Dialog with Jim Greipp of Pau Hana Productions
This is the second installment of a series of dialogs with photographers who stood out of Shakodo for being extremely helpful to the community. This time I asked questions to Jim Greipp of Pau Hana Productions.
Juergen Specht: Congratulations, Jim. You are now - after Seth Resnick - the number 2 on Shakodo based on your reputation. In fact, you passed me and I went one place down! But I really appreciate your great contributions and help you give to other photographers here.
Jim Greipp: Thank you very much. I'm pleased that the readers of this forum find my comments useful enough to be voted up that frequently. I remember many times being frustrated with a situation I was dealing with and not having any answers or even any place to look for those answers. It is important to have a network of people and resources that you can trust because nobody has all the answers to every situation you encounter. I think Shakodo is filling a very important niche that other forums just don't address. Most forums cover the "nuts and bolts" of photographic technique but here the discussions center on the decisions made sitting at your desk, not standing behind your tripod. Although there are a few technical questions every now and then, there are not many "What is your favorite f-stop?" type of questions.
Juergen Specht: Please tell me a bit about you and your background. What made you to choose this profession?
Jim Greipp: Like most photographers, I had an interest in photography early, around the age of 14 or 15. It was a wonderful hobby and the magic of watching the black and white image appear in the tray of developer will never be forgotten. When teachers and parents started started to ask about what I'm going to do with my life, I thought of all the people I knew who were living for the weekend, working because they had to and just plain hated going to work. Forty hours a week (or more) is a lot of time to spend being miserable. I decided I wanted more and that I was going to be happy in what ever job I was working at. Since being a major league baseball player was probably never going to happen, I chose photography. What followed was a series of photography related jobs which included selling cameras in a camera store, various jobs in two different photo labs, freelance newspaper photographer, shooting weddings, two years as an on board cruise ship photographer in Hawaii, 5 years as an assistant / photographer for an industrial photo studio and two years running my own commercial photography studio in Hong Kong, China. In 1992 I opened my current studio, Pau Hana Productions, in the Philadelphia USA area. I have a broad range of clients: advertising agencies, graphic designers, publications and manufacturers. Every dollar that I have made since I was 18 has been photo related - and I have to say that I have enjoyed every one of those opportunities. I am blessed that I am able to support my wife and three children doing what I enjoy.
Juergen Specht: You really came around and collected a lot of experiences and its great that you even after all these years still enjoy what you do. But I wonder, why do you share so much information? Whats your incentive to spend quite a lot of time on Shakodo and give advice?
Jim Greipp: There are quite a few reasons I enjoy posting on Shakodo. Sharing information that has had an impact on us is something we all do. When you have a great dinner at a restaurant, you tell all your friends. You hear a good joke, you tell your coworkers. I have lived or seen first hand the topics I have commented on and sharing them with any one who asks feels very natural to me. I am passionate about photography so why shouldn't others benefit from lessons I have learned?
Another reason is that I myself have benefitted greatly from other photographers whom I pestered with question after question. One of the more memorable characters was in Hong Kong. I was 25 years old, had just moved to a city on the other side of the planet to China, didn't speak a word of Cantonese and was trying to start a photography studio with no business experience what so ever. I decided to open the phone book and find the most English sounding name. So that afternoon, I took the subway to the Wanchai district and knocked on the door of Steve Daw, stuck my hand out and said "I'll buy you lunch and a beer if I can ask you a few questions." Steve is a very friendly and kind Australian that I was lucky enough to find. He knew a bar that served Fosters and I started to ask him about anything and everything. After about an hour I asked him if he was getting tired of all the questions - his response? "If you keep buying, I'll keep talking." For the next two years he was there to help me with countless pieces of advice. He was one of the many mentors that have helped me along the way. By me answering a few questions and offering some comments here on Shakodo I am giving back a fraction of what I have received.
I also feel very strongly about certain subjects and if I stay quiet about them, nothing changes. If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem. There are many issues facing our industry and if those who are part of the industry don't make an effort to fix those problems, they will continue and get worse. By helping those who don't know the long term ramifications of their actions, by showing others how you did something - it will benefit everybody. The attitude of "trade secrets" is destructive to the industry as a whole.
Juergen Specht: I am glad that you are one of the people who really understood why Shakodo was founded. Since you've probably read most threads, what do you think is the most common denominator of all the questions on Shakodo?
Jim Greipp: If there is one common thread that runs through the majority of questions posted is that some how, there is a general belief that the pricing power is the clients, and the clients alone. When you leave your car with the auto mechanic, do you tell him when he will finish the repairs and how much it will cost? Do you walk in to the store, pick something off the shelf and tell the merchant to make it bigger and you will be back in an hour to pick it up and pay the same price that you did 10 years ago? This is exactly what is happening to the photography industry and lot of photographers are allowing it to happen. Over half of the "How much should I charge?" questions would not need to be posted if the photographer had the attitude of "This is what it costs me to produce these photos, this is what the value of the image is and that is what the price is going to be." Many things have to be considered when creating and estimating the price for a client but one thing should never change and that is the fact that the vendor sets the price.
Another common problem is photographers under value their work. I truly believe that a majority of photographers think that because they enjoy taking photos that it is not worth much. Professional athletes get paid handsomely to play games but they figured out a long time ago that their skills at "playing" are worth millions to the owners of the teams they play for. (Maybe all photographers should be required to have agents like the athletes have!) It is very, very, very difficult to walk away from some jobs but it is vital if you are going to survive in the long run. If you accept work at a low price, you simply won't be in business very long but a lot of photographers are short sighted and only see the dollars in front of them. They forget the $5,000 they spent on their camera and that it will need to be replaced and they completely forget about their retirement fund, insurance and the dozens of other expenses it takes to run a professional photography business. To me, that has to be the number one reason so many new photography businesses fail in the first couple of years.
Juergen Specht: A very good observation and it always surprises me to see how little confidence photographers seem to have if it comes to the value of their talent. Talking about talent, I really like your phrase "You get paid for your talent and not your time", which you wrote repeatedly in the forums. Why do you think photographers don't understand this?
Jim Greipp: This is an area that is so very important when it comes to pricing and the perception the client has of your services and your finished product. When you quote a day rate, you are reducing your experience, your uniqueness, down to a commodity that can be compared "apples to apples". When I get in a taxi, the rate is the same for all the taxi cabs (they all get me to where I need to go) so the two photographers who both charge $200 /hr. must be the same, right? True or not this is exactly the perception that clients have. In a business where standing out in the crowd is often the difference between success and failure, why oh why do photographers rush to embrace this idea of commodity pricing?
I am unique. You are unique. There are a thousand variables that come in to play when an object or person is about to be photographed. Why shouldn't I do everything in my power to let potential clients know that when they hire me, they are getting something that they can only get from me?
How can somebody justify "one price fits all" whether I am photographing paper clips on a white background or if I am dangling from a helicopter above a speeding boat? If the day rate photographer says they have different day rates for these two examples, are they truly day rates?
When people hire me, they are getting two decades of experience. When I see a layout, walk into a factory or approach a portrait situation - within a minute or two I (or any experienced photographer) know what will work and what won't, what it will take to make a good photograph. I then spend the majority of my time getting from good to great. Why should I be financially penalized for doing a job efficiently? The client receives the benefit of me not wasting their time or their employees time. When a law firm only has to interrupt the schedule of the four principle lawyers for fifteen minutes, how much money am I saving them? I frequently tell clients "It took me 20 years to do that in half an hour." Everybody reading this has something unique to offer their clients and their pricing structure must reflect this. Even if you don't have years of experience, you still need to show the client that you have something special to bring to the job. If you don't believe that your vision is yours and yours alone, I am afraid you are in the wrong business.
Why don't people get this? Because day rates are easy. Photographers don't have to think about it - they don't have to put a value on the talent the job needs to be done well or the value of the job itself. They have an employee attitude, not a business owner attitude. The client loves it - it is easy for the client, nice simple math. But what absolutely AMAZES me is the client who will decide they have a $800 budget - and look! Photographer X charges $800 for a half day! The client - not the person shooting the job - then decides that this a is half day job and Photographer X says OK. Since when did the experienced person doing the work let the unexperienced tell them how long something will take to do!? If the client is so smart & experienced, why aren't they shooting the job?
Day rate photographers respond that if they are better than average photographers, they charge a higher than average day rate. They are telling their clients that how long it takes to do something is equal to how difficult it is to do something. Lasik eye surgery takes about 15 minutes. Scoring a football goal takes one minute. I don't think eye surgery or being a professional athlete is easy. The people performing those feats certainly are getting paid for their talent, not their time. You should too.
Juergen Specht: Your analogies are spot on and I hope that enough people read it and start changing their attitude, in their very own interest. But still, to make a living as a photographer became more difficult, what are some of your biggest concerns going forward?
Jim Greipp: Declining prices has to be at the top of the list. I fear that some day the only professional photographers will be those that have other jobs - or spouses - to support the photography. Falling stock photography prices that bring down not only the value of other stock photography but of assignment work as well. If a client is accustomed to paying $20 for their photos, how will they justify $2,000 assignment to their boss? The poor economy has been putting a downward pressure on prices but will they recover when the economy does?
Another concern is client education. Here in America, many, many people have become accustomed to cheap products and if it breaks in a year or two, so what - that's just the way it is and we will replace it. I see a lot of clients who are only looking at price and don't know or can't imagine how much better they or the end client would be if they spent a little money and insert high quality images. "Good enough" has become the normal and it is a daily up hill battle for me to prove that hiring me will benefit them. We all have to teach our clients that taking the extra time to do the shot right and raising our standards is the only way to do things. If we don't, all clients will start to believe that cheapest is best and that quality photography is never worth the money.
Juergen Specht: After all this talk about the business of photography, I am curious. What is it where you get the most satisfaction?
Jim Greipp: When a client gets more than they were expecting. When my work has a direct link to increased sales. When I look at the monitor or printed piece and just smile.
Juergen Specht: Thank you very much, Jim. Everything you say is incredible inspiring and I am really glad we've met through this site and hope that you keep sharing your knowledge and comments on Shakodo. Thank you!