Archive for June, 2008

Value of creativity

Monday, June 30th, 2008

Seth MacFarlane (creator: Family Guy) is a creative. Whether you like his taste or his aesthetic, he definitely is a creative pro. And he is mind-bogglingly rich because of it.  

Well, because of it and the fact that he has recognized the value of his own creativity and has fought for it every step of the way.

And he’s not afraid to let the “money” know what he really thinks. For example, during the writers’ strike (and this was before his huge deal with FOX), FOX finished an episode of Family Guy without his final creative input (and he withheld making the voices, in solidarity with the strikers). When they announced they would air it, MacFarlane said, “It would just be a colossal dick move if they did that.” That takes some guts to do! Yet even after speaking his mind (and, it should be noted, still being respectful of individuals with whom he worked at FOX), he got a reported 7-figure deal with FOX. Huzzah!

Now he has cut another groundbreaking deal. This time, he will be creating content for Google to distribute directly. Brilliant on his part–it give him an outlet where the FCC can’t censor him and creates yet another revenue stream (and a big one at that). Also, note in the linked article how advertisers will be integrated into the work. While the last bit bothers me on one level–I think ads and content should be clearly separate, personally–from a business perspective, it’s a very strong idea on his and Google’s part to offer the integration.


Kinda makes you think. 


Maybe the trick to all this is creating unique work and believing in it enough to fight for it, even when it’s harder than hell to do. Respecting your creativity and thus creative work is the foundation of your business.

Do any of you think for a second that MacFarlane would be anywhere near as successful if he changed his creative vision to make it what others had (probably repeatedly) told him it should be?

Weddings anyone?

Wednesday, June 25th, 2008

If you’re a wedding photographer or thinking about adding it to your repertoire, then you should read this Wharton Business School (UPenn) article about a new book on the wedding industry (in general). It sounds fascinating–and if it doesn’t help you think big (and maybe raise your prices), then nothing will.

Creative Lube #23

Wednesday, June 25th, 2008

A new Creative Lube podcast is available. Try iTunes or go here.

On tools and being an artist

Tuesday, June 24th, 2008

Last evening, I had my first law school class. I’m taking one course over the summer–sort of an introductory “how to be a law student” with special emphasis on some constitutional material. The only people older than I in the room were the professors (it is a team of them), but I really didn’t care–I was excited to be there, and a bit intimidated by the workload…already. 

We had a couple of readings to prepare before our first class, and I was struck by something in them. Over and over the authors referred to the Art (cap. A) of the Law (cap. L). Then the lecturing professor said something to the effect of this:

Does understanding the rules of color (for example)–blue plus yellow equals green, etc.–make an artist an artist? No, that is but a small part of what it is to be an artist. It is the application of those rules, the interpretation of them, the ability to see beyond them and use them to create that makes an artist an artist. Same for the rules of law and being a lawyer. If you only learn the rules, you are only going to be a hollow shell of a lawyer. You must learn the rules, of course, but also learn how to use them and interpret them and go beyond them to the benefit of your client and, more importantly, society as a whole. Law, like Art, evolves, and we are the agents of its evolution.

This is something many photographers can benefit from understanding. It is not your tools that make you what you are. If you are relying on your tools, then you need to push yourself outside of that comfortable shell. Your abilities, your art, will only grow as you push yourself beyond your “rules” (in your case, your tools). 

Think about how you list your abilities in your own mind–does your list look like a sales sheet from B&H Photo? Or does it include things like the ability to creatively solve problems or an understanding not only of light but of its absence, or a facility with making regular people comfortable in front of the camera? It is these non-technical things that will separate you from the herd of “shell” photographers.

Think about these things when it comes to your marketing–in emphasizing them, rather than the size of your backs and lenses, etc., you will be expressing the artist you really are. That will attract better clients. 

Customer service horror story #1,072,549 & 1,072,550

Monday, June 23rd, 2008

I’m back from my trip to Philadelphia (where the ASMP SB2 team met again–more on that as it becomes available). This trip offered not one, but two examples of customer service screw-ups, one of which is particularly egregious. 

The first one occurred at the Hyatt where we team members were staying. ASMP was footing our accommodations, of course, and they had faxed in their credit card info well in advance of our arrival. However, somehow that info never made it into the system. When I checked in, they said they had no record of anyone else paying for my hotel room. “Okay” I though “someone dropped the ball and this will get worked out–no big deal” and handed over my AMEX card in the meanwhile. Two days later, it had still not been fixed. 

The worst part about this was the lack of employee empowerment. ASMP knew exactly to whom they sent the info and had a confirmation that it had been received. However, the only person who could check on that was one particular manager…who never seemed to be at the hotel. The desk clerks all nodded in sympathy, but said there was nothing they could do. Only this (mythical?) manager had the power to make things right. How dumb is that?! 

Eventually, after everyone else had checked out (I left the following day), it got rectified. But in the meantime they had several upset guests and a bunch of workers who looked like boobs because they couldn’t do anything. Way to go Hyatt.

Then I boarded my first train for the return trip. I knew that there was a chance that I would not be able to get across the Mississippi because of the flooding, and I was checking the website (and several local news info sites, from the flooded region) to keep up with events. First Amtrak said that my train would not be able to get through, then it could, then, again, it couldn’t, however they would put passengers on a bus to get past the flooded area. Then I got a call from Amtrak to let me know personally this same information and was told that I should go to the Passenger Services area when I got to Chicago to discuss options and/or get refunds. 

Okay, I’m not thrilled with this situation–who likes long bus rides–but the flooding is clearly out of their control and they did a good thing by calling me. Unfortunately, once in Chicago, things got worse. 

I went to check in to the Metropolitan Lounge (which is for passengers with sleeping compartments) and when I said I wasn’t sure what was up with the #3 train (my train)–that is, if I’d be on it at all considering the situation, they got snippy and said I couldn’t check in until I decided. They informed me that I would be bussed from Chicago to Kansas City, where the train would be waiting. “It is an express bus–no stops” I was told. “How long of a ride?” I asked.

“I dunno.”

“You’ve been doing this bus thing for a couple of days–you have no idea how long it is taking?”


Seeing this was going nowhere, I went to the Passenger Services area to get more info. 

Now I should tell you that along with the problems with the #3, another major cross-country train was entirely cancelled and a third was also doing the bus-to-train thing. All of this was occurring in Chicago–that is, the trains all originated there. So you’d expect people to be prepared to deal with the situation, right? Wrong.

The woman in the Passenger Services area was not yet busy. She had one gentleman ahead of me (picking up a lost cellphone). Before finishing with him she turned to me and asked what I needed. I started to tell her, and the phone rang. She took the call. Then she returned to the gentleman because he asked if he was waiting on someone bringing him the phone or if he needed to do something else–still on the phone, she was. Then she asked me something, then said something on the phone, then back to the man. Repeat ad nauseum.

All she needed to do was take care of us one at a time…but she didn’t. She also could not tell me how long the bus was, saying only that she assumed it took about as long as the train usually did. 

“How long is that?”

“I dunno…look on the schedule.”

“Um, okay, I’ll do that. Now, let’s say I decide I can’t wait and want to get a refund for my ticket. How much would I get back?” 

“I dunno.”

“You’re telling me you can’t look up how much my refund would be?”

“It would be difficult…since it’s just part of your whole trip…”

“Ballpark–I’ll take a ballpark idea.”

“Um…” (phone rings, and she’s off again).

I eventually got that ballpark number and found out (on my own) that the train usually takes about 7 hours to get from Chicago to KC. But, since this bus was not supposed to make any stops, I thought we might be able to do it in a bit less. I decided to stick with the original plan and take the bus/train option.

I checked into the Metropolitan Lounge. They did not take my ticket, so I could still bail if I changed my mind. I used my time in the lounge to access their free wireless and check on some things, including flight possibilities. However, when I learned that there would be severe storms in the area, flying resumed its usual “no way” position in my head. 

At the appointed time, we were taken to the waiting buses. There, we stood in the heat while they tried to coordinate things. The Amtrak people were not doing a good job. Eventually, we all got on–packed in there like sardines. I’m about 5’9″ and a lot of that is leg. I did not have the room to even cross my legs–my knees were pressed hard into the seat in front of me.

Then they handed out sandwiches and offered sodas–as I don’t drink soda, I took a pass, waiting on some water. We had been told there would be refreshments on the bus, so I had not gone out and bought food/water for the trip. 

The water never came. We left, and there was no additional liquid on that bus. 

We also stopped. Twice. In Princeton, IL and Peoria, IL. And still no water.

I won’t even talk about the two times the driver almost wrecked.

And it took eleven unbearable hours to get to Kansas City. 


Okay, my point: crap happens. I wasn’t angry with Amtrak for the flooding and I was totally willing to roll with the situation. I knew we passengers would just have to deal with things being screwed up because of the flooding. Same for the Hyatt–that is, I wasn’t angry about the error–things get misplaced. However, their employees (in both cases) were either unable or unwilling to service their customers. That pisses me of.

When something goes wrong in your business–something out of your control–you still need to service your customers. Even if it is totally not your fault, offer them something to make up for their pain. That something could be anything from reshooting to refunding a bit of money to giving them a big iTunes gift card or whatever.

“I’m sorry” is your friend in these situations. If one of these people would have said, “I’m sorry–this is a big pain for you” that would have helped loads. Just make sure you don’t say “I’m sorry, but ______” [it’s not my fault/I can’t change the weather/dingos ate the gaffer tape/whatever]. Express sympathy and offer something more than excuses. 

Doing otherwise is a short road to losing clients. But when something goes wrong, you can often keep (or even win over) clients by how you handle the bad situation.

Judy Herrmann

Friday, June 20th, 2008

Judy is the immediate past President of ASMP and one incredibly smart woman. And funny. And massively compassionate. And kind. I’ve been lucky enough to work with her as a part of ASMP’s Strictly Business events, and in that time, we have also become friends. 

For the past couple of years she has been lecturing on managing change, a topic she covered at SB2 beautifully, and now she is offering personal consultations on the topic. What she does and what I do bookend quite well together–she helps the individual photographer work through her/his blocks decide what s/he really wants to be (including the kind of work s/he wants to do and for what reasons)–sort of defining the there in “I want to be there, but I am stuck here”; I help that photographer then get there through her/his marketing. 

Sure, we overlap in what we do, but we share very similar basic philosophies and I know that if someone works with Judy, s/he is going to get great help. If that photographer later comes to me for my help, I will know that s/he has already done a lot of the hard work and will (probably) be ready to work whatever plan we devise in our work together. 

I encourage any of you who are feeling frustrated or stuck in your photo careers to contact Judy directly to see if she can help. I bet she can. 

I’m here…sort of

Wednesday, June 18th, 2008

No, I haven’t fallen off the face of the planet, but I have been traveling. I’m posting this from Philadelphia where I have been working on a project with ASMP. I can’t share much about it yet, but suffice it to say that it is connected to the Strictly Business 2 events from earlier this year. 

Anyway, it’s been a hell of a trip. I almost didn’t make it here and there is no guarantee I’m going to get home on schedule. Remember how I’m crazy and travel by train? Well, the train has to cross the Mississippi and, in case you haven’t been paying attention, that river is seriously flooding. The water crossing flooded the train station closest to the river (Fort Madison, Iowa) and came up to the edge of the tracks in places! Here are a couple of pictures (click for larger versions) I took as we went through that area…and remember, I am not a photographer.

The train–this is water on the other side of the tracks–that is, the river is on the far side of the train:

The view shooting from the upper windows (train is a double-decker), as straight down as I could:

This is the bridge we had to cross. The upper level is for cars. The lower level, right on the water, is the train level:

And on the other side, in Illinois, this is typical of what the people are suffering:

Tomorrow I begin the trip back. At this point, that bridge is, as I understand it, not open because the water is even higher there now. But the water levels are dropping in that area finally, so maybe I’ll get across. More importantly, maybe some of these fine people who live in these affected areas will be able to go home and restart their lives. 

I’ll post again, and something more commercial photo oriented as soon as I can. In the meanwhile, consider making a donation to the flood victims. Here are some links (all rank high on

The American Red Cross (click on Disaster Relief Funds)
The United Way of Central Iowa
Humane Society of Missouri


Production matters

Friday, June 13th, 2008

Caitlin has posted about producing a production booklet for projects. This is one of those things that seems like a total “Duh!” until someone writes about it and you realize how few photographers go to the “bother.” She means something more than a call sheet–read the post to get the idea.

When I was producing (which I did for my guys when I repped) I’d always produce as comprehensive a plan as possible, and share it with everyone connected to the project. The clients loved it and that organizational detail brought us more work. Doing things like this raises your value to your clients and helps you get better projects, and better fees.

Creative Poseurs

Thursday, June 12th, 2008

In a recent edition of Time magazine, Brad Pitt is quoted as saying “While acting is my career, architecture is my passion.” He said this when asked about his getting to help design a hotel in Dubai. You know what I say? If you want to be an architect Brad, good for you! Go to school, get your Masters (BAs aren’t enough any more), do the multi-year internship (which must be documented) as required by the licensing boards nation-wide, take the 9-part test and the orals, get your license, and THEN you can be an architect. Until you do all of that, you’re taking paying work away from real architects who have spent god’s own wallet on school and testing and software and who don’t have a second career to fall back on.

Maybe Brad will be a fabulous designer–maybe he has it in him, and if so, that’s great, if he does it fairly as described above. It is more than unfair to have a celebrity take paying work from really hard working creatives in other industries like that. 

We see it too often in photography too. Some celebrity gets a plum assignment solely because they are already famous for her/his singing or acting. Every time that happens I want to just scream!  With Mr. Pitt I would love to look him in the eye and say something like “How would you have liked it if you didn’t get the breakout role in Thelma & Louise because they gave it to Robert Mapplethorpe*, just because he was famous in his field? Would that have taken bread off your plate then? I bet you it would have since you were doing bits on TV before that break made you a star.”

I’m sure Mr. Pitt hasn’t even thought about this and means no disrespect. However, the taint of it still is there. Whenever a creative project goes to someone famous for their work in another field, it hurts. I bet Brad is a nice guy who just hasn’t been made aware of how bad something like this sucks for the creatives in this other industry. Maybe this will reach him somehow. Or someone will tell him.

It’s hard enough making it in any creative industry (acting definitely included)–we need ALL creatives to stop cannibalizing the work in their sibling industries. If you make it big as a creative, thank the heavens and just say “no” to the ego projects like Mr. Pitt’s Dubai hotel. 




*yes, I know he died before this movie came out, but you get the point.




Wednesday, June 11th, 2008

If you didn’t get the latest Manual in May, on how to use tools better, it’s now posted on the Manuals page.