Taking Risks

This blog entry first appeared on the journal page at www.photographybymatthewjames.com

Why photographers need to stick their necks out once in a while

If you’ve read the blog post immediately before this one then you might be aware of my new Periscope Series, The Busy Photographer. No? Well, to those of you who have no idea what I’m on about I’ll keep it short and simple.

Periscope is the place to be if you’re looking for live video content from around the world. It’s owned by Twitter and has exploded on to the scene since its launch last year. I’ve been playing with the idea of how to use it for quite some time, now, and recently I chose to start recording videos about the things we photographers should be doing when we’re not taking photos. Which is pretty much 90 per cent of the time.

The Busy Photographer is the result, and yesterday saw Episode 3 – Taking Risks. In it I discuss the risks we take on a daily basis (you can watch it here https://www.periscope.tv/w/1ynJOmdagDXKR) and one of the things I discussed was the 2016 Copenhagen Marathon Photo Book project, which I’m currently working on.

So in today’s journal I thought I’d expand a little and explain the problems last year and how I (hopefully) have overcome them this year. So let’s begin

Copenhagen Marathon Photobook

The idea for a photo book came to me a bit too late in 2015, and by the time I had pitched the idea to race organisers Sparta, there was only a few months left until the event itself. There were mixed thoughts on the idea after my initial presentation: the main concern being that Danes are too tight to spend any money on it (the words of a Danish man, not me). Which lead me to believe that maybe foreigners running the race might benefit from it more.

I wrote to several companies asking for sponsorship or to become an official partner, and it was a local sports shop who came to the rescue. I was so pleased they were on board, especially as they had agreed to share the costs in exchange for a share in the profits.

I worked round the clock designing posters, leaflets, web pages and everything else necessary to promote the 38-page book, believing that my partner was doing all they could their end to do the same. Sadly this wasn’t the case.

Going it alone

Days before the race I was running around doing all of the things they were supposed to be in charge of, and in the end I just had to step back and admit that I had done everything I could in such a small space of time. Thankfully Sparta jumped to the rescue and helped me sell a few more copies before the weekend was through. They even ordered copies for themselves, as did the business partner. But I was well short of the estimated figures I believed we’d sell.

The stress continued as I found myself doing more and more of the work: printing address labels, ordering the wrong envelopes, returning books that had been printed incorrectly, and dealing with a client who was upset about the water damage to her book. These were all things I never exected to deal with, and as a result I became bogged down and hardly able to move.

But in the end I managed to deliver all books within the timeframe I had promised, and all of them were delivered safely (bar one). Whilst on holiday a week later I vowed never to do this project ever again. Which is why I surprised myself when I agreed to it back in December.


The good news is, I’m slightly more prepared this time around. My girlfriend, who knows the project inside and out and is very good at writing emails (especially in Danish, which is the key here) has offered to be my partner. This new relationship reminds me of what Richard Branson says about hiring people. “Hire the people you trust and get along with first, the work will follow after.” Or something like that.

Which leads me nicely to my next employee, Pierre, who has been working for me for the last few months – taking pictures when I can’t physically be there myself. I trust Pierre completely, and his photography skills are reliable enough. At the same time I’m hoping he’s learning a lot as he goes, which is important for development, and I’ve givem him a fantastic job. He’ll be the guy climbing trees, towers and stairwells to get the action shots from above. Those shots I don’t have time to get, because I have to be everywhere at once.

And lastly we have the crux of the book – a limited edition that will contain a race photograph of the person who buys it. How the hell are we managing to achieve this? Well, if you really want to know then I suggest you watch the Periscope video – the answer lies within. But I knew at the end of last year’s marathon that that was the key to attracting more buyers; now I just need to see if it works as I hope it will.

The risk this year is potenitally larger than 2015, because there are more people involved and a lot more is riding on this edition. But as I said in The Busy Photographer – it’s all about taking risks.