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 am freelance shooter and have been working in photography for the past 5 years. It is my sole income. I have a wedding and portrait business which is my bread and butter, at this current point in my career and most likely will be for some time. 3 years ago I started investing in a more personal exploration of photography by enrolling in an MFA program. Currently school is on hold as I could no longer justify the expense. I am now working hard towards pursuing personal projects outside of the realm of my business which I hope will eventually lead to opportunities in the Editorial and Fine Art markets and of course some advertising work would be nice too.
For some reason it has always seemed to me that being a wedding photographer has not been looked upon favorably by other areas of the photography world. In fact I have been advised by more than a few people to avoid letting editors, AD’s, galleries, etc know that I shoot weddings! I am curious about how to address this as I begin to market myself to the different tracks that I want to pursue.
Case in point, I have been accepted to Review Santa Fe which I will be attending next week. I am showing a body of work which I believe has potential for both Editorial and Fine Art application. Ultimately I am very proud of what I do and I see it as a collective whole. I also realize that everything has its place so I am trying to be careful about how I promote myself. Regardless all you have to do is google my name and you can find out what I do. So how do you balance all this?
I gotta eat you know…
Amanda and Suzanne: This question is something we tackle everyday in our business. What to do, who to be and when to be it. It’s a hard balance to feed your soul, while still finding a way to fill those pockets. Fortunately, it is possible. It’s not easy, but possible. You can be both – if you want to be and that is the real question here – WHAT DO YOU WANT TO DO and BE?
Shooting weddings or any other kind of work has no bearing on how I feel about working with photographers, as long as their non-wedding work is solid and fits what I’m looking for. If anything, a photographer who shoots weddings might be better at dealing with difficult subjects — wedding clients (or, more accurately, their parents) can sometimes be a real pain in the ass.
If I were marketing a photographer to the commercial world, one who also happens to shoot weddings as part of their business, I likely would not depict them as a “wedding photographer” to my advertising client base. However I do imagine that some of their beautifully styled, natural, ‘aspirational’ wedding images could be edited into a general lifestyle portfolio with a clear commercial application. Keep in mind that the overall look and style of the collection of images would still have to work together to convey the photographer’s vision. And while I would not promote them as a wedding photographer, I also would not discourage them from continuing to photograph weddings. Not only does everyone “gotta eat”, but a wedding is indeed a complex production and photographing such a demanding event can support the development of their photography and their skills set to help excel in business.
I’m old school and was taught the same thing. Wedding photographers – ew. Commercial photographers – cool. Not sure if that is still the same today but they ARE totally different animals. I coach my friend and colleague who’s in the same boat to run the businesses separate and do everything you can to separate the marketing and websites.
A wedding photographer does not have to market themselves by their name. I suggest they build a business around a moniker.
One of the busiest wedding outfits in Atlanta go by “Our Labor of Love”.
The same person could then market commercial/editorial with their full name and build web presence around that (ie: Douglas Cooper Photography) For fine art: another version of your name: Fine Art by D.G. Cooper.
PHOTOGRAPHER #2 (who has balanced both):
If you shoot everything to the same standard, then none of it will hurt your career in advertising, it will only help. It’s really hard getting started for most photographers; there are tons of expenses and the competition is insane. If you can remain flexible about how you will earn income with your camera, but maintain consistency in your work you will do just fine.
In the past, I’ve taken on a handful of weddings for the very same reasons: they pay the bills (and I enjoy shooting them too). I had an art director call me to shoot her wedding, and it took a long time for the right assignment to follow but it did. Eventually it turned into a couple of great jobs and it built a lovely relationship. There was also a personal project I worked on when I was getting started, something I poured my heart into, as well as a fair amount of resources. The resulting work was very photojournalistic in nature but I shared it with some art buyers and it too turned into a string of great advertising assignments.
YES! If you do a great job with someone’s wedding, they talk about it. Then in the next conversation where photography comes up, you will often be the first to mind. This can pay off because remember, when these people aren’t hanging at a wedding, they could be working at the country’s top companies.
To Summarize: The PHOTOGRAPHER’S REP and PHOTO EDITOR nailed it! Understanding how a wedding is produced is your FIRST schooling to how a major ad shoot is produced. It’s production 101 – and you get paid for it. Secondly, you understand how to manage the client and how to keep everyone happy. Shoot both and market them differently. We recommend (especially in this economy) – shoot both – but be smart how you market them. We received honest (and surprisingly very positive) feedback and at the end of the day – never once did you hear “only do one thing. However the message repeated – be smart how you approach doing both.
Call To Action: When marketing your 2 identities, decide who you are in each market, put a brand to each, get 2 websites and you are off and running. Consider how you will be googled and work around the name issue – like PHOTOGRAPHER #1 mentioned.
If you want more insight from Amanda and Suzanne you can contact them directly (here and here) or tune in once a week or so for more of “Ask Anything.” Amanda and Suzanne review your comments for 2 days, and then they are off researching next week’s question.