The American Society of Media Photographers provides this forum to encourage the development of critical skills and to foster new ideas. Our goal is an informed and savvy professional photography community.

Why the Middle Class Matters

[by Jan Klier]

Cross-posting from LinkedIn.

Jan Klier Middle Class Photo

These days there is a lot of talk about the state of the middle class in the world. As a matter of fact, the middle class does not only matter politically, but also within the economic bounds of a specific industry, such as the photography industry.

Most photographers entering the industry, either self-taught or coming through art school, have dreams of one day shooting a big magazine cover or ad shoot, seeing their image used by a major corporation, displayed in a prominent place (if they are on the commercial track, rather than consumer track).

Just yesterday I happened to watch a documentary on the Vogue fashion directors and seeing some of the outstanding work that has been shot over the years reminded me why I fell in love with fashion photography.

As in any career track, there is a progression from entry level that is focused on establishing the baseline; followed by a steady advancement of bigger and and more complex jobs that refine style, production skills, resource network, and build a reputation and portfolio; followed years later by the peak of being well known for a particular type of work shooting said covers and ads.

Those years in between could be considered the ‘middle class’. Experienced photographers doing quality work, serving clients in the mid-market on sizable but not excessive budgets. Portfolios that have solid work in them, but aren’t nationally recognized yet.

Thinking about said fashion photographs in the documentary – they require access to talent in front on camera and on set, they require access to designer showrooms, they require production and prop budgets, locations, and studios. To build a portfolio of this kind, photographers either need to be hired for jobs with sizable budgets, or they need enough margin on their bill paying work and reputations that they can afford expensive personal projects. It is very hard in a distressed market. It becomes a rare luxury, not regular career building moment.

These days there is lots of debate about the state of the industry. Some say it’s in dire straits. Others see some warning signs but aren’t overly concerned yet. Where you stand seems to depend on two things: One is whether you are a half-empty or half-full kind of thinker. The other is what data points you rely on.

If you judge the health of the industry by whether people are still shooting covers for magazines or are there still big-budget ad shoots – yes, those still happen. I follow producers and see them posting about big shoots. And the magazines still have covers that result from photoshoots. I also know photographers who have been around for decades who have built solid client rosters and relationships who have pretty full shooting calendars. Some can walk down the grocery store aisles and see their portfolio in front of them on a myriad of packaging designs.

If you judge the health of the industry by the stories you hear from the average professional photographer, those who should be shooting the mid-market work that doesn’t show up on the news stand, but should be building their portfolio and paying their bills – this is where it looks a lot choppier out there. That’s where lots of the stories of cut throat budgets, do-it-for-exposure, and dearth of work originate.

And it makes sense. The agencies and editorial teams doing the top of the market work have probably seen their budgets shrink a tad, but they are well established in the way things used to be done. They have their go-to teams. They keep doing what they always did, give or take some adjustments because of the digital and social media world.

In the middle market a lot more turn-over happens, the overall economy is under tremendous pressure, and things aren’t as they always used to be. It’s the ‘do more with less’ segment. And it is full of marketing people in their own mid-career years who are trying to find their own way in changing times. Those are the folks hiring photographers who don’t necessarily know the old days and thus don’t know what they give up in impact if they insist on a cut-through budget or give the job to someone who isn’t fit for the job but willing to do it on a shoe string. Those are the folks that grew up with fashion bloggers and social media, who didn’t get paid until they had a big brand endorsement. So why should that photographer be paid?

Those trends are undermining the health of the photographic middle class. There aren’t enough jobs for those who are past art school and need to earn a living with photography rather than student type jobs; those who need bigger budgets so that the production values add to building their portfolio rather than just delivering an image; those who start specializing in a genre and style and can’t shoot endless events and weddings just to pay the bills.

Will it matter in the long run? Maybe not. There are enough established photographers at the top of their careers to keep servicing ad agencies and the remaining magazines for years to come. Eventually some will retire, but it won’t make too deep a dent in the ranks for a while.

The photographic middle class is the one that is being squeezed the most at the moment and the one that may be decimated. But by the time they would have reached the top of their career in 10 or 15 years, photography is likely to look so different we won’t be missing them much.

And so the photo industry mirrors much of the the current political and economic environment.

When you judge the health of the photo industry, we must not just look at the few examples of world-class work done at the top, we must also look at how the everyday professional fares, builds his reputation, and pays his bills.

Jan Klier is a New York based fashion photographer and director of photography. His work can be viewed at and

By admin | Posted: July 6th, 2016 | 1 comment

Advertiser Pledge Sets Example of Accountability in the Fight Against Piracy

With the recent establishment of our partnership with George Mason University’s Center for the Protection of Intellectual Property (CPIP), ASMP will begin to include cross-postings in Strictly Business about  political, economic, and social trends related to a broad range of infringement issues being addressed by CPIP and its contributors.

Cross-posted from the Mister Copyright blog.

It should come as no surprise that popular websites make money by hosting advertisements. Anyone surfing the web has undoubtedly been bombarded with ads when visiting certain sites, and for websites that offer free services or user experiences, advertisements are often the only way to generate revenue. Unfortunately, websites that promote and distribute pirated material also attract advertisers to help fund their illicit enterprises, and despite a recent push for awareness and response to these sites, legitimate advertisers, search engines, and domain name registrars continue to enable them to profit from flagrant copyright infringement.

A 2014 study by the Digital Citizens Alliance found that ad-sponsored content theft is a big and growing business. Even after a year that saw the shutdown of some of the most notorious file-sharing websites, an examination of 589 illicit websites found aggregate annual advertising revenues of $209 million. Premium brand advertising also rose from 89 observed brands in 2013 to 132 to in 2014.

The transition from downloading to streaming as the preferred method of consuming entertainment has led to content thieves taking advantage of higher advertising rates, as the cost of advertising during a video stream is far greater than a traditional display ad. Additionally, the Digital Citizens Alliance stresses that websites are easily able to ditch a domain name targeted by authorities and set up shop under a new one, contributing to the never-ending whack-a-mole nature of online piracy:

The content theft industry’s low barriers to entry and the ability of operators to switch domains quickly make it easy for new sites to fill the void left by those that do get shut down, and to evade enforcement.

The presence of recognizable brand advertisements on websites involved in illegal activity does damage far beyond lining the pockets of those distributing the unauthorized works. When users visit a website in search of music, a television show, or movie, and they see the creative work (or links to the work) displayed alongside professional, recognizable advertisements, the advertisements lend legitimacy to the website. This can be especially dangerous for younger or less-informed users who have no idea that downloading or streaming the creative works through one of these websites is copyright infringement that will ultimately harm creators and artists.

The confusion these ad placements create is similar to the misperceptions furthered by search engines and domain name registrars that have made little effort to preclude pirate websites from taking advantage of their services. Despite promises to remove them from their search results, Google continues to display links to pirate websites alongside legitimate links in its results, often displaying the illicit links at the very top of the search results.

Filmmaker and artists’ rights activist Ellen Seidler recently exposed Google’s unwillingness to remove links to websites that distribute unauthorized creative works when she ran a simple Google search for her film And Then Came Lola. As she relates, not only was the film’s official website nowhere to be found among the first page of results, the list was made up of many websites offering pirated versions of the film. Sadly, most people searching for Ellen’s movie would not be able to immediately distinguish between legitimate and illicit links and would likely be steered towards a pirate website.

Domain name registrars have also added to the confusion surrounding the legitimacy of certain infamous pirate sites by allowing them to play domain name musical chairs and evade prosecution. The Pirate Bay—one of the most notorious file-sharing websites—has operated using domain names from 14 different countries, jumping from domain to domain name to stay online in the face of prosecution. Copyright Alliance CEO Keith Kupferschmid warns against providing sanctuary to sites like The Pirate Bay, revealing that the website recently returned to its original .org domain run by the U.S.-based Public Interest Registry (PIR):

It is shocking that a domain name registry in the United States – one that is dedicated to “the public interest” – is allowing a blatantly illegal site to have a home on the .org domain. This is especially disturbing given that the operators of The Pirate Bay have been found guilty of criminal copyright infringement, The Pirate Bay domain names have been seized or suspended around the globe, and even its co-founder, Peter Sunde, has walked away from it.

Despite these alarming trends in the facilitation of pirate websites, there have been some recent initiatives to deter companies from doing business with illicit websites. One notable initiative is the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG). A joint effort by the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A’s), and the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), TAG was formed “to create transparency in the business relationships and transactions that undergird the digital ad industry, while continuing to enable innovation.” In 2015, TAG announced the launch of the Brand Integrity Program Against Piracy—an effort to help advertisers and advertising agencies keep their ads off websites that promote or distribute counterfeit goods or pirated content.

TAG’s mission has resonated with both advertisers and ISPs, demonstrated by a recent announcement that dozens of leading ad agencies, as well as Google and GoDaddy, have taken TAG’s Anti-Piracy Pledge. The Pledge includes a vow to curb the placement of digital advertising on websites associated with the unauthorized distribution of materials and lists the following actions that companies can take to ensure compliance:

(i) directly employing the services of validated Digital Advertising Assurance Providers;

(ii) directly employing advertising placement services that carry the TAG logo “Certified Against Piracy”; and/or

(iii) placing online advertisements through Advertising Agencies that do business exclusively with advertising placement services that carry the TAG logo “Certified Against Piracy

TAG created Digital Advertising Assurance Providers (DAAPs) as part of its Brand Integrity Program to help advertisers identify and weed out websites that do not meet their brand standards. The DAAPs are validated technology companies that the advertisers can employ to gauge the level of risk they are comfortable with and then eliminate websites and other properties that do not meet the advertisers’ standards for risk of infringement.

It’s difficult to measure how harmful advertising on illicit websites is to creators and copyright owners, but it’s not a stretch to presume that without ad revenue, many pirate sites would lose their incentive to operate. In her call to action to marketers, Hannibal executive producer Martha De Laurentiis lays out the destructive effect piracy has on the creative community:

It forces companies to either shrink their production budgets or commit to fewer, less risky projects. And ultimately, it harms audiences by limiting the types of stories that creatives can tell.

De Laurentiis explains that these pirate sites bring in millions in advertising dollars a year, and because they don’t pay for distribution rights for the creative works they steal, profit margins are estimated at around 90%. Potential profits of this scale are irresistible to those behind the pirate sites, but with a little vigilance and responsibility these incentives could be eliminated.

The co-chairs of the International Creativity and Theft-Prevention Caucus, Senator Orrin Hatch, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Congressman Bob Goodlatte, and Congressman Adam Schiff, recently praised TAG for its promotion of the Anti-Piracy Pledge, and it seems like the movement for more responsibility in digital advertising is gaining traction. But domain name registrars and search engine services need to follow the example set by advertisers and establish accountability and awareness in their sectors. Only when these services refuse to aid websites that distribute stolen copyrighted works will real progress be made in the fight against digital piracy.

Kevin Madigan is a Legal Fellow at the Center for the Protection of Intellectual Property (CPIP) at George Mason Law, working closely with CPIP scholars in their research and promotion of comprehensive intellectual property law and policy. In addition to being an attorney, Kevin is an artist and registered copyright owner. He blogs at

By admin | Posted: June 30th, 2016 | No comments
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Establishing A Unique Brand

[by Chris Winton-Stahle]

It’s often the case that finding yourself as an artist is difficult with all the distracting noise out there in the business. It is a difficult thing to look within, find that inner clarity, listen to that voice within and THEN build a strong brand-name around that vision. But, as artists, this is what we must do to succeed.

WintonStahleHorseFor me, developing my brand as a photographer has never been a lightbulb kind of moment, but more of an illuminated path I’ve followed towards finding myself.  I’ve always been inspired by Eckhart Tolle’s famous quote, “In seeing who we are not, the reality of who we are will emerge by itself”. Looking within and being honest with myself is what had to come first but I didn’t do it alone! It has taken several years of advice from a refined group of talented consultants, designers, colleagues, friends, and even family to help me to the point that I am now in my career.

There is a lot to say about this subject but here are 5 basic strategies that I have followed in creating the work that has been responsible for establishing this brand and getting it out into the world.

#1 Always Have Fun Don’t stop having fun!

If you’re not excited about what you’re doing, then who will be? Creating personal work, refining your style and how it fits into the marketplace is the first step to refining a brand. It should always be a fun process! I always set aside time each month to talk with my consultant or stock editor and decide on interesting concepts and discuss implementation. This has always kept my portfolio fresh and keeps me continuously working toward the goal of refining my particular brand.

#2: Collaborate with others who inspire you.

WintonStahleWomanLook at the industry on an international level and find the artists that are doing work that you relate to. Ask yourself questions like, “Why do I like their work?”, “Why have they been successful at creating this work?”, and “How can I use their work to inspire me to create my own original work?”. Reach out to these people and introduce yourself and ask questions. People throughout the advertising industry want to collaborate on conceptual projects that are good for their portfolio. Art directors often like to work on personal projects geared towards contests such as the Communication Arts Advertising Annual. This becomes great practice for real-world projects; it keeps the mind sharp and innovative. It’s a great opportunity to try out new team members or collaborate with other creative individuals in your community that you may want to work with.

#3: Practice, Experiment and be Bold!

This is a “go big or go home” kind of business. Through experimentation I’ve learned how to produce complex images both technically and conceptually that have, over time, become more cohesive and aligned with a particular brand of work I’ve envisioned. I’ve developed effective methods in my signature style that are not only faster, but require less production and are therefore cost-effective. The brand of work that I’ve created has not only been aesthetically unique but there has been a practical business model developed around it.

#4: Never stop evolving.

Push yourself outside of those comfortable boundaries. Don’t give in to a fear of failure with the work that represents your unique style. WintonStahleWallCreate personal work that gives you the liberty to create freely without the pressure of pleasing a client’s vision. Take advantage of that freedom! You may often find that the work you create through independent projects is some of the most interesting in your portfolio and well received by potential clients.

#5 Hire the Professionals.

If you’ve been in the business long enough then you’ve most likely heard the advice, ‘hire professionals to do the jobs you’re not great at’. After years of managing everything myself, I can vouch for how true this statement is. As small business owners, we often think we have to do everything ourselves but I’ve found that it’s important to align yourself in business with professionals that are the best at what they do including, but not limited to, designers, copywriters, web designers, and printing companies. Once you’ve established your particular brand of photography then it’s time to find a company that understands how to build a branding campaign around what you do as an artist and get on board with them! I have chosen to work with Agency Access for the last 3 years and they have handled all of my design, branding, and marketing needs. This has been a key ingredient for the evolution of my career and has allowed me to step out onto a larger stage.

Chris Winton-Stahle is an award-winning photographer and accomplished photo illustration artist who sees the camera as only half of his process in creating great imagery. Chris often pulls components from multiple images and CGI when creating his work for clients in advertising, magazines and entertainment.

By Chris Winton-Stahle | Posted: May 31st, 2016 | No comments

What Photographers Can Learn From Brands

[by Jan Klier]


Cross-post from LinkedIn.

On the heels of my recent post on a different way of thinking of pricing, this email newsletter by Don Giannatti, and a conversation in my braintrust group last night, made me think of a pertinent analogy to the headwinds photographers are facing: The change in power between the brand and consumer relationship.

In the post on pricing, I had written that photographers no longer have the leverage they used to have. And Don writes about pervasive lack of client focus in the debate about the changes in the photography industry. There are major precedents to this, and our industry could save themselves a lot of painful lessons by learning from those before us.

The Age of Transparency

The Internet is among many other things credited with one thing: Full transparency in all matters of life, chief among them in retail. In the pre-Internet days, information accessible to mass audiences was tightly controlled and was relatively slow. Most consumers’ only information about a product and its price was limited to what the brand and retailer offered. There was little independent information available, even less in real time. The brand and the retailer of course are not neutral. They have the agenda to sell you products at the highest price and margin possible, while still maintaining customer loyalty.

That all changed with and many other parts of the Internet. Suddenly, information was plentiful and real-time. And much of the information didn’t come from the brand and retailer, but other consumers that also bought the product and immediately shared their experiences, good or bad.

Pricing comparisons became trivial for consumers. Brands and retailers lost their leverage on pricing first. It started a race to the bottom. And retailers with lower operating costs, primarily e-commerce, quickly gained the upper hand. Along came concepts like showrooming and webrooming where consumers research a product in one place and then buy somewhere else.

Product reviews quickly forced brands to also be more honest about their product’s quality and features. In the past, brands could make a lot of claims about a product, or skimp on quality, and the risk of being called out was pretty low. The barriers to a consumer finding out prior to purchase or taking action were high, and reserved to the most severe misdeeds. Today, brands have to be super transparent and forthright or risk being called out by consumers at lightning speed.

In today’s world, the conversation between brands, retail, and the consumer has made a 180 degree turn in terms of who is in charge and who drives the conversation. Where brands used to drive the conversation in the past, today it is 100% a consumer dominated conversation. Brands are just along for the ride.

Apart from retail that can also be seen in the sea change of fashion runway shows which have changed from industry insider events, where magazines would find out what to tell the consumer they should expect to wear next season, to everything showing up on Instagram in real-time and NYFW transforming itself into a consumer showcase instead.

Back To Photography

So why does that matter to photographers?

As Don pointed out, much of the conversation among professional photographers primarily centers on the photographer. We seem to blame the client (whether B2C or B2B). We defend our status quo, we lament that photography is expensive to do, and that professionals ought to be paid premium fees and treated with respect.

Ask a long list of brands that have gone down that road. From Blockbuster to physical music stores selling LPs and CDs. Ask retailers like Circuit City and many others, or even just your average Mall Developer. Read the news on many fashion brands, such as most teen brands fighting for survival. The list of bankruptcies is never ending. All victims of change that tried to fight unsuccessfully. Failure to adapt.

So for photographers, that means – stop blaming the clients for what is changing. They ultimately don’t care in today’s market, they feel empowered, and they will ultimately win the argument. Photographers no longer have the upper hand in this conversation, we’re just along for the ride.

A perfect example is the recurring theme of clients pushing back on usage license fees. Today’s client is willing to pay, but he will not pay if he feels taken advantage off, if there is no transparency or logic in the price. Our usage license pricing is a dinosaur from the past. In most cases where we try to explain it, rarely does the client go ‘oh, that makes total sense’ and pulls out his proverbial checkbook. They just look at how much time you took to create those images and how much gear you needed to show up with. They don’t understand why the same task is worth so much more in some cases than others? Retailers lost that battle years ago. Photographers are losing it increasingly as well. So let’s not burn any more bridges.

Who has power right now: People with an audience they can bring to the table as an amplifier. See yesterday’s news coverage of Kylie Jenner buying a $6M home at 18 years of age, all earned on building a powerful audience.

Photography isn’t dead. But to survive, photographers need to invest in the power of the personal brand, whichever way that works for them. And they need to follow the lessons of retail and focus on customer service and full transparency.

Brands can still demand premium prices if they are perceived as providing a premium product. Elon Musk and Tesla is a great example. Create a product and deliver it in a way that the client is happy to pay a premium for, because it is more than just filling a need, it also fills an aspiration.

Above all, stop being a cocky and entitled professional photographer.

Disclaimer: In a prior career I worked for 5 years in corporate at I’ve lived the life of the retail revolution. I follow industry news on the topic with an interest of digital marketing and e-commerce, as well as my client’s industry; the fashion retailers, and in proxy the designers, are adapting to these realities.

Jan Klier is a New York based fashion photographer and director of photography. His work can be viewed at and

By admin | Posted: May 23rd, 2016 | No comments

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