A lot of the questions that we've been, that I've gotten over the years and in workshops and other things, and I'm sure that we kind of led into it with the last question we answered, was about how to break in. Like, what do you do? What are the things that you can do to start off a career in this particular field? And I said this maybe at the first workshop I ever taught and I've said it everyone since is that, "small bylines lead to bigger bylines", and that if you understand that, you're career has pretty much been a grassroots effort. You have to start from the bottom and work your way up, and then remember what we talked about About as soon as that bigger opportunity comes in, you put your head down and you go right at it. So, what do I mean by starting small? So, every town in America has small publications. Magazines, newspapers, handouts, flyers, all the things that are part of a community. And if you live in a bigger place, then the opportunities are probably even bigger. Beca...
use even in New York, right, we have smaller, local magazines, and food publications, and things that, if you wanna break in, and learn, and if you have some skill, that you could get a chance of being hired. So like, there's a couple of younger photographers who move to New York, who've sought me out, and wanted to assist for me, or whatever, and they've actually procured jobs with smaller magazines, and the day rates are small, but they usually read by the right people, which is one of those things you wanna consider, right? You want to consider who's gonna look at these pictures, because if there's more inherent value, because chefs, or writers, or food people are gonna see your pictures, well then obviously, it's worth more to you. But starting small and looking into the magazines and things that are published in your area, that's really helpful. The other thing is that blogging, blogging is a big deal right now. And there's a huge audience out there that is not necessarily always respected by new media. But the reality is that there's lots of people in our field who read them. So if you have an opportunity to show pictures on a website, or a blog, and I'm gonna differentiate between the two, because a blog is one thing, because you're probably not gonna get paid to put pictures on a blog, unless of course, that maybe you can make a little bit of money because you're doing a little bit of a trade with the person. But the reality is that you're probably not gonna make a lot of money on a blog, but if the blog has good traffic, it might be valuable to you, because that way, you're gonna get some exposure. Cause there are two components to becoming well known in anything, right. It's making a living, but it's also becoming well known, and sometimes those two things have to balance one another out. You have to understand that compensation isn't just money, and we're gonna talk about that a little bit more. Then website, now, websites are different than blogs. Websites are aimed at seller something, normally. Either promoting a business, supporting a business, or actually physically selling something. So if somebody wants you to work for a website, or you know of a local website, that you can kind of, or somebody who's running a website, that you can get involved in, that might be a really good opportunity to kind of start to cut your teeth in the business, is that you can approach a website, show them your portfolio, and say, "I'd like to work with you guys. I think that you do, I think I can help you make this look really good." Or, in the inverse, if you're doing a good job at marketing yourself in social media, which we'll talk about a little bit more, somebody might seek you out, and if they want you to shoot for their website, which happens to me still. I just shot pictures for somebody's website. It happened to be, again, I kind of had the opportunity, I'm in this position where I can pick who I want to work with a lot of times, and this person approached me, and I liked her message, and I think she had, the way she was approaching her business was interesting, and she had the right pedigree of food that I feel like her business is gonna grow, and I talked to her about, "I'm happy to do this for you. As an initial rate, and something really reasonable, but let's understand each other, if you're gonna build your website, you want visual consistency, which means I want you to hire me again." And as her business grows, my rates will go up, and we'll make money together, and that's how I presented it to her. And that is the way to do things with people who are starting out, who you think have potential as well. It's a mutual arrangement. You have potential, because you're starting out in a business and you're good at it, and you're learning the business part of it. And they're also in the same boat. So when you form those kind of mutual partnerships with people, and you say to them, "I'll work with you on price, but understand I want you to hire me again. This is a recurring client price." And I use that terminology a lot when I'm negotiating with people, because I want them to understand that I wanna keep working with you. I don't want to just, you could do it if you don't want to be flexible. You may work with a client once, and then they say, "It was good, but it was expensive." And then you may not work with them again, but if you come upfront and say, "I'm gonna give you a good price, because I really wanna work with you on a regular basis." Cause honestly, the key to being good business person is building lasting relationships with repetitive clientele. People who will hire you over and over again. When you become part of their workflow and part of their identity, particularly your visuals, then you have established yourself in a position where they are probably feel uncomfortable working with somebody else because they know you, because they like you, because they trust you, and you form that part of the relationship. The visual aspect of it is the initial thing. It's like falling in love, right. You look at somebody and you're like, "Wow, I love the way that person looks.", and then over time, everything else in your relationship grows. It's the same thing with business, right. Initially, they look at your pictures and fall in love. "Ahh, those pictures are gorgeous." But, if you're a pain in the neck, or you're really rigid on pricing, or you don't wanna work with people, or you're kind of difficult, that relationship's gonna end pretty quickly. Go.
It's somewhat interesting to me to hear you say, just the level of negotiability that there is in this industry because on the other side, with portrait photography, it's like if they won't pay your price they're not your client. That's like hammered into us so much and I had an innate drive to just, to want to work with people continually, and so I feel like I'm going against that. I do have a good handful of portrait clients that have grown with me and they continue to come back, which I feel very blessed for, but for the most part I don't see that very much. It's like that's too expensive, I'm not gonna pay your price. And there's a part of me that wants to negotiate with them, but at the same time, it's like, I can't undersell myself.
But it's inherent ed the different businesses that we're in. Like if you're a portrait photographer, how much repeat business are you really gonna get, right? Because how many times does someone need a portrait taken? I mean, if it's with a company, or somebody that always needs head shots for their websites, and things like that, that could be a repetitive client. But you kind of have to feel those things out. If you feel like somebody can be a repetitive client, and there is room for growth, then you can work that into your idea of negotiation, because you have the ability to say, "I'm gonna look long-term here." It's better to have regular revenue coming in than sporadic revenue that's at a higher rate. That's how I build my business model. That's what I learned by doing it that way and it's been successful because now the clients who continually come back to me, they know the product, they know the workflow, they're comfortable, and they've already built me into their budget. They know what I'm gonna cost. It's a no-brainer. So if there's, unless there's a significant shift in the artistic, kind of focus of that particular publication, I'm pretty confident that they're gonna keep hiring me when they can. So that's where this business might be different than other businesses. So where other places can we go, Steve? We can go to New Orleans, oh right. Go ahead.
I've heard time and time again from photographers that they get burned on reduced rates for the promise of future business and I'm wondering if you've run into that very much?
Yeah, well of course, of course you're gonna run into that, people are gonna try to negotiate, but honestly, that's not negotiation in good faith. So you're gonna run into people who are unscrupulous, and you're gonna run into people who are gonna try to gain you, and that's the nature of the game, that's the nature of this business, any business, is that there are people who are gonna honestly negotiate with you and there are people who are gonna try to gain you. So you learn, you get burned once, and you know, if they ever come back to you again you say, "Hmmm". I've had that happen to, where somebody gained me and got me to reduce my price on the promise of, "We're gonna work together and blah, blah, blah.", and then they disappeared, and then they came back, and then I whacked them on the head. (laughing) So sometimes what comes around goes around, right. If you negotiate in good faith and fairly, and you believe in a little bit of Karma, that if you handle yourself at a professional and a moral way, that you'll eventually, the clients will come to you because of that. You present yourself in a way that makes people want to do for you, right. So we got, we talked about local publications, we talked about websites, we talked about blogs, but we also have opportunities in food, because food is everywhere, right. You're local market, the farmer's market. They're all businesses at the farmer's market. Every single one of them is a business. Every single one of them probably has a website. We have restaurants, chefs, food trucks, all of these place have a food endemic to their business. This is what they do. So, imagery is important. If you sit around and look, just look around you when you're outdoors. Look at how many things are photographed for food. Billboards, menus, all these things are all being handled by food photographers on some level or another. And depending on your level of skill, or your style, or your location, all of these things matter. But the idea is that there are so many opportunities to take pictures of food, it's not just about working for a major magazine, or a newspaper, or an advertising client. You can build a solid business by doing that stuff even locally. And then as you build a local reputation and you're making a living, making money, paying your bills, all of a sudden, your website gets better, you're Twitter feed gets more followers, and all of this starts to grow. But the idea is that until you understand that you have so many opportunities, that it's not really like, people are laser-focused on the things that are the highest profile in our society when it comes to food. But quiet honestly, there's thousands of opportunities to take good pictures of food, and if you are good at presenting yourself, and you walk up to that farmer at the market, with those gnarly hands and you think you could take gorgeous pictures of him, and hey, sometimes you do it on spec. We've done this, we've done this is every business, right. Every business does this. You see an opportunity. You present somebody with what you do. Make an offer, "Hey, I'd love to photograph you. Do you have a website?", and then take it. And the other thing is research. Look at people's websites and look at how bad some of the photography is, right. And say I can do better than that, I know I can, and then present yourself. And sometimes if you know it's something that has a following, or a good client base, or a lot of business, it's a good promotion for you too, because then when you list the clients on your website of who you shoot for, the longer that list is, nobody reads through all of it. If it's Joe's Restaurant on the corner, plus it's the Farmer's Market that everybody's heard of, that starts to add up. So like I said, small bylines, whether they are the local market, or big bylines, they're gradual, they work together. So when you're talking about social media, you are yourself and you are your business, simultaneously. You need to remember that if you wanna be a food photographer, because if you're posting nonsense and garbage, and lot of opinions, and things that are polarizing, and all of these other things, having lots of personal conversations, letting, you have to monitor what you're doing. Have separate accounts if you want to. Listen, I want you to be opinionated as you wanna be. That's your right. But if you're a business person, remember that people are judging you. And if they don't agree with your politics, their money is just a green, don't forget it. Now, food politics is something different, okay. We, you have to have a standard that you're comfortable with. I do. I'm not gonna mention who I won't work for, but I think you could imagine. (laughing) Okay, the reality is that... Remember how you present yourself in pubic, and now we're more public than ever. It's not just about when you meet somebody, it's not just about how you dress to how you wear your hair, or all these other things. We let people into our heads now on social media. We let people know what we think. And that's important to note, because if you are building a client base, it becomes personal. They wanna know who you are. And if they don't agree with you, or you're outspoken, or you are maybe too forthcoming, oversharing, that's okay, separate venue. Create a website, create a Twitter handle, and understand that. I'm not in that position at this point in my career. I am me, I have to be me. I can't create a separate entity and everything else. I'm essentially a public figure so I have to behave like one all the time, and I have lots of opinions, and I have lots of dirty jokes that I wanna tell, but I'm not gonna tell them on Twitter. (laughing) So, you know what I mean. I probably don't have that many dirty jokes, but the point I'm making is that I have to remember that I'm a public entity as a professional and as a business person, and those two things have become intwined, and I am not in a position to pull them apart. But when you're starting out now, when you know better, if I had known better, I would have done it differently. So you need to remember that when you're talking, like at a certain point on the New York Times, they were running Twitter feeds of anyone who is a contributor, live on their site. So everything I said was being published in the New York Times, which was an inordinate amount of pressure. It was, it was a tremendous amount of pressure because there were so many times where I was like, "Eww, I wanna say that", and I didn't. And you stifle yourself. From a business perspective it's important to note that social media is a window into who you are. And it's something that you have to be careful about crafting your public persona if you're gonna be an independent business person. Yes.
Do you, if you wanted to get kind of get kind of an objective opinion about how people perceive you on social media, I mean, because I have a fairly good concept of how I'm perceived, but I would love for somebody to tell me. Like, am I the annoying girl who's posting crap all the time? You know what I mean? I'm not, (laughing) but, I mean, we all know one. That you're just like, "I don't wanna"
Well I think you gotta, that's where you trust your friends. You trust the people around you and you have to have somebody who's your buffer in your life, whether that's a friend, or a partner, or your mom. Somebody who's gonna reel you back in when you're like, "Mmm, yeah, you shouldn't have said that." I think that that I have some people in my life that are like that, that goes both ways. Who would say, "Yeah, don't post that. That's not what you should say in public. It's not good for you personally. It may not be good for you in a business perspective, and it can come back to haunt you because that stuff's forever." We tell this stuff to kids, right. Right, "Oh don't ruin your life on the Internet. Don't post silly pictures of yourself cause things could get really ugly quickly." But, it goes for all of us, right. It's advice we should take on our own, was that we can let something out really quick that can really affect us, so.
Amy Fair Photography has asked, do you feel like in this day in age that it's unprofessional to contact potential clients via social media?
That's a great question. I think that really has to do with the client. I think that the bigger the client, the less likely that you are gonna be in contact with anyone who could help you. Cause most people, big entities have social media managers, and they're not the people who would hire you. I think your best bet is to kind of reach out to the direct person who would be in charge of hiring you or somebody in that hierarchy, an assistant photo director, a photo director, another photo editor from that particular magazine, the art director. I wouldn't try to go through social media because any of those magazines or newspapers, or anything like that, they're probably not managing their own, so probably not. I don't know about it being inappropriate, I just think it'd be ineffective.
Okay great, thank you.
A stage back, I didn't know if you were gonna cover it at all, but I'm currently in the process of building my portfolio site and I realize that I don't know what I need to have in a portfolio. What, you're gonna talk about what sort of portfolio you need to have, what your site should be able to do.
I actually, the next thing on my bullet point was, "have a portfolio".
But it's not just, you need to have your website, plus you need to have a print portfolio, and as much as that seems unnecessary at this point, you will run into the client who wants to see it. And it's expensive. Having and maintaining a print portfolio is an expensive undertaking, but it's worth having, and if you keep it fairly updated, once the initial expense, I don't think there's the need to have multiples anymore, unless you're on a massive marketing campaign, where you're running around and dropping them off all over town, but you should still have one, just in case it's needed, that's important. But as far as your website is concerned, I think it's important to kind of look at other peoples' stuff and see how they lay out their websites, the kind of flow that you see between the different types of images, and the different categories that they put them in. I think it's important that your website it easy to work. It drives me crazy, with these really elaborate, flash websites, and it takes millions of years for things to load in, and every picture moves across, and there's all this bells and whistles. No, as far as I'm concerned. Make it clean, make it elegant, make it easy to use. Your client wants to get to your site and see what you do. They don't care about the bells and whistles. They really don't. I exist in a world where I have more editor friends than photographer friends. Most of my friends and the people I interact with are all editors and all of them complain about the same thing. "Oh my god, he had a flash website." It took, and of course flash and Macs don't really like each other so it becomes a problem because now the site is like ohhh, it's every picture has to load individually. Make it clean and elegant and fast, and if you can do that, and then look at the images that other people put and the kind of balance that should be in a portfolio. I think that's important. You should show the range of what you can do in your portfolio. Show that if you're just strictly tabletop, then just show tabletop. Don't show things that you don't feel confident and have an expertise in. If you have multiple expertise, now here's the other problem. And Kristen, you might run into this, and anybody who's doing photography in another venue, decide what you are or have separate websites. You know what I mean? Because when I go to a website and I see that you do fashion, food, this, that, I don't know what you are. I don't know what kind of photographer you are, so why am I gonna hire you? I mean, you might have nice pictures, but you need to identify a style that you're in. I am food photographer, that's it. That's what I identify as. I don't try to sell myself as anything else. Now of course, there's little branches off of that, lifestyle and the other things, and you wanna give people the idea that you have a range, but the reality is that if you look at my website, you know what I do. Tabletop is my specialty. And that's pretty much what you're gonna get. So that's important with your website. Let's see, the other thing about breaking in, right. We've talked about approaching magazines, and newspapers, and blogs, and websites, and local restaurants, and all these other things, right. We've talked about those things. Well, what else should you do? You should try to assist. There have gotta be food photographers, stylist, all kinds of people in your area, and maybe you they can't pay you, but maybe you can intern. And there's inherent value in interning. When we're out here working together, yesterday, you were gleaning a lot more from watching me work than what I've said. You were watching me move, you were watching how I've set things up, and that's important because you're learning a different work flow. So if you're working with another photographer, or you're on the set, even it's you're the guy or the girl bringing to coffee, right. You're watching, you're observing, you're watching the ways the lights are set up, you're watching the way the light is manipulated, you're watching the equipment, you're learning the names of all the things. Did everyone here know what a C-stand was before they got here? Oh, that's the thing, right? You learn, but by being there and understanding it. So seek out the people in your area that you admire their work, let them know you admire their work, that you are breaking in in the industry, and you wondered if they needed an assistant. And then they come back to you and say, "Well, I don't have any room for assistants at the moment, but thanks for the call, I'll keep you on file." And you can always follow up with, "Well, if you have an opportunity, I'm happy to come in, every once in a while, as a PA, if you need a production assistant, or you need somebody on set." And when you avail yourself to people that way, they know you're eager, they know that you wanna learn, and that they may give you a chance, because everybody needs an extra set of hands once in a while. I have a college student who's gonna come to me, and I don't really believe in unpaid internships, it's something I'm not comfortable with. I think if you work, you should get paid, even if it's a little. But I do have as student that's gonna join me for a hundred hours in my studio, and it's for college credit, and I can't pay her, that's against the rules. But the reality is that she came to me through an art director that I knew and it was important for her to work with somebody that she felt she could learn from, and she wanted to be in my studio. And I met her, and she was terrific, and I think she's gonna be great, and the idea is that unless you ask, you're not gonna get, right. You have to ask for what you want. If you sit back and wait around for people to come to you, you may wait a long time. So you gotta be aggressive, and active, and be humble. "I love you're work, I really wanna learn from you." It means a lot, it means a lot to me when people say that to me, "I wanna learn, I love what you do, I wanna learn what you do." It means something, because obviously you're reaching people on a level that you're intending to, right. You're intending to impress and you're intending to inspire and if you're reaching those people, then they are the right people that you want to learn from you. So, attitude. Attitude's essential in any business place. Any work place, anywhere. How you carry yourself, it may be the most important tool that you have. If you present yourself in a way where you are, where you make it about you, in any situation, this doesn't just apply to photography, but I can tell you that when you are on a photographic set, there's one goal on a photographic set, and that is to make the great picture, and the only person on that set that's responsible for that is the photographer, which means that everyone else in that room is responsible for making sure he's happy, or she's happy, right. That's the goal. The goal is to make sure that that person has everything they need to make great pictures because that his success or her success is your success, and they are learning more, and that person's gonna get more work, which means in turn, you are also. So you come at this situation where you are about you, what am I getting? What am I doing on a photo set? You're gonna fail. This is a sensitive environment. It's, you see how intense it gets when you start to work. You see where I disappeared yesterday for a couple minutes, because I'm focused on what I'm doing, and if anything is a distraction to me, I'm annoyed. And I'm not happy when I'm annoyed, and I'm really grumpy. I do, I am not fun on set, I'm not. I'm not like the way I am when I talk to people and I'm not like the way I am when I'm teaching. I am direct and I'm gruff, and I don't wanna be bothered, cause I go in the zone and I work, and most photographers are like that. And you can mistake that for being a diva, but it's really not, it's about focus, and if your attitude as an assistant, or whatever, is not about that, not about making sure that everything is working in order, then that's bad. An attitude in general, right, when you're carrying yourself to a client, being flexible, being personable, your language, all of that is about your attitude, and the ability to say yes. You don't have to say yes to everything, you can always say maybe, but saying no is usually not a good answer. But yes, with conditions. "I would love to that for you, but I would.." If somebody comes to you, "Can I use a picture of yours for my blog?" "Yeah, you can use a picture, just make sure I have a photo credit, please because it's important that images get credited." That drives me crazy when people just let people post their pictures without a photo credit. It's your work, you want credit for it. Even if three people are looking at that blog, you don't know which three they are. You want them to see it. That's attitude as well. It's about being personable, professional, proficient. Those are the three things you really need to remember. Personal, professional, and proficient, and if you could do those three things, you always have the right attitude for work. When it starts to become about other stuff, and look, we're human. I have people that work with me every day. I'm having a problem today. My kids sick. I don't feel well, I didn't sleep last night. Whatever, talk to me, I'm a human being. I'll understand that. If you're working for somebody who doesn't understand that, don't work for that person. It's pretty simple. Life's too short. It is, it's too short to work for jerks. Even if you feel like the jerk is gonna do something for you, it's not worth it, it's just not. And at yet some point, you gotta turn around and say, "You know what, I respect myself too much to do that." Cause that's what I expect from the people who work for me. I want them to understand that I'm a human being and so are you. Talk to me like a person, present yourself professionally, don't make a habit of it, right. Don't abuse the privilege of somebody who will treat you human, right, and we'll work together, perfectly. And then when I'm grumpy on the set, you understand that that's not about you, that that's about me. That's the give and take because then we are people, and we're professionals and we both understand the necessity to put those two things aside at certain points, and put them together at other points. We have any questions before I move on to my next segment?
We have so many questions. We have so many questions, where to begin. I wanted to ask to ask this question earlier, this question always comes up. So this is a question from Cayenne, who's been participating during the workshop a lot. When just starting out do you feel it's appropriate to approach businesses like local restaurants to shoot their food for free in order to build a portfolio and make contacts for later arrangements.
We haven't talked about the free thing.
I'm gonna, cause there's a lot of different ways to interpret free. I've shot for restaurants for food credit. I knew they didn't have the money, but they got lots of food. (laughing) And this is trade, right? Where, before there was a concept of money, there was the concept of bartering, and I still believe strongly that when you have a good or a service that bartering is an absolutely appropriate way to do business with people. If you feel that that's appropriate for you, in that particular situation. I've done it multiple times, and I've been happy with it because all the pictures were gonna be used for was a website. They didn't have usage beyond that particular venue, and then I took the food credit, because it was a great restaurant. And I went back and I had fun, and I ate and I drank, and it was great, and it was, money is money. I'm gonna spend my money is restaurants, right. So are you, so pick the right ones. (laughing) Pam, you had something, yeah.
Well to that, are you still doing a contract then, when it's a barter situation, so you both understand what the value is.
Sure, absolutely. Any arrangement can be written into a contract and that contract doesn't have to be real formal in those situations. Just as simple as a couple of emails that go back and forth, where you have something, and you print it out, and you don't need signatures and all, especially if you know the people, and them you ask them for a certificate. And that's what I would get, like a gift certificate, or something from the restaurant, and it turned out that it was normally in these situations it was chefs that I was friends with, right. And it's also a matter of principle. I'm you're friend but I also have a business to run. You're a friend and you have a business to run. Our businesses will take care of one another. The rest of it isn't personal. Plus I do it sometimes when I'm uncomfortable taking money from people. Like I have friends in the restaurant business who like my photography and want to use some pictures on the website, or whatever, or use them for their promo, or for PR, and I'm uncomfortable taking money from them cause they're friends. But, I also know that it's their business, not them. Again, it's not personal. So we make an arrangement that's comfortable for everybody. So absolutely, that's a great question and it's absolutely true, but free? Never free.
It always comes up.
I'll tell you more about free. Well you can ask some more questions, but free is something I wanna talk about.
And I wanna see if barter is the answer to the next question. A lot of people have been asking about interacting with very small businesses in small towns, and things like that. Diana said, "Small businesses, how do we accommodate for small businesses who just don't have the money to relicense. This is my market. It's all well and good to make deals, but mom and pop companies out in the sticks just don't have the budgets and they don't require heavy usage, and I find this very hard."
Okay, well, the last part of that is the important part. They don't require heavy usage. If you don't have a fear that your pictures are gonna end up anywhere else, but with that entity, then arrive at a price that everybody's comfortable with and let them use the pictures the way they want and stipulate, the pictures need to stay here. They need to stay in this business, on this website, and give them a price that you feel is appropriate. This is about understanding the client. Understanding what they're capable of. And if they're never gonna grow out beyond the sticks, then that's fine. The pictures are gonna stay there. The issue with licensing and all these other things is when the pictures escape into the rest of the world and then they're being used and you are not getting paid. But with small businesses, it's gonna be on their Facebook page, it's gonna be on their website, they may have a picture in the store, that's fine. As long as you arrive at a price that you're comfortable with.
Cool, and Shannon from Washington D.C. Would like to know, do you have any advice to aspiring food photographers of how to go out and get in touch with different chefs, or different magazines, or different companies?
I think it's just a matter of having materials available. Meaning you have a website, you have a business card, you make a postcard, you have a print portfolio, and walk through the front door. There's nothing wrong with calling up and requesting a meeting. Even if somebody is what you perceive as higher profile, sometimes it's worth just to, it doesn't hurt to ask. Yeah, Kate.
Kind of playing into that, would you consider it a good idea to do a bunch of self-assignments to create that portfolio so that you have like the material to walk in with?
Absolutely. Yeah, I mean every photographer should be doing tests. I still do tests, I mean that's important to understand that your skill set is evolving, it's not something that is static. You need to break out different lighting arrangements, test out different ways to shoot things. It may be outside your comfort zone, it may be outside your realm of experience, but the reality is that if you're not growing, you're going backwards in this business. The technology changes too fast and you need to keep up, and that's what every business that is technology based is about, constant experimentation.