What I see in the bigger picture.

ASMP is live streaming today’s Symposium on Sustainable Business models

Listen in now on the LiveStream feed–or look for the archived version later on the ASMP site.

You’ll hear industry pros reporting on current trends and predicting the future.

Execs from Stipple and PicScout showing how their products will allow photographers to track and monetize their content.

Jeff Sedlik from PLUS Coalition is discussing the critical need for licensing standards. And the need for a non-profit resource to control that information.


Is your photography vulnerable to being replaced by CGI?

First it was the auto manufacturers that took away some of the car shooters business by using CGI (computer generated imagery).

Then it was furniture makers (IKEA reports by next year 25% of its photo content will be replaced by CGI).

Now, some fashion accounts are starting to use CGI. (Those poor super models…..)

What next?

This recent article in Smart Money discuss 5 areas of photography that are vulnerable. Are you in one?

What niche of advertising photography do you think is totally immune from being replaced by CGI?

Verizon iPhone? Finally? Really?

Looks like my 3-year wait for the iPhone to come to Verizon will happen very soon; the rumor mill reports that 1/11/11 is the big day– which is, ironically, exactly the same day the used Palm Treo I bought on eBay last week to replace the one that croaked on 12/30/10, is supposed to arrive via USPS. I’ve been busy creating a new database on my iPod Touch for the last couple of months with this year’s contacts as migrating 15 years of my Palm data to a totally Mac-compatible database is not a totally seamless process. Fingers crossed.

Photography career planning: the long and winding road

If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there. ~Lewis Carroll

Yes, it’s good to have a focused and well-thought-out career plan. It’s far better than not knowing where you want to go. However, a career plan to “become rich and famous” isn’t quite specific enough 😉

But even if you know exactly what you want (e.g. become a commercial and editorial food photographer), it’s a mistake to think that knowing where you want to go is the only road to success. Thinking that success is completely under your control (“I just have to do x, y, & z and success will happen”) can lead to major disappointment when things don’t go as planned. The map is not the territory.

It’s also an illusion that none of it is under your control (i.e.”It’s just luck; you have to be in the right place at the right time. I’ll just go with the flow.”).

In fact, it’s both…and it’s always been both.

Ask any top photographer who’s both self-reflective and honest,and you’ll hear that his or her success was made of both luck and hard work.

Good luck happens when preparedness meets opportunity. ~Author unknown

Continuing education.For the preparedness piece, no matter what point you are in your career (just entering the market; mid-career professional; or seasoned pro who just hit a fork in the road), engaging in continuing education is essential–both to improve your imaging skills and to keep current with industry changes. Apprenticing will expose you to different–and possibly better–work flow systems. Learning sales and marketing skills will definitely help support your career success.

Two big marketing trends that are getting almost incessant online buzz, are video and mobile. Both require continuing education– especially when it comes to understanding how the integration of video into a mobile can support your sales and marketing strategy.

[I could write reams on both of those subjects; in the future will point you to some educational resources I think are worth your time. Here’s one resource for those who’ve built their careers in print but see a fork in the career planning road and are now contemplating adding video to their image services mix.http://bit.ly/photogvideoguide ]

Bigger picture planning: Until the day comes when your preparation meets up with a great opportunity, there’s another important element of successful career planning to consider. Life planning.

I’ve noticed that those who’ve enjoyed long and successful careers, place a lot of importance on work/life balance. A photographer often learns too late that by going full-tilt in only one direction (i.e., focusing only on career) they are at risk of ending up burned-out and alone.

To find a balance that works for you, consider planning your photography career by working backwards. Pretend for a moment that on your last day alive, you have both the time plus the mental and emotional clarity, to reflect back on your entire life.

What events in your photo career made you feel the most proud and most fulfilled? Was it fame? Fortune? The respect of your peers? Self-respect? The income to support a family? Did you have a career path that supported your physical, emotional and spiritual well-being and allowed you time to connect with friends, family, and community?
If the latter is part of your vision, then, as Steven Covey says in his perennial best-seller “The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People” you need to make sure that “you put the big rocks in first.”  That means that in every daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly calendar–in addition to scheduling activities that directly relate to your work–you also put into your schedule those non-work activities that support your whole life.

Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans. ~John Lennon

Photography and advertising: the show’s my thing in late October.

Still shoveling out from under 10 days spent in NYC attending two back-to-back trade shows (photography and advertising technology).

It’s always fun to gauge the health of a market sector by the noticing value of the the trade show swag or swag (give-away items designed to draw you in/remember the company later.) One show had lots of Hershey’s Kisses and pens. The other had beer glasses, fresh-brewed espresso, LED flash lights,  canvas zippered tote bags, carabiner key chains, wooden massage tools and rubber iPhone cases.

I attend both shows every year. One show was much larger than before, while one was way smaller. Can you guess which show is in decline?

I hope that over the next few days I hope to share some of my better “tales from the front.” And when I finally find the time to distill  my 14-inch stack of seminar notes and brochures, I  hope to share some worthwhile insights as well.

Professional photographers’ commoditization covered in mainstream media

In case you somehow missed the article entitled “For Photographers, the Image of a Shrinking Path” which was in the March 29th, 2010 edition of the New York Times, it covered what those of us who are deeply involved in professional commercial photography business, painfully know: things have dramatically changed for professional commercial photographers. So much so, that mainstream media is now reporting on the trend that’s been occurring for at least the last 5 years: advanced amateurs and part-time photographers are pricing their photography at rates well below prices that could viably sustain a full-time photography business-or probably a business of any sort!

response to the original article was posted the following day wherein professional commercial photographers, other photo business professionals, and amateurs and hobbyists weighed in. There were emotional as well as calm and reasoned responses to the sobering fact that it’s never been harder to make a decent living as a full-time photographer. The pro photographer forums such the ASMP‘s very active ProAdvice forum, are on fire with debates on how best to detail with low-balling photographers who have no need to support themselves or their families with the money earned in their part-time passion.

Not only are the traditional assignment opportunities for professional photographers are rapidly dwindling. Magazines are folding in record numbers; print ads are being created using royalty free and micro-stock images;  frames are being re-purposed from footage produced for TV commercials and now, ever more hobbyists are shooting for the “glory” of a credit line.

The reason I wrote my 2005 article “The Commoditization of the Commercial Photography Business”was that I wanted to give professional photographers a heads-up. I wanted them to seriously start thinking about what was coming down the pike due to advances in chip technology. I wanted to give them some tips how to avoid being run over by the low-priced steamroller now fully parked  for the foreseeable future in many of photography’s traditional markets. (If you’ve not already read the article, you can get it by signing up on the Contact page of my www.cpotts.com site; NOTE:  just multiply all the listed stock numbers by a factor of 1000!).

I still believe the very best strategy to deal with these changes is having both real talent (that is ever-evolving) and the right attitude. I feel that having a pro-active attitude instead of a “victim” attitude is probably the most critical element.

Why? Read more

Is your business model ready for content convergence?

When the FCC debates are over and we figure out
how to fund universal access to broadband, and it
becomes as common as phone access, the demand for
digital content will increase exponentially. There
will be more media being consumed on more devices
than we have now (or can yet imagine).

In the ad agency world content convergence means
more ad content will be re-purposed.
Imagery that
would only have only appeared in a magazine in
last year’s campaign (and licensed for that
limited usage), might now appear as part of this
year’s online interactive gaming experience-or
within an app on a new media player (iPad, etc.)

Content convergence necessitates collaboration
with more creative staffers as well as more content
. Production meetings have to occur far
earlier on the ad production calendar to
effectively plan for assets displaying on
platforms that weren’t even around last year.

Digital design departments, print production,
broadcast, and interactive gaming strategists are
all now sitting around the same conference room
table when planning a campaign execution.

Historically, when there was a huge TV
production-especially if there was a celebrity
with limited availability- a still photographer
was brought on to shoot for the print campaign
during the same TV spot production. The business
model of “double dipping” to save production
dollars has been around for a while-but with two
separate crews shooting.Now “double-dipping” has to extend to multiple
platforms-not just TV and print
. Art directors who understand the tech
nuances of all media are the ones whose jobs are

So, too, are the smart photographers who embrace
multiple platforms; they’ll be in the best
position to work with those new-era art directors

during this image-making evolution.

As technology gets better and cheaper, only those
with the best command of the dual-purpose
equipment will be on the agency’s preferred
vendors list.  It makes no economic sense to a
client not to use one resource to tell their brand
story if it’s economically and creatively
If there’s an image-maker (or team) who
can deliver the media assets that will reproduce
well in both print and multimedia.. why wouldn’t
they prefer them?

Right now, at major ad agencies it’s still the
broadcast production departments that control
motion projects. Art buyers and creative directors
with extensive print experience, source their
favorite photographer when there’s a print
component that needs to be covered during a big
film production. They look for someone who can
play well with others and not get in the way of
the bigger-dollar film shoot.

On smaller projects, such as web projects,  the
print department is not currently in the position
to tell broadcast to use a photographer for those
elements of the ad campaign; broadcast currently
pulls those assets from the TV shoot to give to
interactive department. It’s more of a courtesy
for the production company to provide those

But as technology gets faster and cheaper and the
economy remains anemic, economic forces will cause
new departments and job responsibilities within ad
agencies to form.
At some major agencies art
buyers are already called producers.

A production undertaking that now seems impossible
to produce (due to the high cost of equipment and
necessary technical know-how), will eventually be
able to be feasibly produced by thousands of
Consider what happened to
retouching…anyone reading this remember SciTex?

When that time comes, it will only be the depth
and breadth of your creative solutions; the
strength of your business relationships; and your
ability to collaborate, that will get you on the
agency short list of image makers called on to
produce their client’s brand story.

Did the trend in crowd-sourcing ad imagery lead to a new ad agency model?

Recent articles in both the New York Times and ADWEEK reported on the controversial practice of crowd sourcing for creative concepts and advertising.

The practice of crowd sourcing for ad images was a painful trend I first heard about well over a year ago. An ad agency art buyer told me about her frustrating assignment to satisfy a major account. They’d asked her to source a photo for one of their ads– not from Corbis or Getty, or even one of the Royalty Free image resources–they wanted her to look on Flickr.

Fortunately, for professional photographers, this didn’t become a huge trend at the bigger ad agencies. The legal paperwork necessary to safely license work  (e.g.model and property releases) was sorely lacking back then on most of the images posted on photo-sharing sites. It made buying images off Flickr for ad usage not worth the headache. So professionals still got calls for stock.

But, as we know, things have since changed and now pros regularly post their released-images up on Flickr hoping to catch the eye of an ad agency photo researcher.

Once crowd-sourcing photos became a viable solution for big ad agency creative departments, it was only a matter of time before someone in a corner office decided to connect the dots.

It seems that crowd sourcing has folded back in on itself. What was “good for the goose is now good for the gander”. Renegade employees from the traditional ad agency world, have opened an agency that is pitching itself as a radical break from the traditional ad agency business model. They are going to use “the wisdom of crowds” (as crowd sourcing is often referred to)  to generate ideas collaboratively. But that collaboration will occur outside the traditional teams of art director and copywriter. The ad agency will “curate” the best ideas from those submitted. To feed this trend,  new agency models are starting to spring up to satisfy their clients appetites for fresh ideas.

This news makes me wonder about two possible outcomes:

1. Is this the dawn of a new opportunity for photographers to be more collaborative and have more creative influence? Can they once again–as they were in the “Mad Men” era of advertising (1960s)–be involved in the conceptual phase of an ad’s imagery? (That is, if they want to pitch their idea as one of the “crowd’s”).

One upon a time, when art directors drew layouts by hand,  the layout was  more of a ‘jumping off point”; art directors and photographers were much more collaborative in creating the image that would illustrate the ad concept. It was a wonderful synergy.

2. How does this impact a traditional hiring hierachy? With a new source of inexpensive ideas, will this be beginning of the end for over-paid agency staffers? Will the salaries of art directors, copywriters, and creative directors soon face the same downward pressures that photographers’ fees have endured ever since RF stock and Flickr arrived? When affordable and easy digital imaging technology arrived on the beach, photographers were set adrift on whatever life rafts they could find. With the opening of these new agencies, will a huge wave of empathy now flow from a tribe of nervous staff creatives toward the photographers (with whom they may soon be paddling)? Will freelance art directors start to team up with their talented photographer friends/fellow crowd members to pitch their highly-polished and collaborative ideas directly to the new “curators?”

This could be viewed as a tremendous new opportunity and a return to creative synergy.  Let’s at least hope for that.

Is there a marketing value in “tweeting?”

To tweet or not to tweet? Time-waster or necessary
When you jump into the pool of 10 million Twitter visitors,
consider looking before you leap. If you’ve jumped in and
splashed around in Twitter, do you ever wonder who’s in
there with you? Wonder if it’s an environment that could
provide some real value in your marketing plan?
Or is it just the latest social networking trend that will soon
fade? Will it evolve into a niche market communication space?
(e.g. MySpace, once neck-in-neck with market leader FaceBook,
is now used primarily by the younger set
to keep up with their favorite bands).

With a growth rate of 700% since last year now tweeting is
clearly mainstream. But can you guess who’s using it the
most? It’s not the under-20 set. Surprisingly, the biggest
demographic that uses Twitter is the 45-54 year-old
demographic. People in that age range are more likely to be
economic decision-makers. You know.. the ones who have the
power to hire you.

Have  you thought what you might say in 140 characters-or
less? Have you thought about how your “tweet” might be
received by someone in your target audience? How valuable
is a tweet about a banal action? I’m somewhat amazed that
in an information-overloaded economy people are taking up
someone’s attention bandwidth with posts like : “I just
woke up. Am heading to get coffee.”

Here’s why I follow certain people: what they ‘tweet’
solves a problem/answers a question/broadens my
worldview/makes me laugh/makes me aware of important
information or upcoming events/inspire me to get involved
in making the world better. I suspect your potential
clients have the same perspective when deciding if
they want to follow you.

One other thing I love-and also hate-about Twitter is its “Jungle
drums, real time reporting” of what’s happening…NOW.
It’s a central part of the information-overloaded zeitgeist. I
think anyone who spends more than 15 min. a day on-line has
psychological chip in them that’s programmed to want
current information and fears being out-of-the-loop.
OK..so I’ve just publicly admitted my personal neurosis; no
doubt created by too many years in the photo ad biz 😉

The informality and connection-by-choice
“ambient connections”  that Twitter (and
FaceBook) create, can be low-key, low-stress ways to keep
your brand in front of people who already know and like

I suspect, for example, that if you just attended a
multi-day photo tech conference, news about your new-found
expertise in HDR might be worth a tweet.

When everyone has is so little time to do it all,
there is real value in getting news and cool resources.
from a community of choice.

What makes you follow someone? I’d love to know.

Read more about the size of the Twittering audience in this articleRead more

Will Pixazza help photographers make any money?

Last week, start-up company, Pixazza announced their new internet service enabling consumers to simply mouse over web  images to learn more and see related products. Turning items in web images into clickable and purchasable content is similar to what Google already does with its AdSense ad platform — except with this tool it sources website images to deliver ads instead of text. The Wall Street Journal reports there’s some serious investment money ($5.75 million) going into this first round of funding; Google has invested and is betting on its success.

I predict that Pixazza, will have an impact on the traditional advertising revenue model–and one that might benefit photographers. Photographers know how to create attention getting images. They’re also used to key-wording their content for stock agencies. It’s a small side-step to become a publisher; they can tag their content and earn some cash. When clients’ sales can be tracked DIRECTLY to how many people clicked and purchased products via images tagged via Pixazza, I suspect that kick-ass images will draw more traffic–and sales–than dull, cheaply-produced images. (I’m sure it will only be a matter of time before the Pixazza’s current iteration–which displays tiny yellow price tags–evolves into something slightly less-intrusive but still relevant to shoppers.)

Forwarding great content is what we all do on a daily basis. Forwarding click-able and money-making image content was going to show up sooner or later. The see-it-on-a-screen-buy-it-immediately consumer product business model has been predicted for years. But now the technology is here.

In the current era where assignment photography seems to be driven more by bottom-line costs than top-line creativity, having sales tracked to a show-stopping image (think of the viral marketing value), may be just the creative game-changer some photographers have been waiting for. Read more