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Understanding the Industry

Lesson 2 from: The Business of Commercial Photography: The Survival Guide

John Keatley

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Lesson Info

2. Understanding the Industry

Next Lesson: Finding Your Style

Lesson Info

Understanding the Industry

Alright so, let's just kind of give a quick overview of the commercial photography industry. There's obviously many different ways to work. You can be a food photographer, a car photographer. It's depending on what you're interested in, your job in life can look quite different. Just because we all have a camera doesn't mean we're doing the same thing. For me and what we're gonna to be talking about today, my background is in editorial photography, some corporate and in advertising. And I just kinda consider all that commercial photography. So, magazines or editorial as we might refer to it from time to time, there was a period in my career when my goal was to be an editorial photographer. So I put all my effort and thought into that. And we're going to talk about setting goals and strategies and things like that. So this would be an example of one path if you were interested in doing editorial. Corporate photography, typically you're working for a company direct and it's not necessari...

ly advertising. It can be. But sometimes it's just for an internal website or their website or an annual report or things like that. So a lot of what we're talking about applies to either of these types of industries. And then finally advertising. And advertising's changing a little bit today. I think ultimately at the core of what it is, it's not changing so much, but in the way people talk about it it is especially with social and digital advertising isn't necessarily all traditional print and out of home and things like that anymore. We have social media and all kinds of different things. But at the end of the day, at least for me, I'm creating conceptual portraits and things like that that can fit into different needs and we'll talk a little bit about adapting to the industry as well today. So it should come as no surprise to hear me say that business is incredibly competitive and disruptive. I think we all know that. That's something that I've seen in the last few years and I can go on and on with examples of just how many photographers have become to enter the marketplace and it's because photography's fun and it's awesome. But it's also become really really accessible. But what surprised me recently was I saw an ad on tv I think or online, and it wasn't an ad for photographers. It was a national website brand and they were just targeting everyone pretty much. And the whole message of the ad was how disruptive our society and business has become. It was a, maybe you've seen this, but it was a guy who owns a restaurant and something happened in his restaurant and he had to pivot and he started a food truck and he was doing gourmet food in a food truck. And then something else happened, he had to pivot again. Next thing you know he was setting up pop-ups and stuff and these are all things that we've seen in society today but they were targeting and building strategy around this idea that you constantly have to pivot an adapt and adjust and it really struck me as like wow, when you see a national ad speaking to something, it's not just a little problem in a certain industry anymore, this is something that everyone is dealing with. So, it's really really important to learn to make informed decisions. And this is something that I'm gonna repeat several times talking about being informed. And we're gonna drill into how do you do that in certain areas. But not just being emotional, not just being like "Oh my gosh I haven't heard from someone in six months, I'm gonna go do this." Or "Oh man I lost the last two bids that came through. I'm gonna change everything." There's certain things that you need to believe in the process and stick with the process but there are times when we do need to look at what's going around us and we need to adapt. So along the lines of constantly, and really it is constantly. It's not like yearly or bi-yearly or anything like that. If you find that there's really anything in your business that you're just doing without thinking about for probably more than a year, you're probably neglecting something. You need to constantly be looking at your business and what you're doing and asking yourself "Why am I doing this? Is there a reason I'm doing this? Is there a reason I haven't changed?" I'm not going to say in all cases, but usually the way technology and business is moving today it needs to be constant. But the one thing that you should absolutely not do is adapt and change who you are. I'm talking about adapting and changing business practices. But at the core, who you are that's not gonna change. I mean your tastes and interests may change and things like that, and there's room for adjusting, but it's so easy in what we do to think like "Oh my gosh, portraits don't seem that popular. I'm seeing this type of photography everywhere I should start shooting that because that's what's gonna make money." It's never gonna work out. I mean you might make some money or whatnot, but I can guarantee if you're doing something for the money or you're doing something that's outside yourself, you're gonna be miserable. So you've gotta figure out who you are and stick with that. Because there is room for whoever you are in the industry, you just have to find out where that place is. So being informed and not emotional is something I've mentioned. I'll give you a couple examples. There was a number of years ago, when it's probably longer than I'm remembering, but when website on mobile became a thing. When peoples smartphones started becoming more and more capable you'd hear people talking about making sure your website looked good on mobile. And I remember there was a creative director friend of mine who I worked with at an agency and every once in awhile he would complain to me "I tried showing someone your website on my phone the other day and it's terrible man!" He's like "What's going on?" And was like "Yeah...big deal." My mindset was, I don't want people looking at my website on their tiny little phones. I want people looking at my website on their computer. That's how it's meant to be. The images look better, it's bigger. People are gonna see a tiny little picture on their phone and it's not gonna be that impressive. So yeah, good, don't look at my website on your phone. And that was my mindset. That was emotional. That was what I wanted. But I was ignoring reality. Then fast forward a few years later, and I did a job with Facebook and part of that project I was able to be involved with the strategy and kind of conceptualizing of the campaign. And I learned a lot about analytics through that process and then what that forced me to do was to step back and to think about, again how I mentioned, think about how I'm doing things and why and then I just simply looked at my analytics on my website and was shocked to find out that 70% of the people viewing my website at the time were viewing it on mobile. So at this point, I can stick to my emotions and what I want but in doing that I'm completely ignoring reality and I'm completely ignoring 70% of my potential customers. That's not a good idea at all in any case. So you have to be informed and you have to take the time to really research why you're doing things the way that you're doing. I'll give you another example we learned just recently. We were bidding on a really large national advertising campaign and we found out that there was a cost consultant on this job. So three people are bidding on a job and my agent told me they have a cost consultant and so my initial thought - basically a cost consultant is someone working on the agencies side and they're going through everybody's estimate, all the numbers. And they're looking for efficiencies. Making sure that numbers are not inflated or maybe in some cases that we're giving ourselves enough to do the job that they want us to do kind of thing. And so my thought, I hadn't done a job with a cost consultant that I was aware of at this point and so when you hear cost consultant emotionally it sounds like "Oh my gosh we gotta be careful.", right? Like we don't wanna come in too high or it's they're really looking at the numbers. But the reality was, what I found out that's not actually how you should be looking at working with a cost consultant. The cost consultant costs the agency maybe $5,000.00 and so from their perspective you actually wanna come in high. Because if a cost consultant can't save more than $5,000.00 they can't justify their own price. And so if you come in low and they're actually raising money it doesn't look good for them and so again it's just part of the game, it's part of the industry, but that's why it's so important to know the difference between how it sounds or what you think versus reality. And I can go on and on but there's all kinds of situations where I've constantly found myself running my business sometimes for years based on this idea that I think, come to find out that has nothing to do with it. So you have to have a goal and a strategy and you have to know how you're gonna get there. This disruption and the competition that we talk about along with that there is a lot of rejection too. This is not an industry where people are gonna constantly be patting you on the back or telling you "Oh my gosh that turned out so great." Oftentimes, you'll do a campaign and it is really great and you're really proud of it and as soon as you turn in the images that's the last you'll hear from anybody. And it's nothing personal, it's not because they're a mean person or don't like you or anything like that. It's because they're busy and they have to move on to the next project. And it's just kind of, it's a fast-paced, it's a fast-paced world and I think also for us emotional creative people, before a project and during a project we're often emailing 10, 20 times a day and talking on the phone, then we see each other on set for 10, 12 hours. And then that ends when they get the images and so, especially when you start comparing it to that it's like "Why don't they call me anymore?" (audience laughter) So you have to be able to take all of these kind of non-emotional factors and that's got to motivate you when someone says "I don't think you'd be good for this job." or "You know, you're work just isn't that strong." or whatever it is as blunt as it sometimes feels, you have to take that and if that doesn't motivate you it's gonna be really tough for you to make it in this industry and that's not saying that you can't learn. I know some of us, you know there's insecurities and stuff like that. I believe you can learn and you can grow in any area. So I'm not saying if it doesn't motivate you right now, give up. But you've gotta find ways to grow as a person, as an artist, as a business person, so that you can push through those times. And finally, the most important thing for a photographer in this industry is that you have to be known for something. You have to find your niche. You want people to think of you for something specific. Just like when someone is writing or casting a movie, they think of a specific actor for that one thing they do over and over again. They can hear the voice. You want someone to be able to just see your voice. Like, know, if I hire this person I know exactly what it is that I'm gonna get.

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Ratings and Reviews

Bonnie Aunchman

John & Creative Live - Thank you - Best. Class. Ever.! This is a GREAT class! If you are a photographer, this is definitely a MUST GET class, but even if you work with photographers as part of a creative team - you have to take this class. (I'm a Photo Stylist) John covers it ALL in this class - it really, truly is a Survival (Success) Guide. John is so detailed, honest, and generous in his knowledge/experience/wisdom in the commercial photography industry in helping you understand the business and really succeed (& stand out). When I see that John is teaching a class on Creative Live - I'm in! (I have his other valuable courses as well)

a Creativelive Student

I was lucky to be part of the studio audience for this course. John is an awesome teacher and did an outstanding job of making sense of a very difficult side of photography for a creative to understand. He shared his 18+ years of experience, including the good and bad he has gone through. The "special guests" alone are worth the cost of this class. John has an amazing team working beside him behind the scenes. Their perspective on his business was priceless!

Joseph Brewster

John gave an enormous amount of insight and practical advice in this comprehensive course. I really enjoyed a course focused more on commercial and editorial rather than wedding and family, which is more common. Great info and great work all around!

Student Work