What does the photography client want?

This maybe a dangerous question to ask, but then they don’t call me Mad Crazy Tim for nothing. Ok, so they don’t call me Mad Crazy Tim, but it’s a dull Wednesday morning and I’m struggling for jokes here…

I ask the question because while some of my articles are aimed at those with a passing interest in photography, some at designers and others at the voices in my head telling me to burn stuff, I’m also aware that existing and potential clients sometimes swing by and read these articles, so this time I’m asking them/you the question – cue close camera shot of my screen as I type, á la Carrie Bradshaw:

What does the photo-buying client want?

Hmm, that’s not as sexy as the stuff Carrie asks.

female with brain activity recording cap on.

If only I could read clients’ minds.

You see it’s all very well me putting up a website, getting it found, showing my work etc, but as with any business there are two sides. There is the quality, service and pricing structure I put out there, and then there is what the client actually wants from a photographer. And unless I ask the question every now and then, how can I possibly match what I offer to what you, the clients need and want?

I know many clients want a fast turnaround. They’re keen to get the ball rolling with their project, and waiting to see the results of a shoot can be frustrating. Especially now we all expect things to happen instantaneously through the web. I know when I order something from Amazon, I’m expecting the courier to be knocking on my door within seconds of me hitting the Confirm Order button. To this end, I aim to have the client gallery up within 24 hours. With afternoon and evening assignments the link is often with the client by the following morning. Even Amazon would struggle to compete with that speed of delivery.

And all this speed of service is fine and dandy, but I want to know what clients, either design or direct clients, want even before the shoot begins. How much involvement do you want from your photographer?

I know I’m always keen to speak to designers and their clients at the earliest possible stage. It means I can have input and also see how everyone else’s minds are working before I start taking pictures. I need to know what pictures the designers and clients have in their heads, because the last-minute brief may not convey this. But sometimes (ok, often) I can see I’ve been called long after the creative discussions have happened. Maybe that is what clients want, or maybe they don’t know it would be better to involve me sooner.

What else might clients and their designers expect? Ok, free photos would be nice but let’s stay in the real world here. What I mean is, is there some service, some input or anything else either before, during or after a shoot that clients wish could be done to help them?

This article is essentially a plea for help and information, because designers and businesses will often raise with me issues they’ve had with other photographers, but I know that unless I directly ask for feedback (which I often do) I might never hear good ideas on improving my service. I also ask because non clients have good ideas too.

Of course if I get no feedback at all, I’ll just have to assume I’m perfect, which is what I thought all along…

A Brief Interlude

Cue tacky music while there’s an interlude in my blogging. I’m away next week on holiday, so I thought I’d give you next week’s blog early, and just use it to give you some links to other useful/entertaining blogs that I’ve also enjoyed immensely.

First up is Jaded Snapper, a local newspaper photographer who has run the gauntlet of top local stories, from the church fete to the giant charity cheque.

Or, if you’re planning a wedding, why not give Derek Pye a call? You’ll see why you wouldn’t want to when you visit his site. Not updated as much as it should be, but then Derek is probably busy shooting weddings.

If photography-related cutting satire is more your thing, try The Russian Photos Blog. Beware if you’re the kind of business that likes to run dodgy rights-grabbing competitions or you’re a micro-payment stock photo agency though. You might be the subject of a future article.

Finally, for a soberererer (easy for you to say, you’re not drung…) view of the professional photographic industry, news views and general bits and bats, I highly recommend the Neil Turner and Black Star Rising blog sites.

And now, I’m off for a week of R&R in Austria. Please behave while I’m away, and try not to miss me too much.

Auf wiedersehen!


A Poke in the iStock.

I was hoping to ignore the insane ramblings of the micro-payment stock photo community for a while, but then this happened:

It’s finally dawned on someone at iStockphoto that although it should be easy enough to make a profit from selling something you’re given for free, really it’s a lot harder than it looks (poor diddums). But for anyone who missed it, here is the signed confession from the boss of iStockphoto, Kelly Thompson:

“Since roughly 2005 we’ve been aware of a basic problem with how our business works. As the company grows, the overall percentage we pay out to contributing artists increases. In the most basic terms that means that iStock becomes less profitable with increased success. As a business model, it’s simply unsustainable: businesses should get more profitable as they grow. This is a long-term problem that needs to be addressed.”

fireworks night bonfire

Flaming stock images; they're everywhere!

The answer? To kick contributors in the teeth by lowering percentage payouts, which will work out as little as 11p per image sold, and to move the goal posts to make it harder for contributors to sell enough photos to graduate to the higher percentage payouts. Nice!

What Thompson is saying is that microstock simply isn’t viable as a model for selling photography. Ignore the reference he makes to percentages, they don’t change just because the business grows. It’s just that the costs of running such a scheme are too high – storage, admin, quality checking, maintenance. Rather as the model for supplying images to micro-payment stock sites isn’t viable – equipment, software, storage, maintenance…

I won’t go over the entire mess here, even though it would be exquisite fun. Instead I’ll point you to Jeremy Nicholl’s excellent post on the original announcement, and the iStockphoto contributor forum where you can indulge yourself in hundreds of pages of iHate from its own contributors here, here and here.

What I do wonder though, is now that the True Followers of the iStock dream are waking up from their torpor, what’s next? Many on the forum talk of leaving iStockphoto, and many may leave stock photography altogether as they realise the difficulty of making it pay and the costs involved in participating. Could a mass exodus to other sites or out of the industry affect prices for buyers? Could it cause problems with licensing across different agencies if contributors switch their collections? My feeling is most will sit tight and wait for the next round of abuse as the new model fails to raise enough profit for iStock’s owners.

And will the lower-end designers start to desert iStockphoto and other exploitative sites if they see fellow creatives being hurt? I suspect not, because if micro-stock sites get too expensive they’ll switch to other methods – a bit of Grand Theft Flickr, or Google Images larceny. The problem is, too many people have been told that photography is cheap, and despite all the evidence to the contrary they’ll continue to expect what they’ve grown accustomed to.

What might happen (and is already starting to happen in my professional experience) is that the better designers and their clients will eschew microstock, or at least treat it more as a last resort. After all, if its reputation as exploitative and unsustainable is really starting to gain traction, would you want your business to be associated with that?

Need a press photographer?

children carrying yellow pages

Names (left to right) and reason for the photo are essential IPTC information.

Don’t go looking through the plumbers section of the Yellow Pages then.

Well, that’s an easy lesson to remember, but where it gets trickier is when you search for a press photographer and you come across dozens of on-line listings for photographers who claim to do press work, but have no experience or training in the field whatsoever.

Some will be primarily wedding photographers, others will be studio and portrait photographers, but the question to ask is, “do they have a press background?” This is easily checked because they should be able to tell you where they trained and which paper or agency trained them.

You might just want a photographer to cover an event for you for PR or to set up some one-off PR images, but unless the photographer actually knows what local, regional, national or even trade press want, you could be wasting your time and money.

It isn’t just about style either. Many wedding photographers talk of offering “reportage style” photography in their wedding packages, but that’s not the same as newspaper or reportage coverage of an event destined for a journalist’s in-box.

One common error amongst the un-trained photographers doing press work is to forget to take suitable captions to go with the photo, so the desk won’t know who is in the photo, which names belong to which faces, where the event happened, why it happened… everything the desk needs to be able to use the photo.

Non-press photographers aren’t au fait with things like technical requirements either. File size is a big bugbear of many journalists as they’re either sent files which are far too small to be publishable, or the files are so huge they crash the paper’s entire email system. Not a good way to win positive press coverage.

Sometimes using someone not familiar with press best practices or even trained in relevant areas of law (as all trained photo-journalists are) can be downright foolhardy. Sometimes photographers need to know the law in order to be able to stand their ground and get the job done in the face of a belligerent jobsworth, and other times they need to know what the limits of legality are in order to avoid committing an offence. You don’t want your PR job to miss deadline because the photographer has stepped out of line and ended up in the back of a police van. You equally don’t want your published PR photo to land you in trouble over some inadvertent defamation. This too could backfire into very negative PR.

It’s a simple message this week. Press photography is a distinct and separate discipline, and not best carried out by just anyone with a camera. You’re spending money on PR, so spend it wisely and get great results, safely.