Creator Spotlight with Photographer and Photo Director Jenna Close

Photographer and Photo Director Jenna Close

This week we would like you to meet Photographer and Photo Director Jenna Close.

1. What was the inspiration behind you becoming a photographer/photo director?

My first career was as an actor, and I did a fair amount of touring and general traveling during that time. I always took a camera with me, but never really considered it as a career option. Eventually, I wanted to retire from acting and decided to return to school to study photography. After about 5 years of working with still images I started playing around with video and now my company, Buck the Cubicle, shoots about half still and half video projects.

2. Can you take us through your creative process? How long does it take? Does everything you create make money?

Buck the Cubicle is made up of three people: I am the Director of Photography, my partner Jon is the Creative Engineer, and my partner Meredith Bless is the Executive Producer. Our process starts with Meredith, who works with the client to determine what they need and what they have for a budget. A lot of what we do is worked out in pre-production, in particular for video projects, but to some extent for still imagery too, as we do a lot of composite work that needs to be planned out ahead of the shoot. I work specifically with Jon to brainstorm ideas, shot lists, etc., and then he takes it a step further by designing and sometimes even inventing specific gear we may need to pull off a unique look. Jon is excellent at McGuyvering. Depending on the type of shoot, the creative process can take a few days to a few months.

Not everything we create is intended to make money. Right now we have an ongoing personal project that features people who have odd jobs or hobbies. These personal projects give us the freedom to present stories in exactly the way we want to tell them. It allows us to experiment freely and up our creative game. In the end, successful personal projects also serve as an excellent marketing tool.

3. What do you think is the biggest misconception about your line of work?

That the tool makes the photograph, and that taking a photograph is easy. Cameras and software are useful tools for storytelling, but the way in which a story is told, both visually and, in the case of video, through editing, is really a reflection of the photographer/videographer. That’s what is so amazing to me about personal style – it really can’t be fully duplicated, as each person is different. As for this job being easy – it really isn’t. I think people forget or don’t realize how many hats independent creators wear. We spend on average 20% of our time shooting and 80% doing everything else: marketing, updating websites, education on new tools and techniques, pre- and post-production, negotiating, billing, etc. We are business-people first and foremost. And most importantly, a professional has to know how to discern and answer questions the client didn’t even know they needed to ask. They have to know how to use their tools to get an excellent result every single time, despite obstacles. Listening and really engaging in the project at a deep level is a very important skill. That, and the patience to solve those challenges that occur no matter how much you prepare in advance.

4. When did you first become aware of copyright and why?

I was lucky to stumble across The American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP) while I was still in school. I recognized that I needed more education on one of the “less sexy” aspects of professional photography – business. Through ASMP, I was encouraged to copyright my work by registering it with the U.S. Copyright Office. It was the first time I had heard of copyright for photographs. More importantly, it was the first time I understood that while creators inherently own their work when they create it (unless they give it away via a contract), registration of that copyright is an important and necessary step in protecting our rights.

5. Have you experienced copyright infringement and, if so, how has it affected you personally and financially?

I experience copyright infringement all the time. I’d venture to say my images are infringed on a weekly basis. It can be large and shockingly brazen infringement – like when I was at a trade show and saw a photo of ours being used rightfully by our client, then noticed that across the hall a competitor of that client was ALSO using the same photo – which they had stolen – on their booth. There are also all kinds of online infringements. I recently did a reverse image search of one of my most infringed images. Google brought up 41 websites that were illegally using that image. Of those 41, 18 were large companies. And that was just one image! Infringement is extremely widespread and very hard to truly combat. It makes a big financial impact on my bottom line – if I were able to get even a thousand dollars for each infringement, which is roughly the average worth for small infringements these days – it wouldn’t make me rich, but that’s not the point, is it? It would help me better provide for myself, keep my business safely afloat in a tough marketplace and maybe, just maybe, change the culture and lack of awareness around copyright theft in the first place. Personally, infringement is offensive to me. Imagine if someone stole your bike or your dog. And not only that, but you knew who that person was, where they lived, and you would often see them riding the bike or walking the dog around town as free as can be. That’s what it feels like when I see my work used without permission.

6. What is your biggest copyright related challenge?

Copyright is a right that the founding fathers of this country found so important, they put it in the CONSTITUTION. Controlling the use of our work, and protection against unauthorized use, is a fundamental right of the creator. The problem lies in enforcing that right. As of today, creators have very limited options for enforcement. Since one must pursue copyright in a federal court, the process is so costly (estimated $30,000-$500,000 for one suit) that it dwarfs any favorable verdict. And if there is no favorable verdict? Then the creator is on the hook for that money and even possibly covering the fees for the winning side. As a small business person, that risk is too great. In addition, you have to find a lawyer who will take your case to federal court, which most lawyers – understandably – will not do if the infringement value is likely to amount to less than $30,000. The average infringement value these days is roughly $700-$2000.

What this means is that we creators have a right without a remedy. Arguably, a right without a remedy is not a right at all. We may even invest money in registering our works with the Copyright Office with no real possibility of return on that investment. That makes infringement a cost of doing business, and one that we shouldn’t be expected to shoulder. THAT is the biggest challenge.

7. What do you do when you encounter someone stealing something you’ve invested your intellect, time and money info?

I used to send emails that very politely explained the situation, basically assuming ignorance on the part of the infringer, and asking for a license fee to cover the usage of the infringement. Sometimes I would also send DMCA takedown notices. Of all my attempts, I have only ever received ONE reply. This thing is, many larger companies know that creators have very little recourse to truly go after infringers, so they just ignore us. That’s my experience, anyway. Now I select only the largest infringements and will sometimes use a third party service called Pixsy. Pixsy is more effective at negotiating fees than I have been, although the downside is that any payment is split 50/50 with them. While this is completely understandable – they also have to make a living – my preference would be the ability to fully control and leverage the right of copyright afforded to me on my own. Hopefully, that day will come soon.

8. What is the best piece of advice that you would give fellow creators in your field about copyright and how to protect themselves?

Register as much of your work with the Copyright Office as you can. I am a self-described “intermittent registrant”, meaning I pick and choose which work to register based on where it’s going to appear and how much money I have to dedicate to registration at that time. Track your infringements and research your options, but most importantly, GET INVOLVED with those who are working hard to change the copyright system on your behalf. Educate yourself on what’s wrong with the current system and what others are doing to fix it. Join one of the groups or alliances fighting for your rights, or if you aren’t a joiner, donate to one of their legal action funds or other campaigns. Currently, these groups are trying to push a Small Claims bill (THE CASE ACT), H.R. 3945, through the government that would drastically change our options for pursuing infringements, and change it for the better. It is a long and frustrating fight, and they need our support.


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