On Becoming A Working Photographer – Part 2

Wow! Great response to Part 1. And Mr. Bevilaqua has graciously offered to answer your questions. His email address is listed at the end of this article.

By Lorenzo Bevilaqua
© Lorenzo Bevilaqua All rights reserved

(cont)…………. Made the big leap to big-time New York photographer at last!

Not exactly.

As impossible as it seemed to make the jump from assistant to working photographer, and as thrilled as I am to be shooting, making much better money, and not schlepping other people’s equipment for a living, I now have another problem. I am struggling to make the next leap away from the take-any-job-offered-to-you-to-get-started clients, and trying to get hired solely to make the kind of images that I want to make. My goal is to find clients who will hire me because they like the way I see, and not because I know how to produce the same picture that ten other guys can produce. The one problem with taking any kind of photo job that will pay is that it’s very easy to get so busy doing those kinds of jobs that you lose sight of your original goal. There are too many photographers out there who get caught in the trap of having to make a living as a photographer, and forget why they started shooting in the first place (to make beautiful, compelling images). Ideally, there should be no separation between shooting what you love (your personal work) and what you shoot professionally.

When you acquire a stable of steady clients, and you like the work that you are doing (at least for now) a beautiful thing starts to happen: your career begins to snowball a little bit. Your clients will pass your name along to other clients. Your published work will be seen around town, and you can take that to new clients who need the same kind of work. Eventually not every phone call you make to a potenital client is a cold call. They have already heard or seen your name, and you have now developed a little credibility. This is where it gets easier. Just remember that the downside of the snowball effect is that you will tend to get the same kind of work as you have been doing. Keep shooting the work that you love, and keep on promoting it.

Outside of taking great pictures, I think that the most important thing to do if you want to get work is to let people know you are out there. Without self-promotion you are that proverbial tree falling in the forest with no one around to hear you. You may be the most talented photographer in the world, but if no one knows you exist then you might as well pack it up and go home. How do you go about this?
With a modest self-promotion budget and a pretty good idea of what kinds of clients I want to shoot for I have been mailing out promo cards like mad. I’ve compiled a list of magazines, book publishers, art directors, and graphic designers, and have been sending them my best images on a regular (quarterly?) basis. This is less expensive than it sounds. There are several very good postcard printers out there who can produce a 4×6 color postcard with one image and text for under $150. A print run usually gets you 500 postcards. You can, of course, have a promo card as big as you want with as many images as you want, but if your on a budget one very strong image, plus your name and phone number can go a long way. Just make it your best image.

Another option is to design your own promo cards on a computer, and print them out on a four or six color Epson printer using Epson photo-quality paper. If you don’t print your images too large, the print quality is extremely good. With the help of Photoshop, there are no limits to the kind of card you can design. The advantage to making promos with the computer is that you can target your promotional efforts to the individual client.
If you do a print run of 500 cards with a printing company, you will have a promo that may be appropriate for some, but not all of your potential clients and you may have a lot left over. I don’t know about you, but when I was starting out I didn’t know 500 people let alone 500 clients! With the computer, if you shoot an new image that you like, you can make a promo out of it and send it to just those clients who will be able to relate to it the most. I would be happy to discuss postcard and/or computer printing in greater detail if you care to e-mail me.

It also is important to follow up your mailing with a phone call about five or six days later. This allows you to find out if the client received your promo, and also gives you an opportunity to ask for a face-to-face meeting, at which time you can show your portfolio. In New York, however, a face-to-face is hard to come by. Usually you have to drop off your portfolio. Keep records of who you called, when you called them, and what you sent them. The photographer that pursues a client over a period of time (sometimes up to a year) will always win out over someone who sends one promo and then disappears when he doesn’t get an immediate response.

A good example of the kind of success you can have with promotional mailings is my experience with a very large broadcasting company that owns a number of cable television stations. I sent promo cards to them after researching who the appropriate people were to contact, and followed up with a phone call. Of course, I got no return call. It just doesn’t happen. But, after a couple of messages left on voice-mail, I finally got someone on the phone, and asked if I could send a portfolio. The answer was yes, and the response to the portfolio was great. I did have images in my book that they liked, and that helped land me the job. But I did not get called for work immediately, and I did send follow-up promos before getting hired. I did not call them continuously. That has a tendency to piss people off. There is a fine line between persistence, and stalking! I have gotten several clients by the promo/call method. Sometimes it doesn’t work, either. It’s a long process.

Don’t give up hope. It will happen, and it does get somewhat easier. I will check in from time to time to let you know how it’s going. In the meantime please feel free to e-mail if you have any thoughts, questions, or just want to bitch about assisting, shooting, or anything else photo-related.

Good luck.

There you have it. We at photoinduced.com hope you gotten a lot from this article on the journey. Yes, some thing have changed since it was written (rates, digital techs) but the
lessons are the same.

Damon Webster


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