Archive for December, 2013

2013 Top Ten List

Monday, December 30th, 2013

Last year, as a wrap-up to 2012, I made a list of the 10 things creative professionals should quit for 2013 (and beyond). It was one of my most popular posts so I thought I’d revisit the List o’ Ten Items for the end of this year. This year, instead of things to quit, it is a more general do/don’t kind of list, but hopefully you’ll find it helpful.

So, without further ado, here is my Top Ten Things Creative Professionals Should (or should not) Do in 2014… and beyond:

  1. Register your copyrights. Imagine you find one of your works reproduced on (for example) without your permission. If your copyright is not registered before the infringement (or during the safe harbor time, which, by the way, is for published works only), you can only get the reasonable license fee for that use (“actual damages”) and that will be maybe a couple of hundred bucks. However, if your work is registered before the infringement, you can get statutory damages and your attorneys’ fees–likely thousands of dollars. Which do you want?
  2. Don’t bitch about the difficulties in the © registration process. Yes, the whole published/unpublished thing is a pain and yes there are a bunch of other nitpicky rules you need to get right. Complaining about it won’t change that. Instead, learn the rules and when you don’t know what to do, contact your copyright-proficient lawyer (and no, I’m not shilling for work–there are plenty of competent IP/© lawyers you can contact). Don’t rely on the word of another creative pro because, honestly, there is a shitton of bad info out there, even from some very reputable sources.
  3. Don’t be a hypocrite. You cannot have pirated/torrented music or films or books (whatever) and be a professional creative without being the worst kind of hypocrite. Don’t like reading that? Tough. It’s the hard truth. I said it last year and I’m saying it again because some of you refuse to accept this reality. No, your free music doesn’t only affect the impersonal labels, it hurts “little” people just like you. If you use music to accompany your visual art, you must get permission to do so (i.e., license the music).  Fundamentally, it’s simply wrong to take someone else’s creative work and then expect to get paid for yours. Stop justifying it however you do and instead do the right thing: pay for the creative works you acquire. All of them. Besides, you really don’t want to be getting a C&D letter from someone like me. Trust me on this.
  4. Fire disrespectful clients. Gird ’em up already… stop permitting your clients to treat you like a $2 whore. Harsh? Maybe, but I am really tired of creative professionals accepting it when clients treat them spectacularly poorly. You are a professional. Your skills are unique. If your clients could do what your do, really, they would not hire you. Full stop. No one will respect you if you do not respect yourself first and telling someone you imagine you need to hit the curb may not be easy at the time, but later you will not regret it. Not at all. It is actually freeing.
  5. Stop using what other people do as an excuse. I have never thrown a punch in my life but I think I’ll start the next time I hear some creative professional say something like “If I don’t take the project for $500, someone else will.” Look, you have no control over what other people do and there are plenty of people who will do really bad stuff, particularly in business. Lowballing or doing other unethical crap will always be done by people who do not respect themselves or their business. Screw ’em, don’t emulate them!
  6. Shoot film/make analog art. There is nothing wrong with using digital tools, but I can tell you that your work’s quality will improve if you use the pre-digital tools more. When I look at a photographer’s work, I can tell you almost 100% what work was made on film originally. I can also tell which photographers shoot film regularly, even if only for their personal work and even if I don’t see that work, because the digital work is stronger. You learn to make better choices and to be in the moment of creation more when you take out the “instantaneity” of digital tools.
  7. Stop doing it for free/cheap, especially just because you want to be a nice person. Non-profit or charity does not mean you should do it for free, or even for less! If you are losing money doing the work, you aren’t being a nice person, you are trying to become a business failure. It’s not selfish in a bad way to do what you need to and that is to say “no” when people ask for freebies or deals. Saying “no” often results in you being more respected as a professional with those exact people who first asked for the deal. Bonus!
  8. Do your business-y stuff. Stop putting it off, stop saying you hate it… just do it. You won’t have a successful business if you don’t pay your bills on time, don’t get your invoices out asap, fail to chase down late payers, or don’t register your copyrights regularly (see No. 1). Running a business is mostly about doing the not-fun business-y stuff. Get over it.
  9. Do your marketing. Related to No. 8, you have got to get a marketing plan and work it, regularly, consistently, and diligently. Work on your lists, take the time to target well, and go after your best potential clients! Also, I suggest doing this in the real world much more than online. I mean, a face-to-face meeting is hugely more likely to get you work. And yes, people still get meetings. Buy lunch/dinner/cocktails for your targets if that will get you facetime. Do what it takes to get to know these people as people. Building those relationships will get you work. One caveat: if you try to fake your way to getting people to like you, you will go down in flames.
  10. Let social media and SEO die. Social media will not make your business successful. You will not be that one in a gazillion who hits, so stop wasting all your time posting and tweeting and following and using far too many so-called tools to reach out to a huge audience. You will lose the rights to your work and that price is way too high for a minuscule shot at fame. Besides, if you want to be famous, then you need to think about what you are doing with your life. If you want to be a successful artist/creative professional, put your efforts on making and monetizing your art, not making people like you. You can’t pay your rent with a +1 or a like. Instead, spend more time targeting the best targets for your work and reaching out to them directly and, preferably, in person (see No. 9). SEO also really just doesn’t matter–it’s a boondoggle now as the search engines manipulate everything to hell and back and besides, the best clients are still not using search in that way to find the best artists (it is good for local consumer-direct photographers and that is about it).And, one more to grow on…
  11. Recognize that you are an ARTIST. Get over that false modesty stuff already… if you are a creative professional, you are an artist. A professional artist. Stop acting like that chick we all know who wears a size 2 and talks about how fat she is. It’s bullshit and an insult to everyone who is doing the hard work of being an artist. Every time you make it look easy or play down the work behind your work, you are lowering the perceived value of your work and the work of your colleagues. Stop saying “I got lucky” or “It’s not that hard” and the like. Creation is miraculous; so not only do you owe it to yourself and your peers to recognize that, I also encourage you to use that to your business advantage. For example, photographers should not provide monitors for  clients–tell them you will show them when you are ready. They may bitch about it at first, but as long as your work is fabulous, they’ll get over it and, more importantly, you will look more like the miracle-worker you really are.

    UPDATE: I just was pointed to this post about rituals and it confirms my belief that photographers lost something when they took the ritual of the reveal to the client out of the process. Put it back by taking out those client monitors and your clients will love your work even more!

Thurber, Stiller, and the Power of the Image

Tuesday, December 17th, 2013

I’m surprisingly not a huge Ben Stiller fan. Some of his stuff I like, some not so much. He can be a bit bitter for me sometimes.

I’m a big Thurber fan, especially having grown up in Columbus, Ohio (his hometown). Although people accuse him of being misogynistic in his writings, I’ve always loved his sometimes biting humor and don’t particularly like it when people try to modernize it.

I was, thus, not looking forward to the Stiller version of the Thurber classic, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.
That is, until I learned that the entire reboot-version story is based on photography.

Mitty is a photo editor/archivist for Life magazine, which has been acquired and is being shut down (at least the print version). He is devoted to images and has lived vicariously through the work of others–honoring and protecting that work and admiring the makers of it. I’m not going to get into how much I identify with Mitty, but to say I didn’t get a bit of “oh, that is spooky” would be a lie. Anyway, his rich fantasy life is based on these images by others, as is, of course, his professional life.  For the final print Life, a negative goes missing. That sends him into the world he has only seen and imagined.
That negative gives him life.

I have not seen the film yet, but from the trailers and the “behind-the-scenes” short they are running on HBO, I will as soon as I can. Part of what the behind-the-scenes film explains is that Stiller (who also directed the film) did as much of the work in-camera, that is without CGI, as he could. He and others working on the film talked about how much more real everything is because of that and talked about how it changed the entire approach of making the film. There are many scenes that could have easily been done digitally, but instead they invented rigs and took the time to do it for real. They had to slow down and make choices. They had to be present in the reality of making.

So, here is this film about a negative (analog photography without photoshop) being made using as much non-digital work as possible. And the film is all about life, love, and how all of that is driven by the power of the image–whether that is the image we hold of ourselves, or a photo. It looks like this film is a love letter to photography and its makers. 

What’s not to love?



The Importance of Research

Thursday, December 5th, 2013

Today, I got this email:

Hey Leslie,

You were suggested as a person I might contact in regards to our crowd sourcing platform for photography. We launched a world-first service last year that has been helping global lifestyle brands bypass cheesy stock shots to access images that have never been seen/used online before.We have already been suppling images for clients such as Visa, Vodafone, EasyJet, Coca-Cola, Royal Caribbean, Expedia, Virgin, Mobil, Coors, Lexus and Johnson & Johnson and almost every major ad agency in New York. By using our site, you can post a brief for specific image content that matches your needs and have thousands of professional photographers submit images from their personal archives that are tailored to your request.

Perhaps this 90 second video explains it best:

ImageBrief saves you hours of searching and taps you into a vast pool of fresh undiscovered images from around the world. The beauty is, if you don’t find an image you love, there is no cost or obligation whatsoever.

Please take a look at our collections to better understand the content we can offer:

I’d love to help with your first ImageBrief request if you have one we can test drive? Happy to answer any questions you may have. Thanks so much. Looking forward to the opportunity!


Besides being completely offended that someone I have never met started her email to me “Hey Leslie” (at least use “Dear Leslie” if not “Dear Ms. Burns”–Hey is not a proper business greeting, yes, even today) I love the bullshit line about having been suggested to her. Really? By whom? Why not write “Bob Smith suggested…” unless (gasp!) no human actually made a suggestion…
Anyway, I replied thusly:


Apparently you have failed to do any research into your targets. A cursory read of my blog or Facebook page would show you that I am vehemently opposed to your exploitative business model and actively encourage all professional photographers not to work with your, or any similar, company.
Leslie Burns

Not surprisingly, Ms. Meek did not reply.