but you do have the option to make them private (which might be a good idea for your prospective client lists). When you add someone to a public list, they will get notified and likewise, if someone adds you to their list you will also get notified. This is a great feature because you can see how you’re being categorized and you can make connections with the people that have added you to their lists.

It’s also not a terrible idea to look at the lists your prospective clients, competitors, or peers have created so you can see what types of topics/people they’re interested in following.

Certain lists already exist and it will be easier for you to subscribe to an existing list rather than create a new one. For example, if you’re interested in seeing all the content posted by National Geographic photographers, you can subscribe to their list and keep track that way.

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Nat Geo Photographers List

Trends

On Twitter’s homepage, you’ll see a Trends menu. This menu includes the top 10 topics and hashtags that are popular that day. Keep in mind that trends are tailored for you, based on who you follow and your location. Trends is a terrific tool to use when coming up with a new Tweet because you know that hashtag has a substantial following. So, as an example, if you see that #MemorialDayWeekend is trending, it’s probably a good time to post a Memorial Day related image and use that hashtag. That way, people who are searching for tweets with that hashtag will find you and your photo. Trends are ever-changing, so it’s a good idea to keep on top of this. And be sure not to force anything; you want viewers, but more importantly, you want to be re-tweeted, you want relevant likes, and you want to retain followers.

“Posting from Instagram just adds a link to your Tweet so I prefer to post pictures directly onto Twitter with a quick caption featuring prominent hashtags that are currently trending, such as Oscar winners or Harrison Ford crashing a plane … Again.”

– Robert Gallagher

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An example of a trends-based tweet for March Madness by photographer Robert Gallagher.

Twitter Analytics

Twitter Analytics is a free tool that allows you to see Tweet Impressions, Profile Visits, and Follower trends easily over time. You can also view the top tweet and top mention for each month. This tool is useful for tracking followers gained and lost, seeing if your tweets are making an impression, and taking note of which ones really stood out. That way, you can learn how to improve over time.

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Sample Analytics Monthly Summary from Wonderful Machine’s Account

Twitter also offers Twitter Flight School, which is a free course that helps you understand all of the features at your disposal. It’ll help you study Twitter Analytics to make sure you’re getting the most out of your account, and guide you in your quest to conquer the Twitterverse!

Please feel free to get in touch with me if you have any questions or suggestions. If you want help managing your social media accounts, you can get in touch with our Senior Marketing Consultants.

Expert Advice: Wireless Tethering with CamRanger

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Alex Subers, Wonderful Machine

Tethering can be quite the nuisance. Limited mobility, minimal space on set, crashing laptops, and fickle cables to name a couple of reasons why.  Now depending on the scale of the shoot, tethering with cables and a digital tech station is necessary. But what about those shoots that don’t have the budget, space, or time to allow for an on-site digital tech and station? That’s where the CamRanger comes into play. It takes all of 2 minutes to connect to your iPhone, iPad, and camera, and but will save you hours on every shoot.

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What does it do?

The CamRanger can work in multiple capacities:

  • Remote Shutter Release/Camera Adjustments
  • Wireless Downloading of Images (great for pumping out real-time social media posts)
  • Live View
  • Time Lapse/Bracketing

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Remote Shutter Release/Camera Adjustments

After linking the CamRanger with your phone or tablet, you will be able to wirelessly trigger your shutter straight from the app, along with being able to control the majority of the camera settings you need while shooting, such as exposure, aperture, ISO, white balance, etc. The main benefit of this comes when you’re shooting photos that prohibit you from touching the camera, such as low shutter speeds, multiple exposures, or cameras out of reach (architecture, time lapses/long exposures, and any other photos requiring compositing).

Wireless Downloading of Images

This is the feature I tend to use the most due to the timely nature of the images I’m shooting. When I’m shooting games for the Sixers, getting the team photos throughout the game for their social media platforms is extremely important. One of the challenges has always been trying to beat out the competition, Getty Images. Since Getty photographers have a proprietary wireless software built-in to their cameras, they can get photos out real time. The CamRanger has leveled the playing field by creating a wireless network between the device and your phone, giving you the capability of browsing through your CF card straight from your phone and downloading high res images right on the spot. Although it’s not quite as quick as the Getty software, it’s 100x faster than walking to the press room after every quarter and uploading/exporting images. Here are a couple of popular photos I’ve been able to deliver real time.

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Live View/Time Lapse/Bracketing 

These features are pretty straightforward. The live view capability is beneficial when the camera is out of reach, such as, in high or overhead angles, when you need to adjust the placement of items within the shot (particularly useful in food and still life shoots). The time-lapse feature is essentially a built-in intervalometer, allowing you to choose how many frames you want to shoot with how much time in-between. The bracketing feature, as you can see in the image to the right, allows you to set your initial shutter speed, the size of the incremental bracketing steps, and how many shots you want to take.

Here is an architectural photo that I used the CamRanger for when bracketing and triggering the shutter.

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It wasn’t an ideal environment, but as you can see, I was able to change exposures straight from my phone, without having to touch the camera, making the post-processing a breeze to piece together.

The CamRanger is essentially a $300 investment that turns your phone/tablet into a portable digital tech station time and time again, without fail. In my opinion, this product is a MUST in any photographers camera bag. Check out the CamRanger website here, and feel free to reach out if you have any questions!

Expert Advice: Hiring Crew for Photo Shoots

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Julia Hanley, Wonderful Machine

Here at Wonderful Machine, we pride ourselves on being experts on all things photography and production. When working on a big shoot, one of the first steps towards a successful outcome (right after you’ve been awarded the project) is sourcing and booking a solid crew. How does one accomplish this seemingly insurmountable task you may wonder? Let us be your guide!

As a photographer, your crew is a group of hand-selected individuals who will help you with aspects of your shoot you cannot do yourself. Your crew can range anywhere from one to more than twenty people.

There’s no secret formula for sourcing the perfect crew, but you do need access to the right information and resources to get the ball rolling. Your approach to sourcing the perfect crew will vary based on the individual project you’re producing, but it should always include these steps:

BUDGETING

Before you get started, figuring out how you want to distribute your budget is key. Even though the budget can be restricting, you’ll want to be sensitive to not sacrifice the creative in any way. This should all be discussed during negotiations. Depending on the size of the project and the resources you have available, you’ll have to decide the size of your crew as well as if you want to hire people that specialize in certain areas or a couple of folks who can handle multiple tasks. For instance, you could find a stylist who can take care of both hair and makeup, but if the production is large and you have the budget for it, you might need specialists for each. Location can also play a big part in determining crew size. For example, if you’re shooting outside in multiple locations throughout the day, you may want to opt for a smaller footprint production versus when shooting in a studio. Other variables to consider are cancellation policies, insurance, and markups. Some crew will charge if you don’t cancel within a certain window, so be aware of that possibility given weather disruptions and other potential interferences. Insurance is vital, too. If anyone is injured on set, who’s going to cover the medical bill? Be sure to keep these things in mind as you plan your shoot and research potential crew.

RESEARCH

Once you have a rough idea of how you’ll be allocating your budget, you can start researching crew who would be a good fit for the assignment. This will depend mainly on how many people the shoot requires, what types of crew you need, and the location of the production. Aside from looking to folks you’ve worked with in the past, Wonderful Machine’s Find Crew page is an excellent place to start. We’ve built and maintained this database over the course of ten years, and we’re constantly updating it as people join and leave the industry. Covering 27 different crew specialties, it includes everything from animal agencies to set designers, and lists crew from all over the U.S. and beyond.

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Once you’ve wrapped your head around our crew page and determined what’s required for your shoot, it’s time to start using this resource to search for your team! It’s a good idea to make a list of your top choices and then choose some additional crew members you can use as backups in case things don’t go exactly to plan (hint: they never do). Your pre-production timeline will determine if you’ll have this luxury, as various factors can affect your shoot dates. If you’re shooting outside and on-location, the weather can change. If the client suddenly needs to push back a date due to issues on their end, you need to be ready. If the scope of the project changes and you have to add an additional shoot day, will you have the right crew in place? Because there are so many factors that can lead to a date change, it’s important to have a backup plan that accounts for unforeseen circumstances. Flexibility and being able to turn on a dime is key!

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Behind the scenes of our shoot with MGM 

Having backups in place really came in handy during a recent shoot Wonderful Machine produced for MGM National Harbor. We were shooting a wide variety of commercial spaces before construction had even been completed at the casino and hotel. We had initially planned the shoot for nine consecutive days, but due to unmet construction deadlines, we needed to split the project in half and return to the location twice. We were already a few days into the production when we learned of the construction snafu, but I was still able to quickly adjust our shoot schedule. Between the two assistants I’d booked for the original shoot dates, I lost one due to a scheduling conflict. All of a sudden, I was short an assistant!

My first move was to ask the remaining assistant if he had any recommendations for locals whom he’d worked with previously. I sometimes take this approach because the remaining assistant will usually recommend someone they’re used to working with, making the shoot run smoother. When this failed, my backup plan sprang into action. I was able to contact an assistant I had on hold, who was thankfully still available to fill in. If that ended up being a no-go, I would have referred back to our robust crew database and began calling and emailing assistants in the Baltimore area. If I had not found a local via the database, my next step would’ve been to expand my search to either the D.C. or the Philadelphia metro areas.

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Behind the scenes shot of wardrobe stylist Christie Proud for a shoot that I line produced for Charles & Colvard.

OUTREACH

So! You’ve done your research, found crew members who’ll be a good fit for your production, and established backup plans B, C, and D. What’s next?

As long as you have the signed estimate or bid from the client in hand, it’s outreach time! My personal preference is to start with a phone call, complete with a follow-up email. This is especially important if they didn’t answer the initial call and I left a message. I personally feel like no one talks on the phone anymore and that conversation is rarely held outside of email and text messages. I like to keep it old school and give someone a good old fashioned phone call to get to know them. This also gives me the opportunity to ask questions if I need to speak with them about something specific like lighting techniques, hair & makeup direction, or wardrobe specs — things like that. I like to use phrases like “potential project” and “checking your availability” and “tentative hold.” I’ve found this sort of language is polite and precise but doesn’t make specific promises just in case things don’t pan out. Once you’ve checked that they’re available on the shoot days, go ahead and put them on hold.

PLANNING

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that specific types of crew are going to require different levels of planning and coordination.

When the shoot calls for catering, for example, I make it a point to ask if the crew and talent have any food allergies or restrictions in my initial phone and email. Although most shoots don’t require catering, it can be one of the most difficult aspects of crew to get right because you need to account for many different food preferences and expectations. Trust me, I’ve been on shoots where the catering has been a nightmare. I like to make sure there are always a few protein and vegetarian options and I always bring a few craft trays (food the crew can munch on all day instead of at a specific meal time) to each shoot as a backup. I also like to keep the meals light so that the crew isn’t falling asleep halfway through the day. Another crucial trick to keep people awake is to have lots of fresh hot coffee (or cold brews) on set at all times!

We recently worked with an amazing caterer in Denver for a job that we produced last summer with the local agency Karsh Hagan. This was a major production with a large crew and a lot of talent. We were shooting outdoors and in multiple locations each day, and thank goodness the weather was in our favor the whole time (even though it was unseasonably hot). With a few calls and a lot of Yelp reviews, we stumbled upon All Love Catering. Their team was amazing; they managed everyone’s food allergies, had multiple options at each meal, and provided different menus throughout the shoot. I did send them a copy of the production book, which we reviewed over a phone call so that they knew when and where we were shooting each day and could anticipate timing for set-up and break down.

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Our shoot in Denver for Karsh Hagan

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Dave Albanese, Peter Grill, Denny Henry, and photographer David Aaron Troy working on the set of our shoot with Charles & Colvard.

FINISHING TOUCHES

A few days before the shoot, when we are ready to move forward with securing the final crew, I send another email confirming dates and then release any crew that I had in reserve as a hold. I usually leave it up to the hair and makeup stylists, wardrobe stylists and prop stylists to hire their own assistants; they tend to work with regular assistants and have established relationships. After all of the details are finalized, I will send the crew a copy of the production book that includes location information, call times, shoot schedule, and creative brief (if applicable). Some shoots require a pre-production call with the photographer and crew in order to review the production book together. Others don’t necessitate a call, like if you’re familiar with the crew and have worked with them before. It all depends on the scope of the project and the personal preferences of those involved.

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Yours truly, smoothing out all the details! Get It?

FOLLOW UP

So hopefully your shoot went smoothly!

Now it’s time to follow up! This might seem like a no-brainer, but you would be surprised how many people I’ve encountered who don’t send a thank you message or some kind of debriefing about the shoot to the crew. This lets them know they did a good job and you were happy to work with them. Apart from being a common courtesy and the polite thing to do, this will give your crew members a more positive feeling when they remember the production and they’ll be more likely to want to work with you in the future. And of course, once they send an invoice, please do pay it in a timely manner.

So there you have it! This article is by no means comprehensive, but we hope it gives you a rough outline of the crew booking process.

As I mentioned earlier, Wonderful Machine’s database covers multiple crew specialties, so when you’re in a pinch to find a caterer, studio space, prop stylists, or location scout, feel free to use our shoot production services! Putting it all together can be daunting, especially with all of the moving parts and scheduling concerns associated with a high production photo shoot, so please don’t hesitate to reach out if you’d like some assistance. I’ll more than happy to help!

Expert Advice: Releases and Permits

- - Expert Advice

Craig Oppenheimer, Wonderful Machine

It’s my job to love paperwork. From estimates to production books to invoices, I’m responsible for creating, organizing and understanding all of the documentation needed to manage a production. Three of the most important pieces of that paperwork puzzle are model releases, property releases, and permits. No matter how big or small a production is, proper documentation is essential to not only obtain formal permission to shoot in a specific place, but to also ensure your ability to make use of the images you capture that feature people and certain locations for a commercial project.

Generally speaking, a model or property release is a contract that documents the consent of the subject(s) or property owner(s) to allow their likeness or the likeness of a property to be used in a certain way. It’s important to understand that using a person’s likeness to promote a company for commercial gain can be incredibly valuable to that company, and the people featured in those images should understand this value. The formal documentation of consent is therefore very important, and releases protect the photographer and their client should a disagreement arise over the use of an image that includes any person or property.

Let’s start with model releases. Here is a run down on when you typically do and do not need a model release:

You DO need a model release if the subject is identifiable and the images will be used commercially (to promote a particular product, service, company, or cause). That includes (but is not limited to) paid advertising use of the images in print ads, web ads or billboards, as well as collateral use in brochures, direct mail pieces or a client maintained website and/or their social media outlets, to name a few. Additionally, while this is often overlooked, you should acquire a model release from anyone featured in an image within your print/online portfolio.

You DO NOT need a model release if the images will be used editorially (for the purpose of educating and/or conveying news or opinion). That includes placement in a magazine, newspaper or media outlet available for sale or viewing to the general public, which does not seek or accept sponsorship to, or in itself, promote a particular product, service or company. Additionally, you do not need a model release if the subject is not identifiable, even for commercial use. That being said, you should be aware that a subject’s face is not the only thing that might make them identifiable.

I should note that while a release isn’t needed for most editorial uses of an image, many (but not all) publishing companies do have clauses in their agreements requiring the photographer to obtain a model release from the subject. In my experience, this clause covers the publishing company from a liability perspective, but in most cases, both parties often ignore it unless the shoot features hired talent, kids, or if the subject matter of the article is controversial in any way. If an editorial contract states that releases are required, a discussion about this should take place, and I’d recommend asking the publishing company to provide the release they want to be signed.

So, what’s the best release to use? Well, there are a lot of forms available online (like these from ASMP and Getty) as well as many different apps (like Releases or Easy Release), many of them aren’t applicable in all situations or are a bit too broad (also, since releases are formal contracts, they are subject to state law, and it’s important to find out if there are any peculiarities that may require adjustment). For our purposes, we are typically working with professional talent (and/or their agents) who we negotiate specific usage with, for a specific fee, and therefore want to note such information on the release. Here is our model release:

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You’ll notice we include a space for an image of the talent for reference. Since we often work with casting directors and hire professional talent, I’ll have their digital headshot and can drop that image on the release before getting them to sign it. Alternatively, using a Polaroid or other instant-print camera is a good option as you can staple the picture to the release after you have the talent sign it. Another method for other releases that don’t have a field for visual reference would be to take a picture of the person holding the signed release after signing it, so you can have both that image and the scanned release on file to identify the person.

Ok, you have a signed model release, so you are ready to go, right? Well, not necessarily. Property needs to be released too, and the basic rules detailed above for when you do and don’t need a release can be similarly applied to properties. You don’t need a release if the usage is editorial, but you do need a release if the property is easily identifiable and for commercial use, most of the time…

It’s understandably not always black and white, and there are a few key points to note about locations and releases. First, you need a release to include trademarks or copyright protected artworks in an image for commercial use. That includes logos on the facades of the buildings, murals, statues, and public art. Also, it’s important to know that certain architectural or design elements incorporated into a building can be trademarked. For instance, you can photograph the Eiffel Tower during the day without the need for a release, but the lights that appear in the evening are a trademarked design. You would, therefore, need to seek permission to use the image for commercial purposes if the image was taken at night when the lights are displayed.

Additionally, if you photograph a space that has art displayed, you would need a release from whoever owns the copyright to that piece of art, as well as, a release from the owner of the property in which the piece of art is displayed (if the location is identifiable) in order to use the image for commercial purposes. If you are unsure of whether or not there are any restrictions or limitations on a certain building or public work of art, you can contact your local film office, and they should be able to provide guidance on popular destinations or areas within your city.

As with model releases, there are forms you can find online from ASMP and Getty. On nearly every production I’ve worked on, our client has had location releases that they’ve asked us to use, however, we have our own as well. Here it is:

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You’ll notice on our release that usage is not something we call out in the same way as we do on the model release, as usage typically isn’t a factor for locations (meaning, it typically just includes unlimited use). We do state that the release would cover unlimited use in all media, but it’s not displayed in the same way as we have it on the model release. That being said, location fees might differ based on the type of production (stills vs. video) and how big the production footprint is.

It’s also important to know the difference between a permit and a release. A permit allows you to be in a certain space at a certain time to take a photo, and a release allows you to use that image for commercial purposes. Permits are typically applied for and distributed by film offices or local government agencies, and each city typically has different rules for when you do and don’t need a permit.

Generally, it comes down to the size of the production footprint, and in many cases, a photographer acting alone with very minimal equipment does not need a permit. On the other hand, in almost all instances, if the production involves multiple people, production RVs, street closures and any lighting/grip equipment, a permit is needed. Most film offices and government agencies will tell you that if the shoot is for any commercial use, that you need a permit, although the fees will likely be less if the shoot has a minimal production footprint. The permitting process in most cities can be time intensive and almost always has fees associated with it, so it’s important to do your research and figure out the cost and turnaround time for a permit before embarking on a production.

Here are two examples of permits I applied for and was provided by the New York City Film Office and the US Department of the Interior:

Given the preparation and hard work that goes into capturing images on a production of any size, it’s incredibly important to cover your bases and make sure all the people, places and things in the images are appropriately released in order to avoid legal trouble when the images are actually used.

*Legal Disclaimer* – Please consult with an attorney to discuss legal documents pertaining to your business before putting them in use. I’d like to extend a thank you to Adam G. Garson of the firm Lipton, Weinberger and Husick for his contribution to this article. If you need professional legal counseling, please contact Adam at agarson@garson-law.com or by phone at (610) 565-7630. If you need help estimating or producing a shoot, please email me at craig@wonderfulmachine.com, or you can reach me on the phone at (610) 260-0200.

Expert Advice: LinkedIn

- - Expert Advice

By Rachel Walburn, Wonderful Machine

An active social media effort should be part of every photographer’s overall marketing strategy. LinkedIn has some unique features that make it an essential part of that strategy. Namely, it’s the only platform that is strictly business to business, making it easy to find and connect with clients and for them to find you. While LinkedIn is ideal for creating connections, it is also an excellent way to cultivate relationships and promote your brand. We have some advice on not only how to make your profile stand out to get those connections you’d like, but also how to market your brand!

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photo by Saverio Truglia

CREATING A PROFILE

LinkedIn is an online resume allowing you to share your experience, skills, and interests. It’s primarily a professional platform, but there’s an opportunity for you to show off your unique personality as well.

To create a basic profile, LinkedIn will prompt you for your name, your job title, your location (probably your nearest big city), your industry (probably Photography), and your work history. We recommend inputting your first and last name and then entering your company name as your current job. After getting these basics squared away, we recommend customizing your profile to add in your personality.

You can start off by creating a custom URL. When you make your LinkedIn account, LinkedIn will assign you a URL based on your name plus some random numbers, like linkedin.com/in/joeblow-2334234. LinkedIn gives you the ability to edit that, so create text that matches up as closely as possible with your brand. So instead of linkedin.com/in/joeblow-2334234, it might be better to have it read linkedin.com/in/joeblow-photography. To change this, please see our lovely staff member Ken’s profile below. Detailed instructions describing the process are explained on LinkedIn’s help page.

Expert Advice, LinkedIn, Wonderful Machine, Rachel Walburn, Photography, Photographer

Your headline counts. Instead of writing “Photographer” or “Freelance Photographer,” make it specific. Try “Photographer Specializing in Corporate and Architecture Photography.” Quick changes like this can take you from one of many to one that’s above the rest. Potential clients want to know who and what they’re viewing quickly and if it’s the right fit for them, so it’s important that your profile is thoughtful and complete.

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Jordan Hollender makes a very clear and descriptive use of his headline by noting that his company HollenderX2 is not just a husband and wife photo team but a duo specializing in conceptual images and portraits.

Make sure your profile picture is of you, not a model you’ve photographed. Keep it professional and in line with the rest of your branding – preferably without a camera hiding your face!

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D. Scott Clark’s professional profile image on LinkedIn.

You can also brighten things up on your brand’s page by adding banners. If you’re a photographer, you can upload a picture or a series of images to help bring out your personality and make your profile unique.

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Vance Jacob’s LinkedIn banner showcases examples of some of his portraits.

Use your summary to share your background and tell your story. Be personable and speak directly to the reader. Engage them, so they’re interested in learning more about you. Treat this overview like an elevator pitch of who you are as a photographer. Keep it short and straightforward. LinkedIn allows you to include images, documents, and links throughout your page. You can post a direct URL to your website (or specific pages within your site), and you can include photos or video. Having a few examples of your work in your summary is an excellent way to add visuals to break up boxes of text and give clients a sample of your actual work!

Expert Advice, LinkedIn, Wonderful Machine, Rachel Walburn, Photography, Photographer

Vance Jacob’s LinkedIn summary. Vance elegantly breaks up his bio with thumbnail image links directly to sections of his website.

Include personal interests and hobbies, certifications, causes that you’re interested in and volunteer work you’ve done; even if it was years ago. It’s sometimes those details that make it easy for others to relate to you.

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Liz Nemeth mentions her volunteer work and interests in children and families on her LinkedIn. This information shows clients her personality and these causes are reflected in the subject matter of her photographs! Your volunteer work is a great way to emphasize your passions are show your depth beyond photographic skills.

NETWORKING: FINDING CLIENTS

By creating a detailed profile, you’ll be making it easy for clients and others in our industry to find you. LinkedIn also provides a number of tools to make it easy for you to find others and to cultivate relationships within our industry.

When you first create a profile on LinkedIn, you won’t have any connections. Start by sending a connection request to people you already know and who are likely to accept your connection. Past clients and photographers who you have a strong relationship with would be ideal people to add. With those connections, you’ll be able to send out a connection request to others who have their privacy settings set so that you must share a common connection before you can request them. With each connection you add (these are your 1st connections), your 2nd and 3rd connections will also grow. You can ask someone in your immediate network for an introduction to a 2nd or 3rd connection if you see a connection that has great potential. You will see this option on your toolbar on the right under another handy tool which shows people similar to the profile you are on:

Expert Advice, LinkedIn, Wonderful Machine, Rachel Walburn, Photography, Photographer

As your network expands, more people will see you and your searches will yield more results. Since LinkedIn uses this algorithm, we recommend connecting with clients in the industry who are going to hire you or introduce you to industry professionals that can help to advance your career. You want to only connect with photographers who can endorse or introduce you to a client.

Follow companies that interest you. Once you follow a company, you’ll receive updates including job opportunities and other news that it shares on your LinkedIn homepage.

To find clients you’d like to work with, look at the company profile page to see who the creative director, art director, photo editor, or marketing director is. Those will be the people that are most likely to hire photographers or be interested in photography and the ones you want to connect with.

RECOMMENDATIONS & ENDORSEMENTS

While Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter are great for building a following, showcasing your images, and casual interaction; clients may not be able to get a sense of what it will be like to work with you. LinkedIn serves as a recommendation letter. Users can easily endorse the skills and expertise you list on your page, and in turn, it’s an easy way to confirm what you can do. Even better, users you’ve worked with in the past can write a recommendation discussing their experience with you. Nothing is more valuable to a client than seeing that you’re professional, experienced and a pleasure to work with.

So, how do you get a recommendation? You can contact up to three connections at a time to ask them to recommend you. Try writing a thoughtful recommendation for some connections you had great experiences with. This feedback might inspire them to do the same! Recommendations double as a thoughtful way to say thank you and make an impression that will help you stay on someone’s mind. Not only will recommendations show up on your LinkedIn page, but they will also be visible on the page of the user who wrote it for you – allowing all of their connections to see you shine as well.

To request recommendations from a particular person: Go to their profile, click on the drop down menu under their name and select recommend. From here you can write a recommendation, or you can choose to Ask for a Recommendation.

Endorsements are great because you essentially get to select the skill areas you’d like to be endorsed it! Don’t forget to set up these skills on your page by simply clicking add skill and typing your areas of expertise.

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Christina Gandolfo’s LinkedIn.

LinkedIn is full of networking opportunities to help you find the right professionals. And like many other social media sites, you have access to it right at your fingertips through its mobile app making it easy to stay connected and active almost anywhere in the world. Think of LinkedIn just as you would Twitter, Instagram or Facebook in regards to posting content! On the homepage, you can use: Share an update, Upload a photo or Write an article to keep your audience posted on new work, features, tearsheets and pieces written on your work. These posts will show up directly in your connections newsfeeds, like Facebook, and the content will permanently live on your LinkedIn profile page.

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Justin Bastien’s LinkedIn posts live on his profile page permanently after being featured on his connections newsfeeds.

A free account offers all of the features above, and if you decide to upgrade, you’ll gain access to even more connections, have the ability to make more targeted searches and receive more information on who’s viewing your profile. You’ll receive a number of InMail messages– these allow you to directly contact people even if they aren’t in your network. There are a few different options available, and LinkedIn sometimes offers free trials to see if an upgrade is right for you.

Need help with your marketing? Give Rachel Walburn at Wonderful Machine a shout!

Expert Advice: Email Service Providers

- - Expert Advice

Anna Donnella, Wonderful Machine

As Wonderful Machine founder Bill Cramer says, “In a world where everyone can send an email, everyone does.” It’s true, and not only is everyone sending emails, but email service providers specializing in email marketing are popping up to make it easier for people to send lots of emails at once.

As a photographer, sending out a mass emailer is a great way to introduce yourself to potential new clients, and keep current contacts abreast of your latest work. If you’re wondering about the philosophies of email marketing, check out our Expert Advice onemail marketing. If you’re looking for the specifics of choosing an email service provider to help you with mass emailing, you’re in the right place!

Let’s start at the beginning. What is an email service provider?

An email service provider, or an ESP, is a web-based application that allows people to send bulk email. Most ESPs allow you to complete three basic components of email marketing: create email subscriber lists; send emails to those lists; and review the data from those sent campaigns.

Good ESPs will also provide you with a way to have people sign up for your emailers so that you can continue to grow your subscriber network steadily and organically.

How do you decide which provider to use?

The email marketing scene is crowded. Very crowded. As such, there are a lot of ESPs competing to get your attention. That’s good because it means there are a lot of options for you, but the truth is that most of the options are very similar. As we said before, they’ll all have a way to create subscriber lists, send campaigns, and review the stats on the campaigns you’ve sent. So don’t lose sleep over which ESP is exactly perfect for you. Here’s a list of some of the main providers:

MailChimpEmmaSendinBlueBenchmarkConstant ContactCampaign Monitor

We generally recommend MailChimp to photographers because it has a Forever Free Plan that lets you send 12,000 emails a month to a list of up to 2000 subscribers, which is a really nice amount for photographers. (If you’re sending to more than 2000 clients a month, you may be sending a little excessively, and you should check out our expert advice on Prospect List Services for guidance.) There are just a few features the Forever Free plan doesn’t offer—like automated feeds for blogs and special delivery by time zone—so you can check those out and see how much those matter to you.

At Wonderful Machine, we also use MailChimp, and although we have way too many subscribers for the Forever Free plan, we find that it is a great provider for several reasons. First off, our experience is that it’s the most preferred ESP among designers. This is because it allows for a lot of different design options, and it is incredibly user-friendly for designers dropping in files. We actually find that it is user-friendly in all its areas, as it has a simple layout and straightforward instructions throughout the site. It also has clear and thorough documentation on every aspect of email marketing. MailChimp actually stands out significantly from the competition because it’s one of the best places to learn about email marketing, and why not practice where you learn. Constant Contact also provides some helpful literature on email marketing.

When deciding which email subscriber is right for you, keep in mind that if you’re sending to fewer than 2000 subscribers a month, it makes sense to stay on a free plan. MailChimp isn’t the only one who provides a free plan. Benchmark and SendinBlue also have free plans, again with certain limitations whose importance you can assess for yourself. SendinBlue’s free plan is a little bit different because it doesn’t care about the number of subscribers you have; it only limits you in terms of how many emails you’re sending.

To learn more about top competitors to MailChimp, Merchant Maverick has a greatcomparison guide. PC Mag also just released a list of the 10 best email marketing software companies of 2016.

Creating Subscriber Lists

The first step of your email marketing plan, and the first thing you’ll probably set up within your ESP, will be your campaign subscriber lists. As we, and most of our photographers are most familiar with MailChimp, we’ll use their terms and definitions.

Subscribers refers to the people who will be receiving your emails. ESPs, and especially MailChimp, will ask you to verify that anyone you are listing as a subscriber is someone who asked to be on your email list. This is where we get into some of the gray area with sending mass emails. You can read more about the ethics and policies of this in the section below, “What’s the deal with spam?”

You can upload subscribers one at a time, but the easier way is probably to upload them from a spreadsheet. When you upload a spreadsheet into MailChimp, you will have to select which columns from the original spreadsheet you want to include in your MailChimp list. For example, your original spreadsheet may include columns for first name, last name, email address, company, and date added to your database. You may want to keep all of these columns in your MailChimp list, or you may decide that the date someone was added to your database is irrelevant for your new list, in which case you can skip that column.

MailChimp and other ESPs will also provide you with a signup form you can put on your website or Facebook page so that people can add themselves to your lists. Giving people the opportunity to sign up for your lists themselves is one of the best ways of expanding your network.

You can create as many different lists of subscribers as you want, but it may be better to create one or a couple main lists and create groups within those lists. If one person is on two different lists, that counts as two subscribers when MailChimp is tracking your total subscriber count. One person in multiple groups, however, will not count as more than one subscriber as long as the groups are within the same list. You can segment your lists into groups based on any characteristic.

Mailchimp explains everything about subscribers, lists, and groups, including the technical process for creating them on their site.

What’s the deal with SPAM?

With mass emailing comes the question of spam. The definition of spam is simple: unsolicited bulk email, or UBE. An email is only spam if it is unsolicited AND bulk at the same time. Okay, this simple definition has a lot more complexity than meets the eye.Spamhaus, the authority on spam, gives a thorough explanation of spam and how it can apply to you, but we’ll break down the most important points here.

Unsolicited email. Unsolicited email is common. We email people even if they haven’t asked to be emailed and we receive emails when we haven’t asked for them. This happens all the time. Some examples are job enquiries and sales enquiries. Chances are as a photographer, many of your emails fall into this category. (Again, something is only spam if it is both unsolicited and bulk.)

Mailchimp and other ESPs will ask that everyone on your list got there by way of opting in, meaning that they asked to be there explicitly. This is because they want to make sure that you are not at risk of sending spam. The best practice on opting in is called a double opt-in, or a confirmed opt-in, which you can read about here.

Spamhaus does provide an email marketing best practice document, however, that also lists implied consent as a form of email consent. This happens if someone gives you reason to believe they would be interested in your information even if they have not explicitly signed up for an emailer. The MAAWG (Messaging, Malware, and Mobile Anti-Abuse Working Group) lists this as type of consent but not a best practice.

Bulk email. According to Spamhaus, email is bulk if it is being sent to so many people that the recipient’s personal identity and context are irrelevant because the message is equally applicable to many other potential recipients. For this, and other reasons, we advise our photographers to be intentional about whom they are emailing. Spamhaus specifies that if you are buying a list of names to email, this is inherently spam, as that list is nonspecific (therefore bulk) and the emails were unsolicited. That is why at Wonderful Machine, we never sell our photographers pre-made lists, but instead we allow them to pay for list-builds, where we organically create lists that are specialized and specific for that individual photographer. With these lists, the recipients’ personal identities and context are absolutely relevant, keeping them free of the label, “bulk.”

In short, as long as you are sending relevant emails to targeted, appropriate lists, you should be fine. Just make sure you’re familiar with the policies and that you feel comfortable with your practices.

Create a Campaign!

Each round of emails you send is called a campaign. You can control a lot of things about a campaign, but probably the most important is the design. Again, you can refer to our expert advice on email marketing to learn about the importance of a great design when sending out your emails. You can get in touch with our designers if you’d like help putting together the perfect look for your emailers.

You’ll be able to control other details of your campaign as well, such as the subject line, the sender (who it will say the email is from), and whether you’d like a personalized first name. You will also be able to check off which tracking options the email will have, and we suggest you always choose to see who opens and clicks on your email.

Each campaign can only be sent to one list. If you’d like to send a campaign to more than one list, you’ll have to duplicate the campaign for the second list.

Reviewing your Campaign

At the end of the day, it’s time to review the campaign you sent. Mailchimp will provide you with a campaign report that will tell you many things:

The number and percentage of successful deliveries. Pretty self-explanatory. If an email was not successfully delivered, it means it bounced.

Bounced emails. There are two types of email bounces: hard and soft. A hard bounce means the email address you attempted to send to cannot be sent to. This could be because the email address does not exist or the recipient email server has blocked all delivery. If an email address on your list yields a hard bounce, that subscriber will automatically be removed from your list. A soft bounce is less severe than a hard bounce, and could happen for a number of reasons, including if the recipient’s mailbox is too full or if the email message is too large to get through. If an email address on your list yields a soft bounce, that subscriber will not immediately be removed from your list. Mailchimp will actually continue to attempt to deliver the email over the course of the three days.

Open rate. This is the percentage of people on your list who opened your email. Don’t worry if this appears low to you. A 20% open rate is perfectly strong.

Total opens. This number will be much higher than your open rate, because it counts every single time your email is opened. So if 20 subscribers each open your email twice, your total opens will be 40.

Click rate. This is the percentage of people on your list who clicked your email. Again, don’t be alarmed if the number seems low. Anywhere from .8 to 3% is normal. Mailchimp will also let you see a list of who exactly has opened and clicked the email. It will show you how many times someone opened your email, which links they clicked on, and at what time they opened or clicked anything.

Member rating. You’ll see a set of stars next to your subscribers with the label “member rating.” Mailchimp rates your subscribers for you based on their engagement with your campaigns. How many times have they opened your emails? How many times have they clicked? Be aware of what your subscribers are doing, because this can be a great way to track who you should follow up with.

Unsubscribed. You’ll get a list of people who unsubscribed from your email. They will automatically be removed from this particular list, but they will not automatically be removed from any other lists they are on. Be aware of who has unsubscribed so you can be sensitive to what they want.

There’s lots more to read on email marketing and email service providers, so help yourself to the links below, and if you have any other questions, reach out!

Helpful Resources:

Spamhaus’s Frequently Asked Questions on Spam

Mailchimp’s Best Practices for Lists

HubSpot’s 25 Simple Ways to Grow Your List

Expert Advice: Print Portfolios

- - Expert Advice

Stacy Swiderski, Wonderul Machine

I’ve been in this industry for a few years now and am still surprised at how many photographers think print is dead, that it’s not worth it, or that clients just aren’t interested in seeing actual portfolios when you can simply email a URL or attach a pdf. That couldn’t be further from the truth. While we certainly live in a digital age and a commercial photographer’s web presence is the main introductory platform to their work and brand, it’s important not to overlook the benefits of having a professionally printed portfolio and using it as part of a complete marketing agenda.

The website is important, very important, but your brand shouldn’t stop there. Clients still like to see books, and they like to see great books that solidly represent a photographer’s brand and showcase their capabilities. Your book should be an extension of the work on your site, not a mere repetition of it. It should be well considered, show off your strongest, most commercially viable work, and present it all in a thoughtfully curated manner.

Why Print:

There are few reasons, actually:

1) While your website appeals to the widest audience of possible clients, simply because anyone can view it, your print portfolio is going to be the best way to tailor your work to suit an individual client’s needs. You can also bring along an iPad with additional content that will easily allow you to elaborate on a conversation or project that resonates with that particular client.

2) A print portfolio is a conversation piece. You can’t walk into a meeting empty-handed, or with just a few promo cards. Your printed portfolio is a chance to show the client something that they can’t see on their own. It’s an opportunity to share something tangible and reveal the experiences and backstories to your work.

3) The printed portfolio is the best way to escape the illuminated, back lit screen of digital media and make your work more tangible, accessible, and closer to reality. It’s a great way to show off your attention to detail, your commitment to your craft, and just how much you value your work. Most of all, it enforces your unique vision and style as a photographer—you know, those things that make you stand out from thousands of other photographers and help to define your brand.

Even if you’re not yet ready to schedule meetings and sit face to face with creatives at the agency you’re aspiring to work for, you can consider starting with portfolio review events like FotoWorks or Palm Springs Photo Festival (PSPF) Portfolio Reviews. At events like these, you can pay one price to get feedback from a wide array of industry professionals (and get picked up for a job if you’re lucky).

Selecting Images:

Your print portfolio should offer a decisive and concise collection of work that addresses the following key questions: What are your goals? What type of work would you like to be doing more of? And what type of clients would you like to work for? All of these answers should help you determine the work that you include in your book. And just like you pay attention to the way your website is organized and which work is emphasized there, you need to pay attention to the way your print book is sequenced and how it flows from one image to the next.

When it comes to selecting and composing the images in your edit, always start with your strongest, most commercially viable work. Then, focus on telling a story with the photos you choose and how they interact with each other. Maybe the narrative is literal and tells a story with lifestyle and adventure images sequenced according to the different seasons, or maybe it’s a visual story based on thematics like color, composition, or mood that play off from one image to the next. Just like any good edit (whether web or print), make sure there is a strong push and pull between images. In other words, make sure the depiction of space within each frame does not feel repetitive across multiple images in a sequence. You’ll also want to make sure that if you’re printing double-sided pages, your book spreads actually work as spreads and that those images make sense being placed next to each other. Lastly, only show what you need to. Be decisive about the work you include, and tailor it to the client’s needs when possible (screw post portfolios are great for this).

Below is a sample section from a print edit done for food photographer, Stephanie Mullins. Notice how the images placed next to each other work as full spreads:

Stephanie decided to have her portfolio printed on demand via AdoramaPix and chose a bright yellow linen for the cover, along with glossy, lay flat pages:

Your book does not need to be configured in the same way as your site, nor should it show off the exact same work.  Show variety and images that coincide with one another. For example, maybe your site has the wide shot of the runner lacing up his sneakers for a marathon, while the print edit has the shallow close-up of the sun glistening off the sweat on his forehead. Or maybe your site has the overhead version of the table setting from a food shoot, and your print edit includes a pairing of a 30 degree and straight-on shot from the same set.

As a general industry rule, try to keep the book close to 30 spreads or less so that clients can comfortably view your book without having to rush through. If they like your work, and want to see more, they’ll be prompted to take another look at your site. Again, this is why it’s important that your print edit is an extension of your website, not merely a repetition of it.

Materials Matter:

When it comes to portfolios, there’s nothing worse than viewing strong work that is poorly printed. I’ve been to enough portfolio reviews and have seen enough books to tell you that the paper you’re using can make or break the strength of your work. Whether you’re printing on-demand books or inkjet prints from home, choose a paper with a wide color gamut, minimal tooth, and the right degree of brightness for your work. Also, think about the surface of the paper, and whether matte, luster, or glossy is going to be the best option for the style of your work. Keep in mind that while glossy paper may increase contrast and sharpness of your images, it’s also going to impart a reflective element that can oftentimes interrupt the viewing experience (much like plastic sleeves do). Whatever option you choose, just make sure it is in line with making your images look the best they possibly can.

You’ll also want to consider the size of your portfolio (think comfortable, practical, and easy to manage) and make sure that the size and orientation are conducive to the work you’ll be showing. Is the work primarily vertical? Horizontal? Are you going to pair up your verticals or keep them on separate pages? Will images be printed full-bleed or with borders? And if you’re going to be investing in a custom screw post book, you’ll want to make sure your paper can be printed double-sided and your materials (including the book itself) are acid-free for long term storage and stability. If you’re interested in simply using a presentation box, continue to pay attention to your edit, but also think about using a paper with a heavier weight that’s more rigid and suitable for hand viewing. Borders are also necessary with this type of presentation in order to prevent fingerprints from forming on the actual printed areas.

Here’s a look at Inti St. Clair’s screwpost book that she ordered from Pina Zangaro:

And Shawn Hubbard’s custom made portfolio and slipcase from Mullenberg:

Doing your research:

As you might have guessed, printing a portfolio can be quite an expense depending on the materials and vendors you choose to work with.  And like most things in life, you get what you pay for. While it’s important to do your research and budget when it comes to investing in a portfolio, you should remember that it is an investment and should be treated as such. If you choose to have a print portfolio, it will be a key part of your brand and should be held to the same quality standards as all of your marketing materials. And because your portfolio is part of your marketing collateral, you should be looking at your marketing budget to finance it. It doesn’t have to cost you your entire marketing budget, but that’s where you should be looking to figure out your appropriate spending amount.

Recources to get started:

When photographers approach me looking for input on where to get started with printing a portfolio, I typically send over a list of resources I’m familiar with, along with a few recommendations and suggestions based on the style of the work they do. This last part is important because the book needs to be an extension of the photographer’s brand and fit well with the work inside of it. We have a list of resources listed on our site, but here are some of my primary suggestions to get you started:

For printed, on demand portfolios:

Asuka: Well established industry level printer, offering great quality for retail and commercial photography books

Adoramapix: Best for price and ease of use, plus they have a fast turn-around time and rush shipping options available

Artifact Uprising: A VSCO company that makes artful hardcover and softcover books – WM members have raved about them

Edition One Books: Great for truly custom books in single or multiple editions, printed at any size and page count

My Publisher: Offers larger sizes up to 15×11.5 and has great printing, with excellent dynamic range

Paper Chase Press: I’ve heard good things about them from other WM members

Blurb: At the forefront of the on-demand printing industry, and offers a wide range of paper choices for books and zines

Magclud: Originally owned by HP, now Blurb, great for zines and digest style books/promos

For custom, screw post style portfolios, we typically recommend these sources:

Mullenberg: By far the most beautiful, well-made books out there

Pina Zangaro: Affordable and customizable portfolios and boxes

Lost Luggage: Mid-level to high-end portfolios and presentation cases

Klo Portfolios: Rather new in the game, offering a wide selection of material and treatment options

IRIS Portfolios: A boutique company, used by quite a few of our members, with a modern approach to portfolio cases

If you’re familiar with any other resources and would like to chime in with your experience, feel free to continue the conversation in the comments section below, or shoot me an email. And stay tuned for Part 2 of this Expert Advice on print portfolio production, where we’ll be going over size and quality comparisons with pricing from the vendors mentioned in today’s article.

Want help editing and designing your portfolio? Give me a shout!

Expert Advice: How To Invoice A Client

- - Expert Advice

By Craig Oppenheimer, Wonderful Machine

I have to admit that one of the most satisfying parts of producing a shoot is when I compile an invoice and every dollar and cent is perfectly accounted for. That’s partially because it proves I did a great job and made sure the project stayed within budget, but it’s also satisfying because I have a habit of being overly organized. That mentality extends to invoices, and I wouldn’t think of sending a client a document that was in any way incomprehensible.

From a photographer’s perspective, I know compiling an invoice isn’t as satisfying as receiving payment or seeing your images on a billboard or in a magazine. However, a client will most definitely appreciate the neatly organized paperwork, and it’s these sorts of mannerisms that might just make them want to hire you again. There is of course no right or wrong way to compile an invoice … wait, strike that … what I mean to say is that there is no right or wrong format for an invoice, as long as it’s clear and easy to understand.

Since every project is different, the information included in the invoice and its presentation can dramatically scale up or down. Sometimes a client will require receipts for all of your expenses, but other times you might be working on a bid or for a flat project fee where you don’t need to show receipts for anything. The latter of the two of course makes for a simpler invoice. Sometimes you may also have receipts within receipts. For instance, it’s ideal to present receipts for all “meals” together, but your assistant might include a copy of a receipt for a coffee on their invoice to you along with an invoice for their time, which you then need to pass along to the agency. So, while each project will be billed on a case-by-case basis, you should simply do your best to organize everything appropriately, which might mean setting invoicing requirements for the subcontractors you hire. Also, always be sure to keep the original copies of your receipts for absolutely everything you buy for a shoot, whether you plan to charge your client for it or not.

The following is an example of an invoice that I feel is straightforward, clean and easy to comprehend:

The first page of the invoice acts as a summary of all fees and expenses, and also notes the advance payment received as well as the final balance due. All of the following pages are either invoices or scanned receipts to justify the expenses. When estimating the project before the shoot, you might consider including items such as “shoot processing for client review” and “selects processed for reproduction” as expenses rather than fees since you might ultimately outsource retouching, and because it helps to potentially increase the amount of an advance (if you’re only permitted to receive an advance on expenses). However, since we do not need to include a receipt or invoice to justify these items, I’ve included them in the “fees” section at the top. Organizing it this way makes it clear that the pages following the front of the invoice are to justify the expenses only.

You’ll see that each receipt/invoice used to justify the expenses is formatted differently (because they all come from different vendors) and it’s therefore important to add uniformity to make them easier to digest. That’s why on each page I use Adobe Acrobat Pro to add a title to the upper left hand corner, then circle the total and note the total again on the bottom right corner. The titles help to clarify which line item on the invoice the page corresponds to, and while adding the total at the bottom may seem redundant, it helps to summarize pages where there may be multiple receipts (like for meals).

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I also use Adobe Acrobat Pro to create PDFs of each invoice/receipt and to compile the final invoicing packet by merging all of the PDFs into one file. To create a page of receipts (for meals in this instance), I lay the receipts down on a flatbed scanner and set the preferences on my computer to automatically save a PDF. You might try to use your phone to take a picture of your receipts (or even take photos of your receipts with a DSLR), but the quality of the images you’ll receive from a flatbed scanner will be well worth the investment, and prices for scanners have dropped dramatically over the past few years.

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Sometimes you might not be able to get a receipt for an expense (like a tip for a bellman or charges for mileage) but you’ll still want to be reimbursed. In these instances we use the petty cash log below to document these expenses.

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As I mentioned previously, the scale of your production will determine the formatting and length of your invoice. For instance, an invoice I recently submitted for a large production had 30 pages dedicated to wardrobe styling alone. In cases like this, it may make sense to have cover pages for each section (to correspond to the line items on the invoice) rather than just adding section titles to each page.

No matter how you format an invoice, you just need to be organized and present everything in a manner that is easy to comprehend. If you take a few extra minutes to create a well-formatted invoice, you’ll save the time and energy you’ll otherwise spend going back and forth with your client to justify your fees and expenses. In the end, it should help you receive payment faster, and will make your client (and their accounting department) enjoy working with you.

If you have any questions, or if you need help estimating, producing or invoicing a project, please give us a call at (610) 260-0200. We’re available to help with any and all pricing and negotiating needs—from small stock sales to big ad campaigns

Expert Advice: Emailers & Print Mailers

by Joey Pasko, Wonderful Machine

All photographers should have a variety of promotional tools in their arsenal to help garner clients and bring attention to their work. Among these tools are email promotions and ever-popular print mailer promotions. If used correctly, both can help bring in a lot of new business and keep your name on the radar of your existing clients. However, it’s important to know the difference between email promotions and print promotions.

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An email promotion may seem like a cheap and easy method to get your name out there, but by no means should it be your sole marketing effort. In fact, the best way for photographers to promote themselves is by using both print and email promotional tools very strategically and specifically. Email promotions are a good way to send a large group of clients a quick reminder to check out your website and your new work. If you use the email analytics to see who actually opened the email and clicked to your website, you can create an even more tailored and effective list of clients to send a memorable print mailer to. Think of it this way: your email promotion should go out to a large general list of clients, and your print mailer should go out to a targeted and tailored list of clients.

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Print mailers are a great way to give a potential client something tactile and cool to constantly remind them that you’re the person to hire. But how do you make your mailer stand out? It’s easy to fall into the trap of a typical postcard. Many photographers would say anything more is a gimmick, but remember that your clients receive lots and lots of postcards from great photographers all the time. “Letting the photo speak for itself” sometimes isn’t enough to push your work above all the other promos hanging on the bulletin board.

The solution is to embrace the medium and create something that stands out. Utilizing modern design and printing techniques can help make your promo the most unique one in the crowd.

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At WM, we typically advise photographers to go one of two ways with print promos. The first option is to create a promo that is beyond just a postcard. By elevating the piece beyond the norm, you automatically are guaranteeing that what you send out will stand out amongst other print mailers. A great example of this would be Nashville photographer Josh Anderson’s printed promo. Rather than a single image, Josh added interest by utilizing a printing technique called foil stamping. His print promos included a hand printed board and buttons for the recipient to keep. These small additions to the concept turned what might have otherwise been a simple and forgettable card into a packet that feels more like a gift than anything else.

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Two printing options that people must also consider are digital printing versus offset printing. Digital printing applies ink to a page using a digital printer and offset printing applies ink to a page using metal plates and rollers. There are pros and cons to both. While you can get good digital print quality using a digital printer, offset printing’s quality is superior and has better color matching. Digital prints are far cheaper and better for small batches of prints, while offset is better for larger batches due to its higher set-up price for creating plates. However, unlike digital, offset printing gives you far more options of paper. Offset printing allows you to print on thicker paper, rougher paper and all sorts of specialty papers. It’s important to decide which of these methods will best suit your print mailer campaign. This designer’s humble opinion: while digital can be cheap and easy, offset printing is truly the way to show off photography.

There are a number of other printing techniques that can also be used to elevate a project! Here are some that could easily make your print promo stand out amongst the crowd:

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Letterpress: Letterpress printing is just that — pressing ink (traditionally type) into paper. Letterpress printing has been around since the 1400s, and with the more recent advancement of using photopolymer plates instead of traditional wood type, there are even more possibilities in this print method. With photopolymer plates, much more detail can be achieved. Nowadays, letterpress is prized for the deep impression that can be achieved when the ink is pressed into the paper, and offers really tactile and beautiful results. Whenever I’m given anything letterpressed, I’m more inclined to keep it.

Foil Stamping: Similar to letterpress, a foil press is used to apply foil to paper. Most popular are metallic foils applied to the print, giving an eye-catching and shiny appearance to specific elements on the page.

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Laser-cutting: Laser-cutting is a technique where machines are used to burn intricate designs into or even through various materials. From paper to metal to wood, the results can be dramatic. This technique can transform a simple mailer into something that gives depth and elegance to your work.

For advice or assistance with your own print or electronic promotions, contact us through our Consulting page.

Expert Advice: Estimate Worksheet

- - Expert Advice

By Craig Oppenheimer, Wonderful Machine

If you ask anyone to describe me (especially my colleagues or clients that I’ve produced shoots for), one thing they will all tell you is that I’m organized. When I head out of the office at the end of the day, my desk looks like an overhead shot from a Wes Anderson movie. Folders and post-it notes are aligned, and my pen, notepad and calculator are purposefully positioned next to each other. My orderly way of doing things extends to many aspects of my job, especially in the note-taking process when developing estimates.

Aside from determining creative and licensing fees, a lot of the skill required to create a proper estimate is about asking the right questions and having a method for taking notes. Large projects often require a handful of questions to be answered, while small projects may just need some points to be clarified. Either way, you want to be prepared for when you speak with a client by asking intelligent questions that will emphasize your ability to deliver the most cost efficient estimate based on their specific needs. I’ve developed the following worksheet that I use to write down my questions prior to hopping on the phone and to organize my thoughts as I compile an estimate:

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The first page starts with basic contact information, and I’ll use this space to write down the name of the photographer, client and agency (when applicable) along with the name of the agency/client contact as well as the estimate’s due date.

The next section is all about the W’s: who, what, where, when and why. Some of these questions can be answered based on general correspondence with the client before the phone conversation, and some I might be able to answer on my own. Keep in mind that every project is different and some require additional information. I use the large blank section to write down extra project-specific questions. To be even more organized, I’ll often write down the information I already have and the questions I want to ask in blue ink, and record the answers in red ink. This may sound like overkill, but it keeps the information clear and easy to read afterward.

The last section is dedicated to licensing. On the most basic level, I always want to know how many images a client wants to license, how they plan on using them and for how long they want to use them for. Oftentimes the client’s requested use doesn’t match up with their intended use, and that’s the reason why I have two different sections to record this information. It’s common that a client will request unlimited use, but really they only intend on using the images on their website–that’s a huge difference. (You can read our pricing & negotiating articles for tips on reconciling this.)

The very last item on the sheet is a section to record a client’s budget (if they are willing to tell you this information). I placed it last because it’s always important to show enthusiasm for a project and talk about the creative approach before asking about money. However, I do always ask this question because it certainly impacts my approach to the estimate.

The second page of the worksheet helps me organize the estimate as I’m building it. It primarily acts as a list of production elements to think about to keep all of the major elements in mind. As I mentioned earlier, each shoot requires a different approach, but this list helps me consider every aspect from start to finish. Here is how it came in handy for a recent estimate I compiled:

This is an email I received from a client about a shoot:

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As you see, the information is a bit vague. I wrote down all of my questions on the worksheet before I called the agency contact, and below is the filled out version after the phone call (blue ink shows my questions and missing info, and red ink shows the responses)

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Once I had the information I needed, I used the second page of the worksheet to think through each line of the estimate. Here is what that looked like:

worksheet_2

Here is the final estimate based on all of the above organized information:

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Read all of our Expert Advice articles here, and visit our consulting page for information on the estimating services we offer.

UPDATE: 2/28/14
To address the comments to this post, I’d like to note that the scope of the project changed from when I reached out to acquire information to the time the final estimate shown above was delivered. The following estimate was the original one I compiled based on the original description:

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Expert Advice: Print Portfolios

- - Expert Advice

by Sean Stone, Wonderful Machine

I’ve had the opportunity to consult with hundreds of photographers over the years, and while I love working on websites, promos, or creative coaching, print portfolios have always been my favorite. Just as art buyers tell us how much they enjoy the chance to thumb through books at meetings, I love to see the work come to life on paper. Photographers will sometimes ask “what’s the best kind of portfolio?” to which I can only respond, “well, that depends…” and launch into a questionnaire about budget, marketing strategy, overall brand, and zodiac sign.

You need to consider a number of factors to help you choose the type of portfolio that will serve your needs:

How much to spend? Like all marketing materials, a portfolio is an investment. It’s going to require time and money to put together, and you need to decide how much of each you can realistically afford. The biggest consideration is just how big of a part this book will play in your marketing plan for the coming months/years. If you are going to travel, meet clients as often as you are able, or attend a lot of portfolio events, the book is critical and needs to be a priority. Similarly, if your goal is to get more advertising assignments, expect your book to be more critical to successful marketing. On the other hand, if you are shooting mainly editorial, your website is going to do most of the heavy lifting. A book is still a must have, but may not require the same level of investment.

What are you going to show? Your website is a much larger piece of real estate than a print book. A good book edit shouldn’t exceed thirty spreads. I have seen books come into our office that are gorgeous, but so lengthy that I jump forward ten pages at a time, even though I love the work. It’s better to create an edit that is short and sweet, with every page a superstar, than to risk a potential client skipping right past a winning shot.

If you shoot strictly one thing, like automotive, the choice of what goes into the edit is pretty much made for you. If, on the other hand, you shoot industrial, corporate portraits, and food, one book might not be the best way to go. Creating a single book that is geared towards several different types of clients doesn’t effectively serve them, nor will it benefit your own marketing goals. Consider the types of clients you shoot for, would like to shoot for, and how much they will realistically want to see your book. You might decide that it makes sense to have two or three separate, specialized books. And remember that you might not need to include everything you shoot in a book at all!

How will it compliment your brand? A web portfolio can have infinite variations in design and edit, but in the end it shows up on a screen. The presentation options at your disposal for a printed piece are pretty much limitless. As you start thinking about the look and material that your print portfolio should have, I recommend you grab a friend to brainstorm. A consultant, editor, or other trusted collaborator will do nicely. Think about words that describe your photographic style, and consider materials that speak to those descriptors. Are you shooting bright, cheerful, kids lifestyle? Maybe steer away from the carbon fiber binding or glossy, cool-tone paper. Photographing surfers and rockstars for edgy youth brands? The stoic leather book with plastic sleeves might not be best for you. The materials you choose to work with can work like a logo; not the star of the show, but can go a long way to reinforce your visual brand and create a more polished, memorable presentation. Here are a few of the more common print portfolio styles I recommend:

iPad: Not a print portfolio per se, but it can be useful in meetings. If a client calls without much notice, you can download an app like padport or foliobook, and build a presentation in a couple of hours. It can be most effective as a supplemental tool; containing your motion reel, and a very broad range of images to share if the client asks about work not seen in your book. Looking for something versatile and a little different? Take note from Mark Katzman, whose portfolio consists of a walnut box with a built-in iPad as well as printed images.

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Pros: Fast and flexible for in-person meetings.

Cons: If you don’t already have one, they aren’t exactly cheap. Also not a good option if you are shipping for a client to review. They might have a hard time figuring out where to find the work without you there, pushing the buttons.

On-Demand book: These days, there are dozens of options for printers, some are very inexpensive, and they generally top out around $400. While your options for sizes, papers, and cover materials will be limited, there is nothing stopping you from gussying the book up yourself. Matthew Carbone printed his book with Artifact Uprising, then worked with a local press to imprint his logo on the cover. Letterpress, slip cases or a clamshell box, you can use an inexpensive book as the basis for your presentation, not the final product. Many companies will have set numbers of pages that they accommodate, so you will have to take that into consideration when editing. Check out a full list of printing companies on our resources page.

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Pros: Cost effective and convenient. Upload your layout to an online template, get a book a week or two later!

Cons: No control over printing. You send images off and hope for the best. Prints are not interchangeable, so when the time comes to update, you need a whole new book.

Screwpost book: The ol’ standby. Usually just two covers held together with long screws. Traditional materials are usually leather or cloth, but a custom bookmaker like Nicole Andersen can help you get creative and build a presentation that will stand out. If you choose to skip the custom route, companies like Pina Zangaro and Lost Luggage offer slick, modern covers in metal, acrylic, carbon fiber etc. I’ve also found some beautiful wood books on Etsy.

Roger Snider’s book is one of my favorite examples of getting creative on a budget. We used an inexpensive Pina Zangaro aluminum book that was customized to reflect his brand of big rig truck photography. Roger didn’t have to break the bank to make something memorable and distinctive. All we needed was a good idea and a really, really good painter. View Roger’s full portfolio here.

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You can find a few types of paper drilled and scored, ready to pop right into one of these bindings. If you’re not afraid of a little hard work, you can always cut and punch the pages by hand, as I have done when building books with luster or glossy papers. Some paper vendors sell sample packs of double sided papers, so you can pull a few test prints before you commit to the stock that’s best for you!

While plastic sleeves have largely fallen out of favor, they are unquestionably convenient and shouldn’t be ruled out automatically. Creating single prints and loading them into sleeves is worlds faster and easier than printing double sided. Constructing books with double sided prints has more than once left me in a screaming rage, pacing the office and violently threatening the printer. If you are in a hurry, sleeves can save the day. Better to have a current portfolio with prints behind plastic than an outdated book.

Pros: Very customizable, whether you work with a bookmaker or portfolio manufacturer. Lots of options for sizes, style, and material means you can create a look that reflects your style and brand. The same goes for papers. Pages can be removed and replaced, so once you have invested in a good binding, the cost of an update is just paper and ink.

Cons: Will almost always require a larger investment of time and money compared to an on-demand book.

Box of prints: I don’t see this done too often, but it can be quite effective. Nick Nacca put together a great example; a nicely branded leather box packed with sturdy prints. What makes his portfolio clever is that each print includes his logo and contact information right on the front. When he is meeting with clients and they comment on a particular image, he invites them to keep it. So he is essentially using a box of leave behinds in place of a bound book.

View Nick’s portfolio here:

Pros: Completely flexible, easy to update and replace images. If you are in a meeting with multiple creatives you can pass prints around and keep everybody’s hands busy.

Cons: No real control of sequencing. Depending on your style and edit, this can be a deal breaker.

Especially if it’s been a while since you put together a book, I know the number of choices can seem intimidating. Thoughtfully considering your branding, work, and marketing strategy can help you whittle down these options and create a book that you and your clients will love. Whether you spend $20 or $2,000, the most important thing is to have a book! If you have strong photography and a comprehensive edit, your stylistic choice for presentation will only serve to enhance an already strong portfolio. The short answer to the question, “what’s the best kind of portfolio?” is really, “the one you have ready for meetings.”

For more video examples of print portfolios, check out our YouTube channel. If you would like help editing and designing a print portfolio, or any other promotional materials, send me an email! You can also find links to on-demand printers, portfolios, and bookmakers on our full resources page.

 

Expert Advice: Identity Design

by Amanda Friend, Wonderful Machine

There’s an ongoing battle at my parent’s house. The culprit: pasta sauce. Here’s the scoop. My father is a thrifty shopper. He isn’t swayed by packaging or marketing when it comes to groceries. The generic sauce’s quality doesn’t concern him. According to Dad, the store brand tastes just as good as the kind advertized on TV.

Not so, says my mother. Mom prefers the name brand pasta sauce. Nothing too fancy, but she’ll shell out a dollar or two more at the register. She enjoys their taste, and the fancier label doesn’t hurt either. Simply put, my mother likes quality goods, and is willing to pay more for them.

So, what’s really going on here, and how does it relate to photography? I won’t weigh in on the pasta sauce debate—I’m sure you have your own opinion. The big take away for me is that your brand determines what types of clients you’ll attract. Reread those first two paragraphs, and replace the words “pasta sauce” with “photography.” Who would you rather be hired by?

If you want an edge attracting quality clients, you need a solid graphic identity. As a photographer, your brand is made up of your photographic and graphic identities. For the purposes of this article, we’ll assume your portfolio (photographic identity) is in good shape, and will focus on improving your graphic identity.

What is a graphic identity?

The term graphic identity describes all the visual elements that help communicate to the world who you are and what you do. They’re the typefaces, colors, illustrations and design that support your photographs, and give structure and personality to your marketing materials. It starts with a logo and branches out into your stationery, website, print portfolio, promotional mailers and more. A great graphic identity stands the test of time and is flexible enough that you can use it over the years with only minor updates.

Here are a couple examples of successful identities used across a variety of materials/platforms:

Mike Tittel’s business cards, leave behinds and print mailers.

Peter Baker’s website, portfolio, business cards, blog and more.

How do I know if I need a new graphic identity?

Does your logo consist of your name spelled out in Helvetica? Then you might be ready for a make-over. Beyond that, there isn’t one right answer to this question. Some photographers start focusing on different specialties and realize their old identity won’t fit with their new work. Others target new clients, and want their brand to attract them. Some haven’t updated their brand in years, and want a fresh look.

If you’re considering updating an existing identity, don’t be afraid to ask for an outside opinion. When you’re close to your work, it makes it hard to be objective. Ask someone in the field, as opposed to a family member. You want to work with someone who deals with this stuff for a living and will give you a real, objective opinion.

Where do I start?

I’d recommend hiring a professional designer to tackle your new visual identity. A designer’s experience is an invaluable asset. They not only will have more resources available (like a larger typeface library for example), but will probably consider design options/ideas you wouldn’t think of on your own. If you have an existing brand, they can think of inventive ways to update it, should you want to keep some elements the same.

That being said, if you’re going to tackle this yourself, start with some good ol’ fashioned research. The subject? You. Yes, you should research yourself. It might sound silly, but it pays off. Lots of factors can influence your brand, so write them down before you open up Illustrator (or more likely Photoshop in this case). If you change you mind later on and still need an identity, you can pass along your research to your designer.

Here are some questions I’ll ask photographers when creating new identities:

Who are your current clients? What new clients are you trying to appeal to?

Important questions. Your visual identity isn’t just a form of personal expression—it’s a tool to help you get hired. It should appeal to your clients. Now, by this, I don’t mean that you should pander. Nor do I mean that your identity can’t have any personal flourishes. But there is a difference between what appeals to you personally and how you present yourself professionally. You might like an industrial look, but if you want to shoot lifestyle, your logo shouldn’t include steel bolts and gritty textures. There would be a disconnect.

One example of good connection with clients/style: Matt Dutile’s business cards. Matt is predominantly a travel photographer, and his luggage tag business cards express this nicely.

Matt Dutile’s business cards.

What type of photography makes up the core of your work? Is there a type of photography you’d like to shoot more of?
Use your work as a compass to guide you. I wouldn’t create a delicate, ornate brand for an action adventure photographer. When designing, I often keep sample photos on hand so I can compare how a logo or colors work with the photographer’s images.

Some photographers shoot a few different specialties that would benefit from being shown on separate websites or in separate portfolios. In cases like this, consider creating a new brand for each portfolio. Some elements can carry over to each to establish a connection between the two.

Pretend you currently had no brand at all. What important aspects would you want your brand to convey clients?
Keep you list pertinent, but concise. A simple message will translate better than a complicated one. Some things, like a level of professionalism, are given. Beyond that, what else do you want clients to know about you?

Are their any brands, whether they be a another photographers or a company’s, that you particularly like?  Think less about the visual design and more about the message behind each brand.
Branding is a visual language, and one person’s “sophisticated” could be another person “simple”.  Here’s a reference board I sometimes send to photographers:


These photographer logos provide a range of styles, and I would consider them all well executed.  I’ll ask clients to let me know how they feel about each of these. I find out what they like and dislike, but I also find out what each of these logos express to them.

Complete this exercise so you can help define the look you’re searching for. Don’t be afraid to check out companies unrelated to photography for this either—inspiration can be found in strange places. Maybe enlist the help of a friend to gather example logos. They might find something you wouldn’t have considered on your own.

Who is your competition?
Alright, I confess: I don’t usually ask photographers this, but I do handle this research on my own. It’s a good thing to review before you get to work. It helps me see what others are doing, which forces me to be more innovative. Also, there’s less risk of accidentally copying someone. I wouldn’t define a brand solely one what your competition is doing, but I definitely recommend seeing what’s out there.

Design Tips

You’ve done your research, and you’re ready to execute. Grab a cup of coffee or two, and heed this advice:

  • Sketch. You’ll find better ideas faster by sketching with a pencil and paper, or by playing around with lots of rough drafts on the computer.
  • Location, location, location. Where will you use your logo? There’s your portfolio,  your print promotions and your email campaigns. But where else? Are you an avid tweeter, and need a killer avatar? Make sure you know everywhere your brand/logo will appear before getting started, so all of your needs are covered.
  • Start in black and white. When you’re ready to mock-up your logo ideas, hold off on color until you finalize the logo form. Your logo should look well executed without the assistance of color (though color can enhance its appearance).
  • Use appropriate typefaces. This relates to knowing your work and your audience well. You might need to purchase new font licenses to find the perfect match. Try FontFontH&FJ, or House Industries for typefaces with flair.
  • … and don’t stretch them, ever! You wouldn’t stretch the proportions of your photos, so don’t stretch the letters of another artist.
  • Pick colors that complement your work. Your color choices should enhance your brand and help you stand out. Again, think about all the places where you’ll be using your identity.
  • Execution above all. Spend extra time refining your work to make it top quality. Pay attention to small details like proportion, kerning (adjusting the space between letters), and scalability. Better to put time in now rather than after you’ve spend $1,000 on printing.

Additional Takeaways

Rules are made to broken. Yes, I am willing to put this in the section after dos and don’ts. The truth is that brands are complex. Sometimes, something that wouldn’t work for 99% of other photographers will work for you, or vice versa. The key is to know when a concept clicks, or if it’s too forced.

Branch out. A little variety within your collateral will go a long way. You can use the same layout for your emailer and postcard, but you’ll keep client interest longer with subtle variations throughout your brand. Ideally, your collateral will look like it belongs together without being exactly the same.

Oooh, shiny! If you have it in your budget, consider using different print techniques to distinguish your collateral. There’s foil stamping, die cutting, spot varnishes, and letter press to name a few (and for the look no one has, try printing your business cards with thermo-sensitive ink). Even selecting a heavier paper stock for your business cards can change the tone of your identity.

Don’t design in a vacuum. Take breaks. Look at your work with fresh eyes. Ask someone for feedback. Think about it, and then go watch a movie and come back later. Your work benefits when you’re in a good state of mind.

You can read about Wonderful Machine’s design services on our consulting page.

 

Expert Advice: Blogging for Photographers

By Maria Luci, Wonderful Machine

The blog… While some have embraced it as an easy and fun way to keep others up to date on their latest projects and daily activities, to others, the mere mention of the word makes them cringe. Keeping a blog up to date, knowing what to write, or even how to begin, has become the bane of many photographers’ existences.

But whatever your feelings towards blogs, I do believe they are an important part of every commercial photographer’s business. As Wonderful Machine’s publicist, I have been writing daily blog articles on photography for several years now—and I’ve picked up a trick or two along the way.  So, for all your blog-aphobics, or even for the blog-aholics looking for tips, here are a few things I’ve learned…

Why Blogs Matter

Why have a blog anyway? I’m sure a lot of photographers ask themselves this question—and then many come and ask me. There’s no one answer, but the reply I give most often is that a blog is the perfect way to keep creatives updated. While your website should only contain the best of the best, and most appropriate work for each portfolio, a blog allows you to expand on this. You can show your latest work, interesting personal projects, maybe some photos that aren’t exactly in line with the rest of your portfolio. It’s also a great way to connect and show some personality—and the chance, if you’d like, to show a different side of yourself. Sharing behind the scenes info and fun stories helps creatives get a better sense of who you are and what it would be like to work with you. Another great thing about blogs? They’re free! While promos, emailers and just about everything else related to sharing your work costs money, a blog is a free way to share your work with the world.

A few more reasons to have a blog:

  • Creatives love them! I’ve heard from a lot of art buyers and photo editors that they like looking at photographers’ blogs.
  • Search engines love them! While your website may have little to no copy on it, blogs can be filled with keyword heavy copy and tags, making it easier for search engines and creatives to find you online (increasing your SEO).  A picture may be worth a thousand words, but a thousand words is worth more to Google (not that you have to write a thousand words in every post…)
  • Blogs offer RSS feeds, which automatically allows for syndication of your entries to a wide audience. It’s a simple and free way for creatives to follow you.
  • It can help further your brand. Have a fun, quirky logo and photo style? Fun, quirky commentary on a blog (with matching branding, of course) will enhance your brand. Structured architecture photographer? A blog discussing the structures you shoot can help cement your style, and help you be known as the photographer as opposed to a photographer.

Types of Blogs

There are a number of great blog platforms out there. At Wonderful Machine, we use WordPress, which is easily updateable and good for those who like to write. One factor I really like about WordPress is how easily I can schedule posts in advance. Going on vacation for a week? I can write articles ahead of time and set them to post each day, at whatever time I desire. Also, WordPress is chock full of plug-ins to help design, share, promote and otherwise make your blog simple to use and snazzy to look at. I’d recommend this platform to anyone who enjoys both customization and writing.

For those who find posting a gaggle of photos preferable to writing prose, I’d highly recommend Tumblr. It’s a snap to post photo upon photo—and then have those pictures shared across the web. Effortless is a word Tumblr uses to describe itself, and I certainly agree.

As a side note, Tumblr is also customizable, but you may not find the same ease, or at least support, as you would with WordPress. I’d also like to add that Tumblr can be a great way to share a personal project—like with Julian Love’s Clara Hayward project. Tumblrs are a cinch to set up, making it an ideal way to highlight a special series or to separate your corporate from lifestyle work.

For inspiration, here are a few of my personal favorite photography Tumblrs:

Other blog platforms to consider:

What to Blog About

Your blog can take a number of directions, but I’d recommend deciding which works best for you before you get too involved. Plan, plan, plan! For many photographers, posting daily pictures, Instagrams and behind the scenes photos works just fine. They’re not big writers, but they want to keep clients and fans informed on what they’re up to. Then there are the Chase Javrises and Zack Araises of the world, who enjoy sharing knowledge and opinions. Their blogs are populated with photo industry news, tips and insights. Their astute posts have earned them huge followings and have helped propel their brands and careers to the next level (but as I bring up in the next paragraph, this type of blogging isn’t for everyone). Then there are the photographers who simply post tear sheets from their latest assignments. All of these can be viable options, but before you jump into one particular style, make sure you can keep up with it and that it fits your brand and personality, as well as your time constraints.

When you’re planning out your direction, make sure you also consider your audience. I frequently find photographer blogs that are targeted toward other photographers, rather than the creatives who can hire them. And yes, Zack’s blogs are aimed at photographers, but he can get away with this because he often hosts workshops and speaks at events. This means he earns revenue off of his audience. He also seems to really enjoy being a spokesperson for the photography community and dedicates a lot of time and energy into it. But, if your primary goal is reaching art buyers and photo editors, make sure you shape your blog accordingly. Ways to do this can include writing posts that highlight your technical skills or sharing BTS shots that demonstrate how fun/easy you can be to work with.

Once you’ve chosen a direction, and acknowledged your target audience, the next step is more planning (sorry, but only fools jump in!). Before you start posting away, I recommend putting together an editorial calendar. Do you have interesting assignments coming up? Make sure you plan on taking behind the scenes images and set a date to sit and write about the job. If you’re more of a knowledge sharer, keep up with trends and current photography news. Also, plan out topics you can write about in advance—and schedule dates to write and post these articles. And stick to it! Here at Wonderful Machine, I post seven or more articles a week—which believe me, is pretty much a full time job, and I don’t expect this from you—but, the way I accomplish this is by having a printed calendar on my desk at all times. I pencil in article ideas and check them off (by filling in a little black circle) once they’re scheduled. Then I know I can move on to the next post. This way, I never miss a day and I know what types of articles I’ve been writing about and what’s missing. I also keep a running list of all Expert Advice articles written by the WM staff, along with ideas for future articles. Again, this lets me see what we’ve covered and what needs to be covered in the future.

My calendar for the WM blog.My WM blog calendar. 

Sample of our Expert Advice calendarExcerpt from our Expert Advice calendar. Initials indicate who I’ve assignment to write the article. 

Categories are also a good way to keep yourself on track. Come up with a few before you get started. Here, we haveWeekend Links every Friday and SaTEARday posts on Saturdays. Ideas for individual photographers could include designated behind the scenes days, weekly advice posts, monthly video shares or an interview column with fellow photographers or favorite clients. Creating categories and setting schedules makes blogging easier and helps keep you going when you’re feeling stuck.

Mostly though, I’d say stick to what you know. If you’re the person everyone comes to for advice, share that advice on your blog. If you’ve got ton of Instagram followers or great personal pics that just don’t work in your portfolio, post those on your blog. If you have interesting behind the scenes photos, share those. If you’re a writer, write! If you’re funny, be funny! If you’re lazy, well, maybe don’t start a blog…

Sharing and Tracking

Just as it’s important to track your website’s analytics, it’s also important to track your blog. Through analytics, you can see what posts generate the most buzz and which may be falling flat. This is valuable information, you don’t want to be wasting your time on posts no one reads. There are a number of ways to track how well your blog posts are doing. Number one being Google Analytics. It’s easy to set up and will give you a great deal of useful information. A few things you can track through Google Analytic’s include:

  • Number of visitors to your blog
  • How long each visitor stayed, what pages/posts they viewed
  • Where those visitors live, what language they speak
  • What pages they entered on, what pages they exited from (which can help you see which posts continue to be popular over time. For example, our Writing a Photographer Bio post continues to bring in thousands of visitors a month, even though it’s over a year old)
  • Traffic sources to your blog

In tandem with Google Analytics, I would also recommend using some sort of RSS feed with your blog. Google Feedburner (which unfortunately looks like it may be going the way of doomed Google Reader) allows you to see how many people are subscribed to your blog through RSS, how many people view each post through RSS daily, and which posts are the most popular via RSS each month. This is important to add to your Google Analytics results since many people never actually click through to a site when viewing through readers and/or email feeds.

I’d also advise posting links to your blog posts on your other social media pages, like Twitter and Facebook. To do this, I  use a link tracking service called bitly. Bitly creates trackable links for you, so you can see how many people click each one.

BitlyBitly example 

If you’re using a Facebook page, you can also see how many people view each post, even if they’re not clicking—this is called the “total reach.”

Photographers Doing It Right

There are plenty of photographers out there already doing everything right, blog-wise. Reviewing and keeping up with their blogs can help inspire you to write your own follow-worthy blog. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Zack Arias’s Ask Me Anything blog. Recently back from hiatus, Zack’s “Ask” blog brings in thousands of viewers and helps brand him as the go-to man for any and all photography related questions.
  • Chase Jarvis‘s blog. Chase’s blog has helped make him a “household” name in the photography world. Everyone knows about it and a heck of a lot of people read it.
  • Dana Neibert’s photo journal. Dana’s blog lets his images do that talking. It’s all photos. Let me rephrase that, it’s all beautiful photos (and a few videos). It gives the viewer a glimpse into Dana’s assignments while also solidifying his elegant photo style and brand. And, unlike his well curated website, his blog allows Dana to share all of his best photographs, whether they work in his portfolio’s edit or not.
  • Joe McNally’s blog. Joe’s blog takes you behind the scenes, and gives insights into his recent and past projects. His thirty plus years of experience shines through and makes for an interesting feed to follow.
  • Matt and Agnes Hage’s blog. The Hages are adventure/outdoor sports photographers, and their blog sure lets you know it. They’re constantly updating about their wild adventures from across the globe. If you’re into skiing, climbing or hiking, their site is interesting, whether you’re interested in photography or not.

Well, that’s about all I can cram into one blog post. If you’re looking for more individualized attention, or have questions about blogging I haven’t addressed here, shoot me an email at maria@wonderfulmachine.com.

Expert Advice: Photo Editing in MoodShare

- - Expert Advice

by Paul Stanek, Wonderful Machine

Some of you may recall Sean’s Oscar-worthy performance in a stop motion piece we did together: The Portfolio Edit: Sean Stone Style. Well, I’ve been working with a modification of Sean’s photo editing process utilizing a new online platform, currently in beta form, called MoodShare.

MoodShare was not developed with photo editing specifically in mind. In fact, their team was quite pleasantly surprised and intrigued when I first reached out to them about my success using their site in my photo consulting. Regardless, if the shoe fits….

You may be familiar with the term “mood board.” From Wikipedia:

A mood board is a type of collage that may consist of images, text, and samples of objects in a composition of the choice of the mood board creator. Designers and others use mood boards to develop their design concepts and to communicate to other members of the design team.

MoodShare set out to create an online, interactive space where anyone given access to the same “digital mood board” could log on (all at once if desired) and easily toss in whatever images, videos, text, etc., that they felt was useful to a project. Multiple boards can be created for the same project, which is a helpful bonus in many ways. The live element—where you can literally see an image moving or a word forming—is really where MoodShare is making the most out of some of the ever-evolving technological capabilities available to us. It’s a natural augmentation to brainstorming conference calls of creatives scattered across cities, or even countries.

Where does photo editing come into the picture? First, I have to give props to Austin-based WM photographer King Lawrence for emailing me my first invite to a MoodShare board when we were working on his photographic identity. I found myself in a moveable and scalable grid with several of King’s images grouped together, with notes added. Along the left and top were navigation and tools, and along the bottom was an augmentable pool of resources he’d uploaded. I immediately knew I’d found the perfect digital complement to Sean’s table of “tiiiiiny prints.” After some tests, I decided to try it out on my next editing project, Mark Weinberg‘s print portfolio.

As usual, I used Adobe Bridge to perform the initial trimming down from several hundred images to a smaller group of selects. At that point, instead of printing these selects, I started a MoodShare project and uploaded them to a fresh board. I could drag my uploads from a library along the bottom into the manipulatable grid space, and once they were there, I could easily size and arrange them however I pleased. I found the broad range of the space’s scalability to be a real plus: I could get up close & personal with a couple of images to see if they were the perfect pair, or zoom way out on a large body of imagery to get the big picture. I began experimenting with pairings and sequences, and eventually had laid out a clean presentation of an edit draft that I was ready to share with Mark. I had the choices of exporting the board as a PDF, sharing it as an un-editable link, or give him full access to the guts of the board. I went with option C, wanting to give the real-time interaction a whirl. He accepted the invitation, reviewed my work, and added a couple images and notes for consideration. What would follow was one of the most fruitful series of phone conversations I’d ever had, as we’d both logged into the board and navigated/manipulated it simultaneously while talking. Here’s a snippet of the final result:

moodshareweinberg

And here’s a video of the finished portfolio:

I also used MoodShare while working on a print sequence for for Matthew Rakola. Here’s a brief time-lapse of the process:

As I’ve mentioned, MoodShare is currently in beta, and will be free as long as it remains so. So grab up an account and start checking it out while it’s on the house! Let me know if you have any questions regarding this process, or if you’re interested in working with myself or one of our other photo editors on a consulting project through a platform like this. I’m in continued talks with MoodShare about potential tweaks with editing in mind, and about a possible discount for Wonderful Machine members, so stay tuned!

Expert Advice: Finding A Rep

- - Expert Advice

By Craig Oppenheimer, Wonderful Machine

One of the most common conversations we have with photographers (apart from the iPad vs. print portfolio debate) is about finding and working with reps. Many photographers dream of a day when they can just be responsible for making pictures and have someone else find them assignments. But what’s it really like to have a rep and how close does that dream match up with reality? Mark Winer from The Gren Group and former rep Melissa Hennessy were kind enough to help me separate fact from fiction.

What does a rep do?

A rep (or photographer’s representative or photographer’s agent) is someone who serves as a liaison between photographers and clients. In simple terms, they help their photographers get assignments. But a great rep will have a deep understanding of the business opportunities out there, they’ll be able to exploit connections you might not have, they’ll be savvy about negotiating assignment fees and they’ll be able to give you perspective and guidance to propel your career.

Some reps lean more towards branding and marketing and farm out the production. Others lean more towards production and expect their photographers to take the lead on promotion. Nearly all reps handle cost estimates for their photographers. Some reps specialize in a particular genre of photography (especially fashion, reportage and architecture). Some focus on a particular type of client (advertising, corporate, editorial). Some reps only work with photographers in a particular geographic area. All reps build a roster of complementary photographers to cover the needs of whatever clients they’re going after.

What they don’t do is manage your entire business. You (or your studio manager) are still going to have to handle bookkeeping, insurance, payroll. And chances are, you’ll have to maintain all of your marketing materials (like a website, blog, print portfolio, print mailers, emailers, stationery) and execute your portion of an overall marketing plan.

Are you a good candidate for a rep? (Do you need them and do they need you?)

Many of our photographers have great relationships with their reps and their careers have flourished as a result. But as with any partnership, it’s better to be alone than wish you were. Finding the right match, where your interests, goals and expectations align, is crucial to a successful relationship. If you enjoy and are good at marketing, estimating and production, then a rep might just amount to one more cook in the kitchen. But if you think you could be more effective creatively by having a partner to handle some of those business details, then an agent might be an appropriate solution for you.

Even if you’re ready for a rep, you’ll need to realistically assess whether you’re an attractive candidate for them. If you’re not ready, you could waste a lot of time chasing reps when you could be chasing clients instead. The more established a rep is, the more demanding they will be of you. A successful rep will expect that you’re generating significant revenue already and that they’ll be able to share in that revenue right away. They’ll want to see that you can bring skills or other attributes to their group that they might be missing. They’ll want to see that you already have solid marketing materials. And it won’t hurt if they like you on a personal level too.

Understand that any rep who takes you on is going to have to spend significant time, energy and money getting to know your interests and skills, incorporating you into their business and introducing you to their clients. That represents a lot of risk for them. So they tend to not jump into relationships as quickly as a photographer might. I asked Melissa and Mark:What should photographers be looking for in a relationship with a rep?

Melissa: “An industry partner who will help them define their branding, marketing, and growth potential, as well as someone who can help them edit their work, inspire, and motivate them to keep making great pictures. Photographers are able to create so much more when they don’t have to carry the weight of other aspects of the business on their shoulders”

Mark: “Well, I hope they are not looking for the holy grail. I sometimes think that photographers believe finding a rep is the key to their success, which it is not. That is when the real hard work starts.”

How do you find a rep?

Once you understand what you’re looking for in a rep, you’ll need to contact appropriate reps just as you would reach out to potential clients. There are plenty of ways to find lists of reps. We have an extensive list of them on our Resources page. Rob Haggart of APhotoEditor has a great list, and you can find reps by looking through source books like at-edge.

Some rep’s websites don’t say exactly what aspects of your business they will offer support for, so you’ll need to contact appropriate reps directly to start the conversation. Narrow down your search by finding reps who work with photographers of your caliber, genre and geographic area. Send a thoughtful email to the person who handles photographer inquiries explaining a little bit about yourself and your business and what you like about them. Then follow up with a phone call. Don’t be discouraged if every rep isn’t clamoring to sign you right away. Even conversations that end in a “no” will help inform your search so you can get closer to a “yes” the next time.

How should a photographer approach you, and how do you decide if a photographer is right for you?

Melissa: “They should review the agent’s roster on his/her site and be able to answer the question of why they’d be a good fit for the group. Personal phone calls and individual emails are best, along with a PDF of 5-10 images. I look at the work first. It has to be consistent, have a definitive point of view, and be commercially applicable. After the work, I look at the photographer’s personality. I like to work with people who are driven and always looking forward.”

Mark: “If you’re just beginning your career, for example, you may be better off focusing on a smaller or mid-sized agency. And if your focus is on fashion and beauty, you should pursue an agent who shares that vision. Also, be patient and do research – take your time to find the right agent. You are much better off searching when you have some momentum on your side – a good rep will probably want you to bring some clients to the partnership. Most importantly, the work needs to fit within our niche, which is location, lifestyle and portrait work. And we also ask that the photographer have a good track record of producing national advertising campaigns. Most of our photographers had already had success on their own before joining The Gren Group.”

What about commissions and contracts?

Each rep will have their own approach to their photographer agreements, but here are a few major elements of a rep agreement that you should look for and understand:

1. Commissions:

Perhaps the most important element of a rep agreement is the commission that your rep will take on a project. Your contract should clearly specify what percentage the rep gets and what percentage the photographer gets. It also has to specify what items are subject to that commission. Will your rep get a percentage of just your creative/licensing fees or will they collect a percentage of some of your expense items too? We find that reps typically get between 20% and 30% of the fees they negotiate for their photographers. For Paula, that means on anything that is not reimbursed by the client as an expense. Mark says their commission (25%) is taken from “creative, usage, travel, prep, and tech scout fees.”

2. House Accounts and Exclusivity:

House accounts are clients that you currently work for (or have worked for) prior to entering into an agreement with a rep. Each rep will handle these differently. Some reps will take less than their regular commission on your house accounts, while others may not take any commission at all. Sometimes, reps might take less than their regular commission for the first year of your contract on house accounts, then take full commission after that year (or given time period) has ended. I’ve found that for the most part, reps will want to have an exclusive agreement where they take a commission on any project that you work on, regardless of your previous history with a client or whether they get you the job or not. Melissa describes her philosophy on exclusivity:

I’ve been fortunate that every photographer I have worked with truly understands the value of the partnership and brings any project to my attention that he/she was contacted directly for. With social media and both photographer and agent consistently promoting the work in a variety of platforms, it’s rare that an artist brings in a project solely on his/her own, unless it truly was a new connection or referral. Most of my artists’ projects were larger productions, far greater than what any one person could have handled, so every project was a team effort, regardless of where it originated. That may sound odd to a photographer, but if you know your agent is out there working for you every day with your best interest at heart, you’ll have no issue with paying commissions.”

3. Responsibilities:

It’s important to be clear about what you can expect from your rep, and what they will expect from you. What promotions are you responsible for paying for/doing, and what do you expect your photographers to do/pay for? Also, what is your level of involvement in estimating and/or production?

Mark: “Our philosophy is to Keep It Simple! We pay for all our own travel, website updates, portfolio shipping, trade shows, database subscriptions and email campaigns. The photographer pays for their own trade advertising, promotional trips and direct mail pieces – we offer to cover the mailing costs if they wish. We also do several large ‘group’ direct mail booklets each year, of which we do ask photographers to share some of the expense. We are involved in all the estimating and negotiating, and oversee most of the production. Since we specialize in location and travel work, there is usually a lot of production involved and we almost always hire a producer.”

Melissa: “My initial involvement begins with deciding on what goes in the book/portfolio, and who we will target or want to work with. From there we’ll decide on the marketing approach.  When we’re asked to bid a project, I prepare the estimates working closely with a producer (if budget allows) and review it with the artist before submitting to the client. I will also place crews on hold if the artist is on a job or out of the office. Once the job is awarded, I handle the advances, purchase orders, and other necessary paperwork, and the production aspects are handed over to the producer or photographer.  I still oversee the process as the liaison between the client and our team.”

For both Mark and Paula, the clients pay the photographers directly and then the photographers then pay the rep their share (and send along copies of receipts of all the expenses). Our experience is that it’s more typical that an agent will bill the client and then pay the photographer when they get paid.

4. Termination

Sometimes a relationship doesn’t work out for a variety of reasons, and it’s important to know upfront what happens if you decide to part ways. Who keeps the clients? Do you need to pay your rep if you work for clients they got for you after you’ve parted ways?

Melissa: “Most agents have a severance clause that stipulates that the photographer continues to pay a “severance fee” for six months plus one month for every year they are under contract. So if they’ve worked together for 5 years, the severance would be 11 months. Assuming the relationship has been in effect for at least a year, the severance is calculated by adding the total commissions paid in the prior year, divided by 12.  That amount is then considered the monthly “severance” payable to the agent every 30 days until the severance period expires.”

Mark: “We really have no specific rules on who owns the client relationship after the partnership. In general, I would say that it’s driven by the client. If the photographer has the better relationship with the creative director, then he or she can certainly take that client. If the agent and the art buyer have a great bond, then the rep can continue cultivating that relationship. I would say our contract is more of a good faith agreement. It is meant to lay the foundation for what is expected on both sides, with room for negotiation. Although there are spaces for signatures, we do not require them to be signed. Our photographers are free to leave whenever they like, with no penalty or grace period for commissions. We do not expect future commissions from clients we may have helped them obtain, just as we would not pay them a fee for a client they may have helped us obtain. In general, we believe that a strong rep/photographer partnership is based on trust, communication and shared ideals and no amount of paperwork or legal mumbo jumbo can replace that.”

All of the above elements are typically detailed in a contract. Many contracts are very detailed, long, and full of legal terms. However, to my surprise, Mark said his contract is more of a “handshake on paper” and is a simple document that outlines their general agreement. Mark was kind enough to supply a copy to me:

click to enlarge 

This one-page contract is pretty straightforward and easy to digest. But it may be the exception to the rule. Recently one of our photographers shared a contract for a different rep that as you’ll see, is quite different:

click to enlarge 

This 9-page document covers everything from their commission percentage to payment terms if a photographer dies. As you see, it’s quite elaborate and specific.

No matter what your agreement looks like, it’s important that you understand the relationship you’re entering into. Also, I recommend that you ultimately have your attorney review your agreement prior to signing it.

[Footnote: There used to be an organization called the Society Of Photographers And Artists Representatives. But their website spar.org seems to be disabled. Anyone know if they’re still around?]

This post was created by the fine folks at Wonderful Machine.

Expert Advice: Marketing to Fine Art Galleries

- - Expert Advice

by Sean Stone, Wonderful Machine

Fine art photography is something that very few photographers can support themselves on. But what photographer hasn’t dreamed of trading assignment work for the life of an artist? Most commercial photographers continue to produce personal photographs of some kind or another throughout their career, and while a blog is all well and good, there’s nothing like the thrill of seeing your photos on the pristine white walls of a gallery. So how do you get there from here? Is promoting to galleries different than to commercial clients? I came to Wonderful Machine with a background in art gallery management, where I handled just about every medium; oil painting, sculptures made of teeth, bronze, and yes – photography. Gallery owners Brian Clamp and Jennifer Schwartz were good enough to answer a few of my questions about how commercial photographers can show their fine art work. And in addition to their insights, I’ll offer some advice of my own on how to get your foot in the door of an art gallery.

Commercial art buyers are accustomed to seeing “personal” or “fine art” categories on photographers’ websites, and in my experience they are generally positive on that. But how does the gallery world view commercial shooters? I spoke to Brian Clamp, owner and director of ClampArt, about how photographers can effectively move between the worlds of commercial and fine art. Many of the artists that Brian carries, including Jill Greenberg, Stephen Wilkes, and Manjari Sharma, are sought-after assignment photographers who also exhibit widely. Brian told me that while there was a time when commercial photographers weren’t taken seriously by curators, this is no longer the case. “I like to know that my photographers work commercially. Successful commercial photographers have artistic ideas that they can better realize with the resources they gain from assignment work. They also tend to have more business savvy than some photographers who shoot exclusively fine art. Experienced photographers understand that they are partners with my gallery; they have their own work to do to get pieces sold, and it doesn’t end when they drop off the work.” Collectors, too, like to know that photographers have created an ad or editorial piece that made a strong impression, which Brian says makes their work easier to sell.

So what are the actual steps you have to take to see your work on a wall outside of your own home?

1) Evaluate. Take a good look at your photographs. Do you have something to say? Do you have a unique, compelling, and cohesive body of work or just a mish-mash of “personal” photos without any unifying theme? Though it’s rare for collectors to purchase an entire series of photographs, a group of photographs that somehow relate to one another are much more interesting to galleries and collectors than one-off pieces. After all, it’s hard to make a profound artistic statement with one photograph. Successful fine art photographers tend to dig deep into a particular subject or style not only to make great art, but to build a brand. Cindy Sherman does self-portraits. Andreas Gursky shoots architecture and landscapes. Gregory Crewdson shoots elaborately staged scenes. What do you do? If you don’t see a cohesive body of work when you look at your photographs, keep shooting until you do.

2) Edit. Once you’ve decided that you do have something worth showing the world, you’ll need to select a finite set of pictures. I find it helpful to edit using tiny prints (the size of a playing cards). (My colleague Paul Stanek prefers editing on a screen using MoodShare.) You might start with a couple of hundred of them spread out on a big table or on the floor. Be open-minded about the editing process. Rather than thinking about how, when and where the photographs were made, let the photos guide you. Look for photographs that naturally go together and that add up to more than the sum of their parts. Edit down to a manageable number (30-40 images), eliminating the weakest photos, redundant photos and photos that don’t support the group. Next, work on your sequencing. People look at photos one at a time, but the order in which you look at them can affect the overall impact of the group even if there’s not a literal narrative. Start with one of your strongest images and one that exemplifies your theme well. Then see how the others fall into place. You might have a slightly different sequence for your website where you will typically display horizontals individually and verticals in pairs. Make sure that those pairs match up well.

3) Marketing materials. You’ll need some basic marketing materials to support your pictures, to make it easy to communicate with people, and to demonstrate your professionalism.

Most important is your portfolio. Commercial clients like to see photographs in book form because it makes it quick and easy to look at and it’s not so different from how they use photos themselves. Galleries will tend to want to see your photographs loose in a clamshell box. It helps them to see your individual photos as objects of art that they can hang on a wall and sell. Each photograph in that particular collection should be printed on the same type of paper. All of the prints should be the same size, which should match the size of the box. The images should have 1-2″ of white space around them. They should be unsigned on the front. The back of each print should be neatly labeled with your name and the title of the work (that way if you’re discussing the photos over the phone, they know what to call each print).

You’ll need simple stationery including letterhead, #10 envelope, crack-n-peel label, note card, and business card. If you don’t have a graphic identity already, working with a professional designer is well worth the investment.

You’ll need an artist statement. It should be just a few paragraphs describing your artistic journey in general and providing context for those photographs in particular.

You’ll need a website. There are so many excellent, inexpensive website templates out there now that there’s no excuse not to have one. (You can find a list on our Resources page.) It’s a great way for anyone anywhere to see your photos instantly. I recommend keeping it simple and elegant, with big pictures and intuitive navigation. The menu should include 1-5 sections of images, an artist statement page, a CV page, and a contact page with your name, email address and phone number (once you have gallery representation, you can substitute in that information).

4) Research. Get the lay of the land. There are many galleries, group shows and competitions out there, but they’re not all going to be right for you and your photographs. Some galleries don’t show photography at all. Some will be too competitive for you. Others will be not competitive enough. Before you contact anyone in the business, you should educate yourself about the industry and start to get a sense of how you might fit into it. See what’s going on in your local area and also nationally and internationally. There are lots of sources for this type of information. Every year, Art in America magazine publishes an extensive list of galleries, museums, and artists in North America. In September, they plan to launch an online versionArt-collecting.com has a great list of retail galleries by city and state. Wonderful Machine also has a list of galleries that show photography on our Resources page. Check with local arts organizations for exhibitions taking place in your area. And you can find opportunities to participate in group shows around the country through the Society for Photographic Education.

Younger galleries tend to be less concerned with exhibition history, and more willing to take a chance on a new photographer whose work they think is interesting and salable. Before you approach a more established gallery about carrying your work, it can be good to gain a bit of experience and exposure from group shows and contests. Jennifer Schwartz, owner of the Jennifer Schwartz Gallery in Atlanta, recommends that photographers consider entering even smalls shows at first. “But be selective about which open calls for group shows you submit to. Enter your work only to shows by jurors with a good reputation, and exhibitions that you are excited about.” She points out that nearly all of these require a submission fee, but not all are equally valuable. Consider the background of the organization putting on the show, and be aware that some are more about making money from those fees than curating top-notch work. As you participate in group shows, make sure you set your sites higher and higher. Galleries want to look at your CV and see that you’ve progressed to bigger and better shows over time. One group show tip from my own gallery experience: when participating in larger shows, sometimes you’ll be told to deliver work ready for hanging between “day x and day y.” This gives them time to deal with new inventory, but it can also mean that they plan to start hanging before the final deadline. Better to get your work in early and increase your chances of a prime spot!

Every time you discover a relevant gallery or industry contact, you’ll want to add them to your contact database so that you can refer to that information in the future. You might not be right for a particular gallery today, but at some point down the line you might be.

5) Submissions. Mass marketing can be an effective tool for commercial photographers. But you’ll need to take a more personalized approach in order to appeal to a gallery. Unless you’ve got a serious reputation already, I’d recommend starting locally. Compile a list of a handful of galleries that might be a good match for you. Then pick one and begin. Read their submission requirements carefully and follow them precisely. If they want to see your photographs on a CD, organize the photos in a way that makes them easy to view. Have the file name match the name of the image. Save them in a universally readable format like JPG or PDF. The files should be large enough to see clearly, but not so large as to take a long time to load or move around. Include in your package a hard copy of your cover letter, CV and artist statement and include digital versions on the CD as well. If they want to see prints, make sure you package them in a way that they won’t get damaged in transit and if you’re not going to pick them up yourself, make it easy for them to ship them back to you. At the submission stage, you don’t necessarily have to have prints framed and ready for hanging. There’s normally plenty of lead time for gallery shows, so you’ll have time for that. And the gallery may want to have a say in how big the prints should be and how they should be framed.

6) Feedback. If you’re doing your art strictly for your own pleasure or artistic expression, it won’t matter what anyone else thinks. But if you want other people to show it and buy it, you’re going to need to pay attention to how they respond to you and your photographs – and perhaps make adjustments along the way. Of course, you’ll have to take what any one person says with a grain of salt. Even the most experienced people will misjudge you from time to time. But the sum total of the feedback over the long term will tend to be pretty accurate. Keep in mind that your personality will play a big part in your success or failure. The way you interact with gallery owners and collectors will color the way they perceive your photographs. Everyone who buys your art is also buying a piece of you.

7) Pricing and editioning. At some point, you will have to start thinking about pricing and (gasp) editioning. As with advertising photography, pricing fine art is not a simple equation. Jennifer suggests that new photographers be prepared to price their work lower than they might like, in order to start building a base of collectors. She recommends that you consider your production costs and compare the price to similar artists’ work. When I asked Brian and Jennifer for some pointers on editions, the response I got from both was a cautious, “…it’s complicated.” Since (most) photographs are not unique objects, editioning is key to creating the perception of scarcity and value. But don’t feel like you have to rush into a finite number of prints before your market requires it! Brian recommends that photographers avoid printing in editions until they have a relationship with a gallery to help guide them through that process. Editions can feel artificial and limiting, but Jennifer points out that it does work in your favor; beyond rarefying your work and commanding higher value, prices tend to climb as an edition is sold off, giving buyers incentive to move quickly on a purchase. Keep in mind that editions are also made by size. The framed 18″x24″ print that looks great on the wall might not sell right away, but the less expensive, unframed 6″x8″, printed in a larger volume, might be easier to move.

8) What not to do. Jennifer Schwartz has written some helpful articles about how not to submit to a gallery that took me back in time to my days at the gallery. I received submissions just about every day, and they looked virtually identical: plain cardboard envelope containing a business card and a sharpied CD. The disc typically contained only images, no resume, no artist’s statement. Often the artist did not have website. Take the same care in branding your fine art materials as you would for your commercial work, and you’re already ahead of the competition. Time and space are precious things for gallery owners, so don’t think that you’re doing yourself any favors by going above and beyond the submission guidelines. Don’t send sample prints or finished pieces unless they’re requested. Most importantly, don’t drop by without an appointment and expect them to talk to you! Artists used to do this to me and it drove me crazy. Stick to their guidelines and work within them to create the most distinctive, eye-catching presentation you can.

For more assistance, contact me by email at sean@wonderfulmachine.com or by phone (610) 260-0200.

Expert Advice: Wealth Management For Photographers

- - Expert Advice

by Bill Cramer, Wonderful Machine

We’ve talked a lot about how to make money with photography, but saving it is a different matter altogether. It’s something that presents a special challenge for many photographers who don’t collect a regular paycheck or have employer sponsored retirement plans. And it’s made even tougher when there’s always some new piece of equipment, software or marketing directory demanding your hard-earned cash. But saving is essential for anyone interested in owning a home, sending their kids to college or retiring some day.

Saving is something that I’ve been conscious of since I was a little kid watching Wall Street Week with my dad on Friday nights. I can remember learning that there were some people in the world who had saved enough money that they didn’t need to work anymore. They had so much money that they could live off of just the interest and dividends from their investments. I remember thinking that that was a great idea and I was going to try to do that. Though I’ve never made a ton of money as a photographer, I’ve always been able to save; even when I was shooting fifty dollar assignments for the AP. Here are some basic tips that can help you get started:

1) Live within your means. Regardless of how much money you earn, you have to spend less than you make. For some people, that might mean living with their parents or buying a coffee maker instead of going to Starbucks. Being frugal is different from being cheap. Cheap is stiffing the waitress. Frugal is skipping dessert so you can tip the waitress. (Actually frugal is staying at home and cooking for yourself!)

2) Only borrow money to buy things that appreciate in value or generate revenue (like school loans, photographic equipment and home mortgages). Borrowing money to go on vacation is foolish because you’ll be paying for it long after your tan has faded. Borrowing money to buy a car is questionable. It’s a depreciating asset, but if you need it to get to your job, it may be worth it. Just don’t let the “free money” seduce you into buying a more extravagant ride than you can afford.

3) Pay off your credit card bills in full. The easy money of a credit card can be seductive, but it’s a Faustian bargain. It’s like buying all your groceries at 7-eleven. You’ll pay a steep premium for that convenience. Better to borrow a lump sum at a reasonable interest rate that you pay off each month. Even if you borrow money from a relative, write up an agreement with a payback plan and stick to it.

4) Reconcile your credit card and checkbook every month. (See how at the bottom of the page.) The process will not only keep you from overdrawing your accounts, but minding every penny you earn and spend is the first step towards saving. Keep your ATM and credit card receipts and make sure they match up with your statements. Those slips of paper will serve as a reminder to make smart choices all month long. Don’t pay ATM fees. Open an account at a local bank and use their free ATM when you need cash.

5) Be satisfied saving small amounts of money at first. Every journey begins with a single step. Develop a habit of saving each month and then gradually increase it as your income grows. Once you get into the habit, you’ll get as much of a thrill from saving as you do from spending.

6) Learn how compound interest works. Some claim that Albert Einstein said that “compound interest is the most powerful force in the universe.” In the short-term, interest may seem like a very small reward for your efforts. But over decades, it’s the interest on the interest that allows your money to grow exponentially. That’s why they say, “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.” Over an lifetime of saving, the interest that builds up can be double or triple the principle you’ve saved.

7) Charge as much as possible for your photography. There will certainly be times when you’ll do favors for friends and relatives or for a charitable cause. But everyone else should pay top dollar. Your pricing should be dynamic. Evaluate each assignment and stock sale individually and price it to maximize your income. Learn how licensing works, how to write a licensing agreement and how to charge for it. Share pricing information with other photographers. Ignorance drives prices down, knowledge drives them up.

8) Pay as only much as necessary for all of your business expenses. It’s true that you have to spend money to make money, but you have to do it wisely. Be realistic about what kind of return on investment you’re going to get with every person you hire and each purchase you make.

9) Understand the difference between your business and personal money. For a sole proprietor, it may be overkill to have separate credit cards and bank accounts for your personal and business transactions. The important thing is to keep good records of which is which for tax purposes. Don’t mentally spend money as you make it. A 1000.00 assignment fee shrinks dramatically once you pay for your overhead and taxes.

10) Even the 99% must embrace capitalism. The alternative is even worse.

11) Saving isn’t just green in dollars, it’s green in terms of sustainability too. It’s true that spending helps the economy in the short term. But spending is an economic dead end (both individually and collectively) without a proportional amount of savings to go along with it. (Savings provides capital for individuals to buy homes and companies to grow.)

Enough platitudes. Here’s what you actually have to do. Start by finding a no-fee (or very low fee) checking account at a bank near you. (Don’t expect that account to pay any interest.) Once you build up enough of a cushion where you can comfortably pay your bills each month, open an interest-bearing money market account (Vanguard is a good place to do that). Let’s say you decide to keep $5000 in your checking account. Each month, when you balance your checkbook, transfer any excess money to your money market account. Maybe you decide to keep $20,000 in your money market account as a reserve. Every quarter, as that money builds up, transfer it to a long-term (more than 5 years), low-cost index fund that invests in shares of lots of big companies (I recommend the Vanguard 500 Index Fund or Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund). That’s where you’ll get (on average) good appreciation in exchange for moderate risk. When you get close to a big purchase that you’re saving for, stop moving money into your long-term account and let it build up in your money market account.

You will want to set up two long-term accounts – one for retirement and one for other long-term goals like buying a home or college for your kids. The advantage of a retirement account like a Simple IRA or SEP IRA is that you don’t have to pay income tax on the money that you put in or on the resulting dividends or capital gains until you start withdrawing that money many years down the line. Consequently, it will grow much faster.

You might wonder how much money you need in order to retire comfortably. Certainly, it depends on the kind of lifestyle you’d like to grow accustomed to. On one hand, the cost of living in retirement can be less because you’ll probably have fewer mouths to feed (with any luck, your kids will be self-sufficient by then) and your house will be paid off and you won’t have to save for retirement anymore because you’re retired. But some things will cost more. Chances are your health will only get worse, which will be expensive. And if you’re lucky enough to stay healthy, you might want to travel and enjoy yourself a little after all of those years of hard work – and that ain’t cheap. So I say it’s a wash. Plan on giving yourself the income that you have towards the end of your career.

At the moment, a modestly middle-class life in America for a family of four will run you about $100k/year before taxes. In order to make that off of interest and dividends, you’ll need 17 times that or $1.7 million. Over the past 100 years, the stock market has provided the best return on investment compared to alternatives like bonds, commodities (like gold, silver, pork bellies) or real estate. Of course unlike putting your money in the bank (or in your mattress), any investment can lose money. But the longer your horizon time, the safer the bet is that you’ll be ahead of the game when it’s time to collect. The U.S. stock market has returned an average of 9% over the past 100 years. Inflation has been on average 3% over that period. So adjusting for inflation, you might reasonably expect to get a 6% appreciation on your money in the long run. (The numbers below allow you to see the appreciation in “today’s dollars,” as though there was no inflation to consider.)

So here’s one way you could map out your route to getting that $1.7 mil:

Of course, you’ll see that even after saving for more than 40 years, you could still come up a little short. I’m assuming that since you’re a sensible person and you’ve saved all along, your parents were probably sensible people too and that they left you a little something in their will (in this case, we’re hoping for $325k). And if not, maybe Social Security will not yet be bankrupt and help out a little. Saving for retirement isn’t easy. But with a little planning and discipline, it’s an attainable goal for most photographers.

How to reconcile your checkbook:

As you make each deposit and write each check, you’ll want to write an entry in your ledger to keep track. At the end of each month, your bank will send you a statement detailing all of the transactions that they’ve recorded. But since the checks you write aren’t necessarily cashed in the order that you write them and since many of them won’t show up on your new statement, you need to reconcile the bank’s records with yours to make sure every transaction eventually turns out the way it should.

If you use Quicken or some other personal bookkeeping application, it will prompt you to balance your account and guide you through the process. If you keep track on paper, you’ll have to reconcile your account manually, but it’s really easy. All you have to do is check off each transaction as it appears on your statement, then check off the corresponding transaction on your ledger. When you get through the whole bank statement, write out this equation, filling in the numbers for the following items:

ending statement balance
+ outstanding deposits
– outstanding withdrawals
– outstanding checks
= ending checkbook balance

If those items add up correctly, you’ve successfully reconciled (some call it “balanced”) your checkbook. If it doesn’t add up, you’ve either made an arithmetic error or you’ve omitted or incorrectly recorded a transaction. On rare occasion I’ve even found errors in my bank’s records. Go through your entries and rework the math until it comes out right. (One common mistake I used to make is putting a deposit in the withdrawal column.) Reconciling your bank account is worth the time and effort because it allows you to know exactly where your money is and it allows you to be decisive about moving your money around to where it needs to go.

How to reconcile your credit card statement:

The credit card statement is a little easier to reconcile. You don’t need to keep your own ledger the way you do with your checking account. You just need to keep all of your credit card slips and then match them up with the list of charges when you get your statement.

This post was created by the fine folks at Wonderful Machine.