The other day I went to a photography exhibit. There were beautiful 11x14 prints, matted and framed. As I was admiring the subject matter, expert composition, technical skill, and creative editing, I heard a man scoff at the price. “Two hundred dollars for a photo!” That price seemed eminently reasonable to me, but it seemed like a very high price to him.
It made me want to walk through the “cost” of a photo you see hanging in an exhibit. Many people don’t understand the time and money that goes into taking one good photo. Some of the costs should be treated like overhead -- no one would expect a single buyer of a single print to bear them -- but they are worth factoring into the overall cost of a photo. Let’s take this photo for example and walk through some considerations.
First off, there’s the gear. To take a long-exposure night shot like this one, you need a good DSLR. You can get a decent camera body for a few grand. Add another grand for one lens, give or take. (Most photographers I know have more than one, but anyway.) You need the camera to be steady while leaving it open for a long exposure, so you need a good tripod, which will run you a few hundred bucks. If you want to use your camera’s bulb mode, you probably want to get a cable release as well. You can get a decent cheap one for less than $20. You should have an extra battery because long exposures suck up power ($30). To carry everything, you need a padded camera bag, plus a tripod bag ($100). This was especially important for this location in particular, as we ended up needing our hands free for climbing.
This picture required some extra supplies. For spinning steel wool, you need to buy very fine plumber’s grade steel wool. Usually this means a trip to a hardware store or special ordering it online. So there’s the time and effort cost of obtaining that, either finding and making a trip to the store or planning a few days in advance so you can get it shipped to you. You also need a strong metal whisk, a nine volt battery, and a fire-resistant cable. These need to be wrapped separately, or they *will* catch on fire, and in plastic, or else they will get wet and not work . For these props, add another $50. If you want to be careful, you should also have a hoodie, gloves, and clothes you don’t mind getting a little singed in case any embers go awry. (One time I skipped the long sleeves and now I have a scar on my upper right arm, but that's a story for another day.)
There’s time and effort involved in researching and scouting locations. There’s a few ways of doing this. You can spend hours on the Internet, looking at pics from Instagram, Google, Flickr, etc. and then trying to find the exact location on a map as well as how to access it. You can also ask someone who knows, but in order to do that you probably have to be well networked, which is hard to quantify, but it is very valuable.
For steel wool, you have to make sure the spot will not only be visually stunning, but will also be safe. This means there can’t be any dry brush around that could catch flame, no members of the general public roaming around, and remote enough so as not to attract unwanted attention of authorities. I don’t know the exact rules around spinning flaming steel wool, but I *do* know from experience that authorities don’t like it.
You have to figure out when and where will make a great shot. You have to think about factors like weather and tides and sunset angle. You have to put together and pack your gear. Steel wool works best with at least two people (one to spin, one to man the camera), so you have to know someone crazy enough to participate in your antics, and coordinate with someone else’s schedule. It’s all time, and time is worth something.
Then there’s getting there. I don’t live in San Francisco, so there were travel costs like an airplane ticket, hotel room, rental car, gas, transport back and forth to the airports, etc. It’s also a lot of time.
Getting to this place required a drive and a hike. We parked the car around 5 pm and started hiking on a rocky beach. Then the beach turned into craggy boulders, so we picked our way over those. As the tide came in, we had to get wet a few times, so we held our gear high and went as fast as possible.
Right after sunset, we set up the shot. Someone had to climb a large boulder and was handed up the supplies. Afterwards, we had to make the long trek back in almost complete darkness. We held flashlights while climbing barnacle-covered boulders in the dark, avoiding the ocean water as much as we could, and trudging through sand laden with packs. The parking lot had been gated shut by the time we got back to the car, so one guy needed to push open a gate and hold it while we drove the car through.
Knowing how to take a long exposure shot takes some technical skill. This isn’t a shot that can be taken with a camera’s auto setting. You have to know which f stop, how many seconds, which ISO, etc. There’s a lot of time either educating oneself or practicing to achieve this.
After taking the shot, you will edit it. This means you need a PC (or at least a good phone or tablet). You’ll need software. Most photographers I know have Lightroom, meaning they pay a monthly subscription fee of $30. It takes time to edit.
There’s a cost associated with printing the photo, and with framing it. There’s time in composing the show. There’s time in coordinating with a gallery, signing contracts, talking about timelines, and delivering an artist bio. Of course, there is also delivering the work: gas, tolls, parking, time. Also, the gallery takes a commission -- usually between 30 and 50%. You will also pay taxes on any income gained from the sale.
General People Costs
Also just a reminder that photographers are people, too, and in addition to all of these costs associated with a photo, they have normal human costs. They need to keep a roof over their heads. They need to pay the electric company, cell phone carrier, internet company, for health insurance, for heat and water. They eat practically daily. They may have a car payment, student loans, or friends who expect wedding gifts, or kids who need diapers or braces.
Does $200 still seem like a lot?
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I’ve attended more events than I can count as an influencer. It’s something I really love to do!
Influencer marketing is huge right now, and it’s still on the upswing. One way to get a lot of marketing around an event you are throwing is to invite influencers. There’s key ways to
To my fellow influencers: have I missed anything?
Read my tips on how to get invited to a swanky influencer event here.
Check it out: Here are some videos I’ve created of events I’ve attended over the last year or two.
First of all, why should I do this?
For me, it was about two things:
Wait a tick, how much will the taxes be?
It depends, but a good rule of thumb is to set aside ⅓ of the income you make for taxes.
That’s stupid high. But OK, back to what you were saying. So how do I register the name of my business?
Five easy steps. I was in and out in less than 15 minutes. Didn’t even get a ticket for parking illegally. Wait what?
Congratulations! You’re officially registered! Why not celebrate? Celebrating is fun!
Next thing I did was get an EIN (Employer Identification Number) from the IRS. Note: You do not need to have a DBA to get an EIN if you are just using your legal name and not a business name.
Now why would I want to get an EIN?
Again, for me, this was about the money / taxes. I wanted a business bank account to keep things separate, and the banks require an EIN. You can apply for one and get one immediately online here: Yay Instant Gratification!
The IRS wants to make it as easy as possible for you to pay them money, so it’s really not a difficult process. I had mine within 10 minutes. When they ask you the questions with radio buttons, click “no” for all of them. They generate you an EIN and give you a PDF (I emailed it to myself).
Then you take that into the bank with your DBA paperwork and they will get you set up with a business account.
So how do I open a business account at the bank?
I went to Bank of America because I already have a personal account there. I’m not specifically recommending them, but I’ll say this for them: they aren’t awful. I’m sure whatever bank you use has comparable options. I was able to open a business account with no monthly fee if I spent $250 on the account’s debit card or kept a minimum balance of $3,000. I had more than that to put in, and I figured I would try to pay for business expenses out of my business account with the debit card, so this worked out fine for me.
Do I hafta do all this though?
No, you probably don’t. If you work for yourself as a freelancer, and the companies make out checks to your legal name / wire money to your personal bank account, and you don’t have any employees, then you don’t have to register a DBA and you don’t have to get a business account. The IRS is just as pleased to take money from your personal accounts and you can use your personal social security number instead of an EIN.
Just know if the company you are working for reports the money they paid you, you will have to pay taxes on it regardless of whether you are considered a business or not. At least if you’re set up as a business, you can deduct expenses from the crazy exorbitant taxes freelancers have to pay.
If you have any questions at all, just let me know! I will try to answer based on my experience.
Last week I mentioned Amazon Spark in the PR Week podcast I was on. I've since had a chance to become entrenched enough in the community to feel qualified to complain about it a bit. I mean, to offer constructive suggestions.
What is Amazon Spark?
Amazon Spark is the newest “social media” platform. It looks like Instagram and Pinterest had a baby. Users share pretty photos with descriptions. Other users look at the photos and “smile” or comment on them.
Some Differentiating Features
This is the most obvious difference between Amazon Spark and other social platforms. Amazon is selling to you, and they are not bashful about it in the least. This social media platform is for shoppers, by shoppers. And so they make it easy to buy. Instagram is notoriously unfriendly for hyperlinks, and while Pinterest allows linking out, Amazon makes the process of clicking through downright seamless. Users can tag specific products (sold on Amazon, of course) within Spark photos they upload. When someone clicks on the tag, a small product photo, description, and rating appears and one more tap brings you to the page to purchase the item. No one is wondering how Amazon is making revenue via this app.
With that, Amazon Spark is already heavy with #sponsored posts. I recognize a lot of the Sparklers(?) as heavy-hitters on Instagram. These are people with a proven track record in producing quality content, professionally. Amazon is doing something Instagram is not, though: while Instagram is shadow-banning, Amazon is throwing their support behind paid influencers. Sparklers are not eating away at ad revenue; they are actively encouraging sales via Amazon.
One of the influencers I reached out to very kindly told me he was not able to speak to press about his relationship with Amazon due to a contract he had signed, so naturally I was like, “Omigod you called me press that’s awesome.” I definitely intend to do some more digging around this though, so stay tuned.
The Feed Algorithm
Everyone is always talking about social media algorithms, namely why certain photos show up in your feed and others do not. Amazon Spark serves up a feed that seems to have less to do with whom you follow, and more to do with discovery. Users choose “interests” to follow, and Amazon delivers photos within those interest categories. Right now, there doesn’t seem to be a an emphasis on number of followers at all - stats revolve around how many smiles and comments a user garners.
A Staff Pick is a pic the staff loves. They award a little gold trophy emoji, and presumably this boosts the picture’s reach. Going through recent Staff Picks photos shows that Amazon is looking for quality photography. Mirror-selfies of the shirt you just got out of the Amazon box will not cut it. They choose “bangers”--technically well-executed photos with subject matter that has broad appeal.
My Top 5 Early Suggestions
Have you tried Amazon Spark yet? What are your thoughts?
I got to be on PR Week’s podcast last week! It was such a cool experience!
I’ll tell you how that came about. I met Steve, the Editor-in-Chief of PR Week, at a Cision seminar I attended last month. Cision is a PR and social software company (and I manage the social media for a PR company, so that’s why I was there).
Steve was one of the panelists who spoke, and I really liked some of his observations and expert insights. I spotted him by the bar after Cision’s presentation and boldly decided to introduce myself and tell him how great I thought he was on the panel. Steve was gracious and kind to me, and we had a very animated conversation about social media and influencer marketing. It’s a subject I know a lot about on account I am addicted to it, and I get pretty passionate. After a good half-hour of talking, Steve invited me to be on his podcast. This was never my goal when I began speaking to him, but naturally I squealed with delight and accepted immediately.
If you haven't seen it already, please enjoy it here (the other gent is "Franktastic" Frank):
So here are my take-aways if you want to get invited onto podcasts or the like:
You may have read the last installment in our Stuff @Xtramoney Does to His Pixel series, in which @Xtramoney (whose mother actually named him Mark) and I relied on the Google Maps location-sharing feature to real-time track his phone around Manhattan after he left it in the back of a cab. The story ended happily; Mark got his phone back and a special taxi driver got a very large tip.
So this weekend Mark and I go to a lake house with one of our friends, @icreatelife_ (known as Kristina to people who don’t have Instagram).
We are having a wonderful day at the lake, with Mark snapping pics the entire time on his phone.
We play bocce ball while drinking adult beverages, float in the water while drinking adult beverages, and cruise around in a motor boat while drinking adult beverages.
On an unrelated note, Kristina (who has never engaged in water sports before) agrees to let us to pull her around the lake at high speeds with a jet ski while she hangs onto a tube attached with a rope. Mark weighs his options and decides the responsible thing to do would be to sit backwards on the jet ski behind the driver, facing Kristina, so he can take video of whatever unfolds while also not being impeded by anything to hold onto.
This is where the accounts begin to differ, but everyone agrees that somehow the jet ski managed to flip completely upside down and that everyone enjoyed a surprise swim. Mark amazingly managed to hold onto his phone throughout the debacle, but it definitely spent some time underwater. I am not sure what the official marketing claims are, but we can tell you that this particular Pixel was not waterproof. It took a few hours for us to pull the plug and call time of death, but it definitely done died.
Mark and I are Google Ambassadors, so after a sheepish email to our dear friends at the Googleplex, they generously overnighted him a new device.
One thing that was really nice was that Mark lost very, very little pictures or data. He had the phone set to automatically backup and sync. When he signed into his Gmail account on a new phone, his familiar wallpaper popped up and all his apps started downloading. When he checked his photos and videos, the only ones that were missing were the ones taken post extreme jet skiing, which we thought all in all was pretty fair.
That's all for this review. We look forward to bringing you more discoveries about useful Google phone features next time @xtramoney subjects his Pixel to abuse.
1. Have an adventurous spirit
Manhattanhenge is an amazing phenomenon that occurs in one of the most populous cities in the world. As such, it draws thousands of people every summer who are looking to capture an iconic photo. You’ll have to contend with your fellow shutterbugs and swerving taxis to get your shot. Come mentally prepared for an adventure!
2. Center yourself
I’m not talking metaphorically. The appeal of Manhattanhenge is that the sun sets in direct alignment with the NYC street grid. To get the best shot of the sun sinking in between skyscrapers, you will actually have to stand in the exact middle of the street. “But aren’t there cars on the street?” you may be asking yourself. Yes, there are. Wait until the light turns red, and rush out into the middle of the street. I’m a big fan of symmetry in my photography, so this is a must for me.
3. Technical Tips
It is very possible to take a fantastic shot of Manhattanhenge with a mobile phone. Here are some of my tips for doing just that.
-Turn on your gridlines. This will help you compose your shot symmetrically.
-Use the AE/AF (exposure / focus) lock function on your phone. While looking at the screen in your camera app, tap just around the sun. The phone will adjust the exposure and update the display in real time. Don’t tap the sun itself; exposure will be too dark. And don’t tap the buildings or the street; you will find this over-exposes the image. Just try tapping around the sun until you are satisfied with the image you see on the screen, then hold down on the screen to lock the focus and exposure. This is especially important because you will likely be lifting the phone over your head to take the shot (to get a clear shot over everyone’s heads).
-Bring a pair of headphones with adjustable volume. Did you know the volume buttons on a phone also take a picture when you’re in the camera app? If you plug in headphones, the volume buttons on your earbuds will allow you to take a shot. Again, this comes in handy if you are holding your phone high above your head. It will also help you to reduce shake.
-Stand still. Very still. As the light gets lower and lower, the camera will have to compensate with a lower exposure. If you shake at all during the process, your photo will look blurry. Hold your phone still, and ideally take the shot with your headphones so you aren’t even tapping the phone and moving it. Hold the phone still both before and after the shot just to ensure stability.
-Don’t use your phone’s zoom. You may be tempted, but don’t do it. It’s the quickest way to degrade your image quality. Using digital zoom means you’ll be using less of your image sensor, and it also means your image stabilization will be thrown off. So if you want to get a closer shot – zoom with your feet (walk closer).
-Don’t use your flash. Make sure it is turned off (not even on auto). I guarantee you are not lighting up Manhattan with your phone’s flash; all it will do is wash out your foreground and leave your background underexposed.
-Turn on HDR, but also “keep normal photo.” HDR, or High Dynamic Resolution, takes three photos in rapid succession: one it considers normally exposed, then one slightly under- and one slightly over-exposed. The phone will then layer the pics and you wind up with a photo that has all the lovely highlights of a bright image with all the details of a darker image. You’ll still want to set your phone to “keep normal photo” in addition to the HDR version. And again, remember the tip above to stay very still while exposing if your HDR is turned on.
-Take a ton of pics. Take photos in both portrait and landscape orientation. Get creative with adding landmarks or silhouettes into your shot. The sun will set fast, but each degree it sinks will offer a different beautiful light and color. Just keep snapping until it is completely gone from the sky. This gives you the most options and increases your chances of having a photo that you love.
I’ve been told I need to be blogging by I think everybody. One of the main reasons is that it increases your SEO rankings. As someone who likes getting found and hired by brands, I said to myself, okay, self, you really should sit down and just write a blog.
They say write what you know, so I figured I’d write about my life as a social media marketer / influencer so that in addition to increasing my SEO, I might actually provide some interesting or helpful content to fellow people also trying to muddle their way through this still-evolving industry.
And so I did write, and I posted one blog each week for three weeks. And I’m here to say you all were right. Here’s the graph of my web site traffic in the past six months. My one-month increase in page views after posting three blogs, one per week, is 412%. So here’s a tip, guys. You need to be blogging.
He looks at me with terror in his eyes and utters the words that would send chills down anyone’s spine: “I lost my phone.”
Mark (@Xtramoney) is tapping each pocket, more and more frantically. I say the most unhelpful thing, but it’s the thing everyone says in this situation: “Where did you have it last?”
We think. Was it in the coffee shop? I call quickly, and they look. No. It’s not there.
Mark remembers having it out in the cab. I call his phone a few times, but no one picks it up.
I open a browser and look up the Yellow Cab Lost and Found. You have to file a form online. Mark paid in cash and did not get a receipt, and neither of us remember the cab number.
Mark looks like someone just kicked his puppy. “Is there a way to track it?” he asks out loud.
We both have Google Pixel phones. @Xtramoney and I are Google Ambassadors, and as such, they give us free stuff like the Pixel. We are still learning it, so we are not sure if there is a “Find My iPhone”-type function.
“Oh!” the lightbulb moment happened. “I can see it!”
One of the new functions on the Google Maps app is that you can share your location real-time with friends. Luckily, we had enabled it for each other. I opened the app and we could see Mark’s little avatar bopping around Manhattan.
We ran to the nearest taxi and dramatically instructed the driver to follow that cab! (Then we showed him the screen and explained what we meant.) Well, we picked the right cab driver. Ibrahim embraced the challenge like it was his own precious smart phone that was perilously close to being lost forever.
“It’s headed uptown!” Mark instructed. “It’s stopped at Fordham!”
“West Side Highway? No, it’s coming down 11th!”
Ibrahim weaved through honking cars, sped through yellow lights, and nearly ran down elderly pedestrians while we cheered him on from the back seat. He planned aloud to cut off the cab and brake so that Mark could jump out and get the phone. Ibrahim is the embodiment of everything that is wonderful about New York.
After taking a ridiculous route uptown, we slowed. The avatar bubble had stopped moving, and we were close. Mark remembered the taxi we were in looked like a Prius, and the driver was a thin, middle-aged black guy in a white shirt. We saw the taxi! But it was empty.
Ibrahim was scanning the streets with intensity. “The Subway!” he yelled with excitement. He pointed to a Subway sandwich shop on the block. Mark dashed in and sure enough, the driver had parked his taxi to get some food. He quickly got over the shock of being accosted and let Mark into his cab so Mark could retrieve the phone. It had slid under one of the seats.
Mark returned to Ibrahim’s car triumphantly and we breathed a collective sigh of relief, probably just like SEAL Team Six does after extracting a prisoner of war.
I’m not sure what the moral of this story is, but I think maybe it's f$%k Uber, take NY yellow cabs. They're awesome.
DON’T ask someone “how they got big.” People with large social media followings get this question a lot, and it gets annoying. The question ends up sounding like, “I care the most about how many followers I have. You just met me, but give me your secret so I can get a big number!”
I’ll give you the answer right now, so you’re not even tempted to ask it: they produced quality content, posted consistently over a long period of time, and hustled relentlessly.
DO compliment someone’s body of work, especially if you’ve been following them for a long time. Choose something specific to comment on that shows you’ve been paying attention.
DON’T ask someone how much they got paid for a sponsored post. We’re all curious about the rates in this burgeoning field, but save that discussion for an appropriate forum. Also don’t ask them to “hook you up” with the brand. It comes off as opportunistic and ends up being a turnoff.
DO ask them behind-the-scenes questions or about their experience working on a campaign. You can also mention some of your projects or goals and things you’ve been doing to achieve them.
DON’T ask someone to follow you. You can give them your card or ask to follow them. Many people try to keep their following number low and for whatever reason, you may not make the cut for a follow back. Don’t take it personally.
DO take a great picture of people with whom you wish to connect. Make sure you get their @ so you can tag them later. Showing up in each other’s feeds helps your networks on many levels.
DON’T let your momentum stagnate. Within 24 hours of the event, send a DM to the people with whom you had a good connection, making a reference to the conversation you shared. Chances are, you both met a lot of people and this will make you stick out in each other’s minds.
DO continue to engage. Make an effort to like and comment on your new connections’ posts. Even big accounts notice their consistently engaged followers and appreciate the love, and having met you in person strengthens that bond.
Do you have any tips for in-person networking for a social media network?