How to Get your Work Out There and Get Noticed
We talked a little bit about contests. On my breaks today, I was judging a contest. So I was, when I went back to the green room a couple of times, I woke up at six o'clock this morning before my alarm at seven. (laughs) I'm a little wobbly, but I was judging a contest, and because the contest is based out of Europe. So like, you should enter these contests, it was so terrific. It was broken down into these really cool categories. And I've judged this contest before, and I've judged other contests for them, and it just blows me away every time I do it because there's just so much talent and so many people. And it was like a food bloggers category, and a street photography category, and a Snapchat category, and honestly, the pictures from the Snapchat category were amazing. And it wasn't like studio photography, it wasn't this kind of thing. It was this kind of lifestyle-y, travel photography that really caught my eye. And some of it was so good because it was such good reportage and ca...
tching people in moments with food, right? And I love that about food photography is that it's such a human experience, and being able to judge that contest, again, opens my mind, and in my venues and the things I get to do. 'Cause I was like, well, I love that frame, and if I was able to put that frame in motion... So I start to think like a director again, and it just sparks imagination. And it helps you, too, because then you're engaged in it, so you're gonna be going on the websites and looking at everybody else's work. So I would say get involved in contests. And if you win one, hey, that opens doors for you because then all of a sudden you get listed as a winner in a PDN Taste or on Pink Lady, or one of these other big contests. You can win some money, you can travel, you can get an opportunity to shoot. So you never know, it's a lottery ticket. And it's fun, so you should definitely enter yourself in some contests. Should I enter that one, maybe? My agent told me the other day, she's like, "I need you to enter some contests." And I was like, "What are you talking about?" I said this already, and it was a little off-putting to me. And then I thought about it, and I was like, "Well, sure, if I can tell other people to do it, why can't I do it? So, can't be a hypocrite. We already talked about this a lot. We talked about portfolio reviews and showcases, but I wanna talk a little bit more about portfolio review, 'cause it's not just about finding a service or going to an event, because that's one method of it. Another method of it is, find somebody that you know and trust to look at your work. Somebody you know that knows the business a little bit, or understands food photography a little bit. Don't you all send me your portfolios at the same time. (laughs) Please don't do that, 'cause I feel obligated to look at them. I got one this morning, somebody sent me one this morning. Nobody from here though. But I do it all the time. People send me stuff and ask for my critique, and I am brutally honest. I will not pull punches with you if you ask for a critique because I think it's irresponsible. And hopefully, whoever you share your portfolio with will be equally brutal, because if you... Social media has taught us that everyone will puff up our heads because they like us or ignore us because they don't. It has nothing to do with the work. You like the pictures of the people that you like. And very rarely do you click on pictures of people you don't know or like. And it becomes personal, so you have to ignore that to a certain degree. I know I said something about likes yesterday, but I also know that there's a large social interactive component to the idea of people liking or not liking a photo. So you have to find an honest critique for your work. And a lot of times that means paying somebody to do it, and a lot of times, like what I was saying earlier about going to large contests, or, not contests, conferences, I can't tell you how many portfolio reviews I've done on the fly at one of those events because people would run up to me and I'll be sitting in the, eating or whatever, I'm just hanging out with people, and they'd be like, "Can you look at my portfolio? "Five minutes, just give me some, "you know, I just need some advice." And they have a printed portfolio with them. What am I supposed to say? "Sorry, I don't do that." (audience laughs) No, you have to help people, you know? And I get, I would look through the portfolio, and it only takes ten minutes. Look, look, out, out, out, out, out, these are great, you do this well. And one of our mutual friends here in Seattle, I did that for Paula years and years ago, and I really feel it influenced her work, because her lifestyle work was just brilliant, it was brilliant back then, and her still-life work wasn't there yet. Now she's obviously progressed to get better at that, but the thing that she was so strong at, right from the beginning, was the lifestyle work. And it was great. And everybody who knows her in the audience is nodding their head because it's clear, it was clear that that was her talent and she needed to develop her skills as a still-life photographer, but she already had this beautiful gift as a lifestyle photographer. So I helped her through that initial stage, and I said, "Look, this is where your strength is "and this is where you need to work." And she took that advice, and she ran with it. And it was great. I mean, she really was able to craft a career now. And Paula, if you're watching, sorry we missed you this week. She's usually here in the front row with light.
When you're educating, do you encourage people, starting photographers, to contact food photographers and offer up their services and, from an educational standpoint, maybe one-on-one tutoring, maybe working in the studio?
I get that offer a lot from people, I get a lot of phone calls and I get a lot of emails and offers of people who wanna come and observe and they wanna come and P.A., or they wanna intern, or they wanna do one-on-ones, whatever. I think, ultimately, that's a hard thing. It has never worked out for me personally. And, as much as I consider myself an educator, it's hard to ask a photographer to be teaching you when he's working, or she's working. It's really hard because I don't, it's not a classroom, it's a business. And if you wanna organize... One of the things I've told people is, if you wanna organize a small workshop and get five other people and come in on a Saturday, and I'll charge you "x" amount of money for that kind of a workshop, we could probably work that out. But that requires you to do the leg work because I can't coordinate that. But I've had people come to me and say, "I wanna do one-on-one with you." And I'm like, "Do you understand what that's gonna cost?" I can't, you know, if you think in terms of my day rate, right, and how much one day for me costs a client, I can't conceivably take a day out of my calendar for something that's a tenth of that or something like that. You have to think that way in terms of business. I mean, it's cold, but it's true. It's like, my time is worth this. And I get it, that it's valuable for you to learn from a photographer like me or another person like me, but you also have to understand that every day that I do that for somebody, I'm taking a day out of my calendar that I can't shoot. So that's a tough one, too. So I would say, by all means, give it a shot. But I think it's a, in certain circumstances, that's a very difficult thing for a photographer to do, unless they are actively looking for assistants or actively looking for P.A.s. When I am, I'm more than happy to have people come in and P.A., but you can't expect a lot from me. I'm not gonna be a hands-on teacher in that environment. It's not practical for pretty much anybody. It's just not, yeah?
Cool, and also when it comes to styling, are there any places that you would point people to to learn styling specifically?
You know, I think you gotta intern, or work as a second or a third assistant with a food stylist. It's such a specific skill, and there's no school to teach you how to do it. The only schools out there are the people who are experts in the field and they know how to do it. You start in culinary schools, but even that is not geared toward styling food for camera, so it's really an apprenticeship, if that's the best word. You have to find an apprenticeship in the industry. And all of the great ones have long coaching trees of people that came through and worked as their assistants, and it's a very small community. So if you know of food stylists in your area, whether that be a big city or a small city, they're everywhere, and if you wanna work in TV or you wanna work in print, you should aim yourself at that person, or those people, and offer yourself as a second or a third assistant and get in there and start to learn, because that's the only place you're gonna learn that work.
There are workshops, too. But, you know, that's a tough one to just learn from workshops. I think you just gotta get in there and do the work.
What do you think of professional associations? Like Professional Photographers of America?
You know, photography has never had the option of really unionizing, and I think that was one of the things that's the difference between the film industry and the photography industry, even at the highest levels, there's no unions. So I think that they're very helpful. I think those kind of organizations are helpful for learning about things like the documents that you need and insurance and liability, and some of the other things that we've talked about about paying your taxes, and forming groups, and contests. All of that stuff is consolidated. You know, you go onto the PDN website and they have all these different branches. They have PDN food, they have PDN photo journalism and everything else, and then they have a resource section, and I was gonna talk about that a little bit later, too, but they have, a lot of these websites and organizations have resource sections that help you find other stylists, right? If you go on and, say, Google food stylists in Atlanta, or food stylists in Seattle, and you'd get probably driven to some of these sites that have these directories, and that would help you find a way to find somebody to assist with or whatever, whether it be stylists or photographers. That's all built in. And here's the biggy. This is so integral to your business now. It is exhausting how much energy I put into my social media accounts. I wish that it wasn't like this, but the reality is this is such an important part of what we do, and there's a portion of it I truly enjoy. And then there's a portion of it that's work. And it's just that you have to be able to constantly present your work in this environment or else no one's gonna know who you are. It's just, because they're gonna, as soon as they hear your name they're gonna put it into the computer and this is what's gonna pop up. I can't tell you how many art directors I speak to now that just talk about my Instagram feed in creative meetings. They don't talk about my portfolio, they don't talk about my website, they talk about that. "I'm sitting at my desk and I'm looking at your, "I got your name and I'm looking at your stuff, "and now I'm hungry." And I'm like, okay, job done. So I realize how important it is, because people are going for the quick hit. They want to know right away if you're somebody that fits their creative or fits their vision for their client, or whatever it is that's going on. But you have to manage these accounts, you have to edit your accounts, you have to be mindful of what's being on them. I said this earlier, your Instagram account, which is sort of your photo portfolio, needs to be consistent. If you look at mine, and I try really hard to maintain it this way. If I'm out on a Sunday afternoon, and I'm doing something fun, and I really see a beautiful picture that has nothing to do with food photography, I may put it on my Instagram account, for twelve hours, and then I take it off. All the time. Yes?
Talking about cook books, is the trend to have online cookbooks as opposed to print?
Yes, the online cookbooks have definitely become more prevalent. I haven't done any of them yet, but the New York Times just did a big piece, about a week ago, with a photographer friend of mine, named Francesco Tonelli, and he did this beautiful thing about French cooking. And it was this online, interactive kind of thing where there was visuals and recipes, and it was all this kind of interactive with graphics or whatever. And Sam Sifton, the head of the food section for the New York Times, was touting it on social media as the future of cookbooks. And that exactly speaks to what you're talking about, is that this is all sort of... And the one I mentioned here, Foodie, Foodie is trying to do something like that too, in a social media application, where not only is it a picture, but there is a section where you click and you can add a recipe, so now you have this running online recipe box. Similar to what New York Times Cooking is doing as a website, right? Where you have recipe cards as photographs, and then you have the online, so it's basically this running online cookbook. So yes, that is definitely the future, but don't think print is dead yet. We have a few death throws left in us. I wanna just jump back to social media, just for a sec. So the idea that you have to curate and manage your social media accounts in a way that is reflective of your work is important. You have to constantly go back and edit and look at things that no longer reflect your style. Express drunkenness on a Friday night, whatever it might be, you need to kind of purge a lot of that stuff. Because you know they're watching. The people who wanna hire you are gonna go here and look, especially if you're putting it on your website. "Go see my Instagram feed." And then there's a picture of your dog eating the cake that you dropped off the counter 'cause it was cute. That has no place in your portfolio. Think of it that way. Your portfolio is a living document online now, and if you are soiling it with things that don't really fit into the workflow, then people won't take your work seriously. Like I said earlier, designate a social media account that you will do your personal stuff on, you will post your personal pictures, you will do your cat memes, you will rant about politics, whatever it might be, and keep that separate, and monitor who can see that. Who's your friend, is it friends of friends, who can see this, is it public? You gotta be sure that you're narrowing those things down. And then when it comes to the things that you want everyone to see, open it up to the public, don't put anything personal on it, and make it a living portfolio.
If you were only to do one or two of these, where would you drive most of your attention.
Well, certainly Instagram would be my first priority. I don't know, it would be a toss-up between Facebook and Twitter, but I would probably lean heavier toward Facebook because it's more visual. So those would be my two that I would gravitate towards the most. Definitely Instagram is by and far the first one I'd pay attention to.