Posts Tagged ‘photography

09
Sep
09

Biz Plan, Part 2

Finally, time to look at the business plan again. My timing for these posts is a bit off, but that’s more to do with trying to pace my progress here in an inverse way with what’s going on at work. A few months ago all indications were that we would wrap our projects up and be gone by now. Today, it’s more likely we’ll at least get to complete the projects, which satisfies my techno-geek self. Will I still be there in the new year? That’s still not clear, so while I have time I need to complete a bit more groundwork here.

Homework Check:

Last time I left you with some jobs to do:

– Find out what others in your area charge for what you want to be doing. Here the range is $2k – $6k per event

– Gather costs – for yourself and your business. It will help set a realistic monthly budget for both, and you can estimate a good monthly salary.

The Math:

Really, it can be as simple as Income – Costs = Profit

I think a lot of folks screw this step up and make it more complicated (and unrealistic) than it needs to be. For example, you could make some assumptions about a new business, like Profit = Zero, and the math gets much simpler:

Income = Costs

If you compare the results of the homework, it should be obvious that your monthly costs are going to need to be balanced by your income. I don’t know why, but this is a surprise to some people, and they make a bunch of arm-waving noises about how this doesn’t apply to their situation, or some sort of magic should happen in six months, or they plan to land some big deal in Year 2….  … yeah, whatever. Ain’t happening. Not in a solid plan, anyway.

Specific to photography I see lots of ways to spend money; gear is the obvious choice, but so are conventions, printing marketing materials (business cards, photobook samples, glossies…), auto expenses…. and accountants and lawyers to help you with the leftovers… remember to jot those down too.

Now, one thing should stand out, at least it does for me … all of the things that hobbyists wince and whine about, like the cost of good equipment, are much less than the #1 line item of cost in the plan: your own needs! Your cost of living is going to vary, but if we pick a round number as an average, I bet $5000 a month is about right. I could go to $10K, and use more rough ‘order of magnitude’ estimation (a true life skill … taught to me in university, in astronomy class, of all places!). But $5k splits the difference between $1k and $10k, and it’ll make the math easier later on.

Let’s add up some costs.

Salary (or repayment of shareholders loan, or dividend, or whatever your accountant wants you to call it): $60K

Gear: New body, new glass, new computers, software, monitors, printers, that wireless thingy…. oh, allright… $15k. No? Ok, $20K. Believe me, it won’t matter, it’s rounding error.

Taxes, fees, insurance, various and assorted bloodsuckers: $10k

Conventions, Marketing, and ahem ‘fun’ stuff: $5k (it’s year one, so suck it up!)

Where are we? About $100k. Now, slap 50% on that, because one day you’ll want (or need) to retire. See, I told you that $1500 lens would start looking like rounding error!

Are we done yet? Well, not quite. We don’t have the actual shoot costs yet; the ‘cost of good sold’. Assistants, consumables, travel, food, disk space, print / production items that are bundled into the package prices…

Package Prices? Say what?

Ah… and there is where all these costs go – into quotes based on uplifts to the package price. So you can develop a package price, but it’s going to be a ‘no frills’ package, in fact you may never tell anyone what it is, because really, it’s the base cost of a shoot that you MUST cover, or go broke.

For example, if you know that you are going to have 50 ‘Event Cards’ for guests to take home, so they can find images that they can buy prints of online, or even buy the photobook of the event from… there is a fixed line item of cost. But if you don’t shoot events, maybe just a hundred cards a year is ok.

How does the math work then?

For something like $160k of annual fixed costs (notice how that number keeps creeping up?), spread over 10 months (because you won’t be working for two of those months… remember Wayne Cotton, and his Success Calendars!)… you have simply $160k / 10 months = $16k per month, as a base cost.

Since months are handily divided into four weeks (of about 4 days), you are looking at about $4k per week, and about $1000 per day. If you really wanted to, you could estimate this as $100/hr (including travel) as a minimum.

But that’s a bit eager, don’t you think? How about if we only shot 50% of the time? After all, you won’t be 100% booked (and shouldn’t be…. that’s another post…!). That would DOUBLE your shoot costs. So really, $4k per event might cover a small wedding. But a bigger event, with a 2nd shooter, some ‘included’ things … that could easily be an $8k shoot. And how does that stack up with Homework item #1… what others are charging? For me, it’s right in the ballpark. I love it when a plan comes together!

And when you realize that your costs are covered you won’t be thinking about paying bills or eating cat food.

You’ll be mentally free to take really rockin’ images. After all, that’s why you got hired, right?

So, are we ready to go get our Amex business card and buy everyone a celebration dinner and write it off?

Errr… no.

This isn’t a business plan… at least not yet.

Homework

This one is much easier; given you know what you could charge, and how much you cost, lay out the next 24 months. For each month draw your salary, but be realistic on income. I’ve done this step, and it’s frightening. If you don’t have a war-chest now, my advice is don’t start until you do.

As a template, I did this for my projection:

Month 1 (January 2010): Zero income

Month 2 (February 2010): One event

Month 3 (March 2010): One event

and so on. I ramped up my income from zero to ‘normal’ over the entire 24 months, and even in the 24th month I didn’t assume to be 100% booked, because of the cyclical nature of wedding date selection.

And 24  months @ $16k/month cost …. Yikes! Yowza! That’s $384k!!! And I haven’t booked a single wedding yet! No wonder so many small businesses fail!

Well, without some spit and polish it’s still not quite a business plan, but it is an eye-opener!

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06
Sep
09

Just for fun: Cross-Processing

First off, this isn’t about cross-dressing, like the killer in ‘Dressed to Kill’. (Great movie. Lots of little plot details. Even a bit of a photography angle, in the form of character Peter Miller, who hides a camera to catch a killer.)

Nope, this is cross-processing; the intentional developing of one type of film in chemistry intended for another. You’ve seen the look; like Kodachrome, but more vivid, darker blacks, and blown highlights, and often incorrect or unnatural colors.

Cross-processed Fuji Sensia 100

Cross-processed Fuji Sensia 100

When I got the Diana F+ one thing that drew me to it were the samples; unreal colors and flaws that are really difficult to produce by editing digital, if only because of their apparent randomness.

My first couple of rolls were some Lomo 120, ISO 100. Not bad for outdoor use in bright light. But black and white; and I developed myself – the first time in 25 years, so a little lacking in deep blacks. But that’s another post.

My third roll, and one I was dying to shoot, was some Fuji Sensia ISO 100, a slide film. I had purchased it intending to use in the Kodak Stereo Camera on a mountain hike, but the hike evaporated, and there sat the Diana, just begging for some color film.

The first surprise is how hard it was to get it processed here in Calgary. Within 15 minutes of me are probably a half-dozen drug-store processing machines, all C-41 (print chemistry). What I had was slide film, or E-6 chemistry. I did a little leg work and found that neither WalMart or London Drugs would take it, first citing fears that I wouldn’t like the results, and second that it might somehow gum up their machines. I did a little reading after that, and found that the only film that’s likely to do that is Kodachrome – no longer available. (There are others, but likely to be in unmarked/self-loading 35mm cans).

In that search I found a local lab that would process it ‘wrong’ for me, but I’m going to have to keep it a secret; I don’t want a sudden influx of hobbyists flooding the lab because they don’t make much (if any) money from it. If you have a roll, live in northwest Calgary, just do some leg work (and a Google search). You’ll find it.

The next surprise was that the slide film came back as a negative… I hadn’t thought about it; all the shots that I’d seen online, even those with sprocket holes, seemed to be clear slide film. A thread over on APUG showed me the light; the chemistry dictates if the results are positive (slides) or negatives (for prints).

But it wasn’t an ordinary negative; the actual film substrate turned green. Yikes! Again, the APUG threads indicated this is normal-ish… for certain films, notably a few of the Fuji’s, like my Sensia. Ah well…

My next challenge was to scan it and see if I could invert it digitally. I was hoping to avoid any digital manipulation at all – and go totally lo-fi, but what the heck; I had an HP film/photo scanner, so let’s see what we have…

Step 1: Scan as Slide

The scanner did some pretty funky things to the scans if I told it to ‘scan as negative’, so I lied to it and said it was a slide. Also, for this sample strip I did NOT use the film loader; it hides the sprocket holes! I put the slide into a print carrier, which is just a bit of clear plastic with a white paper backing that is only sealed on one edge. Great for feed loading delicate items, like this. But the big reason why I like this way: I get sprocket holes.

What the film looked like from the lab. Ugh! (click for bigger version)

The scanner saves this as a TIFF file; which is perfect for more manipulation…

Step 2: Color Inversion

This is really straightforward: I loaded the image into the GIMP (think ghetto Photoshop) and selected ‘Invert’ from the Colors menu. That’s it.

Ooohh! Thats looking better...

Ooohh! That's looking better... (click for bigger version)

I saved this step as another TIFF file also, so I could come back to it if needed. These files aren’t high resolution, so the files are really small, about 2.4 MB.

Step 3: The Tweaks!

This is where things get personal. I used the curves editor to drop the red a few notches, and bump up the blue and green. In the curve grid I simply drag the point from the right hand corner; straight down for red, and straight left for green and blue. Play around until you get it ‘right’. It’s possible to actually get colors that are really normal – but where is the fun in that?

The result: Lomographic goodness.

The result: Lomographic goodness. (click for bigger version)

That’s really all there is to it. You’ll notice that I didn’t get the film advance right, and one frame is damaged. Meh. That’s part of the process. If you don’t want overlapping frames then take the time to load and count turns; I used about 1.25 turns at the start of the roll which was waaaay to few; and 2 turns in the middle  – waaaay too many; and about 1 turn at the end… which was about right. That sounds like a whole ‘nother post, so I’ll leave it at that.

My flickr page has a few more samples, sans sprockets. Comparing the two: Sprockets Rule!

05
Sep
09

Another one bites the dust…

I just tried to have a roll of color slide film shot with my Diana F+ cross-processed at the local Royal Oak Wal-Mart in Calgary last night.

No Dice.

The kids looking after the photo counter were afraid of ‘ruining’ my film. That has to be one of the funniest things ever, since the chemistry of cross-processing has just that effect.

Ahhh…. kids.

So I thought I’d wait until later today, and see if I could get one of the nice day-shift techs at the London Drugs next door to take a stab at it. They were excellent with the oddball film from the Kodak Stereo camera, so this should be a breeze for them.

Update:

No dice at the Royal Oak London Drugs, either. They’d never heard of cross-processing, and thought it might damage their machine (ie, contaminating it’s chemistry). They thought they might be able to do it if they sent it into their custom lab, but I doubt that the lab would understand, either, and would either process it as slide (wrong) or cut it (wrong), or god knows what else.

Next stop… Vistek. The only camera store in Calgary that has ever been rude to me.

I’m sooo looking forward to this.

Not.

Update #2:

I now have a super-secret location for cross-processing.  I don’t know how long the good times will roll, but I’ll roll with them…

22
Aug
09

Photo hosting; a quick comparision

This post started an excuse to try using my flickr.com account with WordPress, but I think a quick comparison of the hosting services I use might be fun.

Flickr

This was my first photo hosting service, but their terms of service are kinda whacked; like having to post a link back to flickr with each image, like this:

Random Flower

Blech! I much prefer using the static flickr url so I can get the WordPress border and title; and the photo still links back to flickr, so I don’t think it’s a TOS violation.

Ever see fog outside when you wake up? Grab your camera and get out there!

Ever see fog outside when you wake up? Grab your camera and get out there!

Zenfolio

Normally I use zenfolio; unlimited storage and very few other limits it’s my first choice. Because it’s a paid service there are no distracting advertisements and it’s really slick looking.  If you like how it looks use my referral code ‘X1V-31U-ZJR’ and get another $5.00 off the already super duper cheap annual fee.

Weird building in SF; click to see it under construction in Google Maps.

Weird building in SF; click to see it under construction in Google Maps.

Photobucket

I have a photobucket account that I never update, and just recently re-discovered. It looks really … plain. Ah well. I think I was going to use it as a dumping ground for family and friends type shots that I didn’t want on the same hosting service as my portfolio work. There are still a couple of shots that are worthwhile, let’s give them a whirl:

Details, details...

Details, details...

Whoa! That’s toooooo wide! That about wraps it up for photobucket… with no image resize options for blog posts, it’s out!

Picasa

And apparently a lot of my older blog posts from blogger.com used my account on Googles Picasa. Let’s see if mine still works:

Cold beer in a North Beach bar.

Cold beer in a North Beach bar.

Conclusions

Zenfolio just rocks. I have an unlimited account with them and am tickled pink that for once, I got what I paid for. Great stuff.

flickr seems to be the #1 image sharing site, and they have addressed some image-use rights questions over the years, which is good, but their requirement to provide back-links from static image URL’s is really inconvenient for some web uses. It seems ok for WordPress for now.

Picasa is owned by Google, and despite the fact that it works, I have growing fears of Google and their ‘Do no evil’ mantra that seems more and more tarnished lately. I’m not sure I want to trust them with my images.

Photobucket is just plain fugly. Hard to navigate. No image resizing. No thanks!

20
Aug
09

Visualize it. Dare ya!

I mentioned yesterday that if you visualize something, it will happen.

Today I’m the proud owner of a darkroom.

Yup, just like that …. *poof* and it appeared.

Well, actually I was Googling around for a developing tank, and found a classified on kijiji … a guy about a mile away from me was selling a complete darkroom setup. A phone call later and I was on my way.

It was like this weird light surrounded me and a voice said “This one’s for you!”.

I like when that happens. I should visualize more. Like an actual room to set this up in, for a start…

And the homework from yesterday? Due Monday. I have a darkroom to build.

19
Aug
09

Getting ready to write your business plan…

Ok, quick recap: There are only three steps in my world domination startup plan to transition to full-time photographer:

  1. Preparing the Business Plan
  2. Preparing for Business
  3. Marketing the Business

The first step, the Business Plan, might be the most overlooked from what I’ve read online. All the administrivia of starting a business is in step 2, so it’s just plain boring (I know – I’ve already written the draft for it, and it needs serious help). Number 3 is a cakewalk, because apparently everyone is selling marketing and appears to be an expert in it. Besides, it’s fun and exciting, and you get to ‘write off’ all that cool stuff… right? (Answer: No, not so fast….)

This business plan is going to drive the thinking and the documents (think: contracts, usage rights, etc) in step 2,  so it’s important to know what your focus is going to be. Just knowing that you want to be a photographer isn’t enough. You need to know what kind of work you enjoy – or you risk being driven away from the very thing that got you started. Ultimately the business plan should show that what you are going to do has a good chance of succeeding, before going too much further in the other steps.

Example: Photography

I’ve been investigating different styles of photography, experimenting with each, to know which I’d enjoy doing, and what kinds of demands each would place on me in terms of time, investment, and effort for return. Your likes, market and decisions are going to be different than mine.

For example, I do free shoots with models on ModelMayhem.com. Fun, yes; but a full time paying gig? No; by definition, these ‘TFP’ (Time for Prints) are exchanges of time between participants. Without additional investment and a niche style to offer it’s not likely to turn into a revenue stream in the market where I live. Portrait and beauty photography is at best a component of the business, but in a limited fashion market I don’t see doing occasional runway and designers seasonal catalogs as full time work.

Food is totally different; I’ve even purchased special serving dishes that are modern and non-distracting. If I could make a decent living shooting nothing but olives and toast, I’d do it in a heartbeat. But the reality is that a few hundred dollars for an afternoon shooting plates as they come off the line of a local restaurant doesn’t happen frequently enough to be a sole source of income. Again, something I could do, but not something that is going to be 80% of the business.

Nature photography is something else I like, mainly because I get to hike in the mountains to do it. But the kinds of shots that sell are those requiring a significant investment of time and effort, and I consider a form of art photography, there may not be a client commissioning the work – so the return on the investment may not happen for some time.

Weddings and portraiture are a common bread and butter operation, but would I enjoy them? A local model connected me to a couple she knew that needed a free wedding shoot; they had blown their budget and hadn’t considered hiring anyone for their wedding photos. I’ve heard all the cautions about not shooting your first wedding solo, but after discussing this with the couple and showing them my portfolio of non-wedding shots, we decided to go for it. They agreed with me that it would be nothing if not fun, because the alternative would be to rely on the snapshots of family and friends only. I absorbed as much knowledge as I could in the month I had before the ceremony, and it looked like I wasn’t going to enjoy it at all…

But guess what? I did enjoy it! The shooting was fun and relaxed, as was the whole day. Now when I read of photographers that don’t enjoy weddings I wonder why…  Bridezillas? Challenging shooting locations? Tough schedules? Isn’t that part of the challenge? Anyway, I knew I could safely add wedding photography to my interests; I may or may not shoot them solo again (with a second shooter, or as a second shooter would be nice…) but it’s something I know I can do, and I know how much of a time commitment it is, too.

So I know what I can and can’t shoot and still keep my sanity; but could I still pay the bills?

Homework:

Find out what others in your area charge for what you want to be doing. But don’t just price shop; seriously consider what you like and dislike about their style, their price structure, and where you think they sit in the market. Simply emulating someone who low-balls price because their spouse supports their ‘business’ with a full time office job salary is a formula for disaster!

I did this and found that the range is pretty broad; and I’m not talking about the $500 craigslist shooters, either. The low end is around $2000; and there are a few whose non-upgraded rates are double that; so assume triple once a few options are chosen.

Costs are another thing to gather… if you don’t know what you need to live on per month, then it’s time for a monthly budget. Because I’m already self-employed I’m careful to not overspend; getting to the end of the year and finding out that you still owe the taxman $15k is no fun at all.

Tomorrow:

We do the math!

18
Aug
09

Baby Steps

If you’ve strung together some of the posts here, or from my twitter ‘tweets’, you’ll know I’m working through the planning, opening, and marketing steps of my photography business. It’s a fun process; certainly challenging, sometimes confusing, and potentially overwhelming.

To cope with that I’m treating like any project I do (I’m a project manager in ‘real life’) which means it has the usual boundaries; a scope, a schedule, and a budget. In plain english this means I have a deadline to do things – and I plan to run out of things before I run out of money.

I’ve often said that to avoid the paralysis of planning a project, you should ‘just start’. I usually start with the most basic of plans – a skeleton plan – and I flesh it out as I go. If I’m having a good week I take some time, usually Friday mornings, and look at where I am, and what’s next. If I don’t think that there is enough detail, or if any individual step takes longer than an hour to do, I usually break it up into smaller steps. This lets me work on it as I have time – which is almost never in 8 hour chunks.

I’m starting this with only three BIG steps, so it doesn’t get much simpler. At the end of each step is a simple question: “Should I keep going?”. This lets me pause at the end of any step, limiting my investments of time, money, and commitments if the answer is “No.”, and figure out if I can make it a “Yes!”. Here they are:

  1. Preparing the Business Plan
  2. Preparing for Business
  3. Marketing the Business

How far have I gone with my efforts so far? Well, farther than I’ve written about in the past, but not as far as I’d like; I’m still not 100% done with the first step, and I’m about halfway through the second step, at a point where I need a complete business plan before I invest any cash. Of course the third step is where all the fun is, so I’ve dabbled in it, but committed very little.

At the end of the last step I should have a calendar full of paid work before me, a plan for the next couple of years, and pretty big grin from being so darn successful. I think it’s pretty important to be able to visualize yourself in the future, too. It may be a silly mind trick, but it works for me. Every time I repeatedly visualize some future, I somehow get there. (I’m still waiting on the hover-car, though…).

Next time I’ll put some meat on these bones, and describe each step a bit more.