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Best of ASMP 2008

An inquiry received while packing for a trip left Carol Stevenson with the challenge of negotiating, printing and shipping exhibition-level, framed prints while marooned in the Australian outback. To negotiate terms and deliver a complex assignment for a client 11,000 miles away, Stevenson relied on her wits, a pre-paid phone card, John Harrington’s business book and the help of a local Australian photographer.

Carol Stevenson — Tiburon, CA

Web site:
Project: Delivery of complex client commission while traveling through the Australian outback.

© Carol Stevenson
All images in this article © Carol Stevenson.

ASMP: How long have you been in business?

CS: I set up my business a couple of years ago initially to showcase my work. I’ve been a serious amateur for most of my life.

ASMP: How long have you been an ASMP member?

CS: Since last year.

ASMP: What are your photographic specialties?

CS: People and places … color. At essence I’m a documentary photographer. I’m drawn to distinct landscapes, where I can capture the essence of a culture or community by shooting people in their environment. Recently I’ve explored more purely landscape photography.

© Carol Stevenson

ASMP: Please describe the processes and techniques central to the making of this work.

CS: The image was taken early in the morning. I was up before dawn to photograph the village bringing in the catch (which I was doing most mornings). I was shooting with film — Velvia for the color. The combination of the right light and the situation coming together was really what made the photograph. The light had to be exactly right to capture the detail in the background as well as spotlighting the foreground. And the entire family involved from the kids up to the grandparents. You can’t plan for those moments. It really is about patience and hours of shooting until the right shot at the right moment in time all comes together. What’s interesting to me is I know the moment I click the shutter when it’s the shot. But that’s nothing to do with process or technique!

© Carol Stevenson

ASMP: What do you consider your most valuable piece of equipment?

CS: My ability to frame the image! With digital, so many things are essentials! My Nikon cameras of course … in the field, the versatility of an 18-200mm lens, as I rarely have set-up time. Huge portable hard drives for storage and an overkill of flash cards, as I never know what I’m going to find around the next corner. When flying, the Pelican cases are invaluable as I check-in most of my equipment (but I always keep one body/lens in carry-on in case of loss).

ASMP: What is unique about your style/approach or what sets you and your work apart from other photographers?

CS: Images of unique people and places. Color again. I have to be entranced by what I see or my work shows indifference. I like to think I’m good at capturing the essence of the people and places I photograph.

© Carol Stevenson

ASMP: You describe this project as your first professional commission. What was your involvement in photography prior to that?

CS: I’ve had a camera at my side since I was a child. I lived and worked in Asia for many years giving me the luxury of photographing some amazing places. The travel directory was my first professional commission, but I’ve had several transactions where companies have drawn from my existing photographs.

ASMP: How did this client come to contact you about using one of your images? Where did they see your work?

CS: A referral from a UK client who used my images for their marketing programs. The client, JG Black Book of Travel, visited my Web site and were struck by my style. They had been searching for six months to find an image to encapsulate the humanitarian and environmental aspect of their company, and to use that for the cover of their 2009 hotel directory. The image was also to launch their non-profit foundation.

© Carol Stevenson

ASMP: How familiar were you with the land and people of Australia on the trip you describe? Are there any particular resources for navigating this country that you found to be especially helpful?

CS: Very familiar, as I visit often. Planning is key — it’s a vast country and, if you’re going off the beaten track, you need to be prepared. Get to know the locals for invaluable tips on hidden locations. I use Google Earth to scout my trip beforehand so I can identify potential places I want to shoot. Also make sure you have all the equipment you might need, as buying replacements is very expensive.

© Carol Stevenson

ASMP: What aspects of technology were most indispensable to you, given the fact that you were 11,000 miles away from the client? Were there any unexpected technological gadgets or elements that you found particularly inspiring or surprising?

CS: Yes, the pre-paid phone card is invaluable, it allowed me to call the US at little more than a domestic call. With technology today, as long as you have a PC, internet access and a GSM cell phone, you can be anywhere. When the client finalized their image choice, I was cut off by tropical storms which had shut the roads and airport; people were being airlifted out, yet I was emailing my client in New York from a remote town and booking the flights to get the slide to the studio for processing.

© Carol Stevenson

ASMP: How did you find the Australian photographer who came to your aid with his lab and framing studio?

CS: Ken Duncan is a well known Australian landscape photographer whose work I follow. I remembered an interview mentioning he had created his own lab and framing studio — primarily for his fine art prints — but also offered the services to other photographers. His studio produces some of the best quality prints and archival framing I’ve ever seen, which is very important to me in fine art photography. What was very special was the studio worked with me for many hours on short notice to get the optimal image scan and print. They all became immersed in getting the project produced — that’s dedication.

© Carol Stevenson

ASMP: You referred to John Harrington’s Best Business Practices book. Which part(s) of this book did you find to be most helpful in working out the details of your licensing agreement?

CS: Through the contract examples, I was able to pull together a licensing agreement for a pretty unique situation. We had to get a win-win on licensing that preserved my interests, but ensured the client’s long-term exclusivity for the image.

© Carol Stevenson

ASMP: Given the tight time frame and extreme circumstances you had to overcome to deliver this project, do you feel that you were adequately compensated with the licensing fee you negotiated?

CS: Yes, I think the intensive research I did by Internet helped me price the project well. But I had not factored in the traveling expenses as I accompanied the image from slide to final framing. I didn’t feel I could bill the client for these expenses as it wasn’t their fault I was thousands of miles away from them and a pro lab.

© Carol Stevenson

ASMP: With this first commission as your benchmark, would you do anything differently the next time you negotiate this kind of project?

CS: Not too much, as I had a great client and John’s book, but next time I’d push harder for an idea of the client’s budget from the outset. Pricing unusual exclusive licensing rights for a directory cover was challenging as it was so non-standard, and [there are] a lot of differing opinions on price ranges for exclusives from photographers out there. Also I probably would be more communicative on the challenges I was facing to deliver to them. But … then I’d go to these lengths to deliver to the client on time whether it was my first or 100th commission.

© Carol Stevenson

ASMP: Is there any aspect of your planning and delivery of this project that you might do differently if you were faced with the same situation now?

CS: Timing! The client had a deadline to unveil the image representing their 2009 foundation and directory. I had an almost impossible task of getting a slide to exhibition level framed prints 11,000 miles away in eight days. In hindsight I would have been a lot stronger in communicating the decision making deadlines — as it was there was absolutely no room for any delay.

© Carol Stevenson

ASMP: Did your experience with this commission lead you to make any changes to your business infrastructure? If so, please elaborate.

CS: Not really. The major change is with my new Web site where I can upload images within minutes (without relying on a web designer) so I can deliver pretty much any image for client viewing immediately from anywhere I am.

© Carol Stevenson

ASMP: Did this commission lead to other business contacts or potential marketing channels for your images?

CS: I’m hoping it will. As there is a long lead time on the directory production, we won’t see that until September 2008, so there hasn’t an opportunity for reference selling. But yes, I think as the high-end travel industry becomes more eco and environmentally concerned, more companies will look for unique images that communicate the human and environmental side of their destinations.

© Carol Stevenson

ASMP: Is there anything you did not have with you on your past trip to Australia that you would make sure to take along on your next trip?

CS: Yes, solar battery chargers, as I wanted to spend days out on a remote beach with no access to electricity. In the end I relied on multiple batteries but solar would be a much better answer.