The Business of Commercial Photography: The Survival Guide

 

The Business of Commercial Photography: The Survival Guide

 

Lesson Info

Common Questions for Reps/Agents

So, some common questions for reps and agents. And we kind of, I guess, touched on this a little bit earlier, but what kinds of questions do, outside of maybe can this person shoot white or black backgrounds, are there other concerns or things that are coming up? Um, common questions for agents about the artist. We maybe already covered that, but. I mean, I think they often will want to know do they have experience with moving assets? How fast are they? Some artists, you know, shoot 1,000 frames in a minute, and some, like you, really craft an image. So, often the questions will be about shoot approach. Sometimes about personality. Gee, this person is really difficult to photograph. How does John handle difficult people? Can you walk me through that? The photographer who is a fisherman, you know, this is gonna be a really rough and tumble shoot, are they gonna be okay in extreme conditions? I usually have to talk people through-- Not if it's me, probably. (softly chuckles) (s...

oftly chuckles) John only stays at 5-star hotels. (audience laughs) Somebody did recently ask me if John was okay not flying first-class, and I was like, "Come on!" I want to be John. (laughs) If you ask me nicely, if you ask nicely. What does your relationship look like with artists? Maybe it's different depending on the artist, but can you talk a little bit about that side of things? Yeah, it is very different depending on where the artist is in their career. So we rep some artists who are more emerging, and have never done this. You came to us already having had a rep. So if somebody hasn't had a rep before, we usually need to coach them a little bit on sort of what their expectations are of us, and what our expectations are of them. Make sure that their book and portfolio is looking good, make sure that their site is edited in a way that will communicate their message the clearest. Some artists, I talk to on the phone every day. Some go fishing for three months in the summer, and I don't talk to them during that time. So it's really different with all of them, and how busy the artist is. I mean, we're doing a lot of promotion, and we're traveling, but we're also dealing with productions. And sometimes I'm turning in 18 versions of an estimate, so I'm talking to that artist every day, often. At a minimum, what is it that you need or require from an artist, like what's the minimum that they need to be doing, whether it's creating, or marketing, or things like that? So, generally, the first level of defense is you need a printed portfolio. Nowadays, people say, "Do you really need that? "Everybody knows me from my website." And, you know, everybody will tell you something different, but the fact of the matter is that if you want to get to a certain level, you can do fine and get by with very little, but if you want to push your career further, which is usually why people will come to us, you have to do more. So when you go on meetings with people, which is what we'll often send you on meetings with people. Showing up without a book, I'm always disappointed when somebody calls me, and is like, "Oh, I have my website, you could look at that." And, you know, I sit in front of a computer all day. Art directors sit in front of a computer all day. They don't want to look at your, they could look at your website without meeting you. They probably did look at your website before you came in. So I think a book is another way to show people how you see your work, and how you see yourself, and for creatives, it's a fun art project. All of our artist's books are completely different from each other. They're not all bound in the same way, they're not all uniform. We have a pink canvas one, we have a yellow leather one, we have a stingray one. (laughs) They're all over the map. One of our artists who is an architectural photographer, his are wood on the front, which sort of hearkens to built materials and things like that. So a printed portfolio is one, updated website, good social media presence. And if somebody is just getting started, I will say have you been to New York? Have you met these editors, if you're wanting to do editorial work? Have you sent out a promotion? When you go on a meeting, and you show your book, and they love it, and then you leave, and they have nothing, sometimes that is a bad thing. So what that leave behind is has changed in recent years. We now bring to all of our meetings a sheet with the Instagram handles of every artist, because the younger art producers and creative producers say, "Oh, I don't keep anything paper, "I just keep links and Instagram handles." Which is fascinating to me, because I'm a paper person. And I love to, when I was an editor, I would grab my four favorite promos, and go into a creative meeting, and show the art director. But nowadays, it's still important to leave something behind that says who you are, so I always veer people away from a business card, because of course that doesn't say anything about you. I never had any use for business cards, but if I had one card with a great portrait of yours on it, I'd be like, "Okay, that's that guy. "I remember that guy." And generally, I tell people to pick an image that's the image that most people react to, or most people think of them for, that really defines you in a single image. So portfolio, leave behind, meetings, that's a good start. Going back to portfolio, it always kind of surprises me, I mean, it shouldn't probably, but when I do a meeting, just me and a creative team or something, I'm always shocked at how many people say oh wow, prints, or like, something physical. Yeah. Because it sounds like it doesn't happen as much anymore. Yeah. But like you said, I think they can see the digital asset at any point, but I think it's just nice if you're gonna have a different experience, to make it feel like a different experience. Yeah. You want to appeal to people on many different levels. You want to show them something new. It's sort of a waste of their time if you go into a meeting and you don't give them a new perspective. Right. What should an artist expect from a rep? Flipping it around the other way. Everything. (audience softly laughs) Um, what they should and what they should not expect. I mean, they should expect that their rep is professional, and that they get back to the clients quickly. I've heard a lot of people say to me, "I had this rep, and they just like, "didn't call people back." And I was like, uh! Because, of course, as a freelance worker, these calls are goals. I mean, just any call, you don't wanna miss it, you know? If, editorial calls, I remember, I would call people, and if they didn't pick up, I'd just call the next person. So you can't rely on your voicemail, I mean, at our agency, if one of us goes to lunch or has a doctor's appointment, we make sure somebody else is there answering the phones. Because if you're in a tight deadline, and you're calling people about a job, the first person that answers, and talks to you about it, and makes you feel safe, like it can get done, you're committed to that person. So, your agent should answer all phone calls, and be professional, and show up on time, and do what they say they're gonna do as a base level. They should be nice, and not attitudey. They should understand your work. They should understand your goals. They should have a professional website. They should be going on meetings for you, because the idea is, while you're shooting jobs, they're out getting more clients for you, so that there's another job lined up. They should be... This is where things change a little bit, and where what kind of agency we are versus other agencies are a little bit different, but I like to do creative development with our artists, and so do the other agents that work with me. I really love it when you call and say, "I'm redoing my portrait section on my website, "can you take a look at it?" And I'll say, "Oh, you should really start with that image, "this is the image everybody loves when I meet with them." Or, "This is the direction you want to be going. "Let's start with that." So I am probably more of a creative agent than most. Some agents are just salespeople, and they're great at it, and that is a different kind of agent-artist relationship. So, you can kind of can think about, you might say, "I don't really need any help with creative. "I don't really want anybody involved in that. "I want somebody that's just gonna sell, sell, sell, "and be everywhere." And if somebody said that to me, I would say I'm probably not the best agent for you. I'm more interested in long-term relationships. It's gonna take us probably a couple of years to get some momentum in your work. It's not like you sign with an agency and you get 50 jobs right away. An agent is not going to do all your self-promotion for you. It is not attractive to an agent when somebody comes to them and says, "I hate doing self-promotion. "I have no work, so I need an agent." (audience laughs) You know, we want somebody who's saying, "This is what I've been doing. "What else should I be doing? "Tell me what I can do." And we know the answer to that, generally. So I think that your agent should be able to help you help yourself, but your agent is not going to replace you as a salesperson for your work. That's something I think, in our workshop, we hear all the time is people say, "I need an agent so I can get work." And it's like, we can answer that a little bit from our perspective, but it's good to hear it from an agent's perspective. 'Cause I think, so often, just thinking about the other perspective in any conversation is so enlightening. Like, we think, that's an agent's job, right? But from your perspective, I mean, you're trying to make a living, also. It's a business. You're not just looking to help people out of the kindness of your heart. Yeah, I mean, most agents make a living off of a percentage of the artist's work. And at a small boutique agency like Redeye, if we only have 15 artists, and our income is based off of a percentage of that work, we have to make sure that that artist is a viable working artist. We can't afford somebody who we are gonna make $50 off of. (laughs) Because there's just only so much time in the day, and it takes just as much time, if not more, to rep somebody with no work than with a lot of work, because somebody with no work, we are calling to make meetings for them, we're redoing their books, we're saying, okay, what's not working? How do we change this, how do we make sure your career's going in the direction you want it to go? But at the same time, I think something that I appreciate about you is you don't just, you have to have a connection with the person in the work that you're working with, right? Yeah. There's something different, I think, about the way you work, in that sense. Which is kind of what we talked to photographers about doing what you love. Yeah. Even if you think you might be able to make more money or something. Well, I mean, my dirty secret is that I'm a horrible salesperson. (laughs) I really am not a good salesperson, but I am naturally enthusiastic. And if I love something, I will communicate that to people. I'll say, "There's literally no one else "you should hire to do personality portraits "but John Keatley." Because I truly believe it. And I'm not a liar, like, I actually think that you're the best person to do that. But often people have said, "Well, you should rep "a car photographer, you'd make a lot of money." Or you should rep this kind of person, and I just think I wouldn't know where to start. I mean, talk about people seeing through you. I mean, I would just show up at a meeting, and be like... Cars? (laughter) So my workaround, and we all have workarounds in our industry, to get around the things we're not comfortable with. My workaround for not being, like, a natural salesperson is that I only choose artists that I really love their work. I have to believe it. I mean, there was a time when people said, "You should have lifestyle artists, "you should have more lifestyle artists." And I just, it wasn't work that I connected to on a natural level. I eventually found lifestyle artists that had a sort of documentary approach, or a human emotion approach that I could connect with. But the whole notion of just lifestyle for lifestyle's sake, for me, just one person, I just couldn't chew on it. I couldn't figure out how to talk about it and believe it. So I have found that as long as I really love the work and the artist, then I can rep them well. That's awesome, and I think that's a great lesson for photographers, too, is just the importance of if you don't feel it, just don't go down that road, like it's just not a good place to be. Let's see... I'm trying to, we kind of got a little carried away, I'm looking at my notes here. I guess, that kind of covers some of the things that we had scripted. I don't know if this is a good time for questions, or if anything's coming through. Any questions in here? [Audience Member 1] So you were talking about the editorial... That editorial photographers are not making very much money, and agents are saying forget this, it's not worth it to do that. So I'm curious on who is actually doing that type of work? What kind of photographers, are professional photographers doing that kind of work now? Because that budget sounds like it's not sustainable for them to make a living. Yeah, they do it as a supplement. So, I mean, the irony is it's still very competitive. They're great photographers, doing that work. But I would say that most people who are doing that work are still trying to get commercial work. So, John does editorial still, but he's just selective about what he does. He does stuff that will augment his book, or stuff that he's excited about. I would say younger photographers can make a living off of doing it. So, you know, people that don't have families can (chuckles) can make a living doing that. But at a certain point, they are looking for other revenue streams. And it's not always commercial work, by the way. Some people teach, some people, um... have businesses, you know, maybe rental businesses, they're digitechs with rental businesses. So, um... It used to be that you could make a living as an editorial photographer, and now... if you are not very young, you generally have to be looking towards other kinds of work as well. But the top photographers in the world still do editorial work, because it's wonderful work. I mean, if there is a story that resonates with you, and The New York Times Magazine calls you, you're gonna do that job, of course you are. You're not going to be making more than $350, but you will be doing that job. (laughs) So, I mean, our artists are still very excited when the New Yorker, or The New York Times, or Time, or Newsweek. And we work with all these people, and we still promote that work, actually. Because we're really proud of it. But we just can't spend our time... dealing with the production of it anymore. [Audience Member 1] And one last question. What photographer would you say makes the most money that you've heard? What type of photographer? [Audience Member 1] What kind of photographer that you've heard, yeah. Well, it's changed. I mean, it used to be that lifestyle shooters made a ton of money, because they got hired for these big galleries of work. You know, I think there's some entertainment photographers who do really, really well shooting, you know, movie posters and things like that. But there's no one answer. I think anybody who's at the top of their game is doing well. And it's not, you know, I know of National Geographic photographers who do really well in the commercial world. Because they're able to bring that photo-journalistic eye to a campaign for American Express or something like that. So I don't think there's any rule as to media or type of artist. I mean, the way I see it is outside of, like Maren said, shooting specifically for an editorial client, which I think there really is no way around, if that's your sole income, I don't really think it matters, and you were hitting on this, like, what type of work you do, 'cause you can find examples in any type of work. There's some photographers that shoot, you know, Hallmark calendars or whatever, and that's enough, that's incredible income for them. And there's some people that do journalism, or you know, it just depends on who you are and what you do, and if it's unique and of interest to people really. I mean, I met a photographer to review who I was prepared to give all kinds of advice to, (chuckles) and then he told me that he'd been shooting toys for a toy company in the valley, and he told me the kinds of budgets he had, and I was like, well, don't stop doing that! (laughter) That sounds great! You're making far more money than any emerging photographer I know. And he liked it, and these companies came to him. It was his specialty, he knew how to photograph toys, he photographed a million a day. He, like, owned a studio space based on that, and he was still in his 20's, I was like, I was astounded. I was, like, taking notes from him. (audience laughs) So I mean, really, I'm surprised every day about the niches, which is why it's so important, I know John's been talking about this a lot, but it's why it's so important to be true to what your voice and your passions are. Because there is a business in there somewhere, and sometimes you have to throw a lot of stuff on a wall to see what sticks, but if you stay close to your area of interest... good things will hopefully happen over time, a lot of time, sometimes, but over time. (light laughter in audience) I'd agree with that. Anyone else? Yes. So John was saying earlier that he's starting to do some more fine artwork, and I'm curious, and I think Corey Arnold is your fisherman, so he also does fine art prints, so how do you market those, or you handle that, too? So, I mean, ironically, and this is why I hope that both of them have found the right agent. Righteye actually started as, it was gonna be an art gallery. So I come from a fine art background, and I had wanted to do that, and really, when people ask me what I'm looking for in an artist, I'm only interested in voice-driven work. I'm only interested in people that have something to say that no one else is saying. I still get excited when I see work that feels original to me. So, I will say that my interest is there, and I'm very encouraging, but I also believe in professionals who know what they're doing, and Redeye is not an art gallery. It is an agency, a commercial agency. So they both have their own galleries, and that is not a part of my scope. But I love promoting that work, I'm really proud of it, and you would be shocked at how much commercial work they get based off of their fine artwork. Because, again, it's voice-driven, it's pure, it's at the heart of who they are. So, if a photographer wants to take time off, commercially, and Corey does that often, to have a show, to make work for a show, to do prints for a show, I never discourage them. I think that, at the end of the day, it only will help their commercial career, and that's why I'm the right agent for them. There are other agents that will say, "You can not skip this beer company job "that is going to make me a lot of money, "for your art show, that is going to make me no money." (audience laughs) But I value the artists that I work with, and I think that it's, I really do think it's a long-term game, and I think that there'll probably be four more beer ads at the end of the show, if all goes well. How would you say that fine artwork affects an artist's perception in the commercial world, like, more specifically? Well, I mean, from a very basic standpoint, they're making original work, which is interesting. And so... People are excited to see that, but I do think that it's been really fun this week, showing your portfolio and the people saying, "Oh, I saw that at an art show." Or, there's a recognition on another level, and whenever I talk about marketing, I always talk about people need to have sort of heard of you on three different levels, right? They might've met you at a party, they might've seen your website, and they might've been at an art show where your work was. And that is just one more level where it makes you more real and viable as an artist. But I think from a fine art perspective, of course there is a certain level of respect, and people find it interesting, 'cause it is. Even if it doesn't directly relate commercially, there's still that value. But, I mean, I would say that, truthfully, I really think that the fine art projects that my artists have done have gotten them the most commercial attention of probably anything they've done. In fact, when artists are slow, I will say make artwork, remember why you got into this. You know, start making that work. And they'll be like, "Oh, I'm so happy just "making pictures again. "I've been working so hard trying to get a job "that I forgot that I like being a photographer." Yeah. Was there someone else? Yeah. I'm just curious about how many artists do you represent and keep in touch with on a near daily basis? So we represent 18 artists. We have three agents, three full-time agents. And we're pretty small, when it comes to agencies. We run a pretty tight ship. We also represent stylists and illustrators, so I don't think we probably would have the time to represent 18 photographers. (chuckles) You guys take a lot of time. (audience laughs) But, like, for example, with illustration, there's no production. So there's no two assistants, and a digitech, and a stylist, and a hair and makeup person. There's just how many days is it gonna take you to do it? So that's a pretty easy estimate to do. So we have about 18, there's some agencies that have 50. And when somebody comes to me and says, you know, what kind of agency should I be at, I will say, do you want an agency that you will get a lot of leftover work from other artists? Oh, this artist can't do it 'cause of their schedule, you can do it. That's one kind of agency, or there's a very personal agency, which is our agency, which is we are gonna meet you where you are as an artist and develop you, and it won't, the way I develop John is not the same as how I would develop Corey. They're in two totally different fields with different contacts. There's some overlap, but not a lot. And then, how do you see motion coming into it? Do you see more and more need for motion stuff? And how is it changing, stills versus motion? Talk to me in two years. (audience laughs) It literally changes every day, and John and I have conversations about this all the time. You know, there are broadcast production companies that rep directors, and when an... On a social media level, I represent all of our artists for social media stuff. So Cinemagraphs, GIFs, videos for web. But John's been doing bigger broadcast commercials, and we have to work with a broadcast production company to do that. They have full production, there's different rules, and it's not my background. And so, I know enough to know where my expertise begins and ends. I'm at a juncture in my career where I have to decide whether I want to expand my expertise, and if I want to partner with or become a broadcast production company. But that's why I said to talk to me in a couple years. Because it's something I'm having to toy with, because people are integrating productions more and more, and the way the two industries work is actually quite different. There's SAG rules for talent with broadcast. We don't really have that with print. So there's, you know, union, non-union, there's all these things that come up that... are going to start merging. There's insurance questions, boring stuff, truly boring stuff, but it's real, and it's happening. So when John works on bigger broadcast jobs, he works through a broadcast production company.

Class Description

Whether just starting out in the commercial photography industry, or ready for a new chapter in your career, John Keatley shows you how to survive in a competitive field. Known for being innovative, creative and thinking outside the box when it comes to his photography, John applies those same skills into running his business. In this in-depth course, John shares some of the key elements that allow you to be an artist and a business owner. You’ll learn:

  • How to find your style and attract the clients you want
  • How to create a bid
  • The importance of drafting a treatment
  • Estimates and billing for your work
  • Planning and scheduling your production
  • Tips on memorable branding
  • The difference between an Art Director/Agent/Art Buyer
  • Techniques for editing your portfolio

If you’re at the start of your career or ready to expand your client list, this course will be the game changer you need to create a solid foundation for a thriving business.