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Corporate Industrial Photography for ExxonMobil 2014 Annual Report

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Long exposure of Oil and Gas facility in the Middle East under a full moon glow.

Last year we had the awesome opportunity once again to create some really interesting oil and gas photography for ExxonMobil’s corporate annual report.  I’m very proud to have worked with this incredible company for many years.  We usually have several assignments that take us around the world, and this year was no exception.  We photographed oil and gas facilities in Scotland, Belgium, The Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, and West Texas.  We also did a few days of offshore oil and gas photography in the Gulf of Mexico, shooting from helicopters and living aboard a state of the art offshore drilling platform and drill ship.

Portrait of a mechanic in Scotland.

Portrait of a mechanic in Scotland.

For the European portions of the assignment, assistant Travis Schiebel helped out and we had a lot of cool experiences, including being surrounded by sheep while shooting long evening exposures near a plant in Scotland.

After a morning sunrise shoot in Antwerp, we were having breakfast, enjoying our waffles (hey, you have to, right?),  in a sidewalk cafe, when suddenly a parade of elderly French Foreign Legion soldiers came marching through.  We were able to follow them and hear some great stories of battles in Algeria as they went on their annual barhopping jaunt through the city.  You haven’t partied until you’ve partied with 85-year-old Legionnaires.

Saudi_fishDallas assistant John Sutton helped me out in Saudi Arabia, as we photographed in three different facilities there.  I had been there a couple of years before and it was great to see old friends again.  One of our friends there prepared a wonderful traditional meal of whole cooked fried fish, which we ate with our hands while sitting together on beautiful woven rugs.  The last time we were there, we enjoyed “mandi”, a lamb cooked in a tandoor oven ground pit and served over rice.  Both were fantastic.  I’m not normally a super adventurous eater, but I’m getting better about embracing and sampling the local cuisine wherever we go.  I felt honored that locals embraced us and were thoughtful enough to share their food and culture with us.

Saudi silhouette with   incredible twilight color.

Saudi silhouette with incredible twilight color.

Oil and Gas photo shoots usually involve a lot of long days, getting up super early for sunrise, and staying until late evening for sunsets, and these fun mid-day diversions make the assignments really fun.  By the way…..the light in Saudi was incredible – fantastic sunsets, and beautiful warm early light.  One night, we were lucky enough to photograph a new facility under the light of the full moon, which provided a wonderful backlit glow to the shiny new steel plant.

When the annual reports were recently released recently, we ended up with several well designed two page spreads.  Here are a few samples below.

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First impressions with the 50 MP Canon EOS 5DS

Loose full-frame composition from a spin class shoot with the new 50MP Canon 5DS.

Loose full-frame composition from a spin class shoot with the new 50MP Canon 5DS.

Tight crop from a spin class shoot with the new 50MP Canon 5DS.

Tight crop of the same frame from a spin class shoot with the new 50MP Canon 5DS.

With the help of a generous friend at Canon, I was really excited to spend a few days last week shooting with a pre-production model of the highly anticipated, brand new Canon EOS 5DS camera. The 5DS is Canon’s newest camera, with a whopping 50MP sensor (8688 x 5792 pixels).   Many Canon shooters have been on waiting lists for several months to get one of these in their hands.

For commercial photographers, landscape photographers, and others who grew up shooting medium format film (and more recently, RENTING crazy expensive medium format digital systems), this camera is the one we’ve been waiting for, and based on my very preliminary testing, it’s a game changer on the order of the EOS 1DS Mk II.

My initial impression of this new technological development can be summed up with this classic front page from the Onion. (This is a family photo blog, so you follow the link at your own risk).

A little bit of camera history: though many of my photojournalist friends were VERY EARLY adopters of digital camera technology (anyone remember the lovely Kodak NC 2000?), most of my sports magazine shooter brethren arrived late to the digital party. Although early digital was “good enough” for newspapers and wire services, magazines still needed and demanded, high resolution images for magazine spreads and covers.

My Sporting News colleagues and I made the switch to the first EOS-1D (4.15 MP!) camera in the Fall of 2003 for most of our action photos. We clung to our medium format film cameras for portraits though, and we were still hanging Hasselblads up as remote cameras in NBA arenas as late as 2005. The original EOS-1DS (11.1 MP) was an improvement over the regular 1D, but it was slow, and still produced a file that was not up to medium format Velvia scanned on a fantastic Hell drum scanner.

The BIG game changer for me (and most of my colleagues) was the Canon EOS-1DS Mk II. I began using this camera in 2005, and it clocked in at a pretty impressive 16.7 MP (4992 x 3328 pixels). That’s roughly an 11 x 16.5 inch photo at 300 PPI. For reference – at that time, we were making 50 MP drum scans of our Hasselblad chromes.   I remember shooting a test and looking at two files, side by side on the same monitor, one shot on film, and one out of the EOS-1DS Mk II, and my colleagues and I quickly decided that this camera was the one to finally allow us to become an all-digital publication.

It wasn’t just The Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, and other magazines…..this camera changed things for just about every commercial photographer I knew. When this camera was released, the price of medium format gear dropped like the 1987 stock market crash. Waiting for Polaroids to develop became a completely unnecessary ancient photography ritual.

I went out on my own in 2006, and my EOS-1DS Mk II cameras were the cornerstone of my corporate and advertising photography business. Things quickly improved even more in 2007-8 when the EOS-1DS Mk III was announced. I sold my Mark II’s and upgraded to the new 21.1 MP chip (5616 x 3744 pixels).

I LOVED my DS bodies. I loved the professional grade finish, the weather sealing, the EOS-1 ergonomics and standardized controls, the robust build quality, and the 1/250 flash sync. When the 5D Mark II was released in 2008, I was impressed with the full HD video capabilities, but the actual still resolution was unchanged. I didn’t like the prosumer body form factor. I did not buy one.

Almost five years after the DS Mk III, Canon combined their EOS-1D lines (previously the high resolution, but slower DS and the lower resolution, but faster Mark IV) into one camera: the EOS-1DX. The 1DX is a fantastic camera: faster than hell autofocus, 12 FPS motor, great ergonomics, wonderful low light capability, and solid professional build quality….it’s awesome….BUT, wait a minute…..they went DOWN in resolution to 18.1 MP! (5184 x 3456px). A new 5D Mk III was also released, but with a disappointing 1MP upgrade over the previous 1DS Mk III.  UGH!   I eventually gave in and switched out my aging 1DS Mk III bodies for the extended dynamic range and higher ISO capabilities of the 5D3.

And there we’ve sat for the past 3 years. While Canon shooters were waiting, Nikon came out with the D800 (36 MP), and then the D810. Sony came out with their A7R (also 36 MP). I toyed with switching systems, but had a ton of money invested in Canon glass, and after testing the D800 with my Lightroom workflow, I decided that I actually preferred the color rendition of the Canon sensors better – particularly on skin tones. I also loved using the X bodies for faster moving objects, and since I use both types of cameras, I didn’t want to take another step backward in MP size since Nikon’s similar competitor to the 1DX was the D4 at an even lower 16 MP.  (Again, different cameras are tools for different needs…if you are a photojournalist shooting in low light, the 1DX or D4 might be just the camera for your needs).

All of this said, please remember that pixel counting is mostly for photo gearheads. Your clients probably don’t notice a difference between photographs shot between 16, 18 or even 22 MP. It is nice, however, to have options, and the option to recompose and do a ridiculous crop from a wider frame is pretty useful at times.

There were a couple of times where an ad agency requested bigger, non-interpolated files, and we had to rent a Phase system. The quality can be absolutely amazing, but incorporating medium format into my average job workflow definitely requires a slower, more methodical way of working.  Shutter lag was also an issue, and I had a really hard time timing shutter release delay on sports portrait images.

So after some frustration, I was excited when I began hearing rumors about Canon’s new high res baby. I was ecstatic when I finally got my hands on one in late May.

Loose full-frame composition from a tennis player shoot with the new 50MP Canon 5DS.

Loose full-frame composition from a tennis player shoot with the new 50MP Canon 5DS.

Tight crop from a tennis player shoot with the new 50MP Canon 5DS.

Tight crop of the same frame from a tennis player shoot with the new 50MP Canon 5DS.

This won’t be a scientific review, you’ll have to go to DP Review or another site for that, but I wanted to convey a few first impressions. First, if you are an EOS 5D Mk III user, this will be a seamless transition for you. Unlike virtually EVERY new camera I’ve ever purchased, the physical size of the 5DS is relatively unchanged, which means the battery grip from the Mk III is the same! It uses the same batteries and charger! That’s great news, as I can just use the same grips I already own, keep plenty of extra batteries around, and I don’t have to buy new Really Right Stuff tripod plates.  In reality, I’m told there were some physical changes made to the body – Canon strengthened the area around the baseplate and tripod screw to make the camera more stable. I’m just glad they designed it to accept the same grip and batteries.

Inside the camera, the menus are very similar, but there are a few new features, including one where you can set a slight shutter delay after mirror lockup to dampen any mirror vibration before the actual shutter release. This is very useful if you’re locking down the camera and shooting long exposures on a tripod.  Since I shoot a lot of industrial facilities stopped all the way down with 20-30 second exposures, this is something I will definitely try. (My solution, prior to this was, to hold my hand or a black card in front of the lens at the beginning of the exposure).

The flash sync is 1/160, which is very disappointing (why is 1/250 so difficult?)…..my solution to this is to use hypersync and high speed sync more and start incorporating that feature into my location work with my Profoto lighting gear.

A long overdue feature is the incorporation of a USB 3.0 port, which will be a huge help during tethered shooting. The Nikon D800/D810 have had this feature for some time.

Other than that, the 5DS and 5D Mk III are very similar, I went right to work with it without as much as reading the manual. I’ve warmed up somewhat to the 5D form factor with the grip (it still doesn’t feel quite as good as the 1DX), and I sometimes get irritated that critical buttons are in different locations than they are on the 1DX series cameras (like the button to light up the LCD display for example). For 50 MP at 3700 bucks, I’ll make that trade off gladly, but I will still hold out hope that the DX series continues in higher resolution form at some point.

It’s not exactly scientific to show you resolution testing results on a (decidedly low resolution) blog. However, I am here to tell you that this is a transformative development that we haven’t seen since that EOS-1DS Mk II. I purposely made some very loose compositions during my week with the camera, just to see what it would do, and the 200, 300, and even 400 % crops are just stunning. I’ve included some samples, but like I said, it’s hard to compare skin texture and noise from my 30” monitor to your mobile phone screen. To become a true believer, you’ll have to try it out for yourself.

This will not be my high-ISO camera, so I didn’t even test those features….everything I shot was between 50 and 250 ISO, most of it portraiture with studio strobe, and it is fantastic at those ISO’s. If I need to shoot low light, high ISO photos, I’ll use the 1DX.

Some people have asked, if Canon’s 35mm lens designs will still hold up at 50MP of resolution. Resolution that high will certainly magnify any design flaws in your glass. Again, these are first impressions, with a pre-production camera, but I feel like the results were good with my workhorse lenses: the 24-105/4L, and the latest version of the 70-200/2.8. I didn’t have time to test every lens in my bag.  I know that Canon has been steadily redesigning most of the lenses in their arsenal over the last few years with higher resolution sensors in mind.

I had no issues with filling the buffer, but I was shooting the way I usually do….portrait subjects with strobe, so I was not motor-driving like a typical sports photographer. Again, there are different tools for different jobs, and if you want to motor drive all day, you’re better served getting a 1DX.

I don’t do a ton of video, and I didn’t really test the video capabilities of the 5DS, but with the new addition of the USB 3.0 port there is now no room on the camera for a headphone jack. Those of you who are full time video shooters will want to hang on to your 5D Mk III cameras for now.

Another big question: 5DS or 5DSR? There are two models of this camera available. The normal 5DS , just like every Canon digital camera we’ve discussed, has a built in anti-aliasing filter in front of the sensor. The R has a “self cancelling” optical low pass filter. This is the same thing Nikon did by releasing two versions of the D800.   Anti-aliasing filters on the sensor inherently soften the image, but also prevent moiré patterns in things like football uniforms, herringbone suit fabrics, etc. If you shoot landscape images you might prefer the R version, as there is little chance of getting moiré patterns in that type of work. I was not able to test the two cameras against each other, so I reserve the right to change my mind, but I was pleased with the sharpness of the regular 5DS using my regular workflow, which adds a nominal amount of capture sharpening in Lightroom. I ordered the regular 5DS for now.

I’ve heard a fair amount of moaning on the internet about the “lack” of dynamic range in the 5DS. During my brief time with the camera, I had no issues, and at the risk of sounding like “HEY, you kids get off my lawn” – does anyone remember shooting Kodachrome? How much latitude did we have then, like maybe 1/3-1/2 stop? How about medium format Velvia? It was a little better, but still required critical exposure skills. There are times in the past where I’ve wished I had more range….like a portrait with a blown out sweaty forehead hotspot, or an aerial at sunset that would call for a split neutral density filter back in the old days. Honestly though, I’m pretty amazed at what we can do now with these sensors, and the amount of control I have in Lightroom with highlight/shadow sliders is nothing short of amazing.

I’m sure that the higher bit depth of a five figure medium format system results in higher dynamic range – there’s no doubt…but, keep in mind that this is a 3700.00 camera, versus a 20-50K camera, and it’s doing something amazing that’s never been done before at that price.   Sometimes it’s like hearing someone comparing the relative shortcomings of Gisele Bundchen to Alessandra Ambrosio…..when they are both supermodels! Keep things in perspective folks.

I just got word as I’m typing this that my wait-listed camera is in a Fed-X box, on the way to the studio, so I’ll definitely be reading the manual and checking out and utilizing some of the new features, but for now, I’m just blown away by the increase in resolution. This camera is a game changer.

Loose full-frame composition of the Houston skyline with the new 50MP Canon 5DS.

Loose full-frame composition of the Houston skyline with the new 50MP Canon 5DS.

Ridiculously tight crop of the Houston skyline with the new 50MP Canon 5DS.

Ridiculously tight crop of the same photograph of the Houston skyline with the new 50MP Canon 5DS.

(All photographs on this blog are © 2015 Robert Seale/All rights reserved).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Medical Healthcare photography project for Houston Methodist Hospital

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Dr. Brian Butler, working with 4-D images in Plato’s CAVE facility at Houston Methodist Hospital.

We recently completed a big Healthcare photography project, completing principal photography for six annual reports for Houston Methodist Hospital.  We spent about 10 days shooting in and around several of the hospital’s buildings in the Texas Medical Center.

Moving around a giant medical complex with our usual plethora of lighting gear was a challenge, especially with tight and ever changing physician’s schedules.

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Dr. Lidong Qin with the “V-Chip” at the Houston Methodist Research Institute.

We even ran into a couple of situations where we couldn’t use our lighting gear at all. For example, we photographed a doctor and patient near an MRI machine, which meant that we couldn’t put any lighting equipment in the room for fear of damaging the imaging machines. (We were told that our cameras, tripods, and light stands would be sucked into the machine’s magnetic vortex during an actual scan!).

Fortunately, the machine’s lights were adjustable (somewhat) from outside the room and with a tripod in the doorway we were still able to get some good pictures. Another lighting challenge was shooting actual surgeries (we were able to photograph three of them, obviously with patient consent). We had to utilize the overhead surgical lights in the room, since you can’t exactly do flash photography while a surgeon is operating. Fortunately, halogen and LED surgical lights are bright , dramatic, and many doctors prefer to turn off the ugly fluorescents in the room, which creates dark backgrounds and makes everything very dramatic in photographs.

One of our “lighting tricks” in the hospital to match today’s flat screen LED monitors is to utilize (and of course hide) various LED sources in the room to make the subject look like they are only lit with only LED screen light. One of our main tools in this, believe it or not, is the 9.00 dollar Larrylight 8 LCD flashlights . We carry lots of these, and can stick them under and around computer screens to light things up when necessary.  One of my favorite shots from the entire project was a shot of Dr. Butler in “Plato’s CAVE”, an area in the hospital with LCD projectors, and a giant interactive Ipad-like device in which doctors can combine imaging technologies into one interactive scan.  We placed these small LED lights all around the room to light the scene.

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Surgeons working in the operating room during a kidney transplant.

I always try to dress appropriately for the job. In sports, we often wear shorts and running shoes, for executives, we wear suits and ties, and in the oilfield, we wear Nomex coveralls, steel toes, and hard hats. To shoot surgeries in a hospital, I was able to fulfill my lifelong quest to wear scrubs to work!  At the Scrubs Store, near the hospital, I learned that medical duds now come in all colors and patterns, and I narrowly resisted the urge to buy Sponge Bob scrubs and stuck to basic black, to keep with my photographer persona.

Once you spend a day in these, you realize why doctors and nurses wear them all the time, even when they aren’t in surgery.

Sometimes that comfort comes at a cost. While pulling the drawstring tightly closed on my pants one morning before an important surgical shoot, I managed to snap and break the string on the scrub bottoms. Did you ever have a pair of warm-ups in high school gym class, with the string trapped inside the warm-up waist band with no hope of ever fishing it out? Well, that’s what this was like. Oh yeah, this happened with three cameras around my neck about two minutes before I was slated to be inside a surgical suite. For those who don’t know, scrubs are big and baggy (I think these had a 72″ waist or something). Without a drawstring, my scrubs would be useless, sitting around my ankles, and well…..that wouldn’t be good. Fortunately for me, a quick thinking nurse dug around in her desk drawer and found some binder clips and helped me tighten the pants up to the point that I could move around and still work without flashing the surgical team.

That harrowing incident aside, the reports turned out to be beautiful. I consider it a real treat to work with very smart people, and the staff at Methodist are all first class, from the PR and Marketing staff, to the physicians and researchers themselves.  The layouts were landscape format, with several full bleed photos of our best work. An added treat: one of the photos from our annual report shoot was selected to be in Methodist advertising.  We’re hoping to do more medical and healthcare photography projects in and around the Texas Medical Center in Houston.

I can’t wait to don my scrubs again, and this time I’ll be more careful, ensuring that the only flashing going on is from my portable strobes.

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Neurosurgeon Dr. Gavin Britz, removing a tumor from a patient’s brain.

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Examples of the full-bleed horizontal layouts in the Houston Methodist Annual Reports.

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Jordan Spieth portrait shoot in Dallas

Jordan Spieth during a studio shoot in Dallas.

Jordan Spieth during a studio shoot in Dallas.

My first job after college was a staff photographer position at The Augusta Chronicle in Augusta, Georgia.  I was only there one year, but I was able to cover The Masters and walk the unbelievably green fairways of Augusta.  It may be one of the most beautiful places in the world, and I consider myself pretty lucky to have photographed the tournament as a fledgling 24 year old sports photographer.  Augusta National is notoriously tough and very limited on credentials, but we were treated well there not only because we were the hometown paper, but also because our owner was a member.

I still remember surviving that week on pimento cheese sandwiches (one of the few concessions available there), which were cleverly wrapped in green wrappers so the course would still look pristine on TV even if patrons decided to discard their trash on the course.

I’m not a good golfer, but ever since my time there, I always watch The Masters with interest, and it was even more interesting this year since a young golfer I recently photographed was in the lead.

About a year ago I was assigned to photograph Jordan Spieth, a young PGA golfer who is now the newly crowned 2015 Masters Champion for Sports Illustrated.  It was a rainy winter day, and even though he was home and off the tour at the time of the shoot, his schedule was super tight with appointments, so we ended up renting a cool studio space at Bolt Productions in Spieth’s hometown of Dallas.  Will Rutledge assisted with the shoot, and we were able to do 5 different setups in 20 minutes.  We used a variety of setups, all with Profoto gear from Bolt.  Jordan was incredibly polite, humble and cooperative.

It was a real thrill to watch him kill it at The Masters this week – he’s got a great future ahead of him.

Tight shot of Jordan Spieth during SI photo shoot in Dallas.

Tight shot of Jordan Spieth during SI photo shoot in Dallas.

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A black and white profile of Jordan Spieth during a studio shoot in Dallas.

 

Skyline Portrait of Houston Rockets James "The Beard" Harden

Portrait of James Harden in front of the Houston skyline on Saturday, Feb. 7, 2015.  ©2015 Robert Seale

Portrait of James Harden with the Houston skyline on Saturday, Feb. 7, 2015. ©2015 Robert Seale

I’ve dreamed about shooting Houston Rockets guard James Harden for a long time. How can you go wrong with THAT BEARD? He’s just awesome looking. I wanted to pose him with ZZ Top for the last couple of years…or at least with Billy Gibbons, but alas, no one has bitten on that idea yet. (You hear that Texas Monthly? It would be a great cover, trust me….).

Anyway, the call finally came a couple of weeks ago from Sports Illustrated. Harden had a super tight schedule with the All-Star Break coming up, and the editor asked if we could put together something with the iconic Houston skyline with only 24 hours notice.

I suggested a view from the traditional western side…there are great spots along Allen Parkway and Memorial Drive where the buildings separate and line up well. Yes, it’s been done, but it really is a great angle.  (Sidebar:  I may sound like a homer, but Houston’s western skyline is among the best I’ve seen in the world – right up there with Dallas, Chicago, Shanghai, and Doha in the manner that the skyscrapers line up and separate in a photograph.  It’s the result of a late 70’s-early 80’s skyscraper building boom that hasn’t been matched in the US since.)

The editor already had a specific view in mind (slightly north a bit, but also very nice – and much closer to the buildings), and we referenced a rooftop fashion shot I had taken a few years earlier from that same spot.  On the plus side when using a parking garage roof, you can control access which is a plus when working with a pro athlete.  If we had done this out in the park, we might have gathered a crowd and needed more security guys.

While the editor was pitching the idea to the Rockets, I called the building with the rooftop parking deck we had used a few years earlier to ask for permission. Then I went by to see the manager in person and deliver a check for a location fee. Done.

I researched the shoot from a few years earlier and put in calls to my Plexiglas shop and found out they didn’t have what we needed, but could ship it in by noon the next day from Dallas. Done.

James Harden SI cover by Robert Seale.

James Harden SI cover by Robert Seale.

Then another call to a GCG Productions, a stage company I used previously on that fashion shoot to build another stage platform for the Plexiglas sheets. I keep all my emails so I just looked up the email from 7 years earlier and found my stage company buddy George. George is awesome – and luckily he was available. Done.

I booked Travis “cowboy truck” Scheibel and Michael “MacGyver” Klein as assistants. Two of the best in Houston, or anywhere for that matter. Done.

After all that scrambling to get ready in record time, the weather took a turn for the worse, and the shoot was moved to Saturday (on the Rockets suggestion, no less!). Actually, it was a good thing….I knew that our first window on Thursday would be cloudy and our chances were looking much better for good weather on Saturday. The shot wouldn’t really work on a totally cloudy evening. We had to then rebook everyone for the Saturday evening shoot….fortunately the stars aligned, everyone was available, and the location was still ours.

Travis rigged up an ingenious method for transporting the large sheets of Plexi vertically in his truck between sections of heavy MDF board with lots of clamps and ropes to keep the Plexi from bending or getting bowed. I leave the rigging/knot-tying Eagle Scout stuff to Travis and Michael, since I never made it past my Webelo badge.

The James Harden spread as it appeared in SI.

The James Harden spread as it appeared in SI.

We set up Saturday afternoon several hours before the shoot to test. You may be asking why we built a stage with plexiglas on it?  The simple reason is, parking garages, or most roof structures for that matter usually have a waist or chest high border around them, which destroys your look for a full length photo.  Building a stage solves the problem, and puts the subject up high enough to get rid of the unsightly “lip” around the edge of the building.  Why plexiglas?  Because the parking garage is white concrete, and it’s ugly….that and I’m a sucker for reflection pictures….just ask Travis.  He jokes that if there is a 1′ x 1′ mud puddle on the ground somewhere, I’m usually laying next to it trying to shoot the reflection.  I’m a weirdo, I know.

We also set up a separate backdrop off to the side of the platform, just an 8 x 8 Scrim Jim to do some tight portraits of James as requested by the editor. The skyline would make a nice spread, and the tight portrait showcasing the beard would make a great cover (if we were lucky!).

It was super windy on the roof by the appointed shoot time, and I was fortunate that a couple of strong guys from George’s stage company agreed to help us out to steady ropes and function as human sandbags for us. Michael Klein, who literally has an entire grip truck in his Toyota SUV, dug around and came up with rigging for a wind break around our backdrop so:

A.) Harden wouldn’t freeze, and….

B.) So our background and lighting gear wouldn’t get blown off the roof.

He also built us a super boom, which came in handy considering Harden is 6’5”, and he was over 4 feet in the air on the stage platform. Getting the lighting up high was critical.

About the lighting: on the Plexiglas shot, I used a Profoto B4 on a Plume Wafer 100 with a 30 degree grid. We could have gone with a bigger light modifier, but I wanted the light to fall off and not contaminate our plexi reflection with a giant hot spot. On the tight cover shot, we used all Profoto (one B4 and two 7B’s I think).  There was no power on the roof, but with all the battery powered Profoto units, we were ok.

Our crew setting up the plexiglas stage on the rooftop parking garage.

Our crew setting up the plexiglas stage on the rooftop parking garage.

Timing was critical – we only had 20 minutes with Harden to get both shots, and predicting the cool after sunset glow on buildings is not an exact science.  I figured it was ideal somewhere between 6:12 and 6:23pm.  If Harden arrived early, we would start with the tight headshot portrait, and if he was late we would reverse the setups.

We had an audience for the shoot, including Harden’s bodyguard, his nephew and mom (who’s a fun lady!), my wife, who was shooting some BTS video for us, the Rockets media relations director, and finally, James himself.  He was a little early, so we got the plain backdrop out of the way first, and then moved on to the plexi platform.

After watching cloud cover all day, we were lucky and the clouds parted just an hour before sunset for a fabulous magenta purple afterglow. The magazine repro’d a bit on the blue side, but that’s printing. SI Art Director Chris Hercik did us proud again with a nice classy layout for the cover and spread.

After Harden left, the crew had fun taking turns taking photos on the stage.

Now, if I can just find Billy Gibbons’ phone number for the next time…..hmmmmm.

Here's the simple Scrimjim backdrop with windbreak to keep it secure on the roof.

Here’s the simple Scrimjim backdrop with windbreak to keep it secure on the roof.

The Doolittle Raiders Final Toast

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Three of the remaining four Doolittle Raiders at the Final Toast in Nov. 2013 at the US Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio. Left to right: Sgt. David Thatcher, Col. Ed Saylor, and Col. Richard Cole.

After photographing the Doolitle Raiders reunions on several occasions, I was very honored when I was asked to photograph the Final Toast ceremony for the Raiders at the Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio, on Nov. 8-9, 2013.  I’ve written about the Doolittle Raiders and their historic contributions in WW II on the blog before here and here, so I won’t go through the entire history again here.

One of the interesting things about The Raiders is that they gathered together every year since the end of WW II, gradually dwindling in numbers each year.  They eventually made a pact, sealed with a bottle of unopened Cognac from the year of Doolittle’s birth (1896), that they would continue to toast their fallen comrades each year until they were down to the last two Raiders, and at that time, the last two survivors would open the bottle and do a final toast.  Each crew member had a silver goblet housed in a special traveling case with their name engraved right side up, and upside down.  Deceased crew members from the previous year had their goblets turned upside down in a moving but very private ceremony that only the other Raiders attended each year.

After their 71st reunion in 2013, there were four of the original group left:  Col. Richard Cole, Sgt. David Thatcher, Col. Ed Saylor, and Lt. Col. Robert Hite, who has not been well enough to attend the last several reunions.  With the survivors all in their mid to late 90’s, the possibility existed that perhaps they might not be well enough to travel, or, God forbid, perhaps they all might pass in the same year, thus losing any chance for the culmination of the Raider tradition.  The remaining survivors made the decision to go ahead and complete the final toast in Nov. 2013 on Veteran’s Day weekend at the U.S. Air Force Museum, in a semi public  event attended by the top brass of the Air Force, and many of the Raider’s families and friends.  It was a bittersweet occasion, but one I wouldn’t have missed for the world.  I was lucky to be accompanied on the trip by my good friend and overqualified photo assistant John Simmons.

I was lucky to make a couple of portraits of the remaining three Raiders, and of the toast ceremony.  On this Veteran’s Day a year later, I raise my glass to these brave men, and to their great contribution that changed the course of World War II.

The Final Toast at the US Air Force Museum.

The Final Toast at the US Air Force Museum.

 

 

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.

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.