Ask Anything – The Meeting

- - 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.


What kind of questions impress AD or AB when showing your portfolio? I know as a photographer that when I meet with other photographers or clients certain topics or questions impress me. I am looking to develop the conversation beyond “so lets see your book” and “thanks for coming in”

Amanda and Suzanne:
This is a subject that we consult with clients often. It is a sensitive subject to navigate. It’s one thing to get the meeting, but what to do or say is a whole other issue. With our clients we often do mini run-through’s to tackle the exact concerns noted above. Digest what your potential clients really want to hear or don’t want to hear and make notes that feel most authentic to you and your personality.


This may be very unconventional but, I like for them to ask about our clients and work that we have done. Makes me think that they interested in working together as a partner and not just showing off their work. Asking things like “where do we go for photography” and “how photographers are selected.” If they have a blog, I’d like to know that and will check that out for sure, if I like what I see in their book. It gives me a glimpse into who they are and how they work. For me that’s just as big as showing good work. I’m big on making sure that I’ve got a strong team on a shoot. There are great photographers that I wouldn’t pair up with certain creative teams but that would work wonderfully with others. Great photographer + great team on the shoot = amazing photos. Though this sort of questioning has be honest and organic (I don’t know if that’s the right word or not) but not pushy at all. Basically I want a photographer to work with us, not for us.

As far as a follow up, maybe an email every now and again updating me with what they’re doing or reminder link to their blog. This one is really tough, because it really depends. If I don’t see anything in their work that I think will be an asset to me/the creative team I probably don’t want a bunch of emails of follow up and I’m probably not going to outright say hey I don’t think your work is good. Yikes, this one is really tough for me. I keep pretty organized lists of photographers that I like and that I’d maybe like to work with in the future. So if I’ve seen their stuff, they’re either on the list or not. I know that doesn’t sound very nice… and now I’m rambling. I guess the biggest thing that I can offer to this question is regardless of what is used for a follow up, if I don’t respond in any way after a few, I would move me to a list labeled as that, so that unnecessary time and money is not spent on me.

For the do not’s… Do not:
-come on too strong and ask who exactly is shooting work going on right now or what projects I can send you now to bid on immediately
-come in expecting me to spend hours seeing a bunch of books of work, less is usually best
-walk in with a chip on your shoulder talking only about all the huge national clients that you have shot for recently. It is nice to know that you can pull off this sort of production, but I want you to be curious about my clients and how you can help them, many of them are not national.
-follow up with me constantly… sometimes once every week after we have met.

Point One
It’s harder and harder to get in-person showings because we are absolutely inundated with requests. It’s not for lack of desire, but for lack of time.

Point Two
It’s presumed that you’ve done your homework on the person and company you are meeting and your work is compatible with the work created by that company.

Point Three
It’s presumed that your portfolio is in top condition with recent work.

When you DO get an in-person showing:

  • Be considerate of the time of the person viewing the work. While looking at potential photographers’ work is part of their job, getting the work out the door is the first priority. They are not being rude, they only have so many hours in the day.
  • First ask how much time you have. If you go over the prescribed time, it should be because your client is engaged and specifically extends the time after you mention that your time is up. “I see that I’ve used all your time. Thanks for meeting with me. Do you have any other questions for me? Is it okay if I keep you on my promotions list?”
  • No need to turn pages for the AB or AD – they are quite capable. If they go too fast, slow them down with an anecdote about a page or two: “That shot was produced in 2 hours and we had less than 3 minutes with that CEO. He was so pleased with the shot that he asked me to come back for a more formal portrait.”
  • No need for constant chatter while they look at the book: it can be distracting and they may absent-mindedly keep turning pages while you talk.
  • Please do NOT ask if they have any jobs for you. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: It’s like asking someone if they have any spare change. It’s painful enough that agencies don’t have enough work to keep their own folks busy, but asking for work that they don’t have to give is rubbing salt into the wound. If they have something for you, they’ll let you know.
  • Impress them with your knowledge of their company and their work: “I’ve always been impressed with the work you’ve done for TREsemme, especially the shots for Naturals. Did ____ take those shots?”
  • I’d advise you not to slam the previous work (“I could do better than that.”) because the person you’re talking to may have been the driving force behind those shots and you might’ve insulted them.
  • Respect “personal space” boundaries. What you see in their office, their desk and in common areas is not for discussion. You have been invited into their personal space as a guest, not as family. Please do not become too familiar by asking about things you see around you. Limit questions to business questions that are common knowledge or are easily researched. Of course, this is different if you have a closer relationship with someone, such as being Facebook friends already.
  • I recommend not inviting someone to be a Facebook friend unless you are certain that there was some kind of personal connection between you and the client. LinkedIn or other business networks are different and it’s acceptable to send invitations. If you feel that a meeting did not go well, skip this step!

Follow-Through: What would you do in other social situations? This is no exception. Some kind of acknowledgment is common courtesy and Thank-you notes never go out of style. They could be postcard fashion or thank-yous in envelopes or they could be email thank-yous (use the subject line wisely: “Thank you for the portfolio meeting”). I don’t expect them, but they are nice to receive. I don’t know why but I actually save them (yes, I have quite a stack!)

Some name drop other agencies and that’s not good because we could have just lost an account to that agency so I wouldn’t do that. It’s awkward looking at books while the artist is there. The artist may luv the car shot that they did. I may skip over it because we will never shoot cars and I’m more interested in the product shots. I guess the only other thing is that your promos should be of what your specialty is not of your vacation photos. My guess is that other ab’s may disagree w/ me.

I generally like photographers who are interested in understanding challenges currently in front of me and offering potential solutions. But, offering solutions in a collaborative way by making recommendations, not blanket statements. I prefer recommendations based on a time when the photographer had a similar challenge, how they approached it, and what they learned from it, I find that very helpful. And if you have nothing to offer, then make it clear to me that you’ll bend over backwards to help me figure it out.

Ask me what photographers I currently use or follow/admire. I don’t want to get drilled on this, but it shows me that you’re trying to understand my tastes, needs, production values, approach towards imagery.

What I don’t like:
Photographers who can magically solve all my challenges just by hiring them. Totally triggers my BS meter.

Photographers who show me too much work. Keep it to 12 images or so.

Personal questions… I don’t want to be your friend, I want to get the job done.

Begging. Don’t even hint of being desperate for work, perhaps there is a reason no one else is hiring you?

Smacking down other photographers. I once had a photographer roll their eyes when I told them our budget for a recent project. He implied that I got ripped off because he could have done it for much less. My perception is that he would have cut corners just to get the work or he had a serious lack of production values.

Follow up is tough. I hate email. About a year ago, my inbox became flooded with emails from photographers through ADBASE. I had to resolve my mailbox over-limits (time wasted), remove myself from ADBASE’s list, Multiple times (more time wasted) and I still receive emails from photographers that are HTML (download the images, Even more time wasted). Now I just delete emails that I suspect are photographers because I get so many, and I just don’t have time.

Nothing wrong with a personal letter… Not many people do them anymore so it stands out.

Post cards and mailers are OK IF you have a cool mailer. Most of the mailings I get look like typical stock images so they go right in the trash.

I think you should just be yourself when it comes to being reviewed. For me it’s about the work. I tend to ask questions about their work. Where it was shot? Who was the client? What was it like to shoot that shot? Etc….

I find that the AD or myself as an Art Buyer tend to ask the questions. When it comes to the photographer asking questions I would only wish that they’ve at least done their homework and checked our website to see who our clients are. That helps. Whether they’re right for our clients or not I don’t particularly like it when someone asks me who my clients are during the interview. That’s when I feel like they didn’t take the time to find out before they came. It’s a JOB interview. For the rookie or the vet it’s still a JOB interview.

All the things that I ask of a photographer I do the same when it comes to presenting to the client. I do not tell a client in a triple bid why I think Photographer #2 is really bad. I shouldn’t have presented photographer #2 if I felt that way. The same goes for what pictures you put in you book. I do not want hear someone tell me that they should have put a certain picture in their book. I would like to see what they shoot personally, their passion. I always feel that’s the real portfolio within portfolio. You learn a lot about a photographer through their personal work. I think a simple thank you email is fine. If they’re really listening they will include the picture that I expressed a liking as just a nice reminder of they’re work.

Again…..It’s a job interview. All the same actions apply. Just in a more relaxed setting.

#1 please know who our clients are and what we are working on – its called google, people- i mean really.

#2 know we don’t have much time, so get in, share your work and ask questions about specific things you want to work on- tell me how you see yourself gelling with us! Tell me what you want! It’s not against the rules to speak up about what you’d like to be shooting.

#3 ask which art directors work on and/ or lead those accounts and target them with mailings and emails. Occasionally this is not an easy question to answer depending on the agency size and ways of working, but its worth asking. Without being demanding, ask to see them on that day of your visit- for a quick peek at your book and handshake.

#4 don’t leave anything behind that doesn’t have your name and contact info on it. It sounds simple, but it happens a lot more than you think, so be smart and don’t wind up in the recycle bin.

#5 DO explain how an image was created- using what techniques, something about the story, – At first we like to simply take in the images, so, give us that- but we also like something for us to sink our teeth in, to know more about why you are so great at what you do!

#6 send email and snail mail to remind people of who you are. Include images! Don’t call and say remember me? or remember that mailer I sent you?… don’t.

Overall, you are trying to begin a relationship here – it’s important to make yourself appealing (match up with what the agency does) but also be yourself, be relaxed and content to go with the flow – not nervous or pushy, after all we all like working with good, nice, fun people!

To Summarize:
The most important thing is to figure out first WHO YOU ARE and WHAT WORK TO SHOW and HOW. Then do your research on WHO YOU ARE MEETING WITH and then should be comfortable to have the additional conversations. Remember to smile and keep things light, enjoyable, confident, while still staying professional and creative.

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.” Amanda and Suzanne review your comments for 2 days, and then they are off researching next week’s question.

There Are 14 Comments On This Article.

  1. Great post. I just love these insightful pieces you offer. For myself and other upcoming photographers this really helps bring awareness to the workings of the photo industry . These 4 words sum up this post for me. Ability, simplicity, confidence and openness! Thanks Rob.

  2. Thanks for posting this Rob! A really good read. I like that you’ve posted each AD or AB’s take separately rather than lumping them all together.
    Some of the things noted seem pretty obvious… but I guess they wouldn’t have made the list if people weren’t making that mistake often.
    Anyway, good advice to keep in mind.

  3. Hi Amanda! Great advice as usual…once on the day of the shoot with creative directors and producers what are some do’s & dont’s as a followup question to this post? Be yourself I get but what about protocol while shooting or even after the shoot – hope that question doesn’t sound too fuzzy!

    • @Alan Matthews, great question- we will put it out to the sources and see from our contacts what they like on a shoot and after. We know some photographers who have become great friends and travel together!!!

  4. Thank you for this excellent post! It provides good insight into the process of meeting AD’s and the discussion/negotiation that follows.

    I tend to agree with the point that as a photographer you shouldn’t come on too strong. It’s good to read up on the company, but not fishing for a list of clients – or to brag about previous gigs. Pick a suitable portfolio and make a presentation that is adapted to the AD and the company in question.

    The summary in the end of the post says it all. Plus, remember, in the end it’s a job interview.

    Thanks again!


  5. Amanda, Suzanne, Rob:

    Excellent article, and great editing. Dense and packed full of good morsels. Almost every paragraph. Very real-world. Thank you. You guys are on a roll.

  6. This post just confirms that all it boils down to is timing and luck with a side of talent. Every Art Director/Buyer is different, the key is to be a normal human being, obviously have talent and the ability to let things roll off your shoulder. In the grand scheme of things we’re not ER doctors or building homes for kids in Africa. We’re taking pictures, it’s an extreme honour to be able to make a living doing what we do and we should appreciate every moment of it

  7. Good question and good AP replies.

    What I noticed from the AD and AP replies is what I’ve been noticing lately in my contacts with Art Producers and Art Buyers.

    They seem like it’s a bother to them to be a target of marketing. That’s strange, considering the business they’re in. The tone of Art Producer #5 feels condescending.

    And then there’s the I hate e-mail, don’t send any, I’ll just delete it and please stay in touch to remind us you’re there and snail mail goes in the trash, let’s start a relationship, I don’t need any new friends, be inquisitive but do not ask to many questions.

    I appreciate how busy these folks are. But when you are 45 minutes late for a scheduled meeting, the tone set is a bit rough.

    I have very good relationships with the art producers, art buyers, photo editors, art directors and creative directors I currently work with. So when I meet less than polite Art Buyers and Art Producers, it throws me off a bit.