THE ACCEPTED WAY of working for most photographers is to specialise in one or possibly two related genres, such as weddings and portraiture, to do these well and to become known for your speciality. For most ‘Jack of all trades’ out there who are trying to cover the widest range of disciplines, you could add ‘master of none’, but there are a few who have managed the difficult trick of tackling a seemingly disparate number of specialities, while still doing them all well.
One of those to have triumphed in this area is Newcastle-based photographer Joe Laws. His business offers everything from themed fairy shoots for children through to superhero shots, weddings, model portfolios, pin-up sessions, boudoir shoots, portraiture in and out of the studio, dance photography, pet photography, family sessions, newborns and children. By covering such a huge and diverse range of subjects, Joe is extending his potential clientele, but how is he managing to tackle all these disciplines while still doing them all justice?
“I actually love the idea of having so much variety in my business,” Joe explains, “and I’ve found a number of common threads, such as lighting set ups and the ability to talk to people and put them at ease, that run through the different disciplines I’m tackling. It also helps that I’ve got the space for three studios and I can leave a set in place for a while and work in one of the other spaces should I need to.”
There are also certain factors that underpin Joe’s whole approach to photography. For example, he’s clearly enthused by the business he’s in and is always looking to challenge himself to do something different. Each week he starts with
what he calls ‘Happy Monday’, where he deliberately throws his usual approaches out the window and mixes things up to see what comes out the other end. He’s also fastidious about his planning and doesn’t leave things to chance, something that’s exemplified by his ‘enchanted fairies’ offering.
“So much of what I’m after is down to achieving natural expressions,” he says. “With the fairy shoots, for example, I build a set that looks as authentic as possible and reflects the time of year we’re shooting in. At the moment it’s a winter theme, while come the spring it will have daffodils. I also like to build a story and so before the shoot, the children will get an invitation from the fairies to come and see them, so they’ll be excited before they arrive.”
The costumes are also bespoke. They’re centred on a dance leotard, but have been accessorised by creative designers that Joe knows. They look amazing in the pictures. This attention to detail comes through in the final images. The superhero shoots are similarly planned out in advance with an adventure conjured up for the subjects. The result is real expressions and a time in the studio that subjects genuinely enjoy.
Joe also has a happy knack of getting on with subjects of all ages and his empathy extends to pets, with the result that his animal portraits are natural and uncontrived. He’s also not averse to trying out fresh ideas in his Monday mix-up, such as posing a dog in the set that’s usually reserved for fairy portraits, with results that can be surprisingly effective.
“People love their pets,” he says, “and can often be prepared to spend more on having pictures taken of them than they might on their own families. With children and dogs, there is a similarity in that a certain amount of negotiation might have to go on involving sweets and biscuits. It’s amazing how much cooperation you can get from both subjects if there’s a treat involved at the end!”
A large collection of backdrops and props, including a selection from the company Click, are kept on hand to help Joe create the illusion he’s after in his studios. These are used in every genre, from newborn photography through to pin-ups and portraits. With each discipline he tackles, Joe’s focus is entirely on achieving the best result he can. This approach is crucial since clients will notice very quickly if a photographer is bluffing and doesn’t have the required skills or empathy for a subject area to deliver what’s required.
The lesson is simple: offering a variety of services can keep you busy at times of the year when demand is naturally less, but you should never adopt this approach unless you’re ready for the hard work that will come with the territory. However, if you have a full range of photographic skills, a willingness to continually learn from your experiences and can apply this knowledge across the board to whatever job you might be tackling, then the chance is there to widen your reach and to sell your services to the widest possible audience.
“You’ve got to accept that you need to spend a certain amount of money per year on marketing, no matter how you choose to do it”
“TO ME, GOOD marketing is all about staying in people’s minds,” says photographer, Holly Wren. “But you don’t need to shout at them all the time to do that; if people are aware of your work and given the occasional cool reminder of what you’re about, they will come to you eventually.”
Holly uses a broad range of marketing tools to do that, creating what she calls ‘touch points’. “I learnt this at business school,” she explains. “The idea is that the more someone sees your name or your work around, the more there’s a natural recognition. So when you go to them, you’re not an unknown. I think I was taught that seven is a good number of touch points, so I use a mix of the usual things: social media, emailers, listings and I also have exhibitions and write in magazines – more recently I’ve been using print media as mailshots.”
A printed mailshot that shows off your portfolio isn’t a new idea, but it’s arguably been overtaken in photographers’ minds in the rush to have an all-singing, all-dancing social media presence. Yet people are increasingly realising the value of physical things they can touch and appreciate away from a screen. Could mailshots be the work-seeking photographer’s equivalent of the resurgence in vinyl?
Obviously sending out a few dog-eared 6x4in prints in a scruffy envelope isn’t the way to go here. You need to embrace the opportunity to stand out and do something different that attracts attention, presented and wrapped in a way that opens eyes. Holly offers a great example of this, which brought in work and shows the difference between the power of a well-conceived physical product and the relative flippancy of electronic content.
“A recent mailshot I did was based on a project from Oaxaca in Mexico. I photographed some indigenous people and the Day of the Dead celebrations. So I decided to make the most of it, producing a high-quality booklet and presenting it with accessories in a presentation box. The reaction was really positive and, though it was very different to what I usually do, it put me on people’s radar.”
As a comparison, Holly also sent the content as a PDF to a company and received a polite fobbing off, “which was fine! But when I sent it again in the post, as I’d originally intended, they got back straight away and said how great everyone thought it was. Actually, they weren’t complimenting my pictures so much as the effort I’d gone to and the care I’d taken over it, like tying little skulls to its binding. I got a meeting off the back of it and then ongoing work.”
In terms of cost, the Oaxaca booklet was pricey, costing around £12 a copy, but her next booklet, a more traditional A5 page-turner from her portfolio, was cheaper at about £3.50 a shot. It still had a fun twist, though, in that part of it was reversed. At the front were regular editorial shots, but to show images of a more storytelling style, the back section had to be turned over. The book went out to picture editors and art directors.
Holly concedes that it’s an expensive alternative to email and cold calling but, with so many of those avenues falling on deaf ears, she says it’s worth the investment to stand out. Another benefit of her degree in business management and experience in corporate firms is that she’s good at looking at the bigger marketing picture.
“You’ve got to accept that you need to spend a certain amount of money per year on marketing, no matter how you choose to do it,” she says. “Whatever it is, it’s going to cost. It’s not realistic to think that ‘if I spend £2k on marketing, I’m definitely going to see at least £2k back the same year’.
The editorial book I just sent out is a good example of that. Agents and picture editors keep things like this for reference, and they might suddenly have a need for something they saw in the book. “I’ve found this a lot when marketing my photography. You have good meetings with people, but they may not have a job for you there and then. That’s why you need to stay on their minds. I’ll soon follow up the book, but with a phone call, rather than email.”
Monitoring responses, she says, is tough in terms of print products, beyond the anecdotal reactions, though there are some tricks to seeing where your leads are coming from. “For instance, I change up my email address in booklets from hello@ to holly@ and so on… it doesn’t always work as people hooked by the books might still contact me through my website, but it can be a measure of a campaign.” Of course, for social or wedding photographers, you could alternatively add codes to special offers to measure response.
Next up for Holly is a Christmas postcard for clients, but with a difference, which should help keep her front and centre in their minds. “I wanted to do something eye-catching and maybe a bit funny and controversial,” she explains, “so I ended up shooting Santa in a strip club. I mean what else is he going to do on the other 363 days of the year? It’s silly, but it’s shot in a high-end, fine art way. It’s also a composite of the same girl to make it look like there’s five dancing on his table, so it shows off my lighting and conceptual skills. I’m wrapping it like a present and including three copies, so people can pass it on… it’s about being memorable.”
/ hollywren.com / @holly_wren
There’s a general understanding that the market for stock photography has lost its appeal, but with an astute approach it’s still possible to make the numbers stack up.
IF YOU LISTEN to lots of old hands in the
pro photography world, the sage advice is to steer clear of stock photography nowadays if you want to make decent money. It used to be a lucrative market, with top professionals
But since the advent of digital photography and the rationalisation of the stock photo agencies, there has been a huge shift towards microstock. That’s where photos are sold for very little – often just pennies. Commercial photographer and filmmaker Adrian Weinbrecht, says: “Every year I used to take a foreign break, hire models and set up lots of photos for stock agencies. I used to get a decent cheque every month from sales. Those days are long gone.”
Making money from stock is often nowadays seen as the place where keen amateurs or photo students can make a few quid, unless you turn microstock into a massive business. That’s where people like Yuri Arcurs and Lise Gagne come in.
Yuri is the world’s number one selling stock photographer and has two huge studio facilities with 20 people in Denmark and 80 in South Africa. His team of photographers churn out thousands of images every week, covering everything from medical, beauty and fitness to business, food and more.
Meanwhile, Canadian Lise Gagne is iStock’s first full-time stock shooter, selling over half a million photos from her library of 5000 shots. On average, each shot has been bought 100 times and she makes a six-figure income from it. She focuses on very natural, lifestyle images.
But there is a different way, a middle ground that isn’t a sausage-factory approach or spare cash for part-timers – you can specialise and sell through agencies, such as Alamy who price your work for its final use with payments often running into
hundreds of pounds per shot, rather than a ‘cheap-aschips’ microstock approach. American John Wilhelm is typical of this sort of photographer, creating high-end photos of children in whimsical worlds, such as sharing a bath with a walrus. Much relies on heavy Photoshop manipulation, of course, but it makes his work unique.
Tyler Olson is a lifestyle photographer who says it’s important to follow blogs and social media to stay in touch with what sort of shots are popular with the public, as well as media buyers. And fashion photographer, Evgeniya Porechenskaya, shoots very bright, commercial images of the latest trends, which she builds on by making her own clothes.
It’s clear these successful shooters have their own niche and stick loosely within it, but it’s crucial to constantly see what sort of styles are being bought and subject matters that photo buyers want. These change all the time, but, according to Alamy, the biggest demand for photos right now can be summed up in these categories:
1. Unplugged. With everyone being ‘plugged-in’ to smartphones, there’s a big call for lifestyle shots that are in complete contrast – showing real people escaping from a dependence on technology.
2. Alternative perspectives. Photos taken from different perspectives, such as from above or below, up-close or using wide-angle lenses – something to create drama and set the photo apart.
3. Plastic pollution. Shots showing plastic pollution are in huge demand.
4. Girl gaze. The project, #GirlGaze, is a reaction to the heavily filtered, perfect selfies showing unrealistic expectations of beauty. Required shots are of authentic women, representing their creativity and intelligence.
5. The new masculinity. Instead of shots depicting masculinity in traditional macho ways, images of men should evoke emotions and feelings.
6. A purer lifestyle. Millennials are rebelling against the mass production and non-sustainable impact on the world and economy. Shots that show a return to a purer, more simple life – with traditional craftsmanship, wholefoods and getting back to nature are in big demand. You can see that all these sorts of images are a far cry from stock pictures where someone wants a picture illustrating a famous landmark or pretty landscape for a calendar. They take time to consider, planning and professional execution. Get it right and there is still a decent income to be made from stock.
“VIDEOS GET BY far the most engagement online,” explains Tommy Reynolds, who regularly wins clients through his video output alone. “A photo reaches more people than a text status, but a video reaches more people than a photo. On top of that, predictions are that 80% of all Internet traffic will be video by 2019, so the message is clear: photographers no longer need to be thinking about video, they need to be making it.”
But it’s not regular videos that are making the difference for Tommy; it’s actually showing what goes on behind the lens that’s getting him noticed. After all, a great photo can say a lot about your skill as a photographer, but if potential clients get to see how you work in addition to your actual work, you can tell them a lot about yourself as a photographer, such as how easy you are to work with, how professional, or how much fun.
“My behind-the-scenes (BTS) videos offer something my photographs can’t communicate on their own,” explains Tommy, “and that’s my personality. We’re now in an age where people are just as invested in the creative process as they are in the final product, so it makes sense to show that part, as well as the end results when selling my services to clients.”
For instance, Tommy regularly collaborates with Pixarpro on its marketing work. Two years on he asked the owner ‘what made you take a chance and collaborate with me?’. The owner answered, ‘it was because I could see in your videos that you were a nice guy, you could run a shoot, interact with the models, were friendly and looked after your gear’.
“You can’t necessarily see any of these things in my images alone,” says Tommy. For Tommy, using video in this way started in 2015, though his background in filmmaking meant it was a natural fit from the get-go.
After being made redundant from Jessops in 2013, he went freelance and by 2015 “started doing personal projects every month to keep my work fresh and try new ideas away from paying clients,” he says. “To accompany this, I had a friend of mine, who’s a fantastic cinematographer, shoot a behind-the-scenes video. I wanted to create a video that not only looked great, but told the story of the shoot in an engaging way. When I posted it, I was blown away by the engagement and realised I needed to do it as often as I could.”
This engagement, he says, is gained by telling a story properly. “You don’t need steadicams, sliders, whizzy editing or 4K detail… so long as you have an engaging concept, you can shoot it on your iPhone. Story will always outweigh technology, so it’s about making sure your BTS shoot has a beginning, middle and end, like any proper narrative.”
For a portrait or wedding shoot, this could mean starting with make-up and setting up lights, or props; moving through to the shoot itself, where you might show how you work with the subject and have fun; and end with the payoff, the pictures themselves.
“You’d be surprised how many so-called BTS videos I’ve seen on YouTube that don’t even show the photos taken,” he laughs. “For me, that’s totally pointless; like walking out of a film before it’s ended.”
Clients, he says, have literally booked purely on the strength of a BTS video, “which sounds crazy but as I’ve mentioned, the benefits you can show sit alongside the images, making it a perfect sort of resume.
He adds: “It’s also about putting your name to a face, which makes people more comfortable in contacting you. I’ve met clients for the first time who have said they feel like they already know me, because they watch my videos on YouTube. They feel we’re already a good fit.”
What about the nuts and bolts of working this way? Tommy mostly shoots with a videographer using Sony PXW-FS5 or Canon 5D Mark IV kits and for sound adds a Rode Lav+ microphone and Zoom H1 to record voice-overs or pieces to camera before syncing it in Adobe Premiere. With a background in film studies, he likes to edit the videos himself, but believes in a lot of communication before the shoot, “instead of leaving it up to them to produce the video and realising later something was missed,” says Tommy. “It’s all about branding. So if I were to use a different videographer for a project, I still have control at the editing stage. This makes it feel like it still has the same ‘voice’.”
Videos are then posted on his YouTube channel and he shares a 30-second teaser version via Instagram and Facebook, with the aim of people watching the whole thing there to add subscription numbers.
Bringing the concept full circle, Tommy now sells clients the idea that they need these BTS videos “so they can share them on their own channels, which is a great tool for them to promote their product or service and gains more exposure for my business, too. Creating that first BTS video was honestly the best business decision I ever made.”
WE LIVE IN an increasingly digitised world where we’re used to instant results and easy online sharing, but just because technology has moved on, it doesn’t necessarily mean that everything that went before is automatically ready for the scrapyard. If you want an indicator of how much value some people place on traditional methods, look at the growing popularity of vinyl records. Increasingly, there’s a movement towards valuing what original silver halide film had to offer.
So far, most of the interest has come from the enthusiast sector where there aren’t the commercial pressures to turn things around quickly and keep costs down. However, there are some in the professional arena who have realised that a film offering might have commercial value, with the challenge being to find a way of making it work against a backdrop of modern expectations.
Married couple James and Lianne have run a Yorkshire-based wedding photography business since 2010 and have an added reason for wanting to work with film – they have both always loved the traditional approach, to the point where they still shoot their personal pictures on film, while they visualise their work in square medium format. “The depth and composition is just something we’ve always felt very comfortable with and enjoy the aesthetics of,” explains Lianne. “We’ve been shooting medium format since before we started shooting weddings and we just The flavour of film In an age where photography is almost exclusively digital, there’s room for switched-on wedding photographers to market a film and Polaroid service love the look we get from it. We wanted to bring our enjoyment of the medium and the unique look of it into our professional work and our clients love the look, too.”
Realising that it wasn’t really an option to attempt a fully film-based approach to their weddings, James and Lianne have instead settled for a film flavour, which is highlighted on their website. They’ve invested in a 6x6cm Rolleiflex TTL, a beautiful black and chrome box that has separate viewing and taking lenses. This is used primarily for the portrait section of the wedding when things tend to be a little less stressful. “The Rolleiflex is certainly not designed for weddings, that’s for sure,” says Lianne. “It’s slow to operate, with a reverse image on the ground glass, poorly metered, features no interchangeable backs and “We’ve been shooting medium format since before we started shooting weddings. We love the look we get from it and our clients love it, too” has just the one fixed lens. Yet none of it matters; it’s about the image it produces. This camera has always felt like an extension of how we mentally compose images and it’s the right tool to produce that vision. We’ve always seen cameras as a tool for translating our ideas and putting our creativity down on to film or a sensor. It’s not so much what the camera does, but about what it helps us to create.”
The couple generally shoot one or two rolls of medium format film per wedding, so a maximum of 24 images. “It’s not a lot,” says Lianne, “especially compared to the thousands we shoot on our Canon digital cameras alongside it, but our hit rate with film is far greater than with digital. Given the slowness of the Rolleiflex, it’s not the ideal camera for shooting reportage documentary work
but where it excels is in that 20 minutes during the portrait shoot where the couple can take a breather and relax for a little bit. That’s when it comes into its own.”
Choice of film has been a little restricted in recent years, but the favoured emulsion has been Fujifilm 400H, a colour negative material that’s up to handling the inevitable changes in lighting that can take place on a wedding day. With a revival of interest in silver halide, led by a younger generation discovering the medium for the first time, there are now more emulsions being launched or coming back on stream from Kodak among others, and film choice is now on the increase.
In terms of pricing, James and Lianne offer the option to shoot film at just above cost, primarily because they love to work this way and realise that this approach keeps film accessible to couples, whereas charging a premium could drive them away.
Processing and scanning of the negatives is carried out by the Canadian Film Lab, based in British Columbia – a firm sourced after a painstaking search. “The important thing we get from them is consistency,” says Lianne, “both between individual frames on a single roll and from roll to roll. They know what our shots should look like and pay very good attention to this. We find they play an important role in achieving that translation of vision to end photo.”
To complement their film service, James and Lianne also offer Polaroid photography, utilising a rather large and cumbersome modified Polaroid Pathfinder 110A. “It produces gorgeous depth on the old peel-apart FP-100C film,” says Lianne. “Sadly, all that film is now discontinued as of early 2016, but like many people we bought enough stock in the final days to last a lifetime. We love Polaroid for everything medium format isn’t: it’s more unpredictable, a little more lo-fi and light leaks are common, but that’s what makes it fun to shoot.
“Moreover, it’s like film but with the immediate gratifying effect of digital. We find that our couples always display their Polaroid wedding photos at home, because it’s easy for them to connect that image with that exact moment. They existed at the same place at the same time and it has a permanency and realness to it, unlike film or digital. We think that’s why people like it so much.”
There’s no doubt that a lot of people are going to James and Lianne’s studio, because they want film to be part of their big day. But in terms of who’s booking, it’s not just young people that are signing up. There are all age ranges from mid-twenties up to people in their sixties, proving that interest in film doesn’t necessarily correlate with any particular demographic.
“We’re finding that a good proportion of our clients are in the creative industries themselves,” Lianne observes. “We have people hiring us because they are seeking photographers who are shooting on film, specifically medium format. For those who haven’t sought us out for this, they’re often intrigued by the option of having film photos of their wedding and will choose to add it to their package when they book us.
“There’s huge nostalgic interest in old video games and vinyl from people who were born after those formats were popular and this is moving across into photography. It’s certainly a hopeful outlook that as the post-analogue generation grows up and considers getting married, film may still retain its popularity, perhaps even more so than today.”
From Professional Photo issue 153
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