Commercial, Weddings, News and Sports. All are familiar territory for Craig Mitchelldyer, a Portland, Oregon-based freelance photographer.
Craig started as a staff photographer at Community Newspapers, a chain of weekly newspapers serving the metro Portland area. Working at a small newspaper is the photography world equivalent of being a one-man-band, and Craig’s experience was no different. He’ll shoot just about anything.
His images have appeared in many places, including the New York Times, USA Today, Newsweek, Golf World, Sports Illustrated, and his own blog.
I’ve seen Craig’s work through the years, and not only is he well-rounded, but a solid and consistent shooter. The boy works hard, and his business is doing well, so I thought I’d take a turn at sticking my nose into his business.
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?
Craig Mitchelldyer: I think photography is just like any other business. It’s all about customer
service. You can be the best photographer in the world, but if you’re a jackass, no one will want to work with you. It doesn’t matter if your working a wedding, working for a wire or a newspaper editor or a big time magazine art director, remember the customer is always right. Making deadlines, following up on things, good communication, etc are all things that I think keep people coming back to use my services. I basically try to shape my business as a business I would want to use. An example, a good website; if I go to a website that sucks, I do not care how great you might be, I am not going to use a business with a bad website. Emails; If I send an email to a company I expect a quick response, so I make sure to answer emails with in an hour if possible. Obviously, when working and such that is not always doable, but, same day for sure. People are busy and might be sending an email to a lot of different people and a lot of times the first person to answer gets the job.
Grover: Who are your customers, and how do you get your images to them? What works, and what doesn’t?
Craig: I have a wide variety of customers. I have found that you can’t get by doing just one thing, so, I shoot a lot of weddings, I shoot a lot of corporate work, I shoot a lot of editorial portraits and I shoot a lot of news and sports. Each customer has their own way of getting images, but each has one thing in common: they want them yesterday. So I use a variety of methods to get images to customers. Obviously, for deadline work the files are sent via ftp or email from the location. For weddings and corporate work I use PhotoShelter to create web galleries so the customers can see the images very quickly and then send out CD’s or DVD’s. I also use PhotoShelter to upload hi-res images for client downloads which is great, I don’t need to be in the office to get images to people. The common theme here is no matter what the client, they are getting the images via a computer in one way or another.
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?
Craig: I try to do as much online as possible. I am out of the office a lot and have 2 little kids that sometimes need ‘ol Dad while he’s on the phone so email and online web galleries and downloads, etc., are the best for me and I have found that most people prefer email as well. I am a photographer, so I interact with people (clients) everyday but I don’t think being face to face leads to higher revenue – but good customer service does. I have a lot of clients I have never even met.
Grover: What “products” do you sell/deliver to your clients? (Example: Prints, Royalty Free downloads?)
Craig: 90% of the time, the “product” is a file. For my wedding clients, they get a DVD with hi-res images, corporate clients, generally the same thing, sometimes they will download the file from my PhotoShelter account. I do sell wedding prints through PhotoShelter and when I shoot senior photos I sell prints to those clients as well.
Grover: How would you describe your overall diversification? (Example: Are you selling mostly prints, some stock, some editorial, some assignment work?)
Craig: I would call myself an editorial and wedding photographer. My business is 50% weddings and 50% editorial/corporate/news/sports/etc.
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?
Craig: The biggest trend I am seeing is a sad one. Newspapers are dying and editorial clients are fewer and farther between. I used to shoot 4-5 assignments a week for various newspapers and now maybe 4 a month. But my wedding business could not be stronger, so I am focusing my attention more towards that side of the business. My clients love the web galleries and I would love it if they could do album design or something, etc., on the website. Maybe that is something that you guys are working on.
Grover: How do you promote yourself? In what ways do you market yourself?
Craig: My website ranks very high for any term with “Portland” or “Photographer.” For example, I am number two for “Portland Oregon Photographer” and “wedding photographer Portland”. I get a lot of business that way. I spend a lot of time working on SEO and such.
I also get a lot of customers via word of mouth. Either they worked with me before or had a friend who worked with me or met me in a grocery store or had a friend who met me at a farmer’s market or whatever. I believe in networking and being nice to everyone I meet. Goes back to customer service. My wife always says I’m nicer to people I don’t know than the people who I do know. I didn’t believe her until one mother’s day I said happy mother’s day to a group of 45-50 year old women walking through a parking lot on mother’s day before I said it to her and she got mad at me. I just try to be nice and start conversations with anybody.
Anyway, back on track, word of mouth and Google are my best friends. I also try to be friends with as many photographers as possible as referrals from other people are huge as well. I also send out postcards every once and a while and get work that way too. I don’t do any advertising (other than the postcards) at all, I think that’s a waste of money.
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?
Craig: I shoot everything RAW and use Apple’s Aperture software to process the files into jpg’s for delivery. I am a big believer in the “get it right in camera” method of post processing. I don’t like to spend a lot of time in front of the computer, so I make sure to do custom white balance and get the exposure and light and all of that right before I shoot the frame so that when I do bring it in, I don’t have to do much to it. My workflow is to import the RAW images into Aperture, each shoot is sorted into its own project, sorted by month and year, copied onto a 1TB RAID Server. Then I go through and apply a star to the photos that will be my edit, then open a smart folder to show just the 1 star edits, then I go and make minor adjustments to the files, black point, a little saturation, etc., and then export them to either PhotoShelter or as a jpeg or both depending on the shoot. Aperture’s lift and stamp is a huge time saver.
Grover: How did you learn your craft? College? Learn by doing?
Craig: I wasn’t that fond of school. My friend Mike has been in college for like 10 years now. Sure he has 2 degrees and will have Masters soon, but I would kill myself if I had to sit in a classroom. I tried college, but took 2 classes and said no thanks. Got C’s in both of them. Then I dropped out.
I got lucky and landed a newspaper job when I was pretty young (not that I’m old) and nothing makes you learn more at a faster pace than shooting 5-6 assignments a day. I picked up as much as I could and I’m lucky to live in a market where all the photographers are friends and share all the secrets.
I learn something new every day and never stop learning. Every shoot I take something away that I can do better the next time and take that to the next shoot. I just learn more by doing and by trial and error than by sitting in a classroom.
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?
Grover: Where have you found creative inspiration?
Craig: I read a lot of photographer blogs. Mostly my friends and people I know, like Justin Sullivan, Tom Boyd, Rob Finch, Tiffany Brown, Kevin German, Rod Mar, Sol Neelman. Those guys (and gal) are amazing photographers and I love to read about the things they go through and look at the great photos they create.
I also look at blogs/websites of the people whose work I really like, David Bergman, Joe McNally, Vincent Laforet, Dave Black, Robert Seale, Chase Jarvis and Darren Carroll to name a few. I also read a lot of newspapers and magazines and cut out any photo I see that I like. I have a folder full of clips that I turn to for inspiration.
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?)
Craig: I think the most important thing for my customers are great customer service. I don’t want people to think dealing with me is a pain in the ass. I want to deliver a superior product (great photos) with no hassles, very quickly.
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?
Craig: Yes, religiously. I check my web stats every other day or so and my rankings once a week. I use Google Analytics and make sure I am updating my blog and website often. I also research SEO quite a bit and make changes as I learn new things to make sure my site stays in the top 5.
Grover: Do you have any interesting success stories to share as a result of using the PhotoShelter Personal Archive?
Craig: One of my better clients is the Portland Business Journal. They send me out to shoot business portraits quite a bit. I love working for them. I would say that 75% of the shoots I have done for them have turned into more work or a big sale after the photo publishes.
One example, I have shot the CEO of Umpqua Bank a couple of different times for them. He’s a busy guy, but very nice. Anyway, the second time I shot him, I showed him the photo on the back of the camera and he mentioned that he needed a new photo of himself for the bank’s marketing materials. I said no problem and threw up a gallery with hi-res photos and sent him a link via PhotoShelter.
Two days later I was out of town and I had a really big sale from Umpqua Bank come through on the email.
They selected the photos they wanted, paid for them and instantly downloaded them. All I had to do at that point was watch the money go into my bank account. No finding the files, no emailing them the next day, no invoicing, nothing. And that is not the only time that has happened, numerous shoots I have shot the photos and people say they may want them for other uses, I upload them to PhotoShelter with the click of a mouse and then just collect the extra money.
Grover: What was your business like before PhotoShelter?
Craig: My web galleries look much better and the back end is so much easier to use. I get more sales that I would not have had before because it is so easy to use, both for me and my customers.
Grover: What features of the PhotoShelter Personal Archive do you use most often, and why?
Craig: Most often, I use upload low res images and create galleries, adding a print profile to the images. I use the customization and my customers never even know they have left my main site. That is the best thing about it, I think. Being able to keep your own branding while using the features of PhotoShelter.
Most of my PhotoShelter orders are print sales, from weddings or other things, and then one or two a month of the other types of sales I talked about.
Grover: Is there anything else you’d like to say or share? Feel free to say whatever you want — I’m listening. 🙂
Craig: Just that PhotoShelter has made my workflow so streamlined, quick and easy for myself and my customers. The customization feature is amazing and I cannot wait to see what new products you guys come up with.
Craig’s Website: http://www.craigmitchelldyer.com