The Athlete and The Media

The relationship between sports media and professional athletes is so difficult to describe. But the plain and simple fact is that most professional athletes forget the most basic tenet of business: Without the media, the athlete will be a average paid, middle class working “joe.” Yet despite that fact, many of professional athletes that I’ve encountered as a photographer lose sight of this once they’ve hit the big time.

No doubt the emerging star embraces the media exposure and the requests for interviews and photo shoots. Why? Simple. Money, baby. The emerging star understands that exposure leads to discovery and discovery leads eventually to the pros (never discounting the significance of the athlete’s talent and perseverance). Pros receive hefty contracts from their teams and/or lucrative endorsement deals with various sponsors. That process all starts as early as middle school for some, high school and college athletes for most. Top notch high school athletes have press agents and people that handle their publicity. Hey, that’s smart in my book, but the problem is that most pro athletes forget that the media was an integral part of their journey to prosperity.

The reason teams pay big money to big name athletes is to draw paying fans into their arenas, stadiums, courses etc. How are fans going to be excited about seeing a particular athlete if the fans have no idea who they are? Without the magazines, newspapers, radio and online publications writing about and photographing the athlete, fans would have no desire to pay $50 to see a baseball game. Case and point: When the Dodgers signed Manny Ramirez, ticket sales went through the roof. Fans pay to see star athletes and those fans rely on the media to tell them about the athlete’s accomplishments (and failures).

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Jordin Tootoo on the Hudson Bay near his home in Rankins Inlet, Canada.

Like many relationships, the athlete/media relationship doesn’t have to be based on love. But it does need a healthy dose of mutual respect and understanding to prosper.  So it’s refreshing to come across  pro athletes who still understand this union. And there are a number of them out there. A couple years ago I spent time with NHL player Jordin Tootoo , right, and his family at their home near the Arctic Circle. Very, very cool, humble people who treated me like family (even breaking out the good beer one night!). Another example was when I had the chance to spend a few days with LPGA star (and crossover celebrity who had her own reality show) Natalie Gulbis. Extremely genuine person who was friendly, helpful and thankful for the story and shoot SI did.  ‘Course, her dad rides a Harley and has a law enforcement background, so it’s easy to see how she stayed grounded.

Brain Gay and Family in Mexico

Brain Gay enjoys his family at the beach in Mayakoba near Cancun, Mexico.

Most recently, I spent a few days with Brian Gay and his family in Mayakoba which is about an hour south of Cancun on the Yucatan Peninsula. Sports Illustrated’s Alan Shipnuck was writing a piece about Brian’s long and hard road to success on the PGA Tour, out this week and available here. Brian travels most the time with his wife, Kimberly, and their two young daughters. Brian is on the quiet side but was friendly, pleasant and accepting of spending quite a bit of time shooting away from the course. The same for his wife who told me on more than one occasion how much they appreciated the time we were putting into the story. That’s rare. Even more rare was returning to my room to find a bottle of wine, some gourmet cheese and a note from the Gay family thanking me again. Good manners or good business? Both! It’s smart business and plain old nice to treat people with dignity and respect.

Lorena Ochoa

Lorena Ochoa is a fan and media favorite.

Lorena Ochoa, the best female golfer in the world, and one of the richest,  knows like few others how to treat everyone with respect. She’s notorious for stopping by to visit with the grounds crew at a tournament and for inviting them out to celebrate on the final hole when she wins a tournament. And she’s a fan favorite, too. Pure class. And a pure understanding of how it all works.

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Solitude

I’ve been thinking a lot about solitude. It’s a word that has significant meaning. Solitude, from the Latin Solitudo, is a word often associated with loneliness but truly means a state of being alone or in an uninhabited place. Though the literal translation of the word insists you can not be around others and achieve solitude, I totally disagree. In my opinion, solitude or uninhabited places can be mental or physical. I believe solitude is as much spiritual as physical, hence the feeling of being all “alone” while meditating or kissing a loved one in a crowded place.

It’s a word I’ve always loved and upon reflection find my photographs often gravitate toward moments of solitude, both conceptually and literally. I love moments that capture a person’s or place’s solitude, or moments whereby I imply solitude by composition. The aspect of isolation is intriguing in photography as it is in life. Perhaps my interest in finding that solitude in my life is the reason it comes from me naturally in my photographs. I seek solitude, like most others, when I need to recharge myself. I’ve found solitude physically when I’m snowboarding or fishing in the Sierras, hiking in the local mountains or laying on a beach. A recent assignment in Mayakoba in the Mexican Riviera was great for many reasons, but it’s funny how often I’ve thought about the pleasure I had in simply opening my door to a mangrove, no one within sight and hearing nothing but birds and parrots. That was solitude. That recharged me physically and emotionally. Emotional solitude often comes from being alone, but I’ve experienced this type of respite when among others. Consider meditation. Isn’t that the act of finding solitude even if you’re among a group? I’ve hardly perfected meditation, but I have attempted it on dozens of occasions and found mental solitude while with others.

A young man is alone with his thoughts on a rural road in Texas.

A young man is alone with his thoughts on a rural road in Texas.

So I gathered a selection of images together that I think reflect on this word. Mind you, I didn’t set out to shoot images of solitude. Instead, I found myself reflecting on the word after coming back from a recent trip which led me to see how my images have reflected the feeling of solitude.

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Taxes Are Good For You!

Taxes are a pain. Doing your taxes is depressing. Filing your taxes causes anxiety. It’s all true, right down to the world’s biggest cliche of The Two Certainties in Life: Death and Taxes.

But are taxes good for you?

The last several tax returns have provided me a great tool for business assessment and planning. Any freelance photographer should realize the information you gather, categorize and itemize in preparation for filing taxes is extremely valuable and should be seen as a asset instead of a pain. And not just for what appears on “the

Undocumented immigrants scaling US/Mexico border

Undocumented immigrants scaling US/Mexico border

bottom line.” No doubt we all wish to turn healthy profits, but there are so many mitigating factors that play into the “bottom line”. The factors create the bottom line. Ignore those factors and you might have recurring problems in future years. Embrace and analyze those mitigating factors and you might grow and prosper even in tougher years. Or at least stay in business.

I don’t claim to be some business clairvoyant who runs a perfect business (whatever that might be), but I have taken the time to review my freelance business and adjust for variations in our industry which has proven helpful.

The biggest mistake I see most people making is the assumption that the more money you make the better off your business will be. Wrong! And my last tax report supports that it’s wrong. The assumption that making more money is key to everything only takes in one-half of the equation. The other half? Expenses! And the information on your expenses is readily apparent during tax preparation. Use that information. It’s hardly a secret that you need to keep expenses down when business is down. Well, did you last year? Take the expense/tax information from last year and project for the coming year and it’s easier to weather the bad economy.

Getting the expenses in check when there is a slowdown was priority one for me. Priority number two was likely the same as everyone elses;  increase revenue. Quite a few years ago I set out to increase my royalty income derived from licensing images through my agency, Aurora Photos. My tax accountant mentioned back then  that royalties are not subject to self employment tax (which is half of the social security tax or 7.5%). Therefore, royalty income was listed separately from my wages (eg: assignment income on 10-99). I was able to use the tax return to see exactly how my income was broken down. Using that information, and knowing how well several of my colleagues have done licensing photos, I set out to grow that end of my income.

Why is that important to consider now? Because with publications cutting assignments I  assumed my assignment income would diminish during this economic downturn. And it did, by about 20%. No surprise there. But since I made a concerted effort over the last half dozen years to grow my archive, my royalty income grew nearly 20% last year. Again, that information was available by comparing 2007 and 2008 tax returns. Truthfully, the 20% growth still didn’t match the 20% decline in assignment income, but it definitely helped offset it. And it took a lot of hard work.

Besides your tax returns, there’s other information available to photographers to help sustain or grow your business even during tough times. About the same time that I created a workflow and spent my non-shooting days working on my images for licensing, Aurora Photos began to grow and make outstanding headway with licensing the archive of all their photographers. Part of that growth was to provide a detailed, monthly report to photographers stating which images sold, to whom they sold and for what price. Again, that information has been used to help me formulate and understand how the licensing market is evolving and which images have sold consistently. Using the information provided by my agency I determined that the image embedded above (migrants scaling the US/Mexico border fence) is one of my most often licensed photos.

Licensing your images for additional income assumes you own the right to the images. If you were foolish enough to sign those rights away in order to get an assignment, then you don’t have the option of the additional revenue. The publication does. It also assumes you are willing to work hard at a fairly tedious process of ingesting, editing, adjusting, sizing, applying complete and accurate metadata and uploading images on a daily basis. Obviously, placing your images on a website that has e-commerce and is easily navigable is as essential as having a reliable car to get you to assignments. My personal archive is on Photoshelter and I couldn’t be happier. An excellent company that provides photographers with information and the ability to make their images available. Once your images are available, try Google Analytics (it’s free!) to begin evaluating traffic and interest in your website. Then use that information to further adjust keywording etc, all of which will hopefully translate into additional royalties.

Makes the shooting end of things seem easy!

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(dis)Connecting

In this day and age devoted to constant connection (email, Twitter, text, Facebook, MySpace, cells……..), do you ever think about leaving the Blackberry, computer, IPhone, Netbook or any other electronic leash behind and just “checking out” from time to time?

As any freelancer can attest, you have to be reachable if you’re going to succeed. Which is absolutely true. It’s also the absolute reason it’s necessary to disconnect from time to time.

Disconnecting is necessary from time to time.

Disconnecting is necessary from time to time.

I just got back from snowboarding with my son in Mammoth. Two months ago, I brought my Blackberry on the mountain. Not this time. I disconnected. I changed the voicemail message to let any callers know I’d be checking messages at the end of each day. I felt so much more relaxed and honestly enjoyed myself more. My attention was on having fun (and trying to beat my speed demon son down the mountain). And I did. What a difference…………… But just as you seem to notice, say, all blue cars after you buy a blue car, I noticed how many others were on their phones, texting or otherwise connected. Even my son was annoyed at the guy on the lift talking loudly about a real estate deal at one point. Disconnect and enjoy the view, I thought.

I’m not going to complain about the guy, though he was annoying. My point is simple: As technology makes it easier to connect from any place at any time, sometimes it’s best to simply disconnect.

Our beloved Crackberries need to be recharged, right? It only goes to reason that so do I.

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The Border

US Customs & Border Protection marine unit patrols waters near US/Mexico border.

US Customs & Border Protection marine unit patrols waters near US/Mexico border.

I had a recent shoot at the US/Mexico border for TIME that had me thinking about my “early” days shooting along the border. I began venturing down to the border in San Diego in the early 1990’s. Back then it was completely normal to see hundreds of migrants standing just inside the United States along the Tijuana River levy. In broad daylight, no less. They would form small groups, talk amongst themselves with their backpacks laying beside them in the dirt. At that time there was only a single fence that was so easy to climb that rumor had it the fence was installed improperly. Border Patrol vehicles would speed up to the migrants, hardly catching them by surprise, and the groups would scatter quickly back to Mexico. Many times, including once when I was shooting for TIME, the migrants would simply sit on top of the fence and exchange good-natured barbs with the agents .

US Border Patrol outnumbered at the US/Mexico border fence.

US Border Patrol outnumbered at the US/Mexico border fence.

I don’t want to imply that the agents were not taking their jobs seriously, for they definitely did, but things were altogether different then. The Border Patrol was severely out numbered and they knew it. So they caught as many as they could and generally played the proverbial cat-and-mouse game (right).

Until 1994 and the beginning of the build up to stop illegal immigration.They called it Operation Gatekeeper.

I don’t want to bore anyone reading this with pages devoted to every shoot I did from San Diego to Texas, but trust me when I tell you that I would never have thought that the border would become so difficult to cross that migrants would be taking to the sea like their counterparts in Cuba and Haiti. But that’s exactly what is happening. Nearly 15 years of building fences, installing lights and sensors and placing agents along the nearly 2000 miles of border between the US and Mexico has, to say the least, drastically changed the game. In fact, it’s become so difficult to cross the border that migrants are choosing to hug the bottom of a 15 ft Panga (Mexican fishing boat) with twenty others praying the unreliable outboard gets them to El Norte.

Walking down the boat ramp on a recent Sunday morning hours before the sun would rise, I couldn’t help but think about the changes. I climbed aboard the 39 foot, 1000 horsepower Customs and Border Protection boat for a pretty wild ride. The patrol works in the dark with lights out. Using night vision and instruments for guidance, the CBP agents patrol the waters in tandem with helicopters who call out suspicious boats for the marine unit to stop. But even if a Panga makes it past the Blackhawk’s and the speed boats, they have to avoid the Coast Guard cutters and helicopters. If they’re lucky enough to drift past them as well, one shoreline favored by smugglers seems to be picturesque Torrey Pines State Beach. There you’ll find a Lifeguard-Peace Officer who regularly patrols the beach and fully expects to soon hear a distress call announcing a capsized boat with dozens of migrants in the heavy surf. He has already come across several deserted Pangas in previous months, surmising the successful landing of smugglers and their human cargo.

How times have changed.

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