Building a History: The Next Five Year Business Plan for Photography

ImageProgress is never a simple path. Business is often about “the money”, but in photography it is also about relationships. Trust, connection, creation and reliability are values that must find their way into one’s work if you are going to build anything beyond a few tricks learned while snapping shots. My five year business plan has come to an end this month. I have reached so far beyond my actual goals. I have done catalogue work, done a book cover, a cd cover, done art reproduction, shot portraits, shot baby photos, and covered countless events. I have had photos that have now been seen by millions. My blog has over a hundred readers a day, and more than twenty Facebook friends use pictures that I have taken of them for their profile pictures [little vainglories]. I have paid off my camera gear, and this year I totalled $27,980 in invoices to clients. I own a full range of Hasselblad CFi lenses [50mm, 60mm, 80mm, 120mm, 150mm, 180mm and 250mm], a Leica M3, a Linhof 4×5 Color and the best of the Canon L series lenses. I own two Profoto d1 lights with a collection of modifiers.  I have built a travel portfolio of photographs from Morocco, Paris, Tokyo, Rome, New York, Vancouver, South Africa, Peru, California, Oregon, Germany and Spain. So the question has to be: so now what?ImageThe “now what? is what I have had to focus on for the past week. Between having three local companies attempt to acquire, without payment, images I had taken at various events, I realized that over the coming business term I would need to push harder to ensure that I was seen as a professional photographer versus “the guy with the camera who takes really great shots”. As good as my Canon camera was, it is now getting past its prime. I thought that I had found my solution: I was going to simply rent a CFV-39 back from Headshots Rentals in Toronto for my commercial work. Such an option would make it easy to use my classic Hasselblad lenses and my SWC 38mm seamlessly. Perhaps it would be awful for focusing, but I could work around that….until Headshots pulled the CFV-39 from their rental stable last week. I could buy the back for $10,000, but that would leave me with no upgrade path nor any major technological advances in the long term.

Other options? I could buy a new Canon 1DX for $7000, but that would not truly offer me any compelling advantages over my current set-up beyond another five years. I could buy into the Hasselblad H5D system through Headshots for $22,000, and use the V lenses via the CF adapter. I could also purchase a Phase One kit from Vistek for between $15,000 and $25,000 depending on what I decided worked best for my needs. I might focus all of my energies to shooting film despite its dwindling opportunities to develop and even procure rolls. I could remain in a status quo situation until my clients questioned the validity of the quality of my images in a retina-display world. None of these felt like reasonable options, and I have felt more than a little lost at a time when I have an energy to my work that I do not want to lose. I have had terrible experiences with Vistek over the years, so I would never invest in a system through them. Headshots feels like they are withdrawing from where I needed them to go [especially as Henry’s owns them and are moving more towards to consumer market]. Film…see my last blog entry; plus, if all other major pros abandoned it, then it probably is not the way to move forward in the long term. Enter B3K and S1 Group

ImageIronically, yesterday morning a colleague brought me a gift of her grandmother’s Yashica 4×4 camera in mint condition. The contrast between this beautiful machine that is useable if I find a source for 127 film and where I need to go was palpable. I need to accept that the latest and greatest might be the best place to start: a Phase One body and a Scheider Kreuznach lens. Recently, I attended a World Tour Event at S1 Group in Toronto. I did not attend to hang out with photographers or pixel peep on Eizo monitors, nor was I there to demonstrate my prowess shooting test photos with the model-for-hire; I went to get a sense of who Jim Anderson and Walter Borchenko were as people. The technology is useless if I cannot connect with the men who sell and support the product I want.

While other attendees asked questions to hear their own voices [and inflict their random Canon versus Nikon versus Phase One questions in reference to creating compelling art], I left the room to speak with Mr. Borchenko and hear what he had to say about the Phase One system, the DF+ body with IQ backs, and the Schneider Kreuznach leaf shutter lenses. I have to admit that I was impressed. I expected that the DF+ body would be similar to the Mamiya AFD camera I had owned and shot with in Japan. I expected the lenses to be of high quality, but of a similar build-quality to the Mamiya lenses I used. Nothing could have been further from reality; nothing could be more dangerous to my credit line. Image

After speaking with Walter for twenty minutes, he left me in the hands of Jim Anderson from S1 Group as I needed to know what I would need to do to rent Phase One kits from him over the next year. From the firm handshake to the impassioned conversation about the state of the photographic industry in Toronto, I knew that Jim would be a man I could work with in the long term. He made it clear that I would be best to get some type of photographic insurance to cover any potential loss or damage if I wanted to rent from S1. I had to agree, I was a nervous wreck putting $15,000 damage on my AMEX for the CFV-39 back; too many things could go wrong without any recourse despite my meticulous treatment of equipment.

Where am I? I see the forest and the trees. The Phase One felt like an extension of my body. The lenses from Schneider were equal to the build quality of my Hasselblad CFi lens collection. The people selling and renting the system spoke with integrity and experience. All that is left is for me to decide how much further I want to push my business into the professional arena, to decide how best to pay for such a large investment in a single production tool, and to decide whether to sell off other parts of my gear collection to move solely into Phase One or to keep it all together to allow me to continue to shoot a myriad of styles. My decisions will not be easy, but I am pretty certain that after a few Phase One rentals the vision for the road ahead will become more clear, perhaps as clear as the Phase One DF+ viewfinder and 80mm LS lens…if not now, when?

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