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
Can you write an article about the true reality of the photo industry across the board in LA, NYC, Dallas, and Chicago, or wherever? It seems most ad agencies don’t view books in person, only online. Art Buyers are looking for work, photography jobs are being over run by secretaries, moms, dads, facebook friends, interns, and college kids out of school who just decide one day to pick up a camera. Software, cameras, HD video, Canon, Nikon, and Pentax have made it so easy for consumers to just take up the profession and to steal that minimum day rate away from a professional.
I grew up with my dad being a professional commercial photographer from the 60’s and grad from Art Center College of Design on 3rd st, which I also graduated from in 2002 in Pasadena. Back then, it was a true profession, going to the lab, pushing and pulling chrome, sweating overnight to make sure it turns out, and hand delivering it to the client and then going to eat lunch and to meet more creatives. Everything is so computerized with FTP, Facebook, Twitter, and web galleries. There is nothing personal these days. I’ve talked with a handful of reps, photographers, and art buyers, and they are all scrambling to find the next gig. What is the true reality with our photo industry? Is it dying and being taken over by overnight photographers? I remember the days (2008) when I would shoot for Coca-Cola with a large production, multiple talent, digital techs, producers, assistants, all working as a team and feeling great about an end product.
Would be great if you could interview some photographers, art buyers,reps, producers…..To just get an inside feel of the true interpretation of the future of 2011. Just a thought…. I love reading your articles. I know your audience would like to know a true grit forecast for the year.
Overall I’m seeing a need for images that look more organic and effortless -shot well, but less produced. I constantly find myself in the microsite/flickr battle and do my best to romance clients with the idea of taking the things from those avenues that are great but applying them to custom photography that looks good (for them and their specific project) and is shot well, while also taking all the things that my clients will want addressed into consideration. I’ll caveat this by saying that I think there is some wonderful work on flickr, if you’ve got time to sift through it. I also think that in this day and age of immediate media gratification, clients see images here and think yes, that could work. Let’s just use that. Showing the client that they can have that wonderfully, effortless looking photo shot specifically for them, is where I’ve been coming in lately.
Clearly everyone is looking to save money where they can, which can sometimes mean shooting more per day. For me this can be done, depending on the shot list, but also means mostly likely a more mobile and smaller crew. Being realistic in these situations, of what can be done with the allowed time and budget is key. I think things can be accomplished under most budgets, but managing expectations properly makes this work.
I’m not really sure what all this really means for the photography industry as a whole. I know that photography as content will always be needed, regardless of the the constantly changing medium to which it is applied. I’m doing my best as an art buyer to make sure that my creatives (and clients) get an amazing end product with photography that was shot with their project in mind. But each project has it’s own bends and folds and I think being flexible while not giving away work for free, and being upfront and honest about what is realistic is the best way to help everyone in today’s market.
I am just starting my twenty-fifth year as an agent. Twenty five years in business for myself. A wonderful journey with a few bumps along the way. A few recent tempestuous years with end of the world talk and how only Bruce Willis can save us from calamity is finally coming to an end. I’m actually feeling more optimistic right now. Yes there have been major changes and the axis of the planet has tilted in a different direction, but new possibilities are also opening up to those who have the courage and stamina to continue.
Everyone has already written countless articles about how assignments have been chipped away. The recession, stock imagery, reductions in magazine advertising, digital photography where every person has a camera in their pants and sees themselves and the great hype hope. And of course there is the reduction of licensing images for a limited time and the expansion of image libraries for use in perpetuity. Some assignments have looked like those all-you-can-eat Vegas buffets for $2.99. And then there are the shooters who just give it all away in exchange for the fame to see their name in print or images published. We can freeze up, get pissed about all this or we can jump in and look towards the wonderful new possibilities.
Socializing is back big time. The obvious is connecting through networks like Facebook and writing personal blogs to be out there. Our markets and potential connections have actually expanded, but it is still necessary to keep those personal connections intact. Pressing the flesh. No matter how upset or discouraged you may get about the present and future of our industry, it is so important to be respected and trusted. This is how I have always tried to run my business. Treat everyone with honesty and respect and they will come back again and again. Take interest! Be personal!
I am so proud of the artists I represent and I know that it is difficult for them when assignments don’t come through, but we will continue to persevere and move forward. They will continue to shoot work for themselves and I will do my best to showcase their talent and keep my personal connections alive. I will continue to get them their auditions whenever possible.
I think Arthur Miller said it wonderfully through his character Willie Loman in Death of A Salesman, “The man who makes an appearance in the business world, the man who creates a personal interest, is the man who gets ahead. Be liked and you will never want.”
The photography business has significantly changed in the last two years.
And I don’t think it is because anyone can get their hand on a camera. I think it is that industry is in a young flux, one that looks to technology for fast information. I see it every day, those with huge twitter followings have a great career. They understand how to brand and market themselves in the social networking sphere. But, I think the biggest change has yet to happen, motion. It’s imminent, ads will not be still shots but a mini commercials. As paper is used less and we all walk around with smart phones, iPads and the such, still will be an art.
However, no matter how much people complain, I have a lot of busy clients, they are just really good photographers. Yes, hustling a little more due to the economy, but still working and doing great work.
Only being full time in the business since 2007, I only know the current market. I feel like I have gone about things a little differently. I have found that rather than working through an agency, I have been working directly with a client and bypassing the particular agency. Sometimes this happened after I started working through an agency then the client started hiring me directly. The result has been some wonderful long term working relationships.
The most recent large project still in the making, came through a creative consulting company that introduced me to the client and now the client is presenting me to their marketing team. This may be a little backwards but I feel a lot more confident in this approach than relying on an agency to keep me in the good graces of a client.
The industry has obviously changed and evolved drastically over the past couple of years–otherwise there wouldn’t be some much press on diminished budgets, over saturated markets, etc.. I’ve personally chosen to embrace these changes and focus on what is rather than what once was. To be honest I only see opportunity. The reality is that there is work and art buyers/creatives are gladly meeting with photographers–I’m living proof. Over the past 6 months I have traveled all over the US sharing my new portfolio with over 25 agencies/companies. The key to getting appointments is simple–do your homework and be consistent in your marketing. Don’t expect someone to give you a meeting because you want one and if they turn you down don’t take it personally. Be relevant and give creatives an opportunity to preview your work first. For my meetings I first researched who was doing the type of work I’m interested in and then based portfolio reviews in regions in the US that had many of these relevant clients. That increased my odds of filling my schedule making each trip more worthwhile. Personally these meetings have been a huge success. My business has grown tremendously over the past year and 2011 is off to a great start. I think the future looks extremely bright for those willing to embrace change. And for what it is worth the world is only as impersonal as you allow it to be.
I agree the industry is in for a major change, all for the better. 2009 and 2010 were the 2 biggest years of my 30 year career. Despite the economy, if you are able to provide your clients with consistently good images, have good production skills, and keep your work relevant you will be successful. The economy is definitely getting a lot stronger, and many of my clients have already started telling me they expect to shoot a lot more this year.
Yes, the basic bread and butter jobs are being done in house, but expansion of technology is providing more venues for imagery, and creating a bigger demand. Besides the economic expansion new technology, specifically motion, will increase demand in the near future. It is critical that we, as creatives, continue to expand our vision and reinvent ourselves on a regular basis to remain relevant. Doing so will provide both personal and professional rewards.
“new possibilities are also opening up to those who have the courage and stamina to continue”
“ …focus on what is rather than what once was”
Call To Action:
Decide how you want to be moving forward in 2011. Our vote would be to move towards optimism – it’s the most becoming look on you (and looks great with your camera too). And on top of that – get out there, get away from behind the computer and shoot and socialize!
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.”