Advice from the Pros-Making it in the Arts Panel – Oct. 24, 2012

On Wednesday, October 24th, Amy Rogers of Self-Employment in the Arts, my colleague Jennifer Piehl, Motion Picture TV Professor, and I organized a panel discussion for our students and the community last week. This free event was put together for my Professional Practices in Photography classes, MPTV students, as well as other art students and community members.

Area photographers, videographers, editors and a graphic designer/web designer discussed what it takes to make a living as an artist in today’s economy.  This was a free event open to all area college students as well as members of the community.

©Terry Vitacco 2012

Panelists included:

Tom Maday – Photographer

Tom is a Chicago-based photographer whose editorial clients include ESPN, Newsweek, Forbes, and Chicago Magazine.  His commercial clients include CBOE, GE, Hewitt, Motorola, P&G, and Tellabs.  He is also co-author of “Great Chicago Stories” and “After the Fall.”

Lynn Anderson – Graphic Artist

Lynn is a graphic artist and owner of ColorDance Design.  The company specializes in web site design and development as well as identity creation, advertising, and marketing.

Jeffrey Ross – Commercial Photographer

He focuses on corporate and advertising projects for a variety of magazines, advertisements and the Internet.  He spent last summer traveling all over the United States documenting farm life and agricultural subjects for one of his clients.  He also spent 16 months documenting the end of the Space Shuttle era for the Smithsonian.

Kim d’Escoto and Kayla d’Escoto – Photographers

This mother/daughter portrait team is the artistic eye behind Kimberlee Kay Photography.  They provide studio and outdoor location photography for families, babies, children, and high school seniors.

Mike Thoroe – Editor

Mike is a Chicago-based editor whose clients include SPIKE TV and Comcast

TV. As an editor for GTTV (a video game television show) airing on SPIKE

TV and previously worked for MTV Networks. Mike is responsibilities include creating the overall feel for the packages edited for the show.

Chris Rud – Videographer

Chris works for Jimi Allen Productions in Aurora and provides wedding photography and commercial video.

© Terry Vitacco 2012

Following are some of the questions that were posed to the panel:



“I don’t know who would hire me. I like flexible time.

I am beholden to a series of bosses that have specific deadlines – designers, art

directors, etc. Customer service is very important, I have to be ready when they want me.”


“Being an entrepreneur allows me go with my creative flow.

If I was in a corporate environment I couldn’t be as creative.”


“I’m no good in a cubicle. I have to be my own business.

It seems to be the only way to be if I want to do what I want to do.”


“I was a stay at home mom. I have 6 kids. I home schooled my kids, so I

wanted to manage my own schedule. I book when I want to book.”

There is a sense of satisfaction that you built something from scratch.”


“I loved photography and started as a Junior in high school. I like to work independently and specialize in Senior photography.”


“I want to be the boss. I realize that I wanted to work for something I built. I wanted to control my schedule and end up spending more time on work than a 9 to 5 job.

I started by shooting training videos for a restaurant – how to make a calzone. I had to tell the story of calzone. It paid well. I was editing nine videos for them.  While editing them I knew I had no desire to do this again and started to look for stories to tell.

Jimi Allen is all about the new photojournalism. He wants us to ask ‘What are the new stories? What stories do corporations want to tell?’”


“I didn’t sign up to be freelance. I used to do construction and wanted something laid back and fun.  My first 2 months in Chicago I didn’t work.

Now I work at Comcast and I get work from LA. I don’t want to turn them down.

I check websites 3 to 6 times per day to look for work.

I’m up all night sometimes to make it work. It can be stressful, but it’s nice to know you can take a break when you want to. It’s fun and I like it.”



“I encourage you guys to establish exactly what you want to do. I love

shooting weddings. Every single time I shoot 14 hours. I try to find the story

of that couple. That makes doing it so much easier. I can’t edit it myself. Now I hire Kayla (D’Escoto) who “gets” the kind of story I want to tell.”


“You may not know what you want to do yet. Try a lot of things first to find out

what you love to do.  I love newborns and little kids. Pour energy and time into it. Find someone you admire and watch lots of videos. There are many blogs and resources to show you how professionals work. I believe in mentorship. If you have an opportunity to work with someone who is ahead of you, that’s great.”


“At first I was just trying to build my portfolio. The first thing I shot was a wedding.

But later I found I loved doing senior portraits.”


“I hate to do weddings. I realized early on I didn’t want to do weddings.

I like big projects with big companies and to work with art directors.”

Join a young professionals group. If you join a group with lots of lawyers you will be the only photographer. I once got a 25-day job from an early networking contact.

If you start by assisting – you will see how a photo business works.

I started assisting Tom Maday in 2004. Find out who is the best and intern or assist for them.”


“If you do something 50 times for 14 hours per day you will get good at it. Right now you have more time than you ever will later in life.

Get a mentor – they can change the arc or your career. Assisting another photographer made me understand how to do it and how I did not want to do it. Networking is the key to the whole thing. It’s best to have a network early on.”


“If I could go back in time I would work on student films. Networking is how you are going to get your work. Being an editor I should learn more to be more diverse. I do Final Cut, but now I wish I knew Avid and Premiere Pro. Now I’m catching up.

Mentoring is huge – everything I learned I had to learn on my own.

I would have gotten out and met people sooner if I could do it all over again.  Go to networking events in the industry. Go to where producers or directors are. Don’t go where your competition is. Do free things – it could lead to paid stuff later.

Do stuff for your portfolio.”


“In my 20’s I went to a college where we had to get an equal number of work hours and academic credits. It was natural for me to go to get real world training.

Early on I knew I wanted to do a non-profit work. I worked with other photographers and designers. It built my confidence.

Find a non-profit that has same mission and goals as yours and you will build your skills.

I work for Midwest Soaring Foundation.

Whenever I had a classroom project I tried to turn it into a real world assignment.

This (COD) is a wonderful school with lots of opportunities.”



(After being asked about the impressive NFL promos in the Motion section of his website:)

“ESPN worked with a photographer I knew who needed to recommend other photographers to shoot 4 different NFL teams.

This job came from a long-standing network connection.  I don’t shoot sports, but they know Icould shoot sports. It’s helpful to be a generalist to market yourself now.”


“Get to know people in your classes and stay in touch with them.

A fellow COD photo student, Cathy Brinkworth and I were talking one day.

She said ‘I’m working on a space shuttle thing. Do you want to help?’

I grew up in Florida where the Space Shuttle is and we worked together on the project for a couple of years. Kennedy Space Center just bought all our stuff.”

“People like working with whom they know. Starting out I wanted to be the one the

‘Players’ knew. Don’t just leech after them. Also volunteer – solve problems for people. That’s how they remember you and how the relationship starts. Keep yourself open to

opportunities that come up when you volunteer for charities. Most charities have a Board of Directors that may hire you for events.”

“Join Young Professionals organizations in Downers Grove and Naperville.

You can also join the Jaycees or the Chamber of Commerce. I was named small business of the year last year.”


“We get a lot of client referrals. Clients share our photos on Facebook and Pinterest.

Our clients do referrals for us. If you develop good client relationships your business will grow exponentially. Make sure you end every session on a great note. We develop great relationships. I have seven friendships that came from good sessions. Clients have a voice and will talk about you. That’s how we grow. Ninety percent of our work is from referrals.”


“We are always working on relationships.  With weddings it’s Facebook.

We also get referrals from advertising and marketing agencies.”



“It’s important to balance and guard your time. My wife and I take weekdays off.  Weekends don’t exist. When I ‘m not working I go on and learn new software that’s not in my comfort zone.

Students should use  Pros use it every day. It’s free for students with a COD Library Card. (

You can also go to to find jobs.

Be careful what ads you answer. You don’t want porno jobs. is $20 a year subscription for TV news jobs.”


“I reach out and go after clients. I make leave behinds. I did that with a local yoga studio.

I believe in ‘ask and you shall receive.’”



“I use the images I create for pro bono clients to market myself on my own website.

Work for a non-profit and market for them and yourself.

You should also tell everyone you know what you do. My hairdresser gave me a good referral a few days after I saw her.”



“We use electronic contracts from Simply Studio. All terms and conditions are on our contract – every detail.

It’s good if a client is afraid of your contract. We don’t do paper anymore. We get model releases from everyone. Our clients share our images on Facebook.”


“I work on a handshake. I do use paperwork – I send an estimate for the job.

If they say it looks great I do the job. I know the people I work with and have never had a problem.”



“Some clients crop out our copyright notice. You have to educate clients that you own copyrights to all your images. You work hard and try to promote your business. You don’t want people downloading your images. Register your copyright.

Go to the U.S. Copyright Office website.”


“You need to know when to give away images or when not to.

The State of Illinois wanted thumbnails of 30,000 of my images. I gave them lo-res thumbnails and they bought the rights to use many of those images.  I made $15,000 in stock sales. Protect your images.”


“If you do video or editing, make sure you sign contracts. If you send high-resolution review copies the client may steal it. I give them watermarked low-res videos until they pay. Now I burn in watermark and time code. Be careful on Vimeo.”



“Three to four years ago video was a mystery. Now there is a fusion of still and video. Lots of still photographers are dragged kicking and screaming into video. You should welcome collaborators. My brother does video and has helped me out a lot.

Many still photographers work alone. For video you need to work with a crew to make it all come together. We’ve had clients hire us to do both. Doing both at once is an additional challenge We use strobes for still and can’t do that for video.”


“Jimi Allen was a still photographer and is now rebranding.

Seven people work for him and four are video editors.

We shoot images and we are content creators. It doesn’t matter if it’s film or video.

Yesterday I did audio all day. I shot stills on Saturday. Learn a little bit of everything.”


“It’s just like the advent of digital. It’s tough to teach yourself enough video skills to get by. Kids from college can do it in 10 seconds with headphones on. Still photographers need to learn video. Hybrid is the way it’s going. You need to get into video for website creation.”

Jeffrey Ross has also written a piece about the Making it in the Arts Panel in his blog:


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