In this ongoing Light Painting series I am going to dive into The Business of Light Painting. As our art form grows, so grows the potential for us to become full time professional Light Painting Artist. I think that most of us have to make a living from something other than our passion of Light Painting and that is not always fun. The good news is today the opportunities for making a living (or a least enough to support our light addiction) by doing what we love have never been greater! For this series I talk with a few of the Light Painters out there who have had success in The Business of Light Painting. Each of the artist that I have interviewed for this series have shared their experiences and offered great insights, I hope that everyone can gain some knowledge and/or get inspired to create their own Light Painting business and make a living doing what we love. Please show these artist some appreciation with a high-five if you see them in person or an online thank you for sharing their gained knowledge with us.
Denis Smith has had a tremendous amount of success with his Light Painting Workshop series in this article I got some insights into what makes a successful workshop and how to get started.
Part 1 Denis Smith (Light Painting Workshops)
Part 2 Darren Pearson (Commercial Light Painting Photography)
The Business of Light Painting Workshops with Denis Smith:
LPP ∇ Denis first off thank you for taking the time to answer some questions about your Light Painting workshops. I know you have had many successful Light Painting workshops in some epic locations. What was it that inspired you to start doing your workshops?
DS ∇ I think the first thing to make really clear is that along with my paid photography workshops I delivered many free presentations and light painting demonstrations at photography clubs, events and other bits and pieces, but here we will focus on the paid workshops. You can apply most of the advice below to planning a free workshop though.
A few years ago I put on a free light painting presentation here in Adelaide. We weren’t expecting many to turn out, but ended up with about 180+ people in the room. It was amazing! There was a real joy in showing that many people how we create the magic of light painting images and talking with them about how light painting came into my life. The feedback was incredible. It was very clear that people were leaving inspired and motivated to have a go.
I did a couple of small paid events as part of an arts festival, then the demand went crazy. Along with my business partner we decided to bring the light painting workshops under the umbrella of our video and photography business (www.smithandcollins.com) this has been the key to the success of the workshops. There is simply no way I could have managed everything after hours and on the weekends.
I was not going to start holding workshops unless they were simply the best quality events available, full stop. To do this required a large investment in equipment, light painting tools, marketing and relationships with key stake holders. The workshops had to become a serious business to deliver a serious product.
LPP ∇ You have held several different types of workshops varying in the number of participants, single and multiple nights, and several different locations, can you tell me more about the different types of workshops you have offered?
DS ∇ In designing the workshops, it was incredibly important to have something for everyone. We hold larger events with up to 40 participants along with much more intimate workshops with as few as 10 people. I wanted there to be a product for anyone from a student to a lawyer. I also wanted to retain a real sense of personal attention to the participants. The feeling that the night was about them, and them creating art.
We hold workshops in a huge variety of locations. Massive industrial buildings, abandoned lunatic asylums, out in the forest, on wide open salt flats and even at schools when catering to students. In reality there is an unlimited variety of locations.
At all of our workshops we spit the event into “zones” so that there are no more than 5-7 people in each zone. In a large open space we will have 4-5 large zones with a different theme. A car, a light painting portrait zone and of course an orb zone. Rotating through the zones through the night gives each participant real variety. We tailor the layout and zones to each location.
LPP ∇ Which is your favorite type to do and why? Do you prefer to work with big or small groups?
I love taking groups out into the field. We take relatively small groups, 10-12 people, into the forest under a full moon. I love these because they get to experience the true wonder of light painting with nature. They can understand what is involved and really take away the complete experience.
DS ∇ I prefer a smaller group as it allows me to interact with each person more through the night. The reality is people seem to enjoy spending time with me one on one.
LPP ∇ Multiple nights on location must be pretty difficult to set up logistically, can you tell me about some of the challenges and how do you overcome them?
DS ∇ Running any high quality light painting workshop (or any workshop for that matter) takes a huge amount of logistical planning, for even the most basic night. Our largest events are fully catered, have multiple crew, up to 10, and require significant PA and projection gear. Planning for an event starts up to 3 months out. Getting approvals for locations, booking caterers and baristas, organizing crew and staff along with marketing, bookings and dealing with enquiries is huge.
There is a core groups of us who manage all of these things. My wife Kyrie, business partner Sam and my workshop assistant Ben all work closely with me to make things run smoothly. The key to making things run smoothly was keeping control of all facets of planning and booking.
We designed the booking system into the back end of our website so that things would remain personal and tight with responses and communication. The only way to be sure our events run smoothly is to allocate enough time to the planning and running of the events.
LPP ∇ How do you get people to know about the workshops? What would you say is the best way to get people to sign up?
DS ∇ I developed strong methods using social media to market the events. Targeted, paid Facebook marketing along with strategic contact with camera clubs is good. I also have a very close relationship with the largest camera retailer in our state. All of these things combined with a very strong mailing list make sure we get the word out to the right audiences for each event.
Most importantly is to create an unforgettable experience for the participants. Word of mouth and referrals are so important. We gather feedback from the nights and use that to improve future events. This is smart.
LPP ∇ Going back to the different workshops that you have done, how do you come up with a price to charge? Do you have a formula that you use, that you will share with us, or is each workshop so unique there is no formula to use?
DS ∇ Our light painting workshops are a business. Creating the best possible experience requires significant investment up front, and serious operating expenses during the events. Just like any business you must go back to basics, even for the smallest event, the basics apply. You must develop a plan. We have a strong business and marketing plan around the workshops. These must include expected costs and revenue. You have to be realistic about all of these though.
There are costs that you will not factor in, like enough torches for everyone. Printing flyers, water and snacks for everyone. You will have to have some form of insurance. You will need a first aid kit and so on.
Here is the BIG one. Your time has value! You will put all the thought into having all of the required light painting tools (which are not cheap, and you need lots), a killer presentation and great flyers as people leave, but you MUST factor in your time. It has value. And unless you apply a value to your time and put it into the spreadsheet, you will look back and feel bitter that you worked so hard for nothing.
Put simply, yes we have a very strong formula. It has many components, but it is a simple formula. Revenue – costs = profit. Be realistic about what your costs are and pay your crew!
Also NEVER forget why you do light painting.
LPP ∇ From what I have seen it really looks like you pay attention to every little detail, what are some of the special things that you do to make sure that everyone is satisfied and feels like they got their monies worth?
DS ∇ I want the workshop experience to be hands on. Time spent with a tool in their hand is more fun than sitting listening to me talk. We keep presentations to the absolute minimum. So prior to the event they have received emails with tips and tricks to prepare them for the night. They know the basics of camera settings and some basic theory before the night. The thrill of light painting is seeing images you have created on the back of the camera, so we get people painting quickly.
LPP ∇ Ok so I am a light painter and I want to have a workshop in my hometown, what do I do first?
DS ∇ Start small. This way you will get the processes right with little stress, then scale up. Start with some friends, or a camera club.
LPP ∇ What is the one piece of advice that you wish someone would have told you about putting the workshops together that you had to learn the hard way?
DS ∇ Be independent. Try and do as much as you can yourself. I was approached by a LARGE camera manufacturer who made all sorts of promises in return for being involved with the event, then delivered very little of what they had promised. This left me bitter.
We definitely partner with people, but retain complete control of all marketing, planning and running the events.
LPP ∇ Thank you for sharing your experience and knowledge with us Denis!
DS ∇ Thank you.