Lately, I’ve been collaborating with set and prop stylist Jack Wrafter on some fun personal projects. I get a lot of joy out of teaming up with my friends in Buffalo’s creative community for cool side shoots – be they stylists, artists, dancers, or something else entirely. We decided to combine our unique skills to create these portraits of actress, dancer, and singer Arienne Davidow at Jack’s event space here in Buffalo – Georgette. Arienne is a rising star who has had roles in Spamalot, Nine, Equivocation, Lady Windermere’s Fan, and more.
I 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.
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.
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 nubbytwiglet.com 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 theprojectprescription.com.
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. Continue reading “MACARTHUR FELLOW WILL DICHTEL FOR NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY”
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?
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.
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. Continue reading “ANDREW EMERSON OF EMERSON JAMES INC.”
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). Continue reading “NEWSPRINT PROMO”
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.
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.
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.
It wasn’t that long ago that food trucks were a new thing in Buffalo – fighting for recognition and the clarification of laws regarding mobile dining from the city. Meanwhile, some brick and mortar restauranteurs wrung their hats in worry about these rolling kitchens that had suddenly become competition, but also a catalyst for innovation in the city. We’ve seen trucks come and go – like the sorely missed Betty Crockski (I’ve still got an emergency stash of their sausage and pierogi in my freezer that I’m saving for the apocalypse.) We’ve seen the aforementioned brick and mortar restaurants start to get in on the fun with roving versions of their own concepts (like the great Amy’s Place truck and the lamentable Chef’s To Go) and we’ve seen some of the earliest trucks on the scene start to found new sit-down outposts like Lloyd Taco Factory. But the first to make that transition, and the best of the batch of the new restaurants grown from Buffalo’s food truck scene, came when Mike Dimmer and Christian Willmott of The Black Market Food Truck opened Marble + Rye last year.
Friends since High School, Dimmer and Willmott briefly parted ways when higher learning restaurant work drew them back together after graduation – and inspired the duo to attend a two-year culinary program in Niagara Falls to get a better grasp of the fundamentals of cooking and restaurant management prior to debuting as The Nines Catering. “Our first events were for family and friends, mostly they went well, but there were the occasional random disasters that come up in business that you never think to prepare for, like having a friend who was helping us out at an event have a massive allergic reaction to a client’s pet…” Willmott related to me.
After four years of catering at night and on weekends, the pair set their sights on the possibility of opening a brick and mortar restaurant, but they realized that the road would be a long one as they continually learned and refined their skills. Dimmer recounted “Many come into the industry with no prior experience, only a mindset of ‘I like cooking, and food, and I love drinking… I’ll open a restaurant’ and if we had that mentality from day one, boy, would we have screwed ourselves. We knew there was a lot more involved and that there would be mistakes and failures that we would have to learn from as we grew this business. In many ways the truck became a natural progression between catering and Marble + Rye. We had been catering weddings and doing these events out of clients’ garages and home kitchens, and it just became so stressful and hard to handle that we realized we needed some sort of mobile kitchen. Food trucks were just starting to blow up in Buffalo, but we never intended to open a truck to put on the road, rather it was intended as a vessel to cater out of.”
On their approach to food, Dimmer told me “Whether it was catering, the truck, or the restaurant, we knew that we wanted to make everything from scratch, that was going to be our goal. If we did sandwiches, we baked the bread and scratch made all of our sauces, dressings, and braised meats. We didn’t want to go the easy route of buying frozen stuff just reselling it. When we started, food trucks were so new in the city that people didn’t really know what to expect in terms of quality and preparation. It was important to us to let people know that even if we were doing fast food that it was going to be fresh, it was going to be quality, and it was going to be house made. It’s a philosophy that we’ve carried through all of our ventures.”
When discussing the evolution from truck to brick and mortar, the guys were candid that they had several opportunities to do it earlier but were glad they waited. “We’ve always been looking, always. A couple opportunities came up during the early days of the truck, and fortunately we said no to them. It’s always hard to say no to something like that, when it’s something that you’ve dreamt of for years, but we weren’t one hundred percent behind those ideas, so I’m glad we walked away from them.”
“I think we got to a point where we had hit a ceiling with the truck in terms of how much we could do. There wasn’t as much time for the truck to be out on the street making money, and with the boom in food trucks in Western New York, it was getting tougher to find viable spots to set up. We looked at several places that weren’t great, and it was always that constant internal dialogue you have when you’re not desperate, but you’re really ambitious of ‘can I can make this work?’. But ultimately it was our attorney who made us aware of the former Ellicott Paint storefront that had been sitting vacant for nearly ten years. We loved the neighborhood, but had no idea that so many bars and restaurants would be opening on this block around the same time we did – turning the Genesee gateway neighborhood into a growing dining destination.”
The menu at Marble + Rye changes regularly, reflecting not just the seasonal availability of ingredients, but also the creative drives of Dimmer. Standouts during my last few visits included pickled onion rings with green garlic aioli (as addictive a drinking snack as there ever was – pair with a beer or one of Willmott’s signature cocktails and you’ll be at the bar all night ordering plate after plate of them as me and my friends were), a salad of heirloom tomatoes and flowers with marigold vinaigrette, whole wood-fire roasted fish, an ever changing assortment of house-made pastas, beef tartare with local potato chips, and the M+R burger, a signature take on their standard house ground burger that changes regularly – on my first visit (just a few days after my wedding – that’s how excited me and my wife were to eat here!) it was accompanied by an incredibly deep and rich seaweed mayonnaise that was such a perfect complement to the rest of the burger that it almost seems common sense to throw some sea vegetables on my next batch of sliders. Dimmer is vocal about his desire to design a well-curated menu – one that goes through seasonal and timely changes but always offers something that is both familiar and new for diners. It’s an approach that lets them be reactive to their guests’ experiences and refine their bar and kitchen offerings on the fly.
Willmott concluded “I think places like Vera Pizzeria and the Blue Monk really started a movement here in Buffalo, establishing an eating and drinking scene that had already become the norm in other cities, but was new here. It started to give people an alternative to the factory bars and old white table cloth places and became about offering thoughtful plates with better ingredients, better drinks, and little pretension. It’s somewhere fun and reasonably priced where you can both get dinner and hang out for drinks after. We want to stay true to that approach and we’ve seen a huge shift in the clientele to one that is more adventurous and receptive to this new approach, and as those positive changes come it’s reflected well on the city as a whole.”
My latest editorial for Buffalo Spree Magazine had me creating portraits of designer Pamela Nichols at Buffalo SPACE – a creative and event venue attached to Buffalo’s historic Pierce Arrow Automobile Factory. You can take a look behind the scenes of this project below to see a little of what happens on set with me and my team.