Want to Know What We Told Our Photographers About 2015?

Every year in December and early January, we review with our photographers all that was accomplished in that year.  We also spend a lot of time defining, creatively and financially, what a  successful 2015 will look like.  The reports we write are very time intensive and cover every aspect of their marketing.  We find it very helpful to be able to review, all in one place, not only what the photographer accomplished that year but what we as a rep group accomplished as well.  We compare it to the previous year’s goals and look carefully at the factors that we think affected the year.

Historically, we also reflected on what trends we witnessed in the industry.  Just as in the case with previous years, the issues and trends that rose to the top were not new.  Once again, creating more new work, photographer focused marketing, retaining long term clients, evolution of art buyers to art producers, social media and the increasing role of other agency players in our estimating process were very important.  So, since these issues were not new and are part of our everyday conversations, we chose not to address them in the traditional way in our summary and conversation.

Instead, we chose to make an important connection between two very important things happening in our industry right now and use that connection in 2015 to define every image we take, conversation we have and estimate we present.

1) Library shoots are the norm.  We rarely get that call for that one single shot anymore.  Clients are requesting a library of images with each shoot and with that comes trying to make the most of a shoot day and schedule as many images/scenarios as possible.  Even though agencies and studios together try and bring the conversation back to shooting less scenarios per day in order to allow more time to capture those hero images, more often than not, clients place their value on quantity and price.

That is not to say a library shoot is not creative or can’t yield hero images.  Quite the contrary.  Within our group and I am sure many others, shoots have been produced where that is the case.  But those instances are the minority.
And in those more creative instances, we often started with a longer shot list than we ended up.  Credit goes to the studios, agencies and account people who were able to sell the client on the value of less content but stronger imagery. And, of course to the client for recognizing the importance of that value.

2)  Photographers that participate fully in their own marketing are rewarded for their efforts.    There is no more looking for your voice or figuring out how you can best participate in the marketing and sales conversation.  Photographers must have a voice and must participate.

Photographers that are committed to their marketing plans, engage in their own networking, have a strong voice on social media, utilize blogs and other websites to promote themselves and are engaged in the estimating process fully are the ones who are the busiest.  Those photographers that are less engaged, (often times for very good and valid reasons, such as shooting!) are less busy.  It is that simple.  There are of course the exceptions, but as well, they are few and far between.

So, how are these two important trends connected?

When clients valued that one single shot, they looked for imagery that illustrated that a certain photographer could create that hero image for them.  They had a lot riding on the shoot and they needed an experienced professional; someone who they knew could get the shot, every time.  That means they valued CRAFT and EXPERIENCE.

To determine this, all they had to do was look at the portfolio, see what awards the photographer had won, ask a friend or two for a reference or even pull from personal experiences because they had shot together previously.  More often than not,  it was about the photography, not the photographer.  The photographer’s work , more often than not, would stand on its own.

Today, because of the digital camera, high end printers and websites,  the cost of entry is lower than ever into our industry.  That means competition is fierce.

So now, the idea of  great work is  a given.  Since creatives have so many talented photographers to choose from, photographers aren’t even being considered if they aren’t amazing or 100% right for the project.  The primary conversation no longer has to be about how relevant the imagery in the portfolio (site) is or how confident the photographer is with the task at hand.  The assumption is that if you are even on the table being considered, your work is amazing and you can handle the shoot.

Therefore, the first conversation has changed.   Now, instead of scrutinizing your work,  it is about how much can you shoot?  What is your vision for the photography?  Do you have similar libraries to show the client?  There will be a lot of moving parts, how will you produce this project?  Are you willing to negotiate?  And, will they enjoy being on the production with the photographer?

To determine this, art producers and creatives need to get to know the photographer and be able to clearly understand their vision for the production.   Ask yourself, if all things are equal on the talent front, what will be the tie breakers?  Photographers who have met the creatives or art producers have a leg up.  So do the ones that have bid on projects with them before.  Those photographers that have the time to create a top notch treatment will also set themselves apart from their otherwise equally talented counterparts.  And, those that can talk through their vision clearly and confidently on the creative call certainly rise above all others.

In general, we have gone from the first conversation being about the photography to it being about the photographer.

What this means is that we are in a time where it is imperative for photographers to participate in their own marketing.  Opportunities exist to get to know the participants long before the project becomes a reality. There are portfolio reviews to attend, blog posts to write, websites to update, websites to join, new work to share on social media, emailers to send out, mailers to create, interviews to give, networking to do, award shows to enter, emails to send; meetings to attend, trips to take, new work to shoot, the list is endless.

It used to be that those photographers in our group that shared the most amount of new work each year would have been the busiest that year.  Now, unfortunately, that is no longer the case.  Now, it is the photographers that share the most amount of new work AND go on trips, attend portfolio review events, share on social media, create high profile personal projects and look for opportunities to connect with other people in the industry that are the busiest in our group.

The bottom line is that relying solely on your imagery to speak for you has become dangerous.    Adding your voice to that imagery is equally as dangerous, but for everyone else, not you.

Having made this connection and discussed it with our photographers, we asked them to answer the following questions. Their answers will define everything we do in 2015. 

How will we bring that first conversation back to photography, craft and experience? 

How will we all, together, manage all that is expected of your studio? 

And, how will you manage your participation?

36 thoughts on “Want to Know What We Told Our Photographers About 2015?

  1. Wow – important questions and astute observations. It reminds me that we always have homework do to, we are never done and the challenges moving forward are as daunting as ever. But on the other hand, if it weren’t a challenge, I think we’d get bored pretty quick!

    • Thanks Therese. I agree, who wants to be bored? I appreciate you commenting – thank you! Feel free to share the post too, I love the idea of keeping this conversation going. Happy New Year!

  2. Great write up, Heather!
    I’m also noticing it’s harder to break in with smaller agencies because they are doing so much stuff in house now. Getting their hands on a decent camera and throwing some VSCO filters is so easy for them.
    I just have to really start saving up the pennies in 2015 to shoot more personal work and make a louder voice for myself online!

    • I know what you’re saying but there’s “good enough” and then there’s “really good”. You can’t just throw on a VSCO filter for “really good.” The latter comes from skill and experience. Sometimes they have to learn that the hard way. Relying on filters and other trickery = more sizzle than steak. IMHO.

    • There’s “good enough” and then there’s “Really effing good!” and you can’t just use a VSCO filter for the latter—it comes with skill and experience. Sometimes they have to learn that the hard way. Penny wise and pound foolish they are, sometimes.

  3. Heather.

    I am glad I was sent this article. As an emerging photographer It’s helpful to realize that you are not alone in the struggle. Established and emerging artists have to work equally hard to get noticed.

    I recently started contacting agencies to meet with in 2015 and curious how you coordinate the meetings your photographers schedule with agencies and the meetings you schedule. Do you attend together, separately?

  4. Reblogged this on Travels with Rocinante and commented:
    This is from one of the top photo reps, offices in San Fran and New York. For all of you looking at entering the business or improving your standing, this post is really important and timely. I’d highly recommend following her blog.

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  6. HI Heather,
    Thank you for sharing your post. I am very interested in knowing, which, because there are many, portfolio reviews you feel are most valuable and worth investing in?

  7. Great article and I’ve noticed the same things you have, especially this whole ‘library’ shoot craze going on. I think it’s more a lack of creative vision propelling the trend forward personally. Think about it… what’s easier? A grand vision of a 10-20 shots for a campaign, or asking for several hundred, even thousand, all over the map to pick from? Library shoots are percieved as “safe” by those who request them.

    I would add a third thing that’s happening right now that is very important to deal with. I’ve spent the last year primarily focusing on the business development side of things – which has resulted in research sit downs with Art Directors, client side ‘C suite’ leaders, agency account managers, etc… I’ve noticed that not only are ad agencies trying to launch their own internal production departments (most likely due to sagging business, client side use of ad agencies is now in the minority, last report I saw – 40%), but I’ve also noticed – and have been actively recruited by – clients trying to create their own internal production departments. You read that right. As a photographer, you have FOUR major competitors: fellow freelancers running their own business, low paid ad agency production employees, and low paid client side production employees, and last but not least – cheap stock photos. I have to stress LOW PAID here. You cannot compete on price – ever – and survive in this business. The in-house shooters day rate is just too low and no license fees are present either. I’ve seen client side lead photographer jobs that max out at only $65K a year, and these are at pretty big publicly traded companies. I will say this though – of the companies I turned away – all of them have, at some point, outsourced their production work. Which productions? The ones that 1.) matter 2.) need to look amazing – way better than the in-house guy can pull off. My conclusion has been that I need to market myself as a luxury / high end service provider, and so far it’s worked. I’ve had companies attempt low price library shoots with other shooters come right back to me inquiring about what I might be able to do – for a much higher price point of course.

    As for getting away from the conversation being about the photographer – I don’t think it’s ever going to happen entirely, as it’s always primarily been about the photographer. I see it like this, whoever is gathering the candidates for a job has gathered up only those with a body of work that suggests they can do the job. At that point… there is only one conversation left to have that makes you stand out from anyone else in the pack of equally talented shooters aside from price: YOU. This is a B2B business, and any good B2B sales person will tell you that it’s a relationship game – you sell yourself, not so much the product. Why? Because in B2B sales, the buyer’s job is at risk if you fall threw. It sucks when you’re on the losing side of multi year or even decades long relationships, but when you’re on the winning side… Let’s just say I’d rather the sale be about how much they love me instead of what’s currently in my portfolio – it’s a much easier battle to win, especially when you are too busy to shoot personal projects to toss around!

  8. Heather, few are as giving as you are. Thanks so much for taking the time to share your perspective on our industry and how you look at solving or approaching the issue. Warm regards, Paolo

  9. Interesting insight! Barriers to entry are getting lower and lower so setting yourself apart takes even more specific dedication and vision. Because of these lower barriers, clients are expecting more for less. Supply and demand. If you aren’t already at the top, you better be doing something to stand out from the pack and make your voice and vision heard.

  10. Thank you for taking the time to write such an insightful article. I agree with you completely as this has been my experience as well. I am heartened by your remark “Since creatives have so many talented photographers to choose from, photographers aren’t even being considered if they aren’t amazing or 100% right for the project. ” It makes me feel better about the ones that got away. You are very kind to share your wisdom.

  11. Excellent Heather. Thanks as always. I’v e been shouting Vision, Vision, Vision for years and now its what buyers are demanding. Photogs, Work to define your visual approach to your subject and then develop a body of work around your visual approach to your area of expertise (not just a website or print book of single images.) while the marketing info Heather is sharing is vital, none of that matters if you don’t have
    the work thats going to sell.

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  13. Heather… very perceptive observations in this post. You start out by making a case for the market reality of ‘photographer’ first and ‘photography’ second as well as the ‘library shoot’ versus the ‘hero shot/high craft’ mentality of this new world order. Then you outline how a photographer needs to behave marketing-wise in order to participate in this new order by involving themselves more personally.

    But you ask your photographers for 2015, how do we bring things back to what they were; ‘photographer’ first and emphasis on ‘craft and experience’. What kind of answers are you getting from your photographers? In this market is it even possible to emphasize the importance of the individual image as well as the the individual photographer as craftsperson? If I were benign dictator, that’s certainly the world I would want to live in… it’s why I came to photography in the first place. What are you discovering so far in ’15?

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