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Category Archives: Photography

I’m an introvert. There, I put it out there and now everyone knows. It may not seem that way to some people I know because of the work I do and the situations I subject myself to. Being a photographer who would rather take photos of landscapes and animals, makes it tough to work with people. Yet, that’s what I do almost daily–work with people. After all, photography is a service business and who do I serve? People.

As a service business, photography probably requires more interaction with customers and clients than most other service industries. Photographers must deal with scheduling, artistic direction, post-shoot changes, billing, referrals, and a myriad of other tasks that put us in direct contact with people. When I have to deal with people, I like to try and put myself in their shoes and hopefully see things from their point of view. I’m a big believer in fairness and the golden rule. Would I like to be treated the way I’m treating someone? Do I think what I’m doing is fair? These are just a couple of the questions I try to keep in my mind when I’m dealing with clients. I don’t always get it right, but I’m learning and I’m trying.

In the photography business, I face a lot of challenges, many of which weren’t issues just a couple decades back. From big picture problems such as, how to justify the need for photography services when just about everyone owns a camera, to day to day issues such as, keeping on top of schedules and payments which are completely internet-based. But the biggest challenge is keeping customers happy. What happens though when I’m not the one solely responsible for their satisfaction?

Over the past few years, hundreds of businesses providing photography services have sprouted up. They employ an army of gig-based talent to go out and take the photos, while they handle the logistics and money. For many photographers like me, it has been both a blessing and curse. I don’t have to deal with getting jobs and billing, but I still deal with people, probably even more people than if I got shoots on my own. Not only do I represent myself when I’m with a client, I also represent the company which got me the gig. Because of that, I often hear an earful.

If I could start a company that could stay on top of customer service in the photography industry, I would put most of my competitors out of business. My early career taught me the value of good customer service, even when dealing with unpleasant people. I worked at Nexis/Lexis in telephonic technical support. Nexis/Lexis had the largest legal database, combined with one of the most complicated system interfaces I’ve ever seen. Add to this rude attorneys, assistants and clerks working in New York City, and all I can say is that I’m glad a phone line separated us. What I learned, however, is that the people I helped would often ask specifically for me because I treated them right even when they didn’t reciprocate.

That kind of service is even tougher today. I’ll take the real estate photography business as an example because it most closely matches my experiences in my younger days. I can still remember in the past when looking at real estate listings meant picking up a copy of a printed magazine at the grocery store. It had a single grainy B&W photo printed along with all the particulars of the property. Getting those ads meant weeks of lead time for the realtor and usually months for the seller. Nowadays, a listing with full-color and aerial photos or video or VR walkthroughs can take as little as a few days from the time the seller calls a realtor to having the listing online.

Realtors can be arrogant, demanding cheapskates–they are often hard to please. It doesn’t help that so many of them were brought up with a overgrown sense of entitlement that they deserve more. Even with all the technological advances that make it possible to get photos overnight, the expectation for great service for the cheapest price is still there.

On the other side of this are all the companies providing the photography service. Often started by younger entrepreneurs who grew up with parents who failed to set boundaries and received participation trophies. They’ve really never understood what customer service actually entails. They never had any good examples. They’re too arrogant to accept criticism or suggestions for improvement. They are obsessed with doing everything online so they don’t even bother to put a phone number on their website. And in a world where we have instantaneous access to everything and everyone, sending these companies an email or text message might as well be a letter sent through the Postal Service…via the slow boat to China.

What I hear most from customers of these companies–after all, I am a company representative–is that the photos produced are stunning, but the service is abysmal. Scheduling is difficult, billing is inaccurate, getting corrections made is impossible, and speaking to a live person is harder than seeing a yeti. Offering a fast or cheap service shouldn’t also mean bad service. Which brings me back to my statement: If I could start a company that could stay on top of customer service in the photography industry, I would put most of my competitors out of business. Who wants to join me?

About six months ago, I signed up for ImageBrief at the Explorer level. After submitting over 125 photos for over 30 briefs without any success, I want know if anyone has actually sold one of their photos through ImageBrief?

If you’re not familiar with ImageBrief, they allow ad agencies, publishing companies and brands to post a brief requesting an image. Photographers are able to respond to the brief by submitting images through the website, and depending on their level of enrollment, they keep 70-100% of the payment for the image. That amount is much better than the typical stock agency.

Premier members can also post their images for sale and submit themselves for jobs. And they get to keep everything they earn. It sounds great, but like all good sites, there is a lot of stiff competition. On a slow day, maybe 3 to 5 briefs are added. Some days, as many as 20 are added. Many briefs cover popular subjects and get hundreds of images submitted. But what actually happens with all those images?

With all the briefs to which I’ve submitted images, I’ve only seen four actually get awarded. Even with all the images I’ve submitted, I’ve never even been shortlisted once. I follow all the briefs to which I submit, and most just fade away into oblivion without so much as a status update to tell me what became of the image request. After a few months, some eventually are closed without any image selected. So it begs the question, has anyone ever actually sold an image through this service? At what membership level did this occur?

I get emails frequently trying to entice me to upgrade from my free membership, where I get to keep 70% of the awarded amount of the briefs, to a premier member, who gets to keep 100% of the awarded brief. Of course, they try to tell you that these premier members get job offers and are making money, but a half-dozen testimonials doesn’t convince me that this actually works for the little guy, like me. And at $60 per month or $500 per year, it’s an expensive investment without any guaranteed return. However, if I actually got awarded and paid for an image, I wouldn’t be as hesitant to upgrade.

Are you out on ImageBrief? What has your experience been? Do you think it’s worth your time and money?

Oh, and by the way, here’s my ImageBrief profile.

Did you know that there’s a stolen photography equipment registry? Apparently, it happens often enough that there’s a list of stolen cameras and other gear. So I’m not being overly cautious when I tell you that it happens all the time and you need to be vigilant. I’ll simply tell you what works for me. While some of these suggestions may sound like I’m being paranoid, I’ll just say that in 27 years of taking pictures, I do what’s on this list and have never had any equipment stolen. If only I could apply these easy suggestions to other things I own. (or used to own)

  • Keep your equipment with you at all times. – If you follow just this one suggestion, you don’t have the worry about most of the others. It only takes a second for your equipment to sprout legs and walk away. Just keeping it in your sight is not good enough. Anytime you are doing location shooting, keep your equipment on your body. Always put lenses and accessories back in your bag. If you must leave your camera momentarily (to stage the shoot or move props) have an assistant watch it closely.
  • Never put equipment in checked luggage – This should go without saying, but you simply won’t see it again. I’m not saying that baggage handlers are dishonest, but I certainly don’t want to give them the opportunity. All they need to do is x-ray your bag, keep it from getting on the airplane, and they can rummage through it at their leisure. Keep your equipment with you as carry-on baggage. If you have too much for carry-on, consider using Fedex or UPS with insurance to deliver it to your destination.

Read More »

When I’m shooting for a client locally, I’m not really concerned with the same things as when I’m traveling and taking photos along the way. These are different situations and they call for different equipment. When looking for travel cameras and photo gear, here’s what I consider important:

Quality is paramount

There’s not much point in taking photos if they’re not the best quality available today. Photo quality isn’t determined by the resolution or the camera processor, but by the glass that you shoot through. Good quality lenses make better photos, so I stick with well-respected German or Japanese brands. I explain this in much more detail at Choosing photo equipment.

Resolution is important

Medium format equipment these days can produce 50 megapixel images. Most digital SLRs are between 24 and 36 megapixels now. Even point and shoot cameras can capture 18 megapixels or more. Even though I just said in the previous paragraph that resolution does equate to quality, it is important, because a higher resolution image allows more flexibility for cropping and manipulation. So if that art director doesn’t want all that foreground that you’ve included in the shot, they can simply crop the photo and not sacrifice too much resolution to get only what they need. A low resolution image can’t be cropped much without some pixelation occurring. For what I’m doing, 20 megapixels is the minimum. Read More »

Curious camels

Capturing images in extreme conditions

Taking pictures in the Middle East can be a challenge. The sand and heat are just a couple of the things you’ll probably worry about. Even without a sandstorm, the sand seems to get everywhere and into everything. Left unchecked, it will eventually cause problems with your camera gear. And even without film to worry about, the heat will take its toll on you and your equipment. Here are a some things to consider and some tips to make your picture-taking more enjoyable.


It gets everywhere and it can’t be avoided. The best thing to do to avoid getting it into all those inaccessible places in your camera is to keep your camera in a zipped bag, pouch or pocket when you’re not using it. Avoid using your camera in sandstorms or windy conditions. If you can’t keep the sand off your gear, be sure to bring a squeeze bulb blower to help remove the sand and dust. Canned compressed air works well, but it tends to be bulky, heavy and forbidden in your carry-on. Be sure to thoroughly remove any sand or dust from both your camera and your bags and cases before changing lens, batteries or memory cards.

Wraparound sunglasses will keep the sand out of your eyes. I don’t recommend wearing contact lenses in the desert because the chance of getting dust in your eyes is almost guaranteed. High-top shoes or boots will help keep out the sand as you’re walking around shifting dunes. Read More »

i-t2P437x-SPhotography as a business is tough. Everyone has a camera nowadays and everyone thinks they’re a pro photographer just because they have a fancy new SLR. Fortunately, there are plenty of people who still believe a pro can do a better job or simply want to be in the action and not behind the camera. As a business that still means you have to find these people. Sometime last year, I joined a service called Thumbtack. If you aren’t familiar with the service, here’s a basic rundown on what they do.

As a customer seeking a professional, you answer questions about your personal projects. They send the customer requests to qualified professionals who respond if they are available and interested. As a professional, they promise to provide these leads to you, for which you pay to submit a quote. They claim that many pros who use it have doubled or even tripled the size of their business. In reality, it’s not quite that simple, nor effective, and here’s why.

To submit a quote, you have to purchase credits. Credits cost about $1.50/credit. Depending on the quote, it will cost between 2 and 9 credits. The more profitable the job being quoted, the more the quote will cost. Sounds great so far, right? Well, here’s where one of the first problems comes up. Read More »

In My Camera Bag

  • Nikon D300 Camera with MB-D10
  • Nikon D300 Camera (second body)
  • AF-S Nikkor 12-24mm f/4G ED
  • AF-S Nikkor 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5G ED
  • AF Nikkor 20mm f/2.8D
  • AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D
  • MF Nikkor 55mm f/3.5 Macro
  • AF-S VR-Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G ED
  • Nikon AF-I Teleconverter TC-20E 2X
  • Kenko Ext. Tube 12
  • Nikon SB-800 Flash
  • Macsense Geomet’r GNC-35 GPS receiver

Camera Support

  • Gitzo G1220 MkII Tripod
  • Arca Swiss B-1 MonoBall Head w/RRS flip-lock QR
  • Gitzo G026 Tripod
  • Kirk BH-3 Ball Head
  • Gitzo G1566 Monopod with Kirk QRC2
  • Nodal Ninja NN3 Panoramic Head
  • Kirk Camera Plates and L-brackets

I often get asked for advice about which camera to buy. I don’t try to sell people on Nikon just because I own one. I have Nikon cameras because I own a lot of Nikon lenses. I could just as easily have a Canon system if I had started out with one. Nowadays, there are so many options for digital cameras that it’s easy to get confused. Megapixels, sensor size, aspect ratios, mirrorless and crop factors are just a few of the terms thrown around in the camera stores and media.

I believe it’s important to have access to a large system of accessories. I certainly wouldn’t buy a lesser known system such as Ricoh, Pentax, Olympus or Sigma. That’s because there isn’t much support for those systems in the way of aftermarket accesories. The one thing that I find most important in choosing a system is the glass—the lenses. No matter how good the resolution or size of the sensor or quality of the image processor, without good glass, your pictures will lack in quality. Some of the best glass is German, with Japanese a close second, but you won’t get that level of quality in a $200 point and shoot. For quality lenses, plan on easily spending over $600 for a single lens and well over $1,500 if you want a really good high-speed lens. Great glass comes from German makers such as, Leica, Zeiss and Schneider. You’ll find these lenses paired with cameras from Panasonic, Sony and Samsung, respectively. Good glass comes from Nikon, Canon and Fuji, which they use on their own brand of cameras. Read More »

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