I recently attended Peter Hurley’s Headshot Intensive workshop in his New York City studio. It was basically a three-day photography class squeezed into two days. In fact, one other participant aptly described it as drinking from a fire-hose. It was a wonderful learning process that was worth every penny for anyone who wants to be an outstanding headshot photographer for executives, actors and actresses.
Peter does not spend much if any time on the techie stuff. In fact, you should be very comfortable with your equipment and workflow before going to class. Much of the class is spent on lighting and how to extract something from your subject. For example, Peter describes himself as 10% photographer and 90% therapist. After some required introductory stuff, hang on for the ride. It really is called the Headshot Intensive for a reason. In fact, if I were to do the class all over again, I would leave my medium format camera at home and just use my Leica M9 rangefinder. It was too much of a pain to connect and disconnect a tethered Medium format in a workshop environment. The Leica was more than capable. In fact, more than half my favorites were shot with the M9 and a 90mm/2.5 Summarit.
Class was more than 14 hours the first day and 12 hours the next day. Almost all of it is hands on stuff and there is very little actual class time. We shot in his studio as well as on the rooftop. The majority of the time, is spent photographing actors and actresses who pay to be there so they can be photographed by both Peter and his students / apprentices albeit at half Peter’s normal rate. One of the most useful aspects of the class is watching Peter help a client sort through all the images from a shoot to narrow it down to a small group of possibilities that could help these actors and actresses land acting jobs.
As I said, it was a lot to digest in two short days. There is a lot of follow-up to do yet with Peter as well as his PH2 group where all class attendees are automatically placed in Peter’s apprentice program. If you want to learn how to bridge the gap between your standard portrait and celebrity headshots, you should check out Peter’s workshops. As for me, I can’t wait to go out and create some fantastic headshots for executives and actors in the New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia metropolitan areas as well as the Dallas Metroplex where I spend quite a bit of time.
When a bunch of photographers get together, the discussion inevitably moves to either gear or pricing. There are professionals such as John Harrington who absolutely believes you should place value on your work regardless of where you are in your career, while some propose you should start off shooting for free first in order to build your business. Then there are photographers who build their business around the Wal-Mart model while others try to emulate Neiman-Marcus.
Personally, I believe trying to compete head to head with a Wal-Mart or at least competing based on price is the kiss of death because there will always be somebody cheaper than you. In my personal opinion, it is best to move away from pricing discussions as fast as you can. There is a place for lower cost alternatives however, it is a much easier to compete, in my personal opinion, at the high-end because there is fewer competition.
For example, I had a tough time pitching business when I was a research analyst at a small financial services firm than when I moved to a bulge bracket firm. While I was at Dain Bosworth, there were dozens upon dozens of other financial services firms we had to compete against while there were only a handful to worry about when I was at Salomon-Smith Barney. Investors did not care when I walked out of an analyst meeting and thought nothing new was discussed. However, investors actually wanted to know if I thought nothing new came out of a meeting when I was at Lehman Brothers and Salomon-Smith Barney. It’s all a matter of perspective.
On the other hand, we all have to start somewhere just like I did during my career in the financial services industry. I do more commercial and editorial work now than in the past but I started out doing high school sports photography. When I first started, I would show up to games in hopes of print sales. After a season of this, I quickly learned, it is a fast way to go broke so I started charging a flat fee to show up and create images. And whenever possible, I tried to charge multiple clients whether it be multiple teams, a newspaper, or a yearbook company.
Well my next problem was delays and over-times which were beyond my control as well as the clients, but there still is an opportunity cost associated with it so I changed from a flat fee to an hourly fee to be on-site. Finally, I started charging extra in instances where I have to use studio lights to simulate arena lighting during basketball, wrestling and volleyball games as well as swimming. In fact, I will no longer shoot an indoor sporting event at a high school venue without arena lighting with the exception of fencing. The images just are not the quality I want to display despite the high ISO capabilities of modern cameras.
John Harrington was right. Every creative job is different so you have to charge a fair price based on your talent and what you need to create the best images your client needs. That is how I bid creative jobs now. I figure out how much time and equipment I need to get the job done as well as how the images will be used. But you do have to start somewhere. Famous head shot photographer Peter Hurley used to take headshots for the cost of a roll of film plus processing. Now he charges $1,100 for a headshot, plus you have to pay his make-up artist $250 and his retoucher a minimum of $40 per image so it is really difficult to leave his studio without spending about $1500 for your headshot. So get out there and do what you need to do to generate business, but get away from basement prices as fast as you can.
So many of the new cameras from a simple point and shoot to the professional SLRs such as the EOS 1D Mark IV and recently introduced Canon 5D Mark III now have the capability to capture images as well as full motion video. Many photographers are grappling with the issue of whether to offer video services, how to offer those services and at what price. I will leave those business questions to others. I used to offer video when they were separate and stopped. Not because it wasn’t profitable, but it was just not for me. I’m not a fan of sitting in front of the computer to spend countless hours on Photoshop. In fact, I prefer to outsource my post production so I can spend more time behind the lens. If you are like me in that regard, then you may not yet want to offer video either. At least not until you have to do so. If you think you spend too much time on the computer now, just wait until you have to start editing video footage. If you do want to offer video, do yourself a favor, spend some money on sound equipment and some lessons in Final Cut Pro.
There are a lot of great posts on how to get started with the basics of capturing video with an SLR. Read, study as much as you can and practice. One of the things many highlight is the need for equipment to capture great audio. You can start as simple as a directional mike that attached to your hot shoe mount or even a handheld mike with a cord attached to your camera body. Or you can go with wireless lavaliere mikes from Sennheiser. You can create a great video, but if the sound is awful, that likely will be all your viewers will remember. In fact, if you end up with bad audio, I would rather go ahead and replace it with music or add a LOT of voice over to the point where your viewer thinks that is how you created it.
The next item to note is post production. If you are a Mac person, you can use iMovie, which is super easy to use. As with any free software, it has limitations kinda like using iPhoto has limitations as compared to using a full version of Photoshop. If you want to start right from the get go, I would learn to use Final Cut Pro. It’s the industry standard much like Photoshop is the de facto standard for photographers. Yes, you can learn it on your own by reading all kinds of books and watching YouTube videos. But, if you want to learn or need to move up the learning curve fast, I suggest you take a workshop. I tried learning FCP on my own, but I ended up taking a one week course with SOHO Editors in New York City. It was fantastic. I learned so much in a week. I just wished I took the FCP Certification process but that is for another time.
We will be doing some website maintenance this evening to www.alexcena.com and www.shaleridge.net so there will be some disruption. It should only take several hours, but in this computer world, glitches are not unheard of so please bear with us.
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