Category "Working"

Why We Love Bad Photography

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Expanding on a story in Salon entitled “Why We Love Bad Writing,” by Laura Miller, the blog 1/125 applies the same logic to photography and asks why people prefer Chase Jarvis over Alec Soth. For literature it comes down to this nugget written by C.S. Lewis in “An Experiment in Criticism”:

a reader, who is interested solely in the consumption of plot, favors the hackneyed phrase over the original… because it is immediately recognizable. ‘My blood ran cold’ is a hieroglyph of fear. Any attempt, such as a great writer might make, to render this fear concrete in its full particularity, is doubly a chokepear to the unliterary reader. For it offers him what he doesn’t want, and offers it only on the condition of his giving to the words a kind and degree of attention which he does not intend to give. It is like trying to sell him something he has no use for at a price he does not wish to pay.

If it requires more effort to consume, many will not bother with it. Think about a story crammed with words you don’t recognize. Taking the time to look those words up in a dictionary adds considerable effort. And, if you consider spending your free time developing your taste for finely crafted prose, you really need to be committed on another level to make that kind of investment. The same applies to photography. Developing your taste is no different than appreciating great literature, food or wine. You need to experience and study it to gain understanding.

What troubles Nick Shere of the 1/125 blog is that with “photography, the situation is somewhat more dire, because it is much, much harder for viewers to move freely between the “unliterary” photographic realm and the “literary” photographic realm. There is hardly any middle ground between them, the way there is with books. Instead of a middle ground, there is a chasm with hardly any bridges across it.”

It’s a great thought because there’s a lot that can be done to create bridges across the chasm and I wanted to point this out to photo editors, because I’ve been in those arguments about photography with editors where factual trumps sophisticated, but I’ve never thought to turn it on them with a literary example. The two articles I’ve linked provide plenty of ammo to do that. I’ve always believed the only way to engage readers is to challenge them. High dollar advertising will always prefer engaged readers over hits. Nick goes on to say:

To provide opportunities for everyday people to expand and improve their photographic tastes without making them feel like they are being sold something they have no use for at a price they do not wish to pay is one of the more important frontiers in photography at the moment, and one which few people are homesteading.

There’s plenty online dedicated to clichés, hopefully more people seize the opportunity to make more bridges.

Thx Santosh for the tip.

PS- My favorite sites for expanding my knowledge: Conscientious, BAG, B, AD Coleman, David Campbell, Notes on Politics, theory & Photography, DLK Collection, and the many photographers who occasionally write about their work.

Don’t Be A Wimp. Be Tough With Yourself – And Your Clients

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From the blog Personal Scope Creep and the post with the title I’m using above:

As creative professionals, it’s second nature for us to inject a significant level of sensitivity and emotional thought into our craft. After all, the ability to connect with deeper insights during the creation process is part of our expertise and provides us with a unique ability that clients value and (usually) pay for.

What most creative professionals don’t realize is that this sensitivity can cripple your business. Without being able to separate the emotional from the practical, you put yourself at risk of being pushed around by clients, pushed over by colleagues, or even pushed out by competitors – all cases resulting in stunted growth potential.

Before we go further, I want to make clear that I am not an advocate of throwing all emotion out the door or losing the personal connections that make your business yours. Instead, I propose increasing your ability to decouple the personal from the business – just enough to help maintain objectivity and clarity, especially during times of conflict.

The concept is simple and can be adopted by even the most sensitive of souls, and so I present:

Read it here.

Thx, Jess.

Online Storage For Photographers

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I’ve been asked a few times about online storage solutions and a recent post by Greg Ceo got me thinking that I should ask everyone here what they use. There are several controlling factors in looking at online/cloud storage solution. Cost, speed to upload, chance of catastrophic failure, chance the company will go bankrupt. The last two are hard to determine but you have to consider that in most cases you’re dealing with heavily in debt VC funded companies and if you remember the Digital Railroad failure of 2008 there’s a chance they will suddenly turn off the lights and lock the doors if they don’t reach a certain level of profitability. My two cents on catastrophic failure are that you get what you pay for. The companies aimed at mom and dad backing up their pc for super cheap probably aren’t running as robust a solution as a company that provides storage for Fortune 500 companies. That theory is untested.

Here are a few I’ve looked at, please add more info in the comments.

Amazon S3

Storage cost 1 TB: $143/month

Can you send in a drive: yes


Storage cost 1 TB: $113/month

Can you send in a drive: ?


Storage cost 1 TB: $70/month

Can you send in a drive: yes


Storage cost 1 TB: $5/month

Can you send in a drive: no. 2 – 4 GB per day.


Storage cost 1 TB: $5/month

Can you send in a drive: no

Note: 1 terabyte = 1024 gigabytes

UPDATE: Check out this post, Your Free Photo Storage Is Worth What You Paid For It

100 Portraits – 100 Photographers

- - Blogs, Working

As a Photo Editor there’s nothing better than running into a curated list of photographers when you’re out trolling the internet for ideas. On a snowy day when not much is going to get done in the office I would spend a few hours adding photographers and ideas to my personal list. Here’s one from Andy Adams of Flak Photo fame called 100Portraits. Also, worth visiting and the gallery section to see a ton of images that he’s published with links to the photographers website. Good stuff.


What I Learned This Year 2010

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Several Photographers sent me this piece from The Denver Egotist called “What I Learned This Year 2010.” They asked some “creative visionaries” in Colorado to contribute in any form they would like. The responses are fantastic.

Adam Espinoza, Denver motion designer/animator –

5. Logic stifles creativity.

Jim Elkin, Denver director/executive producer at Roshambo Films –

Sometimes it’s better to fight for the things you want. Creative arguments are healthy and good for the soul. Some of the best Creative Directors I’ve ever met around the world haven’t been insecure bastards who just want you to agree with them. They don’t necessarily want you to say yes…they just want to know why you’ve made certain choices in your work. Stand up for what you believe in and what you’ve created. Do not be afraid to say where you’re coming from and how you got there. Just don’t be a jerk about it and always remember when to back off. Or as the infamous Kenny Rogers once said, “You’ve got to know when to hold them and know when to walk away.” Umm… unless you’re North Korea.

Gregg Bergan, Denver co-founder/creative director at Pure –

You have about 25,000 potential days to work, but less than 1,000 weekends before your children will leave home.

Jessyel Ty Gonzalez, Denver photographer –

Although producers and art buyers have a plethora of stock options, the need for unique and original imagery is rising. Magazine work – print or digital – is coming up again now that the dust is settling. And with better technology and faster speeds, imagery is proving great for rich content mobile ads.

Good photography wasn’t needed because, “it was just for a web ad.” But as the importance of digital and mobile has risen, great agencies have evolved their productions and realize good photography is needed because, “it’s for a digital ad.” This is great to see.

Sean Leman, founder/director at Rehab in Denver –

It’s beyond cliché to say that this industry is changing at a breakneck pace, but there’s a truth buried in that. Change and progress and uncertainty are gifts. They remind us that no matter how fucking smart we think we are, we’re really not.

I’ve learned a lot seeing what happens when I start from that place. When I’m open to the fact that there’s much to be learned. That my first answer is not necessarily the right answer. Let alone the best one.

Tom Van Ness, freelance copywriter –

Enjoy the process. A wise author once said that everyone says they want to write a novel. What those people really mean is that they want to have written a novel. There’s a big difference. The process is the key. Those that enjoy the process as well as the goal succeed more often.

Photographers And Their Effing iPad Portfolios

- - Portfolio, Working

I’ve heard more than one Art Buyer and Photo Editor comment that if they see another iPad portfolio they’re going to scream. Of course, for photographers the allure of a $500 portfolio is too much to resist, so it’s good to keep tabs on this as it surely evolves. I firmly believe the iPad makes a great supplement to the traditional portfolio and as more photographers add motion, it becomes essential for showing that work. And as a way to show depth or recent material that can impact a hiring decision what a money saver this will be. I don’t think we will find many photographers that don’t have one handy on set, at lunch, at an event and even walking down the street; loaded with all kinds of portfolios of their latest work.

The Photoshelter Blog has a post where 3 photographer talk about how they’ve incorporated the iPad into their portfolio presentation. I liked Darren Carroll’s solution of incorporating it into custom made Brewer-Cantelmo books containing high impact prints. The other two photographers, Steve Boyle and Shawn Corrigan have cool iPad only portfolios that are worth checking out as well.



How Did You, How Do I, What Is, How Much?

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Hanoi Photographer Justin Mott has a nice post about where to draw the line when sharing information: Friends and Competition: How much information should we share? Where do we draw the line? Consider this:

My first major published assignment came to fruition because Gary Knight gave me an editor’s contact at Newsweek and he was even kind enough to insist I drop his name in the email. People were wonderful to me as I started my career so I’ve always felt the need to pay it forward.

and his interpretation of an email he receives quite a few times that takes it all a little too far:

Dear Justin,
Blah blah random not well thought out positive comments about your photography because I’m about to be really rude but I’m trying to mask it with this sentence. I feel like I should be getting the work that you get in city X. I can save that publication some money and would love it if you could pass along their information so I can get the next assignment instead of you.
Thanks so much,
Photographer X

Now, in this new world of over-sharing online I can see people getting carried away thinking they have a right to any an all information and for the most part I agree with Justin earlier in the post where he says “there are no big secrets here” and the information given out on lighting, marketing and business practices will not harm your business, but there is a line to be drawn and there are still secrets that you want to keep away from the competition. Personally, I like paint broad strokes with the information (I also like it when the experts don’t agree) and hate getting into the nitty-gritty details, because everyone will have a slightly different approach and for crissakes, if you need every single detail explained and defined you’re in the wrong goddam business. Photographers are creative problem solvers. Also, I believe in the school of hard knocks. So, while I’ve obviously benefited from sharing lots of information with people that wasn’t previously available, I think everyone should fall on their face once in awhile to build a little character.

Photographers And The Law

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It seems to be an open secret that terrorists use photography to plan an attack. I’m simply basing this on the rising number of incidents where photographers who are following the letter of the law are harassed by security and/or police for photographing our transportation infrastructure. Miami journalist Carlos Miller does a good job documenting the incidents over on his blog Photography is Not a Crime and it seems like the national media is starting to take notice as well with stories in the Washington Post, NY Times and on the NY Times Lens Blog.

Over on the Black Star Rising blog, David Weintraub has an excellent post explaining the rights of photographers:

The First Amendment gives photographers and videographers almost unlimited freedom to make images in public places. This includes every place from Wall Street to Main Street — streets, plazas, parks, bridges, shopping malls, industrial parks, city-owned airports, and transit systems.

OK, public places are fair game, but what about people? As long as they are in a public place, you can photograph or video to your heart’s content. This includes politicians, celebrities, police officers, and ordinary people.

Well worth the read and considering your chances of running into someone who doesn’t understand the first amendment it’s worth becoming an expert on the subject to help educate them and stop the misinformation going around.

Embrace The Unexpected And The Surprising

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Fascinating Q&A over on Heather Morton’s Art Buyer blog with Andrea Mariash, Senior AB at David & Goliath in LA. They’re talking about true collaboration as opposed to asking a photographer to just execute an idea that’s been researched to death. It’s interesting to hear on the advertising side about the need to educate the client “so they understand that comps are comps, they are not paint-by-numbers kits.” For anyone hiring photographers creating space for failure and sudden inspiration is the key to producing great work.

I worked with a creative director a million years ago who had gone through improv training. His approach to production was, “yes, and…” which is a traditional technique to up the funny. (I guess you’re not allowed to say no in improv; it’s a creativity killer.) The CD was a real wild card on set, but his ads were celebrated. Anyway, his attitude kind of rocked my world, to use a terrible but apt phrase. I stopped producing with do-not-cross lines, and adopted the “yes, and…” mentality. To me, basic production, being totally prepared, is the “yes” part. That’s the bare minimum I can give to my creatives and photographer. And then I feel like I’m free to spend my time on set facilitating the “and…” if it happens to come up.

I’ve come to embrace the unexpected and the surprising. I absolutely think it makes for better images. I’m all for hiring a dark horse photographer, or trying something new on the fly, or learning new stuff. I’m an early-adopter, and a risk taker. Not all producers and art buyers want to work this way, but it’s worked well for me. I guess it goes against our innate control-freak nature, so I’m constantly at war with myself. It keeps me thin, I guess!

Read the whole thing (here).

Design By Committee Must Die

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Everyone knows that magazine making is done by committee but nobody ever talks about how awful that is for making something brilliant. The meetings where you sit around and try to come up with something interesting to put in the magazine were particularly painful.

From a Smashing Magazine article:

In a business climate fueled by fear and the “Peter Principle,” as it is today, a decision not made is a tragedy averted. So, decision by committee provides a safe and often anonymous process for finger-pointing down the line… inevitably leading to the creative, of course.

…more here.

From the same piece:

A photographer I know once said, “I’ll give the model a big mole on her face, and the committee focuses on that and are usually satisfied with the momentous change of removing it and leave everything else as is.”

Everything You Know About Concert Photography is Wrong

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I like this guest post over on The Photoletariat by music photographer Jacob Blickenstaff.

Shooting Coldplay or Jay-Z means you are a big deal, right?

The guitar jumpshot. The close up of a singer wailing into a microphone. The moody back-lit guitar shot filled colored light and smoke machine fog. This is what makes good music images, right?

Music Photographer = Music Fan + Camera?

These questions and more answered (here).

Photographer Documenting Graffiti Artists Charged With A Crime

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On February 4th 2010, photographer Jonas Lara an Art Center Graduate and former United States Marine, was photographing 2 graffiti artists painting a mural in Los Angeles. An LAPD helicopter spotted the group, then a patrol car came in and arrested Jonas and the Graffiti Artists (or vandals depending on how you feel about graffiti). He was initially charged with Felony Vandalism which was later lowered to a misdemeanor and then changed to Aiding and Abetting which carries a 1 year sentence. His jury trial is set for May 12th (Tuesday).

This story has been bouncing around the internet for a little while now and I’ve wanted to write about it, but not without talking to a lawyer first. PDN has a story (here) that does little more than gloss over Jonas’s side of the case. I wanted to understand what rights journalists have in these types of situations so I asked the Photo Attorney, Carolyn E. Wright a couple question.

First, here’s what Jonas told me about the photography project he was working on:

I had been working on this graffiti series for about 5 years now as part of a larger project on the Los Angeles Art Scene. Documenting the life that no one gets to see, an underground culture that operates at night. A lot of what interested me is the camaraderie shared between different graffiti artists and the way they looked out for each other. In a way it reminded me of my experience in the Marines and training in the field and doing night movements. Of course there is a great level of excitement that goes along with these types of actions as well but for me I wanted to tell a story I felt wasn’t being told.

Next, here’s the email exchange I had with Carolyn:

APE: Is there some kind of shield law for journalists that would apply in a situation like this?

The Shield Law has to do with the inability to prosecute a journalist who fails to disclose a source.

APE: Certainly, important work has been done by photographers documenting illegal activities, but I assume you know going in that you might get in trouble with the law at some point. Are there laws to protect journalists in this type of situation?

I’m not a criminal lawyer but, of course, had to study it in law school and I have taken/passed several bar exams that test on the subject.

The state is prosecuting Jonas for vandalism under California Penal Code Section 594.

Picture 3

The state may be arguing that Jonas was an accomplice, solicited the crime, attempted the crime, or was a conspirator to the crime. Here are my notes on those crimes:

a) Accomplice Liability
(1) Accomplices are liable for the crime itself and all other foreseeable crimes. (a) But someone is not guilty of accomplice liability just because he is present when the crime is committed.

b) Inchoate (referring to something which has begun but has not been completed – ape) Offenses
(1) Solicitation: asking someone to commit a crime. (a) Crime of solicitation ends when you ask them. (b) Conspiracy: if someone agrees to the solicitation. (c) Sol/consp merge into consp.
(2) Conspiracy: people must be pursuing an unlawful objective. (a) Elements (Conspiracy requires an agreement to commit a crime between two or more people, an intent to agree, an intent to commit a crime, and an overt act. A conspirator is liable for all reasonably foreseeable crimes committed in furtherance of the conspiracy): (i) Agreement (doesn’t have to be expressed) (people don’t have to know each other) (ii) Intent to agree (iii) Intent to pursue the unlawful objective (iv) Consp doesn’t merge with the substantive offense. (v) Liability: each conspirator is liable for all the crimes of other conspirators if those crimes were committed in furtherance of the conspiracy and were foreseeable.
(3) Attempt: specific intent plus a substantial step beyond mere preparation, in the direction of the commission of the crime

But if Jonas can prove that he was just there and didn’t agree to the crime, then he should be able to get off.

APE: Ok but what if you witness a crime and do not report it, is that something journalists should be concerned with?

No, there is no duty to report a crime.

If you want to help Jonas out, here’s a page where you can donate to help cover his legal costs:

I think it’s important for photographers to realize that you are not guilty of a crime just because you are present when the crime is committed and that you have no obligation to report the crime.

Ways To Piss Off A Photo Editor?

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RE: Photoshelter’s post, Top 13 Ways To Piss Off A Photo Editor

To be sure, there are annoying, irritating and potentially job ending road blocks that are thrown at Photo Editors on a non-stop basis. But, photo editing is a job that requires you to be resourceful, use experience to avoid failure, sift through the garbage and seek out great photography wherever it may lie. Sure, there are handout jobs where the number one requirement is no hassle, just great pictures from the photographer, but if it were always that easy there would be no need for photo editors in the first place.

Please digest with a grain of salt.

Real World Estimates: A Mash-Up of Product and Architectural Photography

By Jess Dudley, Wonderful Machine Producer

I recently helped one of our photographers estimate, negotiate and produce an architectural interior/product shoot. The client was a high-end furniture manufacturer in the northeastern U.S. working with a mid-sized ad agency in the southeastern U.S. And the project was to create a series of ads showing entertainment centers in beautiful residential settings.

Though this project has a lot in common with many routine architectural interior assignments, it ended up being worth much more. Most architectural assignments come from architecture firms, builders, or building owners, not ad agencies. And even though pictures from those assignments sometimes get used for advertising, the primary use is typically for brochures, web sites, publicity, portfolios and contests. It’s fairly customary for architectural photographers to charge a day rate (often around 2000.00 – 3500.00, depending on how much the photographer is in demand) plus expenses (capture fee, file prep, equipment fee, assistants and travel), for up to about 5 pictures. Architectural photographers can also often bump up this fee by licensing the pictures to related clients for the same property (like the architect, builder and owner).

This job was different because it was specifically shot for advertising use, it was a product picture more than an architectural interior, it required a fairly high degree of styling and other production, plus there were models and special retouching to boot.

Our estimating process normally begins with the photographer speaking to the the art director about the creative requirements of the job, and me speaking with the art buyer, art director or account executive to understand the licensing requirements. I then talk with the photographer so I know what production elements we’ll need in order to support his/her creative approach.

The art director will explain the concept to the photographer (sometimes with sketches or swipe art). And it’s up to the photographer (along with some input from me) to figure out the most effective approach. In this case, the job was to show entertainment centers in a beautiful home. The photographer had to decide whether it made more sense to build a set in a studio, or to work on location. Some photographers might opt for one or the other depending on their past experience, comfort level, and of course factoring in time considerations and cost, in addition to how it will affect the look of the picture. In this case, we proposed to shoot the job on location.

Another important creative aspect of this shoot was going to be the room styling. You can be the best photographer in the world, but if you don’t have anything to photograph, you’re sunk. And while there are many photographers who shoot interiors that are already styled in advance, a project like this requires the photographer to help conceive and direct the room styling. And to do that requires having a working relationship with a stylist who is going to understand both the sensibilities of the photographer and know what’s appropriate for the client and their specific project. We were able to show the client pictures that demonstrated that our photographer had a lot of experience collaborating with a very talented stylist, and this gave the client the confidence that we would deliver a high-quality product.

I’ve found that art buyers are often more comfortable talking money with an agent rather than directly with the photographer. That way, nobody’s taking anything personally. It’s just business. If they really want to work with that photographer (rather than just fishing for a price), they will often cut right to the chase and give the agent a good idea of what their price expectations are. That’s not to say that an agent should simply offer up the price the client wants. But it certainly saves a lot of back-and-forth for both parties when the photographer can scale the project appropriately.

There are times when a client either doesn’t have a particular budget, or they don’t want to say. If the client is inexperienced handling that type of project, the photographer/agent may simply have to work harder to understand what’s at stake in order to deliver a proposal that’s in proportion to the overall goals and wherewithal of that client. Sometimes, the client doesn’t want to say what their budget is because they might want to see several completely independent approaches that they can choose from. Again, in those cases, you’ll be forced to make an educated guess at the level of production the client might want. But regardless of the client’s price expectations, the actual picture requirements and the licensing needs will largely determine the value of the job. It’s also important to understand that the low bid does not always get the job. Sophisticated clients will be reluctant to work with photographers whose bids are “too good to be true.” Most good clients are looking for good value, not cheap prices. So pricing a project appropriately, and in proportion to all the specs, will give you the best chance of landing the job.

After getting the photographer’s thoughts on his creative approach to the project, I spoke with the art buyer. And as is often the case with relatively small advertising projects, she was a little vague about the licensing she needed. After I explained that the price was going to be heavily influenced by those variables, she decided that she wanted a quote on Advertising, Publicity and Collateral in the U.S. for 2 years.

Still unknown, though, was the number of images they were going to need. It’s actually not that unusual to not have all the information you want when it comes time to construct an estimate. What’s very important to remember, though, is that even in cases where your client is vague, your quote will have to be specific. If the specs subsequently change, you can revise your quote accordingly. In this case, I chose to work up two versions of the estimate to show the cost for 4 pictures and the cost for 6. I offered a fairly deep discount on the last two pictures to give them an incentive to do more rather than less.

Estimate Version 1
Estimate Version 2

The client opted for the 6 image estimate.

After we received the signed estimate, the first thing we needed to do was find the locations. Prior to estimating, the client expressed an interest in shooting at two of the many beautiful homes in the photographer’s portfolio, one contemporary and one transitional (you have to learn your vocab when working with architectural clients: modern, transitional, traditional, contemporary). This made scouting a snap. The photographer pulled his files of the homes that fit the mold and presented them to the client. They were so enamored with one of the locations that they chose to shoot both days in the same home.

A nice benefit of shooting both days at the same location was that we’d need less setup time/breakdown time, and it gave us more time for pictures. The client decided that they’d like to add a seventh shot and try out a few variations of the others, including adding models. As I was working up the revised estimate, I decided to simply pro-rate the seventh shot, but I felt that the variations with the models were worth more than the others. The models changed the feel of the pictures significantly, and required another skill set from the photographer. Also, a whole different ad concept could be developed around these new model variations. As such, we felt they should be licensed independently of the original shots.

Also, the client inquired about several exterior stock images to retouch into the windows. The photographer had a stock library for just such occasions. For nominal fees he licenses exterior stock images to drop into windows, turning an ordinary residential bedroom with a view of the shed in the backyard into a hi-rise condo with a view of a metropolitan skyline at sunset.

So we worked up our final quote – adding in the models, the additional situation, and the exterior stock images:

Final Estimate

The client accepted that, so I sent over an invoice for a 50% advance:

50% Advance

Now the production went into full swing:

I coordinated the location. The homeowner agreed to our location fee and allowed us to store furniture and equipment overnight.

I collected location and model releases. It’s very important to get signed releases. Otherwise, the client will not be legally entitled to use the location and models’ likenesses to advertise their product. You don’t want to spend all that time and money producing a shoot only to later find out that the homeowner or model wasn’t clear on your intentions.

Coordinating with the stylist was the most time consuming portion of the production. The rental location gave us a great start, but we had to consider whether the existing carpet, paint colors, drapes, and props were appropriate, and what we needed to add or replace. We had many, many conversations between the stylist, photographer, and client to get all the details right.

Hiring, renting and managing the assistants, digital tech, equipment, caterer, and models was pretty straight-forward. Between the photographer and us, we have a long list of regular sub-contractors, and we also keep a thorough vendor database that we can use when we need to.

Though very hectic, the shoot went smoothly. Between all the shuffling furniture from room to lawn to room, moving around lights and digital cameras and workstations, art directing and shooting – there was never a dull moment. We squeezed in all 7 shots, no holes were punched in walls, and the client was very happy with the results.

Once back in the office, I began the tedious (but important) process of copying all of our receipts and organizing the invoice. We keep meticulous records of every expenditure so that everything is accounted for, everyone gets paid properly, and the client gets billed appropriately. Also, I try to present it in a way that makes it easy for the client to understand. I put copies of receipts in the order that the line item shows up on the invoice. And if a receipt isn’t self-explanatory, I indicate exactly what it’s for. After a long day of scanning and collating, I sent over the final invoice:

Final Invoice

For more information on Wonderful Machine’s consulting services, please contact Jess Dudley at or 610.260.0200.