By all means go on a diet and learn to meditate, but why not choose something that will really help your work? Here are ten smart and straightforward New Year's resolutions that will benefit your photographic career, suggested by Redeye's director Paul Herrmann. Most of them will take a day or two, or less, to achieve.
1: Start a mailing list Set up an account with MailChimp (or a similar service). It’s free if you have fewer than 2000 contacts. Each time you meet a professional in your field - curator, editor, collector, arts administrator, researcher - add them to a VIP list in your standard contacts app, to import them to MailChimp later, or add them directly into MailChimp (remember to back up your mailing list). Then, every time you do something great, such as have an exhibition, or publish a book, or get a magazine spread published, or start a big project, email everyone. One to four times a year is about right - not much more often. Most arts and media professionals appreciate getting genuine news from photographers. It’s a good way of reminding people you exist. Two tips:
- Think carefully about the language you use, particularly the subject line. Test out different email subjects to see which ones get opened and read most often.
- Add people no matter what position they have in a company - assistants will get more senior and will thank you for including them. Add each person you meet in a company, not just the director.
Alternatives to MailChimp: Sendy, Mad Mimi, Campaign Monitor, Campayn. The advantage with a service like MailChimp, rather than bulk emails from your own computer, is it uses its own servers and minimises the chances of blacklisting - so your bulk mails get through. It also offers easy, clear designs and good analytics tools.
2: Learn to write better Reasonable writing skills are becoming a necessity for photographic careers. Funding applications, proposals, emails to potential clients, reports, the “artist statement”; many are now part of our lives. If you struggle with writing, there might be a friend or relative in your life who can give you help. It's usually easier for them to edit something you've begun, rather than write something from scratch. So you need to make a start. There isn’t really a short cut to this, but some tips:
- Rather than sit down with a blank word-processing page, make notes (eg on your phone) as they occur to you. Then when you come to write, you've got a starting point and a rough structure.
- For some people, an outliner works better than a standard word processor. It helps you to keep an eye on the structure of what you write.
- Short sentences work best. Try and limit sentences to 20 words or so.
- Come back to something a few days after you wrote it and see if it still make sense.
Redeye has launched a short course on writing for photographers and artists. Sign up! If you experience dyslexia or have a similar diagnosed language impairment, you might be able to get formal help with writing. For example funded students can often obtain additional help from their funders.
3: Go to an opening or festival Go to openings, and go to festivals, and in particular go to festival openings. Like public speaking and writing, this is part of your work. For most galleries and festivals, all you have to do to get invited is to sign up for their mailing list. Openings and launches are where the great and the good assemble, where they are receptive to meeting new people, making new friends, and hearing about new work. Try and talk to two or three new people during an evening. Let them know what you are working on so they can introduce you to anyone else they know who could help. Bring business cards to swap or postcards of your work to give away. Don’t be pushy by trying to show your work at every opportunity, but do chat to people, find out what they do, be nice and build up friendships. Clients give work to someone they like, more than any other reason.
4: Set up a peer group One of the best ways to test your work, get feedback and build your knowledge is with a peer group. This is a small group of people at a similar stage to you in their careers. You can set this up yourself, or if you are a member of Redeye we can get this started for you. Why is this a good idea? A group can solve problems quicker, and can refine ideas to improve them. It can offer a better, more coherent critique of your work than individuals. As the anthropologist Margaret Mead said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” A group of around 5 to 6 is a good size to start. A group this size might not need a leader but it will need an organiser - someone to fix the time and place, encourage everyone to attend and circulate information. You will know if you can fulfil that role. If you want to get one going, can you think of four or five other people you would like to join? If you are already on a course, that's perfect - set up the group before you finish. Make sure everyone in the group is OK with everyone else. Agree to meet up four times a year and bring something that you have worked on since the last meeting. Spend some time on each person’s work, discussing and reflecting on it, and how it might be improved. You might want some ground rules you all agree to, such as:
- Complete confidentiality - nothing can be quoted without others’ agreement.
- A new piece of work - everyone needs to bring something they’ve recently worked on to each meeting.
- Leave egos at the door - forming the group is about mutual benefit and improvement, not proving you are great. Don’t put people down, judge, snipe or use hearsay. Be critical of work (not the person) and accept criticism, but have, and express, a reason for every criticism you voice. Communicate without a hidden agenda.
- Stay to the end - everyone needs to be there for the whole meeting;
- Sum up at the end of the meeting. Each person should confirm anything they have agreed to do. Any concerns about the process need to be voiced and if possible resolved at this stage.
- Keep organising - the group organiser needs to stay the group organiser until they hand it over to someone else.
5: Give a talk about your work This is a great way to get your thoughts in order, build your understanding of your own work, and enthuse others. It's also, to many people, a terrifying prospect. Again it's one of those things where the more you do, the better you get. But actually photographers have a ready advantage - they have strong supporting visual material. It's always interesting for an audience to hear the story behind a photograph; how it came about, how it was shot, and perhaps what else you tried. If you dry up, you can always move to the next image. Your peer group (see above) is a great place to try out ideas for a talk. If you want something a little more formal, you might approach a camera club, many of which put on regular talks by external speakers. Some possibilities to consider:
- Write the whole thing out in advance. Time-consuming but good for complex ideas - academics often take this approach.
- Ask the host if they can run it as a Q&A session - an "on-stage" interview.
- Practise it when you are on your own. If your opening is fluid and clear, the audience relaxes and the whole thing gets easier.
- Go to other talks - see what you like about them and how people approach them.
At Redeye we put on as many opportunities as we can for people to talk about their work. Check out our next Hothouse in Bradford on 8 February, where you can give a 10-15 minute talk to a receptive audience. You need to apply by 17 January.
6: Improve your metadata Get into the good habit of adding metadata to every image that leaves your computer. If you don’t, you are storing up trouble for yourself - you are basically creating orphan works. If an image gets separated from the email it arrived with, the metadata is the only way clients know who needs to get paid or credited. So it needs to include your name as a bare minimum, and a way of contacting you, then your credit if different from your name, a brief caption, title or description, the copyright symbol or details of the usage you are licensing (see below), and other contact details. Which software do you use to catalogue images? Set up an action or routine in that application to automate adding metadata at an appropriate stage of your workflow (one example), or do it when you copy images from a card. If you are shooting on an iPhone, get an app like Photogenie that allows you to add metadata quickly and reliably. If you upload images to social media, try re-downloading one of yours to see if metadata gets stripped out. Be careful of circulating images via Twitter and similar services.
7: Get your head around licensing Every creative person needs to understand the licensing of copyright material. If you don’t, you could open up big problems for yourself later. The principle is this: if you are a freelance creator, in most cases you own copyright in the work you produce. That’s to say, you get to decide whether and how it is copied or reproduced. That's the law. The permission you give to others to use and copy your work is called a licence, or licence-to-use. This licence can be very simple - attached to a quote, simply defining what usage a client is paying for. The alternative to licensing is to assign (ie hand over) copyright to the client. If you do that, you no longer own your own work; your client owns it. This is almost always a bad idea for photographers. Also it often works badly for the client - it's more expensive, and they are unlikely to get the best work. Almost all top photographers retain copyright. The problems arise when people don’t consider licensing at the time of a commission. Although in theory the law protects you, in practice your client might have a different way of doing things, for example expecting all their photographers to work with a particular licence. If they could convince a judge that that is their normal practice, you could lose out on payment for your work. Clients also regularly say they don't understand licensing, or even that the photographer is being greedy. It's not being greedy; it's the way all creative industries work. Software and music work the same way; just because you own a CD of some music, that does not give you the right to sell multiple copies of that music to someone else. It is the photographer's job to educate clients. A good start is to direct them to this website, www.copyright4clients.com, which explains exclusive licences. Remember also that your licence does not have to be exclusive - you can agree any level of exclusivity that's appropriate.
8: Book a portfolio review The most productive photographers and artists tend to have lots on the go at any time, and are constantly testing out work and refining it. This is a key part of the creative process and for building confidence in your work. How do you test work? There are lots of ways - on a blog, entering competitions, putting together small exhibitions or publications, showing it on an iPad to everyone you meet; but one of the best is at a portfolio review. At the top level, at festivals such as at Format Derby (March), Arles and Houston, these reviews are brief networking opportunities. The price is relatively high, but these are very often the only places where you can make an appointment with a particular publisher or gallery director. It is also possible to find portfolio reviews that are more focussed on critique and improvement. Redeye offers these regularly, as do development agencies such as Grain in Birmingham. The next Redeye portfolio reviews and critique sessions take place in early spring 2014 - keep an eye out for them.
9: Improve your web presence Here is a useful exercise: search online using the word “photographer” and the name of a town or city. Look at the first ten websites that come up. Make a note of what is good and bad about them, from a client’s point of view. Consider the quality of the photography, the website’s functionality and design. If you were a client, would you book this person? If not, why, and what would make you book them? Then have a look at your own site - how does it compare? Does it have any of the same faults? If you find a website you really like (and it works on iOS as well as a desktop), check to see if it uses an off-the-shelf theme - you might then consider if you can adopt that for your own site. Google “CMS Detector” to find out whether a site is written in a common language such as Wordpress; if it is, then Google “Wordpress theme detector”. Most themes cost under $100, some are free. If you are not comfortable installing and configuring it yourself, that's something a web developer should be able to do quickly. Another exercise: Google your own name (ideally when you are not logged in to a browser). What kind of trail do you leave online? The irony of this is that the more private you are as a person, the more that a searcher is likely to find something you might prefer they did not see. Even if we want to, it's difficult to be completely private, so we need to give a bit of thought to how we appear. If you don’t already have a website, the quickest fix is to put a neutral and sensible version of your CV onto LinkedIn.
10: Enter a competition The start of the year is often a time when photographers gather their work from the last year and enter the best of it into competitions. It’s a great way of reviewing your year’s work, and getting wider exposure for it. Redeye gets a lot of questions asking which competitions are worth entering. If you can’t decide whether to enter a particular competition, there are four questions that might help:
- Does the entrant keep copyright, and is the organisers’ usage reasonable and limited? This is a must. Read the rules. Avoid entering anything that takes your copyright. This includes some quite well-known organisations’ contests. Luckily there’s a great website that can help here: artists-bill-of-rights.org. See its Rights On and its Rights Off lists for good and bad competitions. If the competition you are interested in is not on that list, steer clear of rules requiring you to assign or share copyright with the organisers, grant exclusive use, or grant a perpetual, irrevocable, royalty free licence.
- What is the reputation of the competition? Is it an organisation that helps photographers and artists? Who are the past winners - do you recognise any of them or their work? Look at the CVs of photographers you like, and see which awards and competitions they have won.
- Is the balance between the prizes on offer, the entry fee, and the usage that will be made of winning photos, fair? This is a difficult one to assess. But as a minimum the prize ought to be more than a client would pay for using a library image for the same purposes. In other words the client is not just trying to get photography on the cheap. Don't reject a competition with an entry fee - this reduces the number of entrants so your work is more likely to be looked at properly by the judges.
- Who are the judges? If they are people you would like to look at your work, then it's very much worth entering even if you don't win. Many judges make a note of entrants whose work they like, and might follow them up even if they don't win a prize.
And some that got away… Maybe next year...
- Sort out your archive
- Try your hand at filmmaking
- Collaborate on a project
- Make an AV show for YouTube
What's your photographic resolution for this year? Log in to comment below, or Tweet @RedeyeNetwork or #photoNYR.