Who are the Players in Commercial Food Photography
So we're gonna talk a little bit about client management and what to, to understand all the players in the game here. And when I talk in this situation, I'm talking about essentially agency, and bigger kind of shoots where there's production money at stake. And if you understand like, all the people who might be playing in this game you can clearly be better prepared to understand what their roles are, because sometimes it gets a little confusing, because there's a lot of overlap on that level, so you wanna be able to, and we're gonna talk later on about your personal team versus this team. 'Cause these teams have to meet, you know? So on the commercial side of things, there's client agency side and then there's production side. And a lot of those people have the same title, and sometimes that can get kind of confusing, to understand what that means, and I'm gonna unpack all that out for you over the next couple of sections, so. Here we go. So if you know the players, if you, you know,...
you wanna play the game, you gotta know the players, right? So what's a producer do? So a producer on an agency level is the person who is basically in charge of the shoot. They're the person who is collecting all the people and organizing all the meetings and connecting everybody that needs to be connected and when this, when we're on set, that's the person who's running the show on the set as far as all of the background production situation from a client's side. So, that producer will be dealing with an actual producer on set which would be coming from the production side, but we're gonna get into that later. But understanding who your producer is and what they do when you're meeting with these people, understand that that is the liaison, the person who is in charge of dealing with all of the people on her side or his side of the fence, so to speak. Then we have art directors. Now, the art director on any given project is the person who is dealing with the creative side of how the agency is creating the package for the client, driving the creative force behind the, behind the project. So if there's a campaign going on, and you've all seen Mad Men, this is exactly what is happening. They are making the commercial before it's made. Right? They're drawing it, they're sketching it, they're coming up with concepts, they're coming up with ad, with copy and the Art Directors are the people who are gonna communicate to people like me and my team as to what they want to see in the final product, they will drive that conversation. The creative directors are the people who are essentially the, setting the tone for the entire agency. So they may very well be the Art Director on your job, but they also may have a bigger job in setting the tone for the way the agency does business as creative. So Don Draper is your Creative Director. You also, sometimes will deal with chefs, in this, in this situation and that chef also, because on a bigger project, especially one that's funded well, when you're dealing with a celebrity chef, and that's sort of what I'm talking about here, talking about dealing with celebrity chefs, that is an added wrinkle into these negotiations because it's another personality that has to be dealt with and it sometimes goes through agency and sometimes it doesn't, but that doesn't mean that the production is any smaller. There's also dealing with authors, which isn't necessarily a agency, kind of production, but it is clearly a bigger production because we're dealing with volume of work, you know, we're not doing one story, we're doing an entire book. So production aspects of that where you may not very, you may be acting as producer, you may be collaborating on art direction, but clearly all these roles are being played by somebody in the equation. And restaurateurs, it's a little different, and we'll talk about the difference between what working with a chef or a restaurateur, or a chef who happens to be a restaurateur, so that's a completely different dynamic. And also you're going to deal with photo editors if you're dealing with somebody who it may not be, again, this might not be agency, it might be more editorial and your photo editor might be acting as many of these roles at the same time. So, we're gonna talk about those things one at a time. And every one of them happens to be an egg. Like I said, ultimately the client side, this is the people for who are coordinating all of the things that are happening on your set, we've talked about the producer being that kind of driving force from the client side and they will be highly organized people, usually. Super organized people who do not leave anything to chance. And when you're dealing with producers, potentially really good producers on the agency side, you, they will leave no stone unturned. And your team has to understand that dealing with that person is the key to getting more work down the road. Because if you work well with the agency producer, they are gonna, and the creative director likes your work, you're easy to work with and you will get repeat business. And repeat business in advertising, that is, that is the bomb when you get there. When you get repeat clients, when you get on campaigns, then, you know, that's what we call, those are legacy clients, right? Annuity clients, that's where you build your house in the mountains when you start getting clients like that. So you take care of your producer, you make your producer look good in that situation, and you will hopefully start to build relationships with an agency that will be long lasting, so. We will hear also the creative director, which I've already discussed a little bit is that artistic tone. Now these are the people who have the most pressure on them at the shoot, because they are setting the creative and you are trying to execute their vision. And they are intense people, often, you know, and you have to be able and willing to defer to this art director in an advertising scenario because they have the most pressure on them, because if this, if you fail for an art director on an ad job, you will not work for that person ever again, because the stakes are much too high. So this person might be very high strung in your environment, but you have to understand and appreciate the amount of pressure that they're under, because there's so much money at stake when it comes to these kinds of jobs in advertising, that if you don't appreciate where they're coming from, and you don't, aren't sensitive to the fact that you need to make these people happy, then you're not gonna work in that environment, but art director also covers some of the other venues that we work in like publishing or like editorial, where people wear multiple hats. So we'll talk about a photo editor later, but a photo editor is also essentially your art director in an editorial scenario, so like when I work with one of the magazines I work with, I don't have a photo editor, I have an art director, and that person is driving the bus for the creative and is also the person who's gonna essentially edit the work. They're gonna look at the whole take, and they're gonna decide what they wanna use. So that art director terminology, it covers multiple venues that we work in, and then also from a publishing perspective, there may be an art director that you have to work with to set the creative tone for a particular book. It's not a usual situation, but it is something that could happen and you just need to be aware of what that person's role is and that's sort of an important part. We've already gone over what the creative director does, and that person again, the art director may be the same person on a given job, or maybe that would be the person who is the art director's boss, and if that person shows up on your set, you really gotta make that person happy, because that's the person who gets you on multiple campaigns. That's the person who, if they love your work and you're easy to work with and you're making them look good time and time again, they're gonna continue to give you work. And that's a really important relationship to have when you're dealing with agency people, because like I said, the stakes are very high, the margins are very thin and in order to make money, you need to make things work, so, as efficient as you can be and as, you know, stay within your creative lane and be helpful and be communicative and have a great attitude and all of those other things that we talked about in the ABCs, when that person is around, beware. Because they are watching you, they are watching every move you make. Chefs are scrambled eggs. I'll just leave it at that. No, I'm kidding. You know, chefs are temperamental creatives, just like we are, and you put them in the same box and sometimes it becomes scrambled eggs. So it's important to understand the relationship that you're gonna have with them, and here's one of the keys that I've learned to dealing with chefs. Engage them outside of the environment, because they're different people when they're outside of the environment. Most of the friends I have that are chefs are lunatics in their workspace, and they are unrecognizable to me as my friends, when I watch them work, because their intensity level has to be so high, especially at really high level, in high level environments. You engage them outside of that environment and you get to know the human being. You get to know who they really are. And sometimes it's somebody you like and sometimes it's not, but at least you know where you stand. Because if you try and engage them in this high-pressure environment, you're not gonna get, they're gonna treat you like they treat the line cooks, and then you're gonna get angry and you're not gonna wanna work with them. So that's one of those things where you're dealing with people who are working in high-pressure environments, who are high-strung and very artistic, you have similar personality types in a lot of ways, there's gonna be a lot of head clashing unless you manage that relationship and don't be mistaken, it's your responsibility to manage that relationship, that is not their responsibility, so you're the boss, it's your set, manage it. And that's why it's important to understand that when you're working with chefs, particularly celebrity chefs, try to engage them outside of the environment, that's the best way I can, best piece of advice, and that still might not work. Dealing with authors, you gotta make the cake. You really do when it comes to authors a lot of times, because a lot of them are new. And we talked about this earlier, you're gonna spend a lot of time negotiating with yourself when it comes to working with authors, because you're gonna educate your client first, and teach them what it is that we do, and then you're gonna start to talk about what it's gonna cost. So you're gonna go back and forth, you're gonna basically give them all the information, and then you're gonna negotiate with them on the information you just gave them. That's not always the case, but for me it turns out, 80% of the time, I'm negotiating with a cookbook author, I'm starting with somebody who has never done it before. So, it's important to be able to offer that as a service, and we talked about it a little bit. And we'll continue to talk about it more with cake. And it can be, it can be stressful when you're dealing with that situation because you don't always want to have to spend the amount of energy it takes to educate somebody about what it is that they're trying to buy from you. Right? It's a weird relationship. But it is part of the job and it is something that we all have to end up doing at some point, in many negotiations, but especially this one. This is the one that most likely is going to take a lot of your energy to let them know exactly what they're buying from you.
You'll find that you have a wide array of people coming to you, authors with different experience and different types of food.
How do you sort of handle each, each sort of instance in a different sort of way, in other words, when you're working with them, is there a lot time that potentially goes into training them as to what they want?
Yeah, I think so. And like we said earlier, it's that kind of teaching them about honing it down to the essence of what their book is about rather than trying to just throw everything at the wall and hoping a bunch of stuff sticks. You know, boiling it down from 100, 120 recipes down to 30 or 40 to give them a visual package that's gonna be arresting and also affordable. You know, it's all of that and trying to make them understand that you don't need, and it becomes a very literal arrangement, right? And this happens sometimes when you're dealing with print people on the editorial side, is we don't need to spell it all out for you. We don't need to show you every picture of every recipe. We need to give you the essence of what this food is about, let me pick the most visual one, and then everybody kind of gets a sense of what your food is about, but it doesn't, we don't need a literal interpretation of every single recipe, and once you've kind of expressed that and then you bring up examples of cookbooks that have been very successful without a hundred recipes in them, or without a hundred pictures in 'em, and then you can also talk to them about the idea of added value, which we talked about earlier, right? Where you do some process shots. You do some still life work. You add some archival photographs sometimes. If it's cookbook like a book that's about somebody's life, or about somebody's, or maybe there's some lifestyle that you can plug in and spend one day going out shooting some lifestyle with the author, where it's a little bit different than doing studio work, right? Because you can go out and you can really say okay, well let's go out to the farmer's market and let's take a few pictures and let's get into your daily routine, maybe we can add those in and some added value into the book, and if it fits, well now we have seventy pictures instead of because we were able to pull some still life. I've often offered cookbook authors some of my stock at a cut rate so that we can add more value to the book, and I have beautiful still life so I can, we can plug that into the book and instead of paying me $1000 a recipe, you can pay me $300 for a stock photograph. And that, and you do that five times, you got, your book's a little more rich, and you didn't really spend that much more money. So, there are many ways to make this relationship work, it's just about being open-minded enough to know what's a good project, what's not a good project, and how receptive the client is to understanding your point of view and your expertise and the things that you can bring to the table without just basically saying, okay, I'll photograph a hundred recipes. I had a celebrity chef who will remain unnamed, of course, who I negotiated a cookbook deal with and it was an unrealistic kind of discussion, it was uncomfortable and it was, the person was unwilling to listen to what I had to say and wasn't relying on my expertise and I walked away from the meeting saying you can't pay me enough to do this book. I won't do it. So I gave her a price that was so astronomical that it was impossible to hire me. Which is that technique that we talked about, right? Save face, everybody saves face, you walk out. And then I saw the book that got published. And it was exactly as I pictured it. It was a mess. And it was only 40 pictures, because 100 was unrealistic and it wasn't very good and it didnt' sell. And it was sort of like when you see the handwriting on the wall with certain situations, you have to know, okay, that's not gonna work. Let me just step out and somebody else will do that work and it's not, then it's not something they're gonna be proud of, so there's that. Now, when you deal with somebody who owns a restaurant, sometimes that person is much more of a business person, right, and sometimes it's not the chef, either. When it's the chef and the owner of the restaurant, that just complicates the, that relationship even more, because now they have business aspect of this being pushed on them because they have investors and all of those things. But when you're talking about somebody who owns a restaurant or particularly, like a restaurant chain, like several restaurants, or a restaurant group, where you're dealing with PR sometimes, these are interesting negotiations because there is money to be made here if you handle that negotiation well. And it can't be treated strictly like a, 'cause this isn't necessarily a cookbook, this could be something like for websites or some kind of promotional deal, so it's kind of skirting that edge between editorial, cookbook, it's like, it's sort of it's own world, because it's not really advertising, 'cause you're not gonna have an agency. It's probably gonna be direct PR work and I guess as long as you structure the contract in a way that protects you from using them professionally in their advertising, which I've had that experience, then you're fine. It's that you do the work at a reasonable price, probably close to editorial rates but you put limitations on how the work can be used. So if i did something for a restaurant for their website, that stuff can't live anywhere else, and they can't use it to promote their restaurant in a commercial or on, in print, or any of those things. And if they want to do that, you write it into the contract, that is a separate negotiation, happy to work with you in that, but the reality is that when the time comes, we will price that out accordingly. And most of the time when you're dealing with people or PR firms that represent restaurants, that negotiation is not that hard, because it's, it's all about money. It's like, I got this to spend and I wanna use this and they're okay with understanding the, the nature of their usage, and there's no unrealistic kind of situation happening there. So it's not, not a bad arrangement. Question.
Yes. So when you were talking about, early on about, like first getting started, and doing this, like would this be a good avenue, like a venture to go to a restaurant that maybe has a terrible website?
Or and like solicit this way, or offer services that way?
Absolutely. This is definitely an entry point into the business and it gives you an opportunity to learn a little bit about negotiation and there's not a whole lot at stake for you, where, and then what happens if you get into a niche where you're good at this, and you can provide value for a client, you can approach bigger and bigger restaurants. So you start somewhere small and you do something well, and you show that you do something well, and you're starting to wiggle your way into a niche, and it kind of expands into more. So it's a very good entry point, I recommend that people all the time, when you're looking to start, particularly in a smaller city, you know, if you're in New York, you're in LA, you're in Chicago, this is gonna be much harder with brand name restaurants, because they're going through PR firms, but you could also solicit PR firms and let them know that you're available, you know. There are certain restaurant groups that, or PR firms that represent entire restaurant groups and you can, you can kind of break in that way. And it's a little easier, because it's not agency driven, it's PR driven, so they're not, they definitely price cost and they're price cost conscious, so they're willing to work with younger artists, or newer artists, as well as, as long as you can do the work and, and you're comfortable with the pricing structure, this is a very good entry point into the business. And then photo editors, which on the flip side of that art director thing, so the photo editor, particularly at newspapers, is the person who is essentially wearing all those hats at once. They're the producer, they are the art director, you know, they're driving all of that behind, well, I mean, as far as art director in a newspaper setting, they don't drive the creative, they're the people who lay it out in the paper, so that's a little bit of a different twist on the same terminology. So in like, at the New York Times, the art director doesn't drive the creative, the photo editor does. So they become the defacto art director, as well as the photo editor. So that's sort of like that magazine newspaper thing that works conversely. So in the newspaper world, the photo editor is the art director and a lot of times in magazines, the art director is the photo editor, so they kind of work hand in hand, because they usually don't have a redundancy at that level because most people can't afford that much staff, even the biggest of publishing companies don't, don't wanna pay all of those people, and it's also too much for a daily, especially, to have that many people involved in every decision. There's way too much, you know, they call newspapers like the Daily Miracle, you know, the fact that you're actually gonna get all that content out everyday is amazing, so, from that perspective, approaching these people about work to and photo editors, I mean, it's always good to be aware of who, if you can get the names of editors in like food sections or whatever, you can always try to share your work with them and that way, if they are looking for somebody and they think that you're, you know, available and you'll sign the contract, there's no negotiation with newspapers. They will tell you what they pay and that's it. But the idea is that it does offer you the opportunity to grow and do more work when you have those relationships. And there's less at stake, too, here. Like with the restaurant business.