Annual Report Cover Photography for ExxonMobil

The cover of the ExxonMobil Annual Report, taken in Qatar by Houston photographer Robert Seale.

The cover of the ExxonMobil Annual Report, taken in Qatar by Houston photographer Robert Seale.

When I was growing up, my best friend was an overachiever who at age 9, was the Rupert Murdoch of the lawn mowing business in our home town. His empire stretched far and wide, and he spent his days in the summer and after school riding his hefty John Deere riding mower (which he bought with his own funds) around town.

My friend was a year older than me, but I often helped him with trimming, weed-eating, etc, and before long, I had talked my dad into letting me take his beloved John Deere riding mower, (which he was very protective of), into the neighborhood in search of elderly ladies who needed regular yard work.

Well the money started rolling in, you know….HUGE sums like 10, 15, even 20 dollars a week! I promptly blew through everything like a 10-year-old rapper with a new record contract, only my vice of choice was video games and candy – not hookers and Bentleys.  I loved banana Laffy Taffy, and I think I single-handedly kept that confectionary company afloat during the early 1980′s.

My mother, who ran banks for most of her career, saw this silliness and decided that I needed a lesson in financial responsibility. She promptly set me up with a checking account, and taught me how to balance and reconcile a bank statement. I was to use the account when I needed money, like for lawn mower gas or oil – her reasoning was that if I had to stop and write a check that perhaps I might think twice about my impulsive spending habits. She also made me set aside 150 dollars, which seemed like all the money in the world at the time (and to me, it certainly was…), and buy shares of Exxon stock with my little nest egg.

Well, I was pissed. Do you know how good I could have become at Galaga or Defender with 150 dollars in quarters?

One of the interesting things about being a shareholder, even with a mere 5 shares at the time, was that I would receive mailings and publications from the company. We used to get Exxon’s quarterly magazine (called “The Lamp”), and a big hefty magazine full of interesting color pictures once a year….which, logically, was called the Annual Report. It was impressive, and the photographs were interesting – lots of brightly lit refineries at night, colorful chemistry labs, and portraits of rig workers in the North Sea.

Some companies do different versions of these. The Summary Annual Report is exactly what it says, a condensed version, usually with a cover and a few pictures inside. The larger, full-blown version of the Annual Report is called the F&O, for Financial and Operating Review, and features many more pages of photos. Although the 1980’s heyday of the over the top, multi-page annual reports has passed, and some companies just file their reports electronically as website pdf’s, some companies still produce great printed publications for their shareholders.

Later, when I was in college studying commercial photography, I really admired the guys who did corporate photography for these big companies….Exxon, Coca-cola, IBM, etc. I always thought one of the coolest challenges was to make big heavy industrial facilities look sexy. After all, anyone can make a bikini model or a pro athlete look great…but how are you with the inside production line in a paper mill? Can you light it or compose it in an interesting way to make a cool frame out of it?  My parents didn’t understand how someone would make a living in photography, particularly in photojournalism, but when I pointed out the cool photography in these annual reports I think they realized that commercial photography could be a viable career.

Fast forward a few years, and after being “sidetracked” with a full time job that I loved at a sports magazine, I began to finally use some of those skills learned in college doing industrial photography for various oil and gas companies around Texas.  One of my goals was to shoot for ExxonMobil, the largest oil and gas company in the world, and eventually they became a client.

Although I’ve now worked for them for several years, and had several covers of The Lamp, and lots of published pictures big and small in various pubs, I am particularly proud to have made the cover of the BIG annual report (or F&O) for the company this year. The cover photo is an aerial photograph taken from a helicopter in Qatar, of a huge Q-Max LNG tanker leaving the port at sunset. It took quite a bit of logistical planning, support and effort to make, and I’m particularly proud of it.  It really is ironic and odd that I’m now shooting for the first corporate annual report publication I ever laid eyes on, as a 10-year-old.

Also amazing is that this particular frame was shot during our last pass around the harbor, handheld, wide open, on a Canon EOS-1DX at 2000 ISO during the last little flicker of available light.  A shot like this would have been impossible 4-5 years ago.  High ISO camera sensor technology has come a long way.

Anyway, I’ve finally created a new tearsheets gallery on my main portfolio website to share some of this work in printed form. There are various examples of my photography in print for a variety of clients, from oil and gas companies, aviation portraits, to Sports Illustrated covers. Check it out, it really is an eclectic mix.

Now if I can just figure out how to get John Deere as a client.   Hmmmm….

The new tearsheets section of the Robert Seale Photography portfolio site.

The new tearsheets section of the Robert Seale Photography portfolio site.

Houston Commercial Photographer Robert Seale featured in ASMP advertising

ASMP_PDN-JUNE_SEale_full

I’m honored to have a testimonial quote and one of my sports portraits featured in the ad for ASMP (American Society of Media Photographers) in the June 2014 issue of PDN (Photo District News).  This is the big 2014 Photo Annual issue, (which I should probably enter next year!), but nevertheless it’s cool to be in the issue, albeit in a bit of a loophole sort of way through the ASMP ad!  Hey, whatever works.  ;-)

Nevertheless, I’m proud to be featured by our main professional photography organization, ASMP, and I would encourage anyone interested in commercial photography, whether corporate, advertising, or even magazine editorial photography, to definitely join the organization.  ASMP provides a number of member benefits, member discounts on insurance and equipment, lobbying on issues affecting commercial photographers (copyright and photographer’s rights), and a number of educational programs and resources to help you with your photography business.

Here's a tighter crop of the June 2014 ASMP ad in PDN.

Here’s a tighter crop of the June 2014 ASMP ad in PDN.

Photoshelter Video: 11 Essential Tips for Freelance Photographers – Hosted by Robert Seale

Photoshelter’s  Allen Murabayashi and I had a nice discussion on June 6 about what it takes to start a business as a freelance photographer.  Photoshelter has posted the link here:  Video:  11 Tips for Freelance Photographers – Hosted by Robert Seale

Allen brought up an interesting point about photography professional organizations, mainly ASMP, APA, and NPPA, and if those organizations were slow to catch on/educate their members about changes brought on to the industry by the digital revolution.  He had a point, but as I said during the webinar, most of the organizations are volunteer oriented in their education programs.  Many on the ASMP side (which I’m more familiar with) have given selflessly of their time – time they could have spent working on their own business, to try to help colleagues about these and other issues facing photographers today.  Judy Hermann, Blake Discher,  have hosted excellent ASMP programs for continuing education for us, and in particular, Peter Krogh, and the late Susan Carr published books related to the changes in our industry brought on by digital licensing and workflow.  Just wanted to add those points to the discussion.

Another issue I brought up is the changing world of licensing in a digital environment.  We used to live in a very cut and dried world, where media buys and photo  licensing were finite ideas with very defined parameters.  For instance, an old media buy might consist of:  “20 metro billboards, 52 full page inserts in Time and Sports Illustrated  magazines, 50K POP displays at a defined size, and 500K direct mail pieces.”

Today, a more likely scenario is:  “We’re doing a web campaign through a third party web advertising vendor that will serve up an unknown number of ads in an unknown number of websites, based on a user’s previous browser history, in various sizes for a duration of 6 months.  We won’t know the number of total impressions until the campaign is over.”

One of our challenges will be to come up with licensing models to meet the needs of clients, and fairly compensate content creators at the same time in this new landscape.  I welcome the discussion of how any of you:photographers, reps, or art buyers have handled these new situations.  Feel free to discuss in the comments section below, or email me privately, and perhaps I’ll do a follow up on this in a few weeks.

Upcoming Photoshelter Webinar: 11 Essential Tips for Freelance Photographers with Robert Seale

Photoshelter_Robert_Seale_webinarRobert Seale, established corporate, advertising and editorial photographer based out of Houston, Texas knows a thing or two about starting a freelance photography business. After 11 years as a staff shooter for Sporting News and additional years of experience shooting for various newspapers, Robert decided to take the plunge and go freelance. Today you’ll find him working with clients such as Sports Illustrated, Men’s Health, ESPN, Rolling Stone, along with Fortune 500 companies, and more.

Throughout his freelance career, Robert has kept his business successfully afloat by building upon a solid foundation. In this live video webinar via Google Hangout, Robert will cover the 11 key tips photographers should know to run their business smoothly and grow it over time. Whether you’re considering going full-time freelance, or have been doing it for years – Robert will offer up essential tips and lessons learned in an in-depth dialogue with host Allen Murabayshi about what it’s really like to be a photographer and small business owner.      

In this webinar you’ll learn:

  • The steps you must take before going freelance
  • Money issues: how to balance your budget, and keep on track
  • How to build out a marketing plan
  • What gear to invest in and how to know when to rent vs. buy
  • The number 1 thing you need to do for your business

Join us Friday, June 6th at 4pmET for this live video webinar Google Hangout – sign up to receive the link to tune in.

Photographing Heavyweight Boxer Butterbean for Sports Illustrated

Former Heavyweight boxer Eric "Butterbean" Esch near his home in Jasper, Alabama.

Former Heavyweight boxer Eric “Butterbean” Esch near his home in Jasper, Alabama.

Sometimes we head into an assignment with preconceived notions and expectations, and it’s always interesting when those stereotypes we carry in our brain are challenged.

I recently visited the lovely little town of Jasper, Alabama to photograph Eric “Butterbean” Esch on a feature assignment for Sports illustrated.  The magazine runs an annual “Where are they now?” issue, and revisiting these once famous athletes usually makes for great pictures and fun assignments.

The story brief was to visit with Butterbean in his home town of Jasper, Alabama. He had risen to fame in the early 90’s by winning Toughman competitions, later becoming a heavyweight boxer, then a pro wrestler, and later an MMA fighter. He was often called “King of the Four Rounders”, and he ended most of his fights by knocking his opponent out cold. He was not, however, a svelte guy known for his bobbing and weaving. Butterbean was a brute – a massive, huge fire plug of a guy – under 6’ tall and nearly 500 lbs at one time . He was down to a svelte 450 or so when we met last year.

He had briefly been on a reality show where he worked as a small town deputy, and I had seen clips of him in the first Jackass movie, where he dispatched Johnny Knoxville in the middle of a clothing store. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a clip worth watching.

I was fully expecting a tough, redneck, barbeque eating, southern, he-man figure. I had visions of him in full on Boss-Hog deputy mode standing in front of a police car. Of course my expectations were wrong. He had only been involved with law enforcement for a short time, and I think mostly for the benefit of the reality show.

Well, ok, if nothing else, we’ll eat well in this little Alabama town – perhaps we’ll have a great plate of ribs somewhere. That was not to be, either.

“Do you guys like sushi?” he asked me and the writer, SI’s Lars Anderson.

Lars and I looked at each other with the same puzzled look, “…uh, yeah….sure.” We DID both like sushi (very much) – we just didn’t expect to find good sushi in a landlocked town in the middle of Alabama. It actually wasn’t bad.

"Do you guys like sushi?"

“Do you guys like sushi?”

Butterbean was a soft spoken, genuinely nice guy, living the quiet life in his hometown where, people for the most part leave him alone. He was now a grandfather, and we saw him hug and squeeze his grandkids.

He had owned a restaurant, next door to his house for a while. A lot of his old memorabilia – pictures of him in his American flag shorts in Vegas with Cindy Crawford, Sylvester Stallone, and basically every 90’s celebrity you can imagine, signed gloves, championship belts, etc were scattered throughout the now defacto storage building.

Buterbean petting a horse in the Alabama rodeo arena where he first fought professionally.

Buterbean petting a horse in the Alabama rodeo arena where he first fought professionally.

After shuttering the restaurant, he had taken up many hobbies, among them woodworking, making turkey calls, and even winemaking. He gave me a bottle of port as we toured his property – a sweet gesture.

Despite all the good reportage from around his town, I knew that he would be immediately recognizable in his signature red white and blue boxing shorts. It rained both days we were there, but I really wanted to photograph him in his old fighting outfit. It would make a great opener before showing the other pictures of his current reality. For the full first day, he put me off, claiming he didn’t even know where his shorts were… “those are packed up in a box somewhere….” He said.

I pressed on, gently. When we arrived for his portrait on the second day, he had found the shorts and reluctantly agreed to don them for us. We went to a neighbor’s property (his was heavily wooded and surrounded by fences), for the shoot. He immediately turned into his old persona and gave us the crazy Butterbean poses and faces he was once known for.

As we were leaving and heading back to Birmingham, he shook my hand while departing….”be sure to let me know how you like the wine, ok?”

Lars Anderson, an excellent SI staff writer wrote a great piece, where he provides more background on the origins of Butterbean’s awesome nickname.

Butterbean Butterbean

Left Jab:  I don't often take photos with celebrities I photograph, but i just had to do it this time.....

Left Jab: I don’t often take photos with celebrities I photograph, but i just had to do it this time…..

The Definitive Guide to Starting a Successful Photography Business

Glamorous job?  Not really...most of my days are spent sitting in front of a computer, not frolicking in the pool shooting Miss USA.

Glamorous job? Not always…most of my days are spent sitting in front of a computer, not frolicking in the pool shooting Miss USA.

I get a call almost every week from various photographers:  old photojournalism colleagues leaving their newspaper staff jobs (sometimes voluntarily, sometimes not…), college students nearing graduation, assistants who are ready to strike out on their own, and sometimes, advanced amateurs in other careers who I’ve met at a workshop.  All of them want the same thing….”we want to do what you’re doing….you know, work full time as a commercial photographer.”

It happens often enough, and I’ve given the same advice so many times, that I thought it might be helpful to write it all down in one place, and along the way, dispel some misconceptions about what it’s really like to be a professional commercial photographer. I don’t mean for this to sound condescending in any way.  What follows is legitimate info for many who are just starting out, and if you find that any of it is below your experience or skill level, then feel free to move on.

Starting a photography business is tough.  When I’ve spoken with college students, I’ve told them not to pursue this if it’s only a passing interest, or something they think would be a cool job.  I tell them to pursue photography ONLY if you can’t imagine yourself doing anything else.  It sounds corny, but I often compare being a professional photographer to becoming an actor, or professional musician… LOTS of people want to do this, and only a handful make it in any successful way.

Ok, let’s assume the commitment level is there.  What is it really like to be a professional photographer in today’s world?

First, let’s dispel the notion that commercial photographers have a camera in their hands every day.  This will vary for individuals, and by season, but I would guess that I spend a good 75-80% of my working hours in front of a computer – not out shooting.  I consider that to be a pretty successful ratio.  No one starting out really thinks about it, but digital workflow, retouching, billing, marketing, pre-production, post-production, accounting, taxes, etc… and the plethora of general business paperwork takes up a ton of time.

Second, some basic economics about working for yourself in this business.  Let’s say you have a staff job at a newspaper, university, or company that pays you 65K a year, with company camera gear and computers, vacation time, insurance and 401K benefits.  You might want to seriously consider keeping that job.  You’ll need to more than double that figure in revenue to maintain that level of income for yourself.  Those with full time jobs who think this is just a fun, easy career often don’t consider all the various ways you’ll spend money as a commercial photographer.  It’s not just cameras and computers… you’ll need insurance (healthcare, liability insurance, and equipment insurance to name a few), retirement SEP contributions, accounting and legal fees, marketing expenses, website expenses, advertising expenses, digital storage expenses, office supplies, mobile and office phones, high speed internet, software upgrades (legitimate software… you can’t just steal it from the newspaper  or university anymore), really nice custom made portfolios, assistants, retouchers, sales tax, franchise tax, and enough reserve/cash flow to take jobs, pay everybody, and keep the place running while you wait around to get paid – sometimes for several months.

And, oh yeah, I’m not mentioning the fact that when working for yourself, you can kiss that 2-4 week paid vacation goodbye, and that you will spend every spare minute after hours, on your weekends, in your sleep, etc. obsessing about your business and thinking constantly about how to make it better.  A staffer can go home at 5 or on a weekend, disconnect, and enjoy their time off.  When you work for yourself – there is no time off… and every minute will be filled with worry.

Negative enough for you?  Sorry.  This stuff needs to be said… I’ll brighten up and get all cheery in a moment.

One of the biggest mistakes I see new freelancers making, particularly the former newspaper guys, is unrealistic gear purchases.  Many shooters, particularly those that spent a lot of time doing sports think they need to start their business with 3 of the fastest professional bodies (usually 6-7K a piece), a 400/2.8 (9-11K), a 300/2.8 (6-7K), all three zooms , 16-35/2.8, 24-70/2.8, and 70-200/2.8 (roughly 5K), and a new Mac laptop (3K).  After all, that’s what you used at the newspaper or university you worked for, right?  This is what the well-equipped photojournalist needs, right?

Ok, let’s think about this for a second.  That’s roughly 45,000 dollars – just for camera gear.  We haven’t even mentioned lighting, grip, cases, desktop computer, storage, printers, etc.  You haven’t designed a website yet, or paid for insurance, or any of the other previously mentioned things.  What kind of assignments will you do with said gear?  Shoot some football or basketball games?  For whom?

“I’ll just work for my local paper or an agency or a wire service…”    Think carefully about it.  There are predators out there waiting to take advantage of people who just want to go to games, news events, and be in on the action.  Their business models are built around having an endless supply of newbies to provide free (or almost free) content that they can turn around and sell.  If you’re one of the lucky ones, you’ll make 125.00 to 250.00 bucks for your effort (in many markets, there are people lining up to shoot games on spec/and/or for free).  When you do the math on how long a sporting event takes, getting there early, parking, shooting, editing, captioning and sending a ton of photos, leaving late, driving home, you’ll quickly see that the average fast food employee is pretty much kicking your ass. …and they didn’t have to invest 45K to buy their own French fry fryers, stoves, or spatulas.  They don’t have to wear a ridiculous fanny pack either.

Speaking of capital investment – that 45K in gear you bought can’t be amortized over 10-20 years like capital expenditures in some other business… it will need to all be replaced in 3-4 years, just like your computers… and as technology advances that cycle will continue for years to come.

This is tough for many former photojournalists to reconcile. Many have made their living this way forever, being at all the big news or sporting events, hanging out with their colleagues all carrying big giant lenses on monopods, credentials around their neck, etc.  To many, it becomes their identity, and it is difficult to reconcile that despite your years of experience, no one is going to pay you to go to the Super Bowl this year, or the Republican convention, or to the earthquake in Haiti.  It’s tough to tell someone who worked at a sports magazine, or a big metro newspaper that, yes, you can still make a good living in photography – it just may not be doing what you used to do.  Letting go of that identity is tough.  I know… it’s something I experienced myself.

The best piece of photo gear you'll ever buy.

The best piece of photo gear you’ll ever buy.

There are a few prerequisites to starting a successful photo business:  You need great, original pictures with a consistent vision ;  You need some serious money, as it is very expensive to start a photography business; You need a healthy knowledge about how to run a photography business.

(A client or two would help, too, but we’ll get to that later.)

The Top 5 Photography Books That You MUST Own

I can’t help with the first two… You’re really on your own there, but I’ve read a lot of business books, and several specifically about the photography business, self promotion, marketing for photographers, etc.,  so I can make these recommendations comfortably.

I’ve sent this list around to various friends in transition, students, and former assistants, and I can promise you, if you read all of these cover to cover, you’ll have a firm grasp on how your photography business should work, and a really good introduction to usage-based pricing, which is the cornerstone of what we do. (If you click on the titles below I have linked them to Amazon for you.)

The Real Business of Photography1.  The Real Business of Photography, Richard Weisgrau ; Allworth Press

One of the best books about photography business I’ve ever read, and really should be the first thing you read if you’re thinking about doing this for a living.  Weisgrau is a former ASMP (American Society of Media Photographers) executive director and he speaks intelligently about licensing photography, doing estimates, managing finances, etc.  A really great book.

Best Business Practices for Photographers2.  Best Business Practices for Photographers, John Harrington ; Course Technology

John runs the Photo Business News and Forum blog (www.photobusinessforum.blogspot.com) and has been a respected voice and frequent speaker in our industry.  If you’ve ever watched him dissect an estimate, and show how he turns a simple 500.00 job into a multi-thousand dollar job just by asking the right questions, it’s truly a thing of beauty.  His book has lots of actual examples of job estimates and email trails that show his process.  Very valuable stuff that few people are willing to share with their peers.

ASMP Professional Business Practices in Photography3. ASMP Professional Business Practices in Photography, American Society of Media Photographers – edited by Susan Carr (Seventh Edition) ; Allworth Press

Edited by the late Susan Carr, who really did so many things to educate and help her fellow photographers, this is the latest edition of ASMP’s business bible.  There are chapters on licensing, copyright, releases, paperwork, marketing, you name it.  A good overview of the commercial photography business.  I believe you still get one of these included in your membership when you join ASMP.

The Photographer’s Guide to Negotiating4. The Photographer’s Guide to Negotiating, Richard Weisgrau ; Allworth Press

Another book by Weisgrau, and really my favorite.  (You still have to read ALL of these, though – no shortcuts!).  He talks about negotiating tactics, how to present offers and counter offers, psychology, dealing with contracts, negotiating strategy, and includes some interviews with real world professionals who have been in business for years.

The Photographer’s Survival Guide5.  The Photographer’s Survival Guide, Suzane Sease and Amanda Sosa Stone; Amphoto Books

I’ve read a lot of books about marketing and self promotion, but this is easily the best and most useful.  Sease and Sosa Stone are both former art buyers, reps, and now consultants, who provide a ton of real world expertise to photography marketing and brand building.  They also discuss presentation, portfolios, promos, and even include a handy disc in the book with essential business and estimating forms you can use.

I can’t emphasize how important it is to study these books.  It amazes me how many people will invest 100k in their business buying the latest cameras and computers, but won’t take the time to study up on how the business works.  Don’t be the dork out there charging by the hour and giving away your copyright on every assignment.  It’s not supposed to work that way, and you’ll be doing all your colleagues a disservice if you fly blind into our chosen field.

All together, these books cost maybe 130 bucks…they really might be the most important pieces of equipment you ever buy.

Without a smart roadmap, your photography business could end up as roadkill.  (Photo by Chip Litherland)

Without a smart roadmap, your photography business could end up as roadkill. (Photo by Chip Litherland)

I have a note on my desk that I wrote down at an ASMP business seminar several years ago.  Detroit photographer Blake Discher, a super savvy business guy, was our speaker, and he said something incredibly simple that I’ll never forget.

“There are three steps to running a successful business:

  1. Create a unique value proposition.
  2. Ensure that you have a large enough addressable market.
  3. Make more money than you spend.”

Sounds simple right?  It is, but you would be shocked how many people don’t think about these simple steps.

Think about number one… What’s unique that separates you from all the other photographers in your market?  What skill or know-how do you have that’s totally you?  If you live in Denver, and you want to shoot outdoor/adventure sports, what makes you different?  There are 50 people already doing what you want to do in that market.  How will you stand out from the crowd?

Think about number two… Do you have a large enough addressable market to survive where you are?  I would love to shoot movie posters or fashion, but guess what – I live in Houston, and we don’t have any movie studios or fashion magazines here.  So that’s probably not a wise niche for me to choose.

You should really think about these first two, analyze your local market and competition, and consider your options carefully before hanging out your shingle.  Are you putting yourself in a realistic position to succeed?  If there’s a specific genre you want to shoot, and it doesn’t exist where you are, you may want to consider moving.

Number three is pretty obvious.

Anyway….those are the really simple steps.  Now I’m going to write about the nuts and bolts of starting up a photo business.  A lot of this is common sense and has been covered before.  Some of these are no brainers, but I’m going to throw them in anyway, just to be thorough.The

21 Tips for Starting your Photo Business

DISCLAIMER:  It would we wise to consult with your attorney or financial advisor:  I’m definitely not a lawyer or CPA, and I can’t even claim I stayed in a Holiday Inn Express last night either.

1.  SAVE A BOATLOAD OF CASH – Super important.  At a previous photo seminar I attended, the speaker said that you should have at least 6 months salary reserved before embarking on your own.  I think that’s a good guide, but bear in mind that your money isn’t just to buy cameras, computers, etc…You’ll need operating cash to do jobs, run the business and pay assistants while you’re getting off the ground.

2.  SET UP AN LLC OR S-CORP – Talk to your accountant about what makes the most sense for you in your state, but you definitely should be incorporated as soon as possible.  This will help you liability wise, and although you’ll have more paperwork to deal with, you’ll likely get to keep more of the money you make versus being just a sole proprietor.

3.  ENLIST PROFESSIONALS TO HELP YOU – You should have a CPA, a financial advisor, and a lawyer.  You will likely have the CPA on speed dial, contacting them throughout the year to file quarterly reports, sales tax, and pay estimated taxes.  Don’t be cheap and try to do this yourself.

4.  GET A SALES TAX NUMBER – State laws vary, and not all photo jobs are subject to sales tax, but in many states, you’ll be dealing with this all the time.  Don’t be the loser who tries to fly under the radar on this.  Operate your business like a grown up.  You might get wacked 5 years from now and find you owe your state a couple hundred thousand dollars.  That would suck.

5.  SEPARATE PERSONAL AND BUSINESS FINANCES – The first step here, after your corporation is set up, is to run to the bank and set up a business checking account.  Don’t operate your business out of your personal funds….you’ll be confused, and so will the IRS.

6.  BUY INSURANCE – If you’re lucky, you’ll have a spouse with healthcare insurance.  If not, that should be your first step.  Next, you need insurance for your business.  Make sure the policy is by a company that is used to dealing with professional photographers and their unique needs.  It should cover cameras and gear, rental gear, computers, provide shoot insurance for reshoots on botched jobs, rental studio coverage, lost portfolio coverage, and liability coverage.  Many buildings won’t let you set foot inside to do a shoot without proof of liability coverage.  ASMP is a good resource for this type of insurance.

7.  GET A BUSINESS CREDIT CARD – Another part of separating your personal and business finances.  This makes it much easier at the end of the year to see what you spent on gear, hotels, airline tickets, etc.  I recommend a business Amex, as the Membership Rewards program gives you points you can use toward all sorts of things, but any card where you can get points toward future spending will work well.

8.  ONLY BUY GEAR THAT MAKES YOU MONEY -  I mentioned the gear hoarding syndrome that many of us have a couple of posts back.  This is one of the areas that really sinks many photographers starting out.  It might be great to have a 600mm/f4 and 12 bodies, but you could probably do 85% of your jobs with one body and a 24-105mm lens and a small lighting kit.  Think before you buy.  Rent if you can, and ask yourself this question before giving B&H your Amex number:  “Will this piece of gear make me more money?”

9.  WORK ON YOUR WORKFLOW – Think about your archive 1, 5, even 10-20 years down the road and start with good workflow habits.  Learn to properly use Lightroom or Aperture and the correct file naming, organization, and back up system to protect your work.  Have a good computer system in place, with plenty of backup drives, and be disciplined.  If you’re new to Lightroom, Seth Resnick’s D-65 workshop is excellent.

10.  CREATE A WEBSITE AND EDIT RUTHLESSLY – This applies particularly to students and veteran newspaper guys in transition.  What you learned about portfolios up till now doesn’t really apply anymore.  In most cases, no one cares about your spot news or your sports action photos.  Figure out what you’re going after in your market, and edit down to a couple of niches.  Be ruthless in your edit.  No excuses.  Hire a consultant if you have to.

11.  CREATE A PHYSICAL PORTFOLIO – Depending on your market, showing up for a meeting with just an Ipad may not be enough.  There are ad agencies and design firms out there that are used to being blown away by incredible, expensive, custom made books.  We’re talking ink jet paper made from the saliva of free range fair trade South American wasps, and embossed leather from humpback whale foreskins.  Think about what your portfolio should look like, the market you’re after, and make sure it is consistent with the rest of your branding.  In short, it needs to be perfect.

12.  SETTLE ON YOUR BRANDING – Do you see IBM or Coca-Cola changing their logo every couple of weeks?  No.  You shouldn’t either.  Settle on a look, work with a good designer and make sure your branding is consistent across all platforms:  website, business cards, stationary, invoices, portfolios, promo cards, etc….and yes, you need all those things.

13.  NAME YOUR BUSINESS CORRECTLY -  My personal opinion -  but I think photographers should use their own name in the title of their business.  If you want to add “Photography” or “Images” or “Visuals”  or “Productions” to the official name, knock yourself out.  Know this though:  No client out there is going to remember “Hot-Shotz” or “Extreme Images” or “Ginger Snaps”  (I swear, this is not a joke….I met someone at a workshop who used that one – and you guessed it…..her name was Ginger).  They will remember you, Bob Smith, or whatever the hell your name is.  Then they’ll start googling you to look you up one day, because they’ve thrown all your promo cards in the trash without looking at them, and they won’t be able to find you.  Why?…..Because you named your business something generic.  Have you ever seen a coffee table book in the photo section of a bookstore with “Hot-Shotz” or something dorky like that?  No….you see Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, Herb Ritts, Patrick Demarchelier, etc…see my point?

14. WORK ON YOUR EMAIL ETIQUETTE – Being able to write well is as important than being able to take great pictures.  As a professional photographer, email may be the primary way that you interact with your clients.  You should project a friendly, easygoing but professional personality.  You should address every email to the person you’re writing (Don’t just send one word responses), and sign every email with your name.  Think about how irritated you get when a potential client emails you with one line that says, “what do you charge?”….and then signs the email with their first name, and no contact info because they haven’t bothered to set up their email signature properly.  Be a professional.  Set up a complete email signature that goes on every email (even on your phone) with your name, business name, phone numbers, website, and your email address listed in type that someone can click on (not an image file).  If a client is in their car, and their contacts are inaccessible, and hey have to search old emails to find you, you want to have all your information easily available for them to click on.

15.  JOIN ASMP – The American Society of Media Photographers provides education, guidance, lobbying, and business resources for commercial photographers.  You owe it to yourself and your colleagues to join.  You can also be listed on the ASMP Find a Photographer website, which is helpful, and probably the cheapest listing website for photographers out there.  You might also consider APA.

16.  EDUCATE YOURSELF ABOUT USAGE AND LICENSING -  You CAN do copyright buyouts, burn discs of entire shoots and hand over all your raws to the client, and you might survive for a little while this way, but you WON’T be in business for long.  This is not how professional photographers conduct business.  Read the books I mentioned earlier.  They will give you a good overview of usage based licensing.  Join ASMP, go to seminars, study online resources for estimating jobs and writing licenses, learn about contracts, talk to colleagues.  Learn about licensing and how it works in the different fields of editorial, corporate, and advertising.  Learn the language and key terms.  Learn the right questions to ask your clients before giving them estimates.  Run your business the right way, the ethical way, and don’t give away the store and sell out your colleagues.

17.  SET UP A PHOTOSHELTER ACCOUNT – This isn’t just for archiving, although it’s great for off-site backup that you can access through the web anywhere.  I handle all my client deliveries through Photoshelter.  You can give download access to specific people, and track what they’ve downloaded.  It’s much safer than using ftp.  You can also set up stock licensing and print sales. If you want to get an account, this link will take you there.

18.  USE INVOICING/ACCOUNTING SOFTWARE – I use BlinkBid, but some people get by with Quickbooks.  Others use custom Filemaker or Excel solutions.

19.  CREATE SOME GREAT “LEAVE BEHINDS” – Starting out, you may not have the funds for a full color, 48 page booklet, but you can easily print up some small runs of well designed postcards.  After you’ve shown your book to a potential client, it’s good to hand them a “leave behind” card with one of your signature photos to remember you by.

20.  NETWORK WITH OTHER PHOTOGRAPHERS IN YOUR MARKET  – Don’t operate in a vacuum.  This is where the ASMP membership comes in handy.  Social gatherings of photo organizations, or events like workshops, or Photo Expo are a great way to meet colleagues, develop friendships, and ask questions.  You might find out about a deadbeat client to avoid, or you might get an estimating or pricing question answered.  Not everyone will be as candid, but personally, I would rather help someone than have them underprice a valuable job because they are new to the game and screw it up for everyone.  You should always keep growing and keep learning.

21.  READ NUMBER 1 ON THIS LIST AGAIN.

If you are thinking of starting a successful photography business, know that it’s a tough road filled with long days of hard work and you’ll be up against ridiculously good competition.  Remember what I said earlier, only tackle this if you really can’t imagine yourself doing anything else.   I probably can’t change the way you see things, or change the work you produce, but if you have the goods, do your homework, and put these steps into place, you’ll be in a good position for your business to succeed.

Robert Seale interview featured on FUSE Visual

I’m honored to have been recently featured on FUSE Visual, a really cool new photography website.  FUSE was founded by Cameron Davidson, an award winning veteran photographer well known for his amazing aerial photography and Leo Kahng, a northern Virginia IT genius.

The main content of the site features really interesting 5 x 5 interviews:  Five questions, and 5 photographs from photographers, editors, and other industry professionals.  It’s a great concept and is quickly becoming a must-read in the industry.

I’m flattered to be mentioned in the same breath with some brilliant photographers like Eric Meola, Jeffrey Salter, Danny Turner, Blair Bunting, and brilliant editors like Molly Roberts from Smithsonian, and Maggie Kennedy from Garden and Gun.

As Wayne and Garth used to say….”I’m not worthy, I’m not worthy….”

;-)

Check out my interview here.

Houston Corporate Photographer Robert Seale is interviewed on Fuse Visual regarding photography

Advertising Photography Concepts for Huntsman Corporation

Advertisement by Houston Texas advertising photographer Robert Seale for Huntsman insulation products.

Advertisement for Huntsman insulation products.

We’ve been fortunate to work on an ongoing advertising campaign for the Huntsman Corporation (HUN), a very large differentiated products company.  Huntsman doesn’t make products that you or I can buy in the store, but their products are everywhere…the foam in auto seats, insulation in buildings, even the soles of athletic shoes.

The challenge for Huntsman then, is showing what they do, without “selling” a specific product.  Their advertising is often BTB in trades within the industrial world, and the theme/concept for their ongoing campaign is collaboration between Huntsman and the partners who use Huntsman materials in their products.

To that end, I’ve done a few shoots for them, always collaborating with the incredible Chris Pearson, a British designer who really knows his stuff.  I’ll break down a few of the recent shoots I’ve done for them below:

In advertising photography, unlike corporate or editorial photography, you often get a very specific comp or brief.  In the old days, designers would draw the concept on paper, and after these were presented to the client, the advertising photographer was brought in to execute the idea.  These days, the comps are often “theme boards”, or “mood books” – multi page PDF presentations with a mixture of drawings, existing stock (to show mood or lighting style), and sometimes, full-on Photoshop illustrations made up of 10 or more individual photo elements….a background from here, a person from there, etc…with color changed to suit the designer’s vision of the final piece.  Sometimes there is room for collaboration and interpretation, and a good photographer always tries to give the designer what they want, but improve on the concept if at all possible.

For the first shoot, we needed to show a builder and a client looking at plans within an unfinished home highlighting a spray foam insulation product.   We used Plume Wafer 100’s with Lighttools grids on each person, lighting each model’s face.  We used a large softbox to fill the scene (very slightly) from above the camera, and a low shutter speed on a floor level tripod to open up the ambient light coming in from the window.  I used the new Canon 24 Tilt shift on this shot. (If you would like to see more lighting scenarios from previous shoots, you can find them here.)

Advertisement by Houston Texas advertising photographer Robert Seale for Grocery store shoot for Huntsman freezer insulation products.

Grocery store shoot for Huntsman freezer insulation products.

For the grocery store shoot, which was to highlight the insulation products Huntsman makes for commercial freezers, , we had to rent a large grocery store location after hours (the middle of the night!), and balance our strobes to the existing banks of fluorescents overhead.  It was a tough lighting situation, as the lights couldn’t show in the final picture.  We ended up using two large rectangular softboxes high above the camera on either side of the camera, feathered up slightly above level, and two Canon 580 speedlights inside the glass freezer cases on each side to pop a little fill on each model’s face.  A retoucher removed signage on the back wall in post.

Advertisement by Houston Texas advertising photographer Robert Seale for Stadium shoot with two soccer players for Huntsman products in athletic shoes.

Stadium shoot with two soccer players for Huntsman products in athletic shoes.

For the third shoot, we rented a large Texas high school football stadium to highlight Huntsman’s products used to create Adidas soccer shoes.  Since the theme, was one of Huntsman working together with other companies, the decision was made to show a couple of soccer players doing pre-game drills….working together on the soccer field.

Finding soccer players that looked realistic was a tall order for casting, but eventually, we found models with soccer experience, and we shot a series of drills that players might do together on the field – running, stretching, warming up, kicking a ball back and forth, and heading the ball back to each other.  Again, the emphasis was on teamwork – not competition, hence the identical uniforms.

This shoot was the most elaborate in terms of lighting.  We brought in three assistants for the shoot, and used Profoto 7A’s with Bi-tube heads and Magnum reflectors from behind the subject on high-rollers, 2 more 7A’s with large Plume 140 strip banks with grids from a slightly closer to side angle (still slightly from behind though), and a Plume Wafer Hexoval 180 feathered up slightly from high above camera.  We shot throughout sunset, and did enough takes to make the models really, really sore the next day!  A retoucher was able to duplicate the edge of the high school stands in the background and create a mirror image that made the stadium seem larger than it actually was.

In the end, the client was very happy, and we had a great time creating images for some hard to illustrate concepts.

High-tech engineering schematic of the set.....drawn with pinpoint laser accuracy.

High-tech engineering schematic of the set…..drawn with pinpoint laser accuracy.

Behind the scenes set shot, showing assistant Andrew Loehman with the 5 light setup.

Behind the scenes set shot from the soccer shoot, showing assistant Andrew Loehman with the 5 light setup.

 

 

Robert Seale photographs Leading Medicine Magazine for The Methodist Hospital System

Houston Commercial Photographer Robert Seale - Methodist HospitalI recently completed a cool corporate photography project for The Methodist Hospital System’s Leading Medicine publication.  Methodist is the official health care provider for several of the sports teams in the Houston area, among them, the Houston Astros, The Houston Texans, The Houston Dynamo MLS team, Rice University, and The Houston Ballet.

The project was coordinated by the creative team at Methodist, working with the help of an outside agency, Adcetera, here in Houston.

Among the stories we photographed for the issue, were a story on Houston Texans running back Arian Foster’s vegan diet (I think he has since recanted…), and a story on NFL quarterbacks dealing with concussions, featuring then Texans quarterback Matt Schaub.

Houston Commercial Photographer Robert Seale - Methodist Hospital

We had a lot of fun with Arian Foster and his vegan diet story.

Houston Commercial Photographer Robert Seale - Houston Texans Matt Schaub

The photo of Matt Schaub for the NFL quarterback concussion story. We used an LCD projector to project a brain image on the side of Schaub’s head.

Houston Commercial Photographer Robert Seale - Houston Texans Matt Schaub

Another view of Schaub, using the projector to generate a background of brain synapses.

For the Schaub story, we ended up trying two photos in addition to his cover shot setup:  in the first “concussion story” shot, we used an LCD projector to project an image of a brain on the side of Schaub’s head.  To make the head stand out and keep the “brain area” in mostly shadow, we used a Profoto strobe with a small softbox (a Plume Wafer 75)  on a backdrop in the background (to silhouette the head with a graduated falloff), and then another Profoto Acute 1200 from 90 degrees camera right with a 3 degree grid on a Profoto grid reflector.  This gave us a nice tight light on the face, but with a quick falloff to black so that the brain image would show well on the side of the head.   The second concussion shot was more simple, as we just projected an out of focus image of brain synapses in the background, with the same keylight on Schaub.

In addition to the inside stories we shot for the magazine, one of the ideas was to create a giant fold-out cover, reminiscent of the Vanity Fair “Hollywood issue” covers with a representative from each team/organization featured on the piece.

The tricky part was, these were eight (count em – 8!) separate photo shoots!  Planning was crucial, and just to hedge our bets, we actually created two lighting schemes that we used on each and every shoot:

-A large, soft, one light setup with a big Plume Hexoval 180 camera right – very close to the subject.

-a three light setup, with two gridded rimlit softboxes and a Plume Hexoval 140 boomed into the middle.

(Both of these lighting scenarios are shown in diagram form on a previous post about a San Antonio Spurs SI cover shoot here.)

With the help of assistant Nathan Lindstrom, we created a template on seamless during the first shoot with exact locations and measurements for all the lights.  The strobe settings, angle, and height of the lights were matched exactly on each shoot, along with focal length and camera position.  We unfolded this giant diagram at every shoot to place everything in the proper locations.

Houston Commercial Photographer Robert Seale - Methodist Hospital

The inside tri-fold cover with the 3 light setup. (L to R): Texans running back Arian Foster, Rice basketball player Jessica Goswitz, Houston Dynamo soccer player Brad Davis, Texans QB Matt Schaub, Houston Ballet’s Lauren Anderson, Olympic gymnast Chris Brooks, HS soccer star Lindsey Biggart, and Houston Astros pitcher Bud Norris.

Houston Commercial Photographer Robert Seale - Methodist Hospital Houston

The outer tri-fold cover with a one light setup. Background is a heavily retouched image provided by the ad agency.

The project went on for almost three months, due to the crazy schedules of the athlete participants.  Once the final work was completed, the Methodist team and the Adcetera team produced a marvelous, incredibly printed publication – and ended up using BOTH lighting setups – one as the outside cover foldout, and one on the inside.  The final retouching and composites were put together by the agency.

Among the really fun moments… having longtime Houston Ballet prima ballerina Lauren Anderson teach me the proper way to stretch on a ballet bar rail.  (There are photos, but hopefully, I will take them to my grave… you really DON’T want to see what that looked like!).

Behind the scenes with Houston advertising photographer Robert Seale

Crew photo at the end of the Houston Ballet/Lauren Anderson shoot: From left – Nathan Lindstrom, makeup artist Wendy Martin, Arick Chikiamco, Lauren Anderson, me, Sheshe Giddens, Melanie Fritzsche, and Hugo Perez.

Behind the scenes with Houston advertising photographer Robert Seale: Lauren's idea:  It's not every day you get to hold a world class Prima Ballerina on your shoulders.

Lauren’s idea: It’s not every day you get to hold a world class Prima Ballerina on your shoulders.

Eddie Adams Workshop 26: An Amazing Experience

Al Schaben, Adrees Latif, and Robert Seale, EAW 6, October 1993.

Al Schaben, Adrees Latif, and Robert Seale, EAW 6, October 1993.

Adrees Latif, and me, EAW 26, October 2013.

Adrees Latif, and me, EAW 26, October 2013.

Last week, I had the incredible honor of returning to speak at the 26th annual Eddie Adams Workshop in Jeffersonville, NY.   Eddie Adams was an incredible photographer, and although he was most well known to the general public as the Pulitzer-winning war photographer who took one of the most famous photographs of the Vietnam War, he was also a very successful commercial photographer, and had a long standing partnership with Parade magazine as their cover photographer for many years.

Twenty six years ago, with the help of his friends, all heavyweights in the photography world, he established the Eddie Adams Workshop, a tuition free workshop for the 100 best young photographers in the country at his farm on the edge of the Catskills in New York.  The students were either college students, or professionals with less than two years of experience, and Eddie’s vision was to give them the chance of a lifetime:  a weekend shooting and working with the best photographers and editors from the likes of Time, LIFE, National Geographic, etc.  His hope was for he and his peers to pass along their collective knowledge and to help students fast forward their careers several years by introducing them to a who’s who of the industry.

I was fortunate enough to attend the 6th EAW in 1993.  It was a formative experience for me, and it’s been incredible to watch my fellow students from that year grow and prosper in their careers.  Among my classmates, were great photographers like Alex Garcia, Adrees Latif, Allison Smith,  Chang Lee, Ami Vitale, Jay Janner, Chris Assaf, David Bergman, and the late Chris Hondros.  I wrote a little remembrance of that 6th workshop on Chicago Tribune staff photographer and EAW 6 classmate Alex Garcia’s great photography blog.

Twenty years later, I was invited back last week to speak and show my work.  It was an incredible honor, a very humbling experience, that left me nervous and intimidated.  It was incredible to hang out with many photographers who I still look up to, hang out with many talented colleagues, and to get a glimpse of our future through the eyes of this year’s students.  Eddie is gone now, but his wife Alyssa keeps inviting everyone back, opening her home to a cast of characters each year, and the great people at Nikon continue to generously fund this incredible experience.  Over the years, it really has become a family.  Some of the faculty, like the great SI editor and former Newsweek DOP Jimmy Colton, have been to virtually all the workshops, and many members of the black team (volunteers) come back year after year.

One of the things that Eddie did really well, and what really sets this workshop apart from all other photojournalism workshops and seminars, was the fact that he always wanted students to be exposed to all types of photography.  Instead of it just being a love fest among hardcore photojournalists and newspaper photographers, Eddie liked to cross pollinate with different visual genres and get your mind working.  When I was a student, we were exposed to Gordon Parks, Joyce Tenneson, and Pete Turner.  Last week, we were treated to fine art photographer Robin Schwartz, Josh Weaver from Google, advertising and fine art genius Stephen Wilkes, legendary portrait photographer Gregory Heisler, and Marco Grob, a multi-talented guy who recently added video to his repertoire of elegant portraits and still life.  You never know where your photography career will take you, and it’s great to see people communicating with photography in different ways.

 

Sport Illustrated DOP Brad Smith and former Newsweek DOP and SI photo editor Jimmy Colton getting a big welcome hug from SI staffer Robert Beck.

Sports Illustrated DOP Brad Smith and former Newsweek DOP and SI photo editor Jimmy Colton getting a big welcome hug from SI staffer Robert Beck.

Idol worship:  Me with portrait badass Gregory Heisler.

Idol worship: Me with portrait badass Gregory Heisler.

Among my favorite memories from this year:

-Being back at the farm with my old Houston Post colleague and EAW 6 classmate Adrees Latif, now a Pulitzer winner at Reuters, who was working as a team leader.

-Seeing my good friends from Sports Illustrated: DOP Brad Smith, staff photographer Robert Beck, and former editor Jimmy Colton, who makes one helluva MC/Scout leader.  I’m forever grateful for his kind words and encouragement, and for making this workshop less like a classroom seminar, and more like an intimate family gathering.

-Meeting some incredible photographers and editors for the first time:  Mary Calvert, Maura Foley, Elizabeth Krist, Bruce Strong, Gerd Ludwig, Patrick Witty,  as well as seeing some great old friends like Deanne Fitzmaurice, Tim Rasmussen, Nick Ut, and John White.

-Getting to break bread and share drinks with my ASMP colleagues Shawn Henry and Ed Mcdonald.  Their generous invitation brought me back.

-Meeting Mirjam Evers in person. She did an incredible job of producing a huge and complicated event, and graciously handled being bombarded with questions from students (and instructors!).  She is a class act.

-Watching the students trying to channel Gerd Ludwig’s scarf wearing prowess.

-Chatting with, and watching the presentation from one of my all time lighting idols, the great Gregory Heisler.

-Meeting some of the best photographers in our military, who volunteer to work on the black team: Super cool and talented  people like Jeremy Lock, Bennie Davis, Annie Berlin Elis, Etta Smith, and former military photographers like Stacy Pearsall and Bob Houlihan.

-The emotional ceremony for fallen war photographers, which now includes my EAW 6 classmate Chris Hondros, who died in Libya.

-Seeing National Geographic photographer Jodi Cobb’s autobiographical show, which encompassed her incredible globe-trotting career.

-The contagious passion of Marco Grob and John White.  I feel like I need to ramp it up after watching those two speak so passionately about the craft they love.

And my favorite part?  Helping out with portfolio reviews until the wee hours at the 11:30 club, back at the hotel.  I’m most inspired by seeing and hearing about what the latest class of EAW students are up to.  It’s fascinating to think about what they’ll be able to accomplish in the next 20 years.

(Major thanks to Eugene Mopsik, Shawn Henry, and Ed McDonald for inviting me to attend on behalf of ASMP, and to Alyssa Adams, Mirjam Evers, and Mark Kettenhofen from Nikon for graciously continuing the fine tradition of the workshop. )

Former ASMP president Shawn Henry with SF State classmate and Pulitzer winner Mary Calvert.

Former ASMP president Shawn Henry with SF State classmate and Pulitzer winner Mary Calvert.

Jimmy Colton running the proceedings at the barn.

Jimmy Colton running the proceedings at the barn.

Eddie Adams Workshop

The back porch at Eddie's barn in beautiful Jeffersonville, NY.

The back porch at Eddie’s barn in beautiful Jeffersonville, NY.

The fantastic bonfire Sunday night.

The fantastic bonfire Sunday night.

Eddie Adams Workshop

Two views of the touching ceremony for Eddie's fallen war photography colleagues.

Two views of the touching ceremony for Eddie’s fallen war photography colleagues.