Crushing it in the Local Market

- - Photography Business

One of my readers who works at PDN thought the recent discussion about doing time in NYC or LA, for 2 or 3 years, then moving where you want and mopping up would make a good magazine story. I agree. Based on the comments I’d say it’s the hottest topic we’ve covered so far.

So, let’s do PDN and ourselves a favor, so we can see a real reported and fact checked story on this. If you’re one of these photographers or happen to know one you can rat out send an email to: dwalker100 (at) comcast (dotz) net.

There Are 27 Comments On This Article.

  1. I’m not sure it’s as easy as doing 2-3 years in a major market then cleaning up in a smaller one. For example: I invite anyone to Raleigh after 2-3 short years in NYC and try to clean up – it simply isn’t that easy when you have 1/2 dozen “A” or even “B” level shooters with long standing client relationships.

    I certainly wouldn’t expect to move to Austin and clean up, would you? Or Indianapolis, St. Louis or Kansas City for that matter. Or how about Jacksonville? There is talent everywhere, don’t fool yourselves.

  2. One thing that a big market shooters may not be ready for is that small and mid market people do it all to stay a float there just isn’t enough work to specialize as much, they shoot product, people, weddings, archi, food what ever they can get. While in large markets it’s all about specializing. Also they have to be ready to not have rental, so they’ll have to buy a bunch of gear and rent a space.

  3. It is an interesting idea but I think it would be more interesting to look at photographers that do not and have not lived in NYC or LA and are working in the national market.

  4. PE – Most certainly. Working in a major market first as an assistant for a major player or even as a PA for a great producer, then as a shooter gives you experience that may take others years to gain if they do at all.

    I agree – that is where your article gets it’s meat.

  5. Looking around the ranks here in Phoenix I am not convinced that the major market experience created any major shooters. I know the guys who are doing well and all started here (right out of Art Center or such) and a few came up through the ranks. There may be some that I am simply not aware of, but for the most part we have seen the opposite effect.

    We have had our share of Chicago or NY shooters come to town with high expectations of ‘cleaning up’. We have a had a food shooter (excellent work) and we have how many food clients here… oh yeah. None. And the fashion guys with all their “I’ve shot so and so” and “So and so is a good friend of mine”… they leave pretty soon after discovering that there is no fashion work here either.

    There are folks that worked in major markets that have come here and done well, but it was getting in the pool of shooters here and busting your ass that does it, not what you did somewhere else. Many clients here don’t think you are any good unless you live somewhere else anyway, so you could be a great MM shooter and then move to, I dunno, LA, then come over here and work. Yeah, lots of guys doing that.

    However, I think that for a fashion guy, spending a year or two in Milan or Paris and shooting your ass off could make a difference. And if you do decide to try the idea of paying dues in NY or LA before coming out to dazzle all us hicks, you should do a little, you know, homework to find out if anyone in the hinterlands would hire you once you get here.

  6. Don G. got it right. It’s what you do in your market that counts, no matter where you cut your teeth. Trust is still gained over time.

    In many ways I think it’s easier to succeed in NYC or other major markets. Moving to a small market to shoot work for the national clients who can hire anyone they want: is there anything tougher?

  7. PDN does state-by-state analysis issue every year.
    The market is just not there for most of the midwest and the south. If I had to pck between a local talent and someone who just came back from years of shooting in NY (I’m east coast), I would pick that person. First of all the photographers in most cities outside the big three Chi, LA, NY do not know what’s hip, cool, or edgy. Second, I think someone mentioned Alec Soth in a previous post. He has a NY studio now doesn’t he?

  8. Prospective “Cleaners,” get used to this scenario…

    Ms. Local Client: “I love your website. Your work is AMAZING. You’re awesome! What’s your day rate?”

    Ex-NYC shooter now in smaller market: “$5,000 a day”

    Ms. Local Client: “And how long will this 10,000 frame, unlimited usage photo library shoot take?”

    Ex-NYC shooter now in smaller market: “Well, I think at least three days.”

    Ms. Local Client: “Hmmmmm… Can we do it in a half-day?”

    Ex-NYC shooter now in smaller market: “Uh, no. Not really.”

    Ms. Local Client: “Hmmmm.. okay. Thanks. We’ll get back to you.”

  9. Bruce is right on the money. There are some clients that have been working with their friends / photographers so long that won’t even take calls or look at other books.

    I do have to agree that there is great talent in NY/LA, but in this case I’m talking about support: Producers, scouts, stylists, etc… You don’t need to live there to tap into those folks. I love shooting with a top notch crew wether it’s in NY/LA or if I import them in. My point is that you don’t have to be in the big city to tap into the skills there. I think it will make for a great article. I going to nominate a shooter I know.

    @APE- Something about the new blog template is clipping names, in case any one has wondered about changed identity, formerly known as “Yet Another Photographer”

  10. I would agree with Jason-

    I think the story would be more interesting if it was about someone who never worked in a big market but who is making it big on the national scene regardless.

  11. I know a few guys in Portland, a pretty small city, that are working nationally: Mark Hooper, Lars Topelmann, David Emmite. One of them I think worked in NYC for 2 or 3 years, but I forget which -may be wrong on that.

    I know some similar guys in Seattle and Vancouver BC doing the same. It’s not that uncommon. For commercial work at least. I don’t think any do consistent editorial for national publications. And they probably don’t want to, hence living where they live.

    All these guys do solid work, work that looks awesome in a B market but would probably be shit you and 4 other people in your building would be shooting if you lived in E. Williamsburg.

  12. Now I gotta agree with Bruce. When I shot in Chicago, I would travel back there for a month at a time. I could see 12-20 AD’s in one building for go-sees. I could practically guarantee some work for every 15 or so go-sees. For a while there in 88 – 90 I was working more in Chicago and New York than here.

    Recently I had to get some product shots done. Had to be kinda cool and they had to be shot with a lot of contrast. My client is in the East. I got a few quotes here from friends (it was not a big budget) and we ended up having them shot in a very nice studio in NY for 20% less than shooting here.

    I tend to think that if you can make it in a small market, business wise, a big market can be much easier. Caveat: Talent has to be there, regardless of the locale.

    There are a lot of crappy shooters in every ZIP in America. There may be some ZIPS that have an abundance of good ones too.

  13. yup yup….nyc experience made a big difference for me. pretty sure that’s what’s keeping me busy. that and the fact that 99% of shooters here have shit for websites.

    you want to do good in a local market and get national clients? put yourself on every online directory you can find and make a fast/functional website with good images. you will be getting work no prob. at least as far as editorial goes.

  14. I’ve never really understood the mind set of I live in ___(fill in the blanks)___ so I must shoot for the local client, even if that local client is “national”.

    For most of my career I’ve had two studios and two residences; San Francisco/Chicago, Los Angeles/Chicago, Los Angeles/New York and now New York/Dallas.

    My reasoning for buying a building in Dallas was not to clean up in the local market, (actually we’ve only showed our work twice in that market), but to own something that offered more for the money than I could get in LA and NY and offer more to my clients than I could in some of the more expensive cities.

    In fact for the last 2 1/2 years we’ve owned the Dallas studio we’ve only spent an accumulated time of about 7 to 8 months there, mostly in production.

    I pursue work in every market and having a Dallas studio is just another benefit as for some projects it’s perfect, some it’s not.

    In fact this year, I’ve bid 6 projects in multiple markets, due to location, talent, costs, production values and weather.

    Also I don’t subscribe to the thought that where you live has to dictate what you are or what you shoot. This year we’ve worked in Dallas, New York, Miami, Osaka, Tokyo, Portland, Los Angeles, San Francisco and in a few hours board a plane for Barcelona, then Lyon and Paris, to return to New York, then back to Los Angeles, then Dallas, then Brazil.

    Personally I think it’s too easy to get a mind set of being zip code defined. New York and LA offer some great production values and raise the bar on crew and support but there is no hard and fast rule that a beautiful photo can only be taken in those two cities and I think most people would be surprised how open minded a client can be to working where it’s right for the project rather than just where you happen to reside.

  15. Dallas…ewww.

    Kind of joking, but why in the world would you have two studios and residences if most of your work is traveling anyway???

    But seriously, being old and bitter, that flight shoot schedule you listd doesn’t impress me. It makes me want to go to bed. I’ll take the quiet Chelsea studio and a car service and in house rental ANY day of the week.

  16. “Dallas…ewww.

    Kind of joking, but why in the world would you have two studios and residences if most of your work is traveling anyway??? ”

    It is strange that this industry on some levels is zip code defined, but in reality and in our experience, the only clients that are reluctant to the thought of Dallas ( or other markets) are usually “budget challenged” or they are considering us for the wrong reasons.

    New York has obvious advantages, especially on the support and model (talent) level and that is the reason we have an investment there, but there is no hard and fast rule that if you cast in New York you can’t shoot anywhere.

    New York also has disadvantages, especially when working on location, so instead of trying to force a project where it is best for us, we produce the project where it is best for the client.

    Even though we have investments in NY and Dallas we don’t force a project where it is most convenient for us, hence our current schedule.

    We really are in a virtual business and flying from NY to Dallas, or NY to anywhere can be less consumng that driving from Manhattan to the Hamptons and come February, ask your client where they would like to spend two weeks.

    In fact as property prices continue to rise in NY and studios and services move to Queens and Brooklyn, from some client’s standpoint, once your out of Manhattan your out of New York anyway.

    Given all of this, I just don’t subscribe to the hard and fast rule that you must definatley stay or be defined by one area.

    Clients are less concerned by our personal comfort than they are the complete process and the final result.

    Then factor in that a modern 6,000 sq. ft. studio in Dallas cost 1/3 of our 1,600 sq. ft. in Manhattan and so far it has worked well for us.

    Once again and more importantly it has worked for our clients.

  17. I wish that were the case. I think it’s start in a small town…then move slowly around to ‘clean-up’. I live only 1.5 hours from LA and let me tell you…there are copious amounts of mediocre headshot photographers doing well in LA. It’s a struggle and very competetive. I dare anyone to move to NY and give it a shot…it’s cut throat and the networking is NON STOP.

  18. I got a story for PDN.
    Check out the Nov 21st Humvee TV 2 post on apad (http://www.aphotoaday.org/apadnews/). Explain to me how Chris can get away with stealing an Idea. It isn’t coincidence, cause chris used to work at the Fay Observer and just so happen to start his project after Andrew started posting his on the paper’s website.

  19. There is so much contradictory thoughts on this, as with many topics . It was just in the most recent ASMP bulletin that local markets got a trashing for being underpaying, boring jobs. Which is it? Well probably both. But a local market is probably a lot like a real estate makret, it depends on the location. Its true, outside of larger metropolitan areas there aren’t the budgets and some of the jobs are so boring.

  20. The photographers I know of that spent time in NY did have an advantage with our very lucrative (sarcasm) editorial market in the area. I don’t know whether or not it mattered to anyone else or not. Maybe they’re getting great jobs I don’t know about.

    The local clients I work with have been hiring me for years, and I’ve never worked out of anywhere else, though I have considered getting a VOIP line with NY area code, and a P.O. Box that forwards all mail to my current location. Then I could say I’m in NY and Detroit. More impressive than just Detroit.

  21. “Then I could say I’m in NY and Detroit. More impressive than just Detroit.”

    I’ve heard this from photographers for years and it’s not the zip, or area code that matters.

    It takes about 20 things to win the job and if only off by 1 you lose it. Honest confidence in your experience matters and it shows.

    You have to build equity wherever you want to work and New York takes longer to build equity than any place i’ve lived.

    It’s not that it’s cold or rude, it’s just busy and expensive and because of that nobody is going to put you at the head of the line until you’ve proven yourself.

    Once done and done right, you will make friends and associates that last a lifetime.

    Living and working in New York is an elective and there are thousands coming in every day with the same goals and mindset to be better, so if your area code is 212, you have to back it up.

    Regardless, if your willing to invest in your business and your art it’s just not that difficult to go to NY or LA, or any world market and learn the local suppliers, crews, talent agents, studios, locations, etc. so when the time comes and you do bid a job you can honestly estimate and produce with confidence and experience.

    Consequently I’ve also known dozens of photographers that go to NY to shoot and take the same hair, makeup, assistants, stylist and digital techs they worked with in their local market.

    Not to say local crew isn’t good, but why go to the effort to enter the world’s most prolific arena without getting the full benefit?

  22. Small market doesn’t care about impressive. They care about cost and results… but mostly cost.

  23. I agree, and that’s why I haven’t gotten a NY phone number or P.O. Box. It’s mostly been said tongue in cheek, when we (the photographers in this small market that I know) get together and talk about business.

    In most cases, I’d say Matt’s got it right, although most of those clients who do only care about cost are not usually my clients anyway. There are probably good, and bad, clients everywhere.

  24. Anonymous CD

    As a creative director who has worked with top-level shooters on both coasts – in both New York, LA, and a few secondary markets – I would posit that the reverse is as true, or truer. Dan and Bruce have it right. I do believe it’s easier for pros to succeed in NYC than simply do time there, move elsewhere, and clean up. Besides the fact that each local market has its own peculiarities that a seasoned big-market veteran may take some time to understand and navigate, New York and LA, despite being fiercely competitive, have an overwhelming amount of work and opportunity. I’ve seen time and time again shooters who hone their skills in smaller markets then move to New York or LA and surge. Being there gives them an edge not just to get local work but work elsewhere – this is especially true in the case of NYC and something that the local gatekeepers (photo editors, et al) don’t generally get. There is amazing talent everywhere, but talent combined with the cachet of a major market, which has a psychological effect on the minds of those not in that market (and even on those there), is often what thrusts talent to the level of recognition they deserve. Broadly speaking, I would bet there are more mediocre photographers billing more dollars in New York than some highly talented photographers in a number of secondary markets.