By Leah Shafer
Longtime ASMP member William Morton of Morton Visuals found photography as a teenager with a borrowed Exacta camera, seeing the opportunity to take pictures of cheerleaders (and other girls he liked) as a member of the yearbook staff. Not really inspirational, he says, but the beginning of a long and rewarding career.
“I was noticed, and people knew that if they smiled and gave me a good shot then they could end up in the yearbook,” he said. “It helped me connect, on some simple level, with people who otherwise might never have noticed me.”
The connection to subjects took him on a varied career path, including a job while he was in the Navy as an assistant manager in a high-volume retail portrait studio in the early to mid-90s.
“That experience taught me to make every shot count and I posed people carefully—not a lot of room for error, or blinks,” he said. “That required even more discipline than my prior experience shooting boudoir portraits, where I shot 12 or 36 exposure sessions. I just can’t get in to that ‘spray and pray’ methodology.”
Moving to commercial and advertising photography in the late 90s was a natural evolution, Morton says.
“Once I moved to southern California, I began shooting model portfolios and head shots,” he said. “The work with model portfolios in particular led to my advertising work, beginning with a Yellow Pages ad for a bridal shop. I did the layout and design for that ad as well, and book covers followed, fitness images for gym advertising, etc.”
He refocused on corporate events and corporate portraiture in 2009, which is his primary business today.
“At this point photography is a very different animal—I very much enjoy what I do (most of the time) or else I couldn’t do it,” he said. “I now focus on jobs that can pay the bills, and that’s why I’ve transitioned to mostly corporate work. I find it easier to make a living dealing with business people who understand income and expense, costs, value, etc.”
While in California, Morton joined ASMP in 1999 primarily because he realized commercial photography used a very different business model than the portrait business.
“I had no idea how to price my work when I wasn’t selling 16-by-20s and albums,” he said. “ASMP filled that void, and not only did I begin to learn about different approaches to pricing, but I met a number of great colleagues with whom I built highly valued friendships. As I told my San Diego chapter before I left, approximately one-third of my income that year came from ASMP referrals.”
He joined the San Diego board of directors in 2004, while he lived up by Long Beach. Initially, he was the webmaster, building and managing the website.
“I saw firsthand the importance of information availability, whether it was the online member directory or news of upcoming events that we needed to get on our calendars,” he said.
In 2005, Morton stepped up as president and served for two years. They brought in highly valuable members like Kevin Lock, who became his successor and a subsequent national board member, and Jenna Close (and Jon Held) who became not only a national board member, but also the national president.
“Watching this growth and success has reinforced the value of ASMP, and encouraged me tremendously,” he said. “I believe in karma in that you get what you give, so I continued to push to help newer members, on and off the board.”
In 2014, he stepped back in the president’s role, serving until he moved to Texas at the end of 2015.
“ASMP has always focused on education, which is a much-needed requirement of our industry, which has changed tremendously, so our businesses need to evolve similarly,” he said. “ASMP always struggles with funding, and it takes money to provide the benefits we need, including educational programs. Chapters need to step up to make this happen, and to continue to provide a benefit for members.”
Morton said he feel like ASMP has surrendered much of the education to groups like Meetups and the like, which do not understand the business of intellectual property.
“We need to drive the business education that helps us to survive, and we need local members—volunteers —to make that happen,” he said. “Due to the effort required to continually put together valuable education I’ve seen ASMP chapters shift to a social focus, and I think that’s one reason for declines in membership and participation—it’s true that networking is a primary benefit of ASMP, but learning how to improve your business (and stay in business) is an even more important goal.”
For new photographers, Morton offers the advice, “shoot as much as possible and constantly try new things and evaluate how you can improve everything.”
“Find something that you really enjoy doing, and it will become much easier for you to do it well—if you get tired of that then try something else,” he said. “I started in boudoir portraiture in 1991, evolved to model portfolios in California, and then commercial work. Now I specialize predominantly in corporate communications. If I get tired of people, I may start shooting landscapes or something else.”
His second piece of advice would be to join a professional organization and get involved.
“Contrary to popular belief, clients won’t magically find you and ask you if they can give you money—you have to get out there and find and build relationships,” he said. “Other photographers are not your competition, they are your colleagues, so become a business partner, learn what they do, and see how you can help them. We all remember who helped us along our way, and those are the people to whom we refer business.”