Technology has dramatically lowered barriers for photographers. Using email, websites and Instagram, they can get their work in front of many more clients than ever, and at much lower cost. By the same token, clients can see the work of many more photographers.
But technology is still no substitute for personal contact—including face-to-face meetings—between photographers and clients. For many clients, connecting personally with a photographer is just as important in a hiring decision as the quality of that photographer’s work. Photo editors and art producers ask themselves: Do I want to work with this person? Can I send them out to work with clients and other people? Meetings are the best way to judge.
“I always like to see people before I hire them, if possible, even if it’s just a 10-minute FaceTime,” says Toby Kaufmann, a freelance photo editor and former executive photography director at Refinery29. “I just like to make sure that they are comfortable with themselves, and have the confidence about their work and about themselves, and are able to present and articulate their ideas.”
“Their work speaks for them, but you also want to know what kind of person they are. Are they friendly? Are they nice to work with?” says Jennifer Lamping, senior art producer at RPA in Los Angeles. Lamping adds that meeting photographers in person also helps her remember them. “You see so much work [online], sometimes it’s hard to remember whose work goes with who, but you always remember that person if they stand out to you. So I think meetings are still important.”
Emerging photographers often ask about how to get meetings with clients they want to work with. The answer is: Do enough research to make sure your work is appropriate for the client. Then send an email and ask. Make a simple, straightforward request, Kaufmann advises: “‘I’d love to meet you and show you new work.’ We know when [photographers] are calling or emailing that they want to meet. Keep it short and sweet.”
Lamping’s advice is to avoid last-minute meeting requests. Photographers often try to schedule meetings with potential clients when traveling on assignment. “We often book [meetings with photographers] months in advance” because work is pressing and time is limited, Lamping says. But she and others say they will try to squeeze in last-minute meetings with out-of-town photographers whenever possible, especially if those photographers have been recommended by a colleague.
She warns photographers against requesting meetings with several different creatives at the same ad agency all at once. “It’s awkward,” she says. She also advises photographers not to expect a face-to-face meeting with her more than once a year. “More than that is overkill,” she explains. Photographers who want to show new work within a year of a face-to-face meeting should just send an email with a link.
Of course, clients don’t always respond the first time to meeting requests. “A follow-up [request] is fine. If you don’t hear back after you’ve followed up once, maybe twice, you probably want to stop there,” and try again next year, Lamping says.
Whatever you do, don’t annoy clients by contacting them too often. “Space it out. Six mailings a year, one email a month. Eventually if I like the work, somebody will call you in,” says Jennifer Laski, photo and video director at The Hollywood Reporter and Billboard. “Some people constantly come after me, and it’s too much. Be the one who stands out: Less is more.”
Clients meet with photographers to size up their personality, attitude, creative process and interests. They’re expecting a conversation, not just a portfolio.
“I like when someone’s engaged. Talk about your work. Give me an idea of why you love what you do,” says Jason Lau, senior integrated producer at Giant Spoon in Los Angeles. “It’s really about your personality and how you
are able to talk about the work. Be excited about the work, and be excited about the work that you want to do. That’s the stuff that I look for in these meetings.”
During meetings with photographers, Lamping is trying to learn as much as she can about their process. For instance, do they work only with a lot of crew, or really lean? Do they have particular producers or retouchers they prefer to work with? How flexible are they?
“You see so much work [online], sometimes it’s hard to remember whose work goes with who, but you always remember that person if they stand out to you. So I think meetings are still important.”
— Jennifer Lamping, senior art producer, RPA
Recalling two photographers she has recently met with who stood out, Lamping says, “They were enthusiastic, excited to talk about their work. It wasn’t just [us] asking questions about their work. They wanted to tell us.” She explains that Caleb Kuhl showed a portfolio that was “bright yellow, not a standard black book” that was printed well on nice paper. Romain Laurent, a photographer/director, used an augmented reality app to allow people to see videos when holding their apps over codes on his still photos. Both photographers talked about how they shot the work in their books, and what some of the unexpected challenges were on set. “It’s kind of nice to hear behind-the-scenes [stories] about how they work and how they problem solve,” Lamping says.
Kaufmann’s advice to photographers is to (lightly) narrate your portfolio as the client looks: “Oh, this job was for so-and so, I work with them a couple times a year, or this was for a new client. Or: I was really excited about this project because…’ Give me [your] point of view. What was the challenge and what was great about it?”
Clients need different things from photographers, so they prioritize different criteria. Laski, for instance, says her top priority in meetings with photographers is gauging their attitude. She explains that she is overseeing numerous shoots on tight deadlines every week—“we’re on a fast-moving train”—and she doesn’t have time for slow pokes or prima donnas. She is looking for photographers willing to shoot any assignment, large or small. “I have a case of a photographer who said, ‘I don’t shoot front-of-book stories.’ And I literally stopped listening to him. I was like, When is this interview over? That’s not going to work.”
Many clients want to see a full range of portfolio images, from personal projects to assignment images to tear sheets. And Lamping says, “It’s important to see something a little different in a book or portfolio than what we can see on a website.”
Lamping likes to see personal work in order to see what a photographer “is capable of without all of the restrictions and limitations of a commercial job.” But she also likes to see assignment work, too, so she can ascertain how photographers translate their personal work and vision into commissioned work. That helps her understand how photographers work with agency creatives, within the parameters of an assignment, she explains. “It’s important to see that translation so you know what you’re getting.”
When your personal work looks very different from your assignment work, you should explain the disparity and connection between the two, Lamping says. If your personal work is just for creative inspiration, “say that: ‘This is what I shoot for fun.’ If it translates into a paid job, fantastic. Say: ‘I learned X, Y and Z from this and I incorporated it into my commissioned work here.’…Just differentiate what’s a passion project versus what you want to get hired for.”
Lau notes that photographers sometimes don’t want to show their commissioned work in their portfolios, “which we totally get. If your personal work totally outweighs client work in terms of who you want to be and the voice you want to convey, I would say show your personal work. But explain that: ‘This is my vision, my look and feel, but I do have clients.’ And you can list of clients you’ve worked with.”
Clients expect professionalism in your preparation and presentation. “Do your research before you meet us,” Lau says. “The last thing
I want someone to ask me is what clients we have. You should have a general idea of clients we work on, otherwise, you did no research.”
Walk in with your portfolio loaded onto your laptop or iPad, Kaufmann advises. “I really don’t like it when people ask me for the WiFi password. You should have your portfolio so it does not rely on the internet. If [a WiFi password] is the first thing that people ask [for], it just makes me think you’re not prepared.”
Kaufmann also questions the professionalism of photographers who hand her their laptop “and the screen is super dirty, or they’re getting text messages on their laptop” while she is looking at it, trying to review their portfolio work. “Having some presentation skills is really important.”
“Space it out. Six mailings a year, one email a month. Eventually if I like the work, somebody will call you in.”
— Jennifer Laski, photo and video director,The Hollywood Reporter
Meeting with clients can feel intimidating, especially for less experienced photographers. “If someone is nervous for whatever reason, that’s totally OK,” Lau says. “I don’t mind if someone says, ‘I’m really nervous. I don’t do these presentations often.’ That at least is an icebreaker for me, because I have no idea why somebody’s not talking.”
But take warning: Some clients have no patience for shy photographers. And the message from everyone we interviewed for this story was clear: Get over it. Figure out how to exude confidence. Fake it, if you have to. “You’re definitely going to need to have some sort of charisma to woo the clients,” Lau says. “We don’t want some sort of timid person. It’s not the world we live in.”
He continues: “You should be able to be proud and talk about the work you do.” Putting on the face of courage and working past your anxiety can be difficult, “but it’s an important part of your job. Practice!”
Lamping makes a similar point about the power of your work to carry you through. “Shoot what you really want to shoot, do what you really want to do, and don’t force it,” she says. “When someone is true to themselves, and true to their art, [clients] can feel it.”
Laski says she’s shy, so she can empathize with photographers who feel shy. Her advice is to focus on the job to be done, and take confidence in your own competence. “You know how to light, you know how to take pictures, you know how to move quickly, you know when you got the shot, you can read the room, you can read the talent. Walk in with that bravado: I’m the photographer, and I’m going to do what I do.”
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CPW’s Hannah Frieser on the Importance of Follow-Up After a Portfolio Review
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