The Mind Makes it Real

I wasn’t planning to write a blog post today, but an email in my inbox this morning changed all that.  You might say it blew my socks off.

One of my friends turned me on to an inspirational email blast by a man named J. Michael Dolan.  I read them each day and find he usually is telling me exactly what I need to hear.  He also sees life in a different way, one that closely aligns with how I see it and I have had the good fortune of exchanging a couple of emails with him.

This morning I read a response from him to my email commenting on his blog post “Choke, Stall and Flinch“.  I had remarked on how true I found the line in it “The one thing we artists & treps have in common is that we worry about the future. Why? Because we’re charged with inventing it from nothing—then we stake our entire livelihood on it.”

His response to it left me in tears.  I felt like someone really understood just what it is like to be an artist.  But more, what the world itself is really like.  You see, life is like our art.  We create it from nothing, it only seems that it is the world around us that dictates our actions.

Then I re-read his blog post and saw the missing piece, where I have been making my mistake.  You see, we do create our futures, but we also create what we don’t want as well.  I will be moving to my goal, something will occur and I put my attention on it instead.  I will flinch, and in that instant I’ve lost.  I put my attention on the barrier, the problem, the upset with whoever, the threat coming in at me – instead of the goal – and what I object to becomes more real.  I put more effort into trying to solve it and it grows more formidable.  The goal is lost as long as I try to solve the problem  instead of simply moving forward to the goal.

I can explain this best by likening it to the Matrix.  While there are many key points there in regard to this, such as the line about  “…seek to see the truth.  There is no spoon.  Then you will see it is not the spoon that changes, it is only yourself.”  Or when Neo is bleeding after the jump scene and Morpheus says “The mind makes it real…”  and the line about “I’m trying to free your mind.”

There is a point in the movie that was not spoken that I now see.  Who built the Matrix in the first place?  Well, it was built by the people it now enslaves.  And that is the key.  Once you take responsibility for creating it, you are free to control it. It can no longer harm you.  The Matrix exists only  because it is being created by those who fight it.

What we experience is what we create.  It may seem otherwise, but that is the simple truth of the matter.  And the things we create are those that we put our attention on, whether that be past misfortunes, something we object to in the present… or something we desire inn the future that did not previously exist.  Freedom, or lack of it, depends on which we choose to do.  As Morpheus said, “free your mind” and choose to create the future you desire.

The photo I am posting with this is part of a series I am working on along this very line.  It is an effort to communicate the role of the spirit to the material world and just how illusionary this world is.  And I urge you, if you work in any of the arts, or are an entrepreneur, or simply have a dream or ambition beyond being a cog in the 9 to 5 work a day world, click one of the links above and start reading Michael’s blog.  What you will get out of it will be different… but it will be what you need to get.

The Mind Makes it Real, copyright Mark Stout

The Mind Makes it Real, copyright Mark Stout

 

Portfolio Reviews at the Art Institute

I recently had the honor and pleasure of being asked to participate in a portfolio review for the Alumni of the Colorado Art Institutes photography students.

It seems you always get back what you give, and in this case it was as much an educational experience for me as it was for the Alumni.  Not only did I have the thrill of seeing how others express their creativity, I was able to see how they presented it from the viewpoint of the prospect.

I was surprised at what I could see in the work.  The photographer’s strengths were immediately apparent, as was what each most loved to shoot.  At times that love would be the least represented in their portfolios…. something I myself am guilty of and understand.  For in that work is a piece of ourselves and one we don’t always trust the world with.

For all the hoopla about the iPad, I had to conclude it is NOT a good way for a photographer to display his/her work.  With the print books, I was able to experience the tactile of the paper, the way the work was framed by the paper itself, and I was able to easily able to keep a finger in the book at images I wanted to come back to and either reference against other work, or comment on.  The iPad, by contrast, would often play the images in an annoying slideshow, and when it didn’t the images were small, and lacking the appeal of the print counterparts.  I also found I welcomed the chance to move away from a computer monitor for a moment.  Oh, by the way, plastic sleeves over your print work is definitely out!  I’ve heard that repeatedly and when I found myself struggling to see the beautiful images through the glare of the overhead lights on the plastic, I knew the advice was well said.

Most of all the experience was humbling.  To see so much creativity from so many different points of view told me that I still have a lot of room to grow.

My thanks to the Art Institute for inviting me to participate in this wonderful experience.

Denver photographer

Art Institute Alumni waiting for portfolio reviews – copyright Mark Stout

One Click to Support Your Copyright Protection

I spent the day reviewing my business and marketing.  One of the conclusions I came to was that it was a vital necessity for photographers to devote some of our time to supporting those activities that keep the industry professional, healthy and profitable.  There are simply too many who seek to eliminate our right to profit from the work we create to do nothing.

I turned back to my email to find a message from the Copyright Alliance.  It seems Google and the Electronic Frontiers Foundation EFF have launched an attack on copyright under the guise of keeping the web free.  I’ve always wondered how it is that Google and similar organizations can stand before the world and say the work we create should be free for the taking when they, themselves, do not allow any of what they create to be available to the world at all.  Don’t believe me?   Just try to get your hands on Google’s code for building a search engine.   Or, worse, get your hands on it and publish it and see what they do to you for the breach of their rights.

Copyright is valuable.  That is why it is under constant attack.  And without it, we cannot profit from our work.

The Copyright Alliance has made it possible to send a letter to your elected officials urging them to protect our right to earn a living in one simple click.  It is well worth taking a moment to do so.  The message is:

“You create it, you own it.”

“For creators, copyright serves as a foundation, a building block for a thriving and ever expanding market of cultural, educational, and scientific works, one that in 2012 contributed over one trillion dollars to the U.S. economy and directly employed over 5 million workers. As Congress reviews copyright law, we ask that it keeps creators and their rights front and center because their contributions benefit us all.”

Please take a moment to click this link to go to the Copyright Alliance’s action center and ask your Representatives to support your right to earn a living from what you create.

The double standard on photo copyrights

I have been noticing for some time a double standard where copyright is concerned.  Earlier, it was how those lobbying for the Orphan Works law to be passed to allow them easier access to images and little to no penalty if they get caught taking an image without due diligence to find and pay the copyright holder for the use were the same corporations who depend so much on their own copyright being protected and enforced.

More recently, I have noticed a trend for media and others to simply help themselves to the images on social media without even so much as proper credit given to the creator of the image. During the Colorado floods, I looked at an article on USA Today and found they had build in an app to pull images off of Twitter and FB and use them for their photos.  The photographers were not credited or paid and USA Today profited.

One is left to wonder if they would feel the same should someone copy in entirety one of their articles and post it on their own blog or Facebook page and not even credit USA Today as the source.  Can you spell L A W S U I T ?

A short while later I saw an article in Photo District News about the lawsuit against Getty Images that resulted when they helped themselves to Daniel Morel’s images on TwitPics of the Haiti Earthquakes…. which they licensed to media for their monetary gain.  Getty has made headlines numerous times for filing suit against anyone who uses one of their images without licensing it through them, yet in their defense when they do it, they see it differently.

In their defense, Getty said “they believed they had the right to do so and were acting within industry norms, customs, and practice.”  Read the article on PDN here.

Really?  If that is true, it then means the industry standard is that when Getty or another large corporation needs an image, it is free for the taking.  But when and individual photographer has his image stolen by the same it is “industry norms, customs and practice.”

The truly sad thing here is that it is true.  It is completely inverted that the person who produces the work seems to be the only one who is not allowed to profit from it.  We need to turn it around.  Copyright law was enacted to protect the ability of the creator of the work to profit from it, and to be able to fund the cost of producing more work. Unless we defend that right for ALL creators – not just big media outlets and stock photo agencies – everyone loses.  Even those who are currently seeking a one sided advantage – for when copyright no longer applies to the individual creator, it will no longer be held valid for the large corporations.

Questions from Photography Students

I frequently get emails from students at photography schools asking for what I can tell them about the business of photography. I’m always happy to answer them. I still haven’t forgotten how confusing the industry can seem at first and how difficult it can be to find good sound information on how to run a successful commercial photography business.

I just answered one from a photography major at the Art Institute. I answer some questions many photographers have and tell him where to find more info. I decided to post the email here in the hopes that it will help a few others as well.

Hi _____
Answers to your questions below questions…

Hello my name is ______ and I am a Student at the Art Institute of Denver majoring in Photography. If there is ANY WAY you could help me out with just answering a couple question it would help me so much with my assignment.

I was curious if:

1: Do you recommend starting off working on starting your own business or being a second shooter for a different photographer or business?

If you can find a photographer to hook up with assisting full time, that is the fastest path to success. There is too much false info on the biz circulating and working with an established pro can help you see first hand how business is REALLY done, how they handle problems, what is expected by high end clients and so on. That said, we don’t have many fashion shooters in Denver who are that busy. It is a secondary market here.

2. What do you think is the most important when starting a business?

Join a professional organization like American Photographic Artists, attend every event you can and get as involved as possible. Again, thanks to the internet, anyone with a computer can call themselves experts and do so and the amount of false, bad, and misleading information is staggering. Those who know the least tend to say the most. If you want to be a successful pro, you need to hang out with pros and the pros tend to be part of professional organizations.

And perhaps more important is to learn how to say no. The client asking you to shoot for free because of the “exposure” you will get is actually the person you hoped that “exposure” should lead to. When you say yes to a bad deal, you hurt yourself more than just that loss of income (you have told yourself your work is worthless and that does more damage than anything) and you harm the industry as a whole.

3. How much do you normally charge or get paid for one fashion shoot/portrait?

There is a huge difference between a fashion shoot and a portrait in what is involved. And each shoot can be vastly different. For example, shooting corporate staff where they want dozens of people all shot in front of a studio background (fairly easy) is going to be less per person than a highly creative portrait done for a musician for a CD Cover. A fashion shoot can involve wardrobe, makeup artists, stylists, assistants, and multiple models… so the costs will vary according to the expenses of these various things. You will find very few photographers will talk numbers and it is frustrating. A really good book, if you can still get it is “The Photographers Survival Guide” by Amanda Sosa Stone and Suzanne Sease. They give you the info no one else does on all aspects of the business from marketing to what to charge, and they do give numbers. I have a blog post up that gives links to some resources for more info on pricing here https://markstoutphotography.wordpress.com/2013/05/24/how-to-prepare-estimates-and-price-photoshoots/

Also, you will find on aphotoeditor.com some posts by Bill Cramer of Wonderful Machine that show the entire estimates and give prices charged for various things. Here is a link to one of them, you will have to hunt around for the rest http://www.aphotoeditor.com/2012/06/05/pricing-negotiating-spokesperson-advertising-shoot/

Researching your client is part of this too. You want to know how big the client is, how wide the campaign is going to go, and understand usage rights. The designer working out of her home sewing the outfits she sells herself is not going to have the budget that Armani will… nor will her campaign go as wide.

It will take you a while, quite a while to get your head around this all, but this should give you a good starting point.

4. When hiring an assistant what are the major things you are looking for in a photographer?

When I hire an assistant, I’m usually looking for an assistant, not a 2nd shooter. I need someone to help me set up the gear, keep an eye on things, adjust a light fast etc, etc. It’s really quite a bit to know…. but most of all I want someone who can see what needs to be done and do it, who is professional on the set, doesn’t try to upstage me in front of a client, and is interested in the success of the shoot.

Your timing on this is good. APA Colorado is having a Photo Assistant Basic Training event on the 21st and 22nd. It is a fantastic event with industry heavyweights there, sponsored by Sony and brought out by APA National. Here is the link to the event: http://apacolorado.com/Upcoming-APAColorado-Events/photo-assistant-basic-training-2013.html

I’ve been to one of these. Excellent event and it gives you insight into the industry you won’t get anywhere else. It is hard to know what you don’t know is there to know yet… and events like this give you that info. The most successful photographers I know began by assisting.

Good luck. Stay in touch.
Mark

The most important thing I have learned as a photographer

I’m frequently asked what it the most important thing I have learned as a photographer. I never hesitate with the answer. It is how and when to say “No thanks.”

I still remember the early days when any appreciation or recognition for my work seemed so valuable that the temptation to throw away good business sense was strong. But most of these “opportunities” amounted to nothing other than exploitation, and to accept them would mean giving away the only thing I have that really matters: my integrity to myself and the value of my work.

A rather interesting such “opportunity” hit my email box yesterday from a large stock photo company wanting me to shoot a concert for their library and I thought I would share it with you.

Dear Photographer,

A ______ concert will take place at _____ in Denver, Colorado on _____ . Since you are in that area, we need your help as a skilled photographer to provide imagery related to this event.

We need about 3 different images.  The images might be featured on in our “In the News” section which will provide them good exposure and increase their sales potential. This section has become a common reference for major newspapers and magazines throughout the world. Your efforts will help them to cover this event in a more accurate way.

To an “emerging photographer” trying to “break in” this could seem like an opportunity to get photos of a big name performer in one of the largest venues in the city. But this is not what it seems. This is a microstock agency that contacted me wanting the images for their library where they will license for a dollar or two. After they take their cut off the top, and with the limited sales due to constrained subject matter (no matter how famous, a celebrity picture will not gain the stock sales that a generic one will), I might stand to make $20 off the images in a year.  How will that help my business?

Meanwhile, if I was to accept it, I would be doing considerable harm to many sectors of the industry and my fellow photographers. For example, the Chicago Sun Tribune could not have laid off its entire staff of photographers were it not for the exact type of action requested here. Why would they pay for a photographer to cover the show when they could license the image a day later for $2.00?

My response was:

This is a request I will need to pass up for many reasons.  As someone who has worked in music photography for years I understand well the issues this creates.  One, (venue name) will not allow photography at the venue UNLESS you have been issued credentials by both the band’s manager and the venue.   I’m not big on sneaking into venues.  Two, the pay that this will result in is not worth the time, effort and expense… yes expense, it DOES cost us money each time we do a shoot.  With prep time, shoot time, travel time and post production I would be spending an entire day of my time for three images that are not likely to earn much.  Three, having microstock move into this area of photography destroys yet another market and means the artists, venues and media no longer have to pay fair prices for the images AT THE EXPENSE OF THE PHOTOGRAPHER.  This is taking jobs from media photographers, it denies the artist control over where and how his/her image appears, and destroys the earning power of all photographers in the entertainment industry.

No thanks.  I can’t take part in that.
Mark Stout

This, as in deciding whether or not to take all shoots that come my way is a judgment call. There are many factors to consider. And while profitability is a factor to consider, there is always a broader issue to be looked at. What will be the impact on the greater industry?

This doesn’t mean there is never a time you say yes to a shoot that doesn’t pay well. Just as photographers are at different levels of skill and ability, clients come from different walks. There may be a reason you want to help that client. Or you may see some value gained other than money (but be careful with this one, as usually the case is you should be getting both that value… such as the exposure the shoot will gain… and the pay for doing the work).

But when you see examples such as above where a multi-million dollar corporation is asking you to help them profit by cheating you and your fellow photographers out of your pay… or the case of an ad agency who asked me to do a two day shoot for a Fortune 500 company for less than I would make were I to shoot a high school student’s Senior Pictures, it’s time to say no and walk away.

So again, the most important thing I have learned? Separate my creative ambition from my businessman’s hat. If I don’t do the second part I will not long be able to do the first.

Please !

Photographer’s Rights Under Attack

With their permission, I am reposting an email I received from American Photographic Artists.  These all exemplify the need for photographers to take the necessary steps to actually become professionals.  Taking pretty pictures is not enough.  No one is going to come along and “do the right thing” because your work is good.  As you can see in the examples below, they will do the opposite.
What strikes me in the examples below is that in each example, photographers are not being perceived as professionals.  Now before any of us point the finger at the “bad” corporations, we need to take a look at why they may have come to perceive photographers as sitting ducks waiting for the next client whose business they can subsidize by funding the cost of a shoot and giving the images away free… or next to it.  That reason lies in our own back yard.  It is because too many of us have failed to actually become professionals.
Being a professional also requires that you know the ropes of the industry.  The legal and ethical issues that can arise with the creation of images and their use.  Knowing what you should charge in various markets, knowing and enforcing copyright law and how to license your images.  Seeing when the expectations and demands of the client are such that it will cause the shoot to fail and how to educate the client on the need to do it right (and also knowing enough to know when a shoot is beyond your capabilities and referring the work to someone more experienced in that area).
It also involves having a respect for your images, knowing their real value to you, to the client, and in some cases the world.  When you fail to understand that and allow others to take advantage of you,  you have compromised your own personal integrity and told yourself that your work is worthless.  That is a point from which you can’t climb back.  It is our own perception of the value of our work that dictates what we get.  Not the corporate giants.  No one has to surrender their rights to profit from an image in the effort to win a contest, nor do they have to agree to allow it to be published for nothing more than having their name appear on the masthead (the magazine staff all appear their as well, ask them if that is what they take home for their paycheck).
Professionals also understand that we have a responsibility to the industry in which we work.  None of us can survive long if the other photographers, the assistants, makeup artists, stylists, art directors, producers, agencies, and, yes, the clients don’t also do well.  If you haven’t done so already, please take the necessary steps to become a real professional.  A good first step would be to join a professional organization and tap into the wealth of support and information that is available through such organizations.
The article is below:
Photographers’ Rights Have Been Under Attack
In the past few weeks, three events have surfaced that serve to illustrate the assault that working and emerging professional photographers are under to surrender their federally-guaranteed rights to earn a living from their images.  APA, the most prestigious national organization for professional photographers, and its national chapter, APA/EP (focused on editorial photographers), are deeply concerned with these ongoing developments.
APA continues to urge independent photographers to resist surrendering rights to their images without fair compensation, while continuing to evolve and adapt to a new digital-media reality.
1. Condé Nast publications’ Vogue Magazine has partnered with the Italian fashion designer, Bottega Veneta, in a photography competition that unnecessarily and unfairly grabs unlimited, non-photo-credited rights, including lucrative publication and advertising rights, to every image submitted to the contest – NOT just winning images, but EVERY IMAGE: http://promotions.vogue.com/promo_newexposure2013.php.  Unfortunately, they are not alone in their strategy.  Hundreds of photo contests every year build vast libraries of free imagery by dangling the promise of exposure and publicity, then insidiously seizing broad usage rights to every image submitted via the fine print of the contests’ terms.
APA endorses the mission of the Artists Bill of Rights organization http://artists-bill-of-rights.org and strongly believes that while photo contests can play a role within a photographer’s well-planned marketing strategy, the price of admission should not be the complete surrender of copyright to every image submitted.  We should never be so vain, or so desperate, to get published that we forget that the ultimate goal of being published is to be paid.

2. On May 20, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer was quoted as saying, “There’s no such thing as Flickr Pro today because [with so many people taking photographs] there’s really no such thing as professional photographers anymore.”   While she quickly apologized on her Twitter account @marissamayer and claimed the comment was taken out of context, this slip by the CEO of one of America’s largest internet companies brutally highlights the lens with which our profession is viewed by much of corporate America.
APA would like to reiterate that copyright protects the work of ALL creatives – big internet, media, and movie companies, and independent small business owners alike.  Millions of sole proprietors and small creative businesses are able to make their livings, pay their taxes, and send their children to college because federal copyright law grants them the right to charge for the use of their creations if they choose to do so.  And yes, professional photographers are still alive and kicking and bringing you images from Afghanistan, Boston, Sandy Hook, and Fukushima, thank you very much.

3. Finally, as widely reported by NPR http://n.pr/106j3vP and the Chicago Tribune http://bit.ly/106jh6b  among others, on May 28 the Chicago Sun-Times laid off their entire professional photo staff of twenty eight people and plans to replace them with freelancers and images shot by reporters.  Among those laid off was Pulitzer Prize winner, John H. White.  In a wired world that is more visual than ever, the Sun-Times has shortsidedly decided that “good enough” is all their readers deserve.
Our friends at National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) have a follow up story of the Sun-Times photographers and supporters picketing the newspaper’s office that you can read HERE.
APA and APA/EP strongly affirm that in this increasingly visual world, professional-quality photojournalism is more important than ever, not less.  Visual and written storytelling are equally important, but distinctly different, skills.  Just as true news-gathering organizations do not write their lead stories from cut-and-paste Twitter feeds, they should not rely on anything less than the best original photojournalism they can afford.
APA and our partners believe that creativity is the cultural soul of our nation.  As such, it deserves to be valued, respected, nurtured, and protected.  Assaults on the right to profit from creative efforts are assaults on our country’s cultural identity.  Despite our free market economy, APA believes we as a nation value our cultural heritage more than pure profit at any cost for corporate America.  We urge photographers, other visual artists, and all creatives to protect their copyrights, earn from them fairly, and continue to create for the benefit of our nation.

Please !