John Korpics Interview

by Heidi Volpe

FORT_20101101_C1_487267_C1_39bbc71632133c14e2f73e1dcd0a2d309b4b4cd4John Korpics, Creative Director of Fortune Magazine is a Renaissance Man. For any designer, photographer, illustrator, typographer or editor working with John should be part of the 100 Things To Do before you Die list. You need to work with him at least one in your life and here’s why:

Heidi: On your personal website you claim to be an arbiter of style at a very young age. Who picked out the tie, you or your Mom?

John: I choose all my ties, most of which are leftover freebies I got when I worked at Esquire. My mom picked the silk shirt I’m wearing in my middle school picture.

Are you wearing a tie to work today?

Indeed I am. I wear a suit and tie 3 or 4 times a week even though I don’t really have to. I could wear jeans and golf shirts every day if I wanted, but I have a theory that good things happen to those who dress well. Walk into a restaurant in a suit and ask to use the restroom. Most of the time they will say sure. Do the same thing in cargo shorts, sneakers and a bandana, and they will tell you the restrooms are for customers only. Believe it or not, this applies to life in general, not just bathrooms. Plus, I’m going to the ICP Infinity awards tonight, so I’m dressed up.

What prompted you to write the blog, My Effing Commute?

I love to write, especially about myself. I spend two hours a day on the train, so I decided to write about all the crazy, annoying, depressing, funny things you see when you spend 2 hours a day commuting. I’ve also gotten really good at taking pictures of people with my iPhone without them knowing about it, although I have accidentally left the flash on once or twice, which kind of gives me away.

I see you have an image gallery and know you have some images with Getty. Do you have aspirations of switching careers or are you doing this so you can increase your skills as an Art Director on set?

I’m not good enough or committed enough to try and make a living at it, but I like it enough to constantly try and get better at it and learn from it. By going through all the different aspects of photography: buying lenses and bodies, shooting different subjects in different situations, interacting with people, getting model releases, lighting, editing, retouching, posting images online and getting feedback, selling images as stock, creating personal books, and more, I understand a lot of what a photographer goes through to make a picture, and ultimately it makes me a better creative director because I can assign smarter, edit smarter, and direct smarter. I think if I could get a picture printed in National Geographic one day before I die, it will have all been worth it.

Why do you upload your images to Flickr? is that more of an idea cloud for you?

I load a lot of things onto Flickr, including personal photos and magazine pages. It’s a great place to gather groups of things that happen to be visual and share them. It also helps me to see my pictures in a context and organize them as stories or collections of ideas. I love the analytics aspect of it too. I can see which images resonate with viewers and which images don’t. It teaches me how to think about my images socially, and how to promote myself through them. There’s an image on my Flickr site of my daughter jumping on a trampoline. After I posted it to a group about teenagers in Converse sneakers, it got over 1000 views in a week, which was pretty remarkable for my site. I’ve given images to hospitals, non profit organizations, the Highline, the Empire State building, all because they found them through tagging and group posting. I also used to post images to Facebook for fun. Now, whenever I have new images to put up, I put them on Flickr, and then post links to my Flickr site on facebook, which gives all my pictures more exposure. I’m really just learning how to use it all, and the images are a way for me to experiment.

downloadI like your burning Xmas tree, is that indeed a family tradition once you moved out of the city?

It will be from now on! I’ve had the idea for that picture for a few years, but we didn’t have the beautiful snow covered yard and bright sunny day until this year. When I took the picture, I was so worried about the dogs getting hurt, or the fire getting out of control, that I shot the whole thing with the auto focus off and it was all soft. I had to get my friend Don Penny to sharpen them up for me. I make a lot of mistakes like that, and I learn as I go. I once shot a weekend of beach pictures with flawless blue skies and when I opened them in Lightroom I had about 1000 images that all had dirt and hair on the lens. I spent 3 days retouching them. Now I carry a cloth with me all the time and wipe as I go…

During the 1950s by Art Director and illustrator Leo Lionni illustrated some fantastic covers. (Granted they were more poster like and lacked cover lines) In your cover portfolio do you anticipate any genre/look potentially being developed?

Not really. Covers are so much about sales and branding that it’s very hard, at least for me, to develop a style that’s consistent from title to title. I will say that a lot of what Im able to do on covers, and with magazine design, is more a reflection of my personality, rather than any talent or skill I might posses. Whether I can sell my ideas internally to the people around me is a big part of what gets printed. Magazines are collaborative worlds and you need to have people skills in order to get your best work published. The work people see is better if you are equal parts designer and salesman.

Photography and design are very similar this way. When I look at pictures, I always see them as a reflection of the personality of the photographer. If it wasn’t Jim Marshall holding the camera, Johnny Cash wouldn’t be flipping him off. He’d just be looking at him wondering who the fuck this photographer was on stage. That picture doesn’t exist unless, on some level, Jim Marshall isn’t Jim Marshall, the kind of guy you just wanted flip off once in a while. If you’re shy, reserved, loud, confident, insecure, insightful, sloppy, kind, mean, shallow, subversive, detail oriented, funny, serious, whatever. Your pictures and you design reflect that. I struggle sometimes to shoot people, to get them to be the picture I want them to be. I’m getting better at it, but it takes a lot of energy. When I don’t have the energy to make people pictures, I shoot bugs.

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Fortune is an 80 yr old title, how are you moving it forward but still respecting it’s legacy?

Most importantly, you have to realize that you can’t compete with the legacy, you just need to learn from it, and embrace it when it makes sense. I ran into this at Esquire also. I’m not going to do better covers than George Lois or Walter Allner or Leo Lionni. I have those covers framed and hanging on my wall in my office. They are works of art. My covers are mostly about selling on a newsstand, and I’m happy if you keep them on your coffee table for a few weeks before you toss them.

I think about the legacy when it comes to the magazine’s visual elements. Fortune has a rich history of information graphics, CEO portraits, industrial photography, photojournalism, things like that. I look for any excuse to get these kinds of images in, because I think they help brand us as a place for excellence, and they connect us with our past while still feeling modern. I like to celebrate business as much as to show the reality of it. I love using people like Ben Baker, Greg Miller and Gregg Segal because their portraits do just that, they celebrate the individual, elevate them to almost heroic proportions. Sometimes, I need that. I love using industrial photographers like Floto & Warner and Spencer Lowell, because their work finds beauty and magnificence in industry and manufacturing. I also love getting great reportage photographers like Ben Lowy into the magazine, because as much as business can be inspirational, we all know it can be downright despicable too, and photographers like Ben help keep us grounded in reality. The one thing we still struggle with is how to be funny. Fortune was never really a funny magazine, and my readers don’t expect sarcasm or humor, so when Phil Toledano shoots a story on investing using a guy in a bear costume wandering around an office hitting on secretaries, as funny as I think it is, the readers tend to not get it. In cases like that, I tend to say screw the reader. I like bear costumes.

Business isn’t a one dimensional world. It is good and bad and impressive and ridiculous and obscene and amazing (and occasionally funny), all in one day, and my goal is to show that complex personality in each issue, all through the lens of the artists we use, and through the veneer of a design layer that fits the brand and makes sense to the reader.

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Why did you choose those particular display faces for the book?

Typography is always a work in progress for me. My approach is to start with a core set of Fonts that fit my perception of the brand, and then build on them. I think we are up to 7 core fonts now. When we started, I used 3, Solano, Geogrotesque and Brunel. Each one has a job to do. Solano, is a narrow, very rigid sans serif that helps us to look serious and also fits well into tight spaces. Geo is really a utility font that we use for captions and details, and Brunel is the peacock serif of the group, that we strut out when we want to be a little flashy. Brunel was actually developed by Robert Priest with Christian Schwartz at Portfolio. It’s an amazing font and you can tell that a lot of time and love when into making it, so when Portfolio shut down I just figured I’d grab it. Seemed like a shame to let it go to waste. I’ve never been that picky about who used the fonts before me or making them exclusive to my brand. I don’t think a font in and of itself can define your brand. Its how you use typography along with all the other elements that defines you.

How long did your re-design take? and what was your mission statement to the staff?

It took about a year, mostly because we did a lot of editorial research and testing with focus groups before we rolled anything out. If a redesign was simply a new coat of paint, it would take about two or three months, but when we remade Fortune, we spent a lot of time rethinking the editorial product as well as the look.

Aside having Cyrus Highsmith draw your logo what did you have custom made?

I had the section headers drawn by Tal Lemming. Beyond that, everything is off the rack.

You’ve said that once you come in to direct a magazine you first watch and then make changes you feel appropriate. What were those changes at Fortune?

It takes a while to learn the DNA of a magazine, and it doesn’t make sense to me to make sweeping changes until you get to that point. I always come in humble, willing to admit that of everyone on staff, I know the least about how the place works. I can make some cosmetic changes quickly, but mostly I watch and I learn, and over time I look for ways to improve it while still hanging on to what works.

I also spend a lot of time in the beginning going to focus groups and understanding the readership. I imagine a typical reader, and I make a lot decisions based on what I think that reader will want or what they will tolerate. Everything from type size, where the credits run, page organization, photo and illustration use, headline and subhead treatments. It all begins with who I think my reader is, and then I work in the visual elements that I think fit.

At Instyle you mentioned you were an information architecture: what is your main task at Fortune?

InStyle is a magazine that people browse. Nobody sits and “reads” InStyle, so I designed it as a browsing experience. All the type was in small chunks, no type ran from one column to the next, it all fit into clearly defined shapes. There really weren’t any “columns” of words. Just lots and lots of color and shapes and pictures and fun. Each page was its own story and was instantly “inhalable” as we like to say here at Time Inc. I imagined the reader as kind of a Doris Day movie character, because there was never any bad news in InStyle. It was always about who looked good wearing what, who was happy in their relationship, whose hair worked and how they got it, how you could make your body type work. It’s all very positive and life affirming, and a little escapist, but in a good way, like Disney World is escapist, so I just imagined a magazine made for a world that always had a happy ending. A world where nobody was ever fat and everyone’s hair looked AMAZING!!! People smiled a lot, type was bright and colorful, crisp serifs, lots of exclamation points and asterisks, lots of energy. I like immersing myself in a world that has a defined identity, no matter how real or imagined. Usually the fantasy worlds are more fun to design than the real ones.

Fortune is the complete opposite. Our words are our strength. People get Fortune specifically because they want a longer, more reported and more insightful take on the information. So my goal is to invite the reader in, and then keep them in by making the reading experince enjoyable and unobtrusive. It’s a magazine where design really needs to live below the surface. If Fortune was known first and foremost for its design, I’d think there was something wrong.

You’ve worked many places in your career, what has changed the most dramatically for you since you started working and been the most challenging?

When I started college in 1981, there was no such thing as a personal computer. No email, no internet. When I started in magazines in 1986, I was specing type, cutting repro, waxing it onto boards, shooting photostats, all very analog. Without a doubt, the biggest challenge has always been staying on top of the technological changes. I’ve gone from pasting layouts to boards, to learning Quark, to learning Indesign, Photoshop, Lightroom, and Illustrator, to now learning how to create content for tablets, websites and social media. Technology never sleeps, and sometimes I feel like I don’t either…

What do you think the future of print magazines looks like?

I think print will be archival. You’ll buy something printed when you have a sense of wanting permanence. Magazines like National Geographic, and Architectural Digest will always exist in print because they are timeless and collectable. They aren’t doing stories that get old in a month or two. They are creating a permanent record of something and they represent a level of excellence that seems appropriate to print. Magazines like Vogue and W will also always exist in print, because they are so visual and luxurious that you wont be able to replicate it on a tablet. Whenever the Prince marries his Princess, you’ll want it in print. Whenever Liz Taylor dies, or a shuttle explodes or a president is assassinated or a terrorist attack brings down the towers, you’ll want a printed record of that moment in time. Magazines that start creating issues that are themed or seem collectable will resonate with readers. The Body Issue, The Photo Issue, The Oscars, The Baseball Issue. All of that kind of stuff will continue to exist in print. Everything else will go to digital. I already don’t read my magazine in print. I read it on the iPad because its easier and I like the experience.

When you hire a designer what are 3 key things you want to see in their work?

Originality, craftsmanship, and intelligence

I see you post about the magazine and your work on Facebook. How has Facebook allowed you be a better art director and interact with your staff?

I created an internal private facebook group for our creative staff to post and share ideas. We post links, stories, artists, fonts, other magazines work. Anything that’s interesting. Nothing gets kept out and everyone is encouraged to post. Cuts way back on the group emailing, and we have a nice record of everything we’ve posted so we can go back and reference it.

For your digital editions, did you hire a new team or did that task fall on your current art department?

We handle it all internally, with some freelancers here and there. Basically, if you design a story, you design it for Print, iPad, Galaxy and Playbook (the Blackberry tablet). We’ve tried very hard to keep the formats simple enough that we get it all done in about 3-4 days after we close the print magazine. That said, it’s an enormous amount of additional work, but until the digital content starts generating revenue, I don’t think we’ll have the luxury of adding staff.

How often do you use your ipad?

Not very often, but that’s mostly because I carry a laptop, an iPhone and a blackberry with me everywhere I go. When I do use it, it’s for two things. Looking at Fortune magazine and playing angry birds.

Condé Moving From Midtown

- - Blog News

Condé Nast Publications, whose stable of magazines chronicles the American zeitgeist as meticulously as any anthropologist, has reached an agreement to lease one million square feet at 1 World Trade Center, giving ground zero a much-needed corporate anchor with a proven ability to attract other businesses.

…the negotiations involved reams of traffic studies and security discussions, to ensure that its black cars (more than 100), its racks of designer dresses and its well-shod executives would be able to pass swiftly each day through the police-imposed security zone that is to surround the complex.

via, NYTimes.com thx, Mark.

Can We Afford Success?

- - Blog News

When I started out as a photographer, all galleries had an inventory of frames. All that was required was to send matted prints to the gallery and they popped them in their frames. The costs of shipping and flying the artist in for the opening were also absorbed by the gallery. Digital imagery (and the economy) changed that system, as prints became large scale and no longer uniform.

via L E N S C R A T C H.

Jonathan Blaustein Acquisitions

APE contributor Jonathan Blaustein told me about acquisitions of his work by the State of New Mexico and Library of Congress. I wanted him to write about it, because like me I’m sure many of you are curious how this whole process works. He was reluctant to write about it and be too self-congratulatory on the blog (he is paid to write for APE), so I asked him a few questions instead.

APE: Tell me what the acquisitions were?

JB: The State of New Mexico recently purchased a unique portfolio of the entire “Value of a Dollar” project for the State’s permanent Public Art collection, at market value. The Library of Congress purchased a portfolio of the project as well, from the 16×20 edition,  which will reside in its permanent archive, and be accessible to the public online and in person, I believe.  I’ll be delivering the work to them in the next month or so, so it’s not in their database yet.

APE: Can you give me a brief background on how you got into fine art photography? What was your path to get where you are now?

JB: I picked up a camera for no particular reason back in 1996. I was moving back to New Mexico from New York, and bought some black & white film before I took a solo cross country drive through the South. I was hooked immediately, and decided to go back to school to study photography at UNM, since I was a state resident, and it was cheap. The program was fine art based, and I studied with Tom Barrow and Patrick Nagatani, who were both steeped in conceptualism. So from the beginning, I used photography as a means of creative expression. After Albuquerque, I lived in San Francisco and started showing my work in local galleries and art spaces. From there, I moved back to New York to get an MFA at Pratt, which totally rocks, and then came back to New Mexico in 2005. I’ve been fortunate that we have a great collection of talent, resources and photographic institutions out here.

APE: I know nothing about acquisitions, so tell me how important they are to fine art photographers?

JB: I think most artists would like to have their work collected by museums and institutions.  It offers credibility, and the opportunity for the public to actually interact with your work.  Also, it’s tough to sell work nowadays, so public acquisitions can be a great source of income. In this case, the size of the two acquisitions was equivalent any of the biggest grants or fellowships around, so now I’ll be able to pay the bills, and catch my breath for the first time in a long while.

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APE: What is the process like, how do you get on someone’s radar for an acquisition? Walk me through what happened to you in these cases?

JB: Well, as I wrote last year, I attended the Review Santa Fe portfolio review in 2009 and 2010.  The first year, people really liked “The Value of a Dollar,” but nothing popped.  Last year, there seemed to be a bit more buzz around the project. I had a twenty minute review with Josh Haner, an editor for the New York Times Lens Blog, and he said he’d like to publish the work on the spot. I also had a review with Verna Curtis, a curator from the Library of Congress, who was really taken with the series.  She said she’d like to figure out a way to acquire it for the collection, but that it would take a while to sort out the logistics. So I followed her instructions as to how to stay in touch, and it played out over the course of six or seven months.

The State of New Mexico purchase came out of a great program that we have here that’s run by an organization called New Mexico Arts. Each year, they buy work from New Mexico artists through the Art in Public Places acquisition program. They put out an online call for entries, and I submitted some work. A friend who’d been funded before suggested that I email some of the staff directly to introduce myself and get some advice, so I did. As a result, the director of the program ended up on my email list.

Last fall, the New York Times followed through and published “The Value of a Dollar” on the Lens Blog. The story went viral immediately, and I had 500,000 hits to my website within a week. It was unexpected, and totally insane. I sent out an email blast about the Lens Blog publication and the viral mania, and the AIPP program manager responded to my email, saying he’d like to talk about acquiring a portfolio of the work.  It took 5 months of patient follow up, and then I got the meeting in February of this year.  We negotiated and shook hands on a deal that day, and it was all wrapped up within a couple of months.

APE: What’s next? Obviously, like with commercial and editorial photography, success begets success so how do you capitalize on this?

JB: It’s a good question. I’m hoping the momentum continues, but it’s tough out there. Like everyone else, I’d really like to get the photographs on the wall in New York.  It’s the center of the Art world, obviously, as well as the rest of the photo industry.  But lately, my primary focus has been on making new work. I’ve been busting it out in the studio since January on a follow up project so I can take advantage of the publicity, and the fact that people will probably pay attention to what comes next.  It seemed important to come up with a new idea that would be as good or better than the last, so that I don’t end being the Dollar guy like some early 80’s one hit wonder. I’d also like to establish a solid relationship with a dealer in one of the prime art markets, like New York, LA, London or Berlin.

Really, I think that many art photographers are trying to re-evaluate what success even means in 2011 (See Aline Smithson’s recent post on Lenscratch).  This photo series connected with countless people across the planet through the Internet, and the ideas have continued to resonate.  So I’m also asking myself if my goals should extend beyond the gallery and museum wall, into a more active role within the politics of food.

Why We Hire You – APA LA Panel

This Wednesday, May 18th I will be on a panel with an Art Producer, Creative Director and Art Director at the offices of TBWA-Chiat-Day in LA to help answer the question “why we hire you.” The event is being put on by the LA chapter of APA and Andrea Stern of SternRep. More information can be found (here). I’m excited to talk about the way in which I used to choose and hire photographers and also impart knowledge gained from 3 years of blogging about the subject. The rest of the panel is strictly advertising folks (Jigisha Bouverat, Director of Art Productions TBWA\Chiat\Day; Mike Kohlbecker, Associate Creative Director/Art Director, Crispin Porter + Bogusky; Jake Kahana, Art Director, 72 and Sunny), so it will be interesting to learn about their processes and report back what I find out.

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The Future Of Advertising Is Integrated

- - The Future

I found this story on TechCrunch about banner advertising quite interesting (here). Companies originally saw online advertising as a way to drive consumers to make a purchase, but they quickly discovered that traditional display ads yielded very few hits. The average banner ad generates 0.2% CTR (click through rate). You can see in this graphic from 2008 that while marketers still believed and wanted the internet to drive traffic they were starting to come around to the idea that creating awareness, familiarity, consideration and loyalty were just as important.

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The story, written my Mark Suster a VC at GRP Partners goes on to point out that banner advertising is horrible at creating any of this awareness that advertisers seek online. The solution to this problem is integrated advertising. You don’t have to look further than The Strobist and Joe McNally to see integrated advertising hard at work in the photography industry. Savvy marketers have caught on to the value of endorsement and product placement for creating awareness and they’ve latched on to two early movers.

What really caught my attention in the story was the value of in-image advertising as a form of integrated media. GumGum a company I’ve written about before places advertising on top of images and delivers a 2x industry average CTR. Another company with Google backing called Pixazza places product advertising inside the image.

What does all of this mean for photographers? Something I’ve long argued: photos will eventually out-strip all other forms of communication online. Their ability to deliver information quickly in a crowded marketplace, makes them extremely valuable for marketing, advertising and storytelling.

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Don’t Always Trust Customer Surveys

- - Working

I post a lot of quotes from interviews with your customers (PE’s, AB’s, AD’s) here and I wanted to point out something that’s rarely mentioned. Listen to what people say, but trust your gut and your numbers and always experiment to find things that work for you. Everyone (except experts in the survey field) asks questions that lead the interviewee to the answer they wanted in the first place and people generally give answers that are idealized. They say photographers should do X, Y and Z, but then ignore those directives when in an actual hiring situation. Here’s a great example of what I’m talking about:

You’re with Walmart. It’s 2009, and you want to do something new, something transformative, to out-innovate rival Target. You have a sense that Target is cleaner, better designed, less cluttered. Walmart aisles are crammed, packed, an infinite jumble of product.

So you’re thinking of launching an uncluttering project. Strategic. Huge. Millions of dollars. But before you make any changes, you want to float the idea by customers.

So you conduct a survey, asking customers: would you like Walmart aisles to be less cluttered? And they say, “Yes, now that you ask, yes, that would be nice.” And you check the box by “customer input” and report back, hey everyone, good news, yes, customers like the idea.

Walmart spends hundreds of millions of dollars uncluttering their stores, removing 15% of inventory, shortening shelves, clearing aisles. Yes, it’s expensive and time-consuming, but this is what customers said they wanted, so you barrel through it.

You’ll never guess what happens now. (Actually, you’ve probably already guessed, but it sounded better to say you’ll never guess.)

Sales went down. Way down. I mean waaaaaay down. I’m talking, from the beginning of that project until today, Walmart has lost over a billion dollars in sales. (Yes, billion with a “b”.) It’s actually closer to two billion dollars of sales they missed out on, and maybe more.

Needless to say, the executives in charge of the project have been fired, and Walmart is spending yet more money to return to its original, time-tested strategy of offering a huge (albeit cluttered) inventory at low prices.

Read it here.

What people say isn’t always the same as what they do.

TwitPic Plans To Sell Your Images So It Can Profit

- - copyright

A story in TechCrunch EU highlights a blowup over the ToS (Terms of Service) of Twitpic the photo sharing app for Twitter that many people use to share breaking news images from their phone–images like Daniel Morel’s Haiti images and subsequent lawsuit (here) and also the first image of the plane landing in the Hudson river. TwitPic amended their terms to coincide with an announcement that they’ve partnered with news agency WENN to sell the images people post. According to thenextweb.com, “The new licensing deal ensures that users retain the copyright but by uploading photos service, the company is able to exploit the photos for commercial gain.”

The changes to Twitpic’s ToS that will impact users the most as reported by Hawke’s Bay Today are:

“…you hereby grant Twitpic a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicenseable and transferable license to use, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of…” and “…after you remove or delete your media from the Service provided that any sub-license by Twitpic to use, reproduce or distribute the Content prior to such termination may be perpetual and irrevocable.”

Twitpic is not the only photo sharing app with heinous ToS’es. According to thenextweb.com:

picplzColoryFrogInstagramFlickr, and Lockerz (fka Plixi), all have similar clauses to those of Twitpic

picplz users agree to, among other things,

“the right of the service “and its affiliates a nonexclusive, royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable and fully sublicensable right to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, perform and display such Content in connection with: (i) providing and promoting the Service; and/or (ii) exercising the rights granted in these Terms.”

Both stories point to MobyPicture as the solution for photographers who want to retain their rights. According to TechCrunch EU:

They’ve just now tweaked their ToS conditions thus:

“Content Ownership:
All rights of uploaded content by our users remain the property of our users and can in no means be sold or used by Mobypicture or affiliated third party partners without consent from the user. This means Mobypicture will NEVER sell the rights to your shared photos and videos. Your content is yours!”

As these companies try to figure out what they can get away with and how they can become profitable it’s important for professional photographers to voice their opinion to help them understand the needs and concerns they have for using their service. It looks like deleting your Twitpic account and moving to MobyPicture is a good way to do that.

The Consequences Of War

- - Blog News

In a very personal interview with VII The Magazine, photographer Ashley Gilbertson, opens up about the effects of war on soldiers and their families, himself, and the country.

If you show me one more picture of a soldier kicking in a door I’m going to blow my head off.

via VII The Magazine.

Real World Estimates: Automotive Advertising Campaign

by Jess Dudley, Wonderful Machine Producer

One of the biggest projects I’ve worked on, both in terms of production expenses and licensing fees, was a shoot that I estimated and produced recently for one of our Midwest photographers. Though he’s mostly known for his phenomenal portrait photography, he was asked by a major ad agency to submit a quote to shoot the print campaign for a newly rejuvenated sports car brand. The agency’s art director called the photographer after she saw an editorial project he had shot. (I love when that happens!) We later found out that not only did the photographer’s style catch their eye, but his magazine shoot actually provided a lot of the inspiration for the campaign’s concept. It goes to show that even with big agencies, there are times when the creatives are open to collaborating with photographers on concept development as well as execution.

Shoot & Licensing Needs

The process started with the photographer brainstorming with the AD to develop a clear concept, and me discussing the licensing needs with the art buyer. Then the photographer and I agreed on the production elements we’d need to bring together in order to support that concept and the way the photographer wanted to shoot it. Unlike the typical hero shots in the desert, this project was based on gritty, urban images executed in a more documentary style, with real people found on location. The cars would need to look pristine, but the personality of the campaign needed to be “fast and rough around the edges.” Given this approach, we weren’t going to have a standard shot list with comps to work from. Instead, the photographer and I planned to create (along with a location scout) a guide full of hip, young, bustling locations. That, along with a client-provided list of angles to shoot the cars from, became our literal and figurative roadmap for the shoot. The photographer and art director agreed on shooting for three days each in two different cities. The photographer planned to work with minimal lighting equipment for maximum mobility.

The client had an immediate need for 20 images, but expected to use additional images in the future. They planned on using them in a variety of ways, primarily web/social media, but also in collateral material and print ads. They asked us to quote on exclusive, worldwide use of any kind, forever. With my head firmly around what we had to do to create the pictures and how they were going to be used, I got to work on the estimate.

Fee

When the logistics of a shoot and the licensing of the images are more cut and dried, I tend to lump the creative and licensing fees together. But the more spontaneous approach to this production and the open-ended licensing needs of the client warranted a different approach. It made sense to quote the shoot days and the licensing independent of one another so we could add time or images without renegotiating the contract. So I created one estimate page detailing the creative fees and production expenses, and a separate page detailing the fees for usage.

The photographer and I settled on $2,500.00/shoot day for his basic creative fee. But what about the licensing fee? There were some factors to consider. The agency and the client were both pretty big players. The client was going to get a lot of use out of the pictures, and they stood to gain a lot from them, all which suggested a solid fee. Applying slight downward pressure on the value was the fact that the photographer didn’t have a long track record with automotive advertising, the spontaneous nature of the shoot made the campaign a little risky for the client, and this campaign was only one of several that they were producing for that brand. After consulting my usual pricing guides and agency contacts, I chose to price the first 20 images at $80,000 (effectively $4,000 each), with the option of the next 10 at $3,000 each and the 10 after that at $2,000 each.

This is actually a departure from my usual strategy. I normally value additional pictures at somewhere between the prorated fee and the prorated fee plus expenses. In other words, if you were to shoot five pictures for a $5,000 fee and $2,500 in expenses, prorating the fee for additional pictures would be $1,000 each ($5,000/5). Prorating the fee plus expenses would be $1,500 ($7,500/5). I figure that if the photographer is productive enough to generate additional ads from the same shoot, he should get some consideration from the fact that he’s saving the client money they’d otherwise have to spend on expenses for a future shoot. So I might normally value the additional pictures at $1,250.00 each. However, in this situation, the initial selections were most likely to be the ones used in ads, and if they ended up using 20-30 pictures beyond that, those later pictures were going to more likely be used for the web and social media. So in order to encourage as much of that as possible, I chose to discount those additional pictures.

Assistants

The first assistant would be traveling with the photographer and would be responsible for organizing the gear in advance of the shoot and upon return, which amounted to 13 days:

  • 1 day before the shoot to prep, rent and pack the gear
  • 2 tech/scout days (1 day prior to each shoot city)
  • 6 shoot days (3 in each city)
  • 1 travel day to the first location
  • 1 travel day between the two locations
  • 1 travel day home
  • 1 day back at home to clean/organize/return gear
  • The second assistant would be local to each of the locations and just show up on shoot days (though in retrospect, it would have been nice to have them for the tech/scout days as well). Not knowing how long the shoot days were going to go, I chose to add a line item for assistant overtime to cover myself in that event.

Producer

As the producer, I would be attending the shoot. I would be responsible for managing the locations, location scouts, vehicles, talent, lodging, travel arrangements, and of course putting together a production book with all of the maps, routes, locations, travel, comp and contact info. I figured my time on the project, from start to finish, would take 15 days:

  • 3 days to prep and coordinate all of the details
  • 2 tech/scout days (1 day prior to each shoot city)
  • 6 shoot days (3 in each city)
  • 1 travel day to the first location
  • 1 travel day between the two locations
  • 1 travel day home
  • 1 day to organize the receipts and create the invoice
  • Location Scouts

Finding good locations was going to be crucial to the success of this shoot. Our plan was to initially have a scout in each city spend two days taking snapshots at as many locations as possible that might be appropriate. The photographer would review the scouting report with the agency to narrow down a list of locations the photographer would then scout in person the day or two before the shoot. (Not surprisingly, it wasn’t too long into the first day of shooting that we spotted a cool location that wasn’t on our list and deviated from the plan.) Two location scouts (one in each city), two days scouting on their own, one day with the photographer.

Precision Drivers

We budgeted for three days of precision drivers, which included one day at the track, and one day in each of the two cities. These drivers were necessary to do anything that either pushed the limits of the car or safe operating conditions. If you ask me, I could drive as well as they could, but I didn’t have the same credentials or insurance. After a few recommendations from our local resources and a cursory search on the local film office database to make sure the recos (agency speak for recommendations) were experienced, we booked our two drivers.

Security, Locations & Permits

Our location scouts both had experience with permits, location fees, and police/security in their area and helped me with those numbers. We ended up blowing most of this budget on one day when we decided to shoot at a racetrack (they are not cheap, nor easy to rent). Luckily, we didn’t need to spend much for our other locations. The rest of the budget paid for an off-duty cop to close down a roadway when we decided to shoot a little boy peering into one of the cars from the street. Safety first. Our scout had worked with him and was able to line him up the night before.

Talent & Wardrobe

In keeping with the fast and loose approach of the shoot, and since we were only going to use people as space filling elements, we decided to use found talent and outfit them with their own clothes. We relied our local resources to call in friends, family and colleagues, and we street-cast a handful of others. During the scout day we’d decide whether or not we wanted people to populate a particular shot and set our local resources loose to call in a crowd. On the shoot day, if we saw a group of kids or good looking couple walking down the street and felt like we could fit them in, we’d ask for 30 minutes of their time. We wanted to keep it real, fun and casual to help the pictures come off as authentic as possible. We paid most of the models $100.00 each (which we recorded on the model release).

Post-Processing Days

When you shoot this many images, you have to account for a significant amount of time to process the raw images after the shoot (usually between 1/2 and 2 post-processing days per shoot day depending on the complexity of the processing and expectations of the client). I usually quote $1000.00/day for post-processing. In this case the photographer was doing the processing himself and wanted to charge a higher rate.

“Reasonable” is what I aim for when I’m putting together any estimate. I don’t want to ever give the impression that we’re wasting the client’s money on anything unnecessary. But I also don’t want to risk looking like I haven’t thought of everything. Even though I want the estimated expenses to be lean, I want to include enough fat in them to account for the unexpected, hence the roundness of the numbers. After a few tweaks here and there, the client approved everything—though the photographer ended up signing the agency’s purchase order instead of them signing our quote, which is not unusual. We did the shoot, and the client ultimately licensed 40 images.