Cheapskates Posts

Creatives: Beware of Contest Rights Grabs

Copyright 2012 Blake J. Discher

In an effort to hone my motion skills, I enter contests from time to time and have put together a great crew for producing films or shorts that (I’m proud to say) have received awards. The most recent effort was a one minute “commercial” for TechDeck, those miniature skateboards kids (including my eight-year old son) play with.

Another contest is the 48-Hour Film Project, which I’ll be heading up a team in mid-July here in Detroit. Our warm up was a local community college’s 48-Hour challenge this past winter where our team took one of the three prizes offered.

Today, a good friend asked if I’d be interested in taking part in a contest run by the folks at a company called Zooppa (twitter @crowdcreativity hashtag #zooppa). From their website,

What is Zooppa?
Zooppa is the place where you can make your own ads for famous brands. Brands provide a creative brief for each competition, and award prizes for the best ads. At Zooppa you can make money, meet other creatives, grow your portfolio, and have your work seen by millions. Whether you’re film maker, an animator or a graphic designer, Zooppa is the place for you.

Actually, Zooppa might NOT be the place for us, read on…

How One Photographer Is Beating the Economy

On one of the professional forums I read daily, there is a conversation about the lousy state of the industry, how clients are hiring based only on price, how protecting one’s intellectual property rights has cost clients, how competitors are charging less and giving more, and blah, blah, blah. It’s the usual bitching and moaning that happens in any economic downturn when photographers: 1) are selling a product that a buyer can obtain elsewhere for less; or 2) are inadequately conveying their value-add to their clients; or 3) have clients that don’t care about the additional “value” the photographer adds to a project.

Michael Albany, a Philadelphia photographer specializing in architecture and portrait photography offered up some valuable insight that I think can help to inspire other photographers. He wrote:

I totally understand the fact that the old grey mare ain’t what she used to be and that our industry is A) in a total state of flux, and B) that the market is becoming saturated with too many Uncle Bobs but I have to say that I am so tired of hearing people whine about it. So you want to charge less or leave ASMP because they don’t [fit] your agenda, bye. Have a nice day.

I joined ASMP to learn and to grow and guess what, I am. Is it the end all to be all? Nope. Is my photography business where I want it to be? Well if you don’t know my name then no, it’s not. Is it growing? Yes.

Inexperience Shouldn’t Factor into Pricing

Denver Photographer Don CudneyIt’s time for another guest post and we’re fortunate to have an excellent article by Denver Photographer Don Cudney. In it Don shares his thoughts about how experience effects pricing. Don is a member of the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP). That’s him there on the left shooting HDSLR video on a chilly night.

When it comes to bidding on a job your level of experience should mean nothing if you are just as capable of pulling off a shoot as your competitors. Seriously. Has a client ever asked you to bid less because of your lack of experience? If they did they’re cheap and not a good fit for your business.

I recently took two fellow photographers to lunch. One has been shooting for over twenty years, the other just under two years.  Days before our lunch both photographers were called and bid on the same large assignment.

The inexperienced photographer thought, “Alright, I should bid less because I have less experience.” The experienced photographer thought, “I should bid less because the other guy is going to bid less because of his lack of overhead.”

Now here’s the irony: only the photographers were having this dilemma. The client had no idea how long either of them had been in business — he was simply looking to hire a photographer, one or the other.

Remember, only you know of your inexperience — the client called you. Remember when you make your bid that they did not call me or someone else, they called you! I’ve spent 20+ years bidding against photographers with a lot more talent and experience than I had in some cases.

Photo ©2011 Bryce Boyer

“Work Cheap, More Work in Future”

A play in one act.

Bob the Client: “If you can do this job cheap, we have a lot more work for you in the future.”

Me: “That sounds great, I really appreciate loyalty. Here’s what I’ll do for you Bob. Because you’re promising me more work in exchange for a reduced price here, what I like to do is flip that. I’ll charge you my full fee on this first job, and when that next job comes in, I’ll offer you a reduction in my fee of 10-percent.”

Bob: “Hmmmm, that’s interesting.”

Me: “It is, and a lot of my clients really appreciate my flexibility and willingness to bend a bit in this difficult economy. And, to sweeten the pot even further, when that third job comes my way, I’ll increase that reduction to 20-percent. And even better, I’ll discount the fourth job 30-percent. So, when can we get started on this project?”

You’ve called his bluff and the total discount across all four jobs amounts to only 15-percent.

If you don’t get the job you know three things:

First, the client was fishing for a bottom feeder and you didn’t bite… bravo! Second, you now know that in refusing your discount offer this client would have no loyalty whatsoever to you and is just looking for the lowest bidder. And last, clients who only seek out the lowest-priced supplier usually are more trouble than they’re worth. Ask me how I learned this lesson!

Flickr Image Stolen in Less Than 24 Hours

It took less than 24 hours from "upload to illegal download" for the daily Mexican newspaper Frontera to steal an image posted to Flickr by Illinois-based photographer Mike Boatman.  The newspaper serves the conurbation of Tijuana, Mexico and San Diego, California. That's the image over to the left, but shown here small enough so as to not add salt to Mike's wound should anyone be contemplating its theft again. (This article could very well turn up at a future date in a search for "Paola Longoria".) Posting to the Advertising Photographers of America's (APA) Yahoo group, Mike wrote: "I was reading this article in Photoshop User magazine about Flickr and how some photographers are selling images; how corporations are using Flickr as a research tool, and that Flickr has adequate usage rights protection." He continued, "Up to now I have personally been very conservative about what I post online because the internet does not have a delete button, and anyone can steal your work, or will steal your work.  So until now I have only posted images that I use for personal marketing that I assume will be stolen. I had a little extra time while on an assignment on May 19th; my shoot was not due until late afternoon, so I set up a Flickr account.  I post two very sale-able, exclusive images from the 2009 US Open Racquetball Grand Slam of players Paola Longoria and Rhonda Rajsich, the number one and two professional players as just a test."

They were posted with proper copyright notice and "All Rights Reserved" checked. But on May 20th (the next day!), Mike's image of Paola showed up in print, in Frontera. He was not contacted for permission to run the image; it was, plain and simple, an unauthorized use of a copyrighted image. And as if to insult him even more, they failed to provide a credit line.

Mike graciously gave permission to write about his experience, saying, "Looks like I did the Flickr posting wrong and did not safeguard my work.  If you want to write about my experience as an example of what not to do that is fine. What ever is the best way to get the word out so no other photographers get their work ripped off is great. It was purely a lack of knowledge on my part. Hopefully others will not make the same mistake of posting too large a file and relying on the Restricted Usage tag on Flickr to be a substitute for a watermark in the center of the image." Mike says he figures it's a waste of time and money to go after a Mexican newspaper. And he's probably correct. This from then United States Ambassador to Mexico Antonio O. Garza, Jr. in a 2005 report still present on the US Embassy website:

"The United States Mission in Mexico recognizes the imperative of strong intellectual property rights protection (IPR) for American business, and is working to help the Government of Mexico find ways to improve IPR enforcement in Mexico. We know that stolen, pirated, and counterfeit goods undermine investment opportunities and can significantly impact market share for U.S. companies. We are also aware of the considerable efforts Mexico has made in recent years to improve IPR protection, although a lot of work remains." (Full report.)

We've all heard that old maxim, 'First time shame on you, second time shame on me.'  Mike has made some changes to his Flickr photostream. Specifically, he's updated each of his images to include a very visible watermark: The lesson in all of this of course, is to upload low-resolution, watermarked images to Flickr or any other photo sharing portal.  If an honorable company wants to use it, they'll contact you.  For a very thorough review of the terms and conditions of Flickr, Photobucket, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and MySpace, check out the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP) "Best Practice Recommendations for Social Networking Sites" report. Do you use Flickr to market images? Please share your experience in the comments. Thanks!

In the meantime, if you represent Frontera and care to fairly compensate Mike for the use of his copyrighted image, I'm sure he'd be willing to take your call.

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Video: The Vendor Client Relationship

If you haven’t seen this yet, I think you’ll like it. I sometimes open my “I Stink at Negotiating” presentation with this clip. I’m sure everyone reading this can relate. On with the show…


Good luck!

Let Me Practice on Your Big Day

Many, many readers have read and commented either here on Groozi or privately to me about the post “Score This: Photog 1, Cheapskate 0”. We’ve all shared a good chuckle, perhaps to conceal our nervousness about the state of our industry. But any professional photographer will tell you that their business is being eroded as a result of inexpensive digital cameras that take amazingly good pictures and a growing attitude that, “those pictures are good enough.” Amateurization and crowdsourcing have combined to create an entire body of photography that can be had for a song, primarily because the creators of these images don’t realize the value of the images they have created.

Photographer and author John Harrington wrote a blog post titled, “The REAL New Frugality – TIME [Magazine] Style” in which he talks about how an amateur photographer left about $2,700 on the table by selling a photo he took to TIME for its cover for $30!

Buyers of photography are becoming accustomed to the dropping prices for images. After being asked to use one of his iconic images in exchange for a credit line, Chicago photographer Joe Pobereskin recently blogged, “Do you ever wonder what a photo credit tastes like? How about this: do you ever wonder how many miles per photo credit (MPCs) your car gets? I do.” Read entire post. And even Seth Godin, today blogged, “The reality of digital content (lose the cookie, lose the fortune?)” in which he ponders the economic futures of photographers and writers in this digital age.

Katrin Eismann, chairwoman of the Masters in Digital Photography program at the School of Visual Arts in New York said in a New York Times article, “Can an amateur take a picture as good as a professional? Sure,” Ms. Eismann said. “Can they do it on demand? Can they do it again? Can they do it over and over? Can they do it when a scene isn’t that interesting?” And that, I think, pretty much is what separates the pros from the amateurs.

But no doubt, professional photography is changing. The cost of entry to the industry has dropped dramatically forcing pros to seek out ways to differentiate themselves from their competitors lest the product they produce becomes comoditized. They must ask themselves, “What value do I bring to the client that my competitors do not?” and then talk it up during that initial phone conversation when the prospective client calls.

Gallery owner and photography educator Thomas Werner recently brought this to my attention: The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art held a symposium to which examined the current state of photography. They posed a question to the 13 invited participants to the symposium’s central question: “Is photography over?” It’s fascinating reading.

Richard Anderson, photographer, digital standards expert and the driving force behind dpBestflow, was interviewed by Ethan Salwen for the “AfterCapture On Photography” blog recently. The post was titled, “It’s About Professionalism, Stupid” and is a good read.

Mr. Salwen closes with: “I agree with Anderson that this is the most exciting time in the history of photography. How one does or doesn’t make money in this golden age of photography will continue to be a challenge. But whether or not is focused on making money from photography, thoughtful photographers trying to make great images must continue to take advantage of evolving technologies. This requires addressing the craft of photography with professionalism.”

I thought I’d close this entry with something Barrie Spence brought to my attention in a comment to that “Score This…” post. This is an ad that appeared on Scotland’s Gumtree, which as far as I can tell, is sort of like the USA’s Craigslist. It too might elicit that same nervous laugh…


Score This: Photog 1, Cheapskate 0

We’re all pretty tired of being asked to shoot on spec, shoot for a low fee with the promise of more work, and that sort of nonsense. These two ads appeared on the Seattle Craigslist over the past two days. I think you’ll enjoy reading…

Need Photographer (originally posted March 10th)

We are a 5 person construction company and need to update our website and brochure with NEW images of our staff. We would like to give an opportunity to the right photographer to take our company images. Ideally we need a formal and an informal picture, also a landscape shot of our company vehicle. Basically these pictures will help us get off the ground and renovate our website.

If you do a good enough job on our company portraits then you will ideally be awarded a future PAID contract to take pictures of our job sites (once we get a job!). We will want to have the rights to be able to use the photos on our website and brochure/print media. You will get a boost to your portfolio!

Experience in corporate photography along with a portfolio is a MUST or your email will be disregarded. We are looking at scheduling the shoot within the next week so be prepared to move fast!

And then a clever photographer posted the following:

Need Construction Crew (originally posted March 12th)

We are a 5 person photography company and need to update our photography studio and shooting space with NEW office spaces for our staff. We would like to give an opportunity to the right construction crew to build our new company digs. Ideally we need a formal and an informal working space, also a landscape crew for our out side shooting area. Basically these structures will help us get off the ground and renovate our old space.

If you do a good enough job on our company building then you will ideally be awarded a future PAID contract to build structures of our photography clients (once we get a job!). We will want to have the rights to be able to exploit you as we see fit just for credit and a great job! You will get a boost to your structure building skills!

Experience in corporate building along with a portfolio is a MUST or your email will be disregarded, after all beggars can be choosers. We are looking at scheduling the construction within the next week so be prepared to move fast!

I don’t know who the authors are, if they care to be identified, I’ll add proper attribution if they contact me. What do you think?