PROJECT_PRESCRIPTION_PHOTOGRAPHY_6I want to talk to the photographers that read this blog for a second — primarily about all the mistakes I made when I first started in the commercial side of this business, and how I don’t want you to make those same mistakes.

The Set-Up

When I started taking the first steps to coming back to photography as a career I had already been out of school for a few years and working in the graphics department of a manufacturing company. My first foray into the world of professional photography a few years prior had been… unimpressive. A combination of post collegiate burnout coupled with what was (at the time) a chaotic industry that saw numerous large studios go out of business had spurned me to take a stable if somewhat boring job creating safety signs and vinyl decals for industrial equipment.

Naturally, it wasn’t long before I had a camera in my hands again, but this time it was different. Instead of shooting the still-life and food images I had been trained to create I found that I had a real love for working with people and shooting portraits. Soon the seeds of a business started to grow and I began to transition to working as a photographer full-time again, and things were going great..

…until they weren’t.


Making Mistakes

Most photography programs don’t do much to prepare you for the day-to-day realities of being a working photographer. You might be able to make some incredible images and have all the technical chops you could ever need — But none of that can save you from being a shitty businessperson.

I started to run into issues quickly, most of them were rooted in the fact that despite being a pretty competent photographer I knew basically ZERO when it came to creating an efficient workflow or memorable client experience. I was trying to build a business on the flawed assumption that all that mattered was the end product — who cared about the process you used to get there?

I had no mechanism to define the types of clients that were a good fit for me, or identify red flags that might indicate I should pass on a job.

I had never thought about the experience of working with me from the client’s perspective either, so my project proposals were usually little more than an impersonal spreadsheet of costs and line items that did nothing to differentiate me from my competition creatively.

It’s really difficult to charge what I thought I was worth because without a system in place it was next to impossible to justify those costs to clients.

I didn’t even have a real sense that there was more to do after a project was delivered because the idea of getting testimonials and real feedback from clients was also a foreign concept — a mistake that left me oblivious to common but easy-to-fix problems with my workflow and business model for a long time.

These (among others) were some very real issues that I wasn’t even aware I had to deal with, and most of my clients were too nice to let me know. Thankfully, a few weren’t.

I quickly came to an important realization — clients were interested in more than just the final images. They wanted to work with a creative who inspired confidence and who valued the pre-production process as much as they valued the creation of the images themselves. In essence, what they needed was someone who was fully dedicated and on-board with every aspect of their production  — and had a road map to get through it all safely and successfully.

Suddenly process was the sexiest word in my vocabulary.


You Are Not Alone

It took time, effort, experimentation, advice from some amazing mentors, and feedback from some equally amazing clients (not to mention how much I’ve learned through professional organizations like ASMP) — but I did build a process, one that my clients love (and one that constantly evolves based on the feedback I receive from them). And having that process in place has become a major catalyst in growing my business — because even though it’s my work that first grabs a client’s attention it’s the experience that they have working with me that keeps them coming back.

I’ve also seen a lot of really talented photographers struggle in this business due to a total lack of process. And it’s not surprising, because developing a process is difficult and time-consuming, and because photography is a hell of a fun job that lets you share your unique creative vision with others. And while the business stuff is important, we all want to get back to the reason why we started taking pictures in the first pace — to make something cool. But having a strong process in place can actually make your business more efficient and nimble. Allowing you to focus less on dealing with workflow related fires as they pop up, and more on creating stunning images for your clients. Your process can really be a deciding factor in the jobs you book as well, because when faced with two similarly talented photographers a client is much likelier to go with the one who makes them feel confident and comfortable.

This problem isn’t unique to photographers either — designers are another group of creatives who can often struggle with developing a solid process for workflow and client care. And it was two designers that really got me thinking about how I could help photographers improve their processes and their businesses.


We Have The Prescription

I’ve been so lucky to work with Shauna Haider of and We Are Branch the past few years on all sorts of design projects. In fact, her own blog was incredibly instrumental to me when I was first starting to think about how process intersected with branding and how I needed to be thinking about a lot more than just my logo and my images — and specifically how every single point of client interaction and communication mattered in shaping how client’s perceived me.

Shauna had also been examining the idea of how she could help designers and creatives to craft an effective process AND provide them with a set of professionally designed and customizable documents to support that process and impress their clients. She teamed up with the similarly process minded and insightful Paul Jarvis (who’s worked with people like Danielle LaPorte and brands like Fast Company, Forbes, and Lifehacker) to create Project Prescription — a workflow and document collection aimed at helping designers to strengthen their business.

As a devoted reader of Shauna’s blog (and now Paul’s newsletter and podcast — which are topping my must read/listen lists respectively), I decided to check out Project Prescription soon after launch, and though it was originally intended for designers, I loved it so much that I started to immediately adapt it to my workflow as a photographer. Almost instantly I was struck by how this could help so many of my peers and solve a lot of the problems that photographers face in terms of relating to clients – especially photographers who are just entering the market or beginning to make the transition from consumer to commercial photography. I was so excited that I immediately mentioned it to Shauna and shortly after that her, Paul, and myself decided to team up and create a version of Project Prescription that was specifically tailored for commercial photographers.

We’ve put together an awesome collection of twenty documents that professional photographers need that are completely customizable to your brand and available in both Adobe InDesign and Google Docs versions. This collection covers everything from your first client contact all the way though pre-production, the shoot, delivery, and even follow-up to make sure that your clients are blown away by every aspect of your services.

I’ll be featuring more info about Project Prescription the rest of the week on the blog and digging a little deeper into the workflow. So check back tomorrow for more.

All three of us are so excited to announce the Project Prescription for photographers launches today! And for this first week only you can get this kick ass workflow/document collection for just $88.00. Starting next Monday the 8th, Project Prescription will only be available at its regular price of $108.00. You can sign up for our mailing list and receive two free sample documents at

MacArthur Genius grant recipient Will Dichtes photographed at Cornell University for Northwestern University

Imagine a material so porous that little more than a gram of it contained the same surface area as a football field.

It sounds like the kind of made-up miracle substances you usually hear discussed solely in the realms of sci-fi or comic books, like Adamantium, Unobtanium, or Nth metal — The kind of elemental MacGuffins that exist to explain away the fantastic powers of those that use them. The primary difference is that supramolecular chemist Will Dichtel has taken his material out of the world of science fiction. In fact, he’s on the verge of taking this and other revolutionary nanomaterials out of the lab and giving them practical real-world applications that could potentially change our planet for the better.

A scientist currently attached to Northwestern University’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, and previously Cornell University, Will was recently awarded a MacArthur fellowship for his research into these porous polymers (called covalent organic frameworks) and their potentially revolutionary uses in the fields of water filtration, chemical fuel storage, and battery development.

For those not familiar with the MacArthur Genius Grant, it is an annual award and financial grant of $625,000 given out to approximately twenty individuals in a variety of fields who have demonstrated creativity, self-direction, and innovation in their area of practice. Aside from Will, other 2015 inductees include Hamilton composer Lin-Manuel Miranda, The Atlantic correspondent Ta-Nehisi Coates, and puppeteer Basil Twist.

While his work is firmly rooted in changing the real world, Will’s constant challenging of assumptions and wide-ranging skill set has allowed him to pursue avenues of research and practical application in chemistry that for all intents and purposes have made him a scientific superhero in his own right, one who could literally make people’s lives better with his work.

Chemist and MacArthur Fellow Will Dichtel

Legendary Buffalo Sabres winger/enforcer  and Sports broadcaster Rob Ray

It’s time to throw down your gloves and start swinging when Legendary Buffalo Sabres enforcer Rob Ray is in your studio. (maybe not, I’m pretty sure I’d come out on the losing end of that one)

For a guy with such a fearsome reputation on the ice that the NHL has a fighting rule named after him (better keep your jersey tied down when resorting to fisticuffs from now on). I’m happy to say that Rob (aside from being very friendly) was actually sitting for this portrait to help some very special and in-need dogs find their forever homes as part of an ongoing campaign that I’ve been working on with Partners + Napier to help promote a wonderful animal rescue called Diamonds in the Ruff. 

I spent most of my teenage years watching Rob go toe to toe (skate to skate?) with guys like Tie Domi and Steve Webb, but since he’s made the transition to being part of the Sabres’ broadcast team (alongside Rick Jeanneret and fellow former Sabres enforcer Brad May) Rob has made an even bigger impact locally by being incredibly active in helping a number of Buffalo based charities and community organizations like DITR. I’m so glad he could be a part of this project that combines my love of Buffalo Hockey with helping these amazing animals.

Theres so much happening here right now, and a lot of it is good. Buffalo is a city that many people once wrote off, but we’ve been getting a lot of attention lately. Travel + Leisure just named us America’s favorite city, our restaurant scene is exploding, we have amazing artists and museums, and people are finally starting to make some noise about how much they love this city. We’re not perfect, and we’ve got a long way to go, but its amazing to see so many people so excited about what’s going on here lately.

But the best part?

The people.

On that note I’m so excited to share this small selection of portraits from a recent series I shot for Buffalo Spree that features some of the key personalities in Buffalo’s style, music, design, and art communities. These are just a few of the people doing their small part to make this city amazing again. Be sure to visit Spree’s site to see the rest of the collection.

Fashion Consultant - Rabiyyah KhanRabiyyah Khan – Fashion Consultant.

Phillip Brunner - Addiction counselor and photogrpaherPhillip Brunner – Addiction counselor and community advocate.

Amy HartmanAmy Hartman – Artist and educator.

Saint Opal - Buffalo NY vocalist/musician$aint Øpal – Musician.

Lulu - DjLulu – DJ and professional smartypants.

Tiffani MooreTiffani Moore – Creative consultant.

Brandon Davis - Creative Director of Block ClubBrandon Davis – Creative director of Block Club.

Chae Hawk - Team RadioChae Hawk – Progressive rap cinema artist.

Joseph Stocker - Founder and creative director of Bureau menswear in Buffalo NYJoseph Stocker – Founder and creative director of BUREAU.

You can see a bit of what went into this production in the video below.

Andrew Emerson - Owner and designer of Emerson James Lighting

Light is a pretty dominant element of my life. I think about it constantly — how to manipulate it,  see it, record it, and how to anticipate and predict its behavior. Whether I’m charting the movements of natural light to plan a location shoot or designing and rigging lighting solutions in the studio, playing with light has become an integral part of my day both at work and at home (just ask my wife Erin, she’s woken up to me experimenting with lighting her with my iPhone in the middle of the night). But there’s a certain way of talking about light that seems to be native to those passionate about photography or painting — an excitable and sometimes cryptic form of shop talk that is truly in the realm of the passionate (or obsessive). The kind of talk that Erin dreads whenever I run onto another photographer.

Naturally, I was pretty excited when I met someone recently who was really obsessed with light in a very different way than I was. Andrew Emerson isn’t a photographer or a painter — and his obsession with light and design is expressed in a more practical manner than mine. As the owner of Buffalo, NY based Emerson James, Andrew uses his skills in metal work and industrial design to create unique custom lighting fixtures for businesses and homes.

“I got my start working in a lighting store my senior year of high school. Essentially I was just a delivery guy slash stock guy who did odd jobs around the shop. Eventually it was noticed that I wasn’t a total idiot, so they started to trust me with more responsibilities. I worked my way up to doing minor fixes on lamps and chandeliers and I found that I had a knack for it. I’ve always enjoyed engineering and taking things apart to learn more about them. I spent about ten years there doing restoration and repairs on vintage fixtures,  fans, chandeliers, and working alongside electricians all over Western New York and picking up tips and tricks from them. I’d learned a lot, not just about the construction and fabrication of lights, but also enough to be a quasi-expert on how place and arrange lights in a room.”

Desk lamp designed by Andrew Emerson of Emerson James Inc

“At the time I was building some really primitive stuff, like the block lamps I was selling to Ro furniture. It was really just a hobby. During all of this I had taken an internship with a machinist at my father’s warehouse in Lockport, where I learned how to get screamed at a lot, but I learned a lot from him about basic machining, and he very graciously offered to send me to welding school. I learned to do some halfway decent welding, though I’m still ‘Just a pimple on a real welder’s ass,’ as he would say. It gave me a good start, and it gave me a dynamic skill set.”

The Emerson James’ website boasts “We can make a light out of anything” and I really do  believe it after seeing some of Andrew’s creations. But despite the prodigious and varied skills on display when you see his work, there does seem to be a clear voice that rises to the surface amongst his myriad creations. Some might seek to identify the aesthetic as industrial, and while there are some elements that make reference to the industrial and post-industrial design movements, there is something refreshingly off-balance to much of his work — and Andrew would be the first to eschew the industrial label, preferring utilitarian to describe his design and fabrication style.

“I cringe when I hear it called that, because the industrial aesthetic has just been done to death. But at the same time, it is what we have all around us here in Western New York, the remnants of a very powerful industry that fell apart. Western New York is a very nostalgic city and we often look back at the glory days of that lost industry, so it’s natural for that to hold a lot of appeal for people. At the same time I steal lots of ideas, and I believe in stealing like an artist, but I steal ideas from the way a table is put together, or the angle of a chair brace. I try to take a little part of all the cool stuff I see and put it into a new composition. Most of my personal design is very simple and functional — if it’s a light I want it to light something up. I also like the ability to manipulate things easily, that’s why you’ll see a lot of things like clutch swivels on my designs. I like to have a lot of adjustability.

Andrew Emerson - Owner and lead designer of Emerson James Lighting

The severe symmetry of the purely industrial is muted by the inclusion of naturally imperfect materials like wood and stone, simple bias lines in design or color schemes lend a sense of modernity even when referencing the past, and the organic shapes created by serpentine cables in many Emerson James fixtures adds a balance to the rigidity of his other materials that makes something as ubiquitous as even a power cord a part of the overall design that you will never want to hide.

Emerson James also shares a retail space with with noted Buffalo woodworking and furniture design firm (and alumni of this blog) Wrafterbuilt. Andrew first met his shop-mate, Sean Wrafter, when the two were part of a design team featured on one of those home makeover shows that I’m “secretly” obsessed with — specifically HGTV’s House Hunters Renovation. The two quickly formed a friendship and eventually opened a small showroom together, which later moved the the North Buffalo Hertel Avenue neighborhood.

“Interior designer Candice Urban-Green of BoxCraft took a liking to my work for some reason, and pulled me into the HGTV project – which is where I met Sean. I think at that point we knew of each other’s work, but we quickly started commiserating about our need to have more control over how our goods were being sold and retailed. Sean needed lights to complement his furniture and wood work, and I needed stuff to put my lights on. It was a good fit, and our design aesthetics really complemented each other.”

Both businesses continue to grow, amassing an impressive list of clients, and Emerson James seems poised to expand into more metal work to accompany the already strong line of retail and custom lighting that has become a regular and welcome sight in some of the coolest homes and restaurants in Buffalo. Be sure to stop in at the Emerson James / Wrafterbuilt showroom at 1376 Hertel Ave in Buffalo, NY.

Lighting designer Andrew Emerson of Emerson James Lighting in Buffalo NY


You didn’t think that postcards was all I had up my sleeves did you?

Following up on my last post, where I went over the new tri-fold mailers that I had just sent out. I wanted to share with you another promo piece that was soon to be on its way to  some of my favorite people (and some people who I have my eye on getting to know better).

A few years back I did a large newsprint promo that collected a bunch of the stories about artisans and entrepreneurs in the Buffalo NY area that I had been working on. It was my first foray into doing newsprint, and it was hugely successful for me (thanks in no small part to the amazing design work done by Shauna Haider of We Are Branch — who I have been lucky enough to collaborate with for the past few years), and I fell in love with this style of printing. There is something ephemeral and so pleasing to the mix of the images, the feel of the paper, and even the smell of ink. I get the same vibe off of it that people say they still get from reading real print books as opposed using an e-reader.

This year we’ve decided to change it up — slightly. Instead of a large tabloid sized newspaper that was very text heavy, we’ve opted for a small magazine sized piece that has more of the feel of a zine, and serves as something of a digest to some highlights of my recent work. Shauna did another amazing job with the layout of this piece, and we printed it at the Newspaper Club.  In it you’ll see subjects that range from Michael Dimmer and Chrstian Wilmot who own Marble + Rye (who were just featured in Open Table’s 100 Hottest Restaurants in America), to Buffalo Bills’ Quarterback EJ Manuel, to Bobby Finan of Tommyrotter Distillery.

I’ve only done a small print run to start — just enough to send out a select list of clients and people at some brands I’d really love to partner with, but there is a good chance I will do another run soon, so you might just be lucky enough to get your hands on one.



My new promos are on their way to the mailboxes of editors, art directors, and clients across the US and Canada. For this batch I’m continuing with the very clean and minimlaist trifold format that I really fell in love with at the end of last year (which you can see here in this roundup by Rob Haggart of some of his favorite promos of 2015). This one features a collection of images that includes: actor and historian Guy William Gane, Buffalo Bills Quarterback EJ Manuel, violinist and recording artist Yuki Numata Resnick, US Marine Tony Nash, and attorney and farmer Ginger Schröder.

Keep an eye on the post for those dark gray envelopes with the hand stamped labels — you might be lucky enough to have one coming your way.


Buffalo, NY photographer Luke Copping - Portrait by David Moog/ Courtesy Burchfield Penny.

Photography by David Moog / Courtesy Burchfield Penney

It’s rare for me to make an appearance on this side of the camera. I’m usually the one behind it — directing talent, trying to set the mood, and trying to make an image that connects. But every few years I come out from under the dark-cloth and get in front of the lens for someone else.

I was invited by David Moog to be a part of his Artists Seen series — an ongoing multi-year project in which David is attempting to create a record of artists working in, or connected to, Western New York. He’s partnered with the Burchfield Penney Art Center  — an amazing gallery and museum dedicated to featuring and archiving work exclusively by artists from the area. The gallery has provided David with a dedicated studio in the museum for him to capture the hundreds of creatives who make up the contemporary artists community of Buffalo and the surrounding areas. It’s an amazing group of artists and I’m excited to be a part of it.

Because we’re both photographers  I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that our short portrait session turned into an amazing conversation about our favorite photographers, David’s history, and the nature of art and creativity. It was a perfect storm of two people who are very enthusiastic about art getting a chance to talk shop.

Be sure to see more of David’s work here

Tommyrotter Distillery owner and head distiller Bobby Finan. Tommyrotter produced small batch vodka and American Gin in Buffalo NY's emerging Larkinville Neighborhood

A new friend passed a recipe on to me recently that’s become a favorite.

1 oz. Tommyrotter small batch vodka
1 oz. Tommyrotter American gin
1 oz. Lillet Blanc
1 wedge of lemon

Muddle the lemon and Lillet Blanc in a cocktail shaker, then add gin and vodka. Drop in ice and shake, shake, shake. Use a Hawthorne strainer over a fine strainer to remove any excess lemon pulp and pour into a coup glass. Rim the glass and garnish with a slice of lemon peel.

Congratulations, you just made a Tommyrotter Vesper.

You can thank me later… but in the meantime go ahead and mix yourself another one to sip on while you read the rest of this post.

Bobby Finan is the one who passed this recipe on to me – he’s also the creative and technical mind behind Tommyrotter, where he produces small batch vodka and American gin in a converted 114-year-old paper box factory in Buffalo, NY’s emerging Larkinville neighborhood. A one-time student of economics who turned his back on the world of finance to embrace liberating changes in New York State’s Farm Distillery Law, Bobby has become one of a handful of pioneering craft distillers operating in the Buffalo area – and though Tommyrotter wasn’t the first of these distilleries to pop open a bottle for the public, their singular focus on quality, presentation, and drinking experience has made them many’s favorite (mine included) amongst this small pack. They’re even starting to garner attention outside of the spirits world, as their branding and packaging just received a major award in the much lauded Communication Arts Magazine.

Tommyrotter first grabbed my attention because of their gin, a distinctly intense pot distilled take on the classic form of the spirit that manages to be both familiar and novel to tasters. It leads with floral, citrus, and piney juniper notes but quickly transitions into dark warm spicy flavors of cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, grains of paradise, and ginger – making for an herbaceous and incredibly cocktail friendly spirit perfect for the wintery climates along the northern border.

Tommyrotter Distillery Small Batch Vodka alongside a signature Tommyrotter Vesper

Like cornflakes, penicillin, and Velcro, an accident played a big part in elevating Tommyrotter’s gin into something spectacular. “I wanted to make a gin that was accessible, and that I personally liked drinking, but also one that wasn’t just a summer-time spirit for people to drink with tonic, something that had some complexity that worked year-round and was at home in more refined cocktails like Negronis. So we decided to create a flavor profile that combined these darker winter spices with classic gin notes, resulting in something intense and complex. That intensity was furthered through a happy accident. As we approached our target opening date and were in the last days of refining our recipe, I was fatigued and sleep deprived, creating half size test batches of our product that weren’t quite perfect, but with one particular half sized batch I mistakenly used the amount of botanicals I would have used in a full sized one, and it ended up creating this incredibly flavorful but balanced taste that ended up defying most gin making logic, but it tasted awesome and we said ‘this is it’.”

Buffalo, like many others, is a city that embraces the local, but Bobby and others of his mindset are realizing that just having a locally produced product isn’t enough – and have their sights set higher. In his view, local needs to be coupled with extremely high quality (and a splash of true uniqueness) to really get the point across – resulting in a beverage that isn’t just a great local spirit, but a great spirit period. Thankfully, quality and uniqueness are both attributes that Tommyrotter has in abundance – and in a sea of bars dedicated to interminable offerings of small batch bourbon or craft tequila, the presence of an exemplary craft gin is both exciting and refreshing.

Many think of Buffalo as a beer town, with our long history of German and Polish brewers to our current resurgence of great craft beer, to our grain silos painted to look like a six pack of Labatt’s Blue – so a craft distillery in an emerging neighborhood may seem like something of an anomaly, especially one receiving so much well-deserved praise in such a short time. But one thing that Tommyrotter has in common with many of the area’s best breweries is a constant drive for both refinement and experimentation. Bobby’s experimental drive is embodied in what he hopes will be Tommyrotter’s next offering to passionate fans – a much anticipated barrel aged gin steeped in used bourbon casks.

Bobby shared one final recipe for those who like a little amaro in their cocktails – the Tommyrotter Fernet Rinse Negroni

Swirl a few drops of Fernet Branca to coat glass and ice.
1 oz. Campari
1 oz. Sweet vermouth
1 oz. Tommyrotter American gin

Stir and finish with a slice of orange peel.



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