Licensing: It’s Just Like Going to Ruth Chris Steakhouse

Undocumented Immigrants scramble up the fence dividing the U.S. and Mexico.

A friend of mine and I were laughing the other night when we started talking about the similar requests we get. Corrado does beautiful retouching in Photoshop for high end clients and I shoot images for a variety of publications and eventually license those images to others on an as needed basis. We both receive requests on a regular basis that start with one of the following:

  1. We’re a start up with no budget but we’d like to use your image……..”
  2. We’re a non profit with no budget but we’d like to use your image……”
  3. We’re a small company with no budget but we’d like to use your image….”
  4. We’d like rights in perpetuity, all media, worldwide but we don’t have much of a budget…..

Now, I can’t speak for Corrado, but I figure it’s time to post something about the basics of intellectual property. First, let me start by saying (or, maybe, yelling) that INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY IS REAL PROPERTY WITH REAL VALUE JUST LIKE THE STEAK YOU BOUGHT AT RUTH CHRIS STEAKHOUSE.

Where does my desire to write about this come from? Today I received a message from a film production company that wants to use the image above in a full length, feature film starring Rob Lowe. But, as happens all too often, the email began with ” I am working on a low budget, independent……..I know our director would like to include your image, but we are in a bit of a cost crunch.”

Cost crunch? Low budget? Then why Rob Lowe? Why ask to license the image for worldwide distribution, in perpetuity (a fancy word that means “forever”), in all media (you know, dvd, film, iPad, streaming, websites) as a Full Frame image (yes, it will fill the movie screen) if you are “low budget” and in a “cost crunch.”

I’ll answer that! Because it’s Economics 101 to try to get everything for nothing. It’s a negotiation. And like all negotiations in which YOU are the buyer and I am the seller, I have my price. What’s my price? Glad you asked……….

The value of my images is based on many factors. If you want to license an image, you select from the “menu” of options that is designed specifically to give a fair price for the type of use you plan for the image. This is no different from opening a menu at Ruth Chris and selecting what you want based on what you can afford. Now, PAY ATTENTION, because this is the key part………only select a license that you can afford! Wow, not brain surgery, is it?

Now, let’s look at it from another perspective. If you go to Ruth Chris Steakhouse and you only have $20, then common sense would dictate that you only order a small appetizer and drink water so that you can pay your bill with the $20. Irrational sense would dictate that you order a appetizer, drinks, Filet Mignon, dessert and coffee and ask if you can just pay $20 because you “……have no budget.” If you don’t think that’s fair then (and this is the beauty of living in a free, Democratic country) take your a– to Wendy’s or McDonalds and order a couple burgers and fries.

A few of the factors that determine a license are listed below. The idea is to create a license that breaks down exactly what you need so that you are not paying for extras (you know, like DirecTV or Time Warner Cable where you license the 300 channels even though you watch about 10 of them):

  1. Duration of the license. Using an image in perpetuity is costlier than one-time use.
  2. Geographic location. Securing Worldwide Rights is costlier than North American rights.
  3. Category: Usage that falls under TV/Film is costlier than Editorial usage.
  4. Use within the Category: In other words, within Editorial use, Magazine use is usually costlier than a Newsletter.
  5. What type of media? Consumer magazine, mock up use, trade publication, in house newsletter.
  6. What size will the image be used? A full page use is costlier than an 1/8 page use. A cover image is costlier than a image used on pg 83.
  7. Circulation Size (if printed material). A image used in a printed publication with a 2 million print run is costlier than an image with a 200 print run.

These are basic parameters that are put in place for the art buyer to get specifically what they need. It also protects the copyright holder (me) by keeping control of the work and licensing it for specific use. The prices are industry standard prices, not some arbitrary figure I come up with off the top of my head.

Whatever the situation, just remember that if you can’t afford a particular license, then downgrade until you find what you need. I’d love to eat at fine restaurants every night, but I can’t afford to, so I make my selections based on affordability.


Security and the Right to Photograph

Added security of those entering the country. ©Todd Bigelow

Rather good timing for this refresher from the ACLU. Many of my students at Cal State University, Northridge and UCLA ask questions about where they can legally take photographs. My standard response is that if you are photographing from a public location and shooting images easily seen from such a location, then you’re good.

One result of 9/11 being explored by media during the week long lead-up to the 10 year anniversary is the added security in our society. Few will argue that added security is a good thing, but photographers and law enforcement have had many run ins over the decade since the terrorist attacks that clearly show a pattern of increasing harassment of photographers working within their constitutional right (you know, the 1st Amendment and all).

Give this link a look over. It’s a worthy refresher on the right to photograph in public:

When you’re done with that, give NPR a listen as they have a frightening report about surveillance in the Mall of America that illustrates a drastic change in surveillance of Americans following 9/11.

9/11 Remembrance: Photographers & Editors Recall That Fateful Day

No doubt that this is a week of remembrances. Time and again in life we encounter markers that are placed in time that function as transitions. “Before the earthquake,” or “after Katrina” or, in this case, “after 9/11.” Sadly, most of us knew almost immediately that 9/11 would serve as a marker on the scale of Pearl Harbor, D-Day and Hiroshima.

Remembering and respecting solemn dates is woven into society’s fabric. It’s also good for teaching others, healing our souls and reminding ourselves of a terrible loss. With that in mind, and as you encounter various 9/11 remembrances, take a moment to stop by Aurora Photos for short blogs by photographers and editors who recall their feelings and actions on that day in history.

Aurora News Blog can be found here

Are You Busy?

I get that a lot. My wife will call and say “Hey, are you busy?” If she’s in the push-your-husband’s-button mood, she’ll follow up with something like “because if you’re just sitting around….” Truth be told, after nearly 25 yrs together, I don’t rise to the bait anymore because she knows the truth about freelancing better than anyone else I know.

What’s the truth?

The truth is that being a freelancer DOES provide for a lot of free time. That free time is absolutely great…………..that is, if you like the idea of being unemployed.

If you want to be a working freelancer, someone who actually works on assignment and earns a living from photography, then you better get used to the idea that being a working freelancer provides for less free time, in my opinion, than most  “regular” 40-hour-a-week jobs. Consider that most working freelancers, even those with agencies representing them, do 99.9% of the work themselves. And I’m not talking about shooting. I’m talking about everything else. A very average non-shooting day has me wearing many hats. Take today as an example, I am a:

  1. Picture Editor (selecting images from a recent shoot to upload to my archive and to my agency)
  2. Imaging Tech (post production work Adobe Lightroom, Photoshop)
  3. Marketing Director (emailing, tweeting and blogging)
  4. Licensing Director (negotiating with a non-profit over use of an image)
  5. Technical Support (updating and installing new software on MacBook and Mac desktop)

That’s just to name a few. No complaints, that’s just the way it is if you want to be a working freelancer. No laying around on the job.

Which really leads me to the catalyst for this post. In order to accomplish these daily tasks, you must have a office, right? Not a closet with a space big enough for a 10″ netbook balancing precariously on a box of old slides, but a legitimate office. In other words, use the same approach to work as you would if you had to clock in at the 40-hr-a-week job. If you do so, you’ll find your productivity and, by default, your business, doing much better. Set a time to be at the office and have the necessary equipment and space needed to do your job well every day. Make your office a great place to be. Since I’m the boss (despite what my wife says), I decide how to set-up my office. That’s important, more so than most realize, because I need to enjoy being in my office so that I can get my work done each and every day. It’s what helps me maintain the discipline to grind through the less glamorous part of being a working freelancer. Years ago I purchased a nice, large desk with ample desktop space and filing cabinets and the most comfortable chair I could afford. I keep the space as clutter free as possible and have arranged for a couple of work spaces revolving around the desktop computer and the laptop. The walls are painted warm earth tones (courtesy of my wife!) that make the room feel inviting. I keep pages for Facebook and other social sites that can eat up my time closed during the day. If I need to post something on FB that is business related, then I post it and log off. Few will argue how much “work” time can be wasted if you’re constantly updating, replying, posting, tagging, farming etc…..Invoices, expenses and business contracts are filed at arms length so that I can grab them without much searching if need be. Hard drives are easily accessible and labeled in the event I need to quickly find images for clients. Music streams from the internet over nice speakers and a window provides for fresh air and sunlight. In other words, it’s a “normal” office despite being in my home.

Along with having a nice office, try sticking to a disciplined work schedule. It’s so easy as a freelancer to find “free” time, but being a working freelancer requires due diligence that far exceeds just the shooting time. However, I try to take a literal lunch break. During that time, I take a half hour or more to grab a bite to eat, sit outside in the sun with a book or go for a run. It’s important to break away from the office. I have a favorite spot where I can listen to some water flowing and enjoy being outside for a few minutes. I typically come back feeling ready to get back to work for a few more hours.

All of this is meant to make the necessary and often tedious work beyond shooting a bit more enjoyable. It’s worked for me……………

Assisting Yourself as a Photo Assistant!

A man I respect and admire like few on earth who has taught the arts for fifty years has said many times that the highest form of learning is teaching. With that in mind, I’m here to jot down a few things I’ve learned over my many years as a photographer (and as an assistant in my early days) in an effort to teach assistants some basics to propel them forward.

Let me first start by saying that assistants and aspiring photographers need to look beyond the immediate job and consider the long term implications of their work. In other words, how will the job you’re assisting on NOW help you in the future? Too often, in my opinion, assistants look at their jobs as menial work, something that they’re doing “just to get by” for now while they await their next job as a photographer. That’s the wrong mental approach and, believe me, the mental approach is as important, if not more, as any physical work you do. I know many, many working photographers who entered the business as an assistant. Assistants should approach any job as the single, most important job in the world and act as if it might be the last job they’re hired to do. That’s how I approach every shoot and it’s worked well for me. There are no “small jobs” for me. Each is approached with the same level of preparation and execution, from the multiple page layouts for international publications to the single portrait for a small non profit. A good assistant will have the same approach, beginning with preparation.

Assistant extraordinaire Casey Pinckard on the job

  1. Before ever showing up on the job, begin your preparation. Do you have a cell phone? Is the greeting professional or something typically heard on a frat house answering machine? How quickly do you return calls? This is all part of the preparation since you won’t stay busy if you’re not reachable. Prep work runs the gamut from answering calls promptly to understanding what the job will entail to ensuring that you have all of the necessary equipment to do the job well. A few things a good assistant will have on them: Pen, pencil, gaffer tape, multipurpose tool (such as a Leatherman), credit card and a pack to carry items. These are the most basic items that every shoot will likely require. Credit cards are necessary in the event you are asked to reserve/rent gear for the job, need to book travel arrangements and to cover your expenses on a job (it will also help you come tax season).
  2. Arrive a few minutes early to the job. You can always sit and drink coffee, listen to the radio or further prepare. NEVER be late. Account for traffic. Know where you are going. With GPS and live traffic feeds on the web, you have all the info at hand to avoid or minimize traffic delays. I can assure you that the last thing a photographer wants is to wait for their late assistant. The second-to-last thing a photographer wants is a phone call that you are going to be late.
  3. Dress appropriately. I can’t emphasize the importance of such a simple thing. Understand where the shoot will take place so that you can wear clothes that are appropriate for the venue. Dressing appropriately sends a clear message to the subject that we are professionals. This will lead to a better rapport with the subject (rapport can and often does lead to additional time for the shoot).
  4. Act appropriately. There is a difference between assisting on a portrait of surfers in Malibu and assisting on a portrait of the CEO for Bank of America. Act appropriately considering the venue and subjects.
  5. Turn off your phone. Let me repeat that: Turn OFF your phone. Unless we are in different locations during the shoot (which is rare), your phone should remain off. If it has to be on, then wait only until we are completely done with the shoot to check messages. It is beyond my realm of understanding when assistants routinely check messages, reply, tweet, post on Facebook etc.
  6. Anticipate what’s needed. Being proactive instead of reactive is something that sets apart great assistants from the mediocre ones. I recently had one assistant put a specialty lens on hold at a rental house in anticipation of my need. He figured that if I didn’t need it, then a quick phone call to release the reservation was easier than trying to get a lens at the last minute. That’s proactive. Having driving directions or an address to punch into the GPS is another example of being proactive.
  7. Know the equipment. If you’re booked to assist on a lighting assignment, don’t hesitate to ask what type of equipment will be used. If you’re not familiar with the gear, then either take the time to quickly learn the basics or tell the photographer in advance. Whatever you do, DON’T show up on the shoot with no idea how to operate the equipment. Same can be said about the cameras. Know how to load the cards and understand your role in downloading or organizing the take. Basic understanding of commonly used software such as Photo Mechanic, Lightroom, Aperture, Photoshop and especially FTP programs like Transmit are necessary. You might not always need to perform such tasks, but you should know how. It’s a huge bonus as well to know about various audio and video gear since many photographers are now doing multimedia work.
  8. Take care in packing gear. When you’re done with the shoot, make sure to treat the breakdown and clean up of the shoot as importantly as the shoot itself. That means taking care when packing the equipment and assuring nothing is left behind. That’s the assistant’s responsibility. I know I like to take the time after a shoot to thank the subject and those who helped coordinate the shoot. I need my assistant to simultaneously break down the shoot.
  9. Paperwork. If you were responsible in obtaining rental gear then you are responsible for obtaining the necessary receipts for the photographer to submit for reimbursement. If you are asked to handle photo release forms, take the time to properly organize (by date, for example) and, if possible, make copies in case they are misplaced. Keep and provide all receipts for travel including rental cars, hotels, airfare and meals.
  10. Invoice in a professional manner. This goes back to preparation. If you want to be perceived as a top notch, professional in the photo industry, then take the time to create a professional invoice template. The invoice should include your name, business name, social security or taxpayer ID number and contact information. The form should have an area for Fees and an area for Expenses. Itemize your expenses and provide the necessary documentation. Do NOT send an invoice that just lists a total for expenses and no explanation. If the job covered several days, then break your fees down by days as well. By all means, submit your invoice in a timely manner.

There are many other ways to set yourself apart as an assistant. Perhaps some of my colleagues and visitors can suggest some here. Suffice it to say that if you at least follow the basic ten above, you’ll be on your way.

Bits and Bytes Bouncing in My Head

Some days, my mind seems hyperactive, bouncing from one thought to another. Is it a mood? A result of caffeine (I haven’t ventured off my norm)? The weather? I don’t know, but I do want to jot down some thoughts careening throughout my cranium today:

  1. Been reading some comments about photo editors and art buyers being tired of viewing portfolios on the iPad. The way I see it is if an editor is hung up on the how I show my portfolio instead of the work itself, then my images aren’t getting it done.
  2. Do blogs and websites routinely post copyrighted written material (say, from a substantiated author), or do they know that’s illegal? If so, why do most claim they didn’t know a photo was similarly protected by copyright? Because they do know, they just mostly try to get away with it.
  3. Five months to receive payment for work done for a large, respected law firm, yet my smaller, relatively unknown clients pay extraordinarily fast. Hmmmmm……
  4. How’s the iPad working out for magazines?
  5. Seems a few years ago the saving grace for photographers hoping to gain assignment work was a quick transition into video. Now everyone seems to be a multimedia specialist and I’m not so sure the quantity of assignment work is measurable for the vast majority.
  6. I enjoy the mix of work I get from non profits, magazines and teaching.
  7. Rights Managed images appear to be licensed for a mere fraction of what they were just a decade ago.
  8. You may not see their work as much in mainstream media these days, but many of my friends and colleagues continue to make meaningful, beautiful and important images.
  9. Met and photographed a well known, award winning author recently. We traded emails and he’s going to read a book I suggested. How awesome is that? Not the typical behavior of the rich and famous.
  10. The Social Media experiment: I’ve been using Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook for a year now (LinkedIn longer) and as the fine folks a Photoshelter assured in the guide they produced, it works to raise awareness of your work. Like anything, use it responsibly!

Reaching Out to the Next Generation of Photojournalists

I spoke the other day to a group of students at the Greater Los Angeles Press Photographer’s Association about their career expectations. Had a great time, saw a number of my former colleagues, all of whom I respect and admire greatly.

It was a short presentation. I tend to shy away from the quintessential “let me show you my work” approach usually found at these seminars. I remember vividly being in their shoes years ago and having so many questions yet not really knowing what to ask. Speakers at various workshops like the San Jose Mercury News Graphics Conference or the NPPA’s Flying Short courses, to say nothing of the Eddie Adams Workshop that I attended in 1989, would show their award winning work and I would sit and wonder how the hell do I put together a portfolio? In an effort to make things practical, whatever image I projected I talked about the expectations from the assigning publication, the result of the shoot and a few interesting stories associated with the image.

Forty five minutes is a quick presentation and I really wanted to go more deeply into the business aspects of freelancing. I told them that the likelihood of them freelancing straight out of college these days compared to a decade or two ago is quite high. With fewer publications and fewer staff positions, it’s important that the emerging photojournalists not only have multimedia story telling skills, which most universities now offer instruction in, but that they understand how to present a portfolio, how to make appointments and what to expect from the publication. No one knew what a Work for Hire agreement was, though the vast majority of them will be presented one when they seek freelance work from major publications. That’s just a fact of doing business, I told them, and they need to understand what arrangements they are agreeing to. I made a point of not “telling” the students what to do, but instead guided them to seek an understanding of contracts, licensing and income avenues that’s necessary to stay relevant in the freelance market.

I like the chance to give back a bit especially when it involves helping younger photographers find their way. I was there once and had wonderful mentors and friends guide me into the freelancing world. It’s only right I do the same for others when given the opportunity.