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radiantphotography.com > Blog > 2010

Our first product shot on the new Canon 5D Mark II body went very well. The cocktail shot, taken at Fusion Bar inside the Palazzo resort, was featured in this week’s Vegas Seven magazine. The greenish drink is called a Sun Burn and is amazingly different. It has cactus paddle and sage strained into Effen Vodka, some simple syrup, pineapple juice and carmelized bitters. Very refreshing and definitely a summer drink with its grassy notes.

The 5D body was awesome! Easy to transition from the Mark I body, better menu layout in my opinion, and the resolution is fabulous. I’ll be using it with the TS-E lenses for a two day architecture shoot starting tomorrow and will have more input on using the live view mode for focus preview with the tilt/shift lenses. I just finished some architecture shots at Gonzaga University in Spokane, WA, and even with the 17-40 L lens, the shots were amazing, so I’m sure the results with the TS-E lenses will just be phenomenal.

Anyway, when in Vegas, hit up Fusion inside Palazzo and try these drinks. Excellent stuff! Plus, Emilio, the drink’s creator and all-around awesome guy, gets to play with fire while carmelizing the bitters.

Copyright 2010 - Radiant Photography. Rights Reserved.

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Recently we had the opportunity to estimate on a job for a single exterior shot for a national hotel chain with web and print rights, in perpetuity. Not knowing what the firm’s budget was, I could only do my best at pricing the job to my own standards. It was a very fair estimate, considering the liberal rights requested, however, we lost the job with an email that basically said our estimate was way off the client’s budget. And I smiled.

I smiled because the the last line of the email said they would keep my info handy for future projects. Maybe it’s a blow off, but more than likely, the firm’s rep probably realized the estimate was fair and actually does plan on bringing us in on future projects when other client budgets’ permit. That’s great, but the part that really makes me smile is that, despite losing this one job, I’ve now set a pricing standard that keeps me in the running for their higher-paying gigs. I’m sure they found someone else in the Vegas area to go shoot that job, but that person has traded a low-ball paycheck for being pigeonholed as a discount shooter. Ultimately, they’ll have to work many times harder for the same amount of revenue.

I don’t have an MBA, but I’ve managed to run a successful small photography business for years now, so I’ve learned a few things. I’ve taken guidance from professional organizations, peers, books, software, etc, but in the end it’s up to each business owner to run things the way they see fit. In this down economy, I’ve managed to pay off all business debts and cash-flow major equipment upgrades and such. 2009 saw a 13% increase in sales over 2008, and 2010 has already seen a 73% growth in revenue from this same time in 2009. I don’t say this to brag, but to show that there is money to be made, and it’s usually not in cutting prices.

So, here’s how you too can lose photo gigs and smile about it:

Know your bottom line
You can’t run a business without knowing what your expenditures are. If you don’t know how much you need to make to stay afloat, you have no way of knowing what you need to charge. Plenty of great artists will never be seen because they don’t know how to run a business. On the flip side, lots of hack photogs are making killings shooting mundane stuff because they know bookkeeping, marketing and client service. Set aside a couple days to calculate and then improve your bottom line. How much overhead do you have? Are there places to trim expenditures? How low can you go to secure that one really cool, but damn near free shoot every year without going broke? How long can you go without work if you stick to your pricing guns?

Pay off debt and start paying cash
In a previous post, I talked about Radiant paying off all it’s debts, which then landed us in a feature article in Entrepreneur Magazine. Paying off debts and using cash to pay for expenses has many benefits. First and foremost is the peace of mind and amazing night’s sleep you get from knowing that you don’t owe anybody anything. The second is that once a large percentage of your invoices aren’t predetermined to go to your credit card company, you start to build wealth quickly. After paying off our debt, it was just a couple gigs later that we had a couple months of operating expenses saved up. Talk about breathing easy. When you’ve got a real financial cushion built up, you can start to feel better about not winning every estimate that comes across your desk. You can also afford to shoot that long-overdue photography project, or start doing charity work. Broke companies that live hand-to-mouth can’t afford to donate time nor money, because they have little of either.

Don’t finance client projects
Refusing to finance most client projects has made a world of difference for being profitable. I started this business to be a photography provider, not a bank. If a client doesn’t have the budget to carry out their vision, I take great strides to offer solutions (e.g. – trimming total shots delivered, shooting without models, reducing licensing requirements). However, I know what my bottom line is, and that I don’t use credit anymore, so to finance production of someone’s project would require me to dip into savings and jeopardize Radiant’s financial health. The common solution is to require a retainer (not a deposit..those can be refunded if the client backs out). Oftentimes they can’t pony up a retainer, so I try to work with them there too. However, there are many times per year I have to let clients walk, simply because the numbers don’t add up.

Set the bar comfortably
The client looked at your website and digs your work, but won’t share a budget with you. Don’t offend them by assuming it’s low, so price what you want to make on the job. Price right so you don’t get pigeon-holed as a discount contractor on all future gigs. Even if you lose the first gig, when they come back for future estimates, they know your price range already and will be ready to negotiate at your starting point. You WILL sticker-shock some potential clients. That’s fine. They know where you stand and if they really like your work, they’ll save up money to hire you next time. If they’re all about the cheapest vendor, then you probably don’t want them as a client anyway. Those types of clients will not recognize the true value you bring to the project, and will give you the boot as soon as they find a cheaper vendor*. This recently happened to us with an architectural firm who needed some shots of work they’d done on a large project in Vegas. Fifty to seventy-five shots with rights was the estimate criteria, due within two weeks. They wouldn’t share their budget. By not sharing a budget, it tied my hands to create an estimate based on standard licensing fees, researching the quality of previous photography jobs from that client’s website portfolio, and analyzing the shoot location to gauge how many days it would take to get 50 shots. They seemed to hire decent photogs before so they certainly should know that each shot takes a few hours to compose, capture and edit each shot, right? I certainly wasn’t going to offend them by assuming they had no money “in this economy”, and I wasn’t going to let them think we couldn’t get the job done right because we were priced scary low. Apparently, we were not on the same page. They allotted $1200 for the entire shoot, basically wanting professional images for snapshot prices. They didn’t realize the true amount of work, knowledge, and value that a professional photographer would bring to project. Let ’em walk. They will find someone to shoot at that price and probably be happy with the results. If not, we’ll hear from them again, but on our terms this time.

*Make ends meet disclosure: If you’re struggling to keep the lights on that week, by all means, get your power bill paid with a cheap shoot, but don’t expect to raise rates on that client later. We’ve all taken low paying gigs to pay the bills. However, afterward go back to step one and two and audit your business then pay off debt. Something isn’t working in your plan and you need to figure it out, or move on to greener pastures.

Happy shooting,
Ryan

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The awesome LVSK8 art show is upon us again and I’m working on a new skatedeck design for this year’s show. Last year I did a hand-carved tiki (see it here), but this year I’ve put much time and effort into researching how to get a photographic image onto wood. The answer seems to be water-slide decal transfer paper, which I have yet to try. I just ordered a batch online and will make some test prints to transfer to an old deck before I do the final piece.

I figured the show’s deadline was a good excuse to complete a half-finished project that has been collecting dust in the garage for about two years. Late last night I finished building the motion rig for shooting moving cars. Depending on what camera angles and distance away from the car I desire, I have some more support arms to fabricate, but this rough start is functional for some shots. I hope to post a blog post and video strictly on this rig sometime. It uses some steel tubing, insanely strong magnets, fence hardware, and a Super Clamp.

Anyway, here is a sneak peak at the theme of the deck, although probably not the final shot I’m going to use. (Keep clicking on the image to get into a higher res version two pages from here)
Ryan

68 Cadillac motion rig

68 Caddy with motion rig for LVSK8 IV art show deck (Copyright 2010 - Radiant Photography. Rights reserved.)

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We did another cocktail on white background for Vegas Seven magazine. This time it’s Agent Orange at Downtown Cocktail Room and it’s delicious! Some Jameson whiskey, dash of Angostura orange bitters, and some other goodness, all topped off with some whipped cream. Awesome.
Fairly easy setup thanks to the basic glassware. Kick a bit of light through the back of the glass to light the liquid up a nice amber color and we’re ready to shoot.

Full HTML article with recipe here:
http://weeklyseven.com/nightlife/2010/may/06/agent-orange

Pic only:

Agent Orange cocktail at Downtown Cocktail Room shot by Radiant Photography.  All rights reserved.

Agent Orange cocktail at Downtown Cocktail Room shot by Radiant Photography. All rights reserved.

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Did another round of cocktail shots and an interior of Bar Moderno at Aria Resort for Vegas Seven magazine. Bar Moderno is a great little laid back place to grab a drink and people watch in the casino.
The interior was a bit of a challenge to light with rich, dark textures offset by bright drapes and flat screen televisions. Took about 20 minutes to light with two hot lights, a couple minutes to capture and we were on our way. Hopefully the PR folks dig the image and we get to work with them again. Had a fun time on this one.

Bar Moderno at Aria

Bar Moderno at Aria - Photo by Radiant Photography, Inc. All rights reserved.

Bar Moderno at Aria

Bar Moderno at Aria

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For a few weeks now we’ve been shooting cocktails on white background for Vegas Seven, a fairly new weekly pub here in Vegas. You can see their online issues here.

This issue we did a shot of the Deucetini, an amazingly smooth and tasty tequila-based martini at Aria Resort’s The Deuce lounge (see pic below).

We were also contacted to shoot the cover and feature story on the local Vegas comedy scene (pics below). I have to say that shooting a whoopie cushion has been my strangest assignment pitch yet this year.

Expect many more cocktail shots in coming issues.

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