The Art of the Personal Project: Suzanne Saroff

The Art of the Personal Project is a crucial element to let potential buyers see how you think creatively on your own.  I am drawn to personal projects that have an interesting vision or that show something I have never seen before.  In this thread, I’ll include a link to each personal project with the artist statement so you can see more of the project. Please note: This thread is not affiliated with any company; I’m just featuring projects that I find.  Please DO NOT send me your work.  I do not take submissions.

 

Today’s featured artist:  Suzanne Saroff

‘‘Perspective’ is a two-part series. The original photos I titled “Perspective.” Then I titled the photos that came after “Perspective Revisited.”

These pieces were a deeply personal experience for me to create. Creating my artwork is a transformative, meditative experience. That was especially so in creating my Perspective series. I was in my early twenties when I started this series. I had been working on other still-life photography series involving these props – the glassware, the fruits, and the flowers – but that earlier series was about the shadows they made. While photographing that earlier series, I saw that the orange I had been photographing had taken a completely new shape behind the water glass. This phenomenon in art – distortion through lenses of all types, even when the lens is not attached to the camera – has always interested me. From Irving Penn’s work on the concept, to my carrying around a crystal ball when I was a kid, photographing my hand holding the crystal while the world flipped upside down behind it.

At that moment, seeing the distorted orange at an unexpected angle brought me back to my childhood, where photography was a discovery of the hidden obvious. Right then, I became obsessed, which turned into a journey of exploration that has led me deeper into what I can try to capture and communicate with my photography.

Something so simple – water, a background, and an object- being transformed with the right light and “Perspective.”

The second part of this series was revisiting what I had started. In this second part of the Perspective series, I dove deeper into the folds and dimensions of communicating with color and texture. I hope that these captured images share some of the ripeness of emotion and feeling that I had then, and how what I was able to see helped to unravel tangled knots that are so common in all of us.

Through the years, I continue to revisit this work, each time with a new perspective. As I have grown up in this career in New York, I find comfort in the feeling of the challenge of discovering something new in the obvious. I chase that feeling, obsessively working through new ideas. As I balance my commercial projects with my own personal work, I have continued to revisit this “Perspective” concept, as each visit brings me joy and comfort, and the most exciting visits do bring me something new.

To see more of this project, click here

Instagram

Artist Bio

Suzanne Saroff is a photographer and video artist based in NYC. Her body of work is still-life focused, with a multimedia approach. She has always been an observer – noticing small details. As a child, this meant falling behind on hikes to look at unnoticed bugs and flowers, and as an adult, she continues to notice the often unseen. She uses still-life photography as a way to communicate feelings and ideas. Her work is feminine, bold, and nuanced. She loves to explore objects, textures, and colors and how they can add layers of energy and meaning.

Central to her approach is experimentation and new ways to work with light and composition. In her studio, she likes to build technical sets and then break all of the creative “rules”. This process is cathartic and is where new ideas emerge. She likes to examine, take apart, or combine flowers and objects, searching for new ways of looking at them to create and communicate feelings and emotions.

In addition to her ever growing body of personal work, Suzanne has shot for many clients, including Glossier, Gucci, NARS, Prada, and her photography has been published in the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the New Yorker, and many other publications.

 

APE contributor Suzanne Sease currently works as a consultant for photographers and illustrators around the world.  She has been involved in the photography and illustration advertising and in-house corporate industry for decades.  After establishing the art-buying department at The Martin Agency, then working for Kaplan-Thaler, Capital One, Best Buy and numerous smaller agencies and companies, she decided to be a consultant in 1999.  Follow her at @SuzanneSease.  Instagram

The Art of the Personal Project: Claire Harbage

The Art of the Personal Project is a crucial element to let potential buyers see how you think creatively on your own.  I am drawn to personal projects that have an interesting vision or that show something I have never seen before.  In this thread, I’ll include a link to each personal project with the artist statement so you can see more of the project. Please note: This thread is not affiliated with any company; I’m just featuring projects that I find.  Please DO NOT send me your work.  I do not take submissions.

Today’s featured artist:  Joanna Kakissis , Claire Harbage

The Cossacks’ traditions live on near the front lines in Ukraine

(featured in NPR The Picture Show)

KHORTYTSIA, Ukraine — This lush, wild island, the largest on the Dnipro River, is just outside the southern city of Zaporizhzhia, not far from the front line where Ukrainian soldiers are trying to reclaim occupied land.

It includes a nature reserve, where horses run free, and was once a headquarters for the Zaporizhzhian Cossacks, 17th century warriors revered in Ukraine for their insistence on freedom and self-governance.

“They are my ancestors,” says Yuriy Kopishynskyi, a tall grandfather with a shaved head, twirled mustache and linebacker’s build. “They are also part of the Ukrainian story today.”

You can find likenesses of Zaporizhzhian Cossacks everywhere in Ukraine — on T-shirts and coffee mugs, in paintings in government offices, on statues big and small. Their hairstyle — shaved, except for a ponytail on top of their heads — is also popular with Ukrainian men and even a few women.

“Legend says that when a Cossack dies,” Kopishynskyi says, “God reaches out for that ponytail to pull the Cossack to heaven.”

Kopishinskyi sits in a thatched hut surrounded by five protective ducks, near an animal refuge and a horse-riding school run by his daughter. He explains that the world often associates Cossacks with Russia, because some became loyal servants to the czars. But the Zaporizhzhian Cossacks fought invading Muscovite princes.

“They were de facto border guards, protecting their sacred land,” he says.

For the last 20 years, Kopishynskyi has trained locals and foreigners to fight like Zaporizhzhian Cossacks — with swords, maces and their bare hands. One of his best students is Andrii Lozovyi, a cheery hulk with a drooping mustache and long oseledets, which he calls “the haircut of champions.”

“Every adult, every child wants a hairstyle like that so we can look like our heroes,” he says.

Before the war, Lozovyi and Kopishinskyi practiced their combat techniques inside a fenced-in complex lined with weathered wooden houses. This is the reconstruction of a Cossack sich, or a military administrative center. It includes homes, a church and a museum.

Lozovyi disappears into the museum and returns with weapons, including a heavy sword and two axes. He takes off his shirt and expertly swings the sword around.

“I can also do this while riding a horse,” he says. “Whether we use horses and swords or howitzers and HIMARS, it all goes back to the same Cossack spirit to defend our land.”

Lozovyi says he’s been rejected from military service because of multiple bone fractures he suffered falling off horses. Kopishinskyi’s other student warriors are all on the front line, and they’re fighting other Cossacks who live in Russia and support Moscow. Kopishynskyi bristles.

“The Russian Cossacks were nothing but servants, and all they ever did was submit to the czar. The Zaporizhzhian Cossacks never submitted to anybody.”

Except this one time, he says, and there were terrible mistakes. Between 1648 and 1657, the Zaporizhzhian Cossacks rebelled against the Polish Commonwealth but also massacred local Jews and Roman Catholics. Then, in 1654, the Cossacks signed the Pereyaslav Agreement with the Russian czars for military protection. The Russian empire grew and punished those who didn’t submit. The Zaporizhzhian Cossacks held out until Catherine the Great, one of the Russian empire’s most formidable leaders, disbanded them in 1775.

“The way I see it, the Pereyaslav Agreement helped create the Russian Empire,” Kopishynskyi said, “and the Russia we know today.”

Now, he says, Ukraine and Poland are close allies, and Ukraine has a Jewish president, whom Kopishynshki calls a brave Cossack. They are defending their land from Russia.

“My own daughter is so strong,” he says. “She could fight five Russians.”

Anastatasiya Kopishynska, a champion equestrian, is tall and athletic like her father. Back at her riding school, she helps two twin toddler girls onto one of her horses.

“They’re not scared,” the girls’ grandmother says. “They must be Cossacks.”

Kopishynska’s own young children have been in Ireland since the war, living with her mother. Her husband is fighting on the front line.

“I told my husband, ‘Look, be careful out there, because if something happens to you, I will have to head to the front line myself to avenge you,'” she says.

“That’s what a Cossack does,” she says. And in today’s Ukraine, the Zaporizhzhian Cossacks are fighting again.

The story as featured in NPR The Picture

Photographs by Claire Harbage

 

APE contributor Suzanne Sease currently works as a consultant for photographers and illustrators around the world.  She has been involved in the photography and illustration advertising and in-house corporate industry for decades.  After establishing the art-buying department at The Martin Agency, then working for Kaplan-Thaler, Capital One, Best Buy and numerous smaller agencies and companies, she decided to be a consultant in 1999.  Follow her at @SuzanneSease.  Instagram

Shifting Perspectives: Kenny Hurtado Walks Away From Professional Photography

by Angie Smith

Angie Smith: When did you start taking pictures? And how did it turn into a profession?

Kenny Hurtado: I grew up as a surfer. When I graduated from High School, I bought a camera to document the surf when it was good.

It became very natural to me, so I took a couple of classes at a Junior College. From there, I interned for Surfing Magazine. They would give me free film, critique me and give me lessons.

Within a month of interning there, I started getting some really good pictures, and right away, they started publishing my work. They took me under their wing, and I interned there for seven months until one day they said, ‘Let’s test you out’– so they sent me to Mexico for two months. I did a road trip through Baja and Mainland Mexico and when I came back, I had shot sixty rolls of slide film. It ended up being a feature-length story in print. I was put on a retainer and lived a true dirtbag vagabond lifestyle, traveling the globe with an endless film budget. It was a dream come true. I stayed with the magazine for about 2 years until the recession started to hit. Budgets dropped, and I was let go.

I moved to San Francisco and studied the fine art side of photography at The San Francisco Art Institute. I knew nothing about fine art photography but found it exciting.

I crashed and burned a ton of times during my art school years. I spent that time just experimenting with different cameras and subject matter.

I moved back to Los Angeles, and from 2010-2013, I went back to shooting some ocean scape and surf portraits, trying to approach it from a fine art angle.

In 2013, a couple of surf brands started seeing my work, and I was put on retainer for companies to shoot their campaigns.

It was a great gig, but it didn’t pay well. With rent, my car payment, and insurance, I was barely scraping by. I felt so pigeonholed, and I didn’t really want to be a surf photographer anymore. At the same time, I was developing my own work outside of the surfing world. I was conflicted and knew it was time to move on.

In 2018, my partner Lindsay was offered a job in San Francisco. I put the word out that I was looking to move back to the Bay. A few days later, someone reached out and said AirBnB was hiring and wanted to offer me an interview for an in-house photo editor. I needed the income to live in the Bay Area, and I had some debts to clear. I ended up dropping my brand retainers in Southern California, and we both moved North to Sonoma County.

I was offered the AirBnB job, and at the same time, I was picked up by a photo agent based in LA the day before I left town. I joined the agency but wasn’t very active.

I slowed down my photography practice so I could focus on work while I had this consistent tech money coming in. After I got settled in and freed myself of debt, I started shooting again. I had a couple of projects that were catching on and from there, I started working for clients like the New York Times, The New Yorker, Outside, and NatGeo – people I really want to shoot for.

After about 1 year in the AirBnB offices, my contract was pulled. I said to myself: ‘OK, I’m going all in on freelance.’ I started to line up jobs back to back and felt I was finally on the path I wanted to be on – until March 2020 came around. I was back to being broke again.

A few months later, in May of 2020, I found out I was going to be a father. I was like: ‘Woah, woah, woah.’ I was scared as shit but very excited at the same time.

The whole time Lindsey was pregnant, I was still trying to find my way as a freelancer, which was going nowhere. Lindsay had a good job, enough to pay our rent in the Bay Area. I felt so bad because I was 37, an expectant dad, and had no means of income. I did the classic Covid lockdown fitness thing and got super into running. I guess I was truly running away from my worries.

I had to stop and think: ‘I’m gonna be dad, dude, what are you doing? You spend all day running, not bringing any income. You need to figure something out.’

A good photo job would pop up and make me really excited. I’d think: ‘This is gonna help me out for a couple months.’ Then it would disappear. That would happen again and again.

It was a month before Sage was born, and I literally had zero money in my bank account. I knew that I needed something that was gonna be stable and fast.

I was just pushing 40, and I thought: ‘I have a baby now. I don’t have a family that’s gonna bail me out. I have no backup plan; I have no savings. What am I going to do?’

I spent the first 9-10 months as a stay-at-home dad but felt worthless since I was not helping out at all financially.

In 2021, out of nowhere, Lindsey said: ‘Let’s move back to my hometown.’ She’s from Springfield, Missouri. I was like: ‘No freaking way, I’m not moving to Missouri.’ I’d always lived on the coast my entire life. I hated the idea of moving inland. Eventually, it just made sense because her whole family is here. And the cost of living is insanely affordable.

So we moved to Missouri, and I said: ‘I want to make a fresh start.’

Once we moved and settled, I took all my camera gear, and I stuck it in the back closet of my son’s room. In the very, very back. I said to myself: ‘I’m just not going to think about this; I’m not going to stress about it. I’m not gonna even touch my camera for one year.’

Right away, I enrolled in a local Community College, got into an EMT course, and knocked out my training. Then got a job at an EMS agency working the ambulance in rural America– talk about a culture shock.

I told myself: ‘I’m gonna go all in for one year and see where I end up.’

About six months into it, I almost sold all of my camera gear. I thought: ‘I don’t want to be a photographer anymore. I want to be done.’

I thought about that pretty seriously.

Self Portrait. Peru for Surfing Magazine. 2004
Peru for Surfing magazine. 2004
Mainland Mexico for Surfing Magazine 2003
John John, Hawaii for Outside magazine 2020
Shark attack victim. New York Times 2020

Kenny Hurtado: Maybe nine to ten months into my first year in EMS, I started bringing the camera back out. I went back to the 4×5 camera. It’s so healing for me to spend a full day in the forest and a rushing river under a dark cloth with ground glass – it puts me into a very meditative state.

Now that running is in my life and adding 4×5 landscape, my mindset is so relaxed now. I’m so calm.

Angie Smith: Did you struggle with grief around letting go of your old freelance life?

Kenny Hurtado: Yes, I really struggled with it, especially six months into committing to working on the ambulance. It was a lot of time away from my son and very low-paying– a bigger sacrifice than I had intended. Working in EMS is a very selfless job. First Responders don’t make that much money, but it pays in other ways. There were a few times where I would drive home from work and think: ‘I actually did something today. I was involved in saving a person’s life.’

Being a photographer my whole life was a selfish endeavor. It was just all about me, all the time. I struggled with being so self-involved and constantly worried about work. I had turned my mindset away from trying to be a working photographer. Before, I would think: ‘If I do this kind of work, it might get me this kind of job.’ But now I’m literally just shooting 4×5 pictures of rivers and streams. It’s so therapeutic for me.

Angie Smith: I saw that you started a YouTube channel about you shooting in nature. Tell me more about that.

Kenny Hurtado: Growing up as a surfer, we would always watch surf videos to get excited and motivated to go out and surf. I’d feel the same thing watching photographers on YouTube. During Covid, I’d watch videos of photographers shooting in the field and think: this is actually interesting. About 6 months ago, I started creating videos to show a day life of shooting landscape work in the Ozarks. My thought was: ‘Maybe someone will see this and go outside and get creative.” And it’s fun.

Angie Smith: Do you have FOMO when you look at Instagram and see other photographers on shoots?

Kenny Hurtado: Yes, definitely. Besides being a father, the best times in my life were being on the road, just stamping passports, and being creative. I lost my creative outlet when I stashed my camera away. It started to really bug me after a while.

In my heart, what makes me happiest is being in the field with photography. The other day, I spent 10 hours in the woods taking pictures. Obviously, I would like this to be my life, and I would love to still be doing commissions. But I love what I’m doing now, and I’m proud of myself for making that decision. Since I’m almost a year and a half into this process as an EMT/Paramedic in training, I’m asking myself: ‘Do I want to do this for the next 25 years?’ I don’t know the answer.

Angie Smith: So even though you’ve done the pivot, it’s not a clean break? Do you ask yourself if it was the right decision?

Kenny Hurtado: Yes, every day. As photographers, we spend so much time and energy doing the things that we do. It’s so hard to make the decision to pivot away entirely. I thought long and hard about it.

I had times where I said to myself: I just gave up on my path. I never thought I’d give up. Is what I’m doing NOW worth it?

Angie Smith: Did you talk to your agent about it?

Kenny Hurtado: Yes. I told her I was gonna go off and try to do the paramedic thing. She wants me to be out making fun portraits and lifestyle stuff, but I’ve just been out shooting leaves and streams. I’ve just been doing therapeutic photography.

Angie Smith: Yeah. Wow, that’s an amazing concept– therapeutic photography. That’s a whole new genre.

Kenny Hurtado: Yeah, it’s just all about being in nature. It’s just an excuse for me to spend an entire day in the woods. Yesterday, I was in the woods from sunrise until sunset.

Angie Smith: If there are people who are reading this interview and they were facing the same question, what advice would you give them?

Kenny Hurtado: To really think it through. Because if you put in 5, 10, 15, 20 years into pursuing photography, it’s so hard to get the courage to walk away from it. The identity part was the hardest for me. Everyone knew me as a vagabond photographer. That’s all I did from 21 until 36, and to just drop it was a really hard decision.

Think about your current situation– how are your bills stacking up? Are you falling behind? Do you have kids now? What’s changing in your life? Just think it through and pick a direction you actually might enjoy.

But you don’t have to walk away from it; you can still go off and pursue a different angle than what you were before. There are amazing photographers who have made a switch because they are now fathers or mothers– or their life circumstances have changed. Now, they’re practicing photography for love and making amazing work without the stress of this HAS to feed my family. If it wasn’t for me becoming a father, I probably would have stuck with it. Shit, kids really do change things.

Now, I’m back to working on photography. It’s all I can think about, and I am doing it because I love it. I have more peace in my heart.

I don’t feel stressed about my career and where it was or where it went. I’m not afraid to start over at 40.

If someone hears this and they’re 42, 43, or 50 even– and have pursued a creative life–you can always say fuck it and start over. Don’t be scared.

4×5 personal Landscape photography. Ozarks 2023
Personal landscape work. 2021
4×5 personal landscape work 2024

The Art of the Personal Project: Glen McClure

The Art of the Personal Project is a crucial element to let potential buyers see how you think creatively on your own.  I am drawn to personal projects that have an interesting vision or that show something I have never seen before.  In this thread, I’ll include a link to each personal project with the artist statement so you can see more of the project. Please note: This thread is not affiliated with any company; I’m just featuring projects that I find.  Please DO NOT send me your work.  I do not take submissions.

 

Today’s featured artist:  Glen McClure

Photography, for me, is an adventure. I’m always searching for what’s next: the next human face with great character or the next incredible natural wonder. As I travel across Virginia, or to Ireland, France, and Italy, I strive to make the finest portraits of the people and places that I encounter.

My “street portraits” reveal people in their natural habitats. Through my lens I try to capture the nuances of my subjects’ expressions, attire, and surroundings that tell their stories or inspire the viewer to want to learn more. A face, an attitude, a gesture can resonate so much. The right photograph can search out the complexities of person’s character, and through my images, I strive to forge a connection between the person in the portrait and the viewer.

My landscapes are studies in the mysteries and patterns of nature. I am fascinated by weather and atmosphere—light, shadow, rain, clouds, lightning—that set a tone or mood through which to view lakes and oceans, mountains and sand, meadows or forests from new perspectives.

I work in black and white, and in color; the scale of my work varies from large too small. I always let my subjects determine my approach to convey new insights into them. Love of detail and texture define my work—hair, beard, eyes, skin, fabric, mist, leaves of trees, grain of wood—infinite ingredients and subtleties that inform the composition. And, ultimately, fine quality is what I seek—from the click of the shutter to the final carefully crafted print—to serve my subjects as well as I can.

Paul Strand, the pioneer of 20th-century American photography, said it best: “the material of the artist…lies in the world around him.”  My photographs offer the viewer an opportunity to take the time to notice, to look closely, and to see.

To see more of this project, click here

To purchase this book

The Gallery Show runs from Feb. 3-March 30, 2024 (Norfolk, VA)

APE contributor Suzanne Sease currently works as a consultant for photographers and illustrators around the world.  She has been involved in the photography and illustration advertising and in-house corporate industry for decades.  After establishing the art-buying department at The Martin Agency, then working for Kaplan-Thaler, Capital One, Best Buy and numerous smaller agencies and companies, she decided to be a consultant in 1999.  Follow her at @SuzanneSease.  Instagram

The Daily Edit – Chad Unger: Fire Barked at Eternity

 

  

Chad Unger

Chad Unger (b. 1993) is a Deaf-Gay artist originally from Maryland, currently based in Los Angeles. Growing up with a deaf family, actively involved with the deaf community, and primarily communicating through American Sign Language, Chad’s experiences shaped him into an observer with a deep appreciation of stories with strong visual elements. Chad started his career by merging his passion for capturing stories and snowboarding in Utah. His low-key athleticism matches his photographic style, curious, and intentional. We connected for a ride in Ojai, and within minutes he disappeared up the road, floating on the pedals. Once I caught up to him he was taking in both the moment and the vista.

You moved from New York to LA, how has that influenced your creative process? You mentioned NY having a different pace, how are you finding the pace in LA?
Moving from New York to Los Angeles has significantly influenced my creative process. Living in New York, where I primarily worked as a photo assistant or production assistant, I felt a lack of community and struggled with the fast-paced environment. However, since relocating to Los Angeles and discovering the deaf gay community, my personal growth and creative process have flourished. The pace in LA is undoubtedly much slower, which has been a positive change. This slower pace allows me to sit with my thoughts, fostering a more effortless creative environment.

The ambient energy of NYC keeps one moving quickly, your analog work feels more intimate, and has softer tones, was that hard to balance?
Yes, the energy of NYC, with its rapid pace and limited access to the outdoors, did make it challenging to balance. The quick pace of the city affected my ability to connect with nature, which I later realized was crucial for me. After moving to LA, I’ve noticed a significant improvement in the creativity of my work. The change in environment allowed me to strike a better balance and bring a new, more relaxed energy to my creative process.
 
How has your love of nature, snowboarding, and now your new love of gravel cycling informed your work?
My love for nature, snowboarding, and now bike riding has influenced my work. Being active in the outdoors allows me to process ideas and thoughts seamlessly. The experiences gained through snowboarding and bike riding contribute to my creative process. Moreover, as someone who manages a good amount of anxiety, immersing myself in nature, whether through snowboarding or bike riding, serves as a therapeutic outlet, impacting my overall well-being and, consequently, enhancing the quality of my work.
How have you refined your photographic practices for taking portraits?
I make an effort to browse through the work of other photographers, drawing inspiration from different styles and techniques. This helps me have diverse approaches to portrait photography. Also, I spend time doing many test shoots where I try different lighting, poses, and compositions. This helps me improve my skills and figure out what works best for me.

Tell me about 20,310 feet: why was this trip important to you and your sister?
The 20,310 trip, climbing Denali with my sister was really important for us. It wasn’t just about reaching a high place; it showed how determined and close we are as siblings. Climbing at high altitudes was tough, needing both physical strength and mental toughness due to unpredictable weather conditions, complex terrain, and the slow, deliberate pace. This experience taught me the value of patience, not just in climbing but also in life. It also helped my sister start her career as a mountaineer. The climb inspired her to follow her passion, and I am a proud brother.


What projects are you working on now?

I’m currently working on a project with Deaf LGBT+ elders who lived through the AIDS crisis. I have been listening to and capturing their stories. I aim to inspire both the Deaf and Queer communities, encouraging them not only to appreciate the wisdom of these elders but also the communities that they forged to sustain hope for future generations.

The need for “slow art” and embracing patience comes alive in your use of film and your latest zine, Fire Barked at Eternity. What was the creative intent? You weave in and out of urban and abstract quiet respites in nature.
I had no specific goal or intention behind ‘Fire Barked at Eternity.’ It was simply a reflection of what I observed during my travels in Morocco. As you can see, it’s evident how I move back and forth between outdoor and city settings even in my travels.

 

The Art of the Personal Project: The Rathkopfs

The Art of the Personal Project is a crucial element to let potential buyers see how you think creatively on your own.  I am drawn to personal projects that have an interesting vision or that show something I have never seen before.  In this thread, I’ll include a link to each personal project with the artist statement so you can see more of the project. Please note: This thread is not affiliated with any company; I’m just featuring projects that I find.  Please DO NOT send me your work.  I do not take submissions.

Today’s featured artist:  The Rathkopfs

 

JESSE AND THE RED BALLOON by Anna, Jordan and Jesse Rathkopf

“Jesse and the Red Balloon” is a collaboration with our son Jesse that delves into the profound impact of isolation on the mental well-being of young children during the pandemic. This photographic journey explores a child’s perspective on a rapidly changing world and delves into how parents can create a sense of security amid uncertainty.

Inspired by the timeless tale of The Red Balloon/Le Ballon Rouge by Albert Lamorisse, our project pays homage to the original narrative. Unbeknownst to us initially, the little boy in the story was Albert’s son, adding a poignant layer to our exploration.

To tailor our story to Jesse’s emotions, who felt sad by the bullied child in the original The Red Balloon/La Ballon Rouge, we co-created our narrative, focusing on places he wanted to visit and showcasing a world where “the child” is accompanied by his “Red Balloon” friend in search of fun and exploration despite the harrowing circumstances.

Navigating the desolate streets of NYC during the COVID-19 crisis, we couldn’t shield Jesse from the trauma unfolding around us – neighbors in masks on food lines, closed establishments, and, in one of the most densely populated cities, Jesse often stood as the sole child in sight. Yet, instead of shielding him, our collaboration became a source of strength. The resulting images encapsulate the interplay between internal psychological dynamics and external realities. They navigate a spectrum, alternating between moments of playfulness and the poignant solitude portrayed in each photograph.

To see more of this project, click here

Instagram

APE contributor Suzanne Sease currently works as a consultant for photographers and illustrators around the world.  She has been involved in the photography and illustration advertising and in-house corporate industry for decades.  After establishing the art-buying department at The Martin Agency, then working for Kaplan-Thaler, Capital One, Best Buy and numerous smaller agencies and companies, she decided to be a consultant in 1999.  Follow her at @SuzanneSease.  Instagram

Pricing & Negotiating: Product Photos/Video For Hair Care Brand

By Bryan Sheffield, Wonderful Machine

Concept: Stylized Still Life photography and videography, as well as images of the product being used.
Licensing: 2 years of E-Commerce and Web Collateral of all content captured.
Photographer: Product specialist.
Agency: Medium-sized US-based agency.
Client: Specialized hair care product manufacturing client.

Summary

I recently helped a Photographer/Director build an estimate, along with navigating and negotiating a project with a marketing/advertising agency seeking stills and video for a campaign they were creating for their specialized hair care product client.

The creative brief from the agency described the still-life content of a new product. They wanted the images/video to feature the product being used on set. The idea for the settings consisted of colorful and minimalistic bathroom and bedroom mirrors. The content needed to feature talent applying the product to their hair. The final use of the content was described as web and social placements, as well as “eComm” use on the client’s and select retailer’s websites.

Our creative calls with the agency left us feeling like this project was not yet greenlit by the client. This was because they had so few details to share. Instead of quoting on an actual project, it seemed as though the agency was asking us for a quote which they would then present to their client as they were proposing the work to be created.

I was clear with the photographer that I have seen cases like this become a game of revisions and sometimes “how low can we get the costs while still maintaining the creative needs.” The Photographer/Director was on board and we put our heads together to formulate a production plan. It included 1 pre-light day, 2 shoot days, the needed crew, and production support. We submitted our 1st estimate based on the initial ask.

Fees

Based on the client, agency creative description, and shot list of 6 setups we intended to use, I felt that $14,000 would be in the mid-to-high range of what the client might be expecting to see. Depending on the brand, I have seen similar use license projects range between $4,000 and $14,000/day for all content captured. Because this shoot was for a single, limited audience product, $7,000/day was appropriate here, given the market and the client’s desire to work with this particular Photographer/Director. I added 4 pre-pro days at $1,000 each for the Director/Photographer for client and crew creative meetings, creative planning, as well as a pre-light day.

Crew

We added a DP/Camera Op at $2,000/day to run video capture while the photography was happening. We added 2 pre-pro days for the DP/Camera Op at $750/day. First and Second Assistants were included to help with lighting and camera equipment management. They would be needed on the pre-light day as well. We added a Digital Tech/Media Manager at $800/day to manage and display the content as it was being created. We added a Producer at $1,000/day, and a Production Assistant at $350/day. These fees were consistent with previous rates the Director/Photographer had paid their team on past productions in this city.

Equipment

We included $5,200 for cameras, lighting, and grip rentals. The Director/Photographer would bring their own still and video cameras, lenses, and lighting. They also intended to rent some supplemental continuous lighting, c-stands, and sandbags from a local rental house. $750/day was added for the Digital Tech’s workstation rental. We also included $850 for 3 large hard drives and $1,800 for TBD needed production supplies. This included production book printing, table/chair rental, heaters, wardrobe steamers, racks, etc.

Casting & Talent

We added usage fees and 2 daily session fees for two talent. Based on the limited info, but our assumed talent specs, we felt confident in a rate of $2,200 plus a 20% agency fee. We added $2,000 as a fee to cast the two talent. We also added 23% for talent payroll needs within the bottom line.

Styling Crew

We added a combo Hair/Makeup Stylist at $950/day. For our anticipated wardrobe styling needs we added a Wardrobe Stylist at $1,100/day, and an assistant for $500/day. We added $1,600 for the assumed 2 unique outfits per talent and marked this as TBD pending final creative direction. We added a Nail Stylist for both shoot days at $1,200/day. Based on our understanding of the set design and prop needs, we added a Prop Stylist at $1,200/day, as well as an assistant at $500/day. Props & Materials was estimated at $8,500 and marked with a TBD pending final creative needs.

Location/Studio

We included 3 days at a rented studio at $1,800/day.

Meals

We included $70/day per person for meals and craft services. Additionally, we added $500 for meals/craft services on the pre-light day.

Misc.

We included $1,800 for insurance and $1,600 for additional meals, expendables, and miscellaneous expenses.

Post Production

We added $750 for the Director/Photographer to perform a First Edit for Client Review and costs for retouching an estimated 30 images at $125/hour.

Providing a Second Estimate

The client stated that the estimate and treatment were received and that they would like to see a 2nd estimate without production support and with the agency handling all talent and styling. We submitted a revised estimate the same day and then heard that they would circle back after reviewing it with their client. This estimating process then became quite involved as the agency team presented the project to the client and came back to us multiple times for revisions. Together we ended up creating 8 estimates for the project over 6 weeks. While a client requesting multiple estimate revisions is not unique, what made this process arduous was each new estimate requested was to be based on revised shot lists or agency-suggested ways to slim the bottom line. Our requests for budget parameters were never answered.

An Overview of Estimates

While it would be quite complicated to include each of the multiple estimates within this article, below is a high-level overview of each to demonstrate the project scope and cost changes:

1st estimate above.

2nd estimate — Client requested: No production support, talent and all styling would be handled by the agency. Our estimate was the above with the noted items removed and came out to $50,550.

Five weeks later, a 3rd estimate was requested — Client requested: All production, 2 talent over 2 shoot days, all styling, adjusted shot list with retouching for 26 images. Our estimate was $111,870.00.

One day after the 3rd estimate, we were asked for a 4th estimate — Client requested: All included within 3rdestimate, but no DP, no producer, the agency handling all art & props. This estimate was $75,270.

Two days later, 2 additional estimates were requested:

5th estimate — Client requested: A 1-day shoot with no talent, no DP, no producer, agency handling art & props, a VERY revised shot list, and only 3 final images retouched. This estimate was $20,640.

6th estimate — Client requested: A 2-day shoot with 2 talent on only 1 day, no DP, no producer, agency handling art & props, 12 images retouched. This estimate was $56,750.

The 7th estimate request came three days later — Client requested: Increased shot list, 2 unidentifiable hand model talent, 1 pre-light, 2-day shoot, no DP, no producer, agency handling all art & props, and 30 images retouched. This estimate was $66,450.

The Final Estimate

The 8th estimate (final) was sent the following day — Another revised shot list, 2 unidentifiable hand model talent, 1 pre-light day, 1-day shoot, no DP, no producer, agency handling all hair/makeup/props styling, and any video editing, 4 images retouched. In this instance, the agency did let us know that the project needed to be completed by a specific date that was about 2 weeks out. I let the agency know that to hit that date we would need approval and advance payment within 3 days and in order to expedite the process I requested a budget (again).

The agency let me know that they had $40k approved. We submitted an estimate of $40,658.40. While our estimate was a little above the agency-stated budget, our gut told us they would approve the costs since the estimate contained exactly what they requested and the pressure of a short window until the work was needed in hand.

Fees

Based on the work to be created and the noted project budget, $8,500 was an appropriate fee. I added 5 pre-pro days at $1,000 each for the Director/Photographer. This was not only to manage client and crew creative meetings and planning but to source and book all crew and studio needs, as well as their pre-light day fee.

Crew

We included First and Second Assistants for the pre-light days and a Digital Tech/Media Manager at $800/day. We added a Production Assistant at $350/day to help the Director/Photographer with bookings, equipment prep, shoot day catering/craft services, trash, and logistics.

Equipment

We included $3,100 for cameras, lighting, and grip rentals. The Director/Photographer would bring their own still and video cameras, lenses, and lighting. They also intended to rent some supplemental continuous lighting, stands, and sandbags from a local rental house. Moreover, $750/day was added for the Digital Tech’s workstation rental. Additionally, we included $850 for 3 large hard drives and $800 for TBD needed production supplies such as production book printing, table/chair rental, heaters, wardrobe steamers, racks, etc.

Casting & Talent

We added usage fees at $1,200 and $500 1-day session fees. Plus 20% agency fees for 2 non-recognizable hand model talent. Additionally, $1,500 was set as a fee to cast the two talent. The Director/Photographer and Production Assistant would do the casting. We added talent payroll fees within the bottom line at 23% of the total talent fees.

Styling Crew

The agency/client was to provide all hair/makeup/wardrobe styling. However, it was requested that we source and hire a Prop Assistant to aid them. So we quoted this at $500/day. We included $250 per talent as a stipend to get manicures prior to the shoot. Because there were so many estimates created, we made sure to clearly note the Styling Crew lines as “Agency Provided.”

Location/Studio

We included 2 days at a rented studio at $3,600/day and noted that this would include the anticipated cyclorama painting and cleaning fees.

Meals

We included $70/day per person for meals and craft services, as well as $200 for meals/craft services on the pre-light day. Moreover, our client/agency headcount increased by 1 person as well.

Misc.

We included $1,100 for insurance and $1,200 for additional meals, expendables, and miscellaneous expenses.

Post Production

We added $500 for the Director/Photographer to perform a First Edit for Client Review and costs for retouching up to 4 images at $125/hour.

Results

The Photographer/Director was awarded the project and the shoot was a success! The client was on set and loved the work being created. As we all can imagine, the on-set creative requests from the client kept coming on the shoot day. The Photographer/Director called me during the shoot and mentioned that, due to the client’s additional requests (and delays), they were anticipating 2 hours of overtime for the crew and studio. I worked to get these costs approved by the agency during the shoot and we included the overages in the balance invoice. After reviewing the content, the client loved the work and contracted the photographer to retouch an additional 21 images for $3,150 (1 hour per image x $150/hr).

Expanding & Extending Usage

About 2 weeks after final image delivery the agency reached out for costs to expand the 2-year use of the content. They requested usage for in-store POP and web/print advertising purposes (we called this Unlimited use excluding Broadcast), as well as cost estimates for both extending the previous eComm and Web Collateral use and the new request of Unlimited use excluding Broadcast in perpetuity. These new uses would entail new fees and agreements with our 2 talent. We negotiated fees with the talent agents and submitted the below cost estimates to the agency:

eComm and Web Collateral use in perpetuity. Additional fees:
$8,500 licensing fee
$2,880 Talent 1 use fee ($2,400 +20%)
$2,880 Talent 2 use fee ($2,400 +20%)

Unlimited use in perpetuity. Additional fees:
$14,000 licensing fee
$5,760 Talent 1 use fee ($4,800 +20%)
$5,760 Talent 2 use fee ($4,800 +20%)

Note

In our experience, it is tough to get talent agencies to agree to perpetual use. Especially for Unlimited perpetual use without a very high rate. Agencies do this to protect their clients from a company using their likeness years in the future when that client might be very recognizable if they become the next Cameron Diaz etc. Agents also limit the use duration often. This occurs for fear that their clients might not get booked for projects with competitor brands. In this case, neither of those scenarios was a factor since the talent was hand/hair models without recognizable faces.

With my advice, the Director/Photographer agreed to present a lower Unlimited use rate for themselves with the goal of selling that through to the client over the limited use in perpetuity. As of the writing of this article we have yet to hear back from the client/agency on their decision to expand or extend the use.

Follow our Consultants @wonderful_at_work.

The Daily Edit – ESPN: Hugh Kretschmer



ESPN

Photographer: Hugh Kretschmer
Photo Editors: Kaitlin A. Marron and Robert H. Booth

Heidi: How did this moving portrait series idea come about?
Hugh: The idea for the portrait series originated while I was capturing moments of a longtime friend and her daughter as a special gift. Although we explored various concepts that day, the “layering” concept held the utmost significance for me. Initially, I had planned to craft a unique artwork by creating a combined portrait through a practical collage. My original idea involved producing large prints of their individual portraits, cutting them into strips, and intricately weaving them together.

However, a pivotal moment shifted my approach away from collage. While shooting tethered and utilizing the overlay feature in Capture One, I was captivated by the results when aligning two captures and adjusting the opacity of the overlaid image to 50%. By reducing the opacity of the overlaid image by 50%, a hybrid of both subjects emerged – a Third Person – becoming the namesake of the entire project.

Has generational transmission of knowledge, passing down stories, and cultural identity helped inform this idea?
No, I comprehend the direction of your question. This project is solely a visual exploration of genetics. I lack a deep familiarity with most of my subjects, preventing me from incorporating elements that authentically convey their stories. The nuances of their gestures, expressions, or body language may serve as the only components beyond facial features that could contribute to a more intricate narrative.

Nevertheless, the initial commission took a different approach, delving into the family’s history and Frank Senior’s remarkable NFL career before progressing to Junior, who is following in his father’s footsteps. I empathize with Junior and the potential challenges he might encounter in living up to his father’s success. 

It resonates with my own experience when I chose to pursue a career in photography, following in my father’s footsteps and facing the pressure to meet a set of expectations, largely my own.

Is this series a response to the layered narratives available in both double exposure and moving images?
Absolutely! I’m incorporating more motion into my work because I find it enjoyable and stimulating. It’s a fun challenge that allows me to expand my problem-solving skills, and this project is a continuation of that exploration. While motion is always a consideration during a shoot, I typically don’t start with a storyboard. Instead, I keep an eye open for opportunities as they arise during the session and proceed from there.

I strive to align the chosen technique with the narrative and vice versa. For instance, the double exposure effect in this series aligns perfectly with the theme of genetics, which is why I used it to depict a family’s heritage through these “double” portraits.

The ideal moment for incorporating motion occurred while photographing Frank Senior, first in his graduation gown and then in his everyday attire. I was struck by how consistently Frank Senior maintained his expression throughout. Remarkably, I found one frame in each set that matched so precisely that there was no discernible change in his expression or head position when I merged the images.

Your parents were fluent but polar opposite creatives; looking back, how has that influenced your work?
My father served as a photo-instrumentation engineer for NASA, imparting to me both photography skills and the art of problem-solving. On the other hand, my mother, who had an artistic influence on the family, acquainted me with 20th-century art movements.

Even after their passing, they remain significant influences on my early work, albeit indirectly. I can still hear my father saying that every problem has a solution, no matter how complex or insurmountable. Under pressure, he would often share a favorite piece of advice: “Getting a man on the moon was just an idea at first.” (It occurred to me much later in life that he might not have known the answer to my question and offered those “words of wisdom” to avoid any embarrassment.)

In contrast, my mother took a gentler approach to my countless questions, sitting with me and delving into every detail of a subject I inquired about. She would retrieve museum catalogs or art history books from her library, opening them up to explain the composition, color choices, and techniques employed by artists to bring elements together uniquely. Thanks to her, my work consistently reflects the art movements she introduced me to, an influence that persists to this day.

ESPN retired its print issue. How has this digital-only context opened up ideas for you creatively?
Certainly, they retired their print issue, and honestly, that’s a disappointment for me. I have an affinity for the printed page and miss the tactile qualities of a finely printed magazine. However, the transition to digital has brought about both opportunities and a few challenges.

Given that ESPN is predominantly viewed on phones now, the magazine requested versions of specific images to be cropped in different aspect ratios, particularly extreme horizontal formats. This information before the shoot allowed us to plan and capture backplates in vertical and horizontal orientations to meet their requirements. 

One notable advantage of digital magazines is the ability to incorporate motion. While not specifically requested for this assignment, I volunteered it as an option. (I’m not sure if they used the motion in the issue, but it provided an opportunity for me to showcase the possibilities to the photo editors.)

Tell us about the creative process for the portrait of  NFL Running back Frank Gore and his oldest son, Frank Gore JR. (is there any crossover with you, living up to a parent’s identity?
Your question is indeed intriguing and resonates with me, as Junior and I share a similar experience. Like Junior, I chose to walk in my father’s footsteps by pursuing photography. However, the stakes seem higher for Frank Junior, considering his father’s immense success and stature. Additionally, his journey mirrors his father’s even more closely, given that he’s playing the same position.

My path diverged somewhat from my father’s. While he was involved in scientific photography at NASA, I ventured into the commercial side of photography. Nevertheless, I, too, grappled with the challenge of meeting his expectations. That’s where our paths differ. Frank Gore Jr. might be striving to uphold his father’s legacy, whereas I was, in a way, seeking my father’s approval.

What were the obstacles of the project, if any, and how did you problem-solve?
The primary challenge we encountered was the exceptionally low ceiling in the hotel conference room where our photo shoot took place. This limitation meant we couldn’t capture the Gores in a standing position, leaving us with no option but to photograph them while seated. To address this, we improvised by using a makeup chair we found in an adjacent room. Surprisingly, this turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The chair served as a stable anchor, simplifying the alignment of my subjects and facilitating the registration of their facial features during post-production.

Despite this initial hurdle, the remainder of the shoot proceeded seamlessly. We successfully captured all the necessary elements for the nine deliverables within the allocated two-hour time frame.

The Art of the Personal Project: Peter Howard

The Art of the Personal Project is a crucial element to let potential buyers see how you think creatively on your own.  I am drawn to personal projects that have an interesting vision or that show something I have never seen before.  In this thread, I’ll include a link to each personal project with the artist statement so you can see more of the project. Please note: This thread is not affiliated with any company; I’m just featuring projects that I find.  Please DO NOT send me your work.  I do not take submissions.

Today’s featured artist:  Peter Howard

My journey to Ecuador, initially driven by a personal project, took an unexpected turn. The primary purpose was to accompany my family in returning my father-in-law’s ashes to his homeland for a final resting place. Amid the emotional backdrop of this poignant task, I found myself captivated by the breathtaking beauty, vibrancy, and warmth of the Ecuadorian people and the charming towns they inhabited.

In this moment of emotional intensity, being intimately connected to my father-in-law, I felt compelled to document the life unfolding in these cities and towns. Returning to my roots, I chose to embrace a simpler approach to photography – one body, one lens, and an old extended frame camera. In my professional life, I am often surrounded by assistants and a crew, facilitating concepts for clients. However, this personal endeavor allowed me to savor the creative silence that enveloped me on the streets.

The act of photographing became a therapeutic outlet, a means to navigate through the complex emotions surrounding my father-in-law’s passing. Through the lens, I aimed to convey my deep appreciation for the country that held a special place in his heart.

Regrettably, the current challenges facing Ecuador weigh heavily on me and my family. I empathize with the people and the nation as they navigate these troubled times, reflecting on the profound connection I forged with this remarkable country during a time of personal significance.

 Peter Howard, a distinguished photographer hailing from Baltimore, possesses a remarkable talent for capturing the essence of individuals through his lens. Specializing in portraits and lifestyle photography production, Peter’s work transcends conventional boundaries, offering a sincere exploration of human narrative.

With a commitment to showcasing the beauty of individuality, Peter Howard’s photographic journey is a celebration of the human spirit. His portfolio invites viewers to delve into the intricacies of human stories, fostering an earnest connection with the subjects and a deeper appreciation for the art of capturing life’s fleeting moments.

To see more of this project, click here

Instagram

APE contributor Suzanne Sease currently works as a consultant for photographers and illustrators around the world.  She has been involved in the photography and illustration advertising and in-house corporate industry for decades.  After establishing the art-buying department at The Martin Agency, then working for Kaplan-Thaler, Capital One, Best Buy and numerous smaller agencies and companies, she decided to be a consultant in 1999.  Follow her at @SuzanneSease.  Instagram

The Art of the Personal Project: Survey from Art Producers on why they are important.

Personal Projects have always been my favorite galleries of a photographer’s website as it showcases their creativity.  To get an industry perspective, I have teamed up with Heather Elder to get agency art producers’ opinions on personal projects and why they are so important.

As a former art buyer with decades of viewing websites and portfolios, it is a personal project that many times seals the deal on being hired.  Advertising campaigns are a collaboration of photographer, art director, creative director, account executive, client, and support crew.

In 2016, I started “The Art of the Personal Project” on APE with the vision to showcase a photographer and their personal style.  I search the internet for photographers on websites like Found, Workbook, APA, ASMP, CA, The Picture Show: NPR, photographer representatives and photographers for the work I admire.  For personal projects to showcase, I look for at least 6 to 8 images and a unique subject/story.  I don’t take submissions.

Below are the results of Heather and I reaching out to art producers, and we hope it is enlightening and inspirational.

Ali Berk (Director of Art and Print Production at 72andSunny), Caroline Fahey (Senior Art Producer at Droga5), and Cliff Lewis (Executive Producer and Director of Art Production at Droga5) have generously shared insights into the vital role personal work plays in keeping portfolios fresh, the delicate balance between timeless and outdated, and the art of holding interest in a world marked by fleeting attention. Through the points of view of these industry professionals, we aim to glean insights that not only guide photographers but also illuminate the ever-shifting dynamics of contemporary photography

 

APE/HER Art Producer Questions & Answers:

How crucial is it for photographers to keep their portfolios current with new content, and what are the consequences of failing to do so? Can a portfolio still captivate interest if it showcases older but compelling work?

Ali Berk: I always think that if you are making new work, even if it’s personal work, you are moving your creativity forward. I also believe that new work can attract fresh interest and bring in new clients.  Of course, portfolios can still captivate interest if it showcases compelling work, some work is timeless! But if the work feels stale (sometimes clothing and overall style starts to look dated) it might be time to experiment rotating in new work to see how it performs.

Caroline Fahey: Totally keep older work you feel proud of, and still reflects who you are as an artist. If it feels dated in terms of your style or work, you’d normally take on, I would remove it, as it is also really important your portfolio feels cohesive and has a strong point of view.

Seeing current and new work also allows me to see the kinds of brands you’re working with, ideas you’re generating, and where you want your work to go in the future.

Cliff Lewis: I do think it’s important for photographers and artists to keep their work current and relevant. In today’s fast-moving environment, it’s critical for producers and creatives to see that photographers and artists are at the very least, excited by the world and in the conversation. Remember that media is driving attention spans down, so we have very little time to engage anyone. In the ad world, a great deal of research around photography is done on social media so it’s a great way to have fun, be yourself and share your voice as an artist. Once you generate interest, that often leads to your website. At that point, as well as your current projects, you can share more commercial leaning or older work too.

What is the threshold at which a piece of work is considered outdated? At what point does older work lose its relevance or value in a portfolio?

Ali Berk: As creative people, we all strive to make something unique. Make beautiful things people have never seen before. In order to make work that is at the forefront of what’s being made, you have to keep making, keep experimenting, keep advancing the medium.

Caroline Fahey: Work is outdated if it no longer applies to what the photographer desires to shoot or accurately reflects their intended/current style.  If that work sticks out like a sore thumb and feels disconnected to everything as a whole, it loses its value.

Cliff Lewis: The threshold for older work is very subjective. I think this really distills down to instinct and your own feelings. Is it still relevant? Who am I showing it to, and did they inquire based on that work? Some pieces are incredible and should be shown but perhaps in a separate space?

Have you noticed a distinct shift in the style or content of photographic work post-pandemic, and in what instances can pre-pandemic imagery detract from a portfolio’s relevance?

Ali Berk: I don’t have a singular answer for this, as I think each genre of photography goes through distinct trends. These shifts in trend aren’t unique to the pandemic, but I think we all taught ourselves new ways to stay self-motivated, which might have led to the formation of smaller, creative teams working together to set new trends.

Caroline Fahey: Hmm, I don’t think I have actually, or perhaps I don’t really see a distinction. More just new trends?! With that said, I don’t think it’s worth crafting your portfolio to a specific trend or moment. Better to build your own unique style that will last you your career.

I also think this new rising generation of photographers are very focused in the celebrity/portraiture world, so it’s always refreshing to find younger photographers who aren’t necessarily in that space.

Cliff Lewis: In terms of pre and post pandemic, I believe that there has been an incredible acceleration in content (I’m not particularly fond of that word) and in particular, user generated content or content captured in that style. Social platforms like Tik Tok are changing the game. That is not to say that we are not still busy with advertising work in the more traditional lanes, but social platforms are starting to redefine the rules in terms of style and content. There are some demographic lines of course but a lot of brand audiences reside on social media so it’s inevitable that the medium is attracting a great deal of attention from brands and agencies.

From your perspective, does the regular creation of personal work correlate with a photographer’s career success, and if so, what are the underlying reasons for this?

Ali Berk: Making personal work, shows you are open to change, open to evolution. Even when you don’t have a project ‘for work’, you are staying curious and keeping your mind busy. I think this just sets you up to have an open mind set. I love looking through a portfolio not being able to distinguish what was made for a client and what wasn’t. There is so much freedom and possibility when you’re making something just for yourself, there’s no doubt that work will eventually bring new connections and people into your life.

Caroline Fahey: I’m not sure if there is a simple yes or no answer to this and it likely depends on the photographer. With that said, certain photographers’ personal projects allow me to bridge the gap between what they love to shoot, and how that can be translated to a hyper specific brief I have on the table for a commercial client.

At the end of the day, we are looking to create imagery that doesn’t feel like an ad. So, seeing how your personal style can translate into a commission is super important.

By simply only showing commissions on your site, it may pigeonhole you into specific projects/asks, whereas your personal projects will allow the ability for new opportunities you may not expect. We often are trying to find photographers that may push the boundary on a specific brief.

Cliff Lewis: A photographer’s personal work is an opportunity to present their voice, be bold and free of any commercial constraints, to showcase ideas in the purest form. And social media provides the platform, so I think there is absolutely a correlation between personal work and success.

What guidance would you offer photographers seeking creative direction for new projects? Are there any themes or concepts that seem oversaturated in today’s market?

Ali Berk: For photographers seeking creative direction, I would suggest trying to put yourself out there and connect with art directors and prop stylists whose work you admire, to see if they would be open to test shooting. I acknowledge it’s a privilege to have access to studios and equipment, so even testing with natural light and an iPhone can help you jam on ideas that might lead to something new!

Whenever there is a theme or concept that seems oversaturated in the market, that’s the sign that there is opportunity in the market to try something new. By the point that everyone is tired of seeing the same-old, for the people who look at work all day, anything new will be exciting! Mess around! Break the mold and try it from a new perspective.

Caroline Fahey: Don’t be afraid of collaborating with other art directors/creative directors/stylists to help concept for personal projects. No need to feel like your personal work must solely come from you, and you only.

If the idea/concept is unique, it will speak for itself and not feel oversaturated. I don’t think there is a reason to avoid creating something you feel compelled to make for the sole reason it may already exist.

Cliff Lewis: Pretty much everything is oversaturated in today’s volume rich media environment. What is scarce are rich ideas and intelligent, thought-provoking work. It is hard to puncture a saturated world. With typically only a short window to capture someone’s imagination, I would say work towards ideas that excite you the artist, that move you, and ones that provide the chance to share your unique point of view. Also remember that today’s social platforms also reward ideas that are imperfect. Of course, craft and execution are important to us but sometimes, viewers are moved by ideas and insight without the need to spend too much.

What implications might a scarcity of recent work have when it comes to engaging with new clients or collaborators?

Ali Berk: I would suggest that no matter how scarce the work, you try to operate with the same mentality. Continue to share your work with new clients and collaborators. You don’t need to spend money making mailers or sending gifts to get attention- emails work. Instagram works. Keep posting your new work and it will catch. Send emails when you have something new to share.

Caroline Fahey: Generally, it does ring some alarm bells. Some thoughts that go into my head (does not mean by any means the below are true – just where my head goes!)

  • If the work they have shot within the past year isn’t work they are proud of showing, it means they probably won’t be happy w/ images they create for my campaign, which is not a good sign.
  • If there is a lack of work, will the photographer be able to confidentially execute the brief on the table?
  • Does this photographers work on their website accurately represent their current style? Can I expect this on my shoot?
  • Is it a risk to show this work to creatives if there is a lack of work as a whole? If creatives want to pursue bidding with this photographer, do I feel confident they can deliver this brief?

How do you view the inclusion of speculative work aimed at specific brands within a photographer’s personal portfolio? 

Ali Berk: I think it’s a good idea to include speculative work if you’re trying to articulate a creative thought! However, I would operate with sensitivity to IP, by keeping that work for 1 on 1 portfolio reviews vs. publishing that work online.

Caroline Fahey: It’s super helpful to see how a photographer’s style can translate into a branded project. When viewing it from the eyes of a producer, it may spark ideas for a brief we have coming up / allow me to see your work in a different perspective.

Cliff Lewis: I love speculative work. In the last two years I know of at least two photographers who approached major clothing brands with speculative work and ideas. Based on thoughtful proposals and clearly a love for the brands, the result was a commission directly with the client and a hugely successful campaign of images. So, if you love a product or a brand, have passion and a vision, I’m sure clients would want to hear from you.

Can you highlight a memorable personal project from a photographer that captured your attention? Did that project lead to job opportunities, and what about it stood out to you?

Ali Berk: A personal project that has remained impactful for me is Daniel Jack Lyons’ project Like A River/ IG.   This long-term endeavor features extraordinary images capturing under-represented communities in the Amazon.  The images are incredibly impactful and really stuck with me.

Cliff Lewis: When I was at BBH in London, the Dazed editorial project “Feel it “ by the photographer, Rankin caught our eye. It was a photo series of couples kissing. We had a creative brief in the agency for a new twisted seam engineered jean from Levi’s and Rankin’s kissing series was just an instinctive fit. The shape, the mood the modernity of it was just perfect. Of course, there is an element of luck with timing but if you are creating and getting your work out there, the chance exists.

The Art of the Personal Project: Todd Antony

The Art of the Personal Project is a crucial element to let potential buyers see how you think creatively on your own.  I am drawn to personal projects that have an interesting vision or that show something I have never seen before.  In this thread, I’ll include a link to each personal project with the artist statement so you can see more of the project. Please note: This thread is not affiliated with any company; I’m just featuring projects that I find.  Please DO NOT send me your work.  I do not take submissions.

Today’s featured artist:  Todd Antony

Each year, in addition to my advertising work, I try to undertake one or two personal projects to keep myself fresh from a creative standpoint. I get to go out and create work purely the way I want to, answering only to myself. These projects have led me down the path of shooting various subcultures and groups around the world. The lesser known the better. I’m fascinated by these small and compelling groups who have a unique perspective on life and the way they approach it.

‘Cholitas Escalators’ and ‘Dekotora’ are both their own series within this larger body of work that spans the past 9 years. The work crosses the globe, seeking out little known groups or subcultures of seemingly ordinary people who lead extraordinary lives in their own way. People that can lift a mirror up to show viewers both our differences and more importantly our similarities. In a time when the world is seemingly becoming more and more polarized, I would like the photography in these projects to hopefully be a bridge of sorts to narrow our differences.  (Note: Dekotora will be featured at a later date)

These ladies are the ‘Climbing Cholitas’ or ‘Cholitas Escaladoras Bolivians’. A group of Aymara indigenous women who are breaking stereotypes and shifting perceptions. In January of 2019 they summited the 22,841ft peak of Mt Aconcagua. The highest mountain outside of Asia. And did so eschewing traditional climbing clothing in favour of their traditional, vibrant, billowing dresses, and using their traditional shawls to carry equipment rather than backpacks.

The word ‘Cholita’ has previously been used as a pejorative term for the indigenous Aymara women of Bolivia. But these women are reclaiming it as a badge of honour.

In the very recent past, as little as 10 years ago, Bolivia’s indigenous Aymara women were socially ostracized and systematically marginalized. Known as ‘cholitas’, these women, easily identified by their wide skirts, braided hair and bowler hats, suffered racial discrimination and could be refused entry to certain restaurants, using public transport and entering certain public spaces such as the capitals central square, Plaza Murillo

While these women have been advocating for their rights since at least the 1960’s, their movement was further invigorated by the 2005 election of Evo Morales. Bolivia’s first Amerindian president. Since then, the majority indigenous population have seen greater recognition and autonomy. 

To see more of this project, click here

Instagram

APE contributor Suzanne Sease currently works as a consultant for photographers and illustrators around the world.  She has been involved in the photography and illustration advertising and in-house corporate industry for decades.  After establishing the art-buying department at The Martin Agency, then working for Kaplan-Thaler, Capital One, Best Buy and numerous smaller agencies and companies, she decided to be a consultant in 1999.  Follow her at @SuzanneSease.  Instagram

The Daily Edit – Where is the Cool: Laurent Laporte




Where is the Cool

“Good question. Let this pretentious magazine give you the answer.
This biannual printed magazine is available here (yes, they ship internationally)

Creator: Laurent Laporte

Heidi: You founded this project 10 years ago, looking back, what would you tell your younger self?
Laurent: You were absolutely right not to listen to people who try to demotivate you.

How has the content evolved as you’ve gone from a blog to Instagram, and finally print?
In a completely organic and instinctive way and by making mistakes that make you learn and understand how things work, more or less.

What notes need to be hit to be featured in Where is the Cool?
It is also very instinctive. It’s very contextual, each issue starts as a puzzle, and sometimes you know which pieces are a miss, sometimes you just find it without really looking after it.

How did your background in advertising inform your decision to make this magazine and not include ads?
99% of the time advertising is aesthetically disgraceful or not in line with the aesthetic of the magazine. I wanted to make something pure where nothing comes to break the attention of the reader. Also, we only talk about cool things and there are not so many cool brands today.

People say print is dead (I disagree) what are your thoughts on advertising being dead?
It depends on who is talking. I know that many people interested in fashion, love to buy fashion magazines and also to see the ads. It gives them today’s tone, and keeps them aware of what’s happening. On my side, I don’t even know how I can explain how much I found this lame.

The variety of subjects in each issue is very diverse. Is there a personal thread tying everything together, or a subtle theme for the viewers to enjoy finding for themselves?
It’s a personal project at the end, so I speak most of the time about very subjective opinions trying to make them in a very objective way.

So refreshing! A magazine with more photography than writing but still something to say and engage in cover to cover in 1 hour. Why 21 topics? (I read you cover 21 items an issue)
It was a model that worked well when I needed a reassuring structure of the puzzle. Now it’s more free.

What are the hardest parts of producing such a magazine that most people wouldn’t even think of?
Nothing is hard here, if you believe in it, it happens. Constraints make things happen. Will it work? You will know that later, as with every project. But in the end you made something and the that’s most important part.

How do people pitch in ideas?
I receive a lot of pitches every day from a lot of people who never bought the mag, so they don’t understand the editorial line behind it. It’s me pitching photographers with ideas most of the time.

I enjoyed your piece on Relax Watch, can you share how that piece came about?
I stumbled upon that interesting project about Rolex parody watches and I find it super interesting. It looks like another signal in my head about the saturation of luxury things. In a world that needs to step back, it’s very strange that people still want to stay in a world of ostentatious things that do not fit with the new ideals we should look for today.

Digi Tech based in Australia: $57k AUD

Whenever I get paid, i set aside some funds for tax, for super (national retirement), for business growth and the rest goes into the family pot.

I moved to Australia about half way through my career.

My work is, 40% fashion, 30% e-commerce, 10% video and 20% advertising. Majority of the brands are very well known locally and internationally. It’s not rare to be driving around or walking through the shops and see images I’ve worked on. I get the odd local start up brand, but those jobs are pretty rare now. My partner always gets a kick out of it, she loves hearing about what went into getting the shot and what was happening just outside of frame.

I work full time, average 4 days a week. If it’s a slow, I’ll take a weekend gig or two, but make an effort not to. I like enjoying my weekends.

I don’t have a lot of overhead. Once a year I will invest a little into my kit; i’ll buy equipment that people often forget to bring on set, or equipment that is frequently hired. I typically leave it in the car so it’s always available in an emergency. This has saved the day a number of times over the years and I’m sure has led to more work.

Otherwise, my expenses are just what ever the ATO allows me to claim as a deduction. I always put away at least 10% into my Super fund, sometimes more if i have had a good week/month.

More and more agencies and clients are paying super; i wouldn’t say it’s common yet, but it’s becoming more popular. No one really knows what you should or shouldn’t be doing, and no one can decide if it’s supposed to be paid as part of your day rate or on top of your rate. I think a union like they have in America or Britain would help a lot in standardizing these kinds of things.

In 2021 i worked about 100 days, and in 2022 i worked over 150 days.

I think the pandemic (and last few years) has had a huge impact on the industry. For a number of reasons, rates have increased: A good portion of the assistants in town have either left the country, left the industry or have started shooting themselves. The cost of living has gone up significantly in our city, we were able to be selective as to who we work for because everyone kept wanting to shoot here. Also, I’m hearing that new assistants are charging nearly as much, if not more than seasoned pros. So in order to make up for it, we’ve raised our rates accordingly.

I think this last one hurts the industry as a whole. Why would anyone hire an assistant with 1 or 2 years experience when they can pay an extra $50 or $100 and get someone with 7-10 years behind them? I think this is bad for the industry as a whole because they don’t get on set, they don’t get experience and it’s a struggle on big/busy days.

My average day is about 9 hours. More and more jobs are going into OT though, which I typically don’t mind, but 11-12 hour days get tiresome really fast.

My day rate is $600 for 10hour day, Overtime after 2 hours, double time after that. I don’t do half days anymore, it’s not worth it. I might give a small discount if it’s a good or long term client and their desperate, but never for new clients.

I don’t do a lot of seasonal jobs. It’s warm here most of the year so we can shoot outdoors almost any day, provided it’s not raining. Bring some sunblock and you’ll be fine.

My terms are strict 28 days and it’s generally respected, i either get paid within 24 hours or on the 28 day mark. People who take longer don’t tend to stay clients of mine for long.

Best job was a multi week shoot for a major Australian brand. It was very relaxed, full day rates, lunch catered every day etc… It was outside the city so i should have charged for travel as well, but i just ate it in exchange for the cash. It was during the pandemic while some parts of the country were shut down so I was just counting my lucky stars I had income.

I think i came out with just shy of $10K. I had a hard time getting paid because it was flagged with the ATO (Aus Tax Office), so it took a while to get the cash cleared but made my year.

Worst paying job was a job with a new client that came from out of town. I thought we had agreed on rates, but turns out our city uses industry terms differently then they do, so there was a bit of back and forth after they received my bill; In the end, I was left with essentially a 50% pay cut for an extra long days work.

I work on a little bit of Video. Some of my clients shoot video, and it’s becoming more and more common to be on set with a videographer as well as a stills crew. I still charge my usual rates, and my roles vary from just general hands on deck to data wrangler.

Even though i’m less experienced on video than i am on stills, i feel i bring value on set because i know how they like to operate, how the like to light, how they like to run their days etc… only thing i can’t do (yet) is operate the camera or focus pull.

I market myself via instagram. I try and shoot personal work, or just shoot when I’m out and about doing stuff. I feel like my creative vision is a good marketing tool, people have told me they’re hire me because of the way i see certain things. Otherwise, it’s just word of mouth.

Worst Advice: they have more money, take it and run.
This is the worst advice because I’ve found success doing the exact opposite. I prefer to leave that $50 or $100 on the table in exchange for building trust or not charge for a quick short favour; I think karma has taken good care of me.

Best Advice: say no.
Say no and stick to it.. It could be a low ball offer, being asked for a discount just this one time or doing something way outside your comfort zone. You might lose that job, you might lose that client, but everyone will respect you and you won’t have to deal with that anymore.

Stop thinking about other assistants as your competition, and think of them as your peers. Talk to reach other other, be kind to each other, ask questions, share your rates and how you would charge x or y. We don’t have a union but we can still work together.

If someone isn’t paying you on time, isn’t treating you well on set, is being disrespectful, stop working for them. There’s so much work out there, people are getting flown in from other cities because there is such a shortage of good, qualified help. Just say no.

Learn how to use your tools. The amount of times i have someone hand me a camera or laptop and say “make it do x” is just incredible. For a while, i was in different people’s phone book as “John Smith – Phase 1”. Knowing those little obscure tricks and features has rally helped me gain the client base i have now.

A Commercial Lifestyle Photographer: $64k (gross)

In the years leading up to the pandemic, my gross income ranged from $115,000 to $230,000. Keep in mind, that this number is after my reps took their 30% cut, so the actual gross was higher. I became a full-time photographer around 2011. In those initial years, when I was solely focused on photography and not supplementing with assisting work, I was pulling in roughly $70,000 to $85,000 gross and steadily built my way up.

After college, I spent about four years as an intern, film production assistant, and photography assistant. To support myself during that time, I also worked at a supermarket.

I don’t currently have an agent, but I do work with one on a case-by-case basis if a project that comes in is substantial enough to warrant their involvement. In the past, I’ve been signed by three different agencies. One was a boutique agency, another was more mid-range, and the third was a well-known and prestigious agency. Each of these experiences was incredibly different from one another.

A couple of years ago, I decided to part ways with my last rep, and since then, I’ve been on the lookout for a new one, but it’s been a bit of a challenge finding the right fit for both parties. I have to admit, ego aside, that it’s been surprising how tough it’s been for an established commercial photographer, with over a decade of profitability, to even secure a meeting or a response from many agents.

Approximately 90% of my income is generated through commercial lifestyle projects. Editorial assignments have generally come my way only about two to three times a year.

In terms of workload, I typically handle bidding anywhere from 25 to 40 commercial project requests annually. During a successful year, I manage to secure around 5 to 7 of these projects, although it’s worth noting that there are no guarantees any year.

Most projects involve three, but up to six or more photographers bidding for them. There can be additional challenges like budget and scheduling problems that might lead to the project being canceled or postponed indefinitely. Even if you and the agency’s creative teams are on the same page, the final decision typically rests with the client. This client is usually someone you haven’t spoken to, and they often aren’t focused on creativity; they’re on the business side of things and have the ultimate say because they’re footing the bill.

I mainly work with Fortune 500 companies. I’ve collaborated with big advertising agencies and shot over two dozen global and national ad campaigns and also directed several TV commercials. My clients range from top tech companies and big sneaker brands to car ads, alcohol, healthcare, tourism, and pharmaceuticals.

I initially started with smaller “cool” brands, which eventually led to bigger projects. I still try to take on creatively interesting projects each year, even if the budget is tight.

I don’t have any employees that are on payroll. I hire assistants and techs on a freelance basis as well as professional services such as my accountant etc.

I keep my expenses low to survive in lean times. However, living costs have gone up significantly in recent years, while job opportunities and rates have not. I have substantial expenses like self-employment taxes, photography insurance, and health insurance. On top of that, I’ve managed to pay off my student loans, which were quite significant.

I work from my home office, which I can deduct as a business expense. I own just the essential equipment I need for smaller personal and editorial projects so I can work on them on without needing to rent extra gear.

I’ve never had a great retirement plan, just been trying to save up as much as I can and put a bit into an IRA. But these last couple of years, work’s been slow, and it’s taken a toll on my savings. If I decided to retire right now, I could probably get by for about two years in a more budget-friendly city without needing to work.

I’m pretty much “working” in some way every single day. In peak years, I used to work on a commercial project roughly every other month. These gigs could vary from quick 2-3 day shoots to those massive weeks-long projects that involved jetting off to different countries. Typically, each project would come with a couple weeks of prepro work and another couple weeks for post-production.

These days, it seems like most of my time is eaten up by bidding on projects, marketing my work, and all the research and outreach that goes into it. I also try to set up test shoots every couple of months and work on personal projects whenever I can.

Before the pandemic hit, my income was somewhat stable. There were some tougher years, but overall, I felt like my career was steadily growing and building each year.

In 2020, I got lucky because the year started well, and I managed to weather the storm with some government help.

Then came 2021, which turned out to be the kind of year every photographer dreads. I didn’t land a single profitable job. I was bidding on some good and high-paying creative projects, but none of them went my way. I did a few smaller shoots and personal projects, but they barely made any profit. My income mostly came from licensing images, government subsidies, and selling off old cameras and equipment. It was a really tough and eye-opening experience.

In 2022, things improved somewhat, but it still felt like the twilight zone.

Now, in 2023, it’s been more of a mixed bag. I’m getting more inquiries than in the past couple of years, but not a lot of success. It’s been one of the most frustrating years in my career, for sure, and is looking to not be a great one financially.

Photography is my sole source of income. In the last couple of years, I’ve really made a big push to find more stable work within the industry. I have been searching and applying for jobs that come with benefits, like 401(k)s, health insurance, stuff like in-house production or photo directing/editing jobs for big companies. But it turns out, those positions are just as competitive and hard to get into as being a freelance photographer.

There isn’t really a standard for an average shoot because projects vary quite a bit. Typically, a commercial shoot involves a tech day, two to three shoot days, and perhaps a post-production day. The day rate usually falls in the range of $2,500 to $7,500, and then usage fees are added on top of that. The usage fees are typically based on geographic terms and the duration of use. All in, I would ideally hope to take home between $20 – 30k per project, but it varies greatly. The best shoots have been the ones where it feels like the creative team is all in, and the terms are fair for everyone. I’ve come to realize that a good pricing strategy involves having a lower day rate, but with a usage agreement that’s likely to get renewed after the initial period. It also motivates me as a photographer to create images that are unique to the brand and will likely be renewed and won’t be easily replaced by stock photos.

I pay my assistants whatever rate they ask for. I think the going rate for a first in LA / NYC is about $700 – 800 for a 10 hour day. I will always go to bat for my assistants, they are the hardest working and most important people on a job in my opinion and I want them to feel comfortable and well compensated for their work.

The worst shoots have been the ones where they insist on a full buyout. Lately, I’ve noticed a troubling trend where art buyers require all bidding photographers to accept a buyout or else they won’t even be considered for the job. It’s like being turned into a content-producing machine for a big corporation. They walk away with thousands and thousands of your images that can be used indefinitely. This isn’t a fair or ethical way to work with commissioned artists, and the more considerate art buyers are aware of this issue and don’t abide by it.

I do both motion directing and still photography. My projects vary – sometimes I’m both directing and taking photos, other times I’m focused on shooting b-roll videos for social media. Occasionally, I work as a photographer alongside a broadcast film team. I’d say that in the past few years, about 75 percent of my shoots have had some motion element involved.

My marketing strategy has gone through significant changes in recent years. I can still recall a time when sending a single email blast would result in a dozen job offers. Over the years, I’ve also sent out hundreds of promo materials and made many in-person portfolio visits. However, the landscape shifted during the shutdown, and to be completely honest, I’m not sure what’s effective anymore. I do believe having a social media presence is beneficial, but it shouldn’t be the sole focus. Most of the jobs I’ve secured in the past couple of years have come through word of mouth – someone I’ve worked with in the past recommending me to others.

The best advice I’ve ever received is to “make photos that only YOU can make.” There are literally billions of photographers out there, and photography is a highly mechanized process, so you see countless people trying to imitate others or reproduce what they’ve seen before. With the rise of AI, this imitation problem is getting worse. When someone hires you, they’re not looking for a copycat (hopefully!); they want your unique perspective. Regardless of the subject, make it something that resonates with your personal view of the world and it will connect with others.

As for the worst advice, I’d say it came from my younger, more naive self. When I was younger, I thought I understood the industry better than I actually did. I didn’t think long-term and, like many artists, my ego sometimes clouded my judgment, especially during hot streaks that I believed would last forever. Being overly confident is great for creativity and taking risks, but it might not be the best approach when it comes to the business side or navigating industry politics.

I’m also a clinically diagnosed neurodivergent individual. While I don’t use my disability as an excuse or ever share this with potential clients, it has added significant challenges to my career in various ways.

This piece of advice is for those in gatekeeping positions in the industry, such as art buyers, photo editors, and producers. Let’s remember that kindness and compassion are choices we can all make. The culture in our industry can be demanding, cutthroat, often quite cynical, and plagued with cronyism and nepotism. We’re all out here doing our best, hustling to survive in this late-capitalist world.

Yes, we photographers are incredibly privileged to make a living through our work, but it’s a career that many of us have put a lot of effort into. And at the end of the day, it is a job. So, let’s not make it feel like we have to beg and bend over backwards for opportunities to do what we love and what also we depend on to keep the lights on and our families fed.

Unfortunately, there are no unions or standardized practices to adhere to in this industry. That means the gatekeepers hold a lot of power and control.

Please don’t forget the human aspect of your roles. We often problem-solve the budget on your projects, contribute to your creative vision, get on last-minute calls, and reschedule our lives completely, all of this is without any sort of compensation. Sometimes, a simple email response or a courteous notification when a project doesn’t work out is all that’s required, instead of ghosting someone and keeping them in a state of anxiety.

As many have pointed out, while photographers can show solidarity, there will always be someone willing to work for less – that’s the nature of capitalism in a creative field. So, photographers, we also have a responsibility to ourselves and each other to shape the way the industry treats us and those who collaborate with us.

So please…be excellent to each other.

A Commercial People in Environments and Automotive photographer: $400,000 – $900,000 (net)

I shoot almost all commercial work. Net income is a murky number. I pay myself $26,000/year and my wife $35,000/year through payroll. $5,000/month goes to our 401k accounts which leaves almost no cash in the actual paychecks. At the end of the year, the corporation doubles that contribution to our 401k accounts. The corporation also pays all of our healthcare and disability insurance for me (you need to have this if you are the bread winner in your house). One of our vehicles is owned by the corporation and it and every related expense is paid by the corporation. Cell phones, internet, etc.—all corporate expenses. I can also distribute profit as I see fit which being incorporated (S Corp.) is not subject to several W-2 taxes. In addition, I run a very lean ship with very little overhead—my office is on my personal residence property and I have no employees. My recurring expenses are accounting/tax advice, payroll, insurance, odds & ends and not much more. I don’t really count equipment as an expense but more as an investment—all my equipment is rented out to my own productions and after a year it pays for itself and then from there on generates real revenue. When I upgrade, I can usually recoup 50-75% of the initial investment. So, if you ask the IRS, the business net number is a very small number. In reality, it’s probably about 90% of gross as benefitted by me.

Gross income ranges from $500,000 to $1,000,000. The last few years have been at the lower range. 2023 I have only shot 6 jobs and I currently sit at about $400,000 and I would expect to have another job or two shot by the end of the year.

Reps are so key once you get to a certain level unless you could possibly keep up on all that they and their staff do. They have a pulse on the entire industry that you as a single artist probably could not really keep up on. Sometimes bidding on a job can be 2-4 weeks of back and forth—how could you possibly stay on top of that while shooting another job? Who would want to indulge in that? Not me. Most of your jobs are acquired by your reputation but I have booked several jobs by someone just calling my agent and asking, “Who do you have that can handle this job for us?” I would say half my work it is lifestyle/people and half automotive.

My clients are pretty much all national/international Fortune 500.

My general business expenses are close to nill. Of course, when we shoot a job, there are a lot of expenses but it all gets covered by the client. You have to bill for everything and you quickly learn to make line items in the estimate for everything just like an attorney. Don’t ever just chalk something up as an expense of doing business when it belongs to a job. I bill for everything the moment I walk out of my house to the moment I walk back in.

As touched on above, my wife and I are employees of the corporation and we pay ourselves a fair wage according to the tasks that we do. There are calculators out there that will tell you what your fair wage is—the IRS will like that you did this. My wife is actually paid more than me because I only spend half my time at this corporation. We pretty much put all our “wages” into our 401k accounts and then the corporation matches it at the end of the year. I like investing so I have no problem managing and having our retirement grow tax free until a later day in retirement when I can start withdrawing it in a much lower tax bracket. If you don’t like investing, hire a fee-based CFP but don’t hire someone from one of the companies you see in a commercial—those guys are paid to push products that benefit someone else.

I suppose that I am always “working” but in recent years I would say that I am only on shoots for about 30-45 days a year.

I feel like that I am semi-retired as there seems to be less jobs out there than there were just five years ago and the number of shoot days for each job are much less. Or maybe I am just becoming irrelevant? I shoot 5-10 jobs a year. All my jobs used to be 2-4 weeks long and now I think they are mostly about a week long. Commercial photography is extremely competitive to begin with and with what I feel like are fewer jobs out there, it becomes even more competitive. My income used to touch the $1,000,000 mark every couple years but now I barely cross the $500,000 threshold.

Photography has been good to me because in my early days I did fairly well. I am entrepreneurial so I was able to take those earnings and expand. Out of my 4 possible income streams, photography has now ranked 3rd for that past 5 years or so. It is my favorite hobby for sure.

I pour my heart and soul into a shoot. We usually don’t bid on something that I will not be able to pour some passion into. I will spend some considerable days prepping for a job even if my fees are not designated to cover those prep days—I feel my overall fee is there for me to nurture the creative vision from start to finish regardless of X days for prep, X for tech, X for shoot, etc.). So, prep days can add up quickly then travel, tech scouting, more prep, fittings, shooting and then traveling home—a job with 5 shoot days can easily consume 2 weeks of my time. Shoot days are usually 12-18 hours from portal to portal. Take-home pay is always fair to current industry rates (I hope) and the expenses are basically coming out of another budget (I almost never deal with expenses as they are taken care of by the producer). I would say I usually take home $50,000-$100,000 per job. Licensing terms are erratic as some agencies are fine with licensing and others basically want perpetuity for one fee.

I pay assistants $800/10hr day plus OT. Travel, tech and prep days are billed the same.

We don’t really have a “worst-paying shoot” unless we put it upon ourselves. And that would be if I want the creative but the budget is not there because it is pro-bono or a good cause. Even on a pro-bono shoot, they are going to cover expenses—I am just donating my creative and right index finger. If it’s a regular job and they don’t have the budget, we politely let them know we can’t do it.

I would say half my income is video as we have some stills only jobs, some hybrid jobs and some video only jobs.

With marketing I don’t think there is a silver bullet to getting everyone. I can’t tell you that a certain ad or email is the job monster. It’s a consistent culmination of all your efforts that gets you noticed. Basically people need to know you exist in order to bid you on jobs. So, the usual suspects: advertising in industry pubs, email blasts, sources books (mostly online now), Instagram and entering award shows (but don’t enter photo shows—most ad people don’t know what PDN, Rangefinder, etc. is). We used to do a lot of printed promos but Covid pretty much squashed that since I think the majority of all agency people are still working from home. Whenever I am on a job, I take a poll from the creatives if they actually go into the agency and some have actually not been in since before Covid. Also, on your Zoom calls you can see they are almost all still at home.

Best advice is you have to be fanatical about what you do. You have to love the art to become successful (except for the guy that picks up a camera once and then becomes the jewel of NYC without even trying). If it becomes a job, then it shows you are just there putting in the hours. After 20 years, I love every minute of being on set and creating. Even when I am done with this as a career, I will still be out making images.

Worst advice is “you have to specialize in one subject”. Maybe I have misinterpreted that and am too literal but some people will tell you, you have to be The Taco Guy or the The Car Guy. I feel better advice is to define yourself with a style, way of composing, lighting or ? The subject doesn’t really matter. But when someone sees your work in the wild, they should be able to know it is you that shot it (or have a pretty good idea). When they look at your body of work on your website, it should look like one person’s work. It doesn’t have to be a concise collection of butt plugs for someone to be able to define you. There was a point where I never shot a car but now half my jobs are car jobs. People like the way I compose subjects in environments and said, “OK, now do it with this piece of sheet metal.”

The world is changing everyday and right now is a really scary time for commercial photographers. You have to keep up and continue to evolve. Look at artists like Nadav Kander or John Huet—their work is not the exact same as 20 years ago but you can see the evolution of the artist in their new work that keeps them relevant. Keep an open mind as technology changes. Remember when people freaked out when Photoshop and retouching became a thing? Remember when people freaked out when CGI came along? I am sure those took some jobs away from photographers but not a significant portion. And now AI? You just have to evaluate and see where things fit in with your workflow. Erik Almas just did what he does best of merging backgrounds with talent that he shoots later in a studio except this time he made the backgrounds with AI and it looks pretty great. Everyone is so mad and afraid of AI right now. I could be wrong, but I don’t think AI as tool on it’s own is going to take all the jobs. There’s a great meme out there that says don’t worry about AI because there is no way a client is going to be able to concisely describe what they want to a prompt.

The Art of the Personal Project: Al J. Thompson

The Art of the Personal Project is a crucial element to let potential buyers see how you think creatively on your own.  I am drawn to personal projects that have an interesting vision or that show something I have never seen before.  In this thread, I’ll include a link to each personal project with the artist statement so you can see more of the project. Please note: This thread is not affiliated with any company; I’m just featuring projects that I find.  Please DO NOT send me your work.  I do not take submissions.

Today’s featured artist:  Al J. Thompson

NPR: The Picture Show

At the same time, gentrification can be both pervasive and personal.

Photographer Al J Thompson entwines these two ideas in his debut bookRemnants of an Exodus.

A pool of light on asphalt, the dangling Jordan’s of a boy on a tree limb, a police officer from the shoulders down, his right hand resting on his holstered gun. Thompson’s photos pose a truncated perspective of Spring Valley, N.Y., the New York City suburb where he came of age. The frames shy from literal views of change — Thompson intends to leave the big picture incomplete.

“This could be anywhere,” he says. The causes and effects of gentrification in cities across the country have spawned fierce debate in recent years about how to keep rising housing prices from driving out longtime residents.

Thompson considers gentrification to be “a term that relates to the undermining of a community by building new empires.”

It’s this visual tension — between the specifics of this neighborhood and the ubiquitous issue of displacement — that carries the viewer through Thompson’s work.

When Thompson migrated from Jamaica to the U.S. in 1996, he joined his mother in Spring Valley. The two were part of a largely Black community of Caribbean immigrants. The town park served as the meeting place for everything familiar. Jerk chicken sizzled during cookouts in July. Men played cricket on long weekends. And during many nights when floodlights illuminated the grass, Thompson and his friends ran through the park fields playing soccer.

Today, a development called Park View Condominiums overlooks that same space. The three-story housing complex is just one of the many long-litigated results of the area’s urban renewal push. Since 1990, Spring Valley’s Hispanic population has seen a sixfold increase and its number of ultra-Orthodox Jewish families has soared, shifting the demographics of what a community looks like. The proportion of Black residents has declined by 10% over the same time.

With this perspective, Remnants of an Exodus is as much a meditation on memory as it is an examination of place.

“By shooting this project, I’m also experiencing nostalgia,” Thompson says. “The sense of community, at least within the African diaspora, that’s been gone.”

Thompson also invites viewers to revisit their own recollections through his selective visual compositions. A quick pace of vague images allows the reader to project — a folded sign affixed to a chain link fence, the point where a willow’s limbs meet the ground, graceful fingers around an umbrella handle. Interspersed, direct portraiture brings pause. We spend time with the determined eye contact of a young girl with beaded braids and the knit brows of a woman set back in foliage.

“It’s very rhythmic,” Thompson says. “It’s almost like a musical.”

Just one explicit depiction of change interrupts this rhythm. In his only wide landscape, Thompson shows the viewer those new condos rising just beyond the fence that surrounds the park. In at least this frame, the past and present appear in harmony.

Maura Friedman is a visual journalist based in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Instagram @maurafriedman.

 

 

To see more of this project, click here.

APE contributor Suzanne Sease currently works as a consultant for photographers and illustrators around the world. She has been involved in the photography and illustration industry since the mid 80s.  After establishing the art-buying department at The Martin Agency, then working for Kaplan-Thaler, Capital One, Best Buy and numerous smaller agencies and companies, she decided to be a consultant in 1999. She has a new Twitter feed with helpful marketing information because she believes that marketing should be driven by brand and not by specialty.  Follow her at @SuzanneSeaseInstagram

Success is more than a matter of your talent. It’s also a matter of doing a better job presenting it.  And that is what I do with decades of agency and in-house experience.

Digi Tech based in NYC: $148k

I’m a NY S-Corp and I’m the sole shareholder and only employee. I have a family and I’m the sole provider. My salary is based on the minimum we need to cover personal expenses and 2/5ths of our rent. We have health insurance through Obamacare so the less I payroll myself the higher the subsidy.

I have and will work on any kind of shoot, anywhere in the world. If the money is right, I’m there. As for my style of teching, I am adaptable and versatile with any situation or shoot able to be handled with grace and precision. I can be as hands-on or as hands-off as the photographer needs me to be. My main goal is to use all my skills to make it so the photographer has to only focus on taking the pictures. I work well with assistants and lighting directors to dial in the light and grade. I am a sounding board and problem solver for the photographer, and have many times been an art-director-whisperer if the photographer gets in a rut or the shoot goes off track.

⅓ of my income is rate and ⅔ is from equipment rentals. A small profit comes from reselling hard drives and charging for EQ transportation.

Photographers for whom I work are as varied as they come. Young and old, varied nationalities, male or female or non-binary. There are a few photographers I refuse to work with due to their personalities, but it’s a short list. Sometimes a photographer who is an agent of chaos is fun to work for! Flip that, and a perfectly nice person can be a miserable photographer to be on set with. I only have 1 legacy client I work for where I don’t rent my gear, but they make up for it in rate.

I don’t have any employees, but I hire techs to work with my equipment for my clients from time to time. I always slice them off a bit from the EQ fees, and pay as soon as the invoice is received.

I have a desk in our spare bedroom, store all my EQ at home and use my personal car to transport equipment. My overhead is equipment/rental insurance at about $3500/year, accountant for $2500/year, bookkeeper for $1200/year.

My main costs are upgrading equipment, but that has slowed down in the past year. I only own camera systems I shoot personal work with (No Sony, Canon or Fuji). I’m sticking with the M1 laptops until the M3 series come out next year, so that saved $10k.

I have a Roth IRA and a SEP IRA. I’m barely able to contribute to the Roth because my salary is so low. I can put 25% of my salary in the SEP so that was $15K in 2022 and $24k in 2023. I’ve got $78k in retirement, $10k in personal savings and about $2K in stocks.

I work 150-170 days a yearSteadily increased then took a hit from Covid. Now it’s the highest it’s been.

I think best paying job post-Covid was an 8 day job where the rate was $750 and $1K for EQ. Ended up taking home more than $14k after OT. Best single day job was about $3500 for the day. Rate was $800, EQ $1500 and camera rental was $1200.

Worst paying jobs post-Covid was $500/10, no EQ. It was for one of my favorite clients and it was a personal project so I gave them a deal. They prefaced the confirm saying I should bounce if a money job came in. Worst job of all-time was in 2015, a 21-hour editorial for $350. And, the pictures were terrible too!

I can media manage motion data but I do not bill myself as a DIT or Stills/Motion combo. Sometimes there’s extra money negotiated to manage motion data. Sometimes I volunteer to do it if the second AC or solo videographer is swamped.

I’m pretty much 100% word of mouth and referrals. It feels like, if you’re out there hustling for work, there’s a reason you’re not working.

I have a website I can direct people to that has tearsheets, lists of clients and owned equipment. That’s something I can send once someone reaches out. I don’t have a resume and if someone asks for a resume it’s kind of a red flag. I did an email blast when I first launched my website a few years ago but that drummed up zero business, and I haven’t done it since.

Best advice would probably be that being a full-time tech and not trying to shoot is a great career path. I have less stress and make more money than a lot of my contemporaries who are either trying to shoot or have been shooting for a few years. I don’t have to bust my ass to get clients and at the end of a shoot I never have to think about it again.

Worst advice, that comes to mind, is the importance of working for top-tier photographers. The system of working for a huge photographer as a stepping stone to a successful photography career doesn’t apply as much these days, unless you’re with the top of the top of the top.

For techs, my advice is, when starting out, take whatever comes your way as long as you feel okay about the money. Take non-EQ jobs to hone your skills. You never know who you’re going to meet on set who will recommend you, and help jump start a successful tech career. For photographers, my advice would be to listen to your tech and treat them as a kind of creative partner. Photographers focus so much on their own imagery and how they make pictures, never imagining how others approach creating images. Many don’t take into account that I evaluate, color grade and crop, literally, over a million of images a year, and I am a wealth of knowledge, tips, hacks, workflow improvements, technological advances, trends, culture and aesthetic values.

The Art of the Personal Project: Doug Menuez

The Art of the Personal Project is a crucial element to let potential buyers see how you think creatively on your own.  I am drawn to personal projects that have an interesting vision or that show something I have never seen before.  In this thread, I’ll include a link to each personal project with the artist statement so you can see more of the project. Please note: This thread is not affiliated with any company; I’m just featuring projects that I find.  Please DO NOT send me your work.  I do not take submissions.

 

Today’s featured artist:   Doug Menuez

In a world that often moves at a breakneck pace, finding moments of stillness and introspection can be a challenge. However, filmmaker and artist Doug Menuez has managed to capture these moments in his latest documentary, “Because of You, I Am”. This film takes viewers into the world of taiko, the Japanese drum, through the eyes of two of its beloved pioneers while delving into the deeper philosophical aspects that underpin it.

“Because of You, I Am” follows the stories of PJ and Roy Hirabayashi, two Japanese American artists who found the taiko drum as their identity and voice fifty years ago. Executive Producer of the film, Pear Urushima, has been a long-time collaborator with Doug since they first met on a project for Apple. Pear, who is a marketing guru and also a taiko player, thought of Doug to tell this story knowing his deep passion and understanding of artistry, working in tandem with his ability to share stories of humanity and art.

Pear produced PJ and Roy’s website (pjroytaiko.org) which celebrates their journey of taiko artistry, social activism and community building. From the start, this project was designed to be a multimedia production, requiring Doug to see the whole picture of the documentary film, stills, and publications while shooting. The entire crew worked together to merge all of these components, setting a captivating exploration of cultural exchange, mentorship, and the pursuit of artistic excellence.

“Because of You, I Am” offers a genuine glimpse into the rich tapestry of Japanese-American culture and history. Doug skillfully weaves together interviews, historical narratives, and breathtaking visuals, creating a compelling narrative that transports viewers to a world where intentionality reigns supreme.

Each element of the film serves a purpose and gives deliberate attention to each detail – from the choice of black-and-white cinematography to the carefully curated interviews. With these intentional decisions, Doug invites the audience to reflect on the power of simplicity and the beauty found in spaces left unfilled.

To see more of this project, click here

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APE contributor Suzanne Sease currently works as a consultant for photographers and illustrators around the world.  She has been involved in the photography and illustration advertising and in-house corporate industry for decades.  After establishing the art-buying department at The Martin Agency, then working for Kaplan-Thaler, Capital One, Best Buy and numerous smaller agencies and companies, she decided to be a consultant in 1999.  Follow her at @SuzanneSease.  Instagram