Have you ever attended a party where there are a handful of photographers mixed in with “normal” (as in non-photo) people, only to see the photographers group into a cluster, talking endlessly about topics only they could understand, and ignoring all the other non-photographers in the process? I see this a lot, and what’s interesting to me is how they’ll keep on chatting about the same things, over and over, until the beer runs out.
They’re usually talking about “the business.” Workflow, marketing, philosophy, the state of the industry – all popular topics. The problem with these meetings is that nobody ever writes all that good stuff down. (Which is probably a good thing. It would look weird.)
I thought I would poke my head into the PhotoShelter blog every once in a while, just to see if I could replicate that “party cluster,” online and without the beer. This post is the first in a series of interviews and feature stories where I ask other photographers to talk about their workflow, sales and marketing strategies, philosophy and outlook about the industry, and what works and doesn’t work from a business perspective.
Jason O. Watson is a Charlottesville, Virginia-based photographer who specializes in sports, action, assignment and travel photography. His images have appeared in a wide variety of publications, including Sports Illustrated, ESPN The Magazine, The Perth (Australia) Sunday Times, The (Portland) Oregonian, Boston Herald, Richmond Times-Dispatch, the Charlottesville Daily Progress, and The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Jason is successful with his business, so I thought he might be willing to share some of his secrets with the rest of us. Lucky for us, he did.
Grover: When it comes to business tactics and strategies, what have been some of the lessons you’ve learned in the past. What’s been a success? What’s been a learning experience?
Jason O. Watson: Routinely register your images at the copyright office. This is the single most important lesson that I have learned. I’ve made registration a part of my workflow and submit group registrations roughly every 75 days. Even modestly successful photographers are very likely to have at least one (most likely more) of their images infringed in their career. There have been situations from the same event / shoot where a colleague failed to register their images from the shoot, whereas I did. Photos from the both of us were infringed, but because I registered my work, I was in a much more favorable position with respect to enforcing my copyrights and generating revenue from the unauthorized use.
Grover: Who are your customers, and how do you get your images to them? What works, and what doesn’t?
Jason: I try as much as I can to diversify “who” my customers are and “what” they buy from me. From a revenue perspective, my editorial clients are the bulk of what I do – these range from newspapers and magazines to, in my case with covering NCAA athletics, individual universities. I use PhotoShelter to deliver most of my images – either by providing download access to a gallery or lightbox, sending a quick hi-res download link, or pushing to an FTP server. There are still a few clients that prefer to have a CD or DVD or images sent by e-mail, but they are in the minority.
Grover: Can you explain the depth of your individual interaction you typically have with your customers? Does more individual attention result in higher revenues? How much is done online, and how much is done in person or on the phone?
Jason: With my best clients, I typically have very detailed hands on interaction – and yes, absolutely, this yields higher revenues especially in the long term. This philosophy extends to fellow photographers as well – I’ve found that building relationships not only with clients but also with colleagues generates new lasting client relationships as well. There’s always going to be a time with a fellow shooter needs help – whether it’s to assist on a job, fill in, etc. Likewise, when they have a client that they can’t take care of, it’s nice to be on the top of their list of recommendations. Networking and relationship building are key for me and my business – the rewards take time, but are worth the effort.
Most of my interactions are over the phone and by e-mail – I do spend some time meeting with clients in person – whatever the situation dictates.
Grover: What “products” do you sell/deliver to your clients? (Example: Prints, Royalty Free downloads?)
Jason: Rights managed licenses and prints (for some subjects).
Grover: How would you describe your overall diversification? (Example: Are you selling mostly prints, some stock, some editorial, some assignment work?)
Jason: Mostly editorial and assignment work, some stock, some prints.
Grover: Are you seeing any trends in your business? Are there any portions of it that are growing faster than others? Are there any products that are more popular with your customers than others?
Jason: I’ve noticed an increase in clients wanting to license stock rather than hiring someone on assignment. The in-house photographer is quickly being outsourced. It seems in the markets I shoot, the well-positioned freelancer who is able to build and maintain relationships may be more able to compete in the long term.
Grover: How do you promote yourself? In what ways do you market yourself?
Jason: My PhotoShelter enabled website is an extremely important tool for marketing – I try my best to caption and keyword all of the images that I have available on my archive. Google and other search engines pick this up and over time this results in all kinds of people looking at my work. I also promote my work by having a profile/membership on sites like SportsShooter.com and through organizations like NPPA and ASMP. For certain events, I will be more proactive in my marketing – for example, I’ll buy print advertisements in game day programs, Google ads on sites where clients interact, etc. This is a smaller part of my promotion budget but can be very effective in specific situations.
Grover: What is your workflow like? Can you talk about the steps you take, and the products you use, to get from the camera to the customer? Have you discovered any time-saving methods?
Jason: In some respects, my workflow differs slightly based on what I’m shooting. Most of what I shoot is collegiate athletics, so I’ll describe what I typically go through after a covering a game. First thing is to make sure I have rosters set up to ingest into Photo Mechanic‘s code replacement mechanism. For NCAA Football, I use Mike Stone’s site: http://codereplacement.stonepix.com/ For other sports, I’ve created my own: http://www.jasonowatson.com/code — this step alone saves me valuable time when captioning, especially with a hard deadline looming.
I shoot entirely in RAW and ingest into Photo Mechanic where I make my selections. Oftentimes, I’m under a tight deadline and will tag key photos in the camera and use F3 in PM to quickly get a batch of images that I’m looking for. Then, from PM I’ll send to Camera Raw (via Photoshop CS3) where I will do exposure and white balance corrections and save as JPEG. Back to PM for captioning, keywording, bulk application of relevant IPTC data, etc. If there are additional edits to the images, such noise reduction, that need to happen, I send the JPEGs back over to Photoshop. I then use PM to upload directly to my PhotoShelter archive. Once in the archive I usually create a gallery and send download invitations to my client(s). Afterwards, I use Lightroom to save off small JPEGs into my copyright folders (here I separate using color tags between published and unpublished images).
Grover: How did you learn your craft? College? Learn by doing?
Jason: As far as using a camera, I’m entirely self-taught – much at the mercy of fellow photographers who took (and still take) pity on me and are willing to show me a trick or two. However, for the business side of what I do, my college training has proved to be invaluable. My undergraduate degree was in cognitive science and focused on a lot of computer science — I also have a MBA that concentrated on information systems. Wherever possible, I have tried to implement and deploy technological solutions to make my life easier and my business run smoother. I rely heavily on my formal education to give me an edge in this regard.
Grover: Where do you go and/or what do you do to learn about new things, and keep up on the latest happenings in the industry?
Jason: I look at a lot of sports publications to see what my colleagues are doing. I also spend a good amount of time on sites like SportsShooter, John Harrington’s Photo Business Blog, Carolyn Wright’s Photo Attorney blog, Chase Jarvis’ blog, etc.
Grover: Where have you found creative inspiration?
Jason: Everywhere I go – travelling often inspires me as does looking at other’s work.
Grover: In general, what would you say are the most important things for your customers? (Example: Ease of use? Quick turnaround times? Variety of products and services?)
Jason: Finding and getting the image(s) they need before their deadline.
Grover: Are you keeping track of your website statistics, your Google rankings, and overall trends? If so, what tools are you using, and what kind of things have you implemented/changed/improved as a result?
Jason: Absolutely. I keep detailed spreadsheets where I track a variety of statistics from how my stock photos are doing with various agencies to how well I’m positioned with search engines, etc. I’ve made specific adjustments over time to how I phrase things on my website, etc. based on this type of data. I also make decisions about what to shoot and how to shoot from what I’m learning from my stock data. Overtime, results most often improve – sometimes experiments fail, but that’s okay if I learn something from it.
Grover: Do you have any interesting success stories to share as a result of using the PhotoShelter Personal Archive?
Jason: I was visiting my parents who had just moved to a lake in rural South Carolina – we had to drive about ½ hour to the nearest town and were sitting in probably the only Chinese restaurant in a 100-mile radius. My cell phone rang with a NYC area code and it was a photo editor at a very large and important sports publication that wanted some of my photos for their next edition. Problem was that I in the middle of nowhere – the only place that had an Internet connection was a public library – and they needed the photos that evening. At the library, I was able to login to my PhotoShelter archive and directly ftp from my archive about 100 high-resolution images for them to review (they wanted everything on this particular subject).
Without PhotoShelter, I would have been unable to meet their needs (it also would have taken forever to go through 3 or 4 hard drives, find, pull out and transmit those images). They got the 2 images they needed and as a result, they have been a great and repeat client.
Grover: What was your business like before PhotoShelter?
Jason: Frustrating. I coded and built my own website and e-commerce engine – I spent countless hours tweaking and fixing the site, and never could quite get the functionality that I needed. I largely attribute the growth of my business to the decision to use PhotoShelter as the backbone of my archival system.
Grover: What features of the PhotoShelter Personal Archive do you use most often, and why?
Jason: I use lightboxes, galleries, and quick hi-res downloads to present and deliver images to clients. I use the seamless integration into my website to present to the world all that I’m doing. I use the electronic commerce features (including the integrated FotoQuote pricing system) to sell prints and license images. I use the archival storage as my primary backup for my most important images.
Grover: Is there anything else you’d like to say or share? Feel free to say whatever
you want — I’m listening.
Jason: While I’m disappointed by the end of PSC (I was a huge fan), I remain extremely optimistic with my ability to grow my business directly through the tools provided in the PhotoShelter Archive. It is truly a very powerful resource that has helped me tremendously. I look forward to new improvements and upgrades (such as detailed stats). Thanks to everyone who has made this possible.
Jason’s PhotoShelter Page: http://pa.photoshelter.com/usr-show/U0000uFrhWwf9I4I
Jason’s Website: http://www.jasonowatson.com