Airbnb, a stab in the back

I started my photography career in 2011 with no clients and no money coming in.  The company I was working for went under, luckily I saw this coming and I decided months before that if or when this happened I would buy my first digital camera (I already had a film camera) and start a career in photography.  Photography has been a hobby and passion of mine since my teenage years. 

I saw an ad on linkedin that Airbnb was hiring photographers, I have always loved interior design and architecture so I reached out and they hired me as a freelance photographer.  The starting pay was $50 a shoot and they had me take the Malibu and Topanga Canyon territory, about an hour or more from where I lived.  Like I said, I had absolutely no money coming in at that time, so I traveled to these shoots so I could learn how to photograph homes and make a little money.  The pay was incredibly low and remained so for over five years, they increase my pay by $15 around 2016. I had never shot homes or interiors, so there was a learning curve.  Airbnb supplied a shooting guide and basic instructions on how to capture a home and rooms in their style, which changed constantly.  So, there was always photos that would get rejected and need to be re-photoshopped. I'm pretty sure they didn't know what they wanted and so they kept trying new styles.  Interior photography is not easy there are many factors to creating a great interior image, now after shooting homes for over six years, I like to think I have come close to mastering it, my website

 

 This is not an Airbnb listing, but from a real estate shoot.

This is not an Airbnb listing, but from a real estate shoot.

Airbnb was happy with my work, they would have terminated my contract years ago if they were not, they were sure to remind us of this often.  They also hired me on a few years ago to take part in a program to inform host during the photo shoot as to where they could learn more about hosting and how to become a successful host. I was one of a few people in my area that they brought on to do this.  The Airbnb photographer is the only person hosts will probably ever meet in person from Airbnb. I always wondered why Airbnb didn't pay us more and put us to better use, or at least pay us respectfully.  I suggested this in the past, with no response of course.  The Airbnb photography team had always been cordial to me except for one person who was very difficult about the constantly changing styles, but other then that it was a pretty good experience.  I would send in a request to make more money every year and It was always declined.

 

 I did not shoot this directly for Airbnb.

I did not shoot this directly for Airbnb.

 Image not photographed for Airbnb

Image not photographed for Airbnb

A few years after working for Airbnb I actually used their hosting services for my second bedroom so I could make money and put it towards rent.  Los Angeles is an expensive city and starting your own business is incredibly difficult.  I rented the second room out for a while and stopped.  I continued to photograph for Airbnb and in 2017 they decided to start a new pilot program, called the "Spotlight Program" where they would have the best photographers capture their most popular and exclusive listings and do a walk through to check off certain items and amenities for the potential guest.  I was asked to be one of those photographers and they were actually paying a much better rate, it was much closer to the going rate for a home photographer in Los Angeles.  I was very appreciative and excited to start this new program!  

During this time I decided to rent my second bedroom on Airbnb again, just for the month of September which is a very slow month for my business, so I needed the extra money.  Being that I live in the apartment and would be sharing the entire space I wanted to make sure I got the right person and that I felt comfortable and safe. This wasn't happening in the beginning and I wasn't going to just accept anyone, so I declined a few inquiries.  So, I am not sure, but I think this is what upset Airbnb and they decided to close my hosting account.

 Image not photographed for Airbnb

Image not photographed for Airbnb

Problem is, my photography jobs are under that same account, so when they decided for whatever reason to close my account, my photography jobs were stopped and my contract was terminated as well, with no warning, reason or discussion.  I tried to find out why this happened and I was told that they don't have to give me a reason... after over six years that was it! I was owed nothing, no reason, no great working with you and certainly no respect.  Airbnb terminated my contract for something that had absolutely nothing to do with my performance as photographer.  I could not believe the way I was being treated.  Some ominous women at the Airbnb offices in San Fransisco decided I did something that went against their terms of use and shut my account down!  Apparently this is a secret department at Airbnb and there was no way to contact her, she didn't respond to my emails and customer service didn't have any way to contact this department.  I'm assuming she didn't realize at the time that I worked for them and once she did, she just had to go through with it. 

I actually enjoyed working for Airbnb most of the time. Although some people can be pretty disrespectful of your time and there were a lot of people that just weren't serious about hosting and lazy when it came to cleaning up their house.  But when I didn't have my own jobs coming in from real estate shoots or fashion shoots, it filled in those empty spots.  I would have to shoot 2-5 listings a day (yes 5!) to make decent money, but it did help.

 

 

KorbinBielski_Homes-11-2.jpg

If you have ever dealt with Airbnb you know as everyone else does, that their customer service is horrible.  I would get berated by host when I went to photograph their homes on how horrible Airbnb is and how no one could help answer their questions.  On one visit I had to tell a man that if he didn't calm down I would need to leave and not photograph his apartment, this all took place in a very small elevator in Hollywood.  I was freelance, I was not an employee of the company, but I had to endure the harassment and disrespect by Airbnb's host all the time! 

Unfortunately being a freelancer you have no rights and the company has no obligation towards you.  I wouldn't take back my experience shooting for Airbnb.  I shot hundreds of listing for them and learned how to shoot interiors, I met many great people during my shoots, made some money and I met clients that I still shoot for.  So indirectly, I'm still making money off Airbnb... a lot more money!

Business of Photography and 2018 Goals!

Happy 2018!  If there is one thing I need to work on and get better at in the new year it's business!  First of all, photography is a business... all art is if you want to pay your bills.  For me it has been the most challenging thing I have ever done!  I don't have a degree in business and It just doesn't come to me as naturally as it does to other people.  For some people creating or running a business IS their creativity... that's where they shine.  I am a visual artist, the day to day responsibility of running a business is just not fun or easy for me.  I want it to be fun... but not everybody can do everything. 

 Seeing the light through it all.

Seeing the light through it all.

 

I think having an agent and a producer on my team would be a huge help and would help propel my business to the next level.  Until then, I'm on my own and I feel that every day.  I actually feel isolated and alone trying to be a successful fashion photographer.  It becomes frustrating and quite honestly wanting to quit is a common thought.  But, then I realize that quitting is a pattern I have perpetuated my entire life, once things get hard or aren't working out the way I want it to, I quit.  I also know that I love what I do and I just need to keep moving forward and trying new things.  Evertually it will all come together. 

I think the most important aspects of running a business is to work hard, be persistent and to always be willing to learn and change... which I am all of those things.  Well, I could always work harder, who couldn't and maybe be a bit more persistent... okay, I'm not ALL of those things but close!  As I said earlier my default is to quit instead of keep going and to be persistent.  I think a lot of people experience this out of fear of failure... It's so much easier to quit than fail.  With failure comes growth and change and this is the main objective of any business.  So fail with pride, fail with confidence and fail in knowing that you just learned something important.

 Another mountain to climb.

Another mountain to climb.

I am in the process of self reflection and reinventing myself this year.  It is time to do things differently then I have in the past... as none of what I have been doing has panned out the way I planned and I seem to continue doing the same thing over and over.   So this year, I am making changes, a reinvention of who I am as a person, photographer, writer and filmmaker.  I will be getting back into film/video doing creative, person projects as well as writing scripts so that I can shoot them.  Whether they are short films, a documentary or a possible full length feature.  As I said, it is time for change, I want to move mountains.  And if there is one thing I have learned, no one is going to come knocking on my door asking me to do any of these things!  It is up to me to create and manifest all the things that I dream of.  Hard work, persistence, positive thinking and dedication is the only way to make dreams come true. So I wish everyone a happy, productive, and successful new year!  

 

 

Resources to help you with your photography business below.

If you are starting a career in photography or specifically wedding photography, below is a link to the website ShootDotEdit on "How to Start a Photography Business" It's a great resource filled with information to get you started. Click here to read the article. 

Fashion Photography

My goal since I started shooting professionally has always been to shoot fashion photography, but what does that mean and why is it such a challenge to get fashion work?  There are many avenues of "fashion photography" these days and every one is a "fashion photographer" or so they think.  I suppose it can be broken down to a few categories, shooting for clothing companies, shooting for blogs, shooting for fashion magazines and shooting e-commerce.  The title of fashion photographer seems to be a blanket title that covers all of these and more but it doesn't really, as far as style, creativity and experience goes.  Shooting for a millennials blog, which must look like every other blog out there, is much different then shooting for W Magazine or Vogue.  The images in W Magazine, Vogue or V Magazine are very stylized, avant-garde, well produced and a lot of the times look like works of art. 

A fashion blogger's style is much more lifestyle and what the girl or guy is doing in the clothes, not really much of a story, it's just a "look at me" kind of photo.  Which is fine, every twenty something wants a fashion blog and a hundred new fashion blogs pop up everyday. Seems very competitive and repetitive to me.  I shot fashion photos for a fashion blog and she didn't like the photos because they didn't look like every other fashion blog out there, they were too "fashiony", WOW! A fashion photo for a fashion blog is too "fashiony".  I can't!  Why start another same ole fashion blog to look like every other fashion blog out there?  Be different, dress different, shoot different, use different locations, HAVE SOME ORIGINALITY!  These bloggers look at other blogs and say "OH, I have to do that, wear that and shoot there too!" And they do. I say no, that's boring and how are you going to stand out? Be the change, do something different and be yourself.

Although a lot of these young girls and boys don't even know who they are yet, they just have this new platform and everyone wants to jump on board. I get it, I would probably have done the same thing in my twenties if blogging was as popular as it is today.  I'm sure I would have thought I had to do what every other blogger was doing, with the fear of being different and not liked.  And to be completely honest I catch myself doing it now, as a photographer.  We see a photographer get a lot of attention and some success and think "I need to do that" and we try to recreate a look of a photo, but you can't, it was a moment in time and you are not that photographer, you are you. 

We as photographers must think outside the box and be us!  Not try to be Mert and Marcus, Mario Testino or Steven Klein.  For one thing these guys have been in the business for many, many years and have a lot more experience than us/me, not to mention a LOT of money from the magazines to produce these shoots.  They also have the best creative directors, clothing stylist, hair and make up and not to mention the pool of TOP models they have access to... oh, and amazing assistants!  If I had all that, I would be shooting the cover of W Magazine too. All big jobs go to about ten top photographers and that is why it's important to be different and shoot your own style.  I had to learn this and I continue to.  I have always and I will continue to look to these photographers and magazine for inspiration, I love it! I love the work they produce and I'm ready to be in that group of ten, to shoot for all the top magazine and clothing lines in the world! 

But how?  That has been the question, the struggle the frustration for me.  How do I get noticed?  I can do it, especially with all the help they get on each shoot that I just mentioned.  I can be a top fashion photographer, I just need that big break, that one person from Vogue to give me a chance... to just believe in me.  The problem is, everyone wants to be a photographer these days.  There are SO many photographers out there, how does an editor or creative director choose or even find you?  It's so overwhelming they just stick with the same photographers they have worked with in the past.  It's easier that way and I get it!  I do the same thing with make up artists, I know how they work, we get along I'll just hire them, it's easier then finding someone new, it could be a roll of the dice with a new person.

The photo above is from a test shoot for a modeling agency.  I like the photo... a lot.  But the agency hasn't used it, the model never put it on instagram and I never received any feed back from either.  This is where a photographers insecurities come in. Am I failing as a fashion photographer? Are my images that bad that no one wants to use them?  But, there are so many factors that go into this. One is, this is a brand new model with very little if no experience, it was a test shoot.  So if he had a few more years of experience, who knows what the image could have been.  The other is, this could just not be the look or direction the agency wanted the model to go in and yes, he's wearing glasses in this particular photo, which an agency does not want, but there are other shots from the shoot without glasses.  I now know to trust that I did my best as a photographer for this shoot and that's all that I can do.   I also have learned from my years of doing this that there is always something to learn from every shoot, what you could have done differently with lighting or composition or even how you could have related to the model better or directed the model better etc..  It's really an ongoing learning experience. 

As far as how to get work in fashion photography, I think it takes time and it's about the hustle.  Shooting new fashion shoots all the time, trying new things and getting your work out there.  And then there is networking and contacting the magazines and clothing lines.  It's never fun and there are a lot of no's or just no reply's at all, which are the worst, but you get use to it believe it or not.  So keep moving forward and do the best job each time, eventually it will be your turn.

Fine Art

So, I have finally decided to photograph and sell fine art!  This is something I have thought about doing for a very long time and being that I am an artist, it only makes sense.  I started off drawing and painting at a very young age, my mother wanted me to pursue that more so she enrolled me in art classes.  Well here I am, a photography fine art artist??  I pulled out my photo archives and found some really great photos that will be sold and I have many great conceptual ideas that I am working on right now!  Be sure to check back, as my store on this site will be growing! Traveling was one of the main reasons I wanted to turn my photography into a career and now doing fine art will be the catalyst.  The below photo was taken in Louisiana.

I will say that I'm running into a problem with enlarging my photos.  To enlarge photos to around 40" x 48" which I originally wanted to do, I found that you have to have a lot of megapixels, like 50-100!  Yeah, that's a lot and sure there are cameras that do it, like Hasselblad and Phase One, but those camera start at $30,000! That's a big chunk of change!  So I'm trying to figure out how I'm going to shoot so I can enlarge my photos to such a big size... without that huge $30K investment.  Now that I have decided to shoot and sell fine art, it has opened up an entire world of creativity and ideas.  I am very eager to start shooting my concepts and just as eager to get them printed and framed, so I can hang them on my wall as well as sell them.  It's a whole new world and it really feels like that path I should have been on from the beginning.  Well, I have a lot more to learn in the fine art photography world and I will be adding follow up post to this one to share what I have learned and what I am shooting.

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An Introduction to me.

So this is exciting, my first blog post!  To be honest, I wonder if people even read random blogs anymore.  I mean do I really have anything that important to say?  Well, I just might!  The reason why is because I have been taking photos since the age of eleven while growing up in Michigan.  I'm not going to tell you my age, but it was long time ago.  Anyway, back then I was using my mothers Kodak Instamatic and Polaroid cameras the photos are actually somewhat interesting.   The photo below was actually shot in Rockford Illinois, we lived there for a year.  So it looks like that's where I really picked up photography and if you look at where we lived, you can understand why... there was nothing to do there so I really dove into art. I remember I took art classes while living there as well, so art has always been in my blood.  That is my little brother in the photo, WAY in the background and that is our backyard.

        

 

 

 

Looking back on old photo albums it looks like I was the family photographer.  It's mostly my little brother as my subject as well as Christmases, birthdays, that kind of thing.  But I enjoyed photography very much. 

I now shoot professionally something I never considered while growing up... I guess you never know where life is going to lead you.  Starting my own photography business has been anything but easy, it has actually been the most challenging thing I have ever done!  But, nothing worth having is easy so you keep pushing forward, learning, growing, changing and hopefully coming to a point you can sit back and say "I DID IT!"  Of course then you need to create new goals and continue to grow and learn, it's all the process of life.  If not, you become stagnant, bored and empty inside.  There is no easy way to success and there is no easy way through life, so have fun, love and give back when you can.

I'm not sure what content my future blogs will contain.  My plan is education, business and life.  This one was probably more life and being that I am a Gemini and my mood changes by the minute, this could be blog roulette!

I took the below photo on Sunset Blvd the other night on my iPhone.