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18 May 2011


I received an inquiry about working as an assistant about two weeks from now. It seems a photographer is coming in from Virginia to do some work for a client in the Madison area and needs an assistant for a few days. Talk about nerves! First I was dismayed that my day job schedule was for a full week (unlike April and May), and second, I had to price myself! Assign a value to my time. I hopefully came up with something reasonable based on my experience, but still respectable for him.
Actually, it was my schedule that was off-putting. However, it it seems he likes the idea of me working with him, and things may change to allow me to assist him after all.
I'm excited, but we'll see....

10 May 2011


It's important, I've found, to have a real partner that can help you get things done. My partner is my lovely model and bride of ten years. She's actually the breadwinner in our household, and I can pursue my dreams and cross off items on my bucket list because of her. Of course, I help do the same for her.

One of the things that crops up in my portfolio (unfortunately not yet available on-line) is that she is the featured model. There are a few reasons for this: She's usually available when I need a model for a project. She's cheap (as in free). Most importantly, she trusts that I won't make her look bad. My wife also wants me to do well with this hobby-turned-profession, so she's willing to put herself out there to help us, our partnership, thrive.

Among the things we do to keep this going is negotiate for our respective "toys". For instance, when we were down south a couple years ago for a history club event, my bride saw how my hand kept getting hit through the guard on my rapier (heavy renaissance-style fencing sword). So we went sword shopping among some of the best vendors in the country. At one of them, my lady wife homed in on a lovely rig. Oh. My. It was very nice. It was also more than our entire budget for the week. We settled on a much more utilitarian, but still spiffy, one that does the job quite well. Now my hand gets hit because I did something stupid, rather than someone taking the opportunity of a hole.

For her part, we heard about a weaver that was getting rid of her folding 38" floor loom. A mutual friend vetted us, and I went up to Stevens Point to look it over. Yes, it was worn and needed a little work (One part needs to be replaced, and I can do that with little effort. We also needed to replace some rusted heddles.), but it also came with oodles of extras like a variety of shuttles, a warping frame, a huge assortment of tools and spools of fibers. Best of all, I could fold it up and put it in the back of my pickup without worrying about screwing up the warping. (If you've ever warped a loom, you'll understand how tedious and nerve-racking a job it is. It's often the longest part of the weaving process.) Not bad for the price. We gladly paid it.

We also divide the work of the household. I know how to cook, clean and do laundry (Thanks, Mom!), but tend to put such chores off. I'm not a multi-tasker. So I have to keep at a chore until done (like this blog), or I have to give myself reminders when the next part of the task needs taken care of. My wife does most of the kitchen work, mostly because she likes cooking and hates leaving a sinkful of dirty dishes to sit. (Which reminds me, I need to empty the dishwasher before lunch today....) I take care of most of the errands, like grocery shopping, fueling vehicles and other flitting that needs to be done from time to time. Most of the bull work falls to me, like bringing baskets of clothes from the downstairs laundry, starting and keeping control of the rototiller and driving various fasteners into various things. I can and do cook. Dishes are sometimes done because I did them, and I'm often part of the team that scubs the floors when they need it.

It works. Because it does, I can work towards perfection as a photographer. If I keep doing this right, I'll begin to earn what my wife calls, "the standard to which I'll be accustomed." Thanks, Love!

03 May 2011

The Nature of Business

I have a day job, since I'm just getting started in the photography business and still need to eat and keep a roof over my head. We can't afford to live on just my or my wife's income by themselves, so I need to keep working there. I'm also realistic about my expectations; my wife even more so. I like to dream a bit (and spend money on what she calls "toys"), while she reigns in my fantasies with conditions for making the purchases. There's a little friction here, but this arrangement keeps our debts manageable.
For example: While I'm well aware that good photography is 95% the photographer and 5% the equipment, I do want to upgrade my camera with the idea of getting the ability to compete or simply having the respect of my clients. I have a perfectly respectable film SLR camera, which is great for art photography, and I have usable digital cameras that can cover about 90% of the situations I envision using a camera. The problem with the film camera is turnaround time for the clients, something that digital processes have shortened considerably. Turnaround time for film was made worse by the dearth of local film processors in my area. I can still get them done, but not the same day anymore. My old processor now takes a week or more just to bring me back the negatives! For my own projects that isn't an issue since I take time to scan the negatives and manipulate them as I need to, and I seldom have hard deadlines for my own projects. Most clients aren't willing to wait a week for the finished product, much less proofs.
The DSLR in question will run me $1400-$1700, and that's just the body. I can get a lower quality one for around $900 (It's the immediate predecessor.), but the upgraded one shows more longevity in usability. Also with a good unit, I'll be able to turn around projects often the same or next day for a client. I can even shoot high definition video. Fortunately, I have a good set of lenses that will fit this body, which suit my style of shooting. (I prefer manual focus over autofocus because I've found the autofocus will often enough home in on something that isn't my subject. It's one less thing to fight.)  Having the lenses already will save me more money than the camera itself in the long run. Most professionals will say, "It's a good investment, why haven't you bought it already?"
Good question. The answer is the condition for purchase compromised between me and my wife: I must have a job in the photography field or I need it for a class. And I'd better REALLY need it for that class. Understand that we're self-financing this business plan, and any money I spend is to be relevant in the moment. So, it's good that my wife keeps me in check. Less debt and fewer expensive dust collecters that way.
So, back to the day job. Needless to say, it isn't as a photographer, photographer's assistant, nor photojournalist. Like most creative types (I do include myself in that select group.), I chafe a bit from time to time working for a corporation even though I own stock in that corporation. The stress is getting worse lately, with communication conflicts with my supervisor and staff reductions and added responsibilities. I understand that a great many companies are having to work this way, but with customer service oriented businesses like retail stores, you need enough people to be there for the customers, not just physically but without distractions as well. I can go on and on about balancing the needs of your customers with the abilities of your employees and the profits your executives and investors make, but I don't have time to write that tome.
Let's just say that the stress is giving me impetus to jump-start my own business.
I also realize that working as a photographer can be a difficult way to make not very much money. Ah, but there is the satisfaction of the well-crafted image. There is also the coolness factor of the positive feedback when I show my product. That helps pay my emotional bank account. I know I'll never be financially wealthy, but the riches of a good body of work, and the satisfaction of creation goes a long, long way.
For a while at least, I'll keep the day job. When business picks up, I'll go to part time with it.
Image: DeForest Tracks (c) 2011 W. Clinton Hotaling