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Why I don't work "on spec"

The world of photography changes every day with the advancement of technology and techniques, and the business surrounding the photography world changes almost as quickly. New and cheaper technology leads to more individuals owning "nice" cameras and equipment, and also it brings more "photographers" into the professional realm. Ever since photography was invented, photographers have taken photos with the hopes that they can sell their images in the future. Everyone from Ansel Adams to the high school kid on Facebook has put his photos out there for sale in hopes of landing a big paycheck some day. But in general, our firm has decided it's in our best interest to decline any invitations to work on spec, and here's why...

What is "On Spec?"

"On Spec" is shorthand for "on a speculative basis." Many trades work on spec, such as homebuilders. They build a nice home, usually in a new subdivision, and then place the home on the open real estate market when it's complete. A buyer comes along and purchases the home, and the builder gets paid.

In the world of photography, it usually works like this: a photographer goes to an event or location to take photos, and then offers the photos for sale on his/her website. Or, offers the photos for sale as prints from either a studio or a festival retail space. In either case, the photographer does not get paid initially, and hopes he can sell enough photos at a high enough price to justify his time and expenses involved with taking that photo or those photos.

Sometimes a photographer is invited to work on spec. For instance, for many high school and university graduation ceremonies, a photographer will be invited to be the "official" photographer of the event, snapping photos of graduates as they receive their diplomas. After taking a few hundred photos of the graduates, the photographer makes the images available for sale, and the sales he makes go towards covering his expenses and time.

Our History of Spec Work

Since starting my business in 2007, I have worked on spec many times. I have done graduations, sporting events, community events, dances, and other types of work where my compensation was based on how many images I could sell. For several years, I took photos at Schreiner University sporting events and donated images to the athletic department in exchange for a link on their website so that families/fans could buy images from me. This worked well for a couple of years.

I still get asked to work on spec for many events around town, both as a photographer and a videographer. Event organizers will call and say, hi, we have this event coming up, and we'd like you to be our photographer. But when we start discussing price, it becomes obvious that they want us to work on spec and try to sell merchandise, photos, DVDs, etc., to get paid. We kindly decline these offers now.

Why Do We Decline?

There are several reasons why we don't accept much spec work at this time. The main reason is that we simply cannot sell enough merchandise to justify the time and expense necessary to provide the service. Since photography and videography is my full-time profession, we have many expenses that the "weekend warrior" (who does only part-time photography in addition to their main job) may not incur, such as building lease, insurance, payroll, and much, much more.

These days, it seems that most folks are happy simply viewing the photos online, and do not wish to purchase a lasting copy for themselves. This is evident with certain events that we do shoot, such as rodeos. We will get many tens of thousands of image views on a gallery like that, but zero purchases. So in the digital world, people seem to be happy with simply viewing their images and sharing the gallery, but aren't interested in making purchases.

For other types of events such as sports, we find that there are many other "photographers" at the event that are willing to shoot photos and provide them for free online. Most local sporting events have this issue -- parents are on the sidelines taking photos and are sharing those photos for free, because they're a hobbyist and not a professional that needs to make revenue.

What Do We Do Instead?

We have several options for our potential clients to consider. If a client wants to hire us and pay us our standard rates, we are willing to do one the following to help them recoup their cost:

  • Assist with finding a sponsor that can pay for the photography service and get advertising/recognition at the event
  • Set up a system to split profits with the client based on our website sales of the merchandise
  • Set up a system to sell DVDs (if it's a video job) online through Amazon or other sellers and split the profits
  • Provide a license for the client to sell merchandise (for an additional licensing fee)

How To Proceed

If you are interested in hiring our firm but need to find a way to recoup the cost, please contact Aaron Yates at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to discuss your options. We value your business and appreciate your inquiry, and we look forward to helping make your event a success!

Talking Heads

Quite often, we're asked to film "talking heads" at a podium. This might be a guest speaker, a political forum, a student speech, or any number of things said from a podium by a human orator. While it's not always the most dynamic footage, recording these types of events is very important, and we have a very specific workflow and very specific requirements to make sure it's done right. Following this guide will ensure that your podium presentation will look and sound its best on film.

Preparation and Setup

We generally try to arrive on-site at least an hour early. Sometimes, if possible, we'll arrive even earlier than that and do our setup, and then leave or break for awhile until the event starts. There are several reasons we arrive so early:

  • Setting up takes some time. We might be setting up a riser for the camera, we will run cables and power, and we will set up audio. All of these things take a little bit of time to accomplish.
  • Testing. We want to make sure everything works right, and if it doesn't, we need time to troubleshoot and fix the problems.
  • Disturbances. We try our hardest to minimize the disturbance to your audience and your guests. Therefore we want all of the setting up to happen before they arrive, including carrying in all of our cases and equipment. Sometimes these things are set in a banquet room and the servers need to be doing their jobs, so we also want to stay out of their way.
  • Neatness. When we get there early, we're able to hide our cables and make the setup nice and neat.


Because the podium talk is centered around human speech, audio is extremely important. We need to be able to record your speaker very clearly. To get good, clean audio, we'll need to do one of two things: either tie in to the house sound system, or run our own wired or wireless microphones to the podium or to the speaker's person.

If we choose to tie in to the house audio system, we'll want someone from the venue on-hand when we do this. An audio engineer or event management are the best people to supervise this setup. We like for them to be there so that we can put them at ease and assure them that what we're doing will not interfere with their house PA system. If it's a complicated audio setup or if parts of it are locked away, it helps to have this person on-hand to give us advice and access.

Sometimes we may choose to use a wireless microphone on the speaker's lapel. If this is the desired workflow, we'll want to meet the speaker in advance and get him/her wired up. Also, right before the presentation, we'll need to turn on their transmitter and get a quick sound check.

Camera Position

Most venues are not set up for good video. The banquet hall is generally flat, and people getting up and down will sometimes block the camera's view. So we usually want to elevate the camera as much as possible. This can be accomplished by providing a vantage point that is higher than the majority of the audience, or we can provide a stage riser that elevates the camera position by as much as three feet. The camera riser will be anywhere from 4'x4' to 8'x8' depending on the event. Please design space for this riser at your event if it's needed.

The camera position should usually be in the back of the room, perpendicular to the direction of the podium. This provides a straight-on shot of the speaker. If the room is extremely large, we might ask for the camera position to be moved up to the center of the room for a better shot.

Be sure that nothing is blocking the camera's view of the important elements. Even things like table centerpieces are sometimes tall enough to block our shot.

Timing and Schedule

Be sure we know the full program of events, and be as specific as possible. We need to know duration, start time, end time, and all of the happenings on stage. We want to be as prepared as possible so that we don't miss anything important. We also need to plan for battery changes or "tape" changes if it's a long event.

Breaking Down

Once the event is over, we'll usually wait for your guests to start leaving, and then we'll break down. Keep in mind that if we have cable runs or other complicated/large equipment, we cannot really break down until the room is cleared enough for us to do so. The setup and breakdown time is included in your bill, so the sooner we can break down after the event, the better, but we certainly don't want to disturb your guests.


The key to a successful podium or stage presentation is in the preparation. We want to plan for visuals and audio well in advance of the event date. Contact us with any questions you may have, and please keep us abreast of any last minute changes in programming.

The Weird Thing About Wedding Dates

As we approach Thanksgiving, it's interesting to note that 39% of all wedding proposals happen between November and February. That means almost half of all engagements for next year's weddings will start taking place this month! It's important to keep in mind that a lot of folks start booking their vendors just days after becoming engaged. They're excited and ready to get the ball rolling! So we're already making bookings for our 2015 wedding season.

As of today, even before Thanksgiving, we already have SIX weddings booked for 2015!

Mark and Lacey Wedding Rings

Read more: The Weird Thing About Wedding Dates

Holiday Schedule 2014

Greetings, Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Good Kwanzaa to everyone. If you're doing business with us this holiday season, first off, thank you very much! If you need to reach us during the holidays, you should be aware of our planned closures. We are always available by email, but will be unavailable for certain times during the holidays so that we can take some much needed time off to be with our families.

Thanksgiving Break

We will close at 3 PM on Tuesday, November 25, and will re-open at 9 AM on Monday, December 1.

Christmas Break

We will close at 5 PM on Friday, December 19, and will re-open at 9 AM on Monday, January 5.

Again, if you need to reach us, we are almost always available by email. Happy holidays and happy new year to all!

Backups and Archiving

In today's digital world, so many of our important assets are stored digitally. For our business that creates digital multimedia as one of our primary services, digital storage and backup is a huge project and is extremely important to us. We have harped for years about storing your digital assets correctly to prevent disaster. Most of your personal multimedia is your family's precious memories, such as photographs, videos, documents, and more. We're going to talk today about how we store and backup our huge archives.

Read more: Backups and Archiving