Palm Springs Photography Festival

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Starts Tomorrow.

This workshop Allegra Wilde is giving (deconstructing your portfolio) looked interesting to me so I asked her to tell me more about it:

Basically, I’ve figured out over the years how to explain to photographers a way to edit, package and distribute their own work. The vast majority of people out there are not going to be represented by an agent, or spend money on a consultant. So I have a method that (paradoxically) allows a photographer to navigate the problem of being ” too close to their own work” by actually being less objective with it.

This is not simply a question “do what you love” or just show your personal work. Because even though photographers who are interested in doing commercial work have sort of gotten that message, they still fall victim to marketplace pandering in their portfolio and websites, and because of this, look like most other photographers, go up against more competition, and therefore, get the job less of the time.

That is not to say that they shouldn’t show buyers what they can do that may look like what is already out there. And i believe there is a place for that in their presentations, but they are missing an opportunity if they mix up their jobs with their personal work. If they muddle it all together, then they don’t have a portfolio that looks original and strong creatively, and, showing the tearsheets or jobs mixed in… at the same time, they miss the opportunity to make a credible sale.


If anyone goes let us know what you thought of the concept.

There Are 7 Comments On This Article.

  1. Let's Hear More

    Any chance of getting her to explain her methodology here? I’d love to be in Palm Springs tomorrow, but it ain’t going to happen.

    I think personal work says more about the artist than tear sheets. What you shoot when no one is looking shows more of the vision, creativity and skill of person behind the camera.

    When you look at a tear sheet it’s hard to tell how much of final product really came from the photographer. A good creative team, AD, stylist, makeup artist, assistants, etc. can make a mediocre photographer look better than they really are. And a great photographer can make gold out of a weak concept.

    Honestly I think we all tend to overthink this stuff. I’ll venture more often than not, when an art buyer looks at a portfolio they are drawn to the stuff they like and pretty much ignore everything else. But I would love to hear Ms. Wilde’s thoughts on the topic in a little more detail.

  2. I’m somewhat puzzled by this concept of personal work versus what we do for a living… every shoot I get I treat as a “personal” assignment in the sense that I’m trying to make the best photograph I can out of whatever the situation presents. Sometimes it all works really really well and sometimes maybe not so much. I understand that sometimes a client has specifics that need to be incorporated that might pull me away from my “vision” of what the shoot might be, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t do my best to come away from a shoot feeling like I put everything I could into it.

    I would hate to think that I wasn’t putting myself personally – to some degree – into whatever I was shooting even if it’s a guy in a tie in some office somewhere…. the way I look at it some of these folks may only ever be photographed once in their life or career for some story and I owe it to them, myself and my client to bring my best to that shoot… so when folks look at my work and say, well, where’s your personal work I guess the answer is that this IS my personal work… Is that naive? I dunno… I sure hope not….

  3. This is definitely not the complete story, but will try to get a little more specific.

    LHM– We completely agree on the notion of showing what you create “when no one is looking”. My own belief is less romantic, in a way, and numbers driven. As I said to Rob–the images you create in a vacuum, without outside influence, are likely to be stronger and certainly more original compared to most of what is generally unleashed on the marketplace in an effort to get commercial work. The best pictures you can come up with are the ones that are closest to you. Essentially you will look less like other people if you shoot and show images made from the “inside out” as opposed to seeing what is being “done” out there, and reproducing that. We all know who the “originators” are. And to a much lesser degree – the (possibly hundreds) of imitators. If the buyers can think of 25, 50 or even 100 other portfolios along with yours, then your success rate has got to be smaller than if you went up against less competition.

    In moderating my forum for Art Buyers/Producers and Photo Editors, I’ve found that, contrary to conventional opinion, our commercial photography marketplace frequently buys much more subjectively than you would think, (and also very often by referral), which makes it really hard (i think nearly impossible) to target your potential clients. It doesn’t mean they don’t want to put you in a box, which makes their jobs easier, but what is interesting from watching these buyers refer talent–is the variety in the responses to a given request. The “usual suspects”–sure, but the suggestions are really all over the map, and some are pretty left-field and unpredictable. That evidence of actual buying behavior does support my belief in a more mass marketing approach with something as subjective, and visceral as assignment photography… because you truly can’t predict who the likely user will be.

    One suggestion that I include in my seminar is a simple, but excruciating exercise taken from Marty Neumaier’s book, ZAG, which is helpful in trying to articulate your vision in words, and makes it easier to look at and edit your own work with some distance, and at the same time to create a consistent thread in your book. He asks you to complete this sentence : “I am the only_________ that _________.”

    My client’s have found that after filling in those blanks, that choosing images for their portfolios and website (as well as promotion, including design and typography), is a much more clarified proposition.

    Jason – With respect to the tearsheet question, it is useful to look at the hiring process in a more deconstructed way… in two parts.

    The first thing you have to do is to get these buyers, well….hot for your pictures. You do that with a personal and original approach, based on what i explained above. You want to get them excited – not because of what account they are working on, or the job that is on their desks at the moment, but as human beings, and visually astute human beings at that. Just like you, they want to be blown away by what they see. They want to see new and fresh approaches and content.

    Let’s take a typical ad agency scenario:

    So once you’ve gotten the agency creatives attention with your personal work, (and often, if you’re doing this right, you will hear them say that they are waiting for the “right kind of assignment” to work with you on), and you are up for a job, you are going to need to address more utilitarian questions for these buyers, the agency higher-ups, and of course, the client.

    (There is, additionally, usually a pre-production phone call between these two steps, and has to do with your working style and personality – but that is another whole post…)

    You are not at these meetings usually, and neither is your agent, if you have one. So you are depending on the Art Producer or Creative Director to effectively “close the sale” for you with each other, and then, the client. You want to give them a succinct visual tool to help them do that. Closing the sale to the client is going to involve issues of capability (showing that you can handle the production and logistics that may be as involved as the job they are considering you for), and credibility (that you have a track record shooting for other clients that they can relate to, either in a similar category, or stature). I believe the best way to do that is to collect your past work into something separate, all together at the end of your portfolio, or in their own section on your website.

    This way, showing your personal work separately at the front end (of the process, as well as the front of the book or headlining the website) ; the “point of inquiry/discovery”, you make a much more memorable and clear impression of who you are, than if you mixed the tearsheets in.

    Then– by showing your tearsheets separately, and in a succinct and powerful way – at the end of the process (the “point of sale”), you will be powerfully addressing issues of credibility and logistics when they already like your work enough to present it further—and need very different questions answered.

  4. Let's Hear More

    Thanks, Allegra, for the expanded explanation. I’ll try to take advantage of the relative quiet weekend traffic on Rob’s site (note to self: get a life) to throw out some additional questions. I realize you’re probably prepping for your presentation right now, but when you have a chance, I’d love to hear your thoughts. BTW, good luck with the presentation.

    1. How do you see the relationship between a hardcopy book and a professional Web site? For some artists, their Web site is basically an online version of their book — the same, or similar, content which remains fairly static. Others use their Web sites to showcase new work, projects, etc. Any thoughts as to which approach is better? And do you see a continued place in the world for a professionally-produced book? Or are books going to be replaced by an iPad app in about six months?

    2. Which is more important — showcasing your creativity or your best work? Obviously the answer is “yes.” You probably shouldn’t be showcasing work that isn’t top-notch. But I’ve seen a lot of advice suggesting art buyers want to see consistency when reviewing an artists’ work. By contrast, creativity tends to be a meandering path. That can lead to the criticism “the guy’s all over the place.” How do you balance the two ideas — being seen as a reliable entity but also pursuing new ideas and concepts?

    3. Is blogging worth the effort? There seems to be general wisdom that blogging increases your visibility. But there seem to be a lot of very good photographers authoring blogs which receive minimal, if any, traffic. Still others post an entry so sporadically they never achieve a professional following. Your thoughts? And the same question probably also applies to BTS videos — worth it, or just a passing fad? Maybe the broader question is which types of promotional activity work best these days?

    4. With regard to Rob’s previous entry “Copying Other Artists,” the Internet has made idea shopping free and easy. Are art buyers looking at artists’ Web sites mainly when looking to hire a photographer, or are they bookmarking some sites as a source of creative ideas? And is it a good thing to be seen as a source of creative inspiration? On the plus side, if people are turning to you as an inspiration source, it probably increases the chances of being seen as a “short list” artist. On the other hand, it’s certainly possible that people will look at your work for creative ideas then hire one of those $200/hr. guys to do the actual shoot.

    5. There have been numerous discussions on Rob’s site about bidding on jobs. One approach is to meticulously detail each line item in a proposal; another approach is to charge a significant creative fee and cover only the big line item costs in the proposal. Any thoughts as to which approach is working best in the current marketplace?

  5. Fantastic advice and perfect approach (as usual) from Allegra.

    From my own perspective as an Art Buyer, Allegra has elucidated exactly the reaction you want an Art Buyer to have when looking at your work- as “visually astute human beings” we want to be excited and blown away but what we see.

    When I talk to photographers I explain the ZAG exercise as identifying your “story”. Who are you as a shooter? As long as your work falls under that rubric, I don’t care if it’s still life or lifestyle- if you can evoke “that” emotion and “that” is the emotion for my campaign, I’m going to think about you for my layout (yes, of course subject matter does come into play eventually). For more indepth and specific analysis on that point, see my blog post here:

    And, I’ve been championing tearsheets at the back of your book for years. For some samples of what they can look like:

    And, while I’m throwing out links, I’ve also blogged about LHM’s #1 question re: the book vs. website question. If you want my take on it (and lots of fantastic comments too):