Former Art Buyers and current photography consultants Amanda Sosa Stone and Suzanne Sease have agreed to take anonymous questions from photographers and not only give their expert advice but put it out to a wide range of photographers, reps and art buyers to gather a variety of opinions. The goal with this column is to solicit honest questions and answers through anonymity.
I would like to know the best strategies for non-established photographers pursuing fashion. I find it very difficult to find practical information about pursuing fashion specifically. Maybe you can touch on advertising as well.
If it helps, I will explain my path. My primary income comes from developing models with top agencies in NY. Modestly, I make $2000 – $3000 per month depending on seasonal variables. That’s not so much if you live and work in a studio in NY.
I started out assisting (for one year) but found it shockingly difficult to progress with my work. I knew assistants who had not shot anything of their own for 8 months and beyond. It was like that for me as well. I also knew assistants who were coming off 5 years assisting but they still had to develop their work. I have a really strong itch to work, so I cut my losses.
Beyond model development, what is the next best step for someone in my position? I mean to make money. I’m avoiding stupid magazines, and pursuing hip magazines, which fit my particular style. This however doesn’t really pay.
Emerging Photographer Help!
Established Photographer 1:
Anything is possible anywhere if someone is talented. Fashion is a very, very difficult thing to succeed in, sort of like the NBA. I can’t stress how hard it is. The person should start somewhere they can put a team together and make brilliant photos. They could be in Bangkok or Seattle or NYC. I have never ever known anyone to go from shooting model tests to the big time, but I have known several who have gone from assisting a great photographer to being a great photographer. It gives you the in that you need. But the photographer you work for needs to be a great one. The main thing is that you need to be ambitious to the point of it being worth more to you than anything in life, and then you may have a chance.
Established Photographer 2:
Are you talking about real fashion or small catalogs? If you’re talking about a real career in fashion I wouldn’t even think about it if you weren’t living in NYC, Paris, or Milan. LA is better than anything outside of those cities, but still nothing is close to NY. To be in the fashion industry you have to immerse yourself in it, and it all happens in NYC. I actually laugh when people live in any other city than the above try to be “in fashion.” Plus, these cities are the only cities you can even get top tier fashion models of which companies won’t even think about you unless you have them in your book. The high-level fashion world is very gay (literally) and concentrated in NYC. My straight climbing the ranks fashion photographer friend and I always joke about how you have to be “in the gay” to climb the chains of fashion. Even if you’re straight, you still have to play the game.
Just my 2 cents.
Established Art Buyer:
I think that expanding into Lifestyle or even non-couture fashion gives photographers more options to make money. Real (but good-looking) people in everyday situations; it’s that “aspirational” style that many clients ask for. And if you can test with any top models that you’ve developed relationships with, that’s even better. Based on the current economy, it means starting small, with a smaller hot agency. It doesn’t mean not continuing to build a fashion portfolio, but it means refocusing efforts on projects that will pay for groceries while your portfolio is evolving.
Of course, the questions that need to be asked are:
- What is the current state of your portfolio?
- How are you promoting yourself?
- Have you established relationships with outstanding stylists and retouchers as well as with top models?
More questions than answers…
Big Name Rep In NYC:
When I asked this rep the question, they had a lot of insightful information. They felt that it would be very hard for a photographer to make it in fashion if they were not in New York City or Paris or had a presence or studio there. You must align yourself with a great crew- stylist, hair stylist, make up stylist and top models. They mentioned one young up and coming fashion photographer who befriended a BIG name model and having photos of she and friends, put him on the map. Start with editorial; get great tear sheets and photo credits.
Amanda and Suzanne:
When you are starting out it is really important to work on your portfolio and make sure you have a defined unique style since the fashion world is looking for the next new thing. If you really want to shoot high fashion, New York, Paris and Milan are the biggest towns but LA does have some work. Others have done well in other cities like San Francisco, Miami or Chicago but it is a really hard business to break into. Lifestyle fashion is an easier area to break in, but still making sure you are using the best in talent from models, stylists, make up and hair. Wardrobe is so important. Do not rely on the model for their wardrobe because you have to be in control of the shoot. If you shoot great work then it is easier to get a great talent base for free. The problem with shooting comp cards is that you are scaling back to shoot what the model needs therefore losing control and getting work that represent you. Keep a positive attitude and network like crazy. Get tear sheets with photo credits and PR the hell out of yourself. You should create a “buzz” about yourselves, this is the fashion hype!
Call to Action:
Please let us know tips you have for emerging photographers not only in fashion but other areas as well. A virtual mentorship as it could be known.