Deborah Schwartz – The Art Of The Keeper Promo

- - Marketing

by Heidi Volpe

Deborah Schwartz of DSReps is well known for sending out impressive promos that can’t possibly be thrown away. When I heard this years was a box of prints representing each of her photographers I had to see it and ask her a few questions about it.

Heidi: Would you say you are pretty sure all your promos get opened?

Deborah: Yes, especially for this particular promo. There was a great amount of hype from last year’s similar promo, so people were excited and anticipating the arrival of this years’.

How did you select who got a box of prints?

I spent the most time that I have ever spent on a list for this promo. I gathered a combination of lists that included our clients from the last few years, adbase lists and a targeted list of people who we want to have as clients. We then called each and every agency and magazine and design firm on the list to check the names and make sure that important Creatives were not left off.

Was it agencies first and then editorial and then studios?

I would say that it was more about a gathering of lists of clients (editorial graphic design, client direct and advertising) and then adding wish lists of clients found through research. And we printed a few extra boxes of the promo so that we can still give some away to new clients or new potential clients throughout the year – and before the next promo comes out.

Are you concerned about offending someone who doesn’t get one? Was it like making an invite list for a wedding?

Yes and YES!! Which is why I specifically made the list 200 total short of our total number of promos. And over the next few months, we will send promos out to anyone who did not get one and should have – and then add them to the list for next years. Even when we call and talk to a reliable source at each agency, some names get left out inadvertently. There is no way to avoid human error.

Do you have a less expensive promo to give out to reach a larger audience?

Yes – each of the photographers do a much larger run on a smaller promo each year so that it can go out to more clients and potential clients. We try to space it out so that it is sent out at least a few months after the DSREPS promo.

How are your 2011 promos different from last year?

A slightly different package, the NEW office in New York City is listed on the promo, a few changes to the roster and a newly curated group of images for our photographers.

How much editorial vs commercial work do you think this promo garnered from last year?

A good mix of both. We sent the promos to ad agencies and magazines alike, and got great response from both parts of the business.

Is this the second year you worked with Perfect Holiday? Why them?

Yes – Bryan (the owner) is very creative and collaborative and he has a great design style. I think that his style and our style are a good fit.

What was some of the feedback you’ve gotten?

It has been so nice for me to get such great feedback. Everyone is so thankful and excited to receive the promo – and it has been referred to multiple times in thank you notes as a “gift”.

Did the photographers have a voice in the the final edit?

Yes – we all work together so that they are happy with the edit in the end. Sometimes there is some back and forth, and in the end – both sides are happy with what is picked.

I like the fact that is titled “ready to hang”, it has a more casual feel to it. More longevity then a post card but less precious then a fine art print.

Where do you hope these promos end up? Do you think they are shared with respective staff?

Yes they are being shared based on feedback that I have received. And they are apparently ending up on many, many walls – both in offices and homes. From what people have said, there are framed DSREPS promo images everywhere. Which is nice. ; )

Is the cost of putting something like this together off-set by new work you receive?

Believe it or not, the promo was actually cost effective. The promo costs are split among the 12 photographers, and it is costing less than a spread in a sourcebook per photographer – including design, printing, box construction and mailing of 2,000 pieces. Having only made 2,000 total pieces did force us to do a much more targeted mailing, but I feel that the specialness of the promo makes it worth that sacrifice.

Have you ever had a promo cost more then the results yielded?

Nope.

Was it hard to edit the individual prints and then string them together as a series?

No – this is the part that I love the most about my job. It IS in the end a commercial business – but I love to be able to have this opportunity to curate something of theirs that is more about their art work. I feel like Creatives really love to see artistic images. And then we sell the photographers’ ability commercially by showing “work” on their sites in order to sell them through to the client.

What lead you to this type of promo? Did you feel you weren’t having success with your book series you did years prior?

Not at all. The book series was very successful, but I got to a point last year where I felt that I wanted to make a leap into something a bit more bold. And I have been wanting to curate something for a long time – so this became my outlet for that. I hope someday to have the time to open a gallery.

What other types of promos do you do? And how often?

I do one big DSREPS promo per year, and I encourage my photographers to do at least one of their own each year. And we do still send out e-promos, but I am very aware of the sensitivity around these since so many Creatives feel bombarded by e-mailings. Although I will say that from my experience, if an e-promo is great, it is VERY well received. An example of this is the e-promo that we did for Jason Nocito after he shot the MTV Skins campaign. This campaign was all over the place, and it was so cool. When we sent out the e-mailer, so many people were excited to receive it and had been wondering who shot it. The percentage of people who opened that e-promo was off the charts compared to others. The other e-promo that had that same level of success was Chris McPherson’s Microsoft Windows 7 campaign. Again, the billboards had been everywhere, and people loved them and were excited to know who had shot them.

Aside from yours, what has been the most memorable promo you seen distributed?

Commune did a really cool newsprint poster promo that I absolutely loved.

Google Announces New Image Search

- - The Future

Google is adding the ability to do searches with just an image (official announcement here) which looks to compete directly with TinEye.com a site I use whenever I want to see who shot something or where it has been used (*what’s up with all these Russian blogs with copies of your images on them, makes zero sense). I see this being a very useful tool for photo editors who want to fact check something in an image or find out who shot something they like. Also, it seems like it would deter any legitimate businesses stealing images off the web. A simple image search will reveal the source (*sometimes I’ll see a suspicious image on a site and do a google image search for the keywords on the story and discover they pulled it off page 1. Really!?).

We’ll have to see how it plays out, but on the surface it seems like a good development for professional photography. With so much imagery flying around there’s a need for things that are original and unique.

Note: Looks like they will turn this feature on at 6 PM, PST today.

Contributor Photos Of Writers

- - Working

Question from a reader:

Is there an “industry standard” for compensating photographers when their photographs of contributor writers (journalists) are printed in a magazine?

Background:

The writer is a friend, whom I cheerfully and with pleasure photographed a few years ago, seeking to provide him with publicity photographs, etc. At the time, I worked pro bono for him–my choice–with the understanding that, as far as he knew, I should be compensated each time my photograph gets used in a publication. Sure enough, a few months later, I received an e-mail out of the blue from a large and very well regarded publishing house with a request for payment delivery details, etc. for a single use in a monthly magazine. Very nice.

Soon after, though, a different large publishing house sent a request for the writer’s photo. I submitted the file digitally, and then when I had heard nothing more (received no compensation) a few weeks later, I sent a polite inquiry, which was rebuffed with the explanation that the magazine understood I had submitted the photograph as a courtesy. A subsequent, more forceful request was similarly denied, and I let the matter drop.

I was e-mailed yesterday by another magazine in that same (latter) publishing house, this time with a form attached for me to return “at [my] convenience, within a week”. The form granted the publisher my permission to use my photograph of one of their contributors (my writer-friend) without cost to the publisher. I have not responded.

Apart from the detail that the writer is a friend with whom I’m keen to maintain good relations, and whom I happy to promote in any way I can, I’m sure the general situation is fairly common, although I have searched in vain for anything online that addresses general standards with an industry-wide viewpoint. I guess that magazines have independent policies on whether and how much they compensate photographers in all situations, but I would also guess that any self-respecting publisher should at least put a coin in the tip jar.

 

It’s actually quite simple. Some publications will pay for contributor photos some will not. Why the difference? Some publications place zero value on that image. You will see them publishing crappy snapshots of a writer taken on a fishing trip where everyone else had to be cut out of the image. I would argue that every image in the magazine deserves careful consideration if you are serious about the photography and design of your magazine but, convincing them that professionally created contributor images, a laVanity Fair, add value, can be impossible.

So, how do you deal with giving your buddy publicity images? All but the very densest individuals will understand that when the writer says “contact this photographer for an image,” they will be paying for the use. When they contact you be proactive about the price and ask what their rate is for contributor photos. Be prepared to counter with your minimum, because there’s a good chance it will be below that. Finally, set it up with your buddy what he can use the image for and when he should send them calling for the high res. Lastly, understand that some people will place no value on this image, walk away from it, they’ll be calling him for fishing trip photos no matter what the price.

Emerging Photographer Fund 2011 Winner – Irina Werning

- - Blog News

I love old photos. I know I’m a nosy photographer. As soon as I step into someone else’s house, I start sniffing for those old photos. Most of us are fascinated by their retro look but to me it’s imagining how people would feel and look like if they were to reenact them today… A year ago, I decided to actually do this. So, with my camera, I started inviting people to go back to their future.

via burn magazine.

Take the 2010 Photographer Social Media Survey

- - Blog News

The goal of this survey is to evaluate and share developing trends of how photographers used social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook and others in 2010 as compared to 2009.  The 2009 Survey was an incredible success thanks to your participation and word of mouth to your peers.

Go (here) to take the survey.

The Daily Chessum

When I give my Social Media Marketing talk most of the examples I give of photographers having success using it to market themselves involve lots of writing and monkeying around with a blog which can feel ridiculous to present to a group of people who take pictures for a living. That’s why I always end my examples with Jake Chessum’s blog thedailychessum.com where I’ve come to love the simplicity of a daily image from one of my favorite photographers as a brilliant marketing tool.

In my mind it easily represents how social media will allow those in the hiring seat the opportunity to follow photographers they’re interested in, rather than get blasted with emails and promo cards. Additionally, people can easily share his content and if he added a couple simple features it could be on twitter and facebook in an instant.

This is where social media is taking us, to a world where everything comes into our purview after someone endorses it. You don’t have to look further than the survey I did with Art Buyers and Photo Editors to understand that this is how hiring decisions have always been made: someone recommends you, a magazine I like hires you, an agent I trust has you on their roster, you win an award I keep track of. Now there’s just a more efficient way for recommendations to happen.

It’s been a year since he started so I decided to give him a call and ask a few questions.

Rob: Tell me, why did you choose this format to put your work out there?

Jake: Well, first of all I didn’t want to write one of these confessional type of blogs. I think it’s too easy to get yourself in trouble with clients that way. I wanted to be able to put new work up without having to go into the website and reorganize the portfolios. I wanted something immediate, to capture that moment when you’re really excited about something you’ve just done.

What about the time commitment, a photo each day must get difficult for someone as busy as you are?

If I’ve got a job coming up and won’t be around I can post ahead and I always keep a folder with 20 or 30 in the bank. There is pressure to create something and so when I’m in between shooting jobs I’ve got to have the camera with me for when I see something. It’s actually quite good in that it keeps you motivated to shoot.

What about the fact that this is one more thing photographers have to do now?

I remember very clearly as a kid how everyone said that in the future technology was going to do all the work for us. How we were going to be down to a 3 day work week and have loads of leisure time. Turned out to be complete bullshit, the opposite is true. This stuff adds to the workload, but I do feel it’s a positive and necessary thing.

Do you see this replacing any of the traditional marketing you do?

I think the whole industry’s in a transitional period so we don’t know what’s going to happen. Look at vinyl, everyone said in 5 or 10 years nobody will buy a vinyl record but now when an album comes out you’ve got to have a vinyl edition for the collectors. I do know you’re taking a risk if you’re not participating in these emerging outlets.

How well do you think it works as a marketing tool? There’s not really a way to tell if you’ve landed jobs because of it is there?

No not really unless somebody tells you. It does put the pressure on to be on your game. You’ve got to pick 30 pictures a month that you stand by. I couldn’t do it without my wife. She’s a great editor and critic. When I’m traveling around the world on jobs I can post and let people know where I am and they can follow and know what I’m up to. When a shoot is published in a magazine I can post the outtakes, some of which are often favorites, but didn’t make the cut for space or other reasons. Media is changing day on day and the consumption of images is so rapid. The real payoff as I said before, is the immediacy of it. When you’ve done something you’re proud of and you’ve got that great feeling about it, you can publish it, for everyone to see.

The Future Of Photography Is In The Photographer Not The Photograph

- - The Future

Stephen Mayes, Managing Director of VII Photo and former Jury Secretary for the World Press Photo Awards (2004-2009) is a leading thinker on the future of photography and of photojournalism in particular. He was speaking at the Flash Forward Festival in Boston last week and Miki Johnson live-blogged his talk (here). Reading her notes, Stephen talks about the traditional role of a photograph as recording something real that happend. Analog photography is about fixing something and creating an artifact but digital is the opposite of this. The photograph becomes more fluid and online it is never static, there are an infinite amount of changes that can be made to it. He goes on to say that while the photography business is in decline this is a moment for invention not dismay.

His solution involves rejecting the idea that the value of photography is in licensing/selling content by the “unit” (book, album, photograph) and instead focussing on the integrity of the photographer or institution. His evidence is that with VII Photo, more than half the money generated has come from integrity, not the sale of images. Companies come to them, not to buy images but to partner and find solutions. This all fits in very nicely with the Blog, Facebook and Twitter information feed that people are plugged into. Distribution of information depends on who it comes from not what it is.

He goes on to outline the different ways photographers have advantages in this new ecosystem: being small and fluid is better than big with large overhead, there’s a huge population of kids who don’t care about newspapers but still care about the issues, you don’t have to rely on print to be recognized, bringing the subject into the relationship structure is very exciting and tailoring the story for the specific distribution platform. He concludes that there is no single solution but instead the answers are limitless.

Good stuff.

Mr. Brainwash Loses Legal Battle With Photographer Glen E. Friedman

- - Blog News

“To permit one artist the right to use without consequence the original creative and copyrighted work of another artist simply because that artist wished to create an alternative work would eviscerate any protection by the Copyright Act,” concludes Judge Pregerson. “Without such protection, artists would lack the ability to control the reproduction and public display of their work and, by extension, to justly benefit from their original creative work.”

via Hollywood Reporter.

Ask Anything – How Do You Estimate Video With Stills

- - Ask Anything

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.

QUESTION:

I had the Art Buyer from a major Worldwide Agency ask me about how we estimate video when it is a still photographer shooting the video. Is it a director’s fee or do we tag a usage fee? According to the agency, when they hire a Director for a broadcast commercial; he/she will get paid a director’s fee and the client will own the commercial outright. Now that photographer’s are shooting video, they want to be paid a usage fee for the video. This is creating confusion between agency and photographer’s contracts. Is online a different usage than broadcast? Is anyone else having this issue?

ANSWERS:

ART BUYER:
First, it’s important to recognize that there are great distinctions between the world of motion and the world of still imagery. It is important for still shooters to know all of the ins and outs of motion before venturing into that world, much less declaring competency.

Videos shot for broadcast vs. videos shot for non-broadcast purposes require adherence to different rules and regulations. Either way, hire the appropriate motion producer to help you navigate through this complexity.

Shooting for broadcast is often a regulated and regimented process when adhering to guidelines created by the AICP (Association of Independent Commercial Producers) and there is an added layer of complexity in union vs. non-union shooting. Use of union talent or union crew adds an exponential degree of complexity to the situation, so again, contract a producer or production company that is well versed.

Like photography fees, director rates can fluctuate. However, since still photography isn’t unionized or standardized, day rates and subsequent production costs and usage fees are all over the board. This, of course, is both a blessing and a curse. In motion, it is standard practice for the person who contracts the work to own all rights to the video or film footage without additional charge.

Directors make their money on day rates and their production companies make their money via a mark-up. This rate is negotiable, but it often starts at 20% of the overall production, not just the fee. Before you think to yourself what a lovely situation that is, better ask a few production companies how it’s going for them during the economic downturn. Many will tell you that the mark-up percentage has been shrinking to virtually nothing.

Note that just because a video is online does not mean it is not regulated. There are new regulations that been put into place by SAG (Screen Actor’s Guild) and AFTRA (American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) that require payment to online talent to match broadcast rates.

There are many more complexities that I haven’t gone into detail about, but suffice it to say that it’s important to do your homework before venturing into motion. And hire the right producer/production company.

Okay, let’s say that you’re ready to enter into that world. Let’s also presume you are shooting non-union video for an online video shown on the client’s primary website. Talent payments are not factored in.

Here are the possibilities:
Stills with motion as an add-on.
Motion with stills as an add-on.
Just motion.

IN MY EXPERIENCE (this is not to say that others don’t do things differently, but at my agency we often integrate productions and always default to the standards and regulations that we have pledged to uphold) we have paid separate fees for the stills and motion portions of a shoot.

In the case of shooting stills first, it is typical to be paid a separate fee to capture video. There would not be an additional fee for usage of the video, but you may be asked to bundle fees for efficiency. Basically, a package rate. We have paid capture and usage fees on the stills portion as normal, although I must say that usage rates have gone down due to tighter budgets.

If a director is contracted to shoot motion first, we’ve paid additionally for stills capture and usage commensurate with normal photography rates. Again, often the price is bundled as a package rate.

Still photographers shooting just motion would typically follow the same price structure as video or broadcast directors, although with many photographers trying to enter that market, they are often offering reduced rates to build their reels with work that gives them credibility and production experience. Will this drive down prices for the future? I really can’t say for certain but all I know is that rates have declined across the board anyway – including what the agency can charge clients. On the plus side, photographers tend to be adept at shooting with fewer crew while maintaining high production value, which helps the bottom line and may provide more opportunities for photographers-turned-director.

AGENT:
Our normal approach is that our still photographer will shoot the stills and simultaneously direct the video.  Therefore, we charge our normal print/still creative fees PLUS a director’s fee which is anywhere from $5,000 – $15,000/day.  The art buyer from the question is correct – broadcast directors charge a day rate and that gives the agency/client complete usage for any reason and for any time. It is the same for video.  And yes, more and more clients are demanding/asking for still shooters who can direct — and of course they will want to see samples of previous work.

PHOTOGRAPHER THAT SHOOTS MOTION:
We separate the still image licenses fee and the director/DP fee. The still images are based on usage, and the motion is owned outright by the client. It’s, at best an awkward arrangement, but to our knowledge, this hybrid process does not currently have another viable approach. I think the bigger discussion could include what’s the value to an agency art buyer in the still shooter/DP/Director. Certainly not a animal that fits all needs, but there is demand, so what’s it worth when it works?

To Summarize:
Here is great advice from a buyer, agent and photographer and you should use this information to help gauge how you would do your estimates when charging in this new area for still photographers. The buyers and your peers are paving the way for you.

Call To Action:
This area is an ever-changing area as we see the still arena branching in to many different directions from pure motion to stop action motion.  It is an area that we need to continue to educate ourselves with and keep our ears to the ground. Be open to ask questions of your peers. Ask for help. If a client asks you if you do motion, how will you respond? Are you ready? Think about this now and prepare.

If you want more insight from Amanda and Suzanne you can contact them directly (hereand here) or tune in once a week or so for more of “Ask Anything.”

Social Media Marketing Talk – Portland & Seattle

- - Events

I’m hitting the west coast in a couple weeks to give my Social Media Marketing Talk.

I’ll be in Portland for ASMP Oregon on Thursday, June 23rd from 7 – 9pm at Sandbox Studios. More info (here).

Then in Seattle for ASMP Seattle/Northwest on June 29th from 7 – 9 pm at Demaray Hall, Seattle Pacific University. More info (here).

It’s always great to meet blog readers at these events. I shook a lot of hands in Denver and everyone thought the talk was the best they’ve seen on the subject. Hope to see you there.

Nick Onken Interview

- - Photographers

Rob: I need to get into the history of Nick Onken, tell me how it all started. Where are you from? How old are you and when did you get into photography?

Nick: I’m 32 and from Seattle. I started getting interested in photography about six and a half years ago.

That’s it?

Yeah, I studied graphic design then worked as a designer for five years, then I got greedy.

Where did you go to school?

I went to a community college up in Seattle and there was a required intro to photography class as part of the design program.

Oh, dammit! They’re teaching that to graphic designers?

Yeah, but more just as a component. After graduation I designed book covers for a couple years, then went freelance. Then three years later, when digital started hitting the world, I picked up a digital camera. I had a bunch of small clients that I would shoot random, blurry, you know, textures and abstract stuff that I used in my design work for websites and brochures.

You didn’t feel like buying iStock pictures for a dollar? You just wanted to go shoot them yourself?

I knew what I needed. It was kind of more about me being able to get what I want. At that point I don’t think iStockPhoto was really that much into existence. Then I started shooting more and put some photos up on my website and somehow convinced a design client of mine to split the travel expenses to go to Africa and build them a photo library.

[laughs] What?

[laughs] Yeah, I had no idea what I was doing.

What were you shooting for them?

It was just people and places. no talent, product, or anything like that. The organization was a mission and the project was to capture the people and the places. So I had my Sony F707 – [laughs].

I suppose that’s a really bad camera, I have no idea?

It was like a glorified point-and-shoot. You control it manually, but you’d shoot through the screen on the back.

Yeah, and so how did it turn out?

It turned out great for the time. The client was super happy, I got back and I thought, “Wow, I didn’t know I could ever do that.”

Was a lot of that because you’re a designer and you know what’s going to make the design great or was it that you were actually a talented photographer?

The design part helped me see through the lens, imagining the final product and composing. I’ve always had more of a vision with my photography and had to catch up technically. There may have been some talent mixed in there somewhere.

Do you look back at that brochure and cringe?

Oh, yeah. I think I have maybe one picture or two from that whole trip that would still see the light of day today.

What happened after that?

It was another eight months before I really started looking into photography more. I was a graphic designer, it was not something I thought I could abandon. I hooked up with another photographer, Jim Garner, because I was doing website updates for him. He shot a lot of local Seattle projects, and weddings on the weekends. I started asking him questions and eventually he invited me out on set. He’s gotten pretty big in the wedding world now, but all the stuff I did with him was just the local commercial jobs such as products on the table, and then a few environmental portraits, and a little bit of architecture, etc.

He did everything because if you’re going to be a photographer in Seattle, you better shoot everything, right? So Jim took you under his wing and showed you some stuff, what happened next?

I was still on the fence about doing this photography thing, because I loved design. I was back and forth between the two for months. One day he leveled with me and said, look, you need to be a photographer and that’s it.

How did he come with that conclusion, did he think you had the skills?

I’d been hanging out with him and he’d seen some of the stuff that I was shooting personally and he believed in me and said you need to do this. That was a huge for me.

Was that six years ago?

Yeah that was 2004. I still assisted and helped him out on shoots and I was taking on a lot of design work to pay the bills during the transition, shooting a little bit of my own stuff here and there. Eventually I got a call from Nike to shoot all these athletes.

How did you get that job? Did you market your work to them?

No, I had a friend who was an art director at RGA, they were in a pinch and they needed somebody, so they called me a week before the shoot. It was the week before Christmas and I had three days to arrange everything. When I finished I thought, there it is I’m totally in, the ball’s rolling.

Yeah, man.

Little did I realize, I didn’t see another job like that for two years.

You thought “I made it, Nike, I’ve hit the big time,” then crickets for two years. What did you do during that time?

I took the money and moved to Paris for six months.

What? Are you serious?

I wanted to live in another country. I used that time to just take it in and learn, breathe, and explore. I shot a few personal projects here and there, shot some models from the agencies there. I traveled to different countries on the weekends and just kind of hung out. I think for me I wanted to do that as an artist, it’s kind of what we take in that comes out in our life and in our art. Living in another country was something I wanted to do.

Did you start freaking out thinking, OK, I need to get some jobs?

Yeah a bit. When a year blows by and nothing of the Nike status comes through, when you think the ball should be rolling, you start to worry. Around the beginning of 2006, I hooked up with Amanda Sosa Stone and she helped me get my bearings straight about marketing and gave me the low down of like how this works, how the advertising world works. She pushed me to go out on meetings and create a marketing plan and I started to do that with the very limited budget that I had.

Talk to me about your style of photography, from day one have you always shot lifestyle?

Yeah, it kind of evolved to be quite honest. I started doing model testing at an agency and it was more catalogy at the very beginning and then just evolved and evolved. Eventually I was doing more lifestyle conceptual stuff. I was still paying the bills with graphic design projects and assisting here and there for Jim. Then in March 2006 I moved down to LA.

You decided you needed to be in LA to make it.

I decided that to play at the top level where I wanted to be, I needed to be in either LA or New York. LA fit my style a lot more and I had a lot of friends down there. It’s not as much of a sink or swim city as New York. So I packed up my little Honda Civic full of all my computers and cameras and moved down to L.A. I basically started from scratch. I started hitting up some modeling agencies and trying to get a little bit of paid patchwork here and there. I was still picking up a lot of design projects. Looking back now, LA was a great stepping stone to my eventual NY relocation.

So when did it finally click? When were you able to go full-time photography?

It was probably three and a half years ago.

So two years after you moved to L.A., you finally got enough clients. Was this just hitting the streets, marketing, producing personal work and building your brand?

Yeah. I’ve always shot my own work, shot my own tests, and stuff like that.

Yeah, but it wasn’t just a lucky break, like Bruce Weber said “Hey, kid, here, take one of my $100,000 shoots, I don’t need it.”

No, it’s all been a lot of hard work. In 2006 I did a two-month trip to Asia for that nonprofit and that’s when I think I really hit my stride with travel work. I got a lot of really great work out of that. And then I think May of 2007 I picked up another Nike job, still in-house and a smaller Nike job, then the rest of that year was a bunch of other small stuff. It’s always been a hustle, and it never stops.

When did you land with Greenhouse reps?

Q3 of 2008.

How did you end up with them?

I had a portfolio meeting over at an advertising agency and I was talking to one of the art buyers. She was really friendly so I asked her who are the good reps out there? She gave me her card and said “Shoot me an email and I’ll tell you all you need to know.” So I emailed her, and invited her to lunch. When we went to lunch, she started telling me what reps were great then said, “Hey, wait, I’ll tell you what. I’ll just email some for you, how about that?”

She emailed them and said “Hey, I know this guy who’s really good”?

Yeah. She actually ended up emailing four other reps, who all ended up being interested, so I went and interviewed them with a set of questions.

Wow. Your work must have been strong then, that those reps were interested and obviously having an art buyer vouching for you is pretty huge, but still the work needs to stand on its own.

Yeah, the work was there enough for a high level Art Buyer to recommend me.

But also clients too. I mean agents aren’t going to take somebody on who doesn’t already have some clients and isn’t generating some work. It doesn’t make financial sense.

Yeah, I had that and I had my brand. I’ve always been big on branding.

So they saw you had your shit together. That’s probably a big part of their job, getting the brand and getting it all cohesive. You had that all done. So after you landed with Greenhouse, obviously a big repping firm, you turned full-time to photography. Take me through the last three years. Obviously we got hit with a massive recession somewhere in there. You were starting your photography career full-time right in the middle of the economy hitting rock bottom, right?

Yeah, and it’s been a great few years. I started at Greenhouse in October of 2008 and I got my first real ad campaign in December 2008 so it took a few months. I had been doing meetings for a couple years prior showing my books at ad agencies. Making the rounds and doing meetings and luckily they remembered me and saw where my work was at that time.

And so you broke into that Leo Burnett level of ad world and you’re in the club aren’t you?

Yeah, I mean the ball’s rolling for sure and a big asset is having a rep like Greenhouse that puts you in that top tier of talent. But, even up until I got that big job, I bid on at least 12 big ad jobs until I finally got that first one. I got so used to not winning the bid that when I did get one I thought, “Oh my God. They actually gave me a job.” In the end, as cheesy as it sounds, you gotta be in it to win it. If you’re bidding then at least you’re being considered.

So I want to talk a little about lifestyle photography just because I feel like, it’s a unique beast. There is a ton of cheesy lifestyle, but pulling off real genuine moments seems to be one of the toughest types of photography. And from my experience it takes a shitload of money to pull off.

Yeah, it’s crazy. I mean you have the casting involved. You have location scouting. I shoot mostly location work. Location is a huge part it. The productions are thousands and thousands of dollars, at least mid five figures. Depending on how many days and how much talent you have on set, all the wardrobe, and you have wardrobe per talent and hair and makeup. Yeah, it does get very, very expensive.

It’s just a ton of people working on it. I know, there’s probably advertising shoots where there’s just a ton of people hanging out, because they’re expensive shoots or something. I feel like in a lifestyle shoot there’s a ton of people working on the physical product, more so than anything else. What makes great lifestyle photography in your opinion?

In my opinion it’s that realism that you can create, real moments and authenticity. It comes from your taste in wardrobe, people, props, clothes, locations. Everything is about your taste, and how you see. Then that all goes into that picture and into that set. You’re creating an action, and a theme, and a story. And then you’re shooting it. And then you’re snapping that camera at the right moment, or a series of moments and then you’re coming back and editing, I think editing is a big part of it as well. I would say the key to my style of photography is me feeling that moment.

And we all know how photojournalists do that, but how do you manufacture that? That’s the thing, right?

Yeah, and that was actually a learning process for me. The transition from my personal work where I get talent running around doing random things at whatever time of the day to advertising photography, to where I’m given this specific creative direction, its very difficult to create a reality within that, because you’re so specifically directed. Luckily I’ve always pulled it off. It’s creating and putting the elements together and then getting the talent to do the action and create that story within those certain parameters, and then just snapping the right moment. And doing it over and over and over and over again until you get the right one. Now I’ve gotten it down pretty well.

How do you get them to act genuine. I mean, is it just casting?

Yeah, and I think casting is a huge part of that. For me, I like to cast people with great personalities that you can kind of see on video castings. Casting the right people with great personalities makes it easier to direct because the talent can move and have a good time on their own.

So, you have to be an expert at casting?

At least have a good eye and feel people’s vibes, what kind of energy they have. It can be hit and miss, but you get better the more you shoot.

Just based on meeting a lot of good lifestyle photographers, a lot of it comes down to the photographer’s personality. Somebody you’re comfortable around, who’s interesting to talk to, a good conversationalist.

Yeah, you have to be good with people. You have to make them feel comfortable.

I want to talk about your website (here) a little bit, because so many people dig your website. You designed this from scratch?

Yeah, I hired somebody called Knowawall to do it. It was a good six-month project.

Did you know exactly what you wanted, as far as functionality and different things you wanted it to do?

Yeah. I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted. I have a couple friends that used them to do their websites. Coming from a design background, I can see all the functionality, the animations, the loading. So, I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted going into it.

I had my brand somewhat developed, and I hired these guys, and was able to use my design background to art direct, a bit. I gave them a very solid brief. I was actually pretty impressed with what they came back with in the first round. I knew I would be, because, it’s like hiring a photographer. You look at their portfolio and you will have a pretty good idea of what you’re going to get.

Right. You saw they had solid work in there, super-refined.

Exactly, I’ve gone through so many websites and, coming from a design background, an impatient design background, I had a pretty good idea of the elements that I wanted to fuse into the website that would make it easier for my clients, and my potential clients, to digest the site easily and not have to worry about wait times too much.

And so it wasn’t cheap, right? I mean, you did pay top dollar, but it’s like hiring a good photographer.

Yeah, I mean it cost me more than my car. That didn’t even include the blog which was another little bit on top of that.

Add in a car stereo and some rims.

I launched in February 2010 and my whole idea going into this was that books are being called in less and less and people referring straight to the website. I had two or three jobs last year where people booked me without even calling in my book.

Major jobs?

Yeah. A laundry detergent campaign.

Oh, nice. So yeah, you have a lot of confidence in it. You can send it out to anybody, they’re going to be stoked on it, and stoked on the pictures.

Yeah, defiantly. It’s the whole experience, you can also keyword search on there. There’s at least 2,500 images in the database.

How is it you have 2500 images on your website in only six years of shooting? Do you shoot a lot of personal work?

I guess. I have this ABS theory, “Always Be Shooting.” And I laugh because I get emails from people who say “I’m abiding by your ABS theory.” I think, oh man, I was slightly joking about that, but I guess those are good words to follow for the journey.

Do you have a pair of brass balls you bring out and say coffee is for closers?

Exactly. So I guess I’m always shooting. I try to bust out as many personal projects as possible.

Do you think that’s part of your success?

I think so, I would say the more work you’re doing the better you’re getting, the more your eyes see every time you shoot. It’s all those thousands of decisions you’re making before you click the camera. All your taste, the location, the wardrobe, the styling, the hair and makeup, the model, the direction. Every time you make those decisions you learn for the next time. And so the more you shoot, the more you learn. Did you do a post on the 10,000 hour rule?

I think. So you’re bought into that? That you need to be shooting all the time, because you need to log the hours, the reps.

Yeah, log the hours to improve. On top of that, the reps always love it when they have new work to show, so they can keep putting in front of people.

Talk to me about the blog. How does blogging fit into your marketing and business plan. What’s the purpose of it? Why did you start a blog? You seem to have one of the more active blogs for someone who’s not doing workshops or selling books?

Well I do have a book, but…

Oh, ok but you’re not sponsored by Canon or Nikon and doing workshops?

No. Have you ever read the book, Never Eat Alone?

No.

It’s a great book on building relationships and networking and, you know, the biggest part of that is sharing knowledge with people, and giving something to people. I started it when I was back in my design days before blogs became popular, before anybody actually knew what they were (including me). I started this thing called “Shop Talk” and it was a static HTML page that I manually updated myself, then eventually when blogging became a norm, I rolled it into a TypePad blog engine.

Wow. Old school. It was based on that idea behind the book?

Yeah, kind of. There’s nothing there in the book that really talks about it, but it was based on the idea of sharing and giving back, and what goes around comes around. I believe that if you give people things, it’ll come back to you in some way. So that was the start of the blog. Just share things that I’d learned along the way. And as I keep learning, it can help other people. I don’t know if it’s really gotten me any direct work, per se, but I think it definitely sheds another light into who you are as a photographer, and a person, if a client views your work.

Do you think it’s part of the package that clients are using for hiring now?

Yeah, in a non-direct way.

You don’t have any direct evidence of landing jobs because of something related to the blog, or Twitter do you?

I did this email blast a few weeks ago and I got this kickback email from an art director, saying “I’m not really taking emails but you can Twitter me at this and I’ll be doing portfolio reviews via Twitter.”

No way, really?

Yeah, so I hit this guy up, “I got your email, here’s my website, check it out.” And he hit me back on Twitter with “Nice work, I have a campaign coming up, maybe we can collaborate on that” and so then we continued to have this dialogue via Twitter. But, that’s it. I have more photographers that follow me on Twitter than, art directors.

Sure. But you’re going to keep it up still?

I think part of the idea is creating buzz around your brand.

And could you ever see, relying on blogging and Twittering and Facebooking for marketing?

Its become a couple different channels, you know. You’ve got a photographer channel and you’ve got an art-buying, photo editor channel. It’s a whole different channel. I feel like the blog and the Twitter (@nickonken) and the Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/nickonkenphoto) stuff is more an audience of other photographers. So, for my book it’s been a good channel to distribute and promote that.

What’s the book?

It’s called “Photo Trekking,” and it’s through Random House. We launched it last year.

Oh yeah, you had that big party.

Yeah, we threw a big party for that and I used it as an excuse to have a special happy hour for art buyers and art directors in New York.

Oh, all right, so it’s a marketing piece for you?

Yeah, doing the book really was, it was having a PR piece but also, you know having a book under my belt with a major publisher is a pretty good deal. And just to be able to promote that to art buyers.

And are you selling a lot of books to photographers as well?

Yeah, I think we’ve sold a few thousand.

So things are looking up for you, you’re shooting campaigns for major clients now.

Last year I did a lot of major clients from car manufacturers to alcoholic beverages to sneaker companies to beverage companies.

Was that your best year ever?

Yeah, it was.

I think my readers will like hearing that. You built your business in the middle of a recession and when the economy hit rock bottom you were off like a rocket. Good for you. Well deserved.

Thanks. I appreciate it.

Winner Winner Chicken Dinner

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How about that. Life.com is giving out awards today for best photo blogs of 2011 and we nabbed one. In the write-up they mention “the blog’s loyal, smart, and vocal community is scarily well-informed and immensely helpful.” I completely agree that the comments are what makes this blog unique, so a big Thank You to all the commenters.