Dialog with Seth Resnick
Juergen Specht: Thanks Seth for joining me in a dialog about the current status of working photographers today. I am thrilled to see you so active on Shakodo, and even we've met basically here, I was aware of your work - and especially your pricing information on your site for a long, long time. In fact, I used some of your info as a guideline for a lot of my licensing in the US market.
Before we start, please tell me a little about yourself. How long have you been a photographer and what led you to the profession?
Seth Resnick: I wanted to be a photographer since high school. I went to Syracuse University and studied photojournalism graduating in 1979. I got an internship in my senior year at the Syracuse Newspapers and that led to a full time job after graduation. I stayed there for five years as I built a freelance business on the side working regularly for The New York Times, Sports Illustrated, Time, Newsweek, Forbes and National Geographic. I worked on a very long term picture story about Renee, a little girl who was burned. After finishing the story, I found it very difficult to go back to the regular daily newspaper shooting. I resigned and started to freelance full time. I moved to Boston and was there for almost 20 years before moving to Miami Beach where I live now.
I was drawn to the profession by watching my mentors Susan Meiselas, Eric Meola, and Jay Maisel. All of them are still dear friends today. All of these folks had a great impact on my life. Susan's work in Nicaragua was the first time I saw color combined with journalism and I loved it. Eric's color and design has always blown me away and Jay combines both journalism and strong, color and always carries a camera which is something I really admire.
I love photography and always want to love photography so I won't shoot anything just to make money. I know to many photographers who hate what they do or at best they look at it like a 9-5 job. I never want to look at photography as a 9-5 job. I always carry a camera so that when I am inspired I can shoot. It is something I always loved about my mentor, Jay Maisel. You can't make a great image if you don't have a camera and I am amazed at how many photographers never have a camera except when they are working. Second, I try and approach every assignment in a way that is different. I look at television as having a responsibility of bringing back exactly what someone would see if they were standing next to the camera. As a still photographer I want to do more than bring back what you would see if you were standing next to me. My visual philosophy is to produce images that nobody else envisions. I want to bring back images that someone standing next to me would not visualize from my "minds eye". Color, design, gesture, texture and spontaneity are all key elements in all of my images. In general I am intrigued by the ability to transform a three dimensional world into one plane of color and design. Shooting digitally allows me to combine editing with shooting allowing me to see in real time and improve the image.
Juergen Specht: I am very impressed with your photo essay "Of Faith and Fire", especially that you documented Renee for so long and not just made some quick snaps and moved on like many photographers today. But you are not only a photographer, you also conduct seminars and workshops. How much of your time is now spent photographing and how much is spent on consulting?
Seth Resnick: I find it funny that a lot of folks assume that I don't shoot that much because of teaching. Ironically, I shoot more now than I ever shot before. I can really pick and choose assignments now which I cherish but more importantly I shoot self generated material all the time and license it as stock. I carry a camera at all times and I probably produced far better images since I started to cut back on assignment work and started to shoot for myself.
Juergen Specht: Totally agree, there are a lot of photographers who are getting tired of their assignments and often forget what has drawn them to photography in the first place. There is really nothing better than a honest self-assignment to rekindle your love to photography. But from all your assignments in your past, which one makes you most proud?
Seth Resnick: I am proud about pieces of work for many different reasons. The story about Renee, the girl who was burned is certainly a story that I am proud about but that was a once in a lifetime experience. I am also proud of a lot of work which has been self generated. Having had the chance to go to Antarctica three times and going back for a fourth has been extremely rewarding and I am very proud of the work I did there. I am really happy about my trip to Iceland to photograph the volcano and my trip to Botswana that I just came back from. In reality as we grow as photographers we are all hopefully excited by our most recent work and in fact we are only as good as our last job. Most important is that we must feel good inside about our own work because ultimately that is the true goal to inspiration.
Juergen Specht: Let's talk a little about your Digital Workshop D-65. How long have you been doing it, what exactly does it offer and why is there a need for it? Don't photographers already know how to organize and process their files?
Seth Resnick: I have always been intrigued with technology and I have always been interested in positive change for the profession. I also feel that no one has a right in this world to complain unless you can help create change. You are in my book either part of the problem or part of the solution. I was an anomaly for Adobe. I don't do composites image manipulation but I have always used Photoshop as part of my workflow. I was unhappy about many features because I felt that they were geared to people who use Photoshop to create instead of for workflow. I hooked up with Jeff Schewe, Bruce Fraser, Andrew Rodney and Martin Evening and was introduced to the engineers at Adobe. I complained but I offered solutions and they liked what I had to say. At first I was a beta tester but as time when forward I moved to the Alpha development team which really is responsible for shaping the future of Photoshop. With Photoshop and Lightroom, Jeff, Martin, Andrew, myself and Bruce who passed away had a major impact on many of the features.
D-65 started after I taught a workshop with Jamie Spritzer in Sicily. We both decided to focus on educating photographers and started D-65 nine years ago. As a photographer you are responsible for everything in the viewfinder. Content, design, color, texture, emotion and exposure still determine if an image is strong. A poor image is still poor and a strong image is still strong, regardless of whether it was shot on digital or film. This is more important than most people realize because there is a misnomer that exposure, lighting and basic technical skills don't matter with digital because it can be corrected later. Almost anything can be adjusted to some extent with Photoshop, but fundamentally the best images and the best workflow will result from getting it all right in the camera in the first place.
Digitally is inherently different than film and the answer is that 99% of photographers are actually digitally clueless. A perfect example is the ProPhoto Color space which is clearly without any doubt the best working space for photographic files from digital cameras yet the majority of photographers still use Adobe 98 or sRGB. Even on the upper end of the scale photographers don't really know how to convert accurately to CMYK or how to really use most of the tools for image processing. We have had digital genius's like Eric Meola and Greg Heisler take the workshop multiple times. The main problem is simply that we all learned film and assume that film and digital are the same when in fact they are polar opposites in many ways. The execution can be quite challenging.
Technical people live for digital workflow but understanding it for most folks is more like digital impairment. One of the prime goals for D-65 is to explain workflow and the process behind, enabling you as a photographer to develop your own workflow and feel confident.
For many the most challenging part of digital becomes the price of admission to comprehend the learning curve after taking a picture. Digital does have a language of it's own and you are either fluid in the language or unfortunately unable to communicate. For many professionals learning digital means being bombarded with jargon and technical numbers that they only sort of understand.
When photographers shot film, a lab developed it. The photographer then edited the results and forwarded the selects to the client. Photographers had done their work and were onto the next job. With digital, it is the photographer who must capture and then process, manage and archive the digital files. This is the area of digital which presents the biggest problems and frustrations. The concept of instantaneous works well on the capture side but on the processing side digital is anything but instant. In the realm of digital capture, the photographer takes on the responsibility of being both the photographer and the lab. You may need to process and refine hundreds of images in a day. Then you have to upload the images via FTP to a web site, create a PDF or burn a CD to deliver to the client. Most photographers are surprised by the amount of work they have taken on without knowing it. This was not part of their plan for moving to digital capture. But your success as a corporate, editorial or advertising photographer is directly related to your ability to process hundreds of superior quality images a day in a timely and efficient manner.
To gain control over your creative output as a digital photographer, you must develop an effective way to work. An efficient reproducible workflow allows every photographer to dramatically improve their image and delivery quality, while reducing the amount of time spent processing digital files.
Juergen Specht: Since I have a background in computer technology and software development, going digital was a god-send for me back in 1999, because it combined the 2 techniques I loved. And being on control of my own processing was even better, especially after I had a horrible lab experience when I came from Spain where I've made an underwater fashion shooting, only to receive a call from the lab "...that they are incredible sorry, but the intern opened the door...". This experience made it very easy to me to become my own lab operator, because now I have nobody to blame than myself in case something goes wrong.
But especially color spaces and digital printing was also totally new to me. Since there was not much background and info to find on the Internet in 1999 and the cameras where incredible expensive and sparse, I founded D1scussion, a mailing list dedicated for Nikon DSLR shooters, which acted also as a training ground for Nikon employees to learn about their own new cameras and how professionals use them. A couple of features we suggested on D1scussion even made it into newer cameras.
How was your own switch to digital? Did you welcome it or were you apprehensive about leaving film behind?
Seth Resnick: I shot my first all digital job with a Canon D-30 and was amazed at the quality. I welcomed the technology but also realized there was a ton to learn. Quite simply digital means an increase in product quality and a reduction in time and this leads to improved quality and the potential for increased profit. The downside is that some photographers and clients believe that because there is no film that digital is cheaper. Digital is not cheaper but it is better. It allows for more creativity because the process of editing is now combined with shooting. Instead of looking at film the next day and deciding what one would do differently, one can now edit while shooting and improve an image by combing that editing and shooting process. From a business side, if a photographer charges for the increased costs of going digital, they can in fact turn digital directly into profit but if we as a profession choose to absorb the costs as part of doing business we will likely drive our profession out of business.
Juergen Specht: Ok, lets go back to the topic of pricing. It seems that launching Shakodo was a good idea. Effective digital workflows can be learned, but proper pricing seems to be one of the most confusing and misunderstood things in the life of a photographer. You, however seem to have mastered this and even offer your own pricing service, where you help photographers to name a fair price to clients.
How do the questions you receive on your own service differ from the questions you read here on Shakodo?
Seth Resnick: The questions are indeed similar. The big difference is that 95% of the folks that come to me for pricing are working pros and not amateurs. There are a few fundamental differences between the two. The amateur takes a job for fun and is intrigued with the idea that they may be able to make a buck or two in the process. The pro takes a job because it is their only source of income. Rights and fees are much more important to the pro because it is their livelihood. That said many clients today start out with asking for unlimited usage for eternity and a transfer of ownership as well. Most photographers have a basic opinion that photographers in a big city like New York can charge more and get away with more but they must give everything away. The reality is actually the opposite. In a big city like New York there are so many photographers that competition is much more fierce. In a small city there are only so many photographers so it is easier to achieve goals. That said what photographers crave most is how to explain a position and deal with rights and second how to actually calculate a fair price.
Juergen Specht: I see. But let me ask you this, while you have your own pricing service and charge a fixed fee for helping with prices, why do you provide so much information here on Shakodo for free? In fact, you are the person with the highest earned Reputation here on Shakodo and I practically see you here every day.
Seth Resnick: Juergen, this is a great question and it really takes an understanding of what I am trying to accomplish to understand the answer. The big goal what I do is a bit of a selfish goal. The idea is to raise the bar for everyone. It is selfish in a way because the ultimate is that it raises the bar for me even higher.
Photographers somehow think that it is harder today and that rights are more restrictive today but my mentor Jay Maisel had the same issues 40 years ago that photographers have today. The clients did not want to be bothered with usage and there was always someone to do the job cheaper. Personally, it was disheartening to see fellow photographers who were excellent in terms of talent making stupid business decisions that would likely have an effect on the entire industry.
I decided that if I can educate folks and give them the tools they need to succeed we can help to raise the bar. When I charge for my services it is a minimum fee for the time involved. In fact it is way below minimum. I am not going to become wealthy from $50 answers but people are much more careful about what they ask when there is a fee for the service and they are more serious in providing information. When the ability to ask a question is free many folks will simply be lazy for lack of a better word and simply ask something like "how much should I charge for this"?
When they have to fork out $50 they do their homework and provide much more information which allows me to provide a much more accurate price and information on how to negotiate etc. Both a free service and a paid service help to raise the bar for everyone and that is the most critical piece to the puzzle. Also when I contribute to sites for free there is a natural form of advertising. If you contribute good answers and information folks will no doubt come to you for paid services. I am sure that the big picture for Shakodo is to develop a client base so that other forms of business will surface down the road. Lastly, folks come back time and time again for the paid service because in the end they are achieving higher prices with rights managed policies that they could not achieve on their own.
Juergen Specht: I only can say thank you on behalf of all members on Shakodo and yes, you are right, some of the questions here are less than detailed to give a good answer. To counter this, I wrote this blog post What makes a great Question on Shakodo? and hope that if the service grows, more people understand that to provide good answers, they must ask good and especially detailed questions.
Just a few days ago, I found your portrait on ASMP's trailer for their "Find A Photographer" service:
And I quite like their 5 bullet points at the beginning:
- I instill confidence
- I get model releases
- I have a liability insurance
- I add production value
- I register my copyrights
All valid points, but especially "Confidence" seems to lack massively when it comes to give a price to a potential client. Why do you think that is?
Seth Resnick: Because while we as photographers typically own our own business we must acknowledge that for the most part we behave more like artists than like business people. Photographers lack confidence because they are not business minded and yet all the negotiations are done with folks who are totally business minded.
The technical work of a business and a business that does that technical work are two totally different things! In fact, it's the root cause of most small business failures! It's about photography, but if you do not profit from the value of your intellectual property, your business will not exist. If you are shooting digitally, you can not conduct your business the way you did when you were shooting film. The business of digital is a whole new ball game.
Juergen Specht: What happened to the photo market that clients can even think of dictating fees for photographic services? Ironically I received 4 licensing requests in the last 2 days and each of them tried to do just that, telling me what they want to pay me for licensing some of my pictures for their products - 3 of them offered me a fee of "free exposure".
Seth Resnick: The answer is simple. Unfortunately most photographers simply say yes and don't have the means to say NO. I always tell people the next time you go to a food market, tell them at the counter that you don't pay x dollars for milk and you only pay xyz and see if you can walk out without handcuffs.
I also tell photographers that the next time you need a plumber, tell the plumber as your sink is leaking that you don't pay what he is asking and only pay xyz and that he needs to sign your contract to enter your home and that you want receipts for all his tools and he assumes all liability for legal risk for fixing your sink. What you will find is that no plumber will come in.....
Juergen Specht: Exactly. What makes me wonder is that while photographer own the copyright to their works, have an entire legal framework on their side and a rather cheap way to even register their copyright in the USA to help them in case of infringements, they seem not to understand this very basic concept of "Licensing" and how they can monetize from it.
Just to give an example: Photographers might read this very article right now in a browser (licensed to them) running on top of an operating system (licensed to them) while listening to music (licensed to them)...in other words, we hardly "own" things we use or see every day and the worldwide market for Intellectual Property (IP) grows bigger every year.
What do you think makes "Licensing" so hard to understand, even we are surrounded by this very concept?
Seth Resnick: Again the answer is simple. They can't explain the concept and can't justify something that they can't explain. For example any client asking you for unlimited usage throughout the universe for an unlimited period of time should be asked the same thing for whatever they sell. Ask a restaurant for example to provide a place for an unlimited amount of meals forever with the concept that you like the restaurant but don't want to be bothered with the whole issue of getting a check each time and figuring out a tip.
The reality is that no business can give you a fair price. The irony with photographers is that photographers think that this is a normal standard for an ad agency. Again the fact is the opposite. When an ad agency buys media they do not contact a publisher and say give me a price for two years of unlimited ads and by the way we don't know the size. The media buys that the agencies do are always based on a specific number of ads at a certain size in x amount of publications for x amount of time. There is a simple way to deal with this as a photographer and that is to provide multiple prices based on different usage.
Juergen Specht: There is a lot of talk about changing or demolishing the copyright law, mainly initiated by Larry Lessig with John Harrington being probably his biggest vocal opponent. Personally I understand both sides, the copyright law as originally written is not really understood by the general public in times of social networks with their "sharing" culture and the web is such an international place, for content creators its hard to distinguish between a flattering promotion, "fair use" or a plumb copyright violation.
Some photographers like the current copyright and use it to protect their IP rigorously (which is really more easy in the USA due to the chance of registering copyrights and the chance of receiving statutory on top of actual damages from the infringing party), some prefer using the more modern sounding Creative Common licenses, but also often totally misinterpret them and complain later when they get abused. What is your position?
Seth Resnick: I am not opposed to unlimited licenses but I am totally opposed to broader rights packages that pay less than traditional usage especially when the clients using the images are increasing their revenue. I aggressively protect my copyrights and have in fact registered every image I have ever shot. I wrote an article which is published here on Shakodo which pretty much reveals my position.
Simply: I need to license my work in order to pay for my equipment and maintain my business. It cost me $91,000 to go fully digital. If a client thinks they are paying for my images they would have to pay me a fee that covers the real cost of producing those images. Clients are very aware of copyright and the value of intellectual property.
I license mine, I don't sell it. It is very much like Hertz. If you use the car and pay for it for a week you don't own it. If you use it for another week you have to pay more. If you use it for two years you will pay twice the value of the car but you are still licensing the use of the car. I am happy to sell my work if someone wants to really pay what it costs. The charge would have to account for copyright which is by definition mine for 70 years after my death. This means the real value of an image isn't one use by some entity, it is the value of the image over the life of copyright, which is 70 years past my death.
Juergen Specht: Going back to pricing, as part of your workshops, you also "provide a full day on the business of photography with real training on how to profit from digital and why your business must change if you are running your business the same as you did when you were analog.". How does this practically look like and how many people attend?
Seth Resnick: Our workshops are small, meaning less than 25 people and on the last day we talk about archiving and then "The Business of Digital". We provide a foundation of the issues and problems that photographers face and suggestions and answers on how to handle those problems. Because business does seem to intimidate people and because business is off we combine the experience with a wine tasting. I am a wine collector so it makes the experience very personable and the wine helps to break the ice and gets folks to contribute and openly talk about the problems. It is always one of the highlights of the workshops. Here is a small snippet on negotiations:
The Art of Negotiation
- Decide on your starting position and your "bottom line," or lowest point you will accept in the deal.
- Plan your sequence of proposals and possible counter-proposals. Open at the most you can reasonably ask for as this gives you room to negotiate.
- Prepare for the meeting by determining your own motives and objectives: Why are you negotiating? What do you expect to gain and why is it important to you? What do you think you will have to offer to achieve this?
- Be prepared with information, facts, comparable prices or costs, etc. Avoid going into any negotiation and coming across as either uninformed or unreasonably aggressive.
- If the other party makes the first offer or proposal, this can allow you to gauge your response and set the parameters of the negotiation to your advantage.
- Start by discussing a mutually agreed upon point of the negotiation - something both parties will readily say yes to.
- Propose a deal or an offer phrase as "I will do such-and-such for you, and you will do this for me." This establishes a position of confidence and authority.
- Make your arguments and proposals incrementally and strategically. Avoid going immediately to your lowest point of acceptance, or bottom-line.
- Know when it is time to close or break off discussion. If the other party is ready to close the deal, and it is acceptable to you, make it easy for them to do as little as possible by having everything ready to sign, etc.
Juergen Specht: Good advice and especially a good idea to combine this discussion with wine tasting! Never thought of that! You told me that you watch pricing for photography for 25 years now, what has changed most radically in the last few years?
Seth Resnick: What has changed the most is that everyone has increasing costs and most businesses increase their fees accordingly, yet within the photo industry the fee that the clients offer are the same or less than they were two decades ago.
My first job ever was for a major US magazine in 1979 and I was paid $500 plus expenses against space for one time North American Print Rights. The advertising rate that this magazine charged at the time was $27,000 per page. In 2010 this same magazine paid photographers $400 a day for world wide rights including electronic and yet their advertising rate was over $165,000 per page.
Photographers are uneducated about business and don't know how to negotiate and yet we blame the clients. The clients are in fact conducting business in a smart way. Why should they pay more if they can get it for less? The icing on the cake for me came to a head a few years back. I was doing a job for one of the worlds largest publications and I negotiated to be paid a flat fee for the usage of up to 5 pages of images. The fee was for one issue in one edition of the publication and when the publication came out it ran in multiple languages and I billed the flat rate for each usage. The editor and I had lunch and I raised the point that I was sticking it to them in part to show that if they raised their day rate a fair amount that folks like me would not gouge them and that they missed the point of why I was charging them the way I was charging. The answer I got flabbergasted me. I was told point blank that if they raised the day rate to a fair amount that the annual photo budget would have to be increased by 5 million dollars but that there are only a handful of photographers like me that will say no to them now so it is cheaper just to pay those that say no more than to be fair to everyone.
With this I raised a business question and said that they must have a percentage that if people say no they will change. Without a blink this person told me that the day that 40% of the photographers say NO that is the day that they will change their rates. They then smiled and said that will never happen....
Juergen Specht: Wow! I hope enough photographers read this and say No more often. Count me in!
A lot of your (and mine) advice is tailored more towards "professional" clients, i.e. people or companies who understand licensing. But there are even more photographers who cope with private clients, who neither understand legal terms and copyright or could not care less. They usually think that if they pay a photographer, they automatically own the pictures.
A member of Shakodo suggested to sell services with fancy "package names" to kind of include the legal information into a bundle. What do you suggest to cope with "small" clients and expected usage of your photos on Facebook or other platforms?
Seth Resnick: My answer is contracts. I don't move without a contract and neither does any legitimate company in this world. Some photographers view contracts as unfriendly and intimidating to business. Contracts are a way of life and I don't want to hide the terms or the contract. I am open and upfront and explain that all contracts are meant to be negotiated in good faith by both parties and that a contract protects both parties and prevents legal issues from surfacing. I want to get a client involved with the contract so everyone can be happy and understand what is and isn't expected.
A perfect example of something I do that helps both sides is the following. Rather than just send in a delivery memo and or contract and then find out later that a client has been using material beyond the length of time for the contract, I send an email to every client one month before the license expires. The email gives them an option to terminate usage, or renew at a fair rate. Ironically about 60 % of the folks decide to renew but never realized the license was going to expire.
Juergen Specht: This of course needs a lot of organization on your part to keep track of each license. But then again, its worth to add it to your conventional workflow, because it means you have additional income later on. I am curious, what is your position about "Work for Hire"?
Seth Resnick: Work for Hire should be reserved for full time employees. They young photographer may have their day rate covered but are they getting the cost of their equipment covered, their health insurance covered, disability, life insurance, a salary, vacation pay, a retirement account? When you work full time these are the things you get from an employer. If someone ones work for hire you are deemed an employee. The difference typically is that you are granting the company all the fruits of your labor and all the potential future value of your labor and you are getting no benefits.
Juergen Specht: Why can't photographers set up some standard pricing scheme - albeit with some degree of flexibility for the particular photographer's talent and experience?
Seth Resnick: The answer to this question blends in with the question below. We are prohibited from federal trade laws to collectively bargain. In our industry, the livelihoods of freelancers are being crushed by work-for-hire and other nasty rights-grabbing contracts. These contracts are accompanied by fees that have been stagnant for twenty years. The world economy has benefitted by the rise of the internet, and many corporations and publishers have directly profited as a result. By contrast, freelance contributors are getting collectively hammered by a publishing industry that demands more and more of our rights but does not pay commensurate usage fees. As small independent contractors, we are prohibited from even discussing our problems in public forums without being in potential violation of antitrust law.
This law in effect hamstrings us from taking action or even properly addressing our issues. Large corporations with an interest in keeping usage fees low routinely take advantage of the situation by dividing and conquering, and picking off us little guys one by one. Instead of profiting from the intellectual property we produce, we are pressured by publishers to give up more and more of our rights, who then exploit those rights for corporate gain. This is the exact opposite intent of the copyright law, which was designed to give creators and inventors a chance to benefit from the fruits of their labors. If this trend continues, our ability to survive and the incentive to produce the varied intellectual property from which our country benefits will be greatly hindered if not outright destroyed.
Juergen Specht: In closing, what do you see as the future for professional photography?
Seth Resnick: I see the market condensing. I fear that because rates have been stagnant for so long and because there are so many photographers that being a photographer will turn into a hobby instead of a profession.
Something needs to change. The costs associated with being a photographer keep on increasing and there comes a point where one simply can't maintain quality, and creativity and stay in business. Photographers have a creative inspiration to share with the world. The visions we develop will quickly fade unless we acknowledge that we must be business people as well as creative people.
As the marketplace grows, I believe that it is more important than ever to remember that we, as photographers, are operating a business. The essence of our creative drives are being jeopardized by our inability to educate, participate, and negotiate in the global market. Regional markets are no longer only regional and have been transformed into a global marketplace. We can and should utilize new technologies that offer the ability to enhance our photographic skills.
What was once a mere conceptual dream is now reality. The individual photographer can be a player in a global game and can both participate and compete in real time. We must stay on top of the technology of today and make it work to our advantage. We must rise to meet the new technologies of the future as they develop. Our long term success is no longer dependent on just our creativity, but also on our ability to integrate creativity, technology and business.
Juergen Specht: Thank you, Seth, for sharing your insight!