The Business of Commercial Photography: The Survival Guide

 

Lesson Info

Marketing Q&A

I had a question going back to sharing the same images. When you do a shoot, and you have multiple selects you like, do you think it's best to limit to one strongest select, or is it okay to share multiple images from the same shoot across your platforms? That's a good question. There's a number of ways to look at that. First and foremost, you want to make sure that you have an understanding or contract with the client about what is okay to share. For example, if you do a shoot for a magazine, let's say, oftentimes, they'll have what's considered an embargo period. An embargo period means that you can't license or share that image for a certain period of time with another publication or something like that. Sometimes, the embargo means you can't share anything. Sometimes, it just means you can't license it to another magazine, so that you're not watering down the brand that hired you in the first place. If I do a cover for Wired UK, they don't want that same image on a competing maga...

zine next month. It creates brand confusion. You want to make sure first and foremost that there's an understanding with the magazine, and that stuff can all be negotiated. Sometimes, a magazine will say, "Hey, we have a one-year embargo period," and before we do the shoot, not after, we'll say, "Can we do six months for this reason?" or, "We feel more comfortable if it's six months." Then you can work that out, but you want to make sure that you're respecting your client first and foremost, that you're not throwing them under the bus somehow. Then you also want to make sure, sometimes, is it a high profile shoot? It depends what's going on around it. They may want to control the outtakes. They may only want this one image to be in people's minds for a certain period of time, or whatever that is. Again, that's something that's important. In general, assuming that you've taken care of those things, usually, the image that gets published is not gonna be your favorite image. My friend Chris Bock, he says that the outtake is the one that gets published. Someone goes, "You mostly show outtakes," and he'll be like, "I show the real image." He's like, "The outtakes are the ones they publish," kind of thing, but I like that approach. I think it's most important, is, that image is something someone else chose for their brand. It doesn't mean there's not value in that. You might want to, if you like, and assuming it's not something you hate, there's value in showing, "Hey, I did this, "and it was published this way." What you really want to drive your brand with is the imagery that you want to do more of, and that's what we talked about earlier, about starting the conversation. If you let someone else dictate the conversation in that sense, you're like, "Hey, I did these 10 cool assignments, "and I really enjoyed them, "but my favorite image wasn't picked in any of those ones," but you just end up picking the ones they picked, you're letting someone else dictate how people think about you and your brand. Does that answer the question? That's not to say that you can't show multiple images, but why are you showing multiple images? Are they taking you down the path that you want to be going down? It's really as simple as that. Say, if it was a personal shoot, and not something that was published, if you have multiple images, say you did multiple looks, but you can tell it's all from the same shoot, is it best to probably pick one and roll with it, or to use multiple shots from the same shoot? It depends on what you're trying to accomplish. Are you showing multiple images just because you think it shows versatility? Or are you showing multiple images because they all communicate clearly in unique ways what it is that you want to see? Sometimes, in a single shoot, I get what you're saying, sometimes, they're a little different, but it's clear it's the same shoot, kind of thing. You have to balance that with, how are you gonna be perceived with that? What does that say? Is it better to keep doing more shoots so that you don't just have one shoot you're drawing from? It goes back to something we'll talk about coming up here with social media, is, just because you can post something doesn't mean you should. You should have very clear reasons and understanding for why you're doing what you're doing. Beyond that kind of is something that you have to answer for yourself, but I do think it's easy to be like, quantity. If it's a quantity reason, probably a bad reason. I just was wondering, when you were starting out, how did you decide who you were gonna approach, agency-wise, if you didn't have a consultant, or you didn't have a rep, or you didn't have a list? How do you decide who to approach in terms of clients specifically? Yeah, or agencies. Again, it goes back to deciding or figuring out what it is that you want to do, and then how do you want to do that? If you know, hey, I want to be an editorial photographer, I want to shoot for magazines, I really want to shoot portraits, or conceptual portraits, you look for people that publish conceptual portraits, and you try to start a conversation with those people. You share your work with those people. You're probably not going to share your work with Bon Appetit, or Travel and Leisure, or something like that. It doesn't mean they won't occasionally have a need for something that you do, but you try to align yourself in intentional ways with people who are speaking the same language, so to speak. That can be time-consuming, figuring that out. We do touch on, coming up here, more specifically, how to reach those kinds of people, but I think that's a great example of, again, with intentionality and drawing that line. What do I want to say? Who wants to hear what I have to say? And then saying it. Anybody else? Any stories from any marketing efforts that you made that you felt like didn't go well, or ways that you felt like... Yeah. It was more like, I want to get into editorial, and I like submitting to magazines, but I also like showing my work. It's like, I have to submit to a magazine. They're like, "You can't have it online "until we decide whether or not we want it." Then it's like, okay, if you didn't want it, do I just keep pushing it to other magazines in the hopes it gets published? Then I feel like I'm not showing my work online enough to provide a brand recognition because I'm producing, and then shoving them out there so that they can be published, and then share them as published images. I'm not sure I'm follow-- Are you saying, if someone doesn't want to publish it, are you assuming that no one else will? When you submit to a magazine, they say it can't be anywhere on your Instagram, you can't have it online you can't do any of that. 'Cause they want to have it first. They want exclusivity first. Then, after that, if they don't take it, you're like, "Oh, I'll try again, another magazine," then it's like, "Well, I'm also losing the opportunity "to also present myself in front of people "with my current work as I'm portfolio building." That's a good question. Yeah, there are some magazines that, if you want to pitch a story to them, they will only publish it if it's not published previously. You have to decide, is there value in being published? Yeah, there can be. In general, creating for credit or that type of recognition, it's not gonna do a lot of good. You're gonna get hired for the work that you create, not for where you were published, necessarily. You have to decide, is my business model to get published in magazines? I would say, right now, from what I know about editorial, probably you're not gonna make a living from editorial in any capacity because that's kind of the way the industry's going. It's getting harder and harder to just be an editorial photographer, which is tough 'cause a lot of people, that's why they got into photography. They want to be an editorial photographer, but it's getting harder. Chances are, probably, your business is not going to do best by simply relying on those types of situations. I'm not saying you don't try. Maybe, what I would do is, I would pitch that project to several different magazines at once. I wouldn't do one at a time and see what they say, and then another one. That will just drag out forever. I would put it out there one time, give it to a bunch of people. If someone wants to publish it, great, then you do it. If not, then you move on. What you're saying is totally accurate. You do need to get that work in front of somebody, publicly, outside of just those few magazines. Sitting on work or keeping it in the closet is not gonna lead to anything else, so you absolutely have to get that imagery out there. Yes. I'm finding, as I'm starting to share my work with people, that I'm getting one common response, and it's, "Interesting," is what people say. It's the rejection, but like, "Oh, it's really interesting." I'm not quite sure what to make of that. Like you were saying, I don't think people are just being kind, but I'm not really sure. There's a couple things to think about. If people are looking at your work, and they're saying something over and over again, you want to definitely take that and see, okay, there must be something to this. I remember, when I was doing editorial, my whole portfolio was editorial, but I wanted to start doing advertising, I didn't have a full understanding of what advertising was, or how it was different. I felt like, I'm taking interesting pictures of people. You could make this an ad. I would go to portfolio meetings, and everyone would say, "Oh, so you're an editorial photographer." I would get so mad 'cause, in my head, that's not what I wanted to be anymore, and I hated that people were labeling me like that. I felt like, "I'm so much more than that. "Why do people keep saying I'm an editorial photographer?" The reality was, I can see in hindsight, they were saying that because I was showing editorial work. Plain and simple, anyone that knows enough about both worlds, or even just advertising, knows what editorial looks like, and what advertising looks like, and what the difference is between the two. I was trying to force myself in a situation without the proper tools or understanding of that situation. If you're hearing something like interesting, you do want to consider, who is it you're trying to reach? What is it they're responding to that's drawing that out if that's not what you want to be hearing? The other thing is, it's totally possible that you are trying to communicate something to the wrong people too. That's entirely possible. Maybe you need to change who your -- I would never advocate for changing who you are. Obviously, we've already talked about that, that's off the table, but changing your business practices, or your approach, or your target audience, those are things you might want to finesse. A couple years ago, I decided that I wanted to start creating fine artwork. That came from some of these ideas I've been sharing with you guys about the importance of living into who you are and creating work for yourself. For me, the logical conclusion at the end of that is, what's the point of this work? It's not really just to get advertising work, which, that happens, but for me, it's because I really, really love doing this, and I have something I want to say, and what better way than to connect with other people who value that work? So much so that they'd be like, "I love this image so much, "I want to buy it, and hang it in my living room, "and look at it every day." That would be really meaningful for me, so I decided that I wanted to start selling prints, and showing in galleries, and things like that. I was able to be part of my first group show fairly quickly, and the curator of the group show was really kind, and we had known each other a little bit, and he gave me some great contacts in the industry, other galleries to reach out to. I don't think anyone would've even written me back had I not had that introduction, but I wrote to one gallery that I considered to be really big time. I oftentimes am drawn to the flashing lights, so I'm like, "I want that big time gallery." I wrote this one guy, and he wrote me back. His email said, "This couldn't interest me any less." That was his response. (students laugh) I was like, "Whoa." If this came earlier in my career, it would've shattered me. I would've been devastated. I'm not saying it didn't hurt, but thankfully, I've learned enough about rejection, and about knowing who I am, and believing in the work I'm creating to know, okay, he doesn't get it, and that's fine. It's like, yeah, that's a little rude. Maybe I wouldn't advocate for treating people like that, but clearly, it's not a connection, so I'm not gonna mourn the loss of something that's not meant to be. I don't want to be working with that person anyway. I want to be aligning myself with like-minded people who understand what I'm doing, and value what I'm doing, and I value and understand what they're doing, and we're doing it together, and it's better because it's a collaboration. I want to be working with those kinds of people, and that's how we should all be. That's the other side of looking at it. It's like, maybe you need to make an adjustment. Maybe they're actually telling you something about your work that you really need to know and look at. First of all, what does interesting mean? Is it a passive way of saying, "I don't like it"? "That's interesting." Or is it like, it's interesting, it's just above their head? They're like, "What we do is corporate, "and you're doing conceptual," and that's maybe just not the application. That would be the first thing to look at in that situation, but that's a great example. Thanks for sharing that. Yes. I'm wondering about quantity and frequency of contact versus relevance. To continually get your name, remind people that you're out there, and that you're doing work versus something that's directly on message. For a specific example, sending out a blast message just saying, "Happy spring," and a nice picture of flowers even though that might not be exactly my audience, but just to remind people that I'm still out here, doing work. I think quality over quantity every time, and I think consistency. You don't want to commit to something that you can't back up. It's okay to say hi, and just to check in, and it's okay, sometimes, like I said earlier, you want to be relational and generous. You don't want to constantly be like, "Look at me, look at me, hire me, hire me," kind of thing. You should be occasionally writing people, and saying, "Oh my gosh, "I saw that campaign you just produced," or, "I know that you did some work "on this project, and it's amazing. "Congratulations, well done. "You made me smile, you made my day." Those are great things to do, and we should absolutely be looking for ways to do that. In that spirit, I think it's okay to check in, but probably I wouldn't advocate for sending out a mass newsletter that just says, "Happy spring." There should be some intentionality behind it. If you want to write someone directly and say, "Hey, happy spring. "I was thinking about you. "I know you just ran that marathon. "What better weather to run a marathon in," or whatever. If there's a bit of a relationship, or even if you just met them, those kinds of things can be appropriate, but in general, when marketing yourself to other people, whether you know them or not, you do want to think about general rules of social decency and relationships with people you do know, and the same applies. I guess, with that being said, I would rather see you do your best work, and be like, "Okay, you know what, "I know I'm gonna create five unique things every year," something, and maybe two or three things for work that also are a reflection of more of what I want to do. I would maybe space out eight times a year when you can write people as opposed to committing to something where, I'm gonna send out something every month. Then you find yourself in a position where you don't have anything to say, so you're just filling it, and you're doing it just for the sake. That's not the kind of consistency that I want to see you doing. I'd rather see you do once every six months, and back it up really well, than some random idea of, "Hey, "I need to have this amount of this." Same thing happens, which we'll talk about later on, with portfolios, people think they need a certain number of images in their portfolios. I'd rather see three great images than three great ones and a bunch of eh ones. Just have a comment about that long game. When you're talking about the long game, it's hard to be patient when you're super excited about launching or changing your career. How have you seen that play out over your career? When has it paid off? What's maybe an encouragement for people who are super excited, who want to send out 10 images every day? Yeah, that's a great question. I think, again, that's why it is, I'm gonna sound like a broken record, that's why it's so important to create for yourself, because then, you can lean on that. You have those immediate experiences that you love and enjoy, and you're not just waiting for what it is that you want to do, right? You don't have to wait on anyone, that's the thing. I think, in this job, we put ourselves in the position where we are completely dependent on getting that job, or completely dependent on everything going just right, and the client not making any changes we don't like, or completely dependent on assuming someone sees our mailing, or whatever. I think, when you can flip it and find ways to do what you love, and enjoy that, that helps you be more patient with the pace and the track work. It doesn't mean you're not gonna get some jobs right away. You can enjoy those, but it's gotta be based on something that you can control. Look at what you can control, and what you can't, and make sure that you're balancing the two. I think it's also really important to write down and track the things that you do, because it's really easy to get, a year flies by, and you're like, "Oh my gosh, this year was so tough. "It felt like things didn't go my way," but if you wrote things down, you could look back, and be like, "Actually, one of my goals "was to do three editorial assignments this year, "and I did four." It's hard to process that in the scheme of things, but when you can write it down, and be like, "Wow," and celebrate that. That's really awesome. You are making momentum. It's just never as fast as we want it to be. That never changes. I'm never doing as much, or whatever, as I want to be. Constantly, your goals grow, and demand or supply never quite fits your ideas. It's something you have to constantly balance. Yes. I'm wondering, when you do start seeing some of those successes, and you do see your work featured in places, what's a good way to follow up on that? Is it just great, and that happened, and you keep going? Or is there a good follow up? That's a great question. You absolutely want to share your success. When you do something that you are proud of, that you want people to know about, you need to let people know that. It's as simple as that. I have a couple examples, actually, coming up, kind of along those lines. There's been plenty of times in my career where I did something that was a really great opportunity, and I absolutely capitalized on that opportunity, and shared with everyone what I did, and in a timely way too. I mean, you want to be really on top of it. If you do something that's in a news cycle, or something that's maybe in the public eye, you want to make sure, again, assuming that you have negotiated the rights and all this kind of stuff with your client, if it's attached to a client, that you're not overstepping your bounds here, but you absolutely want to make sure that you're doing something in a timely way to maximize on that opportunity. When you say share, what exactly do you mean? Good question. When I say share, it's literally as simple as that. It could be just posting it on social media. It could be emailing it to people. It could be putting it on your blog, putting it on your website, making a postcard, sending the postcard out, doing a portfolio meeting, and putting that print in your portfolio, any way that you have at your disposal to share your work with other people, you do that, and you do it across all platforms. You don't put it on Instagram, and then not in your portfolio, and you're like, "It's on Instagram, they'll see it," kind of thing. No, you absolutely want to make people aware of the things that you want them to be directed by.

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.