Opportunities In Commercial Food Photography
Let's talk a little bit about the different venues. The pictures that I'll show you that are attached to these are pictures that were attached to those types of projects. So this was a shot for an advertising job and it was a local advertising job, and that's the thing, is to recognize that at all of the markets that we're in, with the exception of the internet market, is local, national or global, and all of those things have an impact into how you create the work because it's clearly about budget. The look is usually a little bit slicker, particularly for me, when we're doing advertising work. And one of the things that, from a technical perspective, and how work looks different, is there's a lot more resources that go into advertising work. So when you have better cameras, better lighting, better editing, better post-production, less restrictions on that post-production, the product ends up being a lot slicker. With that said, you don't get to be as artistic, because you're art dire...
cted in a way that's much more intense, and you have to understand and accept that because a lot of us start at the beginning of our careers where we're deciding what we shoot, and we're deciding how we want it to look, we decide how we want the post-production to look, and as you become more proficient and you get advertising work, you have way more art direction to deal with. So you have to be willing and understand that and have to deliver a product that clearly may not, the final product might not be what you envisioned it all the time. But if it's what your client envisioned, then you've had success. And again, the more resources you throw at something, the more you get. So one of the things that we're starting to see now in editorial is this crossover between editorial and advertising in the look of things. Because when we first started with digital photography, the cameras weren't that powerful, and we were shooting in daylight, so we're shooting at very shallow apertures, so we didn't have a whole lot of focus. And that style is falling out of favor in editorial, so then we've employed something recently that makes it look more like advertising, but again it's not, from my work with New York Times, I couldn't do something like focus stacking, where you have, you take four pictures, where the focus point is in four different positions, and then you merge those pictures together to get a much cleaner, slicker look. That's not editorially honest for newspapers, but for other editorial magazines, that's something they might want to do. And then it starts to resemble a more advertising look, and the reason for that is the crossover with the internet and branded content. So all of that, all these markets are starting to criss-cross around one another. The other thing you have to understand is that the bigger your advertising sh- I said show because I meant to use that word. The bigger your advertising job gets, the bigger the dog and pony show is. Because when the client is spending 50,000, 100,000, 150,000 dollars on a photo shoot, it needs to be a production. So it's a circus, it's not just a job anymore. And you are the ring master of that circus, and you need to understand and appreciate the fact that everybody needs to get taken care of and they're all looking at you to do it. So the bigger that job gets, the more of a ring master you have to become, particularly with advertising and particularly with big clients. Because when there's agency on the set, and they have their own little room with leather couches and everybody's sitting there with monitors watching everything you do, and you need to stick your head in there every once in a while and check on everybody, that's part of the job. It's part of the job to be Mr. or Mrs. Personality on those jobs. That's a hard thing. It's a hard thing for me. It's a hard thing for most people to be because if that's not generally your personality, then you have to learn those skills. For me, that was exactly it, because I would rather be the brooding guy in the corner looking at my pictures and being okay with that, but that's not the way it's gonna work on that level. So in advertising, we're talking about a very different animal. Editorial. Now to make a picture that looks like a painting, you get to do that in editorial a lot of times, because you get to create what you want in a lot of cases. I got a tremendous amount of creative freedom with the New York Times, and it afforded me the opportunity to build a body of work that was very representative of what I wanted to show the world, and being that, having that big of a megaphone to shout from means that you get to influence other artists as well. So being the fact that newspapers and websites and magazines you can really show who you want to be as an artist, a lot of times. Now clearly the downside of that is that you don't get paid as much money. So you have to have a balance of all of these things in your work portfolio, in that I have some advertising clientele, I have some editorial clientele, because if you strictly work in one venue, you can't cross over. And where you need to expand yourself as a business person is to be able to operate in all these venues and understand what the needs are of the clients, the look, and how you can adjust your look to accommodate the different venue that we're living in. So with editorial also, you don't have a whole lot of art direction, but a lot of times you need a lot more coverage. So what I mean by when I use the word coverage is that you may not be just setting up to make one shot, like you would in an advertising campaign, where it's been art directed to the Nth degree, you mount your camera, you set your frame, everybody approves your frame, you push the button, we made the picture. That's not always the case in editorial. You need to be more of a journalist in a way and cover the process sometimes, make some still life, look at the idea of how many images are gonna be in the package, and be able to create on that level. And I would gather that most people relish that opportunity because it gives you a lot of creative freedom to do that, but understanding that if you go into, let's say you've only worked advertising work, and then you're asked to do that, that might feel a little foreign to you because it's a lot more free wheeling. For me, having to lock my camera off on an advertising job in one frame feels foreign to me, because I've always had the opportunity to grab my camera and move all around the table and not be inhibited by any of that. But the idea is that, from a business perspective, you have to be able to modify your behavior on set to accommodate the job. Publishing. Now, when I say publishing for us, as food photographers, we're pretty much talking about cookbooks. And these are clearly, I find, the most challenging, because they are huge projects usually. The budgets are usually constrained, and you have to figure out what's gonna work best for you and your client at the same time. And what you're gonna spend a lot of time doing, particularly with new cookbook authors or clients that have not, well publishing houses that have not worked with a lot, and on the lower levels, you're gonna end up working with publishing houses that maybe have not necessarily done a lot of cookbooks or worked with photographers who are working at a higher level professionally. You have to educate your clients. You have to educate them as to what's gonna go into the project, how much is that gonna cost you, and how much it's gonna cost them. So it's always a tough negotiation, but it's manageable if you know what you're talking about. If you come out with a lot of blah blah blah, and nobody understands what you're talking about, then that negotiation is gonna shut down right away. But if you come out and you're knowledgeable and you're accessible and you talk people through what it is that you need to do to make their work great, that's gonna work. Now here's the first thing. Every cookbook client I ever met wants 100 pictures in their book. I have never done a book with 100 pictures, because nobody can afford that the way I want to work. And here's what I mean by the way I want to work. When my name goes on that book, that's a portfolio piece. I don't want to show people the outtakes. And if you're shooting 100 recipes, and they're not paying you a boatload of money to do it, it isn't gonna be that. You're not gonna have 100 portfolio pieces in a book. It's just not gonna look that way. It's not gonna look that good. You can't, it's impossible. You don't have a month and a half. The books that have won James Beard awards, and the books that stay on the shelf for 30 years or whatever, or will be on the shelves for 30 years, are books that took time, money, energy, or a lot of sacrifice. So I currently have a book with somebody you're gonna meet later today, that we're very, very proud of, and that Lei helped us on, she was one of my assistants on that job. And it was a labor of love. There wasn't a ton of money in it, but the reality was, for me, my motivation in that was different than money. And you're gonna remember, you will learn that money isn't the only motivation sometimes. Sometimes it's professional pride, sometimes you wanna help out a friend. Sometimes it's you wanna make something special that will stand the test of time, and you put your money and your resources into that. And I think that's what we accomplished with Art of the Pie, which is the book that Kate McDermott wrote, and we'll meet her later today when we talk about client negotiations and management. But the reality is, that was a leap of faith, and sometimes as a professional, you need to make leaps of faith because you want to grow in your industry. I have never done a cookbook that I got to put all the resources I wanted to put into them, because it was always too expensive for the client to do it that way. Now I've made some nice cookbooks I'm proud of, but this was the one where we pulled out all the stops. Everyone. There was no limit to what I was willing to do. We pulled hundreds and hundreds of props. I flew over here to Seattle to finish the job. I mean, I did everything that I could possibly do because I really wanted to make that job great. So, but what it does on the flip side of that is teach me exactly what it takes to make a book like that. And that's now knowledge that I can share with my clients, is say, look, you want Art of the Pie? You want a book like that? This is what it's gonna take. And if I, I don't have time to form a personal relationship with you for the next five years, so you're gonna have to pay me. (crowd laughter)
Is someone's website, and their images for a corporate entity, someone who creates food, is there an opportunity there as well?
Oh, you're talking about a commercial client that sells food online or something like that? Yeah, absolutely. I would consider that an advertising job.
I would probably consider it more in the local range, unless it's a national brand. And if it's specifically for the web, that's going to be a different pricing structure as well, because your usage is now global. You have to remember that once it hits the internet, you are no longer in a local market, and that if you're going to sell that type of usage to a client, you have to understand that you're running several risks there. One, is your overexposing imagery that you might be able to use in resale. You may have that imagery taken down off the internet by someone and using it the way that it wasn't intended, which happens all the time and is very hard to guard against. So, all of that comes into factoring how you're gonna price the job. And, I'm gonna hammer away at you about copyrights in a little while, and I want that to be one of the things that you take away from this class is understanding your rights as an artist, and defending your rights as an artist. Because if you enter into relationships with clients and you don't understand those things, you will get taken, and then you will be disappointed, and I don't want to see that happen. The last thing we're gonna talk about in this venue here is the social media branded content, sponsored content world, which did not exist to this level the last time I spoke to these issues, so this is an updated kind of thing. That picture is intentional, because I did a branded content campaign that I did all the right things. I spoke to the client, I laid out my ground rules, I said this is how I want to work, and all of that was yessed. Absolutely, we totally understand. We get your process, we'll do it. Get on the set, that all went out the window, and I get a pizza that looks like that on my table. And I got no choice but to take a picture of it. So I did the best I could. And it made me angry because I knew that this was going to happen. I anticipated these problems, and I still couldn't prevent it from happening, because once I was on that set, and all my gear was set up, and I had a camera in my hand, and that food hit the table, I'm committed now to take that picture. And that's frustrating. But it's where we are in the business now, is that you need to understand that in certain circumstances, you're dealing with people who don't get to make the decisions, particularly in social media and branded content, because you're dealing with PR companies, not decision-makers. So when you're pricing these jobs, so that might be one of the uglier pizzas I have ever taken a picture of, but I got paid to take that picture. (crowd laughter) I got paid for the pain, and that's why I'm comfortable showing you that and telling you why that pizza looks like that. Because if that pizza hit my table in my studio, that'd get thrown at a stylist. And they know it. So this speaks to the idea of dealing with clients and managing clients, and sometimes no matter what, with all the greatest intentions, money still talks. So after the shoot was over, I said I don't want my name on it. Pay me the money, but I don't want my name on it. And that's the price of doing business sometimes, is that it was something that I would've really liked to have my name on because it was getting widely circulated, but because it was getting widely circulated, I didn't want my name on it, exactly. So that's part of the whole idea with this. And this whole landscape is the wild west. And you're gonna get approached about these things, and there's a couple of ground rules that I live by with this is, I don't put it on my own account unless you're willing to pay me what I think that's worth. And market rate, for somebody with a certain amount of followers, is pretty high. We're talking in the multiple thousands of dollar per image, if you have a big following. And you can command that. If you can reach an audience, you can command that. So when you're talking about doing these types of campaigns, the rules are so different. They're so complicated, and every negotiation is about what they're willing to pay and what you're willing to sacrifice to get- And I also want to go into something very specific about this, which was born in the blogging era, is this idea of compensation as exposure. That is a myth. It's an absolute myth. It is meant to play to your passions as an artist, your want to be published, your want to be seen, your thought that this is gonna expand your brand. And it never happens. No matter what. Because the internet is such a wide, huge place that it's still just a drop of water in the ocean, and it's so hard. I've been published every day for ten years in the New York Times, so if you can tell me how that exposure equals 25,000 Instagram followers, I have no idea how that works. Because I see people who don't get published every day in the biggest newspaper in the world who have 500,000 followers. So how does that work? That whole ecosystem doesn't make any sense. So don't get suckered into thinking that you're gonna get an exposure because you get a by line in a magazine or online or a Twitter account or whatever, unless it's like Justin Bieber, and then maybe you'd get a couple hundred thousand followers out of that, I don't know, whatever.
Can you talk a little bit to when brands ask you to use your images on their social media sites for your own Instagram or Facebook for free.
So they basically want to repurpose your work on their site.
Unless it's gonna be monetized on their part, or let's say, if it's just a picture of a pizza, and there's really nothing attached to it from a brand perspective, I think ultimately that's just like a retweet, it's just somebody taking your picture and putting it out there and giving you credit for it, and that's okay. It happens to me a lot, and I don't see it as an issue. If it's Coca-Cola, and I have a picture of a pizza with a coke in it, well no, that's no good. You're gonna have to pay for that. And we'll have to negotiate a price, and what that means, and what it means to you and all of that. But as far as just your imagery being repurposed on other people's Instagram feeds, unless it's commercially viable, and they're looking to market something with that picture, I don't have a problem with it.
Cool, and does the same come with when the repurposing with potentially a different format or adding text or, (laughs) Right?
I don't love it. I don't know how you guard against it. I think if somebody used a picture of mine and I was unhappy with the way they used it, I would just make a comment or DM and gracefully ask them to take it down. Again, as long as it's not a commercial entity, and if that's the case, get a lawyer, because then they are infringing on your copyright, and they owe you lots of money. So when it comes to those kind of things on the internet again with this stuff, you have to go by case by case basis. You have to see if there is an aggrieved party, using lawyer speak. If I have a real grievance, not just the fact that I didn't like the fact that you reposted my picture. Once you set it out, once you set the picture free, you have to understand that there might be consequences to that and then you have to deal with them as they come. I don't know that there's any rule of thumb about any of it. I think you have to look and see. I've had pictures and have had people call me and say hey, there's a pizzeria in Philadelphia using your picture on a menu. And I was like, how do you know it's my picture? And they're like, I know it's your picture, I've seen it in the New York Times. And I went and looked and it was my picture. And it was literally being printed on this menu of this pizzeria or whatever in Philadelphia. So I called them on the phone. And they got scared. I mean, they did. Because I called them personally. I didn't let the lawyers from the New York Times call them, and I actually sounded probably a little bit more like a New Yorker on that call too. But they ceased and desisted, and they reprinted their menus, and they apologized, and we dropped it. But the reality was, that's no good, man. You can't go around appropriating people's work and using it for commercial purposes, and I think that is the rule of thumb right there.