There is a cool piece in this months issue of PDN (The Heroes and Mentors issue) featuring me called Learning from the Boss featuring several photographers talking about their mentors in the industry (people like Bill Cramer, Jeff Hutchens, and Bruce Weber were featured) I got the rare opportunity in the article to talk about one of my favorite people – my long time mentor, Rhea Anna. Check out the current issue of the magazine to see the full article
Without going too much into the magazine’s content, I just want to say that Rhea has been a wonderful friend and mentor. Working with her reignited my passion for photography after a long period of me thinking I had lost it, and the example she sets has been a huge influence on me and other artists that have worked with her. I have learned more from her about photography, professionalism, and creativity than any other source I can think of, proving that you cannot discount the influence of an amazing mentor.
John Keatley is an advertising and editorial photographer from Seattle. His images of celebrities like Annie Leibovitz and John Waters are iconic and instantly resonate with the viewer. John was kind enough to answer some questions and to share some clips from his recent talk on photography. John’s blog can be found here
LC: What are some tips you might give to a young photographer trying to get their work seen and market themselves in their early career that you wish you had known when you were starting out?
JK: It is very important to have a plan. Set goals for yourself. Commit to your goals by writing them down, and then decide on a plan that will help you achieve your goals. It will take time, hard work, consistency persistence, and good work. Stick to your plan and if you are passionate about what you are doing people will start to notice. A lot of young photographers don’t realize how much time and hard work goes into a successful marketing campaign, and they want results right away. I just watched an interview with Adam Sandler, and he was talking about auditioning for parts early in his career. He believed so much in himself, when he didn’t get a part, he thought, “What is wrong with these people! How could they not want me?” That kind of belief in your abilities is an important key to success, and it has to be followed up with persistence. If you don’t press on after a bad meeting, or after losing a bid, you won’t get anywhere.
LC: In terms of changes in media technology, how versed do new photographers need to be in terms of working with video as well as still images? Is video something you have greatly embraced in your own work?
JK: I actually made videos long before I ever picked up a still camera. It was a big hobby of mine in high school. Since becoming a photographer, video was something I have not had a ton of time for however. Recently I have started working again with video and I am really enjoying it.
I think right now it is one of those things where you don’t have to be well versed in it, but it sure doesn’t hurt. It can only help you if you can offer video to your clients. There are lots of fun and exciting possibilities if you can work with stills and motion, so I say go for it.
LC: In your own early experiences was there any one moment or opportunity that was a game changer for your career?
JK: I don’t think I can say there was one moment that made all of the difference, but there have certainly been many significant opportunities and events in my life which have helped shape my career and as well as opened new doors for me. I am always trying to push myself and sometimes taking on something that scares you is the best way to learn and grow. You will surprise yourself with what you can accomplish if you just commit and be positive.
LC: What are 3 do’s and don’ts about the photography business you wish you had known at the beginning of your career that you do now?
JK: I don’t have 3 do’s and don’ts, but I can offer this advice from personal experience. Ask lots of questions, and communicate clearly. Ask for help when you need it. Value your work and yourself, don’t give it away and sell yourself short. Shoot what you love. This is said so much it can sound like white noise, but it is so important. Don’t worry about what other people are shooting or making money at if it’s not something you enjoy. Become great at what you love, and the work will follow. Take initiative and make things happen.
LC: This question is specifically geared for those budding portrait photographers out there. You are known for working with noted personalities whose backgrounds encompass a wide spectrum, what can younger photographers who get thrust into a situation of photographing a large personality do to get beyond that initial nervousness and relate to their subject?
JK: It can’t be about you. You have to be or be humble when working with celebrities. It’s important to understand you are not there to become best friends. Celebrities have a million people pulling at them from all directions and everyone wants something from them. If you lose sight of the fact you are there to do a job then you are at a disadvantage. Just be yourself and don’t go in trying to impress everyone. Be respectful, take a deep breath, and trust in yourself.
LC: Your portrait style is iconic and impactful, conversely so many photographers seem to jump on the bandwagon of whatever the trendy look or color treatment is that month. How much of a balance does one need to strike between what the industry wants and seeing through your own personal vision to completion.
JK: It is good to be aware of what is going on in the industry, and to draw inspiration from work you enjoy. However, personally, I think it is important to be true to yourself and create whatever you feel compelled to create. Don’t start over sharpening your work because that is what you see in print that month. I think it is better to create something you can be proud of rather than what is in style if it doesn’t match up with your interests. If you put your passion into it, there is a much better chance your work will be relevant for years to come. If photography is just a job to you, then I suppose it would be very important to keep up with trends and adapt in that way, but if you want to become great and create something lasting, I feel that can only be achieved by listening to you inner voice.
Nubby Twiglet is also hosting the latest version of Quick Questions with Smart People on her blog. With quite a few of my new images to boot!
If you have a minute drop by and check out her version. leave a comment, and help get the discussion going.
LC: You have worked with notable clients like Converse, Virgin Records, Nike, and with clothing retailer Forever 21 on the development and branding of their blog; The Skinny, but you also work on a more interpersonal level with unique creative professionals like bloggers, photographers, and indie clothing labels. When you are working with an independent client like a photographer, what factors do you push them to consider in the development of their brand and marketing materials.
NT: When I work with anyone, big or small, I try to lead them in a direction that encourages simplicity and timelessness. Often, a client has an idea of what they want and I try to follow through with what they initially ask for. But, at the same time I offer some more ideas that differ from their vision so that they can get a feel for the possibilities of their brand. When you’re busy running your own business on a daily basis, it’s sometimes hard to see the bigger picture. An outside source can give you input that you may have never even considered. With both you and your photographer friend HUSVAR, I wanted to create logos that would grow as your brands expand. I never want what I do to look dated or gaudy. My goal as a designer is to have my designs hold up and look just as fresh 10 or 20 years from now, if that’s possible. I admire the classics – Paul Rand, Herb Lubalin and Milton Glaser. Their work never looks dated or cheesy.
LC: For many emerging photographers a graphic designer may be the first creative professional outside of photography that they work with. This is especially true for those photographers looking to work with a designer for the first time in developing their branding and promo materials. What advice can you give photographers in regards to what they should look for in hiring a professional designer that they can develop a long-term creative relationship with?
NT: Photographers naturally have a great eye for composition, color and subject matter. They tend to know what they want and every time I’ve worked with one, the outcome has been really timeless and solid. When working with photographers, especially during logo development, I encourage them to consider a logo that will look good in a lockup with their business name and a symbolic element or in separate pieces. Photographers often use the symbol that accompanies their name or business as a watermark. Beyond that, I try to remind everyone that consistency is really important; using the same logo, type family and colors throughout all of your branding helps to create brand equity. If you get along well with a designer and they deliver what you ask for for a fair price, keep them around!
LC: When working with photographers and bloggers what is your own philosophy and work-flow for helping them to develop a brand that often must appeal to a very specific niche market?
NT: This is pretty open-ended. My goal at the end of the day is to make my clients happy. If they’re satisfied with an outcome, then I am too. Solid branding will grab a customer’s interest initially but beyond that, a quality product behind it will make them a lifelong customer. I try to take the client’s input, merge it with my own and gently guide them to the best solution but the final decision is all theirs. The clients that I work with tend to not be start-ups; they have a vision, know what they want to accomplish and simply hire me to add a sense of polish to what they’re already doing.
LC: In addition to your design work, you are an eminent and successful blogger, especially in the areas of fashion, typography, design, and blogging itself. A lot of photographers are picking up social media networks and blogging as viable marketing channels. What advice can you give a photographer? One who is perhaps venturing into blogging for the first time. Especially about that all important question a lot of people starting “what should I write or blog about, who cares what I have to say?”
NT: I really believe that everyone has a unique vision and has something to offer. Blogging is not only about self promotion; sometimes it’s as simple as adding to an ongoing conversation, sharing specialized knowledge or becoming part of a much larger community. Photographers have so much vibrant visual content and blogging doesn’t just have to be about writing. Sharing images, the story behind a series, what it took to create the photo, how you accomplished a specific effect or lighting, etc. is all relevant and adds to the story.
LC: In terms of general marketing and promotions, what are some basic universal do’s and don’ts you can relate to young photographers and creative professionals to get started on marketing their skills to clients?
NT: First and foremost, always carry business cards! You never know who you’re going to run into. One of my first freelance jobs came about because I happened to hand a photographer a business card in a club in New York and he called me the next day to design a magazine for an event he was promoting. It’s never cool to scribble your name and email address on a napkin – this is the 21st century! A blog and an online portfolio are pretty much necessities. I’ve always said that it doesn’t matter how good you are if nobody knows how to find you. If you think about it, you may come in contact with a select handful of people on a daily basis but online, your presence can be seen by tens, hundreds or even thousands of people in the same timeframe. If you offer a reputable service, have a great personality, produce quality content and align yourself with quality people that are also in your industry, momentum begins to build.
LC: You also write a lot about freelancing and your own journey from starting with a business degree, eventually going back to school for design, and embarking on a successful freelancing career. For a lot of freelancers, it is a tough road, full of ups and downs, adventures and adversity, and a lack of stability that can range from the frenetic excitement of not knowing what comes next to the crushing chaos of the bad times. What kept you driven during those early days? Looking back on your own career, what lessons would you relate a freelancer who is just starting off now?
NT: At 28, I am finally where I want to be but I spent years and years in college, working retail jobs and having a million roommates. My life was full of uncertainty but I never gave up. I believe that once you’ve figured out what you want out of life and begin to put forth the effort, slowly but surely change comes about. People will come into your life at the right time to help you when you really need it. I’ve had quite a few chance meetings that impacted my life for the better. The first year of being a freelancer is by far the hardest because it’s nearly impossible to know what to expect. It takes time to develop routines that really work and to get established. As you get busier, there’s less time to worry about “what if” as lunch dates, meetings and client deadlines start to take up most of your time.
Looking back, I don’t really regret anything. I spent a year at an agency right out of school and I highly recommend that because it teaches you how to deal with clients and deadlines. It’s always good to bring a copy of your portfolio for every meeting, to do your research and to dress the part. And, going out to art shows and agency parties will help you expand your social network. Just from freelancing at a handful of agencies, I’ve realized how interconnected everyone is. On that note, NEVER burn your bridges! If a client is really getting to you, walk away and take a break before responding in a way that you’ll regret. The last thing you need as a freelancer is for your carefully built reputation to crumble over a few bad interactions. Finally, always be yourself. I know that sounds cliché but staying true to your style, ethics and morals definitely pays off. There are a million freelancers out there – your personality and work ethic can definitely help you stand apart.
Jim Cavanaugh is an architectural and aerial photographer with 35 years of professional experience based in Buffalo, NY. Jim is a member of ASMP and currently serves on the ASMP National Board of Directors as 1st Vice President. Jim is Chairman of ASMP’s Copyright Committee and has lectured throughout the United States on Copyright issues.
LC: So many young photographers out there have a great deal of talent and vision to share. The main thing standing in their way is a lack of experience in the realm of business. What are some good resources for those photographers looking to improve their business acumen?
JC: The hardest part is knowing what you don’t know, knowing what questions to ask. Information is abundant. I recommend ASMP’s Professional Business Practices book as a good start. Also ASMP’s web site, www.asmp.org has a tremendous amount of information including links to the dpBestflow digital standards web site. ASMP also has a number of forums including ASMP ProAdvice for photographers just starting out in the business.
But the best way is to get a foothold in the business is to become a freelance assistant working for a variety of photographers. This will give you a broad overview of the industry from various perspectives. It will also let you identify the photographers who will be good mentors and help guide your career.
Finally, you need membership in a professional trade association like ASMP or PPSNYS (Part of PPA) that has local meetings. This will give you the opportunity to meet with your peers and learn much more.
LC: The actions involved in registering and protecting ones copyright can be so intimidating to those interested in registering for the first time that several end up not going through with it at all. What advice or programs are available to help educate emerging photographers on the process or even to walk them through it?
JC: While creators receive copyright and certain protection at the moment of creation, registration is the key to obtaining full legal protection under the law. However, the registration process can appear daunting at first, especially in dealing with the different procedures for published and unpublished works. (And determining what actually constitutes publication.)
ASMP has an excellent tutorial on Copyright registration. It includes a podcast of ASMP’s very popular registration workshops that have been appearing around the country. (I am one of the three presenters.)
The Copyright Office’s new electronic copyright registration site, eCO makes the registration of unpublished work much easier. By the end of 2010, the Copyright Office will also allow groups of published images to be registered electronically using the eCO site.
The big stumbling block comes from established photographers who have a significant amount of images that have never been registered. ASMP’s and my advice is start registering all the new work you create going forward and then, as time and funds permit, begin to register your important published legacy images. Older unpublished film/print images are in little danger of being infringed.
Currently, with limited exceptions, groups of published images must be registered using the old paper (Form VA) method. It may take a year or longer to get those registration certificates back. However, the registration is effective the day the Copyright Office receives your submission, not when you receive the certificate.
LC: With years of experience under your belt you have seen several changes and epochs come and go in the industry. With all the excitement and dread in the industry in the last few years over changes in the economy, media delivery, and changing ideals amongst buyers, do you see these as the end of photography as we know it as a profession, or simply another stage of evolution in the ongoing cycle of changes that make up any industry? What advice can you give to emerging photographers to see past the turbulence of the industry right now, and especially a very vocal group of negative photographers who are bemoaning the end of the industry?
LC: So many photographers are traditionally closed off and unwilling to share information and thoughts with others. You, on the other hand have been involved in educating and informing other photographers on the national level and at all levels of experience. As a vocal proponent of photographers’ rights and the need for registering copyright, do you feel photographers should be actively trying to create a more unified community like other creative groups in order to improve communication both within our own community and in terms of improving how we communicate with our buyers and support industries?
JC: It has been said that “a rising tide lifts all boats.” I believe there are no secrets in our industry. Unfortunately many photographers behave as if there is “special” information to be protected and hidden from view. It’s a foolhardy approach.
We all learn based on the experience of others. Keeping knowledge from your competitors only serves to “dumb down” the entire industry. I don’t advocate sharing client lists and some specific proprietary information. But sharing ideas on business models, pricing, legal issues and technology issues with people entering the business only elevates the profession. This is especially important in an unregulated and unlicensed business like photography.
Sean Armenta is a beauty and fashion photographer from the Los Angeles area. His formidable client list includes Paul Mitchell, Wet Seal, Arden B, and Paul Frank to name a few. He has also been featured in numerous publications including Flaunt, InStyle, Vibra, Elle Germany, Sphere, and Want. Sean has a wonderful reputation on the web amongst fellow photographers, especially for his willingness to help other shooters, share advice, and answer technical questions. In addition to his active shooting schedule, Sean regularly teaches his Prep to Post beauty photography workshops all over the country.
LC: Sean, in terms of marketing ones work, especially within the beauty and fashion markets, what have been some of the more effective marketing techniques for you in communicating your work and point of view to your clients? What is a good starting point for those emerging photographers who are taking their first steps in getting their work in front of potential clients?
SA: I think above all your work should speak for itself and about yourself. Your work should be relevant to the industry you are trying to work in, and current to our time without being gimmicky and overly trendy. You need to keep an eye on what’s going on out there by seeing who is shooting what and why. Who is shooting a lot of covers? Who is shooting the top campaigns? It is more often than not a small group of 5 or so photographers who are producing the bulk of the work. You have to be able to understand why they are the flavor of the week, month, or year. This will help you determine what the industry is looking for stylistically.
In producing your portfolio, quality over quantity is the best rule to go by. You must be able to edit your work without any personal or emotional connection to it. Needless to say much thought needs to go into your final portfolio that you will be showing potential clients, everything from layout to packaging must be considered. You must also do research on the clientele you are targeting. Is the work you are presenting relevant to their product and something their Art Buyers are looking to use? If I am meeting with a new client, I will specifically create a customized portfolio just for them. Why would I show 20 fashion images to a cosmetics company?
When it comes to your online presence, simple really is best. You want YOUR work to stand out, not the design of your website. It must be easy to navigate, clean and straightforward. People don’t want to spend half an hour trying to figure out how to get to your images. It does help to categorize your images into, say, Fashion, Beauty, Lifestyle, Still Life, etc. It does not help you however, to be a jack of all trades. Having one website that encompasses everything from Weddings to Fashion to Automotive to Table Top photography only shows your client that you do not know what it is you really want to shoot. Clients want to know you are great at what they specifically need, not decent at all types of photography.
Blogs are a great way to show clients your personality and to keep them updated about your growth as an artist. Keep it professional but allow your personality to shine through. Post something about all your shoots, meetings, etc. People like to know what you are doing to advance your career.
I’m no marketing genius by any means – in fact most of my clients were acquired through word of mouth; clients referring me to other clients. The most important thing I have learned is this: Someone else talking about you is always better than you talking about yourself because it gives you validity.
Aside from photography I also do a fair bit of freelance writing. Auxiliary Magazine recently afforded me the opportunity to interview Doc Hammer from Adult Swim’s The Venture Brothers for their october issue (and to collaborate with my good friend, NYC based artist Ron Douglas, who went above and beyond to get an 11th hour photo session in with Hammer). In addition to writing one of the most intelligent and funniest animated shows on television, Hammer is also a musician and accomplished oil painter with an interesting view on how sucking motivates him to excel in his chosen fields.
Too many people fall in love with their own work to the degree that they become overconfident and sloppy. This overconfidence can sometimes lead to stagnation in their evolution as a creative. When you feel there is no need to improve and love every single piece you create as if it were your magnum opus, quality begins to suffer and motivation will disappear. For some people its the adversity of constantly trying to improve that allows them to thrive. I wanted to share a passage from the interview that I feel sums this idea up perfectly, it relates specifically to oil painting, but as Hammer goes on to say later in the article, it can be applied to any endeavor.
…Painting is showing up and dealing with sucking, that’s the big tip, that’s what I want people to walk out knowing.
A lot of artists want people to think that they are magicians, that it’s easy and no one else an do it and that they just shit this stuff out, and it’s untrue. People with skill and passion can do it, that’s the talent. The thing that you are born with isn’t the ability to render figure, you can always learn that. What you are born with is the drive to fucking do it, and to want to do it in the face of constant failure. Painting is entirely failure, and if your painting wasn’t failure then your not moving forward and you are not correcting your own mistakes. What’s the point of making another one if you’re so fucking good that you have painted your masterpiece already. Every painting that a good painter does, they hate it, it sucks, and that’s what gets them going to do the next one so they can learn. That’s a hard thing to do, to have your occupation, hobby, life, be a place where you suck and you know you suck. People will get on me and tell me that I need to relax and take it easy, that I’m not really that bad. What they are missing is the arrogance of what I am saying, the fact that I know I suck proves that I know I am better than this, which is a very arrogant thing to do, so people should not be concerned with my self esteem. When I say I suck, it actually means that this is not a representation of my ability, I know that inside me is better. Dealing with my sucking and proudly saying this sucks is how I get up and do it again. I can’t let that thing get out there, I have to apologize for it with my next piece.
– Doc Hammer
To read read more about Doc Hammer’s thoughts on style, menswear, music, painting, and his show The Venture Brothers; or to view the rest of October issue of Auxiliary Magazine, go HERE