A Note From A Young Photographer On The Way Up

I received this note from a photographer whose work I enjoy and who you might say is a few years past emerging:

Work has still been pretty good this year. it’s strange because it’s slowing down, but the jobs I’ve been getting this year and the last 2 are bigger paying ones so that means the luxury of more days off to work on strategizing my business. I’m getting ready to go to press with an elaborate promo I had designed that will probably be mailed out at the beginning of the year. I went back and forth about the fear of whether or not promos were a waste and just end up in the recycling bin, but I decided to go ahead and do it. Your interview with Selina confirmed my intuitions about promotion and the business so thanks for that.

I went out to New York twice this year to meet with reps and get a feel for their interest in my work. I haven’t had a rep for the last few years and it gets to be too much to handle at times, but all in all it’s worked out fine. I’m finding now, especially since I’m also doing more fashion and would like to pursue fashion advertising, that it would help to have a rep that has a good foothold in the fashion world and the ad work as well. I have my heart set on going with a bigger established agency so I’m holding out until I get with one of my top 3 choices. What the hell, live the dream, right?

I wanted to let you know since you asked that I have directly gotten work as a result of PDN 30. The biggest job was an ad campaign for a [redacted] company at the beginning of this year. The ad agency found me because of PDN. So yes it was great publicity. My book was called in for ad jobs from art buyers I never met.

It was very interesting to hit the pavement in New York in May of this year, for the first time since 2007 (i know, i know). I was there for 2 weeks showing my book to reps, art buyers, and a few magazines. I couldn’t believe how difficult it had become to get someone on the phone or get an email reply. I’ve been showing my book in NY 1 – 2 times a year since 2000, and on the last trip, I still had a rep calling to make those appointments, but this time around, even the people that I usually would meet with in the past were seldom returning my emails. It was depressing and is what everyone talks about, no one has time to do their job and answer phones and meet with people.

In August I decided to try a different strategy, referrals. I had producers, art directors and photo editors contact people that I wanted to meet and make an introduction. It helped dramatically, People need some sort of filter and I don’t blame them. I get emails from assistants all the time and chances are I’m not going to hire them unless someone I know and trust can vouch for that person being a good assistant.

I remember my first trip to NY in the fall of 2000. I was halfway through school, wide eyed and optimistic, sitting in Starbucks on my phone, cold calling and people were answering their phones saying “come on over.” I scored 35 meetings that week including my first editorial gig.

Because the market is changing and there seems to be more photographers out there, things may be more difficult now than they were years ago, but (I’m sure this has been said on your blog) this will just force people to be more creative to figure out how to rise above the rest. There’s no formula for this one, it’s going to be a different path for each photographer.

There Are 24 Comments On This Article.

  1. Referrals, in my opinion, do work wonders! It’s been my preferred method of contacting people and it works so much better than cold calling or anything else.
    If you want to find out how to work with referrals, try “what’s the color of your parachute” by Bolles, it’s worth a read and so true!

  2. Great post – thanks.

    ‘Young photog’ is spot-on about the right Rep for the right kind of work.

    Its worth bearing in mind since over time if the emphasis of your work shifts you may find it out of sync with that of your Rep.
    Eg. if your Rep is known mainly for Fashion and you are their only Still Life shooter – does that mean you are going to pick up more work or less than if you were with a Rep known for Still Life photographers?


    • @Cormac, fashion is it’s own world, but most reps have in their stable a broad range of styles of photographers. So I am not sure that is entirely the case.

      • @Grant,

        Hi Grant,
        I agree. Fashion – another planet it certainly may be.

        My thinking was that a shift over time of even a few degrees in the focus of emphasis of either photographer or rep can make the difference between your book getting requested and ultimately the fit you enjoyed together when starting out.

  3. Donnar Party

    So true. I have similar memories of sitting in Starbucks with a list of PE’s and fashion eds written in a moleskin, cell phone pressed against the ear. Calls were returned, you could drop by and press the flesh. Ah, the Analogue Days.

  4. it gets harder and harder to wake up some mornings! been thinking of shopping around for a rep myself…now that everyone and their sisters are photographers, the need to creatively differentiate oneself from the masses is crucial… maybe a rainbow colored fohawk?

    Our photographer is working, he’s putting fear aside and promoting, he’s recognizing its tougher to get apts, but he perseveres AND thinks of other options (referrals) as well, he is aware and responds to the shifts in the industry and knows we all need to be creative in our approach.My thanks to him and you Rob for posting this realistic view of the photo business.

  6. Recent trips made to NYC. Moleskin at Starbucks. Cell phone plastered to head in front of laptop. Very very difficult to get e-mail reply’s or even phone time. Actual appointments were worthy of celebration.

    But I found that there are still (albeit fewer it seems) good editors/orgs that are open to unfamiliar talent… thankfully.

    Certainly not like years ago:

    “I scored 35 meetings that week including my first editorial gig.”

    • @m2, Me too! This is such a critical supplement to this post.

      Personally, I’m pretty confused these days why editors are choosing certain shooters over others for magazine content.

  7. This time of challenge has reminded me of childhood lessons of perseverance. The one currently ringing in my head:

    “When the going get’s tough, the tough get going.”

  8. Thanks, I hadn’t thought of referrals in that way before. Having trusted clients call to make appointments could be cool. I wonder if my clients love me that much?

  9. Funny, I just wrote a post about this yesterday, because I just got back from my first major trip to NYC. Wrangled 28 meetings in 1.5 weeks, so it can still be done sans referrals or reps.

    I was too young to know about those moleskin days, but in 2009 it takes alot of time and patience, plus you’ve gotta have a knack for good timing… you can’t be overly aggressive but you’ve got to show you care and that you’ll keep gently getting back to them (unless all signals point to ‘no). You can read about it here: http://toomuchchocolate.org/?p=1625

  10. I’ve had similar experience….Work overall is down for me compared to last year but, the jobs I’ve gotten this year are higher caliber and most have been multiple days along w/ more traveling. Also am bidding more and bigger commercial jobs than last year.

    I think you just have to keep pushing and working at it. If you buy into to whole industry is dying thing you will not make it. Someone is always saying the sky is falling. I mean sure, maybe if you do try you still might not make it but, no harm in trying and at least you will know you didn’t chicken out. I’d rather put everything I have into trying to do something I love versus giving up and finding another less fulfilling way to make a living.

    For me at least part of the attraction to this career is the struggle of it all. It’s a constant challenge and constant change. No dull moments.

  11. Referrals and word of mouth are key – from the other side of the fence it’s how I seek recommendations on so many things: from choosing a new dentist to signing up with Adbase or Agency Access.

    Every assignment I do I follow up to make sure they got their money’s worth – my value to them. And it keeps me going when I hear good feedback – more often than not they are happy to provide a few sentences of a recommendation that I keep in my back pocket to share and use as needed.

  12. After every portfolio showing, I always ask the CD/AD/PE for three more contacts they think might be interested. I always follow up each meeting with a thank you call/email and let them know how there contacts panned out. A lot of times they will pony up a few more leads. I find it goes much further than mailers and really qualifies the lead.
    Thanks for all the great work Rob.

  13. As a photographer’s rep, I am struggling with the same thing. Phone calls and or emails with no response. . . I have fantastic photographer’s that I know they would love, but it’s not been easy.

    Thanks for sharing – keep up the good work

  14. I can tell you it was a lot easier when I started out in the mid-eighties. As a young photographer I often felt intimidated by the senior photo editors. But now it’s almost more difficult, my name has been established for years however now many of the editors (to me) are kids! I have nothing in common with them, it seems to get harder and harder.

    Time to redesign and reinvent, yet again :)

    Jerry Avenaim
    Jerry Avenaim Photography Blog
    Jerry Avenaim Photography Site

  15. As someone who is trying to develop a career in photography, this was a good e-mail to read. A few great points in there. Thanks for posting it!