Category Archives: Business

The Business of Architectural Photography

Heads up — I’m participating in an ASMP-sponsored panel discussion on The Business of Architectural & Interiors photography next Tuesday, April 26th, in Oakland:

Some pretty great photographers are on the panel with me — hope to see you there!

Working Hard, or Hardly Working?



If you had asked me, even a few months ago, how I felt about the state of my photography career, I would’ve given you the same answer I’d been using for years: “I’m still in my start-up phase.”

I like to think of myself as a newbie in photography. And, taking a long view, I suppose that’s still true. I expect to be shooting for at least another 30 years (hopefully much more), and the paltry amount of time I have under my belt right now will ultimately represent a small percentage of what I hope will be the total. The depth of my photographic ignorance is profound, and I will never have enough time on this earth to learn what I want, and need, to know about making photographs.

But lately, I’ve settled into an uneasy acceptance that in fact, I’ve “made it”, at least in financial terms. For the past several years, I’ve had enough money to do pretty much what I want; and my business grows year over year in pleasing amounts. It’s been a long time since I worried about having enough money next week (as I once did), or next month, or even next year. Better still, I’m getting the kind of work I really want to get; I find most of my shoots to be very fulfilling. I’m doing fine; I’ve “made it” as a photographer. Things could certainly go awry, and there is plenty of uncharted territory ahead; but I can no longer pretend that I’m a start-up.

So, yay! for me…but that’s caused me to think a lot about how exactly this has happened. How did I come to this place, where no rational person would have predicted I’d be? I occasionally get asked to speak on this topic, and I’ve always struggled to identify the characteristics and habits etc. that I felt were important…..other than to say that luck had absolutely NOTHING to do with it (on that score I’m quite sure).

I was frankly lucky to have gotten out of high school, though, and I literally flunked out of college (cumulative GPA: 1.8). When I “became” a photographer, I did not have the first clue about what I was getting into. I took no photography classes, read precious few books, did zero assisting. I had never actually met a professional photographer. The odds were so high against me that if I’d had any inkling of what my prospects were, I’d have been too scared to try. But, I didn’t know any better.

So what was the magic ingredient? Long-winded answer, after the jump

What Does It Take To Make It?

Last March, when I was in Dubai with GPP, I had the chance to hang out a bit with Lee Morris and Patrick Hall, the duo behind the popular blog

Lee and Patrick were attending as guests of GPP, and of course shooting a ton of video. They shot interviews with 8 of the 13 instructors and cut them together into the 15-minute collage above. You’ll have to hold out for the 9-minute mark to see me, but frankly it won’t be difficult — this is actually really good stuff to listen to. You’re getting career advice from the best: Heisler, Burnett, McNally, Hurley, Keatley, Arias & Hobby.


Office Day

I hate Office Days.

There. I said it. If I could spend every single day shooting, it would be Nirvana….but the ugly truth is that a large percentage of my time is spent right here, at my desk, staring at a big ‘ol monitor.

And so here I am, taking a break at 4:00pm. My day started at 6:30, and knowing that I would be on my butt most of the day I began with a brisk 20-minute walk down to Peet’s for some caffeine, and then across the street to Arizmendi’s for my favorites: a Brioche Knot, and a Corn-Cherry scone.

By 8:00 I’m shaved, showered, caffeinated and ready for work. I find that one of the tricks to staying productive on these days (when I’m yearning to do ANYTHING else) is to dress for the occasion: no sweat pants or t-shirts! Nice jeans, a button-down shirt, and shoes….just as if I had a real job. Helps me “feel” like I should be working. But just the same, I drink another coffee while I read my morning blogs (and, of course, “Doonesbury”.)

The first real task is some quick photo editing. I had a real estate shoot yesterday, while I downloaded the card and ranked the “winners” last night, now I have to go through and do RAW edits and whatever Photoshop is necessary. There are eleven photos, and I’ve got that done in about half an hour. Mostly color and toning adjustments, which go pretty quickly.  On to the real work of the day!

The rest of the morning is spent on a proposal for an upcoming shoot. There’s nothing more tedious than writing up a proposal and treatment, but this project is more interesting than most because it involves helicopter aerials and some video components — and I discover a smokin’ deal on helo charters that I hadn’t known about before. Nice!

Writing up the treatment involves a bunch of tedious work with Google Earth, and then using Photoshop to draw arrows and numbers and text on the images, to convey what I’m proposing to the client. Clients love this stuff, but it’s time-consuming to produce.

Around Noon I take another 40-minute walk down to the post office and the library, just to stretch my legs and get some fresh air. Back again at my desk, I spend the next couple of hours updating a marketing database in preparation for the launch of my next “New Work” portfolio, which is scheduled for early next week. More tedium, this time in Excel.

The rest of the afternoon is gear maintenance. Color calibrating my monitors, cleaning lenses, fixing a broken tripod. A few phone calls, a LOT of emails. I’ve been totally absorbed in tax prep work for the last week or two, so there’s a lot of stuff I’ve been neglecting. Now that the taxes are off to the accountant, I can get back to things like, you know, photography.

And here it is, 4:20pm, and my desk is still as cluttered as it was when I started! What the hell?! …..Still, I got a lot done today, and the payoff will be next week when I can be focused on shooting again.

Only 35 minutes to 5:00pm……when I can legitimately pop open a bottle of beer…..

Interview on Real Estate Photography Podcast

Mike Miriello asked me to record an audio interview for his blog, Real Estate Photography Podcast a couple weeks ago. It’s up now, and if you can stand the thought of listening to me ramble incoherently for an hour, you can take a listen. Mike also shows three photos of mine and asks me to talk through the creative process on them – that occurs about 30 minutes in.

I would embed the video here, but I’m damned if I can figure out how to do it.

Update: Smart Friend ™ rescued me again!

Updated update: My Girlfriend ™ rescued me again!  (note to self: do not refer to “gf” as “sf”. Doubleplus ungood.)

Thanks, Mike – it was fun!

Dripping with Success

One of the most successful marketing tools I use is the repetitive, or “drip” email campaign. I mentioned it here, and since today I picked up a new client as a direct result of it, I thought I’d spell it out for you in detail.

This is not an in-your-face kind of marketing campaign. I don’t put flashing lights, flames, and “BUY NOW!!” banners in it. Beyond asking people to look at my portfolio, there isn’t even an “action item”. The only purpose of the email(s) is to create name recognition, to plant a seed that (hopefully) will germinate when conditions are right.

Many of my clients are not professional photo buyers. They would have a hard time sourcing a photographer if they didn’t have a referral from someone. In some cases, they’re placing ads on Craigslist for lack of a better idea! By sending them my “drip” emails, I’m planting that seed, so that when the day comes that they’re ready, they’ll know exactly who they’re gonna call.

“You know,” they’ll say. “That guy, the one that sends the emails.” read more after the jump

Marketing to Real Estate Agents — The Top Tier

Hargis_080812_8823A while ago we discussed some techniques for building a client base out of nothing, when you’re just starting out as a Real Estate photographer (Stone Soup). Today, I’m going to assume that you’ve successfully gained a few regular clients, and have a few shoots under your belt. You’re starting to get the hang of things, your photography is getting better, and you’re beginning to eye some better gigs. How do you get the attention of the agents who have those $5,000,000 listings? The ones with the giant living rooms, eternity pools, 5-acre kitchens, and whatnot.

Find out how after the jump

Taking The Plunge

About a year and a half ago, I found myself standing atop a cliff in Death Valley National Park, preparing to walk backwards over the edge. No, I wasn’t suicidal. I was on a canyoneering trip with my friend Charlie and three other guys, who were all experienced rock climbers. I was the least experienced rapeller in the group, having not been on a rope since I was about 12 years old.Belay and rapel

Charlie and two of the others had already made the descent, which was about 110 feet. I was clipped in, and the belay was ready. All I had to do was lean back into my harness, and back over the edge. Craig, who had helped me get roped up, was watching me closely. “Just lean back, and relax,” he said.

Relax. Right. It’s only 110 feet. What could go wrong? More after the, Uh, Jump, sort of

Stone Soup

freelanceAnother in a series I’m writing to address questions I get asked a lot. This is a long one, so get a beer and settle in. For those who have asked me how I got started, this is the post you want.

Building a successful Real Estate Photography Business

Starting a photography business from scratch is tough. It’s hard to avoid the classic chicken-or-egg conundrum. You need to get real-life experience to build a portfolio, but you can’t get a job because you don’t already have a portfolio. Catch-22. And it’s easy to waste a lot of time paralyzed and feeling like you simply can’t get a break.

Here’s where the secret weapon comes in:
It’s called bluffing. Some people call it “Act like a winner, you’ll become a winner,” but I prefer a good old-fashioned bluff. Read more after the Jump