Personal Branding & Marketing Course at Newhouse

It’s official: Craft Your Image is on.

For the spring semester (2015) I’ll continue to teach personal branding and marketing for photography graduate students in the Multimedia Photography & Design department at the Newhouse School, Syracuse University.

I’m thrilled to continue to teach.

Photo by Stefano Principato Photo by Stefano Principato

It’s official: Craft Your Image is on.

I wasn’t sure up until this point whether I would continue to teach “Craft Your Image”, a course I designed and launched in the spring of 2013, to photography graduate students at the Newhouse School, Syracuse University.

The course is designed to do just some of the following:

  • Help students feel more comfortable and confident entering the freelance world
  • Educate the basics of managing finances (personal and professional)
  • Create a website presence
  • Get more clarity of their brand
  • Zero in on their niche and specialized topics
  • Wrap their heads around social media tools and its value

There’s more!


I’ve only taught this course for two semesters now and I took the feedback from the first class to apply to the spring 2014 class.

So, last spring, a few undergraduate design majors joined us. I’m proud to share that at least one photographer/picture editor and designer collaboration has turned into a more long-term partnership. It’s an outcome that makes me giddy.

And, I also brought in more speakers and more lectures on contracts, pricing, legal matters.

Guest Speakers

I was also able to bring in a few professionals to help fill in with their expertise:

  • Seth Resnick, D-65 (Thank you Nikon, B&H. Seth also gave a talk on creativity to a larger crowd at night.)
  • Matt Slaby, LUCEO
  • Jen Lombardi, Kiwi Creative
  • Alexis Lambert, Office of Mayor Alvin Brown

Next year I hope to bring in more great talent into the classroom via Skype.


Not everyone in the class felt the class was a success or that I was good at teaching. It’s never easy to hear that someone doesn’t like you or the way you do things (I’ve shared the more negative review below, too) but I was pleased to learn that most were extremely satisfied and felt it was worth their time and money.

Below are what the students had to say.

On the beneficial aspects of the course:

“This course is crucial for any creative venturing into business. Unlike a typical business class, this class doesn’t just talk about business but guides you through the introspective process of determining at your core who you are, what your values are, where your passions lie, and then critically evaluating your business dreams to shape a plan to align your values and passions into a viable business plan.”

“I was able to learn skills and tools that will allow me to move forward in my branding and identity journey independently and from a more informed place.”

On whether the course made one think:

“It definitely has made me think, I never really realized all the work that goes into design and how hard it is. I have a whole new appreciation for design and designers.”

“This course has definitely made me think. It really helped me get a direction to reach for in the future… Ie what where I want to go, what I want to do. It helped me focus where I should be focusing. But it made me really think about how I want my brand to be perceived and how everything fits together to create an image and brand. It also made me think more with design amongst other things to make the brand the most effective it can be.”

On whether the course would be recommended:

“I would definitely recommend this course to a friend. This course covered such valuable material that I think any creative type should be required to take in Newhouse.”

“Yes, it gets you to research not only the photography industry, but who you yourself are as a person. It forces you to question what will make you happy and how to do it. It”

On my strengths as a teacher:

“She is passionate and knowledgeable about her field, She can work with designer/filmmakers/photographers interchangeably. She provide a framework and knowledge base for students to look for the path to a rewarding career. She facilitates open discussion and asks important questions.”

“Debs greatest strengths is that she knows her stuff and the business. She has real life experience. She is also super helpful, kind, supportive. Deb is a great teacher. She pushes you to do better work and improve your branding. She also gives feedback that is constructive and helpful. She teaches in a very clear way while showing us real life examples”

“The teacher’s greatest strengths are her clear, concise presentation style, her enthusiasm for the subject matter and her compassion for students.”

From what seems like the one person who didn’t like me, my teaching style or what I had to offer:

“The teaching style, the delivery can be overbearing at times. It can be a drawback.. Not to be as harsh. It’s honesty off-putting and makes us feel less wanting to be engaged, compared to other professors who make the learning environment more welcoming. I really would encourage her to be more welcoming in the classroom environment. If this could be improved, I would recommend this class without hesitation.”

Future Plans

  • Offer a similar course geared specifically for MPD (Multimedia Photography & Design) Design majors
  • An online course for professionals, recent grads or recent freelancers

Interested in any of my future plans? Please let me know in the comments so I can go to the powers that be and show them real interest! 

Marketing, Branding & Grant Proposals: Notes from the NPPA Northern Short Course 2013

Mike and I are just back from the NPPA Northern Short Course in Elizabeth, NJ. Major kudos go out to Michelle McLoughlin and team for organizing several days of excellent speakers.

Some of the talks I was able to attend included, Alan Spearman, Meredith
, Andrea Bruce, Tim Rasmussen and Jamie Rose. The work of course
was powerful and energizing. We left feeling warm and fuzzy, too.

My goal was to attend as many business-related talks as possible since I teach my students about design, branding, marketing and basic business practices for photographers and designers. So, for those of you who weren’t able to attend, below are some notes from talks about marketing, branding and grant proposals.

Wonderful Machine's Blog
Wonderful Machine’s Blog

Branding and Marketing with Bill Cramer

Bill Cramer is CEO of Wonderful Machine and his presentation was about branding and marketing. Here are a few takeaways from his talk:

  • Specialize: His example was that of a food photographer. Instead of food, why not focus on beverages?
  • Your work: Show the right work and gear your portfolio to what you want to do. What does your portfolio say about you? Show your personality.
  • Graphic identity: Create marketing materials that support your photography Presentation matters as well as your style.

For websites

  • Use for your primary domain
  • Present large images and use 30 images max
  • Keep your navigation labels simple (about, blog, contact) and keep your site easy to navigate. Your website should be intuitive.
  • Ditch the music, watermarks, splash pages and intros. Less is more.

(Hmmm … All of that sounds so familiar 🙂

  • Social media and blogs: Remember your audience and gear your topics to your clients.
  • Don’t get too personal or rant on personal politics.
  • Make it easy for people to find you: There are many clients who have never heard of you. Take advantage of directories, pay attention to SEO (search engine optimization).
  • Seek out your clients: Take charge of your career and think beyond just word of mouth. Focus on which clients are appropriate for you
  • Use direct mail: Print may be more expensive but it is worth it.

Wonderful Machine has some great resources on their How We Help Photographers page. Be sure to check it out.

And, be sure to read Portland, Oregon based photographer Lincoln Barbour’s answers to Brian Stevenson’s questions about Wonderful Machine.

Louie Palu's website
Louie Palu’s website

Grant Proposals with Louie Palu

I really enjoyed both of Louie’s talks. He’s a great example of a photographer savvy about business, brand recognition and the value of his work. It was pretty obvious that his confidence gives him the freedom to do work that is important to him and it seems, do it his way.

Here are some highlights about packaging a grant proposal:

  • When writing a grant proposal, include what is required. Highlight the criteria and make sure to get the basics into the proposal.
  • Show evidence of access. Include images that show you do have access; that you can do what you propose.
  • Be persistent in getting funding. Just because you aren’t awarded the first time doesn’t mean you can’t be in the future. Don’t give up on any project before you begin.
  • Include a budget estimate. How will you use the money? Be clear and transparent.
  • Do your research. Provide supporting and contextual information (maps, graphics, etc.) Strategically add supporting information in your captions. Bridge the connection between history, current events and data.
  • Publish and sell your story as a package. Don’t sell single images. You’ll minimize or lose the chances to get additional funding.
  • Create and manage your brand. People are watching you and making notes about you. First impressions matter. Your personality matters.

The big takeaway for me from both of his talks: Position yourself as an expert.

When people who are not photographers are talking about your work, you are getting somewhere.

— Louie Palu, Documentary Photographer at The NPPA NSC 2013

Below are links to interviews with Louie on writing grant proposals and his work:

Photoshelter's photography guides.
Photoshelter’s photography guides.

Marketing with Andrew Fingerman

Business as usual, results as usual.

— Andrew Fingerman, CEO, Photoshelter

I’m a big fan of Photoshelter
for many reasons but the big reason?
The people who make up the company.
So, when I learned Andrew would be speaking I made a point to catch his
talk about marketing.

Andrew’s take on marketing was fresh and so useful:

  • Focus
    on audience rather than clients.
    Your audience is larger than your
    target client pool. Your audience is anyone who wants to consume content
    and rich storytelling.
  • Create an ecosystem. Make it easy for your audience to connect the dots.
  • Specialize. Don’t be afraid to be hyper focused.
  • Partnerships. Develop relationships with like-minded organizations to maximize exposure.
  • Increase discovery. Where can you be discovered? (Flickr, 500px, Instagram, Facebook, Quora, Vimeo, etc.)
  • Brand advocates. Help your audience spread the word about you.
  • Maximize
    . Increase organic search results with a search-engine friendly
    website. Use keywords and tags where possible. Layer keywords in your
    headlines and blog posts. (Note: This is why blogs are so important and why using Photoshelter for your images is a step in the right direction)
  • Personality matters. It’s your brand. Be consistent and show who you are as a person.
  • Provide solutions. Cumulative efforts will pay off. Provide helpful, useful content. (This is typically referred to as “content marketing”.)

Marketing is keeping yourself on people’s radar.

Andrew also  some really solid case studies:

Washington, DC photographer Stephen Voss's website
Washington, DC photographer Stephen Voss’s website

I love the quote (below). It’s so accurate. You need some kind of greater motivation to light that fire in your belly to go make your next best picture.

Survival isn’t a reason to get out of bed.

— Andrew Fingerman, CEO, Photoshelter

Visit their Free Guides page to download a slew of helpful guides on the business of photography.

The Value of NPPA

The NPPA is making a concentrated effort to bring great content to the photography community. Their recent website redesign, this conference and many other changes are worth supporting. Don’t let the word “Newspaper” scare you off. Sign up for membership and show support for your fellow photographers.

“Newspaper” is being redefined. That, is exciting!

Craft Your Image: A New Year, A New Course

For approximately 14 weeks, I’m going to collaborate with my students to “Craft their Image”. Some of the major topics of discussion will include:

  • Creating a business road map
  • Identifying your people
  • Nesting in your perfect place and position
  • Keeping your eye on your cash
  • Taking the scary out of marketing

It’s been 11 months since my last post and admittedly that ridiculous in-my-head-you’re-so-lame self-defeating voice has kept me from writing.

But really, this first year teaching seriously whipped my ass.

It’s been a scary, intimidating, anxiety-filled, stress-inducing, exhausting year and it has been a thrilling, satisfying and incredibly enlightening year.

And so with the new year begins year two. But, this isn’t any new year of teaching. This new year starts with a new course I’ve designed (experimental at this point) called, “Craft Your Image”.

Photo by superdeluxesam
Photo by superdeluxesam

The Course Creatives Need and Never Got in School

Once I started marketing this course this year’s photography graduate students signed up immediately and several undergraduate students were on the waiting list.

I was thrilled.

So for approximately 14 weeks, I’m going to collaborate with my students to “Craft their Image”. Some of the major topics of discussion will include:

  • Creating a business road map
  • Identifying your people
  • Nesting in your perfect place and position
  • Keeping your eye on your cash
  • Taking the scary out of marketing

Some of the nitty gritty must-cover topics:

  • Copyright
  • Contracts
  • Pricing

Why a Business Course?

I get it. I’ve been there. I’m still there but in a different way. (I may not be running my business full-time but you can’t take the mindset of entrepreneurship out of me.)

The idea came from experiences with my clients and from talking with so many creative people: beginners, seasoned professionals, photographers, designers, consultants, etc.

In my first semester I gave two three-hour overview workshops about preparing a portfolio, the importance of personal branding, marketing and more. It was geared for students about to graduate. The students share many feelings professionals have: fear, uncertainty on next steps and how to take action.

My goal was and is to distill the information and present it in a non-threatening, accessible way ripe with no bs, a few curse words and admitting to not having all the answers.

Visual Communication Programs Need to Get with the Program 

Visual communication programs need to step up to the plate and design a curriculum that includes a course that covers the basics of business. The classic, generic business-school course won’t do. It must be a business course tailored to creatives by a creative.

Visual communication professors have a responsibility to prepare students to find work in whatever form that may be: a full-time employee or as a “solopreneur”.

For aspiring photographers this is not optional.

We do a great job teaching students concepts and the latest and greatest software; however, most schools fail at prepping students with the tools, the fundamentals of running a business, the mind shift it takes to think like a business, an entrepreneur.

Newhouse has been cultivating the entrepreneurial mind in students for quite awhile. I’d  like to think we are setting the pace.

Visual communication students are eager to learn and to be successful. We need to get beyond politics and red-tape. You know, get creative and make it happen.

Don’t Trash the Wedding Photographer

Awhile ago I met with a newspaper photographer who confessed that her colleagues give her a hard time about shooting weddings.

I’ve heard this before. Apparently wedding photographers aren’t real photographers.

Really? Seriously? That sounds so 1989. Clue me in because I don’t get it.

The last couple of years have been rough for all of us. Many of our friends have lost jobs; others we know worry because the phones aren’t ringing like before.

Making ends meet while dealing with all the stuff life throws at us isn’t easy.

Photography is a tough, competitive business no matter what niche. Why is any type of photography superior to any other?

Is vanity stopping you from making money, forming new relationships or worse, from following your own heart, your own gut?

I mean, I know these wedding photographers deserve respect. And so does this wedding photographer.

We do what we need to do to support ourselves and our loved ones while fulfilling our dreams; following our passions. We shouldn’t have to defend wedding or any other photography to people’s poo-pooing.

Different Strokes for Different Folks

Some people choose wedding photography because they love it; they enjoy the whole idea of weddings and they get to make money doing what they love.

Some people choose wedding photography to help fuel their true passion and/or help pay the bills.

Whatever the reason, all are valid.

Every choice we make leads to something else. Who knows where it will lead, and that’s what makes following your own path exciting.

Just don’t trash the wedding photographer. 

Garcia Had It Right

I love Penelope Garcia.

If you’re a Criminal Minds fan, you know her. If you have no clue who she is, Garcia is sensitive. She’s caring. She’s whip smart and kicks ass when it comes to hacking into computers.

She will find your secrets.

She is also the girl you know that sticks out in a sea of suits.

Her hair changes color every few months or every year. She wears feathers or flowers, color combinations you might not dream of putting together and she knows how to wear it with sass and class.

Photo of Kirsten Vangsness

Photo Credit:

Don’t Kid Yourself, Clothing is Important. Metaphorical and Otherwise.

(Hello! I’m a designer!)

In a recent episode, Garcia decided to step up and fill someone else’s shoes. In order to fill the shoes, she thought she needed to tone down her personality and opted for a more demure appearance.

She didn’t wear her shoes.

She was trying really hard not to be herself.

It’s no surprise she became frustrated. She was stretched too thin and balls starting dropping.

Luckily, her BFF had a wee chat with her and she got her mojo back!

She stopped trying to be someone else. She tapped into her strengths and used her unconventional style to help stop the psycho killer. (It’s a tv show – yay!)

We can try to be someone else.

We can try to wear different clothes.

We can try to use a different voice.

Or, we can use what we have; be who we are and do things our way.

Be your true self. Recognize your limitations. Tap your strengths.

Not everyone will love you, but your fans will. And you’ll do a better job, because it will be YOU doing your job. 

Geekfest 2010 Presentation on Branding and Marketing for Photographers

I think I’ve recovered from an amazing time at Geekfest 2010 and wanted to embed the presentation here in case anyone was interested and missed it. I was totally not crazy about the idea of being recorded and I’m over it now.

Honestly, I was nervous as hell. Having been a super shy kid who would hide as quick as possible if anyone uttered a word to me, the thought of speaking in public has never felt natural for me.

Speaking at Geekfest was stepping out of my comfort zone and having been my first presentation to a group, I’m proud to say, I did it! 

It really was an honor to be asked to speak at Geekfest (Thanks Melissa!) and I encourage anyone who is thinking about attending next time to just do it. The work is inspiring and the photographers are such a blast to be around.

[ Tip: If you are prone to tears, like I am, bring tissues! The stories are powerful. ]

And here are the sources and/or the photographers I mention in this presentation:

The Tale of Two Realtors

We decided to sell our house in January of this year. I knew the economy wasn’t great. I knew the housing market was and has been in a state of chaos. You would have to be a mole who never comes out to not know.

As two self-employed people, watching cash flow is a huge priority. We knew selling would be challenging and until you go through the process in this environment, you really have no idea. A few sobering price adjustments and low and behold, it sold! (I’m eternally grateful to the universe.)

Our next step: Buy a house. With interest rates at an all-time low and house prices in general falling, conditions seemed ripe. Surely we could find a house and get a deal!

(This is where fellow self-employed peeps shake their heads because they already know what I’m going to say.)

The Lending Hurdle

What I didn’t anticipate was how hard it would be to get a loan. I’ll save the details for another post and because of this hurdle, I started to research other cities that seemed “more affordable”.

I was convinced we would relocate to Austin, Texas; position ourselves in a more stable local economy (Portland isn’t so great) and buy a house that didn’t need tens of thousands of dollars or additional work; maybe purchase a house for cash!

Time was short so I took action to find a realtor to get some information and expertise. I had no recommendations so I began my research online.

The Test: One Email

I found two realtors I liked from my experience of them on their websites. It was a shot in the dark and I was feeling desperate at the time. (I don’t recommend making decisions in a desperate state of mind.)

I wrote the same email to both realtors in great detail. I figured I might as well give them the details because it’ll come out sooner or later. Plus, I had to know if my thought process was even realistic.

Realtor No. 1

She had a classy, polished and very professional website. It was clean and approachable; slightly on the conservative side. Her association with a national company seemed to lend to her credibility. She had a ton of testimonials and those are what compelled me to choose her.

Realtor No. 2

She had a bit more personality and this very cool hummingbird that flew around the site. (I’m a sucker for hummingbirds.) The site was clean and was fun; playful. She also had some great testimonials.

Night and Day Responses

Within a day I received an email response from both realtors.

Realtor No. 1 was as cold as a fish. In a nutshell told me I wasn’t worth her time (read: your budget is way too low for me to bother). She even went so far as to tell me “not bother” and “It would be a complete waste of time”.

Realtor No. 2 was as warm as sunshine. She wrote me this lengthy, solutions-oriented email that made me feel like wow, this person can help us. She was optimistic and realistic. She explained the challenges and what to expect with our budget.

Service and The Circle

Naturally, I was taken aback by Realtor No. 1. It’s like that feeling Julia Roberts’s character (in Pretty Woman) must have had when she walked into that store on Rodeo Drive and the women basically told her just by appearance that the store “couldn’t possibly have anything” for her.

I kept my cool with Realtor No.1. (I really wanted to reach through the email and slap her) and simply wrote her back saying, “Thank you and I’ll get in touch with another realtor.”

Realtor No. 2 and I hit it off as if we had known each other for years. Even though we never met in person because we decided to stay in Oregon, I wrote her a testimonial for the service she gave us during this crazy time. When you are thinking of buying a house in a city you aren’t familiar with, the level of anxiety is even greater. She held our hand from afar, providing a great deal of emotional support.

You can take a wild guess who I would recommend in a heartbeat to anyone I cared about.