Thursday, June 30, 2011

An 'Image Creator' No More: My New Photography Business Plan - Part 2

PLEASE NOTE: this is Part 2 of a two-part post (eh, hence the name). I strongly recommend you read Part 1 first.

Let me resume my discourse on the demise of the "image creating" business by first admitting I pulled a Jedi Blog Trick in that first post. I painted a dire, dramatic sky is falling picture of the photography business that may have startled some. While fairly accurate, it only gave you a tiny piece of the big picture, and represents just part of a much larger industry.

The ASMP Director Eugene Mopsik commentary column I quoted from is aimed (as is ASMP itself) primarily at commercial editorial and advertising photographers whose main income comes from licensing their published work.

These are the professionals who are most in need of re-inventing themselves. The group that is seeing their older, traditional business plans crumble as a result of the digital imaging revolution. Over the years, much of my work has fallen under this category.

There are many other types of photography-related businesses and careers. For those of you moving along a slightly different path, you may find that opportunities abound, and the health of your niche in the imaging world may indeed be robust. It is, after all, a very complicated and fluid business.

To reiterate the main point of Mopsik's column, for this specific group of photographers:

Survival is contingent on the establishment of multiple income streams...

Now, this advice fits me to a T, and it is exactly where my head has been "at" for quite a few years now. It is just reassuring to see it spelled out by a respected industry professional. Makes me feel I'm not alone in this battle.

So, with that in mind, here is my New Photography Business Plan, which as I just said, is not really new, but as we enter the second half of 2011, is worth re-focusing on.

FASHION - This is one of my biggest gambles. I have not shot a serious editorial fashion project in over five years. That's an eternity in the business, and it's due in part to the poor market (and attitude) here in Central Florida.

Still, I think enough progress has been made here recently that, with all the great shoot ideas I have rattling around in my head, the time has come to have another go at it. The plan is to test, shoot for Style Bedlam Magazine (see below), and hopefully that will lead to editorial and advertising print work. I feel my renewed effort will either open up the floodgates to an exciting new chapter in my career, or end up just being another lesson in futility.

VIDEO - This what really has me psyched, and it ties in nicely to my return to fashion. Still shooters have been making the transition to video for quite some time now, and if they haven't already, many will need to eventually in order to survive.

I am not freaked out or intimidated by this in the least, for reasons I will cover thoroughly in a future blog. Let's just say that my years of storytelling and thinking cinematically with my still work gives me many of the skills needed to direct and produce motion. I don't see this replacing my still shooting, but rather supplementing it.

STYLE BEDLAM MAGAZINE - An enormous web project for the fall of 2011. It ties in directly to the two things listed above. Starting my own online publication, however humble, is the ultimate self-assignment experience. I am trying to make this a complete magazine with fashion editorials, music and art features, and whatever the hell else I can throw in there that's slightly off-kilter. It will hopefully provide the perfect vehicle for me to network and collaborate with creatives from many different fields and markets. And, it will serve as my premiere marketing tool.

STOCK PHOTOGRAPHY - I hate stock photography. I have always hated stock photography. It is the polar opposite of everything I have learned to shoot over my career. Most stock is generic and anonymous. And in this micro stock market, it pays pennies. That being said, in today's WWW world, and considering the vast amount of archive images I have, plus the fact that most micro stock web sites allow you to join for free, it makes no sense for me not to offer an assortment of my photography as stock. A modest amount of effort to set everything up, and the web makes the work available to potential clients 24/7/365.

ZAZZLE - DEVIANT ART - FINE ART AMERICA - ETSY - Despite the lack of success of my gallery work since I've relocated (another strike against Central Florida), it fuels my soul too much for me to give up on it. And so I continually go in search of other, more worthy markets. The web has made that much, much easier. The names you see listed here are all art & design online stores, and they all allow me to easily market and sell my work in one form or another. All over the world. All free (or for a nominal listing fee). Persistence with these sites produces results. Wish I could say the same thing for where I live.

PHOTOGRAPHY WORKSHOPS - I have taught photography on and off in the past, and currently give away a tremendous amount of free advice and information on web forums, my Facebook Page, and now this blog. But there is a part of me that feels I can market myself a bit better and in a more structured environment by offering actual professional workshops. Again, I would tie this in to my fashion and portrait work, with the emphasis on studio lighting. It is very tempting, as I get a lot of satisfaction from teaching, but will require a lot of work on my part as well.

Well, that's the gist of it. I have an assortment of other art or photo-related projects designed to produce income, but these are the major categories that I'm concentrating on. A shotgun approach to be sure, and one that will require a lot of juggling, but one that I am confident will work. And the irony of it all is that I will remain an image creator, and that sure is a relief...

All photos ©Steven Paul Hlavac.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

'The Mouth That Roared' Is Here To Stay...

In this New Digital Dawn, everyone and their cousin thinks they're an expert on social media and how to use it effectively. Especially when it comes to business.

And, as much as I enjoy hearing a wide variety of opinions and views on most anything, I rarely take someone's advice on such important matters at face value. Rather, I kinda soak it all in, repeat my mantra of "consider the source" a few times, then try to decide if it makes any sense for my situation.

Many of us have very different business and career goals, so a blanket or one-size-fits-all policy on how to harness the vast array of social media resources out there is rarely going to be the best one to latch on to.

Yet, every so often a precious nugget of wisdom that would appear to be universal rises to the surface, so I greedily grab it with both hands, and simply wonder why anyone would not want to add it to their toolbox.

What am I talking about? A quote from a true social media expert (at least IMO) that basically gives me the green light to do what I do best, and tells me I will very likely be more successful for doing it.

Now, I must apologize, as I cannot remember where I read this or who even said it. I know that's bad, and I would love to give them the credit they deserve, but truth is, for the sake of this post, it doesn't really matter.

And so I will paraphrase heavily...

This person basically said that the key to effective use of social media is to have an impact: project your knowledge and personality in a fun and large way that sets you apart, gets people's attention, and makes them want to participate in what you have to offer.

Fun and large way. Makes them want to participate. Interact. Establish a dialogue...

I know what you're thinking. How is that profound? Everyone offers that advice. It's just common sense. True, but I haven't gotten to the profound part yet.

This person goes on to say that the single biggest mistake someone can make using social media is to abandon that boisterous voice and softly water down their message in an attempt to be all things to all people.

Water down their message in an attempt to be all things to all people.

As someone who has been guilty of doing that very thing on my Facebook Page, this pronouncement quickly got my attention.

The worlds of commercial and fine art photography are truly wonderful, with great rewards for those that have the talent and the work ethic to stay the course. But they are also highly competitive, often superficial and petty, and absolutely cutthroat at times.

I believe in a strong sense of self and purpose, the art of defending and persuading, sticking to my guns, and most importantly, fighting the good fight when its called for. It's called debate, and I think we are all the better for it when done properly and with respect.

Still, not everyone has the stomach for these sorts of battles, which is why overly defensive and soft and fuzzy I'm OK! You're OK! personalities abound on the web, at least when it comes to photography, with the message that no one should dare say anything the least bit critical, lest we hurt someone's feelings.

My mistaken reaction to this "everyone's photography is awesome" mentality has been to soften my stance, in effect lower my standards so as not to ruffle anyone's feathers, in some misguided attempt to get as many people to like me as possible.

While this game plan did in fact win me many new fans, it also effectively muffled much of my personality and voice, effectively blending me back into the crowd with all the other "nice" people. And in some ways I was miserable because of it.

The world of mediocrity was being shoved down my throat, and I was suppose to muzzle myself and not speak up.

So, you can only imagine how liberating my social media friend's magnificent words were to read and ponder. It was literally a glorious validation of my very heart and soul.

Don't get me wrong. I don't take this as a license to be mean-spirited or hurtful. I have never been, nor never will be those things. It is possible to be critical in a constructive way and still remain nurturing and positive. Trust me on this one...

But what it does is give me permission, better yet, tell me it's my sworn duty to stir things up!

You heard me. STIR THINGS UP...

In my book, yeah that means maybe smacking people around verbally on occasion, but always in a thoughtful or maybe humorous way, the goal being to help those that truly seek it and want to grow in this business. It is absolutely acceptable to point out someone's mistakes in an attempt to help them learn from them.

And so, with all due pomp and fanfare, I hearby declare that I WALK ON EGGSHELLS NO MORE!

Some of you will thank me for this later...

Monday, June 27, 2011

An 'Image Creator' No More: My New Photography Business Plan - Part 1

I was pouring through the latest issue of the ASMP Bulletin (American Society of Media Photographers), and there in Director Eugene Mopsik's commentary column, it hit me. Square in the face. The "inconvenient truth", one I have tried desperately to avoid facing for so long, reared its ugly head and looked me straight in the eye.

According to Mopsik,
"Recent changes in the industry, economy, and society have created a perfect storm — the transition to digital capture, digital distribution, the explosion of digital media outlets, the rise of the talented amateur, all coupled with a dilution of effective copyright protection have made it virtually impossible for a commercial photographer to sustain a career solely as an image creator."

Please read that last part carefully.

Virtually sustain a career solely as an image creator.

If true, that, my friends, is a bit of dream-killer. A snuffer, if you will, of one's long-time career goals and lifelong passion. Including mine.

In layman's terms - simply the end. Game over. Give it up. Time to get a real job...

Now, normally someone in my position - a longtime freelancer, struggling but determined to get my career rolling again - would read this "doomsday prophecy" from a knowledgeable industry insider, and immediately get nauseous, light-headed, and quite possibly faint. Or maybe cry a little. After all, who would blame me for taking this news badly?

I had become The Little Engine That Couldn't...

Fortunately, I am a "glass is half full" kinda guy. Not only that, but I can actually see the waiter coming over to fill it the rest of the way. Let's just say I try to stay extremely positive, even under the most stressful and challenging circumstances that life throws at me.

I continued reading...

Mopsik goes on to say,
"While the photography community is working diligently to navigate this new world and take advantage of the enormous new opportunities it presents, the print-to-pixel revolution has been as disruptive to professional photographers as it has been to publishing and electronic media. For many, survival is contingent on the establishment of multiple income streams."

Well, there you have it! Mopsik's dire observation is quickly tempered with a logical and hopeful solution!

I'm saved! We are all saved! Huzzah!

Seriously, it is worth repeating:

Survival is contingent on the establishment of multiple income streams.

And with that declaration nestled firmly in my brain, the "real" truth finally emerged, and I realized it was not inconvenient at all.

Nothing Mopsik disclosed was a surprise to me, let alone a shock. Deep inside, I knew his words were true, and had known for quite some time. In fact, the writing on the wall had taken place literally years ago. At least if you were paying attention...

So, to salvage my sagging career, it is not a question of suddenly taking his advice to heart and coming up with a new plan to "establish multiple income streams", but rather just keep working on the plan that I already have in place. A plan that I'm pretty damn sure will work.

And what exactly is that plan? Well, to learn that, you'll just have to wait for Part 2...

Sunday, June 26, 2011 Studio & Lighting Forum Is The Place To Be...

I'm the moderator with my pocket calculator...

Do you use lighting in your photography? Of course you do. What a silly question. That's what photography is. But do you use artificial lighting in your photographs? Well, chances are you do that as well.

If that's the case, I'd like to mention that I moderate the fun and informative
Studio & Lighting Forum on the always spectacular web site.

The forum is a great place to learn or share information on lighting, as well as all things related to working in the studio. All are welcome and made to feel comfortable, from the absolute newbie to the seasoned, veteran pro. Topics discussed range from choosing new lighting gear, lighting setups for particular shots, inexpensive alternatives to pricey studio grip equipment, and of course troubleshooting individual problems with your lighting or studio setup. Trust me, there's a little something for everyone.

My job, of course, is to keep everyone in line, and to make sure we all play nice. Not too difficult with the great group of members we have on the site. And registration is free...

With my return to shooting editorial fashion in the coming months, I plan on spending much more time on the forum, and will be making it a priority to share my shoots and how they were planned and carried out.

What better time to come aboard and be a part of it?

Saturday, June 25, 2011

"Endeavor To Persevere..."

Sometimes this simple quote is enough to keep me going. Especially considering the original source...

Spoken by wonderful Native American actor Chief Dan George's character Lone Watie in the classic Clint Eastwood western, The Outlaw Josey Wales, it has become one of those larger-than-life movie quotes taken from Hollywood but applied often to real life. George's role in the picture, while played mostly for deadpan comic effect, closely mirrors that of actual American Indians throughout our history.

And so, for him to continually utter the phrase in the face of his monumental struggle, it becomes easy to transfer it and its meaning to the more mundane challenges we face in our modern lives.

Endeavor to persevere. Strive to make the effort. Keep on keepin' on. Never give up. However you want to package the words, they remain a potent reminder.

Not of the solution. But of those first steps towards it...

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Hit A Roadblock With Your Portrait Photography? Let's Round Up The Usual Suspects...

I taught a handful of photography subjects during my time living in South Florida, from black & white film and print processing, to studio lighting, to photo composition and critique. All were satisfying, as they helped open up new worlds to students, giving them tools to further their work, sometimes in surprisingly wonderful ways. But the most enjoyable by far were my classes on photo composition.

Sure, the equipment can be fun, the shooting can be fun, and the process can be fun, but what I tend to cherish most about photography is viewing and talking about photos. My photos. Your photos. Their photos.

And so, with that in mind, I'd like to pass along a little easy-to-remember visualization tool for making your photos (especially your people shots) stronger. I came up with this technique years ago, and it was usually the very first thing I taught my students. Not to brag, but sometimes the improvement of their images between the first class and the second was dramatic. Kind of like flipping a switch. Even if you've been doing this photography stuff for a while, you may find it helpful.

Start by picturing one of the most straight-forward, flat, unemotional, boring visual scenes out there: your typical police lineup. Here's a very well-known example:

Now, just for a second, try to ignore the fact that these are Hollywood actors projecting oddball personalities as part of the plot of the movie. If these were just your "average Joes" rounded up and used for a standard police lineup, trust me, this would be a very boring picture.

As I'm sure you realize, a police lineup intentionally lacks any kind of visual style. It is evenly lit, the subjects are evenly and symmetrically spread out, standing straight up and looking eyes forward, expressionless. They are all the exact same distance from the viewer. Everything is in focus. It's sole purpose is to impart clear and accurate information to the viewer.

Ok, now the fun part. If you start with this bland composition, any deviation from it will result in a stronger and more interesting photo. Think about that...

So, take your pick. Raise or lower your camera angle? The shot gets stronger. Angle your background so it recedes into the frame? The shot gets stronger. Group multiple subjects closer to one another asymmetrically or at different heights or distances? The shot gets stronger. Have your subjects interact and show emotions? The shot gets stronger. Throw parts of your scene out of focus? Move your light source around? Well, you get the idea...

That's really all there is to it. When you pose your subjects in photos, if you're struggling with your composition, try to keep the image of a police lineup in your head, and avoid its compositional pitfalls at all costs. Even if your portrait is of a single person, the visualization will usually hold true.

Class dismissed...