5 Critical Things to Know about Contracts

15 Mar

The freelance / free work debate blowing up the internet reminded me of a great talk I listened to a couple years back about the importance of contracts in freelance work. How many projects have you started without a contract? My guess–probably one. As Design Director Mike Monteiro so eloquently put it, starting a project with no contract is like putting a condom on after you’ve taken a home pregnancy test…I’m just going to leave that one there.

But to summarize Monteiro’s long but insightful discussion, here are five critical things to consider when creating and negotiating contracts.

1. Contracts protect both parties. Never feel uncomfortable about bringing up contract terms. Good contracts clarify project goals, timelines, payment terms, and project deliverables. They protect you and your client. Should anything weird happen on either end, contracts are there to protect both parties.

2. Don’t blindly accept client terms. Often, clients have their own contracts they want you to sign. Review everything before signing anything. If you’re unsure about terms, have them reviewed by lawyer. The process of negotiation is what makes contracts fair. It’s an expected part of the process, don’t be afraid to assert yourself.

3. Decide what’s nonnegotiable for you and your business. Don’t back down. Again, it’s okay to have a back and forth with clients. Initial contracts are like wish lists, so it’s okay to negotiate details of terms. Both parties will have things they cannot negotiate on so it’s better to find out up front if terms are compatible.

4. Let lawyers talk to lawyers. Lawyers have years of experience and are professionals trained to protect their clients. It’s a business essential to have a lawyer you trust who can help you navigate larger or more complicated projects.

5. Be confident. If you know how much something costs, tell clients. You know your cost of doing business, so be confident communicating that. If you don’t know, say let me find out and follow-up quickly. Remember, you are being hired for your fantastic vision and knowledge, so have faith in your business and convey it to clients.

When Freelance = Free Work

15 Mar

Ah internet scandals. What would we do without them?

I’ve been following the heated  the Atlantic vs. Nate Thayer debate that blew up after Thayer posted an exchange with a (newly hired) Atlantic editor who approached him about reworking an excerpt from one of his published stories…for free. Okay not exactly for free, but for exposure.

For journalists and photographers looking to elevate their careers, or break into the industry, the opportunity to have work published by a prestigious news organization is nothing to take lightly. But balancing boosting exposure and portfolio credentials with making a living can be a difficult call. The debate has raised an important question for the news industry: is it okay for news organizations to leverage their brands to gain access to free or discounted work produced by journalists? At what point does a mutually advantageous arrangement become abusive? Does it say something about the long-term stability of the industry that this seems to be a commonly accepted practice, or is it simply part of how the increasingly crowded news landscape is evolving?

Hear how Atlantic news editors have responded here and here. Hear a wider critique Gawker editor Cord Jefferson makes about the role that personal wealth plays in propping up a media system dependent on free work here. Regardless of where you stand on the free work spectrum, the debate has opened some interesting conversations between editors and journalists that are worth pursuing.

Maximizing Media to Tell Your Story

8 Feb

Screen shot 2013-02-08 at 12.45.35 AM Screen shot 2013-02-08 at 12.47.45 AM Websites have become like business cards, portfolios, and resumes rolled into one. Everything about a site, from its design, to the tone of its content gives visitors, (or potential clients), a specific impression of the work your company/organization is doing, its values, and the kind of people who run it.

It is truly an amazing time for brands to share their stories and engage users. You are only limited by imagination, (and okay, by your knowledge of code/design, and budget to hire developers and designers who inevitably know more than you do).

At a dinner party last week I was chatting with a filmmaker and two designers about how web languages have evolved to support platforms that seamlessly integrate all types of media. We were exchanging examples of the best-constructed stories and web sites we’ve seen recently, (which I’ll share below), and got into an interesting debate about the merits of using certain types of media, (stills vs. video vs. audio) and of layouts that tour guide users vs. layouts that allow users explore.

We agreed that online platforms have changed how stories are told and making user experiences more interactive (you pretty much have to be living under a rock to think otherwise). But some organizations have embraced multimedia storytelling at much higher levels than others. The New York Times’ recent coverage of the avalanche at Tunnel Creek is a phenomenal example of one direction digital story telling is going. Instead of reading a quote, viewers click on an embedded video and listen directly to source telling their story. There are embedded photo slides, a live video of a weather map that shows how the storm advanced over the area, audio testimonials from survivors. It’s a beautiful example of how sleek HTML5 is and how much less clunky compared to flash. For journalists working on longer more complex pieces, the piece is worth checking out for ideas on how to incorporate dynamic elements into stories.

While I waxed poetic about the Times piece, my colleague found the layout cluttered. Their argument? Too much information = the audience loses focus. Lost focus = they move on. With millions of pages of content, the battle now is for attention. So design is worth considering. Pointing to an investigative story about coal, they argued that a less cluttered design that gives users fewer options is premium because they communicate stories more clearly and effectively.

In the end, we weren’t really arguing that one design layout is always king. We were more debating the merits of each and acknowledging that design has become almost as critical as content in determining how stories are received. It was a great reminder that as storytellers, (whether commercial, fine arts, or documentary/editorial), need to carefully consider how they want audiences to consume and interact with their stories when they are choosing what media to use for projects.

After Post Production Magic, Can Photographers Still Claim Ownership of Images?

29 Jul

Pre vs. Post Production. Image provided courtesy of Kristina Sherk of Shark Pixel

Pre vs. Post Production. Image provided courtesy of Kristina Sherk of Shark Pixel.

Pre vs. Post Production. Image provided courtesy of Kristina Sherk of Shark Pixel.

In a world where editing programs allow us to alter virtually any aspect of an image from the color of a model’s dress to seamlessly stitching photos together or rearranging elements within the frame, the concept of ownership of an image post production is becoming increasingly gray. At what point do images start belonging to the post production artists that help shape images for the editorial and commercial world?

I ran into this question chatting with artist Kristen Monthei at a lovely happy hour hosted by the American Photographic Artists.

What, if any is the industry standard for giving credit, and at what point should post production artists be added to photo credits? If you enlist help in post production, as a photographer, how can you be sure to give proper attribution to your fellow creatives?

To find answers, I reached out to Kristina Sherk of Shark Pixel, a professional photo retoucher with over 8 years experience in the industry. Based in DC, Sherk has collaborated with clients such as Hasselblad, NPR and XM Radio.

Read on for our Q&A and an insider’s take on the world of post production.

As a professional post production artist, is it standard to be given attribution in your work for clients, or does it depend on the situation?

Right now, it is definitely not standard to get recognition for jobs in the industry, but hopefully that will change in the near future. I think the industry is changing; slowly.

At what point in the creative process do you usually become involved? Do you ever weigh in at the beginning and help with the concept, or are you brought in after the shoot happens?

At this point, I usually become involved after the photo has been taken. Occasionally, photographers call me in advance, but it’s not the norm. I would love to advise more clients on concept–especially if they are working with composites. It would be great to advise them on how to shoot differently for composites and explain how it will help me do my job better.

How many hours would you say you spend working on individual images, and at what point do you feel like they become partly your own?

The time per job really depends. There are some jobs that only take me 45 minutes, and some that take 13 hours! If I have a major hand in shaping the look of the image, then I feel that as a retoucher, I deserve credit. If compositing is involved, I also feel retouchers should be recognized. Those are two circumstances where I definitely feel that post production artists should be recognized.

Do you think that the public, and photographers in general, understand how much post-production alters images in commercial and editorial work?

Personally, I feel that one of the only ways for professional photographers to stay current, is to be pushed to create imagery outside of the realm of possibility, which often means retouching. The market is getting flooded with people who buy a pro-sumer cameras and automatically call themselves professional photographers. Just to be clear, this definitely isn’t the only way for photographers to stay at the top of the field, but it’s one of the ways. I would compare retouching photos to special effects in video. Image if you couldn’t include any special effects in any movie that was created?
Thanks to Kristina for sharing her thoughts. There are clearly many issues to think about in the post production arena. Have any other photogs worked with a post producer and want to share their experience? Are there any questions you’d like to hear answers to? Feel free to shoot me an email, or add them on in the comments!
Want to see more post production work? The ASMP is holding a competition for professional post production artists. If you like Kirstina’s work and want to support a fellow creative, visit the website, search for “gold girl” and vote for her image!

LOOK3: A festival by Photographers, for Photographers

22 May

For photographers in the mid-Atlantic region, the annual LOOK3 festival in Charlottesville, VA is an event you should not miss out on.

I just got back from a LOOK3 preview/promo at the FotoDC headquarters, and it looks phenomenal. For the entire first week of June, the downtown area of Charlottesville will be packed with photogs from around the world. There will be gallery shows, talks from master photographers such as Alex Webb and Donna Ferrato, portfolio reviews, and amazing art displayed across downtown Charlottesville.

At the preview, LOOK3s Managing Director Andrew Owen gave a great overview that totally sold me on the event. I know I have my ticket, do you have yours?

Hope to see you all there, for three days of peace, love and photography. Image

If you don’t invest in yourself, who will?

2 May

Every few weeks–even if business is booming–it’s important to step back and assess how your projects are fitting in with your long term goals. If you get too comfortable working with the same clients, it’s easy to fall into a rut and your work can stop developing. Without this focus, you can end up producing work that pays your bills, but you could care less about.

Think of it this way, when you’re working for a company, there’s a certain amount of investment in professional development. Key conferences, workshops, and seminars in your field are paid for by your employer, because they want you to be your best. As a freelancer, you have to have the same level of respect for yourself, as would a good employer, and invest in your continued professional development.

So, how to do this? There are so many ways, ranging from seminars that cost thousands of dollars to webinars that are completely free. The good news is that you can write these expenses off at the end of the year, so you’ll likely get a good part of that money back. Joining professional associations such as the American Society of Media Professionals, or National Press Photographers Association is one of the best ways to start. These organizations are designed to bolster and maintain the health of the industry, and year round they organize regional meet ups, workshops, happy hours and peer review sessions geared toward helping media professionals continue to develop. Most associations offer discounted rates for young professionals and students, which makes this option even more affordable, but if you don’t have the budget to join, even checking out their websites is extremely useful. Both ASMP and NPPA offer a wealth of free resources designed to help you better run your business. So if you haven’t checked them out, take five minutes to browse their websites, I guarantee you will learn something new.

Why do this? You aren’t getting paid, and you might come away with nothing tangible. But it’s a chance to be inspired, get energized, talk to colleagues with years of experience on you, and maybe even score a job. If you don’t make the leap, if you don’t push yourself, you won’t evolve.

Earlier this year, I paid close to $200 to attend the NPPA’s Northern Short Course in Photojournalism conference for one day. Going for the entire 3-days was out of my budget, so I looked at the schedule and choose the day that featured the most relevant speakers and workshops to my work. I had the opportunity to hear James Estrin, editor of Lens give his take on the future direction of the industry. I attended a storytelling workshop led by Melanie Burford, who discussed her work flow for long term projects; and was lucky enough to squeeze into a packed workshop by Jamie Rose on how to land contracts with nonprofit clients. At the end of the day, I had my portfolio reviewed by a staff photographer at Reuters and got some solid critiques of my work. Best of all? I met new friends.

I came away with a new focus and head spinning with fresh ideas about how I could work differently, tell stories better, and operate a stronger business. So yes, the cost of these workshops can be high upfront, but if you want your work to get better, you have to make the effort. Invest in yourself. If you aren’t willing to, who will be?

Don’t make a small budget your excuse to push off the larger, harder questions. Volunteering at conferences is a way to squeeze in for free. If you’re a student, discounted rates are often available. I find setting aside several hours each week to focus on improving an aspect my work to be immensely helpful. This could mean an afternoon reading some of my favorite blogs from established creatives, (check back soon for a list of my favorite, completely free blogs I follow), or taking time to work on a personal project, such as these multimedia projects I shot of OccupyDC.

Push yourself. Make the investment in your work, and yourself.

Some humor for the weekend

10 Feb

Thought we could all use something to laugh about heading into the weekend. Cheers to other freelancers working from home!