Getting Work Through Spec Shoots
If you're having trouble getting any kind of work, whether that's brands reaching out to you or you reaching out to brands, the biggest thing I found was shooting anything in as much stuff as creatively as possible. And that goes to spec work. What speck work is, it can be like, you can say portfolio pieces, spec work whatever it is. But that's just you building a campaign piece that looks like a $400,000 job, and you did it all for free and you're putting money and your own effort into it. I think that is the biggest thing that's been a part of my career is making those things happen. So let's say for instance, I wanted to shoot for any type of car company, let's say Porsche, I would go rent a Porsche Panama and come up with like a creative idea, creative concept with either just stills or stills and video involved. Most of the time I do video involved just because you get that extra story telling in, it just plays another big part. And when you're trying to sell a piece to that brand...
, it means a lot more. And it comes in in many different ways than stills would just be. So, I tend to do stills in video on each spec piece that I do. The biggest thing for me with the spec piece is, you can get as creative as possible and there's literally no line or limit there. No one's telling you how to shoot or what to shoot. You can do whatever you want, be as weird as you want, and at the end of the day if you're happy, you can sell or try to sell that piece or your work to that brand. If I were to like pick that Porsche, or if I were to pick that Land Rover and shoot something along the lines of their brand, and if they're not even getting back to you at all, you can take those... It doesn't have to be like so brand specific, you can take those pieces and send 'em off to other brands as well. 'Cause that your work is gonna come off as creative as possible and how much you are willing to put in for their company, that goes a long way. So, building spec pieces is the biggest thing for me. Even right now, I'm constantly doing it. I'm doing like two to three spec pieces a month. And it's almost like a stress reliever in a way, because you're doing these spec pieces and then you're getting jobs. But the jobs are so strict and client like intuitive. You have like a client, an agency on your back telling you what to do. Before you do that job, they have what they want, and you have to do those exact things. But then you get the spec pieces and you can mess around with whatever you want and be as creative as possible, that's where your work will show. How I approach my own spec work. I put a few different heads in. So I put myself in obviously. I have usually my video guy, Cameron, very smart, very creative. And then I'll usually work with one other guy. Just so we can have like different ideas and come up with bigger and better things. What we do is come up obviously with the concept first, a lot of digging around, locations. When I'm saying locations, we're literally on Google earth, finding out spots where we wanna shoot as well as different platforms, Instagram, Behance, Google, whatever it is to find the best spots that would fit the spec piece. I feel like location scouting is the biggest stressing thing on a spec piece, is because obviously you need that location to work and or you need to permit those places out. To me, permitting those places out is key. 'Cause the last thing you want happened is an officer or someone in charge of that area to give you hassle. And that way you're covered if you have that permit. So permitting is a big thing. After we get the entire concept kind of laid out on paper, we'll write stuff down, type it up. We will then go into kind of making a treatment for the entire process. And that's how we're gonna shoot it. The storyline, what product we're gonna be using, locations, our team, and how much money we're willing to spend out of our own money, how we're gonna successfully shoot the entire thing. So the deck really is all for us internally as a team. That way we can check off everything that we've shot, everything that we haven't shot. And just to make sure that we're covering all bases. 'Cause I feel like a lot of people when they do a lot of spec stuff, they'll go into it winging it. Which is fine by having making that deck for you and your team, it's just another backup just in case you're missing something or wanting to do something else. And that's kind of where we start. And that's the whole process of building a spec piece as building that treatment and deck for basically a whole mood board of what you wanna shoot and where you're gonna shoot. After all things are said and done with the deck, now it's time to shoot. And after we've done everything, we've checked everything off the list, the mood boards are all complete, we've got everything we wanted, we then take all those images and videos and put those in a deck. And we'll put that entire treatment. We'll build it for the brand itself and we'll make it so on brand with them. They'll be like, "When did we shoot this?" Like, "Did someone internally shoot this without us telling us?" And that's kind of like our goal with the deck and trying to sell them on the piece we just shot. We really wanna sell their brand to them as if they already shot it. And a lot of the times too, we'll be spending like, you could either do it up front with no costs or you can spend 10 grand plus on a spec piece. And you wanna try to make it look like a $400,000 piece. But these are some of the decks that I've made with spec work, and here it is. So I have a few different examples on how I make decks or why I make decks. Myself and Cameron Gould made this deck for a company called Fjallraven. We didn't actually go shoot anything. But, we kind of made like a concept or we did make a concept and wanted to pitch to the brand, but unfortunately we didn't even get it. But it's always practice. It's always good practice to even make decks. So I think if you're making decks every month or couple times a month, like you're learning something and I feel like storytelling too comes a long way with building these decks. So as for Fjallraven, we named it The Cave of the Swallows and we wanted to shoot it in Mexico. In the beginning of the deck, I feel like you want to have an introduction of their brand or why you're going to be shooting something for their brand. It just make them feel good, whatever it is you're shooting, you wanna make sure that you're taking care of them. First, we put there an introduction of why and what we're shooting. So the next side we'll have usually is me as a photographer, a director, usually is my friend Cam, and then we'll have a DP. But you can literally go into as much detail as possible with the team one, but you kind of want to just keep it simple. Going into the next slide, we will usually have the concept. And the concept obviously is the biggest part of the deck or the spec piece, 'cause that's what you're gonna be shooting the entire time. This one was pretty non-intensive. Like it was kind of just straightforward. We wanted to make like a nice like 30 second to one minute spot about a commercial spot for Fjallraven. If you can go to the brand with a story, that's where everything is gonna lead to a green light and a go. Pretty images is really cool and nice, but you definitely want to have that story, of whatever story is. Could be like something simple, but you need to be telling a story. So next you have the mood board. What client will usually want to see is how you're gonna shoot it, why you're gonna shoot it that way, and kind of the entire treatment that is gonna be over both photo and video or just stills, if you're just doing stills. That goes back to building your brand and why you have that certain look and feel to your images. And so visuals and mood board is everything for a client. 'Cause they wanna know if it's gonna be on brand with them or if it is not. So we are pretty carefully researching Fjallraven brand and trying to get a feel of how they like their campaigns colored and yeah, kind of go along with the entire brand. And basically the whole story with this was like a Scandinavian Odyssey and this mythological character. She's basically like a seductive cave rat. And we're trying to... I can't remember the entire story, but we're basically, we're just trying to get her out of the cave. Yeah, so these are basically some of the images, and storytelling, and how we wanted the images and videos to look. As you can see, everything's pretty dark, but there is consistent treatment over the imagery and you wanna just keep it as consistent as possible. This obviously has video with it. So we have a kind of like a score or like a soundtrack of that's gonna be over the entire video. So you can add that in if you're doing video. After you show them how you want to portray their brand and you want to ask of a certain product and a product that you want to shoot, that's gonna obviously work best with what you're shooting. So in this case we had some backpacks and we had some of their shoes and basically a whole wardrobe kit from Fjall. And that is kind of basically it for this one. Unfortunately we didn't get this job, but it's just more practice in the end, and yeah. So a lot of the times, I would say like 50/50. When making a deck, you're gonna be using some of your own imagery and half that time you're gonna be using imagery from all over the internet. A lot of the times when you're trying to pitch to these brands a project, sometimes you can't get to those certain spots that you really want to shoot 'cause normally they're pipe dreams, which a lot of the cases they are. But that's okay. As long as you're building a deck and pitching to brands, I would make a goal to pitch as many brands as you can in a month, five to 10, without even going to shooting anything. Just make a deck that looks similar to this, or you can get as creative or as simple as you want and pitch those brands. But definitely don't be afraid of not being able to shoot those. You can still make these decks without shooting those and giving them your actual images. As long as you're making a story for them and something that is on brand with that specific brand, if you can take that and sell it to them, that's all that matters. So that's it. Let's say you come up with that entire spec piece and you're really wanting to sell that brand to the brand. I find myself reaching out to designers and having them come out with or helping me out with more of like a beautiful piece to portray their brand. And so I'm not the best at designing something for a brand when it comes to like decks like this. So I usually will reach out to like a friend or two and have them help me out with something that works. So I spent probably a couple grand on shooting this spec piece. And I was able to bring out some video guys, a couple talent that did it pro bono, and I had to rent out the location. And Aston Martin actually gave us a few cars to shoot for fun. And so what I told them is, "Hey, listen, I'm gonna take a bunch of images, I'm gonna tell a story. And if you guys want to license these images from me, awesome." But if that brand doesn't in the end, you're still gonna be creating a strong portfolio piece for you. And that will come around full circle. This one, we shot it. And then I had a designer put all this in that went a long brand with Aston Martin. Basically I told him to research Aston and to... 'Cause we shot two of their cars, and two of their cars are so like different. So we shot a Coop, a sports car, and an SUV. But it's both of those, they're trying to like sell and market different. But we wanted to combine them and make just one piece out of it. And so that's what he did. And he came up with a concept for basically showed us or Aston Martin that we shot this for $400, when really we shot it for $4,000. But this will give you a little bit of an idea on how far you can push your creative ideas. And as to why I like shooting spec pieces. 'Cause if you show this to someone else, another photographer or someone that's wanting to, an aspiring photographer, this looks like a big piece when it is actually not. And these little details here on each slide, I think is really cool because this literally looks like this is like part of their catalog. It just looks really nice and clean. And it kind of gives you a little background on Aston Martin and the performance and all the specs on each car. And I think that's really cool. The coolest thing that's come about this spec piece is, I haven't yet gotten a job from Aston, but I have gotten two to three other jobs just from different car manufacturers, just 'cause they've seen this spec piece. As much as I didn't wanna spend my own money, that will all come back and it just pays for itself. So you can see that these decks really do help you out in the long run. A lot of these jobs are actually coming from Behance. And Behance is another Adobe platform that I really like to show my work on. For me, Behance is a different way of showing my work and it it's a lot cooler and cleaner than Instagram would be. You can literally tell... You can make a template and tell a story in just one slide of a Behance post than you could with an Instagram post. Well, I guess I should say a lot of these agencies are coming from Behance. They're seeing my work and they're actually thinking I got these jobs, which I really didn't. And I've gotten hired a few times just because of that. So it's definitely worth it. If you can make something like this happen, it's definitely not hard to reach out to people who you know and kind of give them your two cents on how you want these decks to look like. That will just make your portfolio look that much stronger. And you will be way more stoked on your portfolio than you have ever been in your career. So that's like the number one thing is spec work. And if you can like relay this message to the brand, you'll be in good hands. This is basically what's been working for me in my entire career. And I highly suggest that you do the same building these spec pieces and building these decks and sending 'em to clients. And you really gotta research who really is involved in these agencies and clients, because you have to dig it. Like dig on Instagram, LinkedIn, wherever, Google it. You gotta send these to the right people or it's never gonna be seen. So that is probably a big exercise in my photography career and definitely should get to that. For me, early stages with photography, I wanted representation. And pre-representation, it was a lot of cold calling, cold emailing, a lot of decks like this, and literally just pitching to brands all the time. You're doing it for yourself. You're doing like when you're getting jobs, you're doing all the negotiations, all the estimates, everything you're handling, you're producing the entire thing. It gets exhausting, but it's also a really cool learning curve. And that helped me out with every aspect of you just business in general. And I feel like I got more out of that like me being freelance than I would've going to college for photography or video stuff. And it's been really cool learning that stuff on your own. And I would definitely, I guess, just try to put yourself near people who are trying to do the same thing or have already done it, that way you're learning different types of work ethics and like business models and et cetera. Having an agent however, is amazing. Because they will literally push you and help you get whatever job you want. So let's say if you have like a dream client you've been wanting to work with, usually those agents will have connections to the right people or they've been in the industry for so long that they can connect you to the right people that you want to. It's almost been like a mentor, learning more of the business side. And I thought, I knew a lot of it doing a lot of the stuff on freelance and on my own. But then I took the agency side as like a mentorship and learned a lot from him or them really took that in. They've helped me throughout all things, photography, whether that's the gear I have, the way I shoot, the way I get jobs and helping me on deck. Big thing is negotiating. I can't do that piece too much 'cause I'm too nice and I'll just say yes to whatever. Usually I don't push too hard for myself, but when I'm doing my estimates, but having that agent is certainly a huge thing in the game to have. And if you can find representation, I highly suggest you do that. Me trying to find representation was pretty hard just because I didn't have a huge portfolio. But I was so consistent in staying on top of a certain amount of agencies. I was constantly emailing these agencies, sending them my new work and I would never get a reply. But then all of a sudden, one day an agency hit me up and they're like, "Oh, we've been seeing your work and we'd like to represent you." You wanna be aware too with representation that they're not ripping a whole lot of people, you don't want like a big casting call. You wanna stand out in that certain like genre of things. And I wanted to stick out in automotive. And there was only... I think there was like one other guy doing automotive in that agency. And I was like, screen light, this is perfect for me. You definitely want to pick that agency that best fits you. And so I think having representation as a photographer is highly recommended in my book. Okay, so pre-agent, I was DMing and cold calling and cold emailing, probably 20 brands a day. No exaggeration, as opposed to having an agent or they do sell my work. I feel like when you reach out to brands, it comes across more of a hustle than someone else going to them and doing it for you. It will really show that you want to work with them and be a part of their brand. Whether you're looking at the agency life that's representing a client, you want to find the art buyers, the art producers, the art directors, or like the creative directors. You wanna pick their brain and you wanna find the ins and outs and see what they've seen in the industry that you should be doing and then what you shouldn't not be doing. That goes a long way and then that's just a ton of knowledge you'll get when building or shooting these spec pieces as well. That's kind of where I've felt really, really helps when I'm shooting spec work. It also helps to putting your name on agency radar or even client radar, and showing them your work. 'Cause you wanna constantly keep showing ad agencies your portfolio. And so as long as you're shooting spec work or as long as you're getting work, you wanna keep talking to the right people in the industry, the agency industry and showing them your work. That goes a long way with really wanting to work with these brands. And it's just a hustle in the end. And if people can see that, you'll get hired. And that's basically where I'm still at now. And I will continue to keep pushing the limits with spec work and finding the right people to talk to in the industry. All right, so two things. There's getting work and there's trying to get work. Both of these they're called pitching and bidding. Pitching, is it goes back to the spec work stuff, obviously pitching yourself and trying to get them to buy you and why you want them to buy you. It's obviously very, very crucial in doing the right way. Just go back onto building decks, you really wanna sell that brand. And so let's say you end up getting the job. That usually I'll have this process, it's the bidding process. And this is kind of where I like the photography world, is because it gets very, very, very competitive. So what happens is usually you'll usually be in like a double, triple or rarely a quadruple bid. But for most of the time, you'll be bidding against one other person or two other people. So with bidding, it comes down to estimates, mood boards, how you're gonna shoot the stuff, obviously your work and why they should pick you. So you really need to sell yourself through to that brand. Bidding most of the times doesn't mean giving the client your most expensive day rate. As nice as that sounds, you don't want to be like at the top of your day rate that you normally will go to. That's only in some instances. But in some instances like you want to research that brand and going back to where you wanna go and meet with these like art producers and art directors, you wanna see what these budgets are like and what the brand has kind of been allocated towards their marketing. Let's say, if you come in at an estimate, and normally like the art producer will tell you like, "Hey, your bid is way too high or it's way too low." They're gonna obviously see what you're worth and you don't wanna sell yourself short too. So, giving them a day rate that best fits them and that you're gonna like obviously be comfortable getting away with and that what you can do that with the entire project for, and being comfortable obviously is gonna be the best thing ever. Basically, they wanna know what you're bringing to the table and how you're gonna make this campaign better than the last one. Or how you're gonna make it better than who you're bidding against. But that's another cool thing. You never know who you're bidding against until you literally see that campaign being out in the world a few months later. And it's pretty cool. I don't get bums seeing it. I get bums seeing who shot it, but I also like really respect seeing who won the job if I didn't get it. Because it shows me what they did different than what I was gonna do. Let's say they brought like just an arm car for photography and they weren't gonna be just shooting out the back of a truck bed, which just handheld photo. But they had like a full Russian arm with a photo, like a steels camera on it. And they had like a trigger and they had like all this stuff, That literally will go into your next estimate on building what is right for that brand and how much money they can allocate for those specific reasons. So you literally gotta find the insides and outs of each brand and figure out how much money they have and what you can do as far as all the money on the table. That's just a cool learning process and something that is never gonna get old. And it's very stressful, but it's good in the end. Research your brand and try to win as many jobs as you can.