Small business success #35: Carl Bartels, cinematographer

Cinematographer Carl Bartels

Cinematographer Carl Bartels

By Mark G. Auerbach

Carl Bartels, a Springfield, MA, native who had attended Siena College, began his career as a still photographer. When I arrived on the scene in Springfield as marketing director for the Springfield Symphony, Carl was the orchestra’s photographer. He also represented many clients, commercial and creative, and was known as a guy with a good eye who was amiable, flexible, and professional. During my three years with the orchestra, Carl and I worked on many projects; he was always my “go to” photographer, and the ad agency I worked with also used Carl regularly.

In 1991, Bartels attended the American Film Institute, and by 1995, he had moved to Los Angeles and traded in still photography for film projects, building his resume along the way. “Since then, I have worked in 41 states and 15 countries on 6 continents,” says Bartels, who has built up a diverse portfolio of feature films, documentaries, and series. “I was recently in Atlanta for six weeks shooting Media, a pilot for TV1 that will air in February, 2017.”

Other credits include Dirty, Lying Bastards, a documentary produced by Darryl Hannah, numerous TV shows for A&E and Discovery, and Taken3 starring Liam Neeson and Forrest Whittaker, on which he shot “A” Camera and directed 2nd unit in Los Angeles.

Bartels considers himself a freelancer. “While I don’t have full- or part-time employees, I hire lots of freelance talent (production assistants, camera assistants, gaffers, grips), and they hire their own crews.” He also doesn’t own a lot of fancy equipment. He rents the newest, best state-of-the-art equipment, and has it shipped to location. He no longer markets his talents through a website. He has a reel, but he relies on the IMDb, a database website that keeps track of all the cast and crews of every film. Professionals in the business find him on the IMDB, and can see a list of all his work.

“When I started as a still photographer in 1980, I knew that the kind of work I wanted to do was not going to be as a full-time hire or something that would come with a retirement plan,” Bartels says. “It’s the same today. Pretty much everyone I know in the industry is freelance.”

Bartels advise to anyone starting out is this: “I would mention two things: commitment and vision. You have to trust yourself and fully commit time, money, and energy. You develop your talent and your craft not only for yourself, but in service to your clients. You get up earlier that anyone you know, you work more hours than anyone you know, and you have the joy knowing that you are your own boss and are designing your own destiny. Equally important: you must be a people person. People work with people they like to hang with. It’s intense, and keeping cool under pressure (aka: a ‘positive attitude’) is as important as raw talent. Not only do we create our client’s images, but on an 8-12 week show you’re spending a lot of time together. ‘Nuff said.”

“The toughest thing I’ve ever had to do as a business owner is admit to myself that I was a terrible businessman,” admits Bartels. “Once I looked into that mirror, I began to remember things I heard during years of photographing successful people: Negotiation, record-keeping, cash-flow management, hard work, doing ‘the math.’ I broke down the model that wasn’t working, and rebuilt the machine. I’m still rebuilding it. “ Bartels has help. His wife, Sanora, also in the film industry, helps him with management.

When asked how he defines success, Bartels says, “After many ups and downs I have a lovely home in LA, an amazing wife that I adore, 2 cats, and am making a living working my craft. What else could a guy ask for?”

And that’s succeeding in small business.

Carl Bartels’ Reel:

Carl Bartels’ short, Offside, recognized at Sundance:

Carl Bartels’ IMDB page:


Mark G. Auerbach is principal at Mark G. Auerbach Public Relations, a Springfield, MA, based marketing, public relations, development and events consultancy. You can find more information about Mark at Facebook and LinkedIn.

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