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The Value of Personal Work (Part 2)

[by Chris Winton-Stahle]

In November 2014 I wrote a post called “The Value of Personal Work”, which laid out my personal philosophy about creating fun, relevant images that appeal to a target audience and how I plan to grow as a commercial artist by creating the work I want to attract. This article is more in depth; specifically explaining my process with two recently created personal images.

Let’s state the obvious. Creating personal work should be fun. Doing work that keeps you passionate about photography is vital. That being said, the personal work you create must be relevant to your desired market or it must connect in some way with the people in a position to hire you.

Every November, my wife, Heidi, and I create an independently produced holiday card that we consider a marketing expense for our two companies and we send them out to our clients, colleagues and friends nationwide. We start with a fun concept and we find a way to produce it within the marketing budget we have dedicated to it. Sound familiar?

This becomes great practice for real-world projects, it keeps my mind sharp and innovative. Of course, it’s not just a holiday card! I treat it as an entire marketing campaign. Investing the money, thought and time into these cards consistently has made them the one promotional piece we do each year that people remember and want to talk with us about.

© Chris Winton-Stahle

© Chris Winton-Stahle

I begin this little holiday card campaign with social media teasers of the behind -the-scenes production of the image that will also appear on the back of the card with a clever little blurb of copy. We carefully hand write notes in the cards and send them out to a select mailing list of clients, colleagues, friends and family.

On Christmas day, I release the actual image through my social media network with hashtags and a link to a blog article about the production of the card with behind-the-scenes photos. This builds up a lot of hype and people have started to anticipate getting these cards long before we have them ready to go out. Our goal is always to create an epic image that will appeal to people in advertising but we also want it to be fun and genuine for our friends and family too. We like to share the light-hearted, fun side of our family business duo while demonstrating our ability to conceptualize, execute, and style an image.

© Chris Winton-Stahle

© Chris Winton-Stahle

Another example of a personally produced series of images I’m using almost exclusively for social media marketing has started this year with a project I’m calling “Thrown from a Plane”. My direction for this series is all about having fun and getting others involved with my shoots by collaborating on composite images that we photograph in studio of our clients or colleagues falling to the ground from a great height. Of course, this is all done on a chromakey and no one is actually falling from any height at all. In the end, everyone involved has a fun image to share on their social media or in their portfolio.

I started this series as an experiment with a composite image of myself falling to the ground with my trusty Canon in hand and a fedora flying off into the wind. When I released this onto my social media network it was an instant hit. I immediately had people writing me and wanting to do it!

© Chris Winton-Stahle

© Chris Winton-Stahle

My first scheduled production of “Thrown from a Plane” was with an actress I work with who completely loved the idea and thought it was hilarious. We collaborated on a concept together. She suggested her character and the wardrobe of a 1920’s movie star. We developed a silly narrative from there. This one became a great piece for my portfolio and website. Since I started this series at the beginning of the year I’ve already scheduled several other shoots like this with business colleagues and clients.

© Chris Winton-Stahle

© Chris Winton-Stahle

Personally produced images have always been an effective form of marketing for me because they usually have an element of humor, they’re conceptually interesting and they show my ability to develop a narrative concept, produce and style a shoot and handle the Photoshop® work involved in creating complex images like this. Most of all, these images are interesting to me because they create a sense of community with a wide variety of the people I work with. They get people involved with us in a casual, light-hearted way and it becomes about showing that we don’t take ourselves too seriously, we love what we do and we’re fun to work with!

Whether it’s through an epic family photo of ourselves dressed as 16th century royalty, with a leopard cub, a dove and a majestic landscape or an image of me getting tossed out of a plane with my camera in hand and no parachute, it causes our audience to stop for a moment, think about the image and hopefully smile. Speaking from experience, being a pleasant source of laughter or a smile will go a long way in building strong business relationships!

For me, creating personal work is always well worth the investment of time and money. I’m continuing to have a fun time with photography while striving to evolve my skills to create work that will be interesting to industry professionals. Personal projects have helped me to build relationships with my surrounding creative community and elevate my skills as an artist. The personal work that I create is some of the most interesting in my portfolio and if I can get my direct mail card pinned up at someone’s office or my website bookmarked in somebody’s “favorite photographers” folder, then I have succeeded twice.

Chris Winton-Stahle is an award-winning photographer and accomplished photo illustration artist who sees the camera as only half of his process in creating great imagery. Chris often pulls components from multiple images and CGI when creating his work for clients in advertising, magazines and entertainment.

By Chris Winton-Stahle | Posted: January 26th, 2015 | No comments

Personal Work

Our posts on Personal Work this past November proved so popular and it’s such an important part of developing a successful career today, that we’ve decided to dedicate another week to it.  This week, our contributors share more insights into the value of personal projects and the role personal work has played in their own careers. ~Judy Herrmann, editor

By webmaster | Posted: January 26th, 2015 | No comments
Get Connected

Lose the Addiction to Vanity Metrics

[by Blake Discher]

Studies continually show that small business owners largely limit their analysis of online data to so-called “vanity metrics” such as the number of Facebook friends or likes, or the number of Twitter followers they have garnered over time. This could be because analytics provided by Google are deemed by many to be difficult to implement or difficult to interpret. This is unfortunate because this data gathering tool provides meaningful information such as: a) the number of website visitors; b) the number of pages and total time their site was visited; and most importantly, c) conversion rates.

The problem with “likes” or “followers” or other such soft metrics is that they rarely can be directly attributed to customer conversions, or sales. Google Analytics provides incredibly useful information, but if it intimidates you, there is another great tool you can put to use immediately. The simple addition of a “Call to Action” on a website can become your internal analytical mechanism. We’ve all seen these on websites at one time or another. The company offers a useful, information-packed, free publication in exchange for your email address. What is it your potential customers need or want to learn more about your business or what you can do for them?

I’ve had a good amount of success offering a free whitepaper (a fancy name for an informational document!) titled, “Five Easy Steps to Take Now to Optimize Your Website” on my search engine optimization company website. It provides qualified leads and I can easily track which inquiries eventually become clients.

Los Angeles headshot photographer Vanie Poyey offers “Wardrobe Guidelines for Your Headshot Session” on her website’s homepage. Again, qualified leads and data that enables conversion analysis.

Determine what expert information your customers might benefit from, include a Call to Action on your homepage, set up an email auto-responder to fulfill the request, and hopefully those potential clients can be “converted” into paying clients!

Free SEO tips available at  Blake Discher is the founder of, a website search engine optimization company serving small businesses.

By Blake Discher | Posted: January 23rd, 2015 | No comments

Analytics – A Bunch of Useless Data!

[by Pascal Depuhl]

Real time online data

(No it’s not the NSA, it’s my Google analytics in real time)

It’s December 27th, 2014 and I got to admit that it’s a little freaky that I know there is a guy in Campbell, CA, just down the street from Cupertino, who starts watching my documentary “On Wings of Hope” at a little after 7pm EST. There are also seven more readers on my blog as I’m writing this. Four of them are on page two of my latest post “How to save $1000 bucks on baggage fees” and during the last minute, three more just started to reading the post.

The click in Campbell is made on a desktop computer this Saturday evening at 7:03 pm and 58 seconds. That’s less than 10 seconds ago and he or she found the link to my video in a comment I made on PPA’s website in the section they call the Loop. Three of the other users are on mobile devices, two are on a desktop and the rest are reading my blog on their tablets. One of those users is in Texas, the other in Gonzales, LA and the guy from Brazil won’t start reading the post for another 13 minutes.


A bunch of useless data

I’m sitting here in front of my Google analytics dashboard and am watching this data stream in real time (click on the image to see a quick GIF of that data streaming across my screen). The blue, little vertical bars on the right side of the screen march across toward the “60 seconds ago mark” in eerie precision. They’ve been slowly sliding by from right to left all evening. Out of the 594 views on the blog today, over 420 have read the baggage fee post, making it the best post since I started blogging 7 years ago. Tomorrow will turn out to be the best day in terms of page views on my blog. 864 to be exact from 347 visitors – but I don’t know that as I’m writing this. The green highlight under the Active Pages headline, means my guy in California just started viewing the film. Watching this is addicting, fascinating and in the case of my West Coast reader utterly useless.

The most useful information

However, the big picture is where this data get’s fascinating. I write a blog called …catching the light!, which focuses on photography, cinematography and marketing, pulling posts from the experiences I’ve made at work. My goal is to have the decision-makers who hire photography and video services read my blog and hire me, but my analytics tell me they are not. The data also suggests that it’s my fault and not theirs: I’m creating content for the wrong audience.

My 3 best blog posts of 2014

Do you want to guess what my 3 best blog posts of this year where? Was it the one about how to create killer video for your blog? Or maybe the one that explained how I put together effective teams for my jobs. No? Well then it’s got to be the one about my TEDx talk, I mean TED’s a pretty big deal right?

Nope. Wrong again. Actually those three posts are toward the bottom of the list of views. Here are the top three:

3 top blog posts of 2014

None of the three top posts have to do with photography, well they all do, but that’s not immediately apparent, and 2 of the 3 were posted in December of 2014. My #1 post is about Facebook, my #2 post about blogging and my #3 top post in 2014 is the one I published last night. The one the GIF is about. The one the guy in Gonzales is reading. The one about airline baggage fees. Really? That’s my the best I can do since 2001? Baggage fees? [Full disclosure, the baggage fee post blew past the Facebook post in two days and screamed past 2,000 views after not even two weeks. It's now my most read post.]

So what?

Big deal” you say “who cares, which post did well? Why should I care about a blogging anyway? I’m a photographer. People hire me to shoot, not to write.” But, where do those people find you? It’s no longer just the ad in Workbook. It’s not enough to mail the occasional piece to agencies. (My last post on Strictly business was about having a strong online brand, remember?)

More and more of my clients find me through search. And they read what I write on my blog, at Strictly Business and in social media, before they make a decision to hire me. Granted, I don’t think the art buyer at the big agency is among my readers, but – if I look at my analytics – that’s not because they’re not looking, it’s because I’m creating content for the wrong audience.

WP Stats Jan 6

Notice a trend on my blog this year? Anything peculiar happen in December? My monthly average views over the previous 9 months were averaging less than 500 views per month. December is an over 500% increase in traffic. Why did that happen? Analytics gives you the tools figure this out. To show you what works and what doesn’t. What was effective and what was not. They are objective measurements that we can use to improve how we look to our clients online and aren’t just a bunch of useless data.

How do you use your analytic tools?

Pascal Depuhl learned his SEO, Social Media and online branding through trial and error. Analytics help him discover errors quickly. Contact him on twitter @photosbydepuhl and tell him how you use analytics. Also check out the post on his blog about how analytics work: Analyze this – if a tree falls in the forrest and there is no one there to hear it …

By Pascal Depuhl | Posted: January 22nd, 2015 | 1 comment

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