One Art Producers Point of View: Photography Portfolio Review Events. Part I

FotowrksBesides shooting new imagery, the single most important thing a commercial photographer can do  to increase his/her business is to get out in person to promote their own work.  Even though the imagery can speak for itself, art producers and creatives are saying that meeting one on one one is very important.  That is why I am encouraging all of the photographers in our group to attend networking events such as At Edge’s Face to Face, Fotoworks and Debra Weiss’ portfolio review events.

Over this past year, I have seen the list of reviewers becoming more relevant and the list of photographers attending longer.  This tells me that the events are becoming more popular for both ad agency and photo buyer reviewers as well as photographers.

Despite their growing popularity, I still am asked by established photographers all of the time what the value would be for them?  Some even ask if it would make them “seem desperate” if they attended.  Even some art buyers have wondered aloud to me why some photographers would attend given their status in the industry already.  “They could just come by and see me anytime” is a standard response.

All of this made me realize that there are some misconceptions about the events and seeing how incredibly valuable they are for everyone attending -reviewers and photographers alike – it would be helpful to try and shed some light on what people are actually experiencing.

Sasha Carillo is a Creative Planner and Art Producer at Davis Elen advertising in Los Angeles.  She attended the Fotoworks event this spring and was open to being interviewed for our blog to help shed some light on the power of these events.  She had so many great insights to share that we divided her interview into two parts.  The first of two parts is below.

It’s so hard to find the time to attend events like this, why do you make it a priority to go?

I think that it is extremely important that we find fresh new talent that’s out there and these events are a great way for our agency to meet that new talent. We also want people to know that we, as an agency, are out there and are indeed hiring talent. It’s great for the agency because some people don’t know us yet, or think that we are a specific type of agency – when we’re not. So it gives us new life in that way. Mainly it’s good to let photographers know who we are and for us to find great new photographers. A lot of people don’t send us promos and so I have to find them in different ways and a show like FotoWorks is a perfect opportunity to do that.

Besides receiving exposure to new work, how does your agency benefit from your attending?

Even though my agency is one of the largest independently owned agencies, some people know us for just select things (i.e. some people think that we only handle retail. Others don’t know us at all. And others have a good understanding of who we are.).  So, it’s good for our agency to be out there saying, “hey we are really interested in learning about new talent.” That’s why we want to participate in these events, because we want to work with the best talent out there.

We are coming out with a lot more fresh work, a lot of new branding and identity work.  I think that it is really key for us to stay not only youthful but “on trend” and to know what is going to be forecasted in the future so we can stay relevant for our client’s brand. I think that is really important.

It’s crucial that we stay a “networking agency” and stay in contact with the talent that can help get us there.  I feel that we’ve been able to do that well over the last few years. I think that we’ll push to continue to do so, because you just never know where you’ll find new talent (walking down the street, meeting someone at a party, at a photo show, etc)

Did you notice any trends while you were reviewing?

In a show like Fotoworks, people sign up to meet you for various reasons. For example, there are seasoned photographers, who work constantly and have a great rep, who just wants to come and meet you.  Then there are the ones that come by looking for feedback but I have none because their work is so great and all I want to do is create a project that I can shoot with them!   Then there are the new photographers whose work I have never seen and I appreciate these meetings because I am meeting someone new.  And then there are the photographers who just wanted general direction.  Are they on the right track?  Should they consider a rep?  Is the work marketable?  I enjoyed those meetings too.

Attending these shows remind me that in advertising and photography people think that it’s going to be this “new up and coming” person who is going to take over, and I don’t think that that is necessarily the rule. I think as long as you are putting out solid work, good work, staying fresh and true to your ideas, and evolving with time, then you can have an extremely successful career. And I like to see that versus “trend.”

I am also interested in seeing what a photographer’s promos look like. It is one thing to put a face to the name, but I feel that the promos they create are extremely important as well.  It’s a great little added touch. You can tell that a photographer is extremely into their business when they have more detailed promos.

A lot of the promos that I keep get shared and talked about often with creatives at my agency.  I hold onto the ones that are unique. The more effort that goes into the promo, the more of an impression it makes and the more likely it will be remembered when we are reviewing work for a project.

An example of a memorable promo for me was from a travel/hospitality photographer who made an envelope from a map. Inside was a postcard, with his business card attached to it. The business card was in the shape of a luggage tag and was held onto the postcard with an airplane-shaped paper clip. And I thought how simple those little details were, but how brilliant [they are all together]. It was amazing, so I kept it and a lot of the designers come by my desk and look at it pinned up there on my board.

What was the thing that you found most surprising about the photographers that you met at Fotoworks? 

I always tell young photographers that coming into the advertising industry, in the beginning, it’s like playing the lottery. You can do really, really well one time but mostly it is winning smaller jackpots, here and there. Once you are successful, you continue to build your clientele and THEN it’s your career.  Then you hit the jackpot!

I think that the most surprising thing is that a lot of photographers shoot too many different things. When I look at someone’s book and it’s all over the place I’m left wondering, “where do I fit them in?” It’s great that you can shoot all of these things, but it feels unfocused.   The more streamlined or tailored your book is the better.  Would you show a food book to a car agency?  You know you are meeting me in advance, so do your homework and show me food and lifestyle.  It really has to be tailored to whom you are seeing. So it really surprises me when a photographer says, “I like to shoot everything!”

If I like the work but it is a bit scattered, It makes for a harder sell to my client.  I wouldn’t drive my client to their website but if I had to, I’d have a disclaimer: saying “I’ve met this person before, we have a really good rapport, he has quality, solid work.”  I would also create a PDF for them with relevant images that they won’t see on the website. However, making that leap is a bit challenging for some clients so the the majority of the time I just want to send a client to a focused and relevant website.  I want to be able to say to a client, “everything that I’ve pulled [from photographer x] is exactly what we need for this project.”

Since you have a captive audience at these events, what kind of things are you sharing with the photographers and what advice are you giving to them in your one-on-one sessions? I’m guessing that it may differ for newcomers vs established photographers.

The first thing that I ask is, “what are you trying to get out this review with me?” Specifically, “why did you pick me? (besides wanting a job)” and “what is it that you need from me?”

I usually get one of the three answers:

–       I want you to hire me

–       I just want to network

–       I need your feedback

And then I use those 20 minutes to address their needs.

For example, if I’m with a seasoned photographer (whose work I am familiar with) and our meeting is simply a networking meeting, then I really want to know about that person. I want to know where they are from, what they do in their spare time, what personal projects are they working on, etc. I like to ask questions that help determine if we could be a good fit together.  We are trusting this person with our client, their brand and their budget so I want to make sure that we have similar sensibilities. Also, I know the temperament of my creative group and I want to make sure that the photographer is going to get along with them as well. Ultimately, we hire a photographer for a reason and when we say to him “ok, this is what we want to shoot,” I want to have 100% confidence that we made the right decision in hiring them.

And for the newcomers to the photography business, what kind of advise do you give them?

Shoot editorial.  It keeps you fresh and relevant.  I get frustrated when I hear that people think shooting editorial is not worth their time or is not cool.  There is so much opportunity in shooting editorial and I really like when photographers share that work with me.

Editorial helps you create something with your imagination. In advertising, everyone wants these high budgets, because they’re awesome, but we are telling you what to shoot. In editorial, you go to the place and time with a person and it’s really up to you to get that person or those products to really come alive in a way that no one gave you direction on.

I tell young photographers to pursue editorial when they aren’t doing advertising work. And you really need to push with personal projects so that people will give you work as well. Personal projects are huge for me.

And if their book isn’t where it needs to be, I ask them questions about the images that are in the book. I ask them why they are in the book and either tell that they need to reorganize or make edit suggestions.

It is also important to  “give good criticism.”  Sometimes people think it is mean to be honest about the work they are seeing.  No one wants to be disrespectful but it is important to make the feedback relevant.  It isn’t helpful to hear that the work is great when it isn’t.  Concentrating on areas where they can improve is always a positive way to share feedback.

Some people say they get feedback at these shows like, “oh your work is really good. Good luck.” They don’t need that! They need me to say, “Hey, I think that this works better in your book. I think this look is really what you are going for. If you are playing with this, then you need to refine that. Keep exploring this. Work on your lighting here, etc” Really give them solid direction so they can be successful.

Tune in on May 30th for part 2 of Sasha’s interview when she will talk about the allotted one on one review time, advice she has for new and established photographers who are thinking of attending networking events in the future, and whether or not she would recommend these events to other art producers.

17 thoughts on “One Art Producers Point of View: Photography Portfolio Review Events. Part I

    • Hi there.

      I reached out to Sasha in regards to your question and she replied, “sometimes reviewers are paid, but not always.” Personally, I do know that some events compensate their reviewers with the understanding that if they pay them, the reviewers will take the job more seriously and be less likely to cancel at the last minute. Others do not have the budget level to compensate the reviewers and the reviewers happily volunteer their time. It is a balance between being able to provide an affordable event but also showing a level of appreciation for the reviewers. I also know that others find creative ways to show their appreciation.

  1. Hi Heather:

    I’m saddened not to see PSPF and the Official Portfolio Review at PhotoPlus Expo not be included in your list of recommended events. I think we produce a first-rate professional event at both venues and have hundreds of testimonials from both attendees and reviewers to support that statement.

    I love your blog – I think I’ve told you that before – its refreshing and important.

    All best


    • Hi Jeff.

      You are 100% correct – they are both top notch events and very important to the industry. I had not included them in my examples because the sentence addressed the shows that I had encouraged my photographers to attend this year. And, while the vents you mentioned are wildly successful, the photographers in our group opted to attend the smaller events this year.

      Maybe someday soon I can do a review of all of the events and compare the differences so that people can idea of all of the choices out there. Thanks for the comment, it is a great way to make note of them now.

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  5. I feel that going to the agency for a proper meeting is much more useful than portfolio reviews. It gives you the proper time to actually meet people, explain your work and have a real personal connection.

    I did Fotoworks in NYC and found it to be too much like speed dating. I find the cost troubling as well. If this is the new model for landing the good clients, it is going to put the industry out of reach for talented young people who are not independently wealthy.

    • Hi Ben.

      Indeed, a face to face meeting at an agency is always preferred. However, some people do not have the time to make that happen – photographers and buyers alike. These meetings have proven to be great ways to begin a connection with buyers/creatives. It also is a very efficient use of the photographers time when they can’t spend a few days in a city showing their books. Best to consider it just another tool in your tool box to use when it makes sense for you. Take care!

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  7. I participated in the 2012 PSPF Portfolio Review at PhotoPlus Expo, and thought it was very well run. The pricing was more reasonable than some other paid reviews. PSPF arranged the review room perfectly. There was ample space between reviewers. The 20-minute interview time was ideal. So were the 5-minute breaks between reviews which made it possible for to make notes, and prepare for the next review. The best part was the absence of food and wine glasses on review tables. It made things more professional. I noticed food was available for the reviewers, as it should be, but in a separate adjoining room.

    Would I go again? Possibly. PhotoPlus is at the end of October and it can be difficult to meet with people during the coming holiday season, so to meet with 5-10 people over a day or two is useful. What I’ll look for in deciding to attend the 2013 PhotoPlus reviews are people I haven’t met with previously, and who are a good match with my photography. Reviews cost money and represent a business investment, therefore getting work from them is essential.

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