Finding Commercial Photography Clients: Part Two

2015-05-24_1322

“How do I find clients?”

One of the most asked questions I get when chatting with photographers is where can they find clients.

It is one of the questions I ask when reviewing a portfolio; “OK, these are nice shots. Who do you know who will pay you for this kind of work?”

Too often I get a sort of lost expression and some mumbling. Occasionally someone will answer with a couple of ideas – but usually what I call the “Low Hanging Fruit” of possible clients; magazines.

Well, there is much more to commercial photography than working for “magazines” and we need to identify those areas who will purchase our work so we can move toward getting them to do just that.

In this video, I discuss the discovery of “Channels” – vertical markets that help you identify the types of businesses that would be able to use the kind of work that you do.

“Discovering Channels” is part two of our “Finding and Keeping Commercial Photography Clients” program. Part One is on the blog and open to all. The entire series is free and open for subscribers to “In The Frame”.

This step by step program will help you build a solid client list, and help you keep them while you build your business. Many of my Project 52 members have been successful working this program.

Subscribers to “In The Frame” have gotten this information already. Please subscribe to get access to this video, and the next three. They are full of information you can use right now to help build a strong client list. “In The Frame” comes out each Sunday, and we never spam you. We focus on the business and art of commercial photography. And please et me know if this series is helpful to you.

Subscribe To "In The Frame"

Every Sunday a new relevent newsletter on the art and business of commercial photography.

You have Successfully Subscribed!

This video is over 45 minutes long and includes a case study to help you build a strong channel list.

 

Finding Commercial Photography Clients: Pt. One – Portfolio


 

signup...Image Uses PDF

Image Audit Tool PDF

Ad Image Assessment PDF

Finding and Keeping Clients Part One PDF


Build a Solid Client List

Finding and Keeping Commercial Photography Clients

NOTE: This is a course for emerging commercial photographers. The methods we discuss may be of interest to consumer photographers as well, but are highly focused on the commercial part of our industry. Thank you.

This is part one of a five part free course on finding and keeping commercial photography clients. It is an introduction to a far more robust course that will be offered July 1. There is no ‘selling’ in this video – or the next three, but in the last one I will show you how to sign up for the more detailed and comprehensive program. These videos are high in value and even if you do not sign up for the full course, you will find them extremely helpful.

To get the remaining 4 videos, please signup for “In the Frame”, my weekly dispatch. The classes will come to you one per week. You will find the sign up on the right hand column. Thank you for being interested, now let’s talk about your portfolio.

In Commercial Photography Some Things Change and Some Things Don’t

On assignment in West Texas, we decided that the local characters would give the well a lot more context.

On assignment in West Texas, we decided that the local characters would give the well a lot more context.

Some Things Change, and Some Things Stay the Same

The constant, and rapidly changing landscape of photography continues unabated. Some may think of this as a very scary time to be in this business. They may be right… for them.

For me it is nearly a miraculous time to be in the photography business. From amazing gear to incredible innovation, it surrounds us every day. Perhaps it has become so ubiquitous that we don’t even see it when it is staring us in the face.

Change, baby. Everywhere.

I just read an article about some wedding guy going with Micro 4/3 and giving up his Nikons. Another article on what looks like a very cool 300WS studio flash with TTL for under $300. One photographer is shooting on a massive camera on handmade paper, while another is exploring Iceland with nothing but an iPhone. Both of them are getting images that are amazing.

The business part is changing as well. A recent study by web folk who study this sort of thing found that people respond more to big photographs on web pages than they do small. They also found that the cheap, crappy stock image is worse for the site than if there were no image at all.

What?

Photographs WORK? Photographs help sell stuff? Good photography matters?

Dang… who could have known?

Well, WE PHOTOGRAPHERS SURE AS HELL KNEW. Most competent ad agencies and graphic designers know. (Although there are a lot of graphic designers out there who have obviously bought into the free or dirt cheap RF stock junk. Too bad, losers.)

Now we are being backed up by non-photographers.

Our job now is to let our clients know how valuable a photograph is. Let them know that skimping on photography is a fast way to fewer sales and pointing them in the right direction is one of our purposes.

And we do that by doing the best work. Always the best work. No slacking, no hacking, no short cuts. We do the best work we can, and we do it over and over again.

We have to be able to show the client the difference between hack crap and good imagery. If we can’t, we may find that we are not making much headway.

I recently did a portfolio review with a photographer who was struggling a bit. He was having trouble connecting to his audience, and getting clients to say yes was becoming a very difficult endeavor. He was showing his book diligently, but getting no offers.

Problem was that while his book was that of an emerging photographer, the work ranged from ‘meh’ to good, and a few ‘greats’ thrown in almost as an afterthought.

When I remarked on is truly impressive images, he would say something like “yeah, I wasn’t sure about that one.” And he was sure about the mundane boring stuff?

The reality is that he was nearly totally cut off from the world of commercial photography. He took his cue from Model Mayhem, 500PX and G+.

When I asked him about some commercial shooters in his town (Google is your friend), he didn’t know who they were or what they did. He didn’t look at magazines or online publications. He was in a vacuum, and nobody can hear you scream in space.

When you show your work, you will be judged on more than the individual images, you will be judged  by how well you understand the genre you are presenting. Is it within the genre of the client?

Wine bottles lit by umbrellas, ‘fashion models’ who are obviously 5’1”, car shots of last years models, food shots that look cold and stale, bad natural light still life work… all can lead to a single image bringing down the entire book.

The question becomes “why are they showing me this? Do they think this is cool? Can they not see it is horribly presented? How did they get all those other shots I wonder?”

Doubt. And doubt doesn’t close deals.

Free Selina Maitreya video series on becoming more than you ever thought possible.

Some truths about this highly competitive business:

  1. Showing 10 great shots is far better than showing those same ten great shots mixed in with 20 other turkeys.
  2. You cannot edit your own work (mostly). Find someone to help you. A mentor or good friend who you TRUST.
  3. Do not be defensive, but do be strong. If three people you trust say ‘take it out’ then I would consider that some strong indication that while you may love it, it doesn’t ‘fit’ in your portfolio. Perhaps you need more of that kind to give it some context
  4. Make no excuses. Yeah, it was a crazy day and the MUA was late and it rained and three rabid wolves chased off the stylist, but once the hail stopped you were able to get a few shots in before the lightning destroyed the set, they look pretty good, all things considered. Bucky… on one cares about the things considered. Your ‘masterpiece’ under fire is a dud.
  5. Always be shooting. You should be adding new work to your site weekly if you are emerging as a shooter. That’s the time you have to DO the shots you want. Once the ball gets rolling, it may be tougher to find the time to do them. And they are VITAL to the ‘warm fuzzies’ for art directors and designers who may be following along.

The business is changing rapidly, but there are some things that are not changing… and showing top notch work, developing a body of work and keeping your work in front of people who buy is still as important, if not more important, than it has ever been.

So enjoy your new “mirrorless” or MFT, and dig into that Medium Format with gusto. Grab those new strobes and tell us all about them on the various social media… but remember that the words won’t count as much as the images you create with them.

If your client is looking for a technical writer who knows everything about every lens ever made, you may get a shot at it. But if they are looking for a photographer, you better make sure your portfolio is up to snuff, full of new work, and ready to be shown

That much will stay the same for a while longer. I’m sure.
I would love to hear your comments on the ways you are working to keep your portfolio up. Add them in the comments.

 

Join Selina Maitreya in a Free Video Course to Help Move You Forward.

hoodoos-web

I have known Selina for many years. I have all of her books, and have trained with her. I consider her a mentor, coach and friend.

Selina has joined us here on Lighting Essentials many times, and each time is a delightful experience for me.

Selina was perhaps the first commercial photography rep in Boston (or perhaps anywhere) and she represented some of the biggest names in the business. Today she is working with photographers to help get them motivated, moving and most importantly… out of their own way.

I have known many photographers who have gone through here one on one’s and her portfolio rebuilding exercises, and all have benefitted greatly from the experience.

Now you have the opportunity to experience Selina’s approach to becoming all you can be for absolutely free.

Take some time to listen to these videos and open your mind to the possibilities that are all around you.

I am really enjoying these videos… I hope you do as well.

Register for the free video course here.

The Proof Is In The Pudding… Make Sure You Have a Killer Recipe

chi-redhead-4“The proof is in the pudding.”

Always wondered about that term, so I looked it up.

According to the Urban Dictionary;

“The original phrase is “The proof of the pudding is in the eating!”
Which means you have to eat the pudding to know what’s inside of it.

The modern version of ‘the proof is in the pudding’ implies that there “is a lot of evidence that I will not go through at this moment and you should take my word for it, or you could go through all of the evidence yourself.”

OK…

That is pretty much what I thought.

Practice

Check out these free videos from Selina Maitreya. Seriously good stuff!

Your portfolio is sort of like the pudding in question. It’s proof that you can do what you say you can do right there on page, screen, or tablet.

Can you light a wine bottle and show the wine and the label – and do it from an angle that makes remakes a simple shot into a real challenge? Can you be set up and waiting for the moment when the semi-celebrity who promised you 30 minutes comes in 27 minutes late and declares that he has no time, and to get on with it – and nail the shot with confidence? Can you bid a complex job so that there are no surprises, no glitches, and no “extra fees?”

That’s the pudding baby… and it is the proof you need to your prospective clients as well as yourself.Cause if you aren’t sure, they aren’t sure. And you will not be getting a PO.

That doesn’t require being cocky or arrogant. (OK, a little arrogance is fine, just don’t let it go to your head and forget where you came from… ) It means you are sure of your self, and your abilities, and know how to get the stuff done that must be done.

It also means being aware that there are occasions where it is simply not possible. Shooting fashion on the beach during a torrential rain is going to be a cancellation day, as is the afternoon the power grid goes out on a big location shoot at the clients offices.

Stuff happens.

But most of the time we can pull a rabbit out of a dingy, soon to be recycled old hat. It is, ahem, what we do.

We make crappy products look amazing.
We make mediocre food look appetizing and delicious.
We add new life and interest to a 56 year old townhouse.
We make OTR crap look ‘cool’ enough for someone to want to buy it.
We help people sell stuff, and we do it with skills and a vision and a surety of purpose that we know what we are doing.

The ‘proof’ is in the pudding… fine, but remember it’s OUR dang pudding. We know what went into it and how it should be served. We are the masters of our own vision.

If we let others mess with our work, without giving us a chance to do what we do – the way we do it, it can be both frustrating and bad for business. We are hired to do a job, and we should be willing to fight to do it right.

Our job is to make the VP of Finances smile by making images that grow sales beyond projections.
Our job is to make images that bring more people to the website than ever before.
Our job is to createiImages that help seal the brand idea with the visitor so that there is no doubt in their mind that THIS is the company they want to do business with.
Our job is to help business make more money by making a better visual product.

Professional commercial photography should be viewed as a profit center, bringing clarity, consistency and brand loyalty to the front of the mind of the viewer. Great images create great brands.

Think of our largest, premium brands… the ones that get to a level all their own.

Nieman Marcus. Gucci. Prada. Lamborghini. Cartier. Harley Davidson.

Do they scrimp on advertising? Nope.

Do they look for the cheapest photographer? Nope.

Do they understand that excellent imagery SELLS better than crappy stock or amateurish attempts?

Yes they do.

They know it.
We know it.

Now, how do we get our prospective client to know it? The guy who called and wanted your bid for some interiors, and reads from a script on what they are looking for – or the woman on the phone who doesn’t introduce herself, but simply blurts out “How much do you charge for a shot of a …”

Yeah… we get those calls. And part of us wants to jump on the bid right away. We are in the mindset of “we are right for every job that comes in and if we don’t get every job that comes in we are lower than the grub worms that crawl in the dirt because we NEED every job that comes in to validate our recent Broncolor system…” or whatever variation works for you.

Hey – guess what – you don’t really need the “howmuchayoucharge” crap. It will never pay you enough, and you will begin to doubt that you are worth more.

I get these calls as well… and I am always courteous, friendly and sincere. I ask them to hold up for a minute and begin to ask them questions about the possibilities of the gig. I ask outright how many other photographers are they calling and if they had seen my website.

If they are calling more than a couple and they have not seen my website, then I politely tell them I am probably not the right photographer for them. I do not try to ‘educate them’ nor do I ridicule their poor business sense. Too much water under that bridge. You can try if you want, but my experience is that their mindset is on ‘cheap’ and it covers more territory than just photography.

However, I will also ask for an email address so I can send them something that is indicative of what I do, and most of the time I get one. I want to give them a taste of the pudding, and reinforce why they should consider photography or design (especially mine) to be more than a line item on their budget.

I want them to realize that great photography and design MAKES more money than it costs.

We will get the kinds of clients that we look for.
We will get more of the kind of clients that we work for.
Whether they be cheapos or premium, the laws of attraction seem to work that way.

We also earn a reputation for what we do… and this is one terribly difficult thing to rebuild if we let ours slip.

Do we have a reputation of a premium shooter, who helps their clients create stunning work for stunning results? Does our portfolios say that we are problem solvers, and that our work makes a difference for our clients? Do we make careful, thoughtful, powerful images that produce results?

And can we articulate why professional photography, and ours in specific. can enhance their needs beyond a piece of flat art representation? Can we justify our photography as a revenue investment instead of a line item?

Or do we just take pictures?

The proof, as they say, is in the pudding.

Ten Beliefs That Suck the Life out of Photographers

bermuda2

What if I told you it was not the industry, the bad economy, where you live, what camera you shoot with, how many lights you have or how small your Facebook following is that is holding you back. None of those are truly capable of stopping you, they are only challenges for you to meet.

The same challenges everyone who creates art or starts a business has to meet and beat.

The things that are truly holding you back are your own beliefs. Belief that it IS one of those reasons above. Believing that it is a geography thing that keeps you from excelling, or what gear you use or how many lights you take with you is more damaging than any REAL challenge you will ever have to meet.

Because they have no substance, these limiting beliefs can grow to fit any size needed to keep you from moving forward.

If it was simply a wall in front of you, there would be many different ways to move on. Scale it, go around it, blow it up… all sorts of ways to get it done.

But if the wall is a creation inside your mind, there is no way around it, it will grow higher than any ladder you have and it becomes impervious to any and all attempts to blow it up. It does this insidiousness because we want it to. We control its size and power.

So lets look at ten beliefs and maybe offer a suggestion on how they may be more in our heads than in our reality.

  1. We must have professional level gear to be a pro.
    No. We may need it at some point, but before we get to that point we need to make a gazillion images with the gear we have. And if we cannot make images that people want to pay us for with what we have, chances are they will still not want to buy them when they are made with pro gear. A crappy image is a crappy image no matter how many pixels there are.
  2. We have to live in a big city.
    No. You may have to have access to a big city, but then you do have Internet, FedEx, the USPS, and a phone. There are many photographers who are working for major clients while living in the rural town of their choice. They simply wanted to live there more than the big city, and they found the ways to do it.
  3. We must have a portfolio equal to Avedon or McCurry to even be considered.
    No. We must have a portfolio of course. And it must have wonderful images in it, but everyone starts somewhere, and clients know that. You may not get picked up by Vogue for a shoot with a small portfolio, but there are indeed other magazines that will hire you, and pay you, and help you build your work to be worthy of Vogue.
  4. We have to have thousands of hours experience.
    No… mostly. We DO need experience. We DO need to have some work under our belts in order to get the big gigs. But we need to do a lot of small gigs to build a book that will get us the bigger gigs… and then the really big gigs. It is a process, one that starts small and grows.
  5. We must never work for free.
    No. Working for free is sometimes the ONLY way to get the experience, credibility and inroads that allow us to work for pay. NEVER be exploited by working for free, but learn to recognize opportunity as a huge currency that is many times worth more than the paltry fees the gig may pay. (Note: If you are not sure which is which, you may NOT be ready… so keep working on learning the business.)
  6. We must have a huge internet following to be considered.
    No. In fact most working photographers have only a portfolio and simple blog. Some do indeed have a big following on some social platforms, but the majority do not. Instead they have a following of clients that they work hard for, and couldn’t care less about social media fame. The working world still has not caught up to the interwebs, and although I do think that building a solid online brand is important, it will mean less than diddly when you are pitching a real client for a real gig.
  7. We obviously suck because the pros do it so easily.
    No. The pros simply have more experience, more hours setting up lights, a ton of history in doing that same thing… and they are still busting their ass to make it more perfect, more special than last time. They do make it LOOK easy, but take it from me – they are still sweating bullets – they are better at hiding it than you are.
  8. “All we need is…”
    No. We call that the magic bullet syndrome. All we need is “one good job” or “that new lens” or “a bigger studio” or… NO. There is no magic bullet, no shortcut, no “easy” button or challenge buster that can be purchased. There is only a commitment to the struggle, and a focus on the outcome.
  9. Professional photographers are special, with special talents and special lives.
    No. They are just like everyone else. They didn’t get there by luck, or anointment – they worked hard and long and with focus to get to that point. Yes, some have incredible ways of seeing the world, but then they have worked at that as well. You see, they take a lot of photographs… a heck of a lot of photographs to develop that vision
  10. No one is able to make a living in this business anymore.
    No. That is horse apples. There are thousands of working commercial photographers. And they are going to be shooting tomorrow. Some you may know, and most you will not have heard of – or from. Not every photographer is on Facebook whining about how bad it is out there… only the ones for whom it is bad out there. And I can assure you for every photographer that is complaining or whining about it, there is one doing it. Making the images, doing the marketing, creating their vision and always ALWAYS holding that picture of what will be in front of their eyes.

Yes, there are a lot of other challenges that must be met. It is a different world than it was a dozen or two years ago, but it is still an occupation that has growth and possibilities. They youngsters know it. One couple turned weekend trips into free image giveaways that is now making them a a tidy living while starting to accept assignments. Another photographer who shoots for major corporations lives in a tiny town in West Texas. I know a product shooter who lives in Portland, and is marketing all over his region – and nationally.

I am not a Pollyanna, but I am a positive person when it comes to people and their capabilities. You may have to give up some things in order to do other things – we call that “duh” – but that is still in YOUR control. Watch less TV, spend more time making pictures, capture a weekend a month for project work, and make building your photography business a priority.

Whether you want to go into business or simply make better photographs, the power to do that lies within you. What you listen to, what you agree with, and the people that influence you all have a big measure of influence on how you see yourself and this world of images.

You can control that measure of influence. It is YOUR life, and I would suggest you stop participating in the pity parties and the “oh whoa is us” crowd and make images. Obviously it didn’t work out for them, and now their main goal is to stop you from making it a go. What would it mean to them if you succeeded where they failed.

Far easier to blame the world for their failures than to watch someone else actually win. And even if that is not reality, it can BECOME their reality if they believe it strong enough.

Before you believe everything question everything. When someone says “nobody can make a living in this anymore” look around for someone who is, and find out what they are doing. If something sounds improbable, it may be. Research it. Nail it down.

There is a simple way to work around these challenges. Make more images. Make images that compel others to view them. Making images is the best possible thing that photographers can do to advance their work and their business. So put this computer away and go out into the world… click, baby, click!