Celebrating 10 Years!

10 years ago, with a passion for photography, a strong work ethic and just the right amount of naiveté, I struck out as a professional photographer with the support of my wife. I haven’t had a real job since. There have been some major highs and major lows during the past decade, but as my 11th year in business begins I feel as if I’m finally on solid ground.

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Be Flexible . . . But Don't be a Pushover

Sometimes, it's really hard to turn down work. Especially when the work sounds interesting. But, there comes a time in every photographer's career where you are faced with a choice.

"Do I go against everything I believe in and sign this shitty contract to make a few bucks or do I politely decline and stick to my guns?"

I recently had the opportunity to politely decline what sounded like an interesting project because the contract was simply bad. The contract was a "work for hire" agreement which requires that I sign over any and all rights, including copyright ownership to the client. Some people will say work for hire is evil and should never ever be considered. I take a more optimistic approach in that each project is different. If I were approached by a client who required a work for hire agreement and understood exactly what it meant and how much it should be worth then I might negotiate a rate that compensates me for handing over my intellectual property. That's the core problem right there though. If I sign a work for hire agreement then I have no opportunity to make money from those images in the future. Technically speaking, I can't even use them in my portfolio. Shitty. If a client is actually willing to pay a fair price for that, then hell yeah I'll sign it, but I don't know that any company exists that is willing to pay a true work for hire cost.

Here's the thing though. They don't need this kind of agreement. They really don't. It's a contract that was crafted by the company lawyers, who in all fairness are just trying to do their job. In their legal minds they only see one side. The client's side. I get it, I really do. However, it locks creative professionals like myself into a contract that doesn't have any flexibility. If I can't negotiate a fair wage based on the end use of the images I create then how do I survive as an image creator?

The client of the agency that contacted me made it clear to the agency that the contract crafted by the company lawyers could not be altered in any way. No changes, nada. It was a really bad contract and I had no options for negotiating changes.

Despite that, I aired my grievances to the Art Director, who quite frankly is put in a tough situation every time she needs to hire creative services. I suggested changes to the language in the contract that would essentially give the client what they need without asking me to give up everything. She was extremely understanding of my position, but despite her best intentions the contract could not be changed. She seemed really nice and I did want to work with her, but we had no way to change the terms of the agreement.

I really feel for agency creatives that are forced to ask other creative professionals to sign these kinds of contracts. It must suck knowing that you are asking photographers to hand over their rights for a nominal fee, without having any alternatives.

The worst part about this whole ordeal is the fact that the next photographer in line probably signed that terrible contract without a second thought. It's a reality of my profession though and I intend to continue to negotiate each and every contract that comes into my inbox. I know for a fact that all parties involved can reach an agreement that is mutually beneficial and respectful to the rights of one another if everyone involved is willing to communicate and be flexible. So that's what I'll do. I'll remain flexible.



I Could Be Shooting Right Now. Instead, I'm Writing This.

Lifestyle Photographer Philadelphia, PA Ryan Smith Photography

I have had many, many times when jobs fall through for reasons that are outside of my control. There haven't been many times though when I've actively said no to a job and until last week, there had never been a time where I turned down a good paying job from a respectable agency because of ethical concerns.

That's right. I left money on the table because I didn't feel comfortable using my skill set to promote this particular client's product. It was an extremely difficult decision. August is traditionally a slow month for me so when work comes along, and it's paying reasonable rates, it's really hard to say no. In this case however, I just couldn't bring myself to work for this client. Without naming names (and please don't try to guess), I will say that this client promotes a particular product that I just don't fully support. I don't think it's good for people, the environment, our country or our future.

The reason I don't want to identify this client is because the people who work for their agency of record are good people whom I like and want to continue to work with. I don't want my ethical dilemma to reflect negatively on the agency's business. This is an important point because I greatly value relationships and as a freelancer and small business owner it's paramount that I maintain good working relationships.

The agency understood my position and even respected my decision. Which is pretty amazing when you think about it. There they were, offering me good money to shoot a job that countless other photographers would probably jump at. And here I am saying no to a job that didn't even require any negotiation. Here's the budget, here's the shot list, it's yours if you want it.

And, here's the kicker. The actual assignment sounded interesting to me. I think it would have been a lot of fun to shoot, but I just couldn't reconcile my feelings about how the images would be used. I thought long and hard about this assignment, but ultimately I had to turn it down. I like to think that I'm sticking to my ethical code and that I'm above selling out, but I wonder how the decision would have been different if the fee for the job could have been "life changing" for me and my family. Where do you draw the line and how do you balance supporting your family and maintaining a good conscience? There is a lot of gray area and only you can make the decision.

For now though, I feel good about not taking the job. Do I wish I was making money right now? Yes, but there are other jobs out there. Just to prove my point, literally within one hour of deciding to turn down this job I received an email from another agency asking me to bid on a much better job for a client that I can really pour all my energy into. Now just keep your fingers crossed that I win the bid.


Living a Low Tech Lifestyle in a High Tech World

The title of this post represents a conundrum that I have been grappling with. How do I as a professional photographer live out the low tech lifestyle I so desire while continuing to make a living doing what I love? As a professional who is required to stay up to date on the latest technology and become a master of them, is it even possible for me to live a low tech lifestyle? I don't really know, but I'm trying.

Do you ever get the feeling that you're spending way too much time online or plugged in to this device or that device? That your eyes are about ready to pop out of your head? That by constantly being connected to digital technology you are becoming depressed? You can't live without checking Facebook for more than a day can you? Go on, admit it. You are addicted to technology and the false sense of importance it brings to your life.

There, I said it. We are addicted to a false sense of importance. I know I may be pissing a lot of you off and I understand. I'm guilty of technology addiction and revel in the false sense of importance I get from it. Hell, even as I write this on my Macbook Pro I'm listening to Pandora on my Ipad while doing a hardware test and software reinstall on my Mac Pro Tower. The latter is making me increasingly unhappy and angry. Yet, I must do it right? I run all of my photo processing software off of my Mac Pro. It contains the archive hierarchy of the last 9 years of photographs and video. It contains my sales lists and contact database. It's the brain behind Ryan Smith Photography. Without it, I'm operating on less than 50%.

Wait. Less than 50%. I thought I was a photographer, not a computer tech. Well, as the industry would have it, we photographers must be masters of digital technology. Otherwise, the guy with the camera and infinite knowledge of algorithms and digital manipulation gets the job. I'm exaggerating a bit here, but not by much.

I should mention that I love technology. It fascinates me and excites me. Every day there are technological advances that make new things possible. I love discovering new uses for these technologies and learning the discoveries of others. There are exponentially increasing methods of capturing and sharing images. In fact, the ways seem limitless. There is no greater time in history to be an image maker. We have infinite options.

But . . .

What about the other aspects of life that make us happy? What about the relationships that enrich our lives? What about the real world experiences that contribute to our well being and understanding of the world around us? We can't live our lives in front of computer screens or attached to our cell phones and expect to truly live. What are you missing when your head is buried in your cell phone? What kinds of real interactions with friends are you missing when you're trolling through your Facebook news feed?

I say, let's wake the fuck up and live. Yeah, I might have to be plugged in throughout most of the week to do my job, but I don't have to be connected every minute of every day. I work efficiently. In fact, I pride myself on being efficient when I'm at my desk. I will get as much done and learn as much as possible about technology in the allotted time I have at my desk. The rest of the time is for me and my family.

I don't feel guilty for spending a few hours in my garden, experimenting with different growing techniques. I don't feel guilty for taking a 2 hour lunch break and going for a walk with my son and my dog. I don't feel guilty for leaving work early for happy hour with friends.

I do feel guilty when I spend too much time at my computer. I feel like I'm missing something important about life and that my time has not been well spent. Let's get back to actually living. I'll try if you try.

P.S. Please like this post on Facebook and Tweet to all your followers. And check out my website. Oh yeah, this is really cool too. And this. And this. And this . . .

Why I don't work for free

"With some exceptions, photography is not a highly remunerative profession. We have chosen this path in large part due to the passion we have for visual communication, visual art, and the subject matters in which we specialize.

The substantial increase in photographs available via the internet in recent years, coupled with reduced budgets of many photo buyers, means that our already meager incomes have come under additional strain.

Moreover, being a professional photographer involves significant monetary investment . . . So the bottom line is that although we certainly understand and can sympathise with budget constraints, from a practical point of view, we simply cannot afford to subsidize everyone who asks."

Continue reading HERE.

The above quote is by Tony Wu and is from an article posted on Photo Professionals Blog. I have reposted it on Playing Work under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Read the entire article HERE. It's well written and I couldn't agree with it more.




In Business for 5 Years!

Holy bankruptcy repellent Batman! Has it really been 5 years? Well . . . as of this Thursday, September 1st, we have reached the 5 year anniversary of our official business start date. For one, it's hard to believe that we've been in business for 5 years and, two, that means Larissa and I have been married for over 5 years. Where does the time go? I could go on a long philosophical rant about about the seemingly swift passage of time, but I'll spare you my musings. Instead, I would like to recap what we've done in those 5 years.

The 6 months preceding official start date

Larissa and I worked our butts off to finish planning a DIY wedding, got married and wrote a pretty impressive business plan. After tying the knot and celebrating with our friends and family we hunkered down and finished the business plan and began to shop it around. After a great honeymoon in Maine and numerous meetings with bank officials we secured a loan (with the help of some amazing family members), and officially began to produce Royalty Free stock for the Somos Collection, now owned by Corbis.

Year One

Producing royalty free stock for Somos. "Okay, we don't know what the hell we're doing, but we've been given this opportunity to contribute to this new, all hispanic stock collection so let's give it hell." And we did. We produced a total of 31 shoots from September of 2006 through July of 2007 and contributed 1,220 images to Somos. Certainly not the production capacity of full time studio, but not bad for 2 newly weds.

Year Two

Tired of producing stock with an ever dwindling profit margin, we decided to pack all of our belongings into a Uhaul and bid farewell to Austin, TX. In less than a month we made the decision and moved ourselves back to our roots in rural, Mercersburg, PA. Suddenly, we found ourselves needing to rework our entire business plan. "What the hell do we do now? I don't want to get a job. Do you want to get a job? NO! Okay, let's start marketing me as a commercial photographer." The first opportunity came by shooting institutional photography for Mercersburg Academy. We also ramped up our wedding and portrait brand with the goal of becoming the best in the area.

Year Three

Continued shooting institutional work by picking up additional education clients. I had the realization of, "Hey, I'm pretty damn good at this! I should start marketing to more schools." And so it went. Year three also brought the addition of some resort clients and all the while I continued to shoot portraits and weddings.

Year Four

"Wow, this recession really sucks. What happened to all our savings? I don't know. Let's hit the road for a month and live out of our car." Year Four brought us one of the greatest trips of our lives. We hit the road in search of Americana and drove 7,414 miles in 28 days. We revisited parts of the country we had lived in during our early 20's and explored some new areas too. We returned to Mercersburg with a renewed sense of spirit and motivation. I started shooting and experimenting with video.

"But . . . why isn't anyone hiring me right now? Oh yeah, we're still in a recession. Have faith, the next job is coming." And it did, always at just the right time.

Year Five

Work suddenly picks up, big time. We have the busiest fall of our lives and do more business than I ever anticipated. We're feeling pretty damn good about ourselves and our ability to adapt to a changing economy. I have solidified myself as an institutional photographer and am beginning to extend myself toward other markets. I shoot work for education, hospitals and an assortment of resorts, along with continuously picking up new clients. I finally get the opportunity to work with some ad agencies and design firms and feel that my style of photography is coming into its own.

During this same time, we invest in and successfully help launch another company called GlowArtworks. This new company is another way to diversify by providing curated fine art prints to interior designers working in the healthcare design industry. I am psyched about what we are doing with this company!

Along with all of this, we also made the decision to halt our wedding and portrait brand of photography. We realized that this facet of our business was becoming a bit of a distraction to the direction we really wanted to be heading in. As hard as it was to put this brand to rest, it has been a good decision for us.

Year Six . . . ?

I am hoping for year six to bring continued prosperity and new, creative and interesting projects. I am starting this year with a trip to Boston for some portfolio showings in an attempt to break into yet another photography market. I have high hopes for GlowArtworks and am excited to continue working on this project to make it better and better.

Photography is an adventure and you better have a strong stomach. It's never easy, but always rewarding. Surround yourself with loving, talented and hard working people. Larissa and I work hard and we trust each other to take care of what needs to be done each day. I can't imagine doing anything else and hope that I will be writing another short history of our business when we reach the 10 year mark.

Here's to 5 Years!


What I Learned This Year - Part 2

Here's my list: 1. Stepping out of your comfort zone is necessary to grow.

2. No matter how many times you tell a dog not to eat horse shit, it will continue to eat shit.

3. Smartphones are cool.

4. I am not invincible.

5. Talent is not enough.

6. A combination of talent, persistence, innovation and luck are necessary to survive as an entrepreneur.

7. Being diverse is good.

8. Pizza will never go out of style.

9. Experiment!

10. Question those in charge.

11. Share, collaborate, but stick to your guns.

12. Personal time will always be more important than work.

13. Life is short so enjoy every moment.

14. Being a photographer is terrifying, fun, exhilarating and the only thing I can imagine myself doing right now.

I shot a ton of photography and video this year and as I look back through the images of the past 12 months I can see ways that I have changed as a photographer. I have changed yet I feel that the creative thread that holds my photographs together is present throughout. I hope you can see it too.

This year was pretty tough for us, but we still managed to keep going and continued to find new business while serving current clients. We shot for educational institutions, healthcare organizations, resorts, magazines, design firms, architects, beer companies and bands. We shot weddings and portraits while simultaneously rebranding that side of our business (which is still in progress). We did all of this while shooting personal work and learning video production. We even started producing video for clients in the end of 2010 and I'm looking forward to many more video projects in 2011. It's been an interesting year full of ups and downs, but as we stand on the edge of 2011 I am excited and optimistic about the year ahead.

I hope all of you out there have a Happy and Healthy New Year!

What have you learned this year?

Favorite photos from 2010. Some of these are personal and some are for clients.

What I Learned This Year

I saw this post over at A Photo Editor and checked out the link to the Denver Egotist. They asked respected creative people in Colorado to say, illustrate, list, film, etc. what they learned this year. The responses are a great read and very insightful. Here is one of my favorite snippets from this article. I suggest you check out the whole article when you have a chance. I've been thinking of what I have learned this year and am planning to write a post about it along with a 2010 retrospective of the photographs I have taken this year. Stay tuned.

What I Learned This Year #8: Sean Leman, founder/director at Rehab in Denver #1: I am a moron. Not all the time, but more often than I would like to admit.

This year I learned how little I know. It has been humbling to discover my ignorance, my uninformed choices, and the unconscious assumptions that drive much of my thinking.

It’s beyond cliché to say that this industry is changing at a breakneck pace, but there’s a truth buried in that. Change and progress and uncertainty are gifts. They remind us that no matter how fucking smart we think we are, we’re really not.

I’ve learned a lot seeing what happens when I start from that place. When I’m open to the fact that there’s much to be learned. That my first answer is not necessarily the right answer. Let alone the best one.

Trust and Diffraction

Every once in a while I have the opportunity to create photographs without any creative limitations. It's a rare opportunity when a client gives you complete freedom to dictate the concept of a shoot without any strict parameters or guidelines. This is trust. Knowing that my clients trust me enough with their time and money to create photographs that represent them is humbling.

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to work with the band, Mightychondria. I first met the band members through Larissa's band, The Hello Strangers. After seeing them play numerous times and listening to their first album I had a pretty good grasp of their music and identity. They approached me in May about creating some photographs for their promotional materials and by June we were ready to shoot.

Larissa and I were driving to Philadelphia for a portfolio showing and in the 3 hour drive we came up with the idea to photograph the band underwater. Their music has a power to it and harnesses an ethereal quality. We wanted to emphasize the feeling of being gravity free while also nodding to the band members playful personalities. While in Philly we ended up spending the night with a few members of the band discussing music and art until 4 in the morning. They loved the underwater idea so upon our return to Mercersburg we began working out the logistics.

Shooting underwater is not without its technical challenges. For starters, underwater housings are expensive to buy. We decided to rent the underwater equipment we needed from I've rented from them before and am always satisfied with their ordering system, efficiency and price so they were the first place I went to.

The second technical challenge is that light acts dramatically different under water than it does above. Water diffracts light beams in various directions. In this case, the water and all its visible and invisible particles acts as an obstacle. Knowing this, we planned to shoot outside on a sunny day when the sun would be at its highest point in the sky. I wanted the most direct light possible so we planned for a start time of 11:30 AM. We had two backup plans in place in case one, it was cloudy and two, it was rainy or cold. We planned to use high powered strobes to act as the sun if necessary and we also found a suitable indoor location if the weather didn't work out for our scheduled day. Fortunately the weather was cooperative and we were able to use a mix of natural and strobe light at our outdoor location.

We were presented with numerous challenges on this shoot, but spent the time planning on how to deal with each unique challenge. Planning is key and the more questions you ask the better. I always try to imagine myself in the shooting environment and try to think of all the possible equipment scenarios and environmental factors that I may have to deal with on the shoot day. I make a mental list and then set out to understand the most efficient way to create the images in my mind. On the day of the shoot I want to have the technical details in place so I can focus all of my attention on direction and interaction with my subjects.

This shoot was highly successful and so far the feedback on the images has been great from Mightychondria's fans. All of us had so much fun working together that we have already started planning for the next concept.

How do you reward trust?

Don't let one person ruin your day

This morning I had an experience with a representative at a well known international shipping company that could potentially have ruined my day.  She was polite, courteous, but essentially clueless and of absolutely no help to me.  She was unable to meet my basic need of helping me understand where a package was and how I could retrieve it.  I should say, this is an important package that is very time sensitive.  I need to know where it is.

She assured me numerous times that she would put in a request for the local facility to call me.  I asked if this meant I could expect a call within the hour or within 2 days?  She had no idea.  I hung up the phone frustrated and angry.

I thought about this call for a while and wondered why the representative on the other end of the line wasn't able to help me.  After checking my tracking number again and seeing again that my package was supposed to be at a certain facility I couldn't help but assume the representative I spoke with just didn't want to put in the effort to help me.  So, I called again.

This time, I spoke with another woman who after listening to my story and getting my tracking number said, "Mr. Smith, can you please hold for a moment while I call the terminal?"

"SURE!" The previous woman wouldn't call even when I asked her to.  She said she could only put in a request, so hearing that my new representative was going to call was like finding out that Santa Claus was real.  Awesome!

After a short wait my new representative returned to the line to tell me my package was at the facility and I could pick it up today.  "Really, it's there and I can pick it up?  Thank you."

I haven't picked the package up yet this morning, but when I do I'm going to make sure that if one person can't help me I speak with someone else.  Some people are busy, some are having a bad day and some just don't want to help.  I have no idea of knowing why the first customer service representative I spoke with couldn't help me.  I can only speculate.  Maybe she was having a horrible morning and couldn't focus on doing her job.  My response to that is, if you can't show up and give 100% then maybe it's best not to show up at all.

The only person that should determine the outcome of your day is YOU.

Chace + Smith Photography Announces New Wedding and Portrait Website!

Our new wedding and custom portrait website is now live!  Treat Yourself at and browse Chace + Smith Photography's latest work.

Chace + Smith Photography and Ryan Smith Photography are now live as two unique sites.  Our wedding and custom portrait photography is now represented by the Chace + Smith Photography brand, while our commercial and editorial work now falls within the Ryan Smith Photography brand.  We are excited about this distinction as we feel it will allow us to define our work more fluidly to our clients, be they ad agencies or brides-to-be.

Each site (hosted by LiveBooks) has its own individual style and design.  The Chace + Smith Photography site highlights our work as a husband and wife team capturing the magic of life's greatest moments.  Likewise, the Ryan Smith Photography site allows Ryan's work as a talented photographer to shine through to commercial, advertising, and editorial clients.

We hope you enjoy browsing through our new and improved websites!