You’ve got to know what it cost to run your photo business.

You’ve got to know what it cost to run your photo business if you want to be around more than a year or two. The economic reality of running any small business must be faced. You have to have a pricing structure based on what all of your business costs are– or sooner or later, you will be the one who puts yourself out of business. Not your “cheap clients.”

Photographers often are told their bids for a shoot are too high and they lose a bid to someone “cheaper.” You didn’t lose the bid because of your estimate. Your real failure was a failure of eduction. It’s likely that you failed to educate both yourself–and subsequently your clients– about what it really costs a pro photographer to keep the doors open. Yes, it hurts to be underbid. But that doesn’t have to happen as often. When you have built a relationship with your client and they have some sense of why you’re charging what you’re charging they’re not as likely to automatically go with the lowest bid.  In this case, ignorance is never bliss.

I read a great article today on PetaPixel. It’s one that I recommend to all emerging photographers (and some old pros as well!).  It was penned by photographer, Tom Meyer, who lives in Decatur, GA. It was originally published on his own blog. It’s worth reading.

Here’s an excerpt.

 There are hundreds of students graduating every day as “photographers” who can under bid me for a year… maybe two. But eventually these realities also become unavoidable to them, at which time they become real estate agents or go back to being baristas… or they start billing at that “job killer” rate of $100 per hour.

How to “impress the judges” at a face-to-face photography portfolio review.

[This article originally appeared as one of my regular contributions to the ASMP’s Strictly Business blog. ]

Carolyn Potts doing a portfolio review

And now…. you are live!”

Ever feel like your in-person portfolio presentation is a bit like being a contestant on American Idol?

Whether you’re “performing” at a one-on-one portfolio presentation or at a portfolio review event (where you’ve signed up for a series of 20-min. with multiple reviewers), to cement that contact and land that dream assignment, here are some ways to improve your odds of getting serious attention and even score that gig.

Prepare. Google is your best friend. Doing your research provides clues about what content the reviewer might need from you. If you’re seeing multiple people in a day, have more than one presentation (or an easy-to-edit one) so you can tailor each presentation with the most relevant work up front.

The portfolio should open with your strongest and most relevant image. Close with the second strongest. Remember, some people start from the back when they flip through a printed portfolio. The middle should flow well and reinforce your main vision.

Connect .Try to see someone beyond their role as the keeper-of-the- assignment-purchase-order. Be interested in them. Make eye contact. Give a good hand shake. Relax. Breathe. If you’re a bit nervous, be honest. It’s ok to be real. Most relate more to honesty than bravado.

Let them drive. How fast they flip through the book is NOT an indicator of interest or disinterest in the work. Remember, the reviewer has probably seen thousands of portfolios. Thousands.

Absorb deeply. If a reviewer makes a suggestion, consider it seriously. If more than one reviewer says the same thing, DO IT!!!

If you’re getting the vibe they like your work, then ask them about their follow-up  preferences as to frequency and format. Some like printed pieces. Some like to save trees and prefer only emails. Some have no preference. Before you leave the event, record their preference in your contacts database and then do what they say.

Reviewers like talented photographers who do their homework, are relevant, connect, and have a sense of the buyer’s needs. If it’s really going well, ask if they’ve a colleague who might also be interested. If they say yes, ask if you can use their name as a reference. Reviewers usually like referring photographers who have all those qualities. They won’t, if you don’t.

Bottom line: The time you spend together, once it’s over, is gone forever and neither of you can ever get those minutes back. Spend your minutes wisely and remember to thank them for their time investment. 


More inspiration from TED talks. This time not words, but an image

I love the TED talks. I listen and am inspired. But today it was a visual from the TED that  inspired me.

When I discovered this info graphic on a friend’s Facebook wall today, I thought that photographers might also find some inspiration by seeing this TED  info graphic.

Imagine where and how your work is connected both in the ‘real’ world and the ‘virtual’ worlds.

Does it help you to see how things can connect and create synergy when it comes to creating your own photo marketing road map?

Are you faking it? You’re in good company.

If you want to read an honest account of what torments many creative people, read this great post I saw on PixelatedImage yesterday. The author talks about the common fear shared by many creative people, that “one day everyone will all wake up to the collective revelation that I’m just faking it.”

In my long career as a photo rep, I had the privilege of seeing the whole creative kit and kaboodle of many of advertising photography’s “star photographers.”  I can tell you for a stone cold, hard fact, the “big name photographers” were also secretly worried they were “faking it” as they knew they were as capable as anyone else of producing a boatload of crappy and off-target shots.

But the other thing they had–-which not every photographer has–- is a persistence and a willingness to take creative risks, over and over and over again, until their muse blessed them again. And when the muse did return, they produced wonderful images. Those were the images went into their portfolios. I got to trumpet them as creative geniuses because I knew it was true;  they had what it takes to keep going through the valley of their doubts.

Because I repped so many photographers, I was fortunate to have a broader perspective on the creative process than a single photographer usually has. I saw all of my artists go through it. I knew that the photographic dross was just part of the process to get to “the good stuff.” When you’re all on your own, it’s harder; you sometimes think it’s just you that’s faking. It’s not!

Talking a ‘star’ photographer “off the ledge” when they hit a long creative dry spell, came with the territory. 🙂

So keep going. And going. Humbly. And with gratitude and hope. IMHO:It’s the only way.

The value of taking a break: you’ll get the creative bolts that fuel your best photography

With Independence Day falling on a Wednesday this year, it creates a dilemma for those of us who don’t have someone else telling us what days we get to take off from work. Should I only take off  Wednesday the 4th of July? Tuesday and Wednesday? Wednesday and Thursday? Or just take the whole week as few clients will likely be making project decisions this week due to the confusion.

That leaves many creative people debating on how much time they should “goof off” surrounding such a holiday–especially when their photo marketing consultant has been urging them to create some new work for their portfolio or do some meta-tagging of their images. 😉

They start to feel ambivalent and guilty because, as freelancers, they feel that if they’d just managed their time better, they could have already completed those important but non-urgent business tasks on other days and be free to play. But, alas, they didn’t get those non-urgent tasks done. Yet again. (I totally empathize!!)

So they now face a holiday with twinges of guilt. “Should I just bagged it all and go on that long bike ride, to that baseball game, picnic, concert, parade, etc. or should I stay in and work on that stuff?”

I don’t know about you but I loved reading this article in the NY Times about the value of down time.

“The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done. “


Happy Independence Day holidays! I’m going to go for some bolts of inspiration. I’m outta here!


Summer reading suggestions- books for photographers that aren’t about photography

As the first day of Summer and the longest day of the year approaches, it’s a good time to think about relaxing with a great book. This summer, instead settling into your beach chair with a best-selling mystery or romance novel, pack one of these paperbacks into your beach bag and you’ll have more than a tan when you’re done.

You’ll end up with some perspectives that can put things into a different focus for you regarding where photography is headed– and how you fit in. I think it’s essential for any small business owner to get a macro-economic business perspective. Reading outside your industry niche gives you the business equivalent of a liberal arts education vs. trade school education. Both kinds of education are very valuable. But added together, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
In the same way, maintaining a well-rounded and broad business perspective can generate new insights about marketing your photography. In between reading the CS6 manuals, take a look at these.

The first few books will give you a wonderful dose of confidence about being in a creative industry

A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future by Daniel Pink

Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? by marketing guru, Seth Godin

These best-sellers by Malcolm Gladwell really make you think.The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference  and  Outliers: The Story of Success

Here are two of my favorite big-picture guides–one for a perspective on the global economy: The World Is Flat [Updated and Expanded]: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century by Thomas Friedman

 and one to help you manage day-to-day priorities: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey

And finally, for a different perspective on what might be really holding you back,have some fun examining your foundational beliefs with this help of this book: Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life by Byron Katie & Stephen Mitchell

Have fun in the summer sun!


Momentum: Maintaining, Motion, and Marketing

Here’s another perspective on the “moving into video” trend that I first blogged about back in July.

Both videographers and photographers are now actively
pitching their clients on their new DSLR-HD
capabilities. They’re sending out marketing messages
inviting their clients to see them as a “one-stop
shopping” solution when it comes to digital content.

But how do you take on a video project when you’re not
an experienced video producer?
If you deliver a product that is any less professional
than your mainstay service offering you’re cutting your
own throat.

If you create a digital video that takes hours of post
production to clean up, you weaken your client
relationship, e.g. just like the videographer who “does
not know what they don’t know” could screw up when it
comes the file prep of a still image.

Most photographers fully understand the issues involved
in image prep for usage on a billboard vs. in print.
But that same photographer might “not know what they
don’t know” when it comes to post-production issues
related to creating motion content destined for broadcast
vs. smart-phone video.

The ground under the foundation of your business
relationship, starts to shift. Your relationship was
built on the implicit assumption that as a professional
photographer you can always meet your client’s needs.

Delivery doubt creeps in. If a client asks you to shoot
video “while you’re at it…”  it may be wiser to turn
the offer down. Better to refer them to a trusted video
producer and manage that relationship on behalf of your
client, if you can. From the client’s perspective you’d
still be a great problem-solver.

Maintaining your client relationships while building
your motion skill set requires a big commitment. To get
far enough beyond the learning curve to start safely
marketing video production services to your existing
client base, you’re going to need a strategy for moving
into new media.

As it’s been said before in many of the forums,
producing a behind-the-scenes (BTS) video is one of the
best ways to start and stay close to your client.

First, create a BTS telling your business story. Build
tech proficiency by taking apart videos that inspire
you. Do a shot-by-shot analysis. Look at the mix of
camera angles, lighting, lensing, audio and music cues
that move the story along, the pacing of the edits, and
finally, how does the story start, build, and end? Do
you have the necessary story-boarding skills?

Once confident in that arena, move to creating a BTS of
one of your client’s projects. It’s the next logical
step. And it keeps you close to your client.

For video BTS inspiration: check out or search Google or for
“BTS video photoshoot”. If you’re at the beginning and
confused about what gear to get, here’s a good
buyer’s guide.

Photography video convergence: the long and winding road to proficiency

The number of professional photographers who are experimenting with offering video production to their existing client base seems to grow exponentially with each release of a new DSLR-HD camera. It’s SO tempting when a client you’ve had for years asks you on a print shoot “While you’re at it, can you cover this scene in video as well?”

So there you are… faced with a (billable) request from an existing client. You want to make them happy by granting their request. You certainly don’t want to have them go elsewhere (i.e. a competitor) to get that footage you can “easily” provide. I mean, why wouldn‘t you say “Sure… I can do that. My camera has video capabilities.”

Because after your very first shoot that has sound in it, you’ll likely have an “uh-oh” moment. While most of your production values are as rock solid as usual: the lighting is great, the composition perfectly balanced, and the decisive moment is captured, there’s something not quite working in that footage…

There’s that new X-factor: The sound track. It doesn’t seem quite of up to the level of your imagery. What’s missing?

I guess because I come from a photography background, I had a bit of the same preconceptions that some photographers had when digital cameras first arrived with video capabilities: “oh, this is such a cool tool. I’ll just turn on that feature and get some video imagery as well.” I really didn’t even THINK about sound’s ability to make or break moving imagery.

For the past year or so a number of my photography marketing consulting clients seem to have traveled along the same path. Many are confused as to best practices and many photo industry professionals have blogged extensively about the obstacles along the path from still photography to motion.

One of the things that always gets mentioned as a challenging learning curve is SOUND. Most of my consulting clients already have a camera that shoots video–or know which one they want to buy–but the SOUND issues and what gear to get are perplexing them.

If you’ve been reading any of the professional photography online forums (e.g. or or ASMP’s Strictly Business Blog)  you’ll have already read tons of good advice from some still photographers who were very early adopters of shooting video. Attending seminars by early adopters such as Gail Mooney or Lee White at a local trade org event will certainly be helpful in navigating the path to motion; I readily recommended those workshops.

But other than advising  clients to get into a good hands-on video workshop ASAP or scroll through hundreds of messages in the forums, I wasn’t sure what to tell them. I wanted a resource I felt would be really helpful, one that I could trust to be accurate, and one that was simple enough that even I could understand it!

That’s why was really glad that my friend Adriel shared a copy of his just-released Video Buyers Guide with me. With decades of experience in video production and great teaching skills (even the most non-techie people can understand him), he is a great guide to answer the questions from my moving-into-video clients.

His brand new Video Buyer’s Guide is a great resource and it even makes sense to me –someone who’s very comfortable in marketing photography but who is way uncomfortable in the more technical aspects of digital video. (I only  carry a way-down-the-video-line Canon S90 but I can certainly sense the allure of the video capture function). And I’m certainly a “Dummy” when it comes to sound.

So I invite you to check out this cool resource if you’re at all confused about some of the issues you’re encountering as you move into video. The Guide was just released over the weekend and is available for US$19.00–which  is WAY affordable and I think under-priced for the tips you get.

Caveat: The price will go up after the first 100 copies of the guide are sold.

One reason you might have trouble focusing on your marketing….

I just read Matt Richtel’s great article in the NY Times called “Hooked on Gadgets, and Paying a Mental Price”

I wonder how many photographers–myself included–realize the neurological effects of adding yet another gadget or media feed into our lives? How much does our gadget-encrusted lifestyle affect our ability to finish projects that necessitate long, focused, and repetitve actions to achieve success e.g. implementing marketing plans?

And I also wonder about the global picture: What will the world look like when a huge percentage of the entire planet’s population  is filled with super multi-taskers who have little or no ability to be fully connected in the present moment with a fellow human being.

Hmmmm…..maybe I will wait on get that iPad.

Why participating in democracy helps your photo business.

If you overcame cynicism, laziness, or an excuse that
you were “too busy with work” to go stand in line to
vote, you’ve already demonstrated some of the skills
necessary to your help your photo business thrive.

Being proactive is essential to any business
success-but it is critical to surviving in a down

The drama of the November 4th National Election Day
provides a real-world lesson in the value of
pro-activity. Any time it’s easier for you not to act,
and yet you go ahead and take action, you’re actually
build your photo marketing muscles.

Many of my clients told me they stood in line–some
for hours– to cast their ballots because they were
emotionally involved in this presidential race. They
overcame the gravitational pull of staying comfortably
inside and watching others do the work of civic duty.

Those who don’t usually vote in every election voted
this time because of an emotional involvement in
the outcome. Some are voting because they imagine, and
want to help usher in, a brighter future. Some are
voting because they’re afraid of what might happen if
too many people also fail to vote. Hope and fear are
powerful tools used to make someone act.

You’ve watched the politicians use this technique to
get out the vote. Why not use the same technique on

Recognize the power of emotion to overcome inertia.

Use the energy of emotion to jump start your marketing
plans: imagine where you’d be this time next year if
you only market when the mood strikes or when you’re
slow. Not a rosy picture? Now imagine the result in
your business if you spent a year engaging in small,
but daily, marketing actions.
Overcome your doubts,
confusion, hesitation and sheer procrastination by
whichever emotion motivates you the most. My personal
preference is to use hope, but “your mileage may

Even though some voters recognize that one
vote might not make that much of a difference, a larger part of
them argues “yes… but many small actions (votes) DO
add up to a result that I’d like to see happen.” So
they take action.

That same belief is an essential part of any
successful business. It’s easy to stay at home and
just react to what other people’s votes create. Opt
out of acting long enough and regularly enough and
pretty soon your life is being created for you–
instead of you participating in its creation.

If you regularly choose action over reaction, you’re in a much
better position to get new business when the economic
cycles rebound.
Take time now to actively engage in
building your marketing muscles. Keep your brand in
front of your clients.

Just like the vote you cast today contributes to a
change our presidential leadership, small actions
added together create a completely different business
result than inaction. Commit to do one action each day
that you’d always slacked off on before.

Need a suggestion? Here are some powerful actions you
can take to create positive change in your business’s
bottom line: clean-up and update your mailing list,
reconnect with clients you’ve not spoken to in months,
update your web site; update your search engine
optimization strategies; research new client’s contact
info; build and data enter that information into a
database to effectively track your marketing calls and
the results; etc., etc.

I hope today you’ll use the power of taking
action: first by voting and then by strengthening your
marketing habits.

All the Best,
P.S. Note to my subscribers in the Charlotte, NC
area: In case you’ve not already heard, on
Friday, Nov. 7th, I’m presenting my latest
marketing talk: “Rebooting your Business Brain:
21st-century Marketing Strategies for
photographers who weren’t born yesterday” to the
local chapter of the APA. I’ll also be offering
portfolio reviews. Info is posted in the “UPCOMING EVENTS”