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!

7 Website Design Considerations for Photographers in 2013

A new year, another chance to evaluate your marketing mothership.

What are some of the most important web design considerations for photographers?

I get asked this question in various forms because heck, imagine hiring a web designer and ending up with a website that sucks or has nothing to do with your big plans for the new year!

Here are 7 important website design considerations for 2013 to help you make the most of your marketing investment for the long term.

A new year, another chance to evaluate your marketing mothership.

What are some of the most important web design considerations for photographers?

I get asked this question in various forms because heck, imagine hiring a web designer and ending up with a website that sucks or has nothing to do with your big plans for the new year!

Here are 7 important website design considerations for 2013 to help you make the most of your marketing investment for the long term.

1. Focus on Mobile

Seriously. If your site isn’t at least responsive (mobile-friendly), ya better get on it.

Photo by Elmastudio
Photo by Elmastudio

It is and will be worth every penny to invest time and cash to get your awesome content to display beautifully on mobile devices.

I cannot tell you enough how important it is to have a mobile-friendly web site.

Why 2013 is the Year of Responsive Web Design” by Pete Cashmore

What does the term responsive web design mean?

A website that responds to the device that accesses it and delivers the appropriate output for it uses responsive design. Rather than designing multiple sites for different-sized devices, this approach designs one site but specifies how it should appear on varied devices.

Source: Standford University IT Terminology

Basically, your website would adjust to various screen sizes at “break points” so you don’t have to create a million different sites for a million different devices. The industry-standard practice for accomplishing this is to use “media queries”.

Believe me, it is way more cost effective than developing a native app. A responsive website is also better than a website template that merely serves another stripped down template to show your work on a smartphone or tablet.

Why? There’s more to mobile design than just getting content to show up.

A responsive site (properly coded and thought-out) will:

  • Be respectful of content
  • Be easy to navigate
  • Be respectful of context and offer the best experience
  • Display and maintain your brand
  • Maintain the beauty and seductive visual qualities of your website

Be sure to read

2. Edit to Your Brand & The Gigs You Want

You worked your ass off creating that image. You know, that image you just can’t bear to edit out of your portfolio.

Ask yourself: Are you attached to that image because of what it took to capture that image? Are you attached to that image because of who is in that image? Are you attached to that image because your mom loves it?

Go back to your criteria for what makes a kick ass photo. Show photographs that truly reflect your overall brand story and business goals.

Hire a picture editors like Mike or Jasmine. You know, objective awesome people who will give you honest and helpful feedback.

Now …

If you want travel assignments, show images that will help get you travel assignments. If you want sports assignments, show images that will appeal to clients who need sports and sports-related photography.

Makes sense, right?

So … what about editing images to themes or emotion rather than literal categories? Risky? Go ahead, take a risk.

But …

If you don’t know who you are or what you want to do or what you value (hello, your brand), editing is going to be tough.

3. Have a few case studies

I tell my students to have a few projects in their portfolio that present their thinking. 

What makes this gold?

Your clients get to know your thought process and view you as a problem solver and not just a technician.

Here’s a working format (below). Take what you want, leave the rest.

  • Name of Project
  • Name of client
  • The challenge
  • The solution
  • The results


You could also add publication date, credits, locations, etc. but remember to keep it short. If you want to add more detail, write a blog post and add a link at the bottom of the case study to that blog post.

Set yourself apart. Differentiate yourself from others by sharing how you think or how you approach an assignment, project, photo shoot.

Beauty and brains. Love!

4. Mind Your Page Load Times & More Pictures isn’t Better

Since 2010, Google has taken page load times as a factor when ranking web pages.

So, keep your portfolio images tight and targeted. Super duper quality trumps quantity any day.

I mean, people are busy!

Are there exceptions? Heck yeah.

Wedding photographers. Brides LOVE looking at images of other weddings. Give ‘em what they want but make sure you can live with what you show.

If you have a lot of images, look into getting an Amazon S3 account and using a CDN (Content Delivery Network) like CloudFront or MaxCDN to save some money, have a back-up of your website assets and deliver content faster.

Be sure to read:

5. Seduce Me with Your Copy, Too

Your work will not speak for itself.

There. I said it.

Photo by Pierre Metivier
Photo by Pierre Metivier

Work with a copywriter who understands content strategy, audience, branding to help you write some killer copy, a killer tagline, a killer about page, killer navigation labels, a killer 404 page.

Copy is part of an overall content (brand) strategy that extends beyond your website. If you’ve been copy averse, give copy a second chance. 

Your work kicks ass but so does the work of that other photographer.

What makes you different? Why should anyone hire you over them?

The people who hire you want to connect with a photographer who is a person, who has social proof, who clearly spells out what they offer.

Great copy paired with great photography can entice like no other. 

It’s important to have layered content, content that complements each other, elevates message to clearly communicate your brand and the benefits you offer your clients.

Your about page just isn’t enough.

6. Reduce the Clutter & Be Critical of Features

Present and package your portfolio without complexity and lots of doo-dads.

With every cool feature, ask yourself, why?

Why do you need that music? Why do you that animation? Why include all the social sharing buttons? Why use parallax?

With every piece of content, ask yourself, why? Does it really need to be there? Establish clear hierarchy and prioritize. 

Successful design is knowing when to strip away the excess to communicate clearly, effectively, purposefully.

Focus your message, get clear on your audience and you won’t need the extra accessories.

7. Have a Blog or a Tumblr page

Content, content, content.

If you still don’t buy into the blogging thang, all I can say is that dimension is so much more fascinating.

Share your personality. Share your interests. Share the way you think. Most of all, share content that helps people; that serves people.

With content you will reach your people and win fans and heck, Book Yourself Solid.

I mean hey, even Martin Parr has a blog (which honestly has poor interaction design — sorry Martin!)

A blog helps people connect with you. It’s a lot like those case studies I mentioned way up there. (I really am thrilled you are still reading 🙂

Bonus: Have more than just an online Portfolio

Sure the world has gone digital but if you’re like me you know paper can still be a magical experience.

Photo by Jonas' Design
Photo by Jonas’ Design

I once met a few student photographers who brought only their laptops or iPads to show me their work. They eagerly launched browsers to show their online portfolios.

What happened next?

They weren’t able to connect to the hotel’s wireless connection. Boy, did I feel for them

If you have the opportunity to meet with a client, a picture editor, gallery curator or other very important people in person, a print portfolio can make quite an impression sans internet.

Consider strategically editing your work so you offer a teaser of stupendous images online and more in a printed portfolio. It works in the reverse too!

Imagine your digital portfolio and your print portfolio working harmoniously to your advantage. Both can offer unique but complementary experiences, showcasing your secret sauce.

Check out these supreme photographers who use print and digital exceptionally well.

Got any other tips to pass along? Share them in the comments below!

You may want to check out an oldie but goodie, “9 Things to Consider When Planning Your Website

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.

My Photo Radio Interview About Web Design, Marketing, Book Design and Social Media

I was interviewed by fine art photographer and book artist Lauren Henkin last week for her awesome podcast Photo Radio.

I was interviewed by fine art photographer and book artist Lauren Henkin last week for her awesome podcast Photo Radio.

Listen here:

Be sure to visit Photo Radio for more great interviews with people such as photographer Matt Eich of LUCEO, Todd Tubutis, Executive Director of Blue Sky Gallery, Photography Curator for the Portland Art Museum, Julia Dolan.

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. 

Should You Separate Your Wedding Photography from Editorial?

I get this question quite often:

I’m not sure if I should separate my wedding photography from my editorial or commercial work. What do you think?

Well…it depends on your goals (personal and business).

It depends on your marketing.

I know, I know. You’ve heard it before and “It depends” isn’t really helpful. It’s frustrating to hear so how about some examples to help clarify?

The Passionate Photojournalist: When Weddings Are Your Fallback

Susie photojournalist has a serious passion for traveling around the country making pictures of every day people and their stories. She has this deep-rooted love for getting into people’s lives and loves to share their stories with the world. Susie has been successful in getting her photographs published in some major publications but the money some days just isn’t enough to allow her the luxury to only follow her passion. So, Susie shoots weddings to supplement her income.

Dear Susie, please keep your wedding work far away from your editorial.

Why? Because the people who would want to buy your wedding services are coming to you to buy wedding photography; not look at photos (stories) about people affected by polluted water or how meth has changed a small town. Put yourself in the bride’s shoes for a sec. If Brenda Bride is looking for a wedding photographer, comes to your website and sees images of something graphic or uncomfortable, chances are Brenda is going to leave your website and go check out another photographer; what she might consider a real wedding photographer.

The Lifestyle Photographer: Weddings Are Another Opportunity to Do Your Thing

Tom Traveler is an editorial photographer who specializes in lifestyle: travel, home, gardens, food, etc. He also takes on wedding photography to supplement income and…(this is the important part) he loves weddings. He approaches them like any other assignment and especially loves the creative freedom weddings allow. All of his work has a particular style. The light, color, composition all convey a consistent mood; a feeling.

Dear Tom, go ahead and weave your wedding images into your portfolio.

Why? Because your photographs have a particular style; a look that is consistent (and this can be achieved through editing!) you can mix it up! You can take the whole of all your images and edit so your portfolio is cinematic; more like music. It doesn’t matter whether the picture is a bowl of beautiful green apples, the holding of hands or of beaches in Brazil.

The challenge and the key is in how you market.

Obviously, this is a meaty topic. Next time I’ll offer some useful ideas and ways you might approach this for your own business.

In the meantime, do you have questions about how this might apply to you?