Quick Questions With Smart People – Sean Armenta: Photographer

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.

LC: So many emerging photographers fall into the trap of letting their clients undervalue their work, or even worse, undervaluing their own work. How important is it for them to present their work as worthwhile and valuable to their clients? How can they not fall into the trap of letting their fears of success or failure stop them from even trying?

SA: I
just had a meeting last week with a global cosmetics company. After doing my presentation they asked what my rate would be for the campaign, so I handed them a written estimate. The long awkward silence that followed told me that my quote was above what they were prepared to pay. The VP of marketing said something I have never heard a client say, and is usually what we say to clients. She said, “This quote is outside of what our budget is, but seeing your work I understand why it is this rate. You get what you pay for, and we must be doing something wrong because we have been dissatisfied with our marketing materials.”

Never ever sell yourself short. Lowballing only shows desperation and undervalues your work. Show clients a quality of work that will elevate their brand.  Present yourself in a confident and professional manner. Show passion for what it is you do. Do research on the clients you are trying to reach out to, find out what their marketing needs are, and see what you can do to meet their needs. Photographs are the most important aspect of marketing.  It is what consumers see first and what they relate to. Photographs make people buy products.

LC: You are known for working with a reliable core support team, how important is it for photographers just  starting out to build the kind of relationships with stylists, producers, and assistants that will surround them with a team that cares as much about the final outcome of the production as a whole? What are good places from these photographers to start finding talented team members to work with.

SA: Building a core team of artists (Hair, Makeup, Styling, etc) is all important in our industry, especially during your developmental stage as a photographer. I believe that fashion and beauty photography is very much a collaborative environment. You are only as good as the people you work with. One of the most important things I learned early on was to seek out artists that were at a level above my own, and through working with those people I learned so much about the industry, and their experience elevated my work. I think we should always be in a constant state of learning, as this is the only way to grow as an artist. Team building is a huge part of what I teach at my workshops because casting the right crew is what makes or breaks the success of a shoot. I think we need to return to a sense of community with each other, and this is really the best way to seek out people to work with. Ask your peers for referrals of who they like to work with. Strive to produce the kind of work that will make other artists want to work with you.

LC: Looking back on your own career, do you remember any mistakes or lessons that you had to learn early on? If you had to guide another photographer though them in the simplest terms; what would be your top three do’s and dont’s you have learned throughout your career?

SA: I think it’s so important to be genuinely nice to everyone. No one wants to work with an asshole no matter how great their work may be. Be the person people want to work with and be around and treat people the way you would like to be treated.

DO
Take a business and marketing class
Save your money and do not rack up debt
Keep your overhead as low as possible


DON’T
Don’t sell yourself short
Don’t be afraid to take risks with your work
Don’t get comfortable with your current situation

LC: How important is it to strike a balance between ones own vision and taste and between creating a consistent and marketable visual style? should photographers be letting editors and buyers dictate their style to a great degree, or should they actively be going after the clients who they think are right for them and their preexisting look?

SA: While it is very important to be able to show your own vision while staying marketable, during the beginning of your career it is not as important as showing you are able to deliver what the client wants. I think too much emphasis is put on developing one’s own “signature style” too early in their career and they become a one-trick pony. Your work will eventually be identifiable to you because of your approach to your subject, not because of a specific “look” created by a certain lighting setup or post production effect. That, to me, is gimmicky and trendy. Don’t fall into the trap of forcing yourself to create your style which will only limit your growth as an artist and show clients your lack of versatility and flexibility.

I don’t think we should be letting editors or buyers dictate our style per se, but what you have to understand is that talent and skill only gets our foot in the door. At the end of the day we still need to deliver the needs of the client. With that said, of course we ought to seek those clients whose image matches the style of work we produce and whom we are most passionate about working with.

City Under Siege

I recently had the chance to create a brand new set of  images for Buffalo power-pop quintet City Under Siege, a young but terrifically catchy band. A variety of group and solo images were created for the band members in order to give them a more appealing and professionally produced image than what they had been using to market their music previously. We wanted to avoid any cliches that seem to plague bands when they are producing much of their own marketing material and images (see: Rock and Roll Confidential’s Hall of Douchebags) so we ultimately decided that the key image would be produced in studio to give it the polish and feeling of control that the band was looking for. Working with new or younger bands can often be a challenge as they often have several misconceptions about the budgetary requirements of producing images or their own direction musically. However, the members of City Under Siege proved themselves to be extremely discerning in their taste, knowledge of producing imagery, and direction they wanted to take their image in.

E-readers and Emerging Media.

Rob Haggart of at aphotoeditor.com has posted a listing of his predictions for what is in store for the photography and magazine industries in 2010, his list is based on a piece in Folio Magazine and Rob has included many of the original quotes. A few of the excerpts are quite interesting and serve to illustrate what changes may be in store for those who work in editorial and commercial photography. But there were two in particular from the original piece that got me thinking about how the new forms of media being developed may create radical changes in the magazine and editorial markets.

One hopeful breakthrough: the four color e-reader. It will be really helpful. Some of the big publications will probably get a few hundred thousand digital e-reader subscribers paying anywhere from $10 to $50. This will bring in anywhere from $3 million to $15 million in subscriber revenue. Unfortunately, some of those same magazines have seen their ad revs drop by $100 million. Get the picture.

–Keith Kelly, “Media Ink” columnist, New York Post

From the aesthetics and usability side of things I think that the new four color digital E-readers bound to be on their way in the coming months and years, like the Mag+ tablet, may open up a whole new realm of media for publishers and photographers to work within. Not just as an alternative to the traditional print magazine, but as we move towards a market of specialization it will provide an avenue for small niche and boutique publishers to create rich content that is easier to deliver and manage than the solutions currently available to them. There will naturally be some arguments and stumbling first steps in setting up an effective subscription and content delivery systems for these new media readers, but ultimately they may give rise to a whole new class of aesthetically minded and ultra specialized publications that will finally be able to monetize their content.

Even outside of the realm of the E-readers some  digital publications are starting to get notice. Available on the iPhone for example, is DRAMA magazine, a fashion and style publication that takes the form of a paid application in the iPhone App store. By tapping into the distribution channels made available by Apple and hopefully by the E-readers in the future, publishers will be able to focus on content while still having the opportunity to reach a dense audience provided they market their product correctly. Issues that this form of media will likely encounter include the slow adoption by advertisers of the new format;  the limited customer base for their product until these E-readers become more common; and the problem of a standardized format among competing readers while the technology is in its infancy. The question of a sales model also arises, will a prepaid subscription plan be the dominant model? or will the more open marketplace structure utilized in Apple’s App Store be more appropriate, allowing for easier impulse buys, content browsing, and the inclusion of more casual readers who may be resistant to subscription services. While the format will remain in its infancy for a period I do see it blossoming as it reachers maturity and as the consumer base for reader devices grows. It will be interesting to see where the manufacturers decide to go in terms of pricing the devices, whether a steep up front fee will be involved, or whether they will subsidize sales of the hardware to create a wider market for content driven revenue.

Only one or two magazines for most major vertical markets will survive.

There will be many changes at the top of editorial mastheads with more e-community management skills supplementing traditional journalistic skills for the winners.

Print will become richer, better paper will be used, graphics will improve, quality of content will improve and distribution/circulation numbers will drop.

–Don Pazour, CEO, Access Intelligence

I think this is partially true, while there may indeed be only one or two “big guns” left in any of the above mentioned markets, and they will indeed set the standard in terms of quality, content, and management, I do think that a major factor has been ignored in the above statement. There will be an emerging second class of specialized publications that up until this point have usually been distributed free or with limited success through services like Issuu or through print on demand services.  New distribution channels and media, such as the E-readers mentioned above, creates opportunities for these small publications to monetize and manage their distribution like never before, allowing growth in their market. While these individual titles will hardly cause concern for larger publishers, the sheer variety of titles available will ensure an initially small but growing and stable market of their own. A quality gap will naturally be created between these two realms of publishing though, the smaller digitally based publishers will put out good content as their base readership and advertising allows. And democratic/social feedback will help to drive readership depending on which model these publications are ultimately distributed under. Conversely, the larger magazines will begin to create truly epic publications in terms of production. As Pazour predicts above, there will be an improvement across the board in terms of content, packaging, and production, but these magazines will experience lower and more focused circulation rates. Those magazines that survive will become much more exclusive providers of high-end content in their niches. It will be interesting to see how publishers and advertisers react to this in terms of how advertising rates are affected by these new models in the coming years.

Required Reading 12.14.2009

I’ve been doing my best to avoid the weather and stay indoors this weekend, but to no avail, I keep having to leave the warm cocoon of my apartment to brave the cold temperatures and insane winds that have been demolishing my neighborhood and most of Buffalo the past few days. Today things seem to be lightening up a bit, and hot morning beverages are helping.

Action Method

After months of searching for a to do list / project management app that worked on my iPhone, I have finally fallen in love with Action Method. From my phone or anywhere with an internet connection I can check on the status of all my projects. Break them down into manageable steps, and even delegate those steps to stylists, assistants, etc. Rather than other solutions I have tried, which are always context based, I like having one whose interface is project based instead, it works very well for shoot production as well as managing marketing projects. And its very simple to adapt it to day to day uses as well. Right now I only have a free account and use it mainly on my phone, but will most likely upgrade to a full account in the future as it seems that Action Method has quickly become one of my most valuable tools.

The Quentin Tarantino Guide to Creating Killer Content

VIA copyblogger.com

An interesting article aimed at writers but applicable to any creative endeavor. Tarantino’s method of selling a story through owning it provides many great tips, especially useful for photographers writing blogs. Working on your writing skills can help you in many aspects of your business.

Fashion Photography Blog

In a sea of photo business and technique blogs that exist on the internet so few are specifically targeted and offer real world advice in a such a specific industry, Melissa Rodewell’s blog and online community are the best example of a community that relates real life experiences in the fashion, style, and music photography industries to those just emerging into the industry.  The tutorials, stories, and anecdotes that she shares with her readers are topical and valuable. Featuring everything from behind the scenes looks at her photo shoots, tutorials on lighting, discussions on post processing, info on general business, and thoughts on developing ones own style and conceptualizing ideas.

Required Reading: Trade Secrets

Trade Secrets: Chase Jarvis – The Portrait Sessions

A special update today, something I am quite excited about. My pals at Trade Secrets has decided to release a second volume of their wonderfully educational card sets featuring beautiful images along with lighting info and tips. I was lucky enough to be featured in the first volume alongside a great pool of photographic talent and the results were fantastic, the set was beautiful and extremely informative to anyone trying to better their lighting. Today, Trade Secrets and Chase Jarvis announced the release of the second series of cards, featuring twenty two images and lighting diagrams pulled from Chase’s collection of portraits; perfect for creative inspiration. Hopefully this is just the beginning of more pro signature lines for Trade Secrets. And don’t forget to check out volume one if you haven’t already

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Heather Morton: Art Buyer

A Canadian art buyer based in Toronto, Heather posts invaluable information that is useful to photographers on either side of the border. Most important, is that her musings and thoughts come from the art buyers perspective, giving it a different spin than most industry bloggers. Currently the most interesting feature of the site is a documentation of one year in the life of two photographers: Grant Harder and Jamie Hogge

Its OK to Suck

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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

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Required Reading

Part of my morning ritual, aside from groggily stumbling over every inanimate object in my home and the consumption of what may be medically dangerous quantities of caffeine, involves reading a variety of professional blogs and other sites. Some of these are photography related, some… less so; I also try to keep up with whats going on in other industries, art, and the occasional smart humor site for those early morning chuckles. These pages serve variety of purposes, they help me keep abreast of the industry, allow me to see beautiful and inspiring work, and provide the occasional tidbit of overlooked common sense that I need so early in the morning. They also  remind me to occasionally think about things other than the actual taking pictures part of my job like marketing, design, food, sleep… etc

Earlier this week I received an email from an inquisitive art student, who, in addition to requiring a small bit of technical advice , was very interested in trying to find other resources to help them learn about being a photographer and a professional creative. Rather than blasting him with the entire list of links all at once I forwarded him a best of digest of what sites I hit up in the Early AM. and I figured I would do the same here. Over the next few weeks i’ll be dropping some link love on the sites that I like to visit and new ones that I discover. I’m positive that many will be familiar with some of these links, I cannot hope to provide 100% pure revelation all the time (I would totally put that on my business card if I could) but hopefully you might find one link on this list that helps you out or makes your morning just a little bit better.

aphotoeditor.com

Rob Haggart’s site is one of my first stops everyday. Engrossing insights on business, marketing, and photography from an editor’s point of view is the daily norm for this site. Rob goes out of his way to generate content that is actually of great use to his readers and often gets them involved in asking questions of the other industry professionals that he occasionally interacts with through his blog. The fact that there is an active community of readers asking thoughtful followup questions is also a bonus. Don’t overlook the snippets of other blogs the Rob Re-publishes on the sites sidebar, there are often little nuggets of photo zen to get you about how you approach photography.

The End Starts Here

For years, since a professor first introduced me to his work when I was in college, Rodney Smith has been one of my favorite photographers. Naturally I can not be blamed for reading his blog with a near fanatical fervor. The End Starts Here brings a new spread from Smith’s upcoming book every week. More importantly, it attaches to these beautiful images quirky and thought provoking stories about the images he creates as well as musings on his working process and photography in general.

McSweeney’s Internet Tendency

Most definitely NOT a photography site, McSweeney’s is all about words. Daily bits of well written creative humor, short stories, and columns of all sorts. There is a sort of blissful randomness in the range of material that they publish on the site that has, on more than one occasion, caused strange and alien ideas for new creative endeavors to grow in my brain. Its also one of the few sites I read regularly that can cause me to fall on the floor in near cataplexic laughter.