Welcome to our 7th series of posts where we share the results from our conversations held directly with community leaders about top of mind photo-industry issues. Community Table was formed from the collective efforts of Matt Nycz and Kate Chase of Brite Productions and Heather Elder and Lauranne Lospalluto of Heather Elder Represents with the idea that there is nothing more powerful in our industry than education.
This particular roundtable was a series of exciting firsts for The Community Table. It was the first time we invited photographers and it was the first time we included a partner. So, it is with excitement that The Community Table, along with our partner, The Workbook, welcome 11 photographers from our community to the table.
Suzanne Semnacher, the Worbook’s Director of Marketing, has interacted with countless photographers over the years and because of that has had such varied conversations with them all that she was the perfect person to write our introduction.
“As I listened to the discussion and the individual experiences of the participants I was reminded of what it really takes to be an entrepreneur in a demanding business that has seen such change over the last 20 years. This group of photographers has not only survived but continues to thrive doing something they clearly love, while at the same time, many were buying homes, having babies, sending children to college and living full and busy lives.
Having worked with literally thousands of photographers throughout my 34 years in this business, I have seen a lot of evidence that this is not as easy as it looks. It takes a fine balance of creative thinking, the soft skills required to manage people, and the business acumen to make a profit while doing it. I want to thank each of the photographers who participated in the Roundtable for sharing their unique experiences and perspectives.
There was a fair amount of discussion about the challenges of staying relevant in a career, which to outsiders might look easy. But the level of experience it takes to stay focused on the idea or a concept while managing a crew of assistants, digital tech, hair, makeup artist and stylist, location, props, wardrobe, and all the pre and post and yet make it all look authentic and effortless is no easy task.
It is our hope that the Photographer’s Roundtable will provide insight on what it takes to excel in the business as well as reinforce the power and the value of great photography.”
As a reminder, each Conversation Starter was directed to one person with a general discussion ensuing. Rather than sharing the entire conversation, we included the original question and then the quotes and notes that were most relevant. Please note, often times the person leading the conversation spoke most often.
Please note, there will be 5 posts shared over the next few weeks. Tune in every Tuesday and Thursday for the latest installments.
And with that, we welcome you back to the table.
Do you still believe that in order to be a professional, commercial photographer, all you need to do is work hard at making great images to stand out in today’s marketplace? Does it differ from emerging photographers vs. those that are more experienced?
Stewart Cohen: I thought about this a lot and I really think that it was never just about making great pictures. That’s the cost of admission so to speak. Unless you make great pictures you are not even in the game. It’s what you do beyond that that counts. You need to be a marketer and an artist and you have to have personality. These are some of the things that really make a difference.
One needs to think about their businesses as a business. It needs to be multi-faceted. People have different skills. Some guys shoot film, some don’t. Some shoot product, some shoot lifestyle, it all varies.
No matter if you are just emerging or have been doing it for years, you still have to continue to make great images to be considered for anything. And, with all the great images out there, your game has to be amped up even more.
Paul Aresu: I agree. Staying relevant is one of the most important things for a photographer. As far as the young photographers, most don’t realize what it takes to be successful on the business side. I teach at Parsons and SVA. I’m around young photographers very often. When I first started teaching a studio/business course, I would bring ideas to class like promotion and insurance, etc. Most students did not have a clue about this. The fact is that most students only want to take photographs and not pay attention to the business side.
As far as the emerging photographers, especially those right out of school, I am not convinced they’re prepared to enter the business at a high level. They’re not thinking about the big picture. The schools need to start exposing the students to the business side of things, not just the art. Graduating them with knowledge of their craft is great, but without the business side they are at a disadvantage.
Stewart Cohen: Because of digital, the cost of entry is lower than it was when a lot of us started. There’s an inventory of jobs sucked out by young photographers. You see names coming and going really fast now. They may be able to enter sooner, but the cost makes it harder to stay around.
Scott Montgomery: I also teach. When I was starting out, I felt the same way. I loved to shoot but I didn’t know anything about business. But, my father in law was a businessman and he sat me down and told to me a lot of valuable information. There is such a disconnect that exists between shooting and experience that I wish could be taught in a classroom.
Suzanne Semnacher/Workbook: People ask me all the time how to get started. I tell them to assist as much as you can. That’s where you’ll learn a lot of business practices.
Lisa Adams: Emerging or veteran, if can’t run a business, you’re gone. You’re out. So, it is really important to teach the younger ones about marketing and business practices. Especially now when the volume of work is down, the amount of time we spend working on marketing and business strategy is ramped up.
Stewart Cohen: I think there are a lot of examples of younger photographers that don’t have the business sense but yet are doing well for themselves. If you’re a young and hook up with a great rep – it could work
Heather Elder/Agent: That is a leap. There is a TON of work to taking on any photographer, never mind a young hot shot under our wing. There may be the beginning honeymoon phase but without that level of experience and understanding, the momentum would be something hard to maintain.
Scott Montgomery: As a rep, is that something you would shy away from.
Heather Elder/Agent: A lot of things would have to come together to make it OK for a rep to say, “Let’s try this out.” And, first and foremost, you’d have to have money to spend and many emerging photographer do not.
Kate Chase/Agent: Also there is also a learning curve that needs to take place, and a large time investment in business coaching too.
Hunter Freeman: It may be obvious, but it is important as well to just be a nice person, pleasant. I don’t know how to teach that in a class. If you’re constantly down or not socially accessible, that will affect your career too. I don’t see how it wouldn’t.
Heather Elder/Agent: We’ve all been at jobs when we’re asked to cut, cut, cut. Do you think people value the level of experience now, still, as they did a while ago?
Paul Aresu: Less and less now. Digital photography, the cameras and the experience of the crew you hire make everything a little bit easier. Even delivering a successful job is a little easier.
Heather Elder/Agent: Is your level of experience expected? Do they still require it, but they just don’t want to pay the extra value associated with it? It’s still bottom line focus?
Lisa Adams: I think over the last few years, the work has become OK. There is a good enough attitude. Often times my experience level doesn’t come into the conversation and the job goes to the bottom line, the good enough.
Kate Chase/Agent: Lately, we (agents) have noticed that the account person is very involved in the process. We are told they are often young and not experienced. That inexperience affects the team and the process. Do you notice the same trends?
Suanne Semnacher/Workbook: A rep I know was working on a $400,000 job. The account person was 24 years old, trying to make changes at the last minute.
Many in unison: It’s almost on every job now. Every job. It happens all the time.
Suzanne Semnacher/Workbook: I don’t think people realize how much inexperience affects this process. Training for account people is key.
Chris Crisman: There are no real rules in our industry anymore. Doctors, lawyers, undergrads, graduates, they all have rules and a path to follow. We don’t have that anymore and added to that the mentorships have changes too. People do not have a clear path.
So, now we have downward pressure on budgets. So much so, that I am trying to work so many systems to squeeze efficiency out of people that do choose our industry. It creates dependency more than you want. Because of that, there are less and less people in the game.
Vincent Dixon: We are in a period of transition where print needs are transitioning to content needs and both agency and photographers are all trying to work out where we are going and how we fit in.
Thanks for reading. We hope this has been of value. Tune in on Thursday, April 23rd for our 2nd installment where we’ll discuss what define success and what’s top of mind every day for these photographers.
And to see previous Community Tables posts from Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York City, Chicago and Minneapolis, go here: