Photography business

Did I just talk myself out of a job?

It’s been a busy week. I’ve had four requests for estimates and they all have the potential to turn into real jobs. I get a fair about of requests for quotes but a lot of those calls are just people looking for a dollar amount. Their decision is largely based on budget. Quality, style, the right photographer are all trumped by the all mighty dollar. This week I had conversations with all of of these potential clients and even though all the conversations were promising, I could have talked myself out of a job in every case.

Job one is head shots for an actor. I was referred by a friend and fellow photographer. I’m always willing to help a friend and referral but the reality is that I’m not an “actor’s head shot” photographer.  Our conversation started with me asking some questions about what she was looking for and her goals for the images. During our conversation I was honest with her, I don’t specialize in actor head shots. That’s the truth. There are a ton of great head shot photographers that live and breathe actor’s head shots. If she felt she needed that type of experience then I’d rather her find one of those photographers and be happy rather than leaving our shoot feeling like her money was not well spent.  A rising tide lifts all boats right? If she’s happy with hiring a professional photographer she’s likely to tell her friends and do it again.  During our conversation it came out that she had already had two bad experiences with head shot photographers and now was searching for a photographer based on style.  She liked my style, she could afford my rate and the conversation ended with promise.

Job two was to shoot a static image of a furniture manufacturer’s building. They found me via google. They have been using an architectural rendering on their site in lieu of a photo. The owner thought a photo of the building would be better than the sterile and slightly fake rendering. The sad truth is that the rendering would be better than my photo. It was created with perfection in mind. A photo brings back the ugly reality of shooting an industrial building; there are power lines, imperfect landscaping, changes in color of the concrete, painted lines in the parking lot and other unsightly items that will need to be addressed. During the initial emails I was honest about those realities. This honesty, like the first scenario, is about managing client expectations. My client needs to know ahead of time that those ugly powerlines will be in my photo unless I remove them in photoshop. They need to know that there is only so much I can do to make the photo different from the rendering. Despite (or maybe because of) my honesty they had me in to talk about the shoot. Turns out my concerns were not only noted but voiced by the graphic designer that was in charge of hiring the photographer. She mentioned that another photographer that they asked for a quote didn’t mention any of these pitfalls.

Job three is a look-book shoot for an upcoming fashion line. Six models, on-location lifestyle photography plus catalog and product shots. Like every other email I get when someone asks how much I charge my response is to ask questions.

How long will it take? Where are we shooting? What do you expect or want as a result of the shoot?

During my conversation with the fashion client I brought up a lot of  points other photographer’s hadn’t mentioned. Once again my honesty and willingness to help with the process was noted. Did I just give her advice and ideas to take to the next photographer so that he can under bid me? Maybe, but I don’t care. If she doesn’t want to hire me then she’s not the right client for me.

Job four is for a client that’s asked me for estimates on numerous occasions but our schedules have never lined up. The initial email described the day as eight hours and “mostly portrait shots”.  Once again I asked a lot of questions about the shoot. How many subjects, how many locations, what kind of portraits, how many images will be retouched and delivered? Without those answers I’m doing my client and myself a disservice. Turns out that the job involves three locations, twelve subjects, two magazines, environmental and static portraits and by estimate will take twelve hours before I even sit down at  a computer.

My job as a professional is to use my experience to help my clients. Even if these people haven’t hired me yet I want them to be informed about what I do, what I can’t do and what is to be expected if they hire me. With the information upfront it helps to make sure everyone is on the same page and that we both are happy with the results.

Since I stared this draft I booked and shot job number one. The shoot turned out well. I may have talked myself out of job number two (industrial building) but I’d rather them not hire me than hire me and be displeased. They thanked me and vowed to keep me in mind for future projects. The fashion client is a maybe and so far radio silence from client four. 


Jordan Colton Motion Portraits

I started shooting behind the scenes video during shoots (while the model was in hair and makeup) to give me something to do. On most occasions a model will spend 60-90 minutes in the chair which gives me a lot of free time. The more I shoot and edit this footage, the more I learn. I learn by doing. I’d make a video and get to edit and realize it would have been better if…. Next time I made sure that “if” was taken care of. On this particular occasion it meant getting some more action direct to the camera as opposed to finishing the video with stills from the shoot.

This was shot back in June with Jordan Colton and Stacey Ellis. stacey has recently started a new venture. Be sure to check her out at Ellis Salon


The power of working for “FREE”

Kyara Tyler with body paint on custom damask packdrop painted with Krink by Meex1 (seth Wilder). Full page ad for in So God Magazine

Kyara Tyler

When I shot this photo. I was working for free. Seth painted the wall for free. I paid for the supplies and installed the wall, for free. Seth used his own paint. Seth painted the wall on a separate occasion from the shoot.  I shot and edited the video for free. Kyara was paid, but if this were a circus she would have been paid in peanuts.

From that free shoot we licensed this image to who ran it as a full page ad in So Good Magazine. We split the money and got a nice tear sheet out of it. Seth sold a print at an art show. A plastic surgeon contacted me for an assignment after seeing the video of the shoot. His website and office will be decorated with images shot by me. My lab will make hundreds off my prints. A fine art framer in Australia will make thousands when they frame the prints. All in all I can directly correlate about $50,000 in income as a result of that one FREE shoot. Don’t get me wrong, not every test and for-fun shoot results in income.  If there isn’t value in working for free I wouldn’t do it.

More than any other industry I can think of the the creative industry is built on the backs of free labor. It goes by numerous names:  tests, trade, TFP, TFCD, intern, spec, portfolio, for credit, for my reel…We all do it. As long as I find benefit in working for free I will continue to do so. As I mentioned, I’m getting paid, it’s just not always in the form of dollars.

If you haven’t already read Malcom Gladwell’s book The Outliers he introduces the concept that excellence comes from practice, lots and lots of practice. He refers to it as the 10,000 hour rule; excellence comes after practicing/doing for 10, 000 hours. As a freelance creative how am I supposed to reach 10, 000 hours unless I create my own assignments? How does a photographer, filmmaker or graphic artist practice? By working for free.

I first learned the value of working for free when I interned during college. I interned for Merrill Lynch and learned first and foremost that I DID NOT want to be a stock broker financial adviser.  The next lesson I learned was that interning is about building relationships, not “learning”. I didn’t gain knowledge at Merrill; I made contacts. Those contacts and relationships led to me getting a job and building a successful career as an analyst.

When I was first started to shoot I needed subjects. I started with my friends, then I moved on to testing with models, makeup artists and stylists. We would work for trade; I’d shoot images for our respective portfolios and in turn they would model, style, do hair, or makeup for me. It’s a win win. I get to practice my craft, experiment, test new equipment all while building relationships and making new contacts. Am I working for free? Yes, but there is a huge intangible value I have gained by doing the work. First and foremost I got better at photography.  In a lot of cases the relationships I made led to paid job. I shoot for free only when I know there is some value in me doing the work. If you can’t see value in doing something similar, might I suggest a new pair of glasses?



The rules of photography portfolios and websites

When I started to get serious about my photography I took a class/seminar about building a portfolio. This was in 2005. I had been shooting long enough that I had amassed a body of work that I thought was worth showing and wanted someone else’s opinion on how best to present my work in hopes of booking jobs. The class was worthwhile and I left with some good information; I also left with some misinformation. I don’t remember hearing much constructive criticism during my portfolio review. One note was that I was shooting too many landscape images and if I wanted to shoot for magazines I should shoot more portrait shaped images to match the layout of magazines. When I think back to my “skill” level in 2005 and look back at the photos I was making around that time,  most of them were shite and it makes me wonder about the validity of  her advise during my review.  Did she not want to tell me my photos sucked because I payed for the review? Or because I was in a “class” with other photographers on the same level were mine were slightly better than the rest?

The photography industry is rife with people ready to give advise and tips.  Some of the advise and education is free and invaluable. Some costs money yet is still a huge value.  Look to CreativeLive and Strobist for great and usable photography know-how and education. One is free the not really free but a huge value.  Along with an industry of photographers trying to sell me advice there are tons of trade magazines with full of industry “standards” and suggestions…How to show your work, what to put in your portfolio, how much to show.

In that portfolio review in 2005 the photography consultant cautioned about showing more than one image of the same person in my portfolio. Up until recently I adhered to that but as of late I call bullshit.  Case in point; Devon. I met and first shot Devon in 2009. In the past four years we’ve shot together six times and every time we’ve worked together we both come away with great images.

There are a handful of other actors and models that I share the same experience with. When I’ve got a relationship with someone and we work well together I tend to work with them over and over since I know the results will be great. Why not show multiple images of the same person in my portfolio or on my website? That rule was dumb.

I bring this up because as I grow and learn about myself and my photography I have begun to make my own rules based on my own experience and information.

As much as I hate updating my websites I’m due for an overhaul. Stay tuned and plan on seeing more than one image of the same person. Especially Devon.

June 2009


October 2011


November 2011


June 2012


July 2012


February 2013


I want you to have something you can touch

I currently have 585 photos on my iPhone. I love my iPhone. It’s an amazing tool to have in my pocket; so much so that it’s the camera I use the most when I’m not being paid by someone.  When it comes to dragging a seven pound chunk of metal to Grace’s ice skating lesson I’d rather just reach into my pocket and pull out my phone. If you think the quality isn’t up to par, the following photo was printed at 20×16.  I bring this up because, like me, the majority of my clients have hundreds of photos on their phones and in their digital library that they never do anything with. If you are like me, most of those images don’t see the light of day. Maybe a couple end up on a blog or on Facebook, some end up on Instagram but for the most part they are left in digital purgatory and after a few months the special moment you wanted to document is lost. I took it as we were heading out the door to have our family portraits shot.

Like most two year olds, Charlie doesn’t smile for the camera. He gets uncomfortable and goofy and often moves his eye-line away from the camera. This moment was special because both of my kids looked great…at the same time… and in the same photo.  I love seeing this every time I walk in the door. It’s a reminder and a keepsake.

Charlie & Grace – 16×20 Gallery Block – shot w iPhone 5


When it comes to hiring me to shoot your wedding, children, family portrait, fill in the blank; I want you to leave with something you can touch and cherish. This is a 16×24 Giclee canvas I recently made for a client.


16×24 giclee canvas


In 2011 I started using this image of Tutu  in my promo material. When Tutu’s mom saw the mounted 18×12 print she loved it. I asked her what she did with the CD of files she purchased from me; she confessed that she hadn’t made time to do anything with them.  Life is full; we all get busy….I want your experience with me to be easy and result in photos hung in your house that make you smile when you stop to look at them.


Tutu – Manhattan Beach 2010


I shot this (riveting) video to show the results of one of the hard cover press printed books I offer. This is the fourth book in a row I’ve made for this client and when I dropped this off she remarked how special they are and that  she loves having them to look back on.


By handing over a disc or a digital file I am handing you work. It means you have to make the prints, buy the frames, frame the prints, send Grandma a copy of the prints…..I don’t want your experience with me to be sullied by the stress of  added work after the shoot is over. This is the reason I offer the products and services that I do. I want you to enjoy your photos. Granted clients still want copies of their digital files which are available, but as a photographer I want you to have something you can touch.





2012 A Look Back

A few years ago I made a slideshow using  photos from every assignment I shot during the year. The idea stuck and has become a great way for me to reflect on what I did right and what I did wrong during the year. 2012 was both challenging and incredibly rewarding. All of those experiences brought one theme to the forefront – Family is Everything. And by family I’m not limiting myself to the family I was born into or married into. It’s the people that I have chosen to surround myself with. This year we have had the warm blanket of family wrapped around us when we needed it and we were able to be that same blanket of warmth and strength for others when they needed it. This year was life-changing for so many of our friends and loved ones.

Over the past couple years I’ve skipped using photos of my family in the slideshow, after all they weren’t paid assignments and so many were just snapshots. This year I’ve included them because my wife and kids are my world and are definitely the most photographed subject in my life. I also opted to include more than one image from the assignments. Limiting myself  to one single image per shoot didn’t represent the scope and the fruits of my labor.

As with every slide show I always struggle with music. Each year I want to use a song that I fell in love with during the year. This year there were a couple of contenders.

Mumford & Sons – I will wait
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – Thrift Shop I dare you to not bounce your head while listening to this song. I was bouncing  my head for a couple weeks before I even listened to the words.
Ryan Adams – From The Ashes   In January NPR streamed a pre-lease of this entire album. I listened to it over and over until the day it was released. Go buy it directly from his label/website. 
Walk the Moon – Anna Sun  
This is probably my favorite song on the album but I opted for Tightrope becaue it matched the tempo I wanted for the slideshow.


For those of you that supported me and helped me create this year I owe you a world of thanks. Without you I’d be stuck behind some desk.

Year End Review Slide Show 2012 from Chuck Espinoza on Vimeo.