Nick Onken Interview

- - Photographers

Rob: I need to get into the history of Nick Onken, tell me how it all started. Where are you from? How old are you and when did you get into photography?

Nick: I’m 32 and from Seattle. I started getting interested in photography about six and a half years ago.

That’s it?

Yeah, I studied graphic design then worked as a designer for five years, then I got greedy.

Where did you go to school?

I went to a community college up in Seattle and there was a required intro to photography class as part of the design program.

Oh, dammit! They’re teaching that to graphic designers?

Yeah, but more just as a component. After graduation I designed book covers for a couple years, then went freelance. Then three years later, when digital started hitting the world, I picked up a digital camera. I had a bunch of small clients that I would shoot random, blurry, you know, textures and abstract stuff that I used in my design work for websites and brochures.

You didn’t feel like buying iStock pictures for a dollar? You just wanted to go shoot them yourself?

I knew what I needed. It was kind of more about me being able to get what I want. At that point I don’t think iStockPhoto was really that much into existence. Then I started shooting more and put some photos up on my website and somehow convinced a design client of mine to split the travel expenses to go to Africa and build them a photo library.

[laughs] What?

[laughs] Yeah, I had no idea what I was doing.

What were you shooting for them?

It was just people and places. no talent, product, or anything like that. The organization was a mission and the project was to capture the people and the places. So I had my Sony F707 – [laughs].

I suppose that’s a really bad camera, I have no idea?

It was like a glorified point-and-shoot. You control it manually, but you’d shoot through the screen on the back.

Yeah, and so how did it turn out?

It turned out great for the time. The client was super happy, I got back and I thought, “Wow, I didn’t know I could ever do that.”

Was a lot of that because you’re a designer and you know what’s going to make the design great or was it that you were actually a talented photographer?

The design part helped me see through the lens, imagining the final product and composing. I’ve always had more of a vision with my photography and had to catch up technically. There may have been some talent mixed in there somewhere.

Do you look back at that brochure and cringe?

Oh, yeah. I think I have maybe one picture or two from that whole trip that would still see the light of day today.

What happened after that?

It was another eight months before I really started looking into photography more. I was a graphic designer, it was not something I thought I could abandon. I hooked up with another photographer, Jim Garner, because I was doing website updates for him. He shot a lot of local Seattle projects, and weddings on the weekends. I started asking him questions and eventually he invited me out on set. He’s gotten pretty big in the wedding world now, but all the stuff I did with him was just the local commercial jobs such as products on the table, and then a few environmental portraits, and a little bit of architecture, etc.

He did everything because if you’re going to be a photographer in Seattle, you better shoot everything, right? So Jim took you under his wing and showed you some stuff, what happened next?

I was still on the fence about doing this photography thing, because I loved design. I was back and forth between the two for months. One day he leveled with me and said, look, you need to be a photographer and that’s it.

How did he come with that conclusion, did he think you had the skills?

I’d been hanging out with him and he’d seen some of the stuff that I was shooting personally and he believed in me and said you need to do this. That was a huge for me.

Was that six years ago?

Yeah that was 2004. I still assisted and helped him out on shoots and I was taking on a lot of design work to pay the bills during the transition, shooting a little bit of my own stuff here and there. Eventually I got a call from Nike to shoot all these athletes.

How did you get that job? Did you market your work to them?

No, I had a friend who was an art director at RGA, they were in a pinch and they needed somebody, so they called me a week before the shoot. It was the week before Christmas and I had three days to arrange everything. When I finished I thought, there it is I’m totally in, the ball’s rolling.

Yeah, man.

Little did I realize, I didn’t see another job like that for two years.

You thought “I made it, Nike, I’ve hit the big time,” then crickets for two years. What did you do during that time?

I took the money and moved to Paris for six months.

What? Are you serious?

I wanted to live in another country. I used that time to just take it in and learn, breathe, and explore. I shot a few personal projects here and there, shot some models from the agencies there. I traveled to different countries on the weekends and just kind of hung out. I think for me I wanted to do that as an artist, it’s kind of what we take in that comes out in our life and in our art. Living in another country was something I wanted to do.

Did you start freaking out thinking, OK, I need to get some jobs?

Yeah a bit. When a year blows by and nothing of the Nike status comes through, when you think the ball should be rolling, you start to worry. Around the beginning of 2006, I hooked up with Amanda Sosa Stone and she helped me get my bearings straight about marketing and gave me the low down of like how this works, how the advertising world works. She pushed me to go out on meetings and create a marketing plan and I started to do that with the very limited budget that I had.

Talk to me about your style of photography, from day one have you always shot lifestyle?

Yeah, it kind of evolved to be quite honest. I started doing model testing at an agency and it was more catalogy at the very beginning and then just evolved and evolved. Eventually I was doing more lifestyle conceptual stuff. I was still paying the bills with graphic design projects and assisting here and there for Jim. Then in March 2006 I moved down to LA.

You decided you needed to be in LA to make it.

I decided that to play at the top level where I wanted to be, I needed to be in either LA or New York. LA fit my style a lot more and I had a lot of friends down there. It’s not as much of a sink or swim city as New York. So I packed up my little Honda Civic full of all my computers and cameras and moved down to L.A. I basically started from scratch. I started hitting up some modeling agencies and trying to get a little bit of paid patchwork here and there. I was still picking up a lot of design projects. Looking back now, LA was a great stepping stone to my eventual NY relocation.

So when did it finally click? When were you able to go full-time photography?

It was probably three and a half years ago.

So two years after you moved to L.A., you finally got enough clients. Was this just hitting the streets, marketing, producing personal work and building your brand?

Yeah. I’ve always shot my own work, shot my own tests, and stuff like that.

Yeah, but it wasn’t just a lucky break, like Bruce Weber said “Hey, kid, here, take one of my $100,000 shoots, I don’t need it.”

No, it’s all been a lot of hard work. In 2006 I did a two-month trip to Asia for that nonprofit and that’s when I think I really hit my stride with travel work. I got a lot of really great work out of that. And then I think May of 2007 I picked up another Nike job, still in-house and a smaller Nike job, then the rest of that year was a bunch of other small stuff. It’s always been a hustle, and it never stops.

When did you land with Greenhouse reps?

Q3 of 2008.

How did you end up with them?

I had a portfolio meeting over at an advertising agency and I was talking to one of the art buyers. She was really friendly so I asked her who are the good reps out there? She gave me her card and said “Shoot me an email and I’ll tell you all you need to know.” So I emailed her, and invited her to lunch. When we went to lunch, she started telling me what reps were great then said, “Hey, wait, I’ll tell you what. I’ll just email some for you, how about that?”

She emailed them and said “Hey, I know this guy who’s really good”?

Yeah. She actually ended up emailing four other reps, who all ended up being interested, so I went and interviewed them with a set of questions.

Wow. Your work must have been strong then, that those reps were interested and obviously having an art buyer vouching for you is pretty huge, but still the work needs to stand on its own.

Yeah, the work was there enough for a high level Art Buyer to recommend me.

But also clients too. I mean agents aren’t going to take somebody on who doesn’t already have some clients and isn’t generating some work. It doesn’t make financial sense.

Yeah, I had that and I had my brand. I’ve always been big on branding.

So they saw you had your shit together. That’s probably a big part of their job, getting the brand and getting it all cohesive. You had that all done. So after you landed with Greenhouse, obviously a big repping firm, you turned full-time to photography. Take me through the last three years. Obviously we got hit with a massive recession somewhere in there. You were starting your photography career full-time right in the middle of the economy hitting rock bottom, right?

Yeah, and it’s been a great few years. I started at Greenhouse in October of 2008 and I got my first real ad campaign in December 2008 so it took a few months. I had been doing meetings for a couple years prior showing my books at ad agencies. Making the rounds and doing meetings and luckily they remembered me and saw where my work was at that time.

And so you broke into that Leo Burnett level of ad world and you’re in the club aren’t you?

Yeah, I mean the ball’s rolling for sure and a big asset is having a rep like Greenhouse that puts you in that top tier of talent. But, even up until I got that big job, I bid on at least 12 big ad jobs until I finally got that first one. I got so used to not winning the bid that when I did get one I thought, “Oh my God. They actually gave me a job.” In the end, as cheesy as it sounds, you gotta be in it to win it. If you’re bidding then at least you’re being considered.

So I want to talk a little about lifestyle photography just because I feel like, it’s a unique beast. There is a ton of cheesy lifestyle, but pulling off real genuine moments seems to be one of the toughest types of photography. And from my experience it takes a shitload of money to pull off.

Yeah, it’s crazy. I mean you have the casting involved. You have location scouting. I shoot mostly location work. Location is a huge part it. The productions are thousands and thousands of dollars, at least mid five figures. Depending on how many days and how much talent you have on set, all the wardrobe, and you have wardrobe per talent and hair and makeup. Yeah, it does get very, very expensive.

It’s just a ton of people working on it. I know, there’s probably advertising shoots where there’s just a ton of people hanging out, because they’re expensive shoots or something. I feel like in a lifestyle shoot there’s a ton of people working on the physical product, more so than anything else. What makes great lifestyle photography in your opinion?

In my opinion it’s that realism that you can create, real moments and authenticity. It comes from your taste in wardrobe, people, props, clothes, locations. Everything is about your taste, and how you see. Then that all goes into that picture and into that set. You’re creating an action, and a theme, and a story. And then you’re shooting it. And then you’re snapping that camera at the right moment, or a series of moments and then you’re coming back and editing, I think editing is a big part of it as well. I would say the key to my style of photography is me feeling that moment.

And we all know how photojournalists do that, but how do you manufacture that? That’s the thing, right?

Yeah, and that was actually a learning process for me. The transition from my personal work where I get talent running around doing random things at whatever time of the day to advertising photography, to where I’m given this specific creative direction, its very difficult to create a reality within that, because you’re so specifically directed. Luckily I’ve always pulled it off. It’s creating and putting the elements together and then getting the talent to do the action and create that story within those certain parameters, and then just snapping the right moment. And doing it over and over and over and over again until you get the right one. Now I’ve gotten it down pretty well.

How do you get them to act genuine. I mean, is it just casting?

Yeah, and I think casting is a huge part of that. For me, I like to cast people with great personalities that you can kind of see on video castings. Casting the right people with great personalities makes it easier to direct because the talent can move and have a good time on their own.

So, you have to be an expert at casting?

At least have a good eye and feel people’s vibes, what kind of energy they have. It can be hit and miss, but you get better the more you shoot.

Just based on meeting a lot of good lifestyle photographers, a lot of it comes down to the photographer’s personality. Somebody you’re comfortable around, who’s interesting to talk to, a good conversationalist.

Yeah, you have to be good with people. You have to make them feel comfortable.

I want to talk about your website (here) a little bit, because so many people dig your website. You designed this from scratch?

Yeah, I hired somebody called Knowawall to do it. It was a good six-month project.

Did you know exactly what you wanted, as far as functionality and different things you wanted it to do?

Yeah. I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted. I have a couple friends that used them to do their websites. Coming from a design background, I can see all the functionality, the animations, the loading. So, I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted going into it.

I had my brand somewhat developed, and I hired these guys, and was able to use my design background to art direct, a bit. I gave them a very solid brief. I was actually pretty impressed with what they came back with in the first round. I knew I would be, because, it’s like hiring a photographer. You look at their portfolio and you will have a pretty good idea of what you’re going to get.

Right. You saw they had solid work in there, super-refined.

Exactly, I’ve gone through so many websites and, coming from a design background, an impatient design background, I had a pretty good idea of the elements that I wanted to fuse into the website that would make it easier for my clients, and my potential clients, to digest the site easily and not have to worry about wait times too much.

And so it wasn’t cheap, right? I mean, you did pay top dollar, but it’s like hiring a good photographer.

Yeah, I mean it cost me more than my car. That didn’t even include the blog which was another little bit on top of that.

Add in a car stereo and some rims.

I launched in February 2010 and my whole idea going into this was that books are being called in less and less and people referring straight to the website. I had two or three jobs last year where people booked me without even calling in my book.

Major jobs?

Yeah. A laundry detergent campaign.

Oh, nice. So yeah, you have a lot of confidence in it. You can send it out to anybody, they’re going to be stoked on it, and stoked on the pictures.

Yeah, defiantly. It’s the whole experience, you can also keyword search on there. There’s at least 2,500 images in the database.

How is it you have 2500 images on your website in only six years of shooting? Do you shoot a lot of personal work?

I guess. I have this ABS theory, “Always Be Shooting.” And I laugh because I get emails from people who say “I’m abiding by your ABS theory.” I think, oh man, I was slightly joking about that, but I guess those are good words to follow for the journey.

Do you have a pair of brass balls you bring out and say coffee is for closers?

Exactly. So I guess I’m always shooting. I try to bust out as many personal projects as possible.

Do you think that’s part of your success?

I think so, I would say the more work you’re doing the better you’re getting, the more your eyes see every time you shoot. It’s all those thousands of decisions you’re making before you click the camera. All your taste, the location, the wardrobe, the styling, the hair and makeup, the model, the direction. Every time you make those decisions you learn for the next time. And so the more you shoot, the more you learn. Did you do a post on the 10,000 hour rule?

I think. So you’re bought into that? That you need to be shooting all the time, because you need to log the hours, the reps.

Yeah, log the hours to improve. On top of that, the reps always love it when they have new work to show, so they can keep putting in front of people.

Talk to me about the blog. How does blogging fit into your marketing and business plan. What’s the purpose of it? Why did you start a blog? You seem to have one of the more active blogs for someone who’s not doing workshops or selling books?

Well I do have a book, but…

Oh, ok but you’re not sponsored by Canon or Nikon and doing workshops?

No. Have you ever read the book, Never Eat Alone?

No.

It’s a great book on building relationships and networking and, you know, the biggest part of that is sharing knowledge with people, and giving something to people. I started it when I was back in my design days before blogs became popular, before anybody actually knew what they were (including me). I started this thing called “Shop Talk” and it was a static HTML page that I manually updated myself, then eventually when blogging became a norm, I rolled it into a TypePad blog engine.

Wow. Old school. It was based on that idea behind the book?

Yeah, kind of. There’s nothing there in the book that really talks about it, but it was based on the idea of sharing and giving back, and what goes around comes around. I believe that if you give people things, it’ll come back to you in some way. So that was the start of the blog. Just share things that I’d learned along the way. And as I keep learning, it can help other people. I don’t know if it’s really gotten me any direct work, per se, but I think it definitely sheds another light into who you are as a photographer, and a person, if a client views your work.

Do you think it’s part of the package that clients are using for hiring now?

Yeah, in a non-direct way.

You don’t have any direct evidence of landing jobs because of something related to the blog, or Twitter do you?

I did this email blast a few weeks ago and I got this kickback email from an art director, saying “I’m not really taking emails but you can Twitter me at this and I’ll be doing portfolio reviews via Twitter.”

No way, really?

Yeah, so I hit this guy up, “I got your email, here’s my website, check it out.” And he hit me back on Twitter with “Nice work, I have a campaign coming up, maybe we can collaborate on that” and so then we continued to have this dialogue via Twitter. But, that’s it. I have more photographers that follow me on Twitter than, art directors.

Sure. But you’re going to keep it up still?

I think part of the idea is creating buzz around your brand.

And could you ever see, relying on blogging and Twittering and Facebooking for marketing?

Its become a couple different channels, you know. You’ve got a photographer channel and you’ve got an art-buying, photo editor channel. It’s a whole different channel. I feel like the blog and the Twitter (@nickonken) and the Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/nickonkenphoto) stuff is more an audience of other photographers. So, for my book it’s been a good channel to distribute and promote that.

What’s the book?

It’s called “Photo Trekking,” and it’s through Random House. We launched it last year.

Oh yeah, you had that big party.

Yeah, we threw a big party for that and I used it as an excuse to have a special happy hour for art buyers and art directors in New York.

Oh, all right, so it’s a marketing piece for you?

Yeah, doing the book really was, it was having a PR piece but also, you know having a book under my belt with a major publisher is a pretty good deal. And just to be able to promote that to art buyers.

And are you selling a lot of books to photographers as well?

Yeah, I think we’ve sold a few thousand.

So things are looking up for you, you’re shooting campaigns for major clients now.

Last year I did a lot of major clients from car manufacturers to alcoholic beverages to sneaker companies to beverage companies.

Was that your best year ever?

Yeah, it was.

I think my readers will like hearing that. You built your business in the middle of a recession and when the economy hit rock bottom you were off like a rocket. Good for you. Well deserved.

Thanks. I appreciate it.

Winner Winner Chicken Dinner

- - Contests

How about that. Life.com is giving out awards today for best photo blogs of 2011 and we nabbed one. In the write-up they mention “the blog’s loyal, smart, and vocal community is scarily well-informed and immensely helpful.” I completely agree that the comments are what makes this blog unique, so a big Thank You to all the commenters.

Free Ai Weiwei

- - Art

by Jonathan Blaustein

Photograph by Hugo Tillman

America loves a good bad guy. We’re never really at our best until our backs are against the wall. Just look at Rocky Balboa. He was fat, tired and lazy until Clubber Lang came along. Or was it Ivan Drago? Regardless, Manifest Destiny aside, we see ourselves as a nation of good-guy gunslingers, out to make the world safe for democracy.

So what are we to do now? Osama Bin Laden, our Number one foil, is dead. Execution style, no less. We’ve just begun the second decade of the 21st Century, and we’re lacking a proper Bond villain to whip us into fighting shape. Don’t worry, I’ve got an idea. Aside from consuming, what’s more American than Freedom? Nothing, right? From Patrick Henry on down, we’ve always been willing to scrap over our freedom to drink, smoke, and say whatever the hell we damn well please. Honestly, I’m writing this article for an audience who sometimes treats the comment section like an after hours speakeasy on the Jersey Shore. Freedom of speech is something we can all believe in, and unfortunately we probably take it for granted.

Enter Ai Weiwei. He’s the most famous Contemporary Chinese artist in the world. (Which probably makes him slightly less famous than whatever teenaged bimbos are pimping on MTV at the moment.) Anyway, for those of you who haven’t yet heard of Ai Weiwei, he’s a multi-media artist and architect, and the son of one of China’s most prominent poets. His work drips with rebellion and epitomizes the freedom of expression at all costs. He once made a photo series in which he’s photographed giving the middle finger to the White House, the Eiffel Tower, and the Imperial Palace in Beijing. He also champions the rights of the less fortunate China, having undertaken significant risk to investigate the death of so many rural schoolchildren in the aftermath of the Sichan Earthquake of 2008. He just showed 100 million hand painted ceramic sunflower seeds at the Tate Modern in London, and of course recently unveiled a set of sculptures near the Plaza Hotel in New York.

Oh, yeah. And he was also kidnapped by the Chinese government last month. I’d say disappeared, but it was reported last week that his wife was able to visit him and confirm he’s not dead yet. Ai Weiwei was taken off a plane by government agents in April, his studio was destroyed, and he was locked away indefinitely for the vague, trumped up charge of “economic crimes.”

Which brings us back to my nomination for America’s new Enemy Number 1: The cadre of ruthless assholes who runs the Chinese Communist Party. (There’s a bit or Orwellian double-speak for you. Calling the worlds largest sovereign wealth fund Communist.) Really, I know this will sound naivé and simplistic. Barack Obama has no leverage with these guys right now, you’ll say. They own our debt, so they can do as they please. Even Google backed down from a fight, so they must be some pretty bad dudes. I’ll stipulate that. They might even hack my email after we publish this article.

But hear me out. Ai Weiwei was locked away not because he was horribly critical of the CCP. He wasn’t, really. I mean, who can get angry with someone who honors dead schoolchildren? He also helped design the Bird’s Nest stadium for the 2008 Olympics, so they couldn’t have hated him that much. Ai Weiwei wasn’t a threat because of the content of his art, it was because of his process. He spoke his mind, made what he wanted to, built an audience on his blog and Twitter. Sound familiar? Basically, he acted like a digitally literate, free human being in the 21st Century. Just like us. How many of you make the pictures you want to make, say the words you want to say, write the comments you want to write?

Ever since I first saw Zhang Yimou’s “Hero” seven years ago, I knew this day was coming. (Yes, he’s the same guy who choreographed the 2008 Olympics opening ceremonies that gave so many people the heebie-geebies.) I’d say spoiler alert, but the film was made in 2002, so you had your chance. Jet Li, the film’s lead, spends the entire movie trying to track down and assassinate the Chinese Emperor, back in the day. At the end, just as he’s about to do the deed, the Emperor talks him out of it, convincing Jet Li to instead give up his own life in service of the Empire. Our land. Kneel before Zod. It’s the Anti-Hollywood ending, and given Yimou’s favored-son-status with the government, I read the writing on the wall. The individual will always take a back seat to the Empire, the authority figure.

That’s why Ai Weiwei got locked up. He was the living embodiment of the power of ideas: ideas that are particularly dangerous to the Powers That Be right now, what with the Arab Spring and all. These are the same CCP leaders that own our debt, and just flew some Steath Fighter jets over Bob Gates’ head. So let’s have no more illusions that we’ll all just get along, or that they’ll allow us to corrupt their system with our dysfunctional democracy. Not. Going. To. Happen.

So Free Ai Weiwei. Tell your friends. Tell your kids. Speak your mind a little louder in your new photo project. And maybe next time you’re in the local Walmart, you’ll consider buying some cheap crap from the Phillipines, or Bangladesh. Or better yet, maybe you’ll spend the extra $3 to get something made in the USA. We still make tractors, right?

What To Do When Your Image Is Stolen Online

- - copyright

Having your images stolen online is not an “if,” but a “when” will it happen type of situation that you should be prepared to take action on. If you plan to run a photography business then you should plan to hire a lawyer now and again. If you cannot hire one then you should marry one, trade photos with one or be best friends with one.

I get a weekly email from photographers who have their images stolen and used on a site that appears to generate revenue. Several months ago I ran into this primer called Photography, Copyright, and the Law written by Carolyn E. Wright the photoattorney.com and published on Ken Kaminesky’s blog (Read the entire post here). This excerpt from the post answers the question of what to do when you are infringed upon:

Q: What happens when a copyrighted photo is used without permission?

You have several options when you find that your photo has been infringed.

Option #1 – Do Nothing

You always have the option of doing nothing. If the infringer is in a foreign country where infringements are rampant and difficult to enforce or is a small website with little traffic, you may decide that it’s not worth your time and effort to fight the infringement.

Option # 2 – Request a Photo Credit

…if the website would provide a marketing outlet for you, you may only want the infringer to give you proper credit. If so, write the infringer a letter officially giving her the right to use the image. Be sure to designate the parameters of that use, such as who, what, why, when and where – see my blog entry here for more information. Include the condition that the infringer post a photo credit with a copyright notice on or adjacent to the use. You may also require the infringer to add a link to your website. You may get subsequent work from the infringer or others.

Option #3 – Prepare a DMCA Take-Down Notice

Purusant to the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”) enacted in 1998, the Internet Service Provider (“ISP”) that hosts a website is not liable for transmitting information that infringes a copyright only if the ISP removes the infringing materials from a user’s website after receiving proper notice of the violation. The notice must: be in writing, be signed by the copyright owner or the owner’s agent, identify the copyrighted work claimed to be infringed (or list of infringements from the same site) and identify the material that is infringing the work. Additionally, the notice must include the complaining party’s contact information, a statement that the complaint is made in “good faith,” and a statement, under penalty of perjury, that the information contained in the notification is accurate and that the complainer has the right to proceed (because he is the copyright owner or agent). Check my article at here to learn more about how to prepare a DMCA take-down notice. Even if you don’t reside in the U.S., you may use this great tool to stop an infringer whose ISP is in the U.S. from using your work.

Option #4 – Prepare a Cease and Desist/Demand Letter Yourself

When you don’t want to alienate the infringer (the infringer is a potential client and/or appears to be an innocent infringer), you may want to contact the infringer to explain that the use is not authorized and either request payment of an appropriate license fee, a photo credit with a link to your website (as discussed above), or that the infringer cease use of the image. It’s best to do this in writing – a letter by surface mail seems to have more clout than email correspondence.

Photographers sometimes send an infringer an invoice for three times their normal license fee in an attempt to resolve the infringement issue. While the 3x fee may be an industry standard and some courts have used it, is not a legal right given by any court of law or statute. Instead, U.S. law states that you are entitled to actual or statutory damages for infringement as provided by 17 U.S.C. Chapter 5, specifically section 504. The damages that you can receive from infringement – especially if you timely register your photographs – sometimes can amount to a lot more than three times your normal license fee. So you may want to think 2x before you send the 3x letter.

There are some risks in sending the letter yourself. First, the infringer may attempt to preempt an infringement lawsuit and file a request for declaratory judgment that the use is authorized. This may involve you in a legal action for which you may need legal counsel in a jurisdiction (court location) where you don’t want to litigate. Second, your demand for payment may be admissible against you if an infringement case is filed. If you demand too little, then it may limit your ultimate recovery. To avoid this possibility, include in your demand letter that “these discussions and offer to settle are an attempt to compromise this dispute.”

Option #5 – Hire a Lawyer to Send a Demand Letter

When an attorney gets involved, the matter is escalated and tensions rise. While the infringer may be more defensive, the weight of your demand letter is dramatically increased if it comes from an attorney and the infringer generally takes the matter more seriously. Some attorneys charge a flat fee to send a letter; others may charge a “contingency fee” which is based on the percentage of recovery. Or the fee may be a combination of both.

Option #6 – File a Copyright Infringement Lawsuit

Your most aggressive option is to pursue your legal remedies by filing suit. Unless you created the work outside of the United States and in a country that is a signatory to the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, you must register your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office, hopefully before but at least after the infringement. (If you created the photo in a country that is a signatory to the Berne Convention, you do not have to register in the U.S. to protect your copyright or to file an infringement lawsuit in the U.S. However, if you do, then you may be entitled to statutory damages and attorneys’ fees, as noted here.) If your photo was not timely registered for this infringement, you may want to register the photo for future possible infringements, as well, to be eligible for statutory damages of up to $150,000 per willful infringing use for each photograph. See 17 USC Section 504(b) and (c). Legal fees and costs also may be recovered from the infringer. See 17 USC Section 505.

In most jurisdictions you need to have received your registration certificate to file a complaint. Unless you have a breach of contract or some other state claim, you must file your infringement claim in a federal district court. To file suit, it is best to hire an attorney to help you because the legal procedures are complicated. Note that you have three years from the date of infringement to sue for copyright infringement.

When a photo is not registered with the U.S. Copyright Office prior to the infringement (or within three months of the first publication of the photo), a copyright owner may recover only “actual damages” for the infringement (pursuant to 17 U.S.C. 504 (b)), instead of statutory damages. Courts usually calculate actual damages based on your normal license fees and/or industry standard licensing fees. One source for standard license fees is a software program called Fotoquote. You also may recover the profits the infringer made from the infringement if they aren’t too speculative.

Additional Claims
While many photographers place “watermarks” including their name and/or their copyright notice on their images or in the metadata of the file to prevent someone from infringing them, it’s fairly easy to crop or clone over the mark, or to remove metadata. Fortunately, the DMCA section of the Copyright Act provides a remedy in addition to the infringement claim when the infringer removes your CMI to hide the infringement.

Additionally, when you can prove that the infringement was done willfully, then you are entitled to enhanced statutory damages. “Willfulness” means that the infringer either had actual knowledge that it was infringing the owner’s copyrights or acted in reckless disregard of those rights. Evidence that the infringed works bore prominent copyright notices supports a finding of willfulness.

Hey, Anyone Could Have Shot That

- - Blog News

keep in mind that the skills needed to generate a successful ad image are only 10% photographic. The rest? Client interaction, on-set conduct, conference call etiquette, budget finagling, crew management, general problem solving, the care and feeding of buzzwords and jargon — and knowing when to go with the flow versus when to make suggestions that might nudge the project out of the everyday and towards something more transcendent …

via planet shapton.

Ina Saltz Interview

by Heidi Volpe

Ina Saltz is Design Director and grand ambassador in the NYC design community.

Tell me about your Body Type books, a tattoo entitled “happy” was the start, what about that tattoo drew your attention?

Somehow I never really noticed tattoos except in the way that everyone does. But when I saw this one, I stopped in my tracks. I immediately recognized the typeface as lowercase Helvetica; it was very large (120 point) and tightly kerned, and it was unadorned by any other image; it was stark and graphic.

How did things develop from there?

I decided to write an article for STEP Inside Design, for my regular column, called STEP Out, about typographic tattoos. I went to my first tattoo convention; that was an eye opener. And as is often the case when you are attuned to something, I started seeing typographic tattoos everywhere; it was as if I had developed a kind of x-ray vision! Once the article was published, I noticed that no one had ever done a book on typographic tattoos, so I kept shooting images and interviewing people with typographic tattoos, and a kind of “portrait” began to emerge of that group; they were generally highly educated (all with college degrees or in the process of getting one) or with advanced degrees, culturally sophisticated, and highly motivated to convey a very specific message with text (as opposed to an image, which is more open to interpretation). “Body Type: Intimate Messages Etched in Flesh” became a cult hit, which led to “Body Type 2: More Typographic Tattoos.” Now I have become known as the first to identify, document and research this phenomenon. I call these “intellectual” or “highbrow” tattoos.

What sort of parameters did you give yourself in order for a type tattoo to be accepted into your book?

At first I was excited to see every typographic tattoo that I encountered. As I saw more, I became more discriminating. The two overriding factors have become the quality of the typography, and the power of the story behind the tattoo. Sometimes because the story is so important, I have compromised my typographic standards a bit, and, conversely, sometimes the tattoo is so striking in and of itself that it is worthy of inclusion on its own merit.

Did you have to reject any of the submissions? If I had a type tattoo how would I submit to you?

Oh yes, I have declined to include many images, especially when I am doing a final edit of the images for the book. I would say that 60% of the images and interviews I collected for “Body Type 2″ did not make the final cut. If you wished to submit your tattoo to me, simply send an email with a jpeg and a brief description of the story behind the tattoo. I always respond to everyone who contacts me.I am well under way with some pretty amazing images for a third volume of “Body Type.” Just last week I shot someone with a passage from Homer’s “Odessey” on his shoulder blade.

How much of the book did you photograph?

I photographed about eighty percent of the images. I prefer to shoot everyone myself but it is not always possible; a number of the images are from international or otherwise too distant sources. If I cannot shoot it, I try to give guidelines about crop, backgrounds, focus, etc. so the style is as consistent as possible with my photographs.

I was at the Ink Slingers ball in here in LA photographing the crowd with John Huet for a magazine. It was really interesting to ask what people did for a living and how if at all they concealed their markings. A lot of white collar workers are secretly tattooed. Do you think it’s becoming more accepted in the work place?

While it is definitely becoming more accepted, some industries are more accepting than others. If you are a creative, you almost MUST be tattooed to be taken seriously! The stigma persists in the more conservative professions. But, because people can choose where to be tattooed, it is possible, when in professional attire, to keep one’s tattoo to oneself. In my books I have documented tattooed doctors, lawyers, bankers, etc.

What was the most peculiar tattoo you’ve seen?

There are so many (and the word “peculiar” is so, well, peculiar, that I cannot really answer this question). I have seen just about every amazing thing and every body part tattooed, even eyelids. As I mentioned before, however, I am only interested in the intellectual end of the tattoo spectrum.

Do you have a favorite type face for a tattoo?

No, because the type style should dovetail and enhance the message of the text, so for each tattoo, the typeface which would best suit it would be different. Also certain typefaces do not work well for tattoos, particularly if they have fine details or serifs which can deteriorate over time. In a recent review of my book in the New York Times Book Review, written by Steven Heller, he wondered why there were no Bodoni tattoos in my book. Bodoni’s thins do not wear well. Also, condensed typefaces are not well suited for tattoos, especially if the letterforms are small; the counter spaces tend to fill in over time as the edges of the tattoo “bleed.”

If you could choose let’s say one principal from your current book Typography Essentials: 100 Design Principles for Working with Type, what would it be?

“Everything Exists in Relation to Everything Else.”

Would you say the same principles apply for print design as for multi media tablets? If they don’t, what do we need to concern ourselves with for the future of type?

This is a very complicated issue; legibility is paramount, of course. But there is motion and interaction to be considered, and the fact that a device is light emitting rather than reflective (like the surface of a printed piece) means that spacing should be a bit more open to counteract the glow. Letterforms need to be a bit sturdier, and the default type size (and the x-height) should be a bit larger. There are other considerations as well, such as contrast between type and background, etc.

Through the years you have been a multi dimensional professional. art director, typographer and educator. What drove you to be so diverse?

I am curious about many things and I love working with people. The world is a big and fascinating place and I am always looking for new ways to explore it. As a magazine Design Director, it is a great perk to learn new things as I read the stories which will be in each issue; it is being paid to learn from the editors around you (I love smart editors!). Typography is my great passion, so I have been involved with making it, using it, writing about it, and hanging out with fellow type geeks as a board member of the Type Directors Club. For six years I had a great writing gig with STEP Inside Design; my editor, Emily Potts, gave me the widest possible mandate to write about things that you would not expect to read about in a design magazine, but which were related to design. Until STEP folded in 2009, I wrote almost fifty articles on topics as diverse as designing your own death (eco-burials, customized headstones, etc); the fetishization of sneakers, bizarre museums (The Museum of Dirt, The Museum of Lawn Mowers), the design of replacement orthopedic joints and prostheses, the Aesthetics of “Cute” design, recyclable and redeployable architecture, and, of course, typographic tattoos.

Congratulations on your current position as the Art Dept Chair at the City College of New York. Was that always on your radar as a professional?

I have been teaching since my graduation from Cooper Union; for over twenty years I taught in the evenings, when I worked full time as an art director. When I was in junior high school I actually belonged to a school club called “Future Teachers of America!” I still have the little navy and gold patch with an Alladdin’s lamp embroidered on it. Both in High School and at Cooper Union, I was very lucky to have teachers who inspired and challenged me; I have always been grateful, and now I am giving back. Teaching is truly the noblest profession; you have so much power to change someone’s life forever. I am still in touch with my teachers; recently I visited with my painting teacher, Will Barnet, at his Grammercy Park studio; he is one hundred years old and still painting! Amazingly, he loved my books on typographic tattoos. And he was very happy to hear that I have taken up painting again.

Being Chair of the Art Department at City College is a huge responsibility. It is an enormous department with twenty five full time faculty and staff and almost seventy adjuncts. We offer about 180 courses per semester; the department includes Art History and Art Education. We have three Masters degrees (soon to be four with the addition of a masters in digital media launching in Fall 2012).

What do you love about that job? and what is the most challenging?

I enjoy seeing how the college works from a larger vantage point. And I am more empowered to help students as Chair. However, as with any large entity, I am called upon to mediate disputes and resolve problems, as well as to be an effective advocate for the department. It is especially challenging in these economically tough times. But we have an amazing and talented group of students, and City College has a great history. We are also the first or second most diverse college in the country, with students from 135 countries, speaking 80 languages.

That position I would imagine is all consuming. Are you still doing magazine design work?

I try to keep my hand in with magazine design. Last year I worked on a redesign of a bridal magazine with my good friend and sometime collaborator, Donald Partyka. We also collaborated on a prototype for the launch of a wonky policy magazine for the Americas Society called “Americas Quarterly,” which Donald now art directs.

How do you find the time? Have you had to turn down any work? ( did you want to talk about the first time you backed away from a project? and how they hired an army to do what you would have done?)

I work all the time! Seriously, I believe that you do not know your limitations until you exceed them, and that most people could do more than they are doing. Life can be short, so I want to get in as much as I can; there are still so many things I want to do (like learning to play the piano!). But there are only so many hours in a day. Recently I did have to make a difficult decision. I was under contract to write a huge reference book on typography, a kind of ultimate, all encompassing work, 400 pages, 800 images, an enormous undertaking under the best of circumstances. I organized and framed out the essential content and was deep into writing and research on this book when I became Chair of the Art Department. After a few months I realized that there was no way I could complete the book and fulfill my enormous responsibilities as Chair at the same time. It was a very painful point for me, actually the very first time in my life that I could not follow through on a major commitment; I just had no choice but to stop work on the book. My editor hired five additional authors to finish it, so I will be one of six authors credited when”Typography Referenced” is published later this year.

What do you think it is the key for success in this current market for any art director or designer?

Being versed in a variety of media is critical; many top positions now require the supervision of an entire brand across all media. iPad app design, familiarity with user interfaces, motion graphics; all these are growth areas. Be an excellent writer and communicator. Network, network, network. And don’t put all of your eggs in one basket.

How much emphasis you you have on multi media in your course offerings?

We offer a full range of multimedia; we are offering our first course in iPad app design this Fall. We teach game design, animation, 3D, all the good stuff!

You are scheduled to speak at the New York Public Library on May 31 about “Body Type.” How often do you lecture? and how varied are the topics?

Well, just to give you an idea, a few days before my lecture on Body Type, on May 27th I am a general session speaker at the UCDA (University and College Designers Association) Design Education Summit; my talk is titled “Can great designers also be great teachers?” And I regularly speak to editors and publishers about magazine related topics at various publishing conferences; my presentations range from “Designing Covers That Sell” to “Effective Pacing and Flow for Magazines.”

What are your favorite resources for new type that is being created?

There are so many excellent typefaces being created now by wonderful young designers that I could not begin to enumerate them all. But I must say that I have a very special place in my heart for Jonathan Hoefler, who is extremely knowledgeable in all things typographic and who has designed astounding, eminently useful and historically respectful typefaces. He is young enough that he yet may give us much more beautifully crafted type in the years to come.

Sobering Truths About Making A Career Out Of Photography

- - Business

This post that I found via Steve Coleman on Facebook lays out the cold hard facts of starting a wedding or portrait photography business in 2011. You can certainly apply most of it to commercial and editorial photography as well. Photographer Laurence Kim takes his MBA and 20 years of business experience to explain how the photography business compares to other career options.

First, the options you may or may not have for building enough wealth to live the American Dream (live a middle class or better lifestyle, send your kids to college and retire at a reasonable age).

1. The Investor – Use money to make money.

2. The Professional – Advanced degrees command high fees.

3. The Corporate Employee – Climb the corporate ladder.

4. The Public Employee – Job security and a retirement.

Finally the photographer.

Zero barriers to entry – A camera and a cheap website then you’re off.

Zero leverage/scalability – Your are trading your time for money. Stock used to provide leverage but that’s dead.

Zero equity-building- What’s Joe Smith Photography worth when you decided to retire. Zero.

Zero benefits – Buy your own health insurance and match your own 401k.

Laurence’s conclusion: “I actually can’t think of a worse business than photography.” And the bottom line: “from a wealth-creation standpoint, photography is a lousy career.” Yikes!

Yeah, I know what you’re thinking, I’m different, I’m going to become the next Dan Winters. Sober up for a second and read his post (here). The key here is not just making a living at photography, but a career: enjoy life, raise kids, retire and die happy.

I rarely give in to the devil on my shoulder and write about failure, but I’m feeling the negative energy people are sending me and this post was too honest to pass up. Everyone needs a kick in the pants once in awhile.

Thirteen Things I Learned On My Last Panel

One of the great things about being on panels with art buyers and other creatives is the interesting things you learn from them. On this last panel for APA LA called “Why We Hire You” I kept some notes to share what I found out. I was on the panel with Jigisha Bouverat the Director of Art Production at TBWA\CHIAT\DAY, Los Angeles and Mike Kohlbecker the Associate Creative Director/Art Director at Crispin Porter + Bogusky, Los Angeles. Jigisha has been with the agency for 22 years and manages a team of Art Producers. Mike has worked on some major campaigns.

Here are the things that I thought were worth noting:

1. Before the event Jigisha told me they have been shooting a ton of campaigns in 2011. More this year than in the last year combined.

2. Jigisha loves the blog Feature Shoot and reads it regularly.

3. Several photographers asked the flash vs. html question for websites. Mike said I don’t care. Jigisha said I have no idea what you’re talking about.

4. Mike said he reads most of his email on his android phone and likes it when there’s a mobile version of a site to look at.

5. Mike said on the campaigns he works on, the photographers being considered all are qualified to shoot it, so it comes down to personality as the deciding factor.

6. Jigisha gave an emphatic yes when asked if she likes looking at personal work and said many times the personal work is what they hang on to from marketing material.

7. When asked where she finds new talent Jigisha she’s had good luck with portfolio reviews at the photography schools in LA.

8. Mike and Jigisha agreed that editorial is still a place where they find photographers who are established but haven’t shot advertising before.

9. Mike said he will describe the type of photography he wants for a concept or show moodboards and then Jigisha said she could name 10 photographers off the top of her head that fit any style he could come up with (i was tempted but didn’t test this).

10. Jigisha and her art producers keep internal google docs where they have photographers categorized. She saves links to things she likes to these documents.

11. the advice for the creative call from both of them was:
i. Don’t be the first to speak, gather clues about where this is going from the AD (e.g. it’s going to be bright and happy or it’s going to be dark and moody). If they’ve had other calls before yours you will hear clues on where things are headed.
ii. it’s all about your enthusiasm for the shoot.
iii. it’s easy to tell when you’re faking this.
iv. Mike admitted that sometimes the project has changed and he’s lost his enthusiasm so it’s good if you are enthusiastic about it.
v. Did I mention enthusiasm?

12. When asked if there was anything that happened on a shoot that made them not want to work with a photographer again Jigisha said there was a shoot where the photographer was bad mouthing the Art Director but didn’t know his radio was on. Mike acknowledged he could be a pain in the ass on shoots asking for more coverage of things on the fly.

13. Questions about the triple bid, budgets, pricing and negotiation had Jigisha explaining the Art Producers job is to make sure they get a fair market price for their clients.

Thanks to Andrea Stern for the great questions. Here’s a take of the event from the audience.

Photo Editors Workshop

- - Blog News

I get asked quite a bit about studying to become a photo editor or landing a job in the photo department at a magazine and this workshop seems like a good step in the right direction:

http://www.kalishworkshop.org/index.html

Kalish 3.0 is designed to address new opportunities in visual storytelling. For over 20 years we’ve been training editors, producers, photojournalists, professors and students in visual editing.