Ten commercial avenues I welcome
Other photographers have asked me how I survived 50+ years as a professional photographer? It was not easy. I had to adapt and change to technology and social norms, along with a desire to change, not just a willingness. I've had to adapt to different markets too. I have gone from sports, to teaching, to events, to editor, to sports, to travel, to product, to tourism, to teaching, to portrait, to fine art, and travel and sports. And along with those transitions I learned to deal with the many decision makers. Below are 10 of them.
Scroll down to get to #1and don't forget to read the copy for an explanation and a few tips.
# 10 Art Directors
A lot of people think the best way to break into a large company is to contact the CEO or the Vice President of Marketing. There is an old expression:
"The head does not turn without the neck." Which means the middle managers determine the direction. The Art Director is the appropriate starting position. And yes they get bombarded with look-sees. Warning: if you contact them do your homework about the company. Know your audience and make sure you have solid reasons to SOLVE their problems, not yours.
One of the greatest lessons I ever learned was when I had a great idea and I took it to the boss and he asked about 4 questions that I could not answer. He looked me straight in the eye and said I love your idea, but make it easy for me to say "YES" and I will approve every one of your ideas.
So know your client, be able to anticipate and answer all their questions. You might be recommended to one of the higher ups. And I have had ideas stolen from me at this stage also. That's the risk you take, trying to break into a big company. If you don't try, you'll never know. If you don't have the time or money, don't gamble. I'd rather have 20 medium size companies than one big one. If you lose a big one you are down till you find another.
# 9 Writers
This does not happen as much as it used to, because most writers have been forced to taken their own photographs. But there are still editors that believe that writers are not photographers and photographers are not writers. They usually excel in one or the other. Sometimes you are asked to accompany a writer, other times you are provided a story. In today's market. Some writers go to stock agencies and give the editors the option of their images or stock photos. Your other option is to become a writer for your own photographs. The latest trend is to hire the photographer, and have the writer re-write the photographer's story.
# 8 Governments
The first Government I worked with was China, then Russia, followed by USA and finally Vietnam. After 15 years of politics I was fed up with the irresponsibility of governments. I found none of them to be valuable and trust worthy when parties or leaders changed. However I can truly say I was a part of history with the projects I was working on. Some of the projects I had to create and fund myself. I can tell some stories here. Some of those may end up in the blog and others in the learning section. Stay tuned !!!
# 7 Publications
Publications are not the market they used to be for 3 reasons: 1) cameras have improved; 2) a billionaire bought up most of the stock agencies and lowered the prices; and 3) people have gone digital. All that said there are still publications that follow the price list of the American Society of Media Photographers. If faces are visible you pretty much have to have a release. It is not because of American laws as much as it is with European laws. This image did not need a release. At some point I will offer more tips on publications.
# 6 Personal projects
Many times I have had a great idea and decided I would make more money if I made it a personal project. Trust me, if anyone can figure out a way to take your money, they will. But if you do your own project, then you are also in the marketing business.
If you don't know how to get customers, don't do personal projects. This idea of "build it, and they will come" is nothing but BS. Have your customer base before you spend a lot of money and time.
I designed a lavender poster with 80 types of lavender on it. I went to several local lavender farms and asked how many wanted to sell these posters if I gave them a wholesale price. When I had enough commitments to pay for the cost of the printing (twice as many,) I ordered them. Sold the others at retail, outside of local area.
I know of many authors who have their garage loaded with books they will never sell, because they don't know how to contact people and advertising was too expensive.
# 5 Promotional Photography
I will be quite honest with you (I always am) when someone says promotional photography I usually run the opposite direction. My experience is that promotion is still an idea and there is little to no funding. Event photography, on the other hand has a track record. You ask yourself is this a popular event that I can grow with.
When I first started out in travel photography I used to fund my trips by setting up Cultural Exchanges with sports teams, medical exchanges, and of course photographers. The Soviet Olympic Committee had hooked me up with some of their trusted partners. They asked me if I wanted to go to a ballet. I snuck my camera in and we were sitting in the 8th row right in the middle.
At intermission everyone retreated to a big ballroom. This one guy comes up to me and asks me a question. I had to tell him I didn't speak Russian. He handed me a note, put his index finger to his lips and said "private" in English. I figured it was another person that wanted to defect. I got a lot of those. To my surprise he showed up at my hotel room at midnight with interpreter and vodka. How he knew my hotel room is another story. He wanted marketing advice for the Kremlin Ballet. It lead to a very nice contract. A story that I tell in my "100 lessons" course.
# 4 Speculation photography
I'm always looking for logos and product placement. When I see an image that could be a ad, I have nothing to lose to contact the company and pitch the image. I only hit about 8%, but it is a fun exercise. It keeps me sharp.
I had a portrait photographer friend, Clay Blackmore who would take senior portraits and sometimes he would make a whole series of magazine covers or product ads with the same senior. He would study the real ads and match the lighting. You could not tell the difference. The seniors loved it.
# 3 Sponsor photography
There are certain companies that sponsor a lot of events in a community. An event is a lot like a wedding - it happens and you got to get it right the ONLY time. There are no do overs. This is not the time to hire your nephew because he/she is taking a photography class. When Budweiser contacted me on the Welcome Home Party for the USS Abraham Lincoln the first question they asked me was; "How long have you been in photography?"As soon as I said 32 years, they said, "You're hired, we need you to take a picture of our Clydesdales pulling our wagon.
# 2 Product Photography
I have an 800 sq ft studio in my house, complete with a 7' diffusion tent for getting the correct colors on clothing dressed on mannequins. Then can you produce the exact same lighting 6 months down the road for new products. These are a couple of the fine points that 99.9% of the photographers have no clue of. And it changes even more based on products and how they absorb and reflect light.
So the reason I have this image here is I like Spring Rolls and to tell the Story of Mary. Mary was a extraordinary chef. Every dish she made tasted AMAZING and you fell in love with it BEFORE you ate it. Every dish she served looked like it could be the cover of Bon Appetite. Not just for me - EVERYONE.
She wanted to do a cook book. So she bought a $6,000 camera, thinking she could take the images herself. Four months of frustration and she called me. I told her the camera is no more important to the image, than your oven is to your creations.
# 1. Internet marketing
25 years ago ALL the business gurus said Amazon and the Internet would never make it in business. Now the Internet is the greatest store and marketing tool in the World. It allows the big and the small to compete on an even playing field, sort of. An online business can save you tons of overhead. However, where you can't cut corners are your images, copy and layout. They have to be stellar. It is how customers make a decision. The trouble is most are not aware of what makes a great image. If you don't know, what you don't know, then any decision comes down to price rather than value.