A funny thing happened on the way to publishing my book…
A pandemic. It sure has changed things for everybody. Everywhere in the world. No exceptions. And in business, most of us have made big adjustments to deal with new restrictions and regulations.
I don’t have a crystal ball so I had no idea that this was coming, but a book I already wrote and had in the publishing pipeline, launched mid April, in the middle of stay-at-home orders. So while just about everybody, in practically every industry, was thrown into video meetings, my book Great On Camera came out.
On top of that, I decided to do some tips and tricks videos so people could quickly learn some best practices for Zoom and Skype meetings. I posted those on Facebook and YouTube (with a little book promo at the end of course). Well, USA Today saw it and ran a feature story on me. That publicity got me even more publicity from radio and TV stations and the Washington Post.
Since this is Scott’s blog, and since most of his followers are photographers, I pulled some things together just for still shooters. And since video is exponentially more important today than ever before! Here are 7 important things you need to know.
Thing 1. You can/should easily master being GREAT on Skype and Zoom:
If nothing else, you need to realize that looking good, sounding good, and communicating well on live video meetings with clients and prospects is the 2020 version of professional business attire. Look better, more confident, and sound good, and you’ll get more clients and keep more customers. This isn’t a photographer thing. It’s an every business thing. And most people still look really bad on video meetings.
Thing 2. If you do headshots, locked-down video should be on your list:
As a photographer, you already have better gear than most people, and practically every recent DLSR and mirrorless camera can capture great looking video. I’m not going to push you toward indy filmmaking. But if headshots are any part of your business, you should learn how to capture video headshots so you can help your business clients.
Thing 3. You’re enough of an expert that you can help friends and clients be better on their own Zoom calls:
A lot of people could use your help to get them looking and sounding better on their business videos. You understand lighting. You understand camera position. You understand composition. You understand exposure. By just looking at the tips in the video about being better on Zoom meetings (linked above) I also did a quick tips video about webcam exposure and photographers will ‘get it’ right away.
Sure, most people have terrible, fully automatic webcams so you won’t be changing lenses or adjusting settings to get a better exposed image on camera. But by looking at someone’s environment, you can help them position their camera properly. Add lights in the right place. Help them simplify complicated backgrounds. Tell them that, just because they have a picturesque back yard and they’d love to have that as their video background, a camera pointed out to the back yard will make you look like a silhouette unless there’s a BUNCH of studio lighting on your face. Help them get a shirt that doesn’t make the overall image too dark or too bright and throw off the exposure for the face.
Thing 4. Simple commercial videos are easy for photographers:
Beyond video meetings between co-workers, small businesses will need to communicate with their customers and target market using videos. Now more than ever! This means they’ll be looking for pro video help. Consider adding simple video production to your mix. Even if you don’t want to edit, you can capture the video and turn it over to an editor.
Thing 5. Learn a little audio and you’re good to go:
When it comes to video, the only thing that’s really new to photographers is audio. An inexpensive wired lapel mic or a $200 wireless mic will capture great spoken audio. But just start with a 20’ wired mic and you’ll be going in the right direction.
Thing 6. Start by being on camera yourself, to create an ad and to get on-camera experience:
Photographers know that the lock-down slowed down business and with a little extra time on your hands, now’s the perfect time to create your own commercial. Jump on camera and record yourself talking about your business. You can spend 2 or 3 minutes talking to the camera and that will get you experience being on camera, so you can help your clients. Plus, it will get you a commercial for your own work.
Thing 7. Cut away from the talking head with stills or other footage that shows what’s being narrated:
And don’t worry that you need to be on camera, talking to the camera lens the whole time. You don’t. Just set up a simple scene, maybe in your studio, where you can talk to the camera and as soon as you start talking about your work and the kinds of shoots you do, keep the audio discussion going but cut away from the visual of you in the studio, and show image after image of your work. Think of it as a narrated video portfolio.
Bonus Thing. A (free) video critique:
Since you follow Scott, you know all about ‘Blind Critiques’ on The Grid. I love that stuff! Similarly I do paid video critiques where clients send me videos they’ve done and ask for advice on how to improve what they’re doing. Well, if you’ve read this far, and you have a video you’ve created, or you’re about to do a quick promo video, I’ll do a critique for free. Just go to my website (GreatOnCamera.com) and use the contact form and let me know you have a video and you read about my free offer here. I’ll tell you how to upload it to me and we’ll work out the other little details.
Of course there are a few strings attached. The video needs to be 3 minutes or less. It needs to be a business or promotional video with a spokesperson on camera (hopefully you). And I’m limiting this offer to the first 20 readers or until July 15, 2020.
Whatever you do for a living, and even if you don’t want to add video to your portfolio, I hope this helps you with meetings and your own on-camera presentations so you can be Great On Camera!
The Story of Working with Square (and how luck can play into landing your dream job)
Like all the best and very worst stories, this story begins with Twitter.
I opened my phone one morning to see that a few friends had tagged me in a long Twitter thread asking for photographer recommendations across the country by one of the creatives running socials at Square, the San Francisco-based tech company who manufacture and process credit cards though the little white credit card readers and iPad stands you see everywhere.
Given that this was such a broad ask and the list of photographers was so long already, I didn’t think much of it – I tweeted my website back, sent a thank you to my friends, and promptly forgot all about it. About a month later, I saw I had a direct message from the official Square Instagram account, asking if I was interested in taking on a project with them and if I could hop on a call in the next few days. Hello and yes!
Fast forward a few weeks, and I learned that Square had been creating a series highlighting small businesses across the country and partnering with local photographers in honor of commemorative months. I was so impressed by their dedication to storytelling for both small business and minority communities and I was instantly on board.
My dream work is when photography is combined with social issues and radical movements that I deeply care about, and that is truly what brings so much meaning and substance for me behind the camera. Our project was going to be profiling a woman owned small business to highlight Women’s History Month for March 2020, and it was so fun when Laura Lemon of Lemon Laine in East Nashville was chosen. See the full set here!
Something that isn’t talked about much in creative circles is how random it can be to land a job like this. Sometimes (honestly, often) it really comes down to luck in our industry – like being in the right place at the right time, knowing the right person, or having a friend of yours grab drinks with someone who works at x company, and they just so happen to mention that they have a new campaign where they want to hire a new photographer (enter you). Or the right designer seeing your name tagged somewhere in a shoot you did three years ago and never thought it’d see the light of day, but then you get an email about a new project with their studio because they liked the feel of the images. Or your name gets thrown out in a giant Twitter thread and somehow it sticks.
I always feel both a little bummed and relieved when people talk about luck influencing creative opportunities – it can be a partial breath of fresh air to feel like getting these big jobs is little out of my control, but also it can be incredibly frustrating to feel like all of your hard work alone isn’t getting you as far as you want it to. However, I’ve learned that there’s so much we can do to make sure both you and your work are ready for when those opportunities drop into your lap.
Three quick bullet points of advice —
- Keep showing up. As frustrating as it is that luck is a player in this game, you can make yourself as ready as possible when the right people find you. Trust that the work is good in the meantime! And continue to make it better – keep pushing, keep learning, keep developing your skill set in the meantime. And, make sure your online presence and website is ready for those people to find you — if your dream client were to land on your website today, would they see the kind of work they need in order to reach out to you? Keep going.
- Be a good hang. I stole this from my husband who always says this about the music industry, but you and your personality are just as (if not more sometimes) important as your work when a creative team is considering hiring you. Remember, if you get hired, you’re probably going to be hanging with these people on a set for hours at a time. Make sure they’re excited to be around you as a person as well as excited about your work.
- Invest in the people around you for the sake of the relationship. Are there photographers in your community that you’ve been following online for years but have never met? Reach out and connect beyond socials! Same goes for creative directors, photo producers, art buyers and more. Start with a simple email, and then see if they’re available to meet in person so you can hear more about what they do and how they do it. Not only will this absolutely lead to some great connections and maybe even a few stepping stones, but more than any of that, relationships are a meaningful life value that goes way beyond photography.
If something like this can happen to me, it can definitely happen to you. Over the last few years, I’ve found a lot of freedom in letting go of control (did I ever have it?) of trying to force my dream jobs to manifest. Instead I’m choosing to trust that if I keep showing up to the work wholeheartedly and investing into relationships in my community, these jobs will continue to show up too.
And sometimes it pays to have friends that are on Twitter more than you.