Business of Food Photography
Welcome to Oprah. (laughs) today we have a cast, a crew an audience that are victims of norms (laughs) photography (laughs) and choosing it as a career so this is business practice is rights
Okay this is an intense subject because so some of you are professionals, semi professional and aspiring right. I can only speak from my experience. Which has been I think any photographer that is still doing business in 2011, would tell you that it is every day every year, it's different. I thought it was kind of the same deal every year, but then 2007 happened and I was like, Wow, this is different. So I think being a photographer in recession years is really hard. And it's redefined the way I do my business. And it's definitely redefined, how I am, how I work, and how like so I was thinking about this week. You know, one of the things, it's like, I love picking up the camera, but now at this point in my career, it's not just about the camera, unfortunately, it would be t...
hat, it would be great if it was. And when I choose this career, I didn't think about how much money I was gonna make. I never thought about that. Like that was not it just wasn't a part of the equation. I just remember this makes me happy. I wanna do this. I should have probably thought about the money. I'm not saying I feel like I am lucky. I have had a really good go of it. But there are a lot of photographers that haven't and it's Like, there's been a lot of casualties from this recession, a lot of photographers aren't in business anymore. So people are constantly, I am constantly redefining myself in my business all the time. So, you know, I don't I know what I do in my business to survive, and to make a living. I know what I do in my business to feed my soul, and to be true to myself and to stay true to the passion that got me here. And that's about all I know, you know, I know what a lot of other photographers do. Check in with other people all the time. But I just know what's worked for me. And that's not necessarily the case for everybody else. I do think that if it's just and if you're not tweeting or blogging, and people are gonna disagree with me, but if you're not tweeting or blogging, and you're a photographer in a engaging way and introducing yourself to people who don't know your work, then you're missing an opportunity. I think that's super important. Had I not started doing that? I'm trying to think I started my blog in 2009. I started it because I realized that I was going to all these great places and all these pictures that I was making that I love more ever seeing the light of day. And I needed to find a way to feed my soul. Magazines were folding, assignments were what, drying up, publishing gigs, book deals were smaller. And so it was like, I have all this great material. No one's ever gonna see it. I wanna put it out there. And so I can't remember who told me but they're like, why don't you just start a blog. So I did a contest with my friends. In Austin, I don't know like I sent it out this massive email to like, I don't know, 100 of my friends and I said I'm gonna start a blog. And the person who names my blog, gets to come with me on an international assignment. And I got crazy like response. And ironically, I mean, I was, there were some great suggestions but in the end I ended up just going with I was sitting with a friend we were having coffee and she just mentioned this one word and she was like, why don't you just call it appetite? You know, because that's really you know, it's just and I was like, oh my God, it's so simple. I mean, I had people were friends were like, calling out these funny names. I can't remember one was like, the wind beneath my chicken wings and this funny names. (laughs) Mega pixels and micro planes, you know, but appetite was really defined. It really was who, it is who I am, you know this passion and passion to pursue photography, passion to discover new cultures, and to go to new places and to, you know, meet people, and engage in the world in a way that I never have. And that's appetite for me. So it was a place for me to go and publish photographs that were never gonna see the light of day. My best photographs do not always get published. In fact, they usually don't. And that for photographer can steal your soul. I mean, that can just like puncture your heart. And it's hard so you don't have to what's great about the internet now is that you do not have to have an assignment to make great work. You can just make great work. You can go self publish it. And we could have done that before, but now anybody can see it. And they're amazing places like Flicker and I'm not supposed to say any names like that, but there are no I guess I can. So there are other like venues to put your work out there where people can find you. You can get encouragement, feedback, criticism. And so in my opinion, if you're photographer and you're not engaging in that way. You're missing a major opportunity that's super important. My business would be completely different had I not started doing that in 2009. I probably know, I know, I wouldn't be sitting in this chair talking to all of you, without a doubt. That's one thing, I also think Twitter is a very powerful tool. I wouldn't know any of you guys. We would have never met ever. And I've what known you guys for six, hours seven hours, and you've already influenced me. We've been through this experience together. We've changed we're better our lives are better. So Twitter, there's so much power behind that. So what's the saying, they say that Facebook is for the people you know, Twitter is for the people you wanna know. That's so true. I've met more writers that would love to work with that are at the top of their game doing an amazing, who doing amazing work, who I hope to be in the field with and now because I've met them through Twitter, there's a possibility we can pitch stories together. I've had booked project come to me because of people I met on Twitter that are viable, well paying, photo driven projects. I'm just trying to think what else but it Twitter is a powerful tool. So that should be part of you that should be part of your camera bag, you know, blogging and Twitter. Trying to think what else?
Do you do any other sort of networking outside of your immediate community?
Yeah, I do.
I do each other that I go to New York. I try to go to New York two to three times, if not more a year. And I always have photographs under my arm prints in a portfolio, beautiful portfolio case. And I show editors I'm always meeting new editors I'm trying to introduce my work to more editors as much as I can even still. And actually, my blog and Twitter has probably introduced me to more editors than any of the trips I've ever made to New York. Which is kind of I never would imagined that.
Penny can I ask the question,
I noticed on your blog, there's quite a few videos, do you think that video is kind of a tool that you're using?
I'm just discovering it. I do think it's a tool for sure. I'm just tapping into it myself. I mean, I make my living as a still photographer. So that's kind of what I preach. That's what I believe. But I have multiple friends that do both. I just have never had an assignment doing it you know. I've never been given a job that has called for both. So I wonder if there really is a market for it. I've a lot of friends that are newspaper photographers that do both and that it's just it's never been something that anybody's ever called me and said, Can you do this? Or can you do both? Which to me is a sign that maybe it's not a trend for what I do in magazines, magazines, function very differently online than newspapers entirely. I don't know if you guys ever thought about that. Newspapers are more community driven their you know, their local source for information whereas magazines are I'm not saying magazines are a little different online, they're more gonna give you their monthly kind of their monthly take on whatever they're publishing. And they'll engage you to certain degree, but they're not telling you community events are not engaging you every single day with new content. They do some of the best ones do really well, but it doesn't always translate I don't want to offend any magazines they might be watching but I think that they're, that it's not quite there. I don't think magazines have quite serving to the potential for the internet to really drive readership. The way that maybe some newspapers have. And I work in magazine so, I pay attention to that. And I know this because I don't really get a lot of residual sales from internet usage from magazines, so that tells me a couple of things. They're not, really paying for that. So they're not really utilizing that they're not pursuing that. So make sense, guys?
Well I think that brings up an interesting point which is you must have a contract, that does not buy all rights if they have to pay additional money for using them.
Right. So how I mean 'cause obviously every publication wants to try to buy every possible right in the universe. And how you negotiate that and push back in that.
I never sell the rights to my images, I sell the usage to my images. And so in most magazines, there are exceptions they are huge massive magazines out there then they want the rights. And you have to make that choice if you're willing to do that. And I've done that before, and I've done it when I felt like the subject matter wasn't super exclusive. I also think that they have to pay you enough to counter that loss of income that you would potentially have. Does that make sense? So most of my contracts are, you know, first time refusal, so they'll pay me, you know, I get a set fee to go do an assignment. And then they pay me. And then they get, you know, first publishing rights. And that's it, so after I think the embargo is 90 days, and then I can do with it, whatever I want. So that's why I couldn't show you the LA pictures. I could probably show a small group but not the whole internet. If that makes sense, if you guys have questions, please feel free to ask.
How did you first come upon, when you were first in business and first figuring out contracts and stuff? How did you first you know, start figuring out what contracts you wanted to use and what you could present to people when you were getting your first jobs? How did you get around those details, business details?
You know, what because I work for corporations already, they have their contracts. And so it's like, take our contracts
Or don't don't take.
All right (laughs)
And contracts have changed. And they're not always the most advantageous for photographers, but they're not awful yet.
Do you have to hire somebody to change your contracts now, at your stage now?
You just don't do the job. There's no changing a contract. Most magazines are like, this is how we do it. And there's a lot of photographers out there photographers are a dime a dozen. So I mean, that's another point. You know, I mean, there's a lot of photographers out there, and there's a lot of great photographers out there. So how do you separate yourself? How do you make yourself stand out amongst great photographers. Who would do just as good of a job if not better? And I think it's things like I mean, Larry kind of touched on it, you wanna be a good person. You wanna be able to, you gotta be people have to be able to work with you. And you gotta be cooperative like Larry said, he wanted to see the whole take from everything I shoot. So, you know, my misfires my out of focus shots, everything he wants to see my entire process in my visual curve in an assignment, which I love, most magazines don't do that, they don't have the resources or the time or I mean, you know, Larry's looking through, gosh, I wanna say I shot like 3200 photographs, at least in Honduras, you know. That's like, you know, getting me to Honduras was the most expensive part. If I blaze through a turn of film, it's because it was there. I worked the situation and that's like, that's you know, that doesn't cost them anything. So it's like, I feel like I need to produce a lot so that they can see, so that they can get the most out of, you know what they've sent me to do. I'm not sure if I've completely destroyed.
Yeah, that was that was a really good point and I have question from Mona in the chat room
Went on assignment for a magazine who ends up owning the copyright to the images. Are you as a contracted photographer allowed to use those images the way you want?
Yeah, I own the copyright. And I, you know, there's usually a 90 day embargo. And so after that I can resell the usage or send it to a stock agent or do whatever I want with it.
Do you do a lot of stock do you sell a lot of stock you do.
Think about a stock agency as like a savings account, the more images you put in there, the more residual sales you'll have over time. So you should be if you're interested in that you should be putting photographs in there every month at least. So in 10 years, you've got a library, a collection of images that could hopefully support you if that economy doesn't change. If that environment doesn't change too much.
Are you particular about what you put into stock agencies?
Yes, very I don't put hero shots. I wouldn't put anything that I showed you here today, that would be secondary images third, and they wouldn't even be near frames, they would be completely different. It depends, depends, but yeah,
What, why? What's your thought process around that?
Because I think I have, I don't, for lack of a better word. There are these iconic images that I feel like are worth more than a stock sale. And so I want to retain those for any client that might come and say, hey, we'd like to buy the usage of that image for this purpose or that purpose. That's kind of what I've been doing since I started.
I think you mentioned film.
Yes, I say I'm pretty romantic about photography, if you haven't figured that out yet. (laughs) And so for me, I started shooting film. So I still refer to it as film. But it's digital, these are digital files. But, you know, it's still film I mean, same thing. It's not the same thing, but I'm it's still the same act for me. And I wanted to feel as romantic as when I didn't know what was in the camera, you know, I wanna, I want to feel as special as not being able to see every picture. So that's one way to just kinda keep that alive.
Kathy Walters would like to know if you have an agent.
Damn, that was one of the questions I didn't want them to ask, I used to. And it wasn't the right thing for me. And that is a huge conversation. And I'm not sure how much of I wanna get into it. I think that there are a lot of stock agents out there that that will sell your work or get you assignments. And my best advice is that you have to think about, you need to look at the photographers that, that stock agency, I keep saying stock agency, but that agency represents and look at the quality of work of that, of the other photographers. And I think from there you determine if they're worthy of representing you. But before that, you need to also have a conversation with them about what their agreements are, how much of a retainer do they want? Do you have to put them on if you even do? What percentage do they take from a commission? Do they take a percentage of all your commissions? of all your income, which a lot of the really good ones do? And if they get your assignments, what percentage did they take of those assignments? So if they're getting you an editorial assignment from a small publication, let's say locally, and it doesn't pay well, but they're taking a cut of that. I'm not interested in that. I don't need help, me personally, I don't need help getting those assignments. So those are questions you have to ask for yourself, and answer for yourself. And decide, I mean, it's really opening a can of worms, in my opinion, because these are all personal choices. And they're gonna continually change and evolve. And each agency is different, and each photographer is different. So I have I wanna be really careful 'cause I don't want to offend anybody. 'cause there are a lot of people out there that do work with agencies, and I think that's great. I just think you have to be careful which agency you go with, and make sure that it's the best business deal for you, and that you are getting represented. You know, and that you're hopefully making a living as a result, and that that's at the end of the day, that's what it's about. You know, yeah.
Speaking of making a living, do you start at the beginning of each year and say, you know, like a typical business like I wanna make this much money this year. I have to attain these goals. This is you know, every year you set out a new list. I mean, just trying to get an idea of you obviously running a business, just trying to get an idea of how you plan for the future.
There was a time where I did that and then I realized yeah, that's just pointless for me. (laughs) There was a time where I did that. I was like, this year, I wanna make this much and then I got a little God how much, how much, how much How much should I expose myself here? Why not? Why stop here Penny? I just, you know, I know I have to make a living. I just wanna have my integrity intact. So I don't want it to be too much about the money. But I have to make a living and sometimes I do make too much out of the money. Okay, what am I trying to say all this to say that if you have a great opportunity to make beautiful photographs, and it's the right situation for you,
But the money may not be there in the amount that you want it to be?
I think it's the opportunity you have to think about. So, I don't know if I've answered your question.
I don't necessarily make target, you know, annual targets for myself or goals. I know what I do do, I do do. (laughs) And this is important, 'cause I think this is like really important for business is I do make personal goals, photographic goals. So, and this is hard, but I'll try to self assign, like, I will tell, like, I'll put it down on paper. This year, I'm gonna shoot three personal projects where I get in a plane, and I go somewhere and I shoot. In the same way that Saveur sends me some place for an assignment. I'm gonna do the same thing for me. So I'm gonna find three stories that are mind blowing for me and then they're gonna inspire me, and feed my soul. And I'm gonna go do them for me. So that I think is a very, that is to be part of your business plan. It has to be. It's gonna come to me eventually what I mean, I'm glad, I'm glad we're asking questions, because it's I hope it's kinda good enough for you guys.
I love that answer. it's not always about the money. It's the opportunity.
Its the other way
It took me a while to learn that one. I'm not gonna lie. (laughs)
That's a good one. Yeah, I mean, yeah, it's late.
So you said, you know you don't use an agent. But how are you your best agent? How are you your best agent five years ago even compared to now? Because I remember personally starting to see your pictures about five years ago, probably when you started shooting in Saveur, or when I saw the spread that you did in National Geographic about the border. So how were you your best agent? Then and now?
You know, I think it goes back to I've always tried to just have the pictures like put my money where my mouth is, so to speak. That's always been my strongest tool, hopefully, is that I can walk the walk and talk the talk. But if I don't have the photographs, it doesn't matter. That said, there are a lot of drivers that don't have the photographs and they're amazing business people, and they're probably making a lot of money. I just so happen to really be concerned with great pictures. I'm not saying they're not, but that is at the center of what I do. I mean, I just told you that, I don't really, I think about money, but I try not to let it be my business. It is important for me to survive, but I don't want to obsess with it, you know? It's like, answering for yourself, how much do you need and how much do you want?
Well, I didn't mean to make it sound like it's all about money,
No I know you didn't.
but at the same you know,
they're so many people out there right now who are such great photographers, but who have a hard time building to the next step of incorporating the business. 'cause a lot of times, you know, the arts and the business don't seem to go together(laughs)
Yeah and you know.
it's hardly for you.
To make it work as a business and make ends meet. Yeah, especially in today's economy, like you said,
Right, well when I was in graduate school, and they didn't teach me anything about how to run a business,
Nothing at all, you know so there's like, I don't know how many photographers are pumped out every year that don't know how to run a business know how to make great pictures. So it is an important part of being a photographer, and I think it's trial by fire for most of us. And I think the game shifted big time in like 2006, seven. When the economy shifted. And also it changed again, pretty close to the same time when social media started taking off. It for a lot of photographers it breathed new life into their careers, and it put them into a different arena. And quite frankly, had I not been shooting food at that point. I started shooting food and thank God I did I diversified. So that's probably a huge that you should think about that diversification. So, I mean, I know you can specialize in weddings and you can make a great living that might be the only exception. I think it's hard for a lot of photographers to just do one type of photography. So I don't just shoot food, I don't just shoot in magazines. I shoot a lot of magazines cause it's great promotion, and they're great opportunities, okay. But then I also do cookbooks. I do some commercial stuff. And there's a lot of, you know, a lot of different avenues that I take, but the majority of what I do comes from magazines, book publishing companies and some commercial so and it probably it goes in that order, yeah. And it's changing.
How did you get started with book publishing companies?
Saveur. Yeah, I never would have in my wildest dreams thought I wanna shoot a cookbook. But when I started working for them for Saveur publishers were seeing my food photographs. And so I got my first phone call. When did I hear my first phone call? I don't remember, but it was, can I say publishers? Is this is okay?
The word publishers?
Publishers, no the actual publishing company.
cause you already did. (laughs)
Don't mess with me people, I'm tired, men. Well, they donated the book. So Ten Speed Press I'm giving my first book, offer deal, photography opportunity. And it was amazing, like I spread like I just I, I'd never thought about shooting a book. A cookbook and it was awesome. I felt like I was more creative than any other time because it was this controlled environment. Anything was possible I had these 80 recipes I had to illustrate but beyond that, because it was so visual, I could shoot all this other stuff. So I photographed it like I was on assignment in another country. So I was like over there with the food stylist photographing her doing prep, not because I was like, trying to for me, it was it was just visual. And so I went where the photos were, and they ended up running like, a tonne more than I overshot like crazy. But I love you know, I loved it. It wasn't, I was excited about the process. And I think they were a little like, wow, maybe, maybe not, maybe they're like, what the hell. (laughs) But you know, its so yeah, it started with Saveur and then I got this great. This great book offer. I was in Moscow on assignment. No, no, I was in Cyprus on an assignment and I get a phone call from this publisher in New York. And they leave me this message. Hey, this is so and so and we're interested in a book. We'd like to see if you'd like to go to 19 countries about this topic. And I was like, Yeah. I was like, Chris let me call. So I call them back and they were like, oh, it's 19 countries the subject is barbecue culture around the world. Can you go? And I was like, Yes, absolutely. Okay, that was an amazing opportunity. I did it, and the money was sort of there for sure. I'm giving you an abbreviated version of that but, so, you know, that's kinda how I fell into book publishing. You know, I just, you know, I spoke at food East La. You know, I was up there giving my presentation, showing my pictures trying to be as open as I could. Telling my stories talking about my experience, you know, there was a publisher in the audience. I got this amazing standing ovation, which I was so humbled by and, you know, I get on this bus and the publisher like says, oh, there's this diabetic cookbook be, but you don't want to shoot that and I was like, yeah, I don't and then she called me and offered me that book and ended up doing it because I felt bad and horribly shallow. And I did it, and it was an amazing experience. And then she called me back. And she in that same conversation, and I didn't share this with you guys earlier, but I'm sharing it with you now, in that same conversation, where she talked about the diabetic cookbook, she said, "you know, I know that you weren't interested "in the diabetic book, but I want you to think about it." And then she said, "And on another note entirely, "I think you have a book in you, "and I wanna publish it." And I was like, can I call you back? And I like, was flipping out, I mean, that what photographer wouldn't want to hear that that's like a dream. And so I just turned in my first book proposal, like, three weeks ago.
So who knows, Yeah. (claps) Who knows, but all that's just from being open and I don't know, you know, I honestly if I tried to steer this career, I'd crash it. So I have just tried to like, just be open and responsive and be a good person and put it out there, you know, make sure that I just put out what I'm trying to get.
What are you're, what are you still your daily or weekly practices 'cause you are always talking about how you have to train yourself? You have to work hard to improve? What are you do still? What are some of the things, that you still do? The same things that you were doing 10, 15 years ago? As far as, I should say in your downtime when you're not on assignment?
I am still obsessed with the camera. I mean, and it's a different form now I'm obsessed with the iPhone. Can I say that? I can't say like these proper nouns (laughs) And those are pro there's an app on the iPhone that I'm obsessed with. And it's a social networking iPhone app that.
We read your blog we know that. (laughs)
I'm obsessed with it and the reason I'm obsessed with it is because I can go on there every single minute of the day and look at pictures and be like, Oh my God inspired and then want to get out and make pictures like there's some people that are making pictures of their iPhones that are mind blowing. And they make me want to grab my phone and run and look for pictures. And that so that's a practice I'm always seeing practicing seeing to a fault probably. And I practice my looking a lot I do go to bookstores and look at books as much as I can. I look at magazines as much as I can. If I find a great there's a great magazine shop here that has awesome magazines. And there's a handful of magazines that I go to for just inspiration in general and they're not necessarily food driven or culture driven. They're just amazing photographs from and they're using everything but a professional camera.
She allowed to tell us which magazines those are.
I know I'm Like what magazines are?
It's Okay, we'll talk about later I'll tell you tomorrow (laughs)
It sounds too good.
So yeah, that's one practice. And I also I think it's super important to be a healthy person. And by that I mean, have good relationships in your life. You know, get when it for me, when I'm in the field, and I'm working and I come home and I'm exhausted, I need to be, I need to be in a place where I'm 100% grounded immediately. So when my re-entry into my real world has to be easy. It can't be difficult. So I try to do everything I can, in my power to make it as easy as possible, so that when I come home, I'm 100% home immediately. That's another practice I am. I'm sure I'll come up with some others. Sorry, go ahead.
So even with all your passion and excitement towards all this, there's gotta be times when you feel burned out, for lack of a better term or just tired of doing this all the time, or does that not happen? It's like feel like that's, at least for me, there's little spells of that have been like, I don't wanna take another photo, I'm sick of looking at this stuff or not seeing things that are new and inspiring.
I don't know if I feel I get tired on assignments and I try to take care of myself when that happens. When I get home, I'm spent, I'm done. And I won't pick up my professional camera but I'm always seeing with my really camera. And like I said earlier, you know, I don't take every assignment anymore. I'll take everything that may sound really bad, but what am I trying to say? I just wanna take the assignments I wanna do. You know, I wanna take the assignments that are gonna feed my soul, and not all of them pay well. So that stops me from being burnt out if I had to take every assignment because I was needing it for to make a living. That would be hard. So yeah, I hope that answers your question. Sure, I get burnt out, I get more I get really down on myself. I'm really myself. I don't know a photographer that isn't we beat ourselves up. That's like who we are. Like I said in my intro, you know, it's hard to talk about photography without talking about disappointment, discouragement, being told no, dreams, aspirations, vulnerabilities. I mean, that in a nutshell is being a photographer I mean.
How do you keep putting yourself, How did you keep getting your stuff out there when you were kinda making your first breaks. I mean, if usually if people take it that hard they don't have enough I don't know gumption to be able to go and put their stuff out there and hear no, you know what I mean?
How did you keep? How did you keep going? I mean, how do you have the drive, yet are still not sensitive?
I've been put in my place. Not everything, I mean, I'm humbled all the time. You know, I am so humbled all the time. So I should be you know, I mean, I'm just a photographer, you know, my, what I'm doing is, you know, photographing someone else's story. Hopefully I'm telling it in a really sensitive and revealing and evocative way but at the end of the day, I, you know, It's their experience it's not mine. And that's pretty humbling. It's a privilege for me to get to do that. It's a dream. But that's super humbling, you know, so I think it goes with the territory for me. That's the way it is for sure, you know?
Yeah, good answer.
Question about yourself assignments? Do you budget then similarly to magazine and time frame? (laughs) No, it's not a default (laughs)
No it's bare bones. It just kindly depends, it depends. I mean, if it's like, okay, this year, I want to go to India and photograph this for myself. I'm probably not gonna take an assistant I never have a budget to find assistant. But I might find someone locally when I get there because I don't speak the local language. So I probably find somebody I know. Two or three people in India who could help me find somebody who's willing to work with me at a reasonable rate. So that you know, they're budgeted. Not great it's not like a magazine assignment. You know, I'm fine. I was gonna say I'm flying coach but I'm always flying coach. (laughs) In 2000 no, no, anyway I'm just stumping (laughs) My God, it's late people. (laughs) I'm gonna just put my foot in my mouth right now. I hope none of my editors are watching. I don't even know what I've said right now.
You can watch three watch.
Just watch three watch.
My dream all my dreams coming true. I think I'll just find if it's a great story, I'll do it on a dime basically, I'm always watching that I just want to be careful because at the end, every year I'm buying a new computers, plural, new cameras, new lenses 'cause my lenses burn up and heat, you know, with the heat from the fumes, and when people are cooking that element on the lens is gone. So I'm replacing my lenses all the time a lot of people don't realize that. So the film on the lens is gone. So I'm usually doing on a dime, you know.
In the back of your mind, is it always I wanna do this because it's my passion, but there's also a story that might sell somewhere down the road, or is it strictly for you?
Well, sure, I'm always going to try to sell it. And I'm always telling an editor, hey, I'm going here, I'd love to do this story. I've written a proposal to someone trying to get them to maybe put me on an assignment or doesn't always work out like that. But then sometimes I just wanna go do it, you know, and I don't wanna have to worry, I just wanna pursue it. And if I have the goods, then I'll definitely take it to an editor and be like, hey, what do you think? Or I'll use to get another assignment. You know what I mean? Or I'll take that body of work to New York and show it to editors. And you know, I think that that says more about your enthusiasm. And your desire and your drive as a photographer, I think if you're sitting down with an editor and you're able to say, hey, yeah, I wanna show you these pictures, I just, you know, went into this personal project on this and wow, you know, I think that's pretty inspiring. You know.
Penny, how does somebody contact an editor who has never even a small publication? You know, maybe not going to New York with a beautiful portfolio in your hands. But, you know, even to do a small local job, how do you go about approaching somebody like that?
So read the publication and find out who the director of photography is there may not be a director of photography, just find out who the editor is, and then just send them an email. Be ready when you're ready to approach them, make sure you have the pictures to approach them. I think you wanna meet them at the right time. You wanna be ready for them to give you an assignment. So have a strong set of pictures to show them. And I would say hey, I'm a photographer. You know, I have a portfolio I'd love to stop by can we meet for coffee? And just show you my work? Buy them coffee, don't let them buy you coffee. Always buy them coffee always. I speak to you this is important. Always buy the coffee. I don't know why, but it's always worked for me so.
Are the directors of photography usually open to take phone calls? And are these
Yeah, but you're not going to get through I mean, not you per se but most
It's hard to get through there's tons of associate editor who would probably pick up the phone call. It's hard to get through to the director of photography and that's okay. You have to be persistent. You know, you can send them direct you know, through the mail promo pieces and just slowly start sending them stuff.
So that's kinda where I'm getting at because I've read so many stories about direct mail pieces, you know, Like a postcard with a photo or a little collage of photos or whatever to showcase your work for the editor, you know, it's junk mail.
Yeah, I mean that's sure
And, you know, probably 95% of those mailers get chucked in the garbage can with you know, with one second glance. So is the dummy words is coming to mind is trick and it's not really a trick but is the trick to that to have a really great photo that's gonna stop them and pay attention.
You know, I think honestly, there's nothing like meeting someone in person and if you can get a sit down that says more. I mean, for me personally, I want people to meet me to see that I'm personable hopefully I'm personable, that I'm responsible, that I'm friendly, that I'm likable so that they can see me in the field representing that magazine that I'm not gonna go you know, spend my entire budget on something that has nothing to do with the story that I'm trustworthy, that I would be a great diplomat for the magazine, you know that I would represent them well. And then I would take it very seriously. Doesn't always work out, you know, but it just has to work out once for you to get your foot in the door, you know. So you pound the pavement and you do that you go and you introduce yourself every year, every year, after year, after year, after year. And every time you should have different pictures and you should have better pictures, and they should see you grow. And then you start a relationship with them. And then something maybe changes and they have a small budget to give you a small assignment. And you get an opportunity to shoot for them. And then maybe they moved to another magazine, and then they have another little story they can give you and then you've developed a relationship with an editor. You've started
That's how it starts.
Yeah, is it important to have a print portfolio?
I think so, I do. I just feel like there's something about an editor and you don't have to this is my, These are my, this is what I do. I have a printer that I use who I adore, and he is amazing. And he actually is giving away a portfolio. I asked him if he'd give a donation so somebody out there gets a custom portfolio print portfolio set from him. He's amazing. I think it's important to sit down with people and have them sit with you or across from you. If you can, a lot of times they'll just tell you drop off your book, come back again and get another day or we'll mail it back. I always say you know what I'm in from out of town. I'd love to come in if I could just sit down and meet with you. And it's I've had great luck that way. And you're sitting with them, and you're telling them about your pictures and they're physically touching the pictures and looking at them and like yeah, wow, you know, and they get it. There's a connection there. There's, something about them. Seeing that you you know, you're cut, it's kind of a artisanal thing that you're doing, you know, you're showing prints. I mean, that's really romantic and sweet. I think it's
iPad it's not so romantic.
No, but it's cool. (laughs) No, and then I pull up the iPad and be like, Oh, I just got back from India, dude, I just self funded this project, check it out, you know, 'cause I didn't have time to get it printed by Peter. And then we'd thumb through those pictures, and that's fun, too. So, you know, you're just trying to engage them. you're starting a conversation.
Ultimately, that's what you're doing.
Isn't that the iPads kinda like your elevator speech. It's like, you know, if you just happened to I would I just happen to have these here this is my photos. I've never had that happen to me where I'm like, hey, What do you do? Oh, what floor 12 Okay, I'm going to 12 too and you are an editor. Really. (laughs) That's never happened to me. Not once I wish it has, okay.
Portfolio topic. Do you change your portfolio based on who you're going to meet with? And also I do you like to have like a story? Do you do a story of photos in your portfolio? Or do you do you know, your favorite photos? separate favorite photos from different shoots? You know what I mean?
Yeah, absolutely. And this is very important. Every photograph in your portfolio should be your favorite.
You do not want to put any bad pictures in there or pictures you don't like.
But do you do a studio like one story? Or do you
You know there was a long time where I would just go with projects, and I felt like that was pretty cool because I think it gave them a sense of how I would tell a story visually, you know, and a lot of photographers can't do that.
And that's what I want to do. That's what I do. So I felt like showing an example of how I would do it was important. And I sort of do that I used to do in longer form like the two that I showed you today, but now I do it, I do a portfolio set. And it'll be all pictures that I like. And there might be multiple frames from a story. If I had a project that I felt like I really wanted to show I absolutely would, without a doubt, a personal project for sure. I think that's actually really powerful. 'cause I think a lot of editors see, you know, see you know, a portfolio in kind of the same fashion often and so to have somebody come in with a personal project that's different and unusual that already kind of sets you up.
Stays in their mind a little more yeah, okay.
I think that's actually really smart.
Penny want to know what they're saying and goes back to your question, which is, you know, how do you connect with people and I think your comment about sitting next to the editor bus is a great one because I think getting out and networking meeting people face to face but going to conferences and,
You know, I mean, it's just, and they're always an investment in some of you're got early it's like, you know, $300 for the conferencing of the hotel (mumbles) but I think then if you really think about that, I mean, be aware of who's gonna be there and make sure you're targeting sort of the right people. But I mean, I think even just, you know, you can look at the power of the blogging community. I mean,
Yeah. I'm going to food blogger next week in Atlanta. And I think that there's so much to be said about the generosity and you know, the sharing and that just how much you can learn from other people. And I think your point about being a good person is great. I mean, that's common. I mean,
You just do something hey, all I know that person or hey, I can connect you with something and whatever. And you know, my mom always said when it came to being generous that you can't give it away. But it always comes back to you and I think just even going and really connecting with people on a one on one level, I think it's very difficult to replicate.
You didn't do all the social media one, but you know, sitting next to somebody on the bus or, you know, waiting in line at the bar at a conference, you know, I've made some amazing connections that way. (laughs)
At the bar. (laughs) Okay, I think that, that's so true. I totally do, I think. Yeah, no, absolutely. There's a lot to be said for just meeting people and letting them get to know you. And I do think going to conferences, going to industry, workshops, conferences is really important. If anything, just to be inspired. That's huge. And networking is so important. You know what, I just got a random thought and I need to put it out there. So many photographers I know make their portfolios, so their websites and their blogs for other photographers and I think that is the biggest mistake. Because other photographers don't hire you, you need to think about who you want to hire you. That's who you should be making your website and blog for, you know, so they should be your favorite pictures too and you want to inspire people, but at the same time, you have to think about the kind of work you wanna be doing and trying to reach that audience. Does that make sense? It's not an easy thing to do. But I can't tell you how many photographers blogs that I go to and it's there's a handful that do really, really well and they're super super successful, but there's a large majority that don't and it's not engaging, you know?
What kind of step are seeing that you're saying isn't engaging.
It's just like they'll just throw our pictures and that's it. There's no personal story. There's no reason why? If there is, it's just like, hey, I just shot this cool project, dude, check it out. You know, that's its, you know, I think you have to engage people blogging is it's totally different, you know, and it's a generational thing you know, I have editors that think blogging is awful. (laughs) And that's okay, you know, I know people who've never even read a blog and that's okay too. It's not for everybody. But you know, it's, it is now a part of my business. It is a part of my business.