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  • Gene Sizemore

A fool with a tool

Wow! I’ve been offline for a bit. This week my blog contribution is late and I’d like to share the reason why. Late one night, working on photos, I spilled wine all over my laptop. Ugh, what a night.

This entire episode has given me much to think about, and so I thought I would share this experience with you, along with what I think I did right, and what I did wrong. And so, this weeks blog is called “A fool with a tool is still a fool”

Just like any construction worker, or dentist, or wind turbine generator mechanic, Photographers have tools that make their trade possible. Sometimes we don’t think about our tools as tools, nor do we treat them with the level of care and protection than our professional colleagues. When you are just starting out its hard sometimes to know when to start thinking of what you do as a business, and sometimes we come to that realization the hard way. So I thought I would write about that this week.

Lets make a list

Obviously, if you are a photographer, your camera is your primary tool. If you are not already treating your camera like your entire craft depends on it, then you are probably not a serious “photographer”, or you have yet to suffer its destruction…which almost always happens in slow motion as you are screaming and leaping through the air to try to save it. This happened one day when my brother and I wanted to do a self-portrait after installing a garage door, little did we know the box I was using to hold the camera was sitting on the lip of the door…which I realize as we pressed the button for the first time smiling at the camera… as its thrown to the floor!

Trust me, if it can go wrong, it will. If you are running a business as a photographer it’s important protect against the unexpected, and this starts by understanding all the tools you use.

To do this (warning…rolling out my masters degree here), you need to think about the production of your images throughout their entire lifecycle. Moreover, the most business savvy photographers treat every tool as a capital investment. In other words these are tangible assets that you have spent money on with the intention of making more money through their use. It is therefore important to invest in them, and protect them. (Say’s the guy who just ruined his laptop with a spill)

For example, when you travel for a photoshoot, do you use notebooks, camera bags, maps, laptops, GPS, or in the case of my good friend Frank Ruggles, rappelling gear, sleeping bag, tent, and bear repellent? Well, this would be considered the first stage of any serious photoshoot. And any item that enables you to accomplish the work of this stage should be considered a tool of your trade.

Are you still making a list? Ok great! Now think about the actual process of taking the photographs, write down anything you use on photoshoots. Tripods, flash boxes, flashlights, reflectors, squeaky rubber duckies (you know…to make the kids laugh).

Then you move into post production right? Now you are getting into software, such as Adobe Lightroom, Photoshop, again your laptop of choice. These are your post production tools. Include anything you use to help in this process. During a recent move I blew the dust off an old tablet and pen that I really should be using more for my Photoshop work. It’s amazing what you find when you move. Don’t let those expensive toys collect dust. If you don’t use them, recoup that cost by selling it so that you don’t have “Capital Investment” laying around not producing revenue for you.

Once you have post-produced your images…what then. Do you upload them to a stock agency? Your website? Do you print them? My canvas printer is probably one of my biggest and most complex tools. It’s a four man lift, and each of the 12 ink cartridges cost about $100 to replace. So it’s very important to me that I regard this printer as a tool…and yet another capital investment. My websites, and the various vendors that I use can also be considers like tools, but more of a service rather than a capital investment.

You should now have a pretty good list of all the tools that you use to create your images. Now finalize your list by applying a value to each item on the list. In other words, how much did it cost? Is there a reoccurring cost of ownership, a cost of ownership? For example is there a maintenance fee? Once you have this done, you can total the list in order to get an idea of what it costs to own your tools, and maintain them. This is an important first step in determining your operating cost as a business owner.

A tool box full of tools, now what?

So now that we have our tools listed, now what? This is where I went wrong with my laptop. Over the years I’ve gotten lazy with my laptop, I treat it like its my iphone. I lug it around, flop it on my lap, eat dinner next to it, and yes… enjoy a top heavy glass of wine next too it. Not my brightest move.

Treat your tools as if your craft depends on them. Know what can damage them and keep those items away. Liquids, dust, vibration, heat, etc… all of those are potential hazards for any electronic tool.

But beyond that, your websites and subscription based tools. Do you know when the next payment is due? I pay about $600 per year for my full subscription to Adobe and the Creative Cloud. I know that this is due every May, and I put a portion of my photo profits aside every month to cover this. If you are running things like a business, you probably are already doing this. But as a new photographer just starting out, it can be quite a blow when your creative cloud subscription runs out and all the sudden you have to find the cash to upgrade. Better to budget for it ahead of time, and know where the money is coming from when the time is right.

Are you covered?

When I had to buy a new laptop my first call was to my insurance company. I learned a lot during that call. For example, all over my valuable personal property is covered except my personal computer…for that I would need to have the Personal Computer add on. Really? I’d like to know when they started that? And did they bother to let anyone know? It made me think that if I called about my automatic under water basket weaver…they would tell me I was covered for everything but that because I didn’t have an automatic under water basket “add on”!

Having said that, if you think you are covered…be sure you call and double check. I also learned that even if I had that new “add on” it would not have helped me in my case since I use my laptop to make money. For that, they have a separate professional policy, which of course comes at professional rates.

My point with this is to make sure you have a plan in case the unforeseeable happens, because it will always happen at the worst possible time. It’s great to have insurance. But to be safe, I recommend setting aside a small percentage of any profits you make for a fund to cover emergency expenses, just like you should have for your personal emergencies. If you have a fund like this building up over time, it can really take the edge off an unexpected doofus moment…

In summary, all the best equipment in the world and the most expensive tools can’t stand up to murphy’s law. And if you do something foolish, always remember that a fool with a tool is still a fool. So don’t do anything drink wine next to your computer. J

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