Finding and Winning Commercial Clients


Lesson Info

How to Target Clients and Get Them to Commit to You

I like this quote. I'm not even sure if it fits in the context of this class I just like this quote. And I think it drives home that I follow people who aren't photographers. It's not that I don't care, it's just that I follow people who are in advertising. I'm in the advertising business, I'm not in the photography business. I'm advertising. I'm selling stuff. It's not about this anymore, it's about... I'm part of their team. It should always stay exciting, it should always be pushing the limits of what you think is comfortable. I mean, I'll do a lot of my conceptual shots turn out awful. But every time I do one and it's a failure, I learn so much from that failed shot than I could ever have learned if I got it right and I start to go back and say, "What's wrong?" And by the time I do the next one, I'm like... When I make myself excited to look at my own image which is totally weird, but it's really pleasing to be able to be satisfied and excited by your own work because a lot of arti...

sts will critique their work to death or they'll want to redo it. And that was me, and when I get one right I'm always really... It's a really good feeling. You had a question. Thanks. This is fantastic, I love this quote. I used to be in advertising as well and it's so true, except so often you find yourself, I think, if I may say, riding that line between exciting to you and boring to you, but boring to you is accepted by the client. So how do you push the client a little bit out or the clients that are really reluctant to go as far as you think exciting could be? That delicate conversation and dance between where you think the image should go, and what the client is ready to move to. That's a challenging one. Sometimes... Okay, so when you're trying to... Every job is different. Sometimes they'll come to me and say we want you to be a part of the creative process. And sometimes they come to you because they know you can solve a problem for them and just get it done really well. And with some of the splash stuff, with all of the conceptual crazy stuff that I tend to do for the advertising world, it's already pushed to its... It's already looking super cool and when I'm done I'm like, there's a lot of people who know what they're doing in the creative department, making sure that everything's... They give me a layout that sometimes look like pure art that I want on my wall. Some of the packaging drawings that they've done that some of the clients have done for me are spectacular. Being a pro is being able to get there no matter what happens. And then pushing it a little bit further, often times there's not the budget and there's not the time because we're working on really... It's tighter and tighter deadlines. With my stuff, I'm not having to push as much because a lot of it's already pretty crazy to begin with and it's already pretty cool because we're doing the splash stuff and we're doing all that. So everyone's already pretty impressed, I don't know how we'd take it further by making another... You know, it's not like it was, you know, let's say maybe it was a Acocae, they've been doing a lot of the lifestyle stuff where it's food centered. It's sort of an environmental image, not a lot going on, let's say, "Okay let's push this." A lot of times, because I specialize in the liquid stuff, there's no having to push it because they're worried I can even get that shot, they don't even know. So I don't have as much experience in that realm but if I have an idea, I'm going to... And I feel it's helping not my own personal like, "I think this would look super..." I think this would help the project as a whole, if that makes that better that's what we're really doing. It's not my... In fact, I don't even really shoot for my book as much during those shoots because that's usually good, I like that and I like where they're going with that. It's rare that I get it where I feel like I can improve on it, because they've already really gone through. So it depends, every job is 100 percent different. There is no single... Sometimes I'm doing the creative process. I got a call saying, "Can you just do 50 shots?" (laughs) That's vague. And it took forever to get it done because there just wasn't... One, there wasn't a deadline, and I probably won't ever do that again. That's the only time I've ever done it, I'm like, "Okay..." (mumbles) And they paid really well. They're a fantastic group, but I think there needs to be deadlines and there needs to be communication and there needs to be... That was the only one I ever took that was kind of loosey-goosey and it took forever to get it finished. But yeah, so every single job is different. I always, if I have something to add, I'll add it. But I'm lucky in that the content that I'm typically producing is already pretty striking. So they're always really happy with it. It's always fun doing the splash stuff because they're always impressed. It always looks good, it's not like... And maybe they don't even know what they thought it was gonna look like is even better so it's just like, yeah, it's a fun thing to do. I'm really at my happiest when we're going a splash shoot that we're just nailing and all the ducks are in a row, but sometimes if we have to get stuff in one shot, especially, which is never, that gets intense. But I think of myself as part of their team. More than my own versus them, or whatever. All this can be brought back to the food world where it's front of the house versus back of the house and there's a little animosity going on there. But hey, this isn't about you! (laughs) Which leads me to my next point. It is easy to get caught up, some people... There's no one rule for this, some shooters are well known, they're divas, everybody knows it. But he'll do a killer image for us, or she'll do a killer for us, and they go to them and they're just like, "Treat us like garbage, it's fine, we get it." And sometimes there's agencies that are hard to work with too. It's not always an easygoing situation. I rarely have that experience though, it's just... I like to take myself out of it, unless I need to be in it. If that makes any sense. I don't like to just stomp all over everything like "This is how we're gonna do it." I like to let things, even though it's incredibly hard for me, I know that there's food styles who are way better than me and when I have them on set, I know it, and I let them do their thing and I completely stay out of it, even though I'm just like, "I wanna get in there." And sometimes I'm just standing. There was a shoot in New York I did a while back where I had the art director on an iPad with the trigger to the camera, and I was... I had a food stylist and I had my digital tech over here. And I was literally standing up on a stool with the camera, just kind of like standing there for like three days. But you know what, that's what got us the best shots because the art director was like, "Okay." She was very hands on, and she said "I want this, this, this, it's just easier if I tweak it." I was doing it for a while, but then, you know she wanted to step in, so I let her do that and then I gave her the trigger, because the thing is she can twist it and go trigger and see that. That's just how the flow ended up going, and I wasn't gonna fight it and say I must be... I didn't let my ego get in the way or anything and it went so much faster because we just let things unfold, and the food stylist is really gracious. And that doesn't always happen, so sometimes as a leader of the set, you just have to kind of let people be at their best or do what's gonna happen and make the best... If I felt like it's gonna take... At some point during the shoot, I was like "This is starting to take forever to get these shots. "So we kind of have to, you know, we have to get these done" I have to kinda push it along. I nudged a little bit, but we got an amazing shot out of it. Shoots just go how they're gonna go. You're in charge of the set and it needs to... You need to be quietly in charge of the set so you're not just pushing everybody around. That makes for a tough day. This is the one I... Thinking from their perspective, I've mentioned this already, but you need to get into their shoes, because I learned so much when I finally said... When I type out an email, I was typing an email as a photographer and not a fellow advertiser. I didn't think about, would they be annoyed if I sent them four emails in a month? They're busy, they're not constantly waiting around going, "When is Steve gonna go pro so I can "finally contact him and we can have doughnuts?" Even though I'm on a diet. (audience laughs) You have to think and be cautious and slow at it, you don't want to steamroll yourself. There's a temptation. I was a chef for twenty years and I studied photography for like five hours... It drove my wife nuts. I'd be online five hours a day, non stop, Kelby, everything. Because I didn't go to traditional school and I'm like, "This is the final thing that I'm gonna do "before I become a photographer is "learn the camera and the gear and all that." Because you need to know how do that. But it's not the most important thing, I saved it for last. But when you're done with that, you're like, you're so ready to be successful and you're just like, "It needs to happen now or I'm gonna go crazy." So you're just like throwing stuff at the wall. I've gotten a lot of... Let's say someone in Seattle needs a photographer. They're like, "Oh my God, someone got sick or died. "I need a photographer!" They're gonna go online or they're gonna talk to their art producer or art buyer, somebody in the department, you know. Because some art directors work with photographers and they already know them. If they're out of those... I'm getting busy where I'm turning down work. I don't like that at all, it drives me crazy. But every time I turn down work, someone else gets an opportunity to prove themselves. So there's opportunities just by need. If you had reached out to these people and had a meeting with them, they'll be like... Even if you don't, they could just go online. I get more... People say nobody finds you online, but they kind of do if you're in the first three or whatever. Sometimes it's, "Google Seattle food photographer." And whatever comes up, if they're just researching or they need somebody I've gotten way more work from that than I have in mailers or calls. I mean, it helps to have that presence. But thinking through their eyes is helpful to not drive somebody crazy, because you can easily do it. I don't know, as photographers I get the clipping path, like the people who do the cutouts. I'm on some list where I get like... It's a useful service, but I get like 10 a day. I don't do catalog work, so I don't need that so I just immediately block everybody who does that. I feel like, you know, when you reach out to somebody too much you can easily not be able to reach them again, unless you change your... So this is a... (laughs) This is a rip-off from Ansel, good old Ansel. He did the first part, but I did the second part. I put that in there. It's just not your... You have an influence over the final shot, but you... The client has demands from legal, they have demands from marketing, they have demands from... And they creative team has, you know, a creative direction they've implemented. By the time they come to you, they've already figured out where things are going. And they'll ask for my input sometimes, sometimes to be nice or... But more on set, a lot of it is just about how are we gonna solve this problem? That's where I come in. And they're like, "We need this visual to be created." And you need to figure out how to do it, not the content of what we're trying to sell. Sometimes there's gonna be copy somewhere. I used to do creative briefs once in a while, I don't do creative briefs nearly as much. Maybe it's just coincidence. But they want to know what your creative direction is. Sometimes, on the last packaging shoot I did they cared very much about what I could bring to the table artistically, but that's not always the case. So you need to feel that out and know what your role is, as far as importance on the creative direction in this or not. And that'll help you maintain the client relationship over time, because once you get that first job that's not success until you've completed the first job really well. Maybe a few times, because of course you can get lucky. So it's a long-term relationship that you need to hang on to and nurture, just like you would any other business. But in this business it's even more crucial because at a restaurant you don't have just 10 clients, you've got you know, a lot. And you can get by because you have a street presence, there's buzz going on. People aren't talking on the street going, "Oh, a photographer!" Unless you're a fine art, if you have a gallery location. A lot of restaurants can survive just on their reputation for a long time, but your last shoot... If you do a bad shoot, that could permanently damage your reputation. And we've gone over the local versus national reach, it really is important to start from a local. The international stuff will come, you know, if you become a big enough name. If you want to travel the world and do all that fun stuff, especially if you're gonna do editorial work. I don't like doing commercial work on an international level because of the logistics involved. I mean, I've done some Canadian work and I've done some... But overseas it just gets to be... You're looking for the right plug and I'm hauling expensive gear on the plane, they're gonna drop it 30 thousand feet. Stuff happens, and so I try and unless it's a very straightforward project, which is rarely what I'm hired for I'm hired for the splash stuff there because they can't find you know, there's not as many who specialize in that. So yeah, it's a... I would start local, I would start small because if you do an average job at a restaurant shoot you're not gonna be... It's not the end for you. They'll just, you know, one less free dinner or something. There's ways, there's a progress, you don't want to just jump to the front because it can affect you for the rest of your career. And as far as, you know, the meeting is a big thing because they're... The one reason I like... I'm gonna go to the next slide real quick to show you. This is the one, I use Ad Edge, I'm part of the Ad Edge Photography, I don't know if you've heard of them but they have most of the big names from every type of photography represented here. It's one of the last... But the nice thing is they do all these fantastic one-on-one meetings every year where you get to meet with the true art buyer or the true person in charge of making art buying decisions or at least keeping the portfolios handy for people. You get to meet face-to-face with them for a while and talk and get to know each other. And that's everything, because they get to see you they get to hang out, see if they enjoy being around you. That's really what they're looking for is that relationship to form, and you get to form that human connection which is hard to come by. Not all the time do you get to call somebody up and say, "Hey let's set up a meeting, are you busy?" It's a lot of their time. Think about all the people that have to step away from their desk for like 15 minutes. I'm sure they get breaks every once in a while but it's a busy day, it's a busy time to be in advertising right now. The people are having to do more in less time. So to be able to have that setup, and they have meetings in New York, they have this year's in San Francisco, Chicago, the major hubs. So once a year it's kind of cool to actually get these fully setup where I don't have to actually organize it. And they've got not only the five people that I meet with, but another two dozen people I didn't get to meet with that I still get to mingle with and hang out and it's a really cool annual thing. You get to see other photographers, you get to complain to each other. (laughs) Just like gripe and... It's always fun. But I limit it to just them, and not to say they're the only one or the best, because not many projects come directly from them. They send out books every quarter that are one of the few that are still really well-read. People keep them, they're small, and they keep them on their desk. They do still use them on occasion. But it's something that's kind of going out. Like the print thing is... It's not what it used to be, but it is still a very important part of your mix.

How do commercial photographers find clients and price their product? Product Photographer Steve Hansen shares his experience in how to stay competitive and remain profitable when approaching clients. In this course he'll cover everything from marketing, estimating different types of jobs, presenting your images both online and face-to-face as well as how to go about setting up meetings with ad agencies and in-house brands.



  • Overall this is a good series. There is good info in here for most commercial photographers, not just food photographers. But you have to pay attention and know what to listen for. Beginners, photographers new to the business may struggle with this. The info is buried among the stories, which are plentiful. The issue I have with the stories is that he’s a little scattered. He will stop mid sentence to pick up another related thought, without finishing the first. So it’s a little difficult to follow. But it’s in those stories that he’ll include the nuggets of relevant info.