© 2002, Davis Freeman, All Rights Reserved
Because you need a specific
marketing message to sell to potential clients, most photographers base
their business on the subject of the photograph such as people, products,
and architecture. Some photographers find a personal style for their
photography. When you can combine the two--subject and style--you
have the potential to sell to the bigger, better clients. Also, this
combination message gives you a powerful advantage over your competition
because it is unique to you. This is the story of one photographer's
transition from the ordinary to the extraordinary, from the bread-and-butter
clients to the high-end clients willing to pay more for something special.
Davis Freeman, www.davisfreeman.com,
is in the second year of his shift from straight commercial work to
high-end creative portraits. The first part of his career was spent
as the Chief Photographer for the University of Washington. It was there
he experimented and developed his unique portrait style. He started
his commercial career nearly at the top with an annual report for Microsoft.
With a substantial marketing effort, he went on to corporate photography
for clients such as Nordstrom, Washington Mutual Bank, ICOS Corporation,
Expedia.com, as well as a host of smaller hi-tech companies. His editorial
work has appeared in magazines such as Newsweek, People, and Fortune.
Shutterbug: Why did you decide to target high-end portrait clients?
Davis Freeman: I have always had a focus on portraiture. The
bulk of my commercial photography work was annual reports and corporate
collateral and almost always included people actively involved in some
activity or portraits. Another large part of my business was editorial
work, which were always portraits. During my time off I had devoted
a great deal of creative energy to my "Illustratype" process,
a technique I had discovered in 1989. I was hung up for years over the
common practice in consumer retail portraiture of accepting very low
fees for the initial session; then making the money on the back-end,
e.g., selling the prints. Commercial photography is the reverse, charging
a fair but higher usage fee for the initial assignment with accompanying
modest markups on the print costs. This stumbling block was resolved
in my mind when I clarified my new style and approach to the "family
SB: It took several
years for you to decide on your portrait style, what was that process
DF: From 1996-2000, I took out source book ads, hired a marketing
person, and started a national direct mail campaign. To a degree it was
successful. I was invited to have an exhibition of my work at Young and
Rubicon (New York), my work appeared in Fortune, Money, and People magazines
among others. Polaroid used my images for national and international ad
campaigns on creative uses of Polaroid film. My work is showcased in Kathleen
Carr's definitive book on the Polaroid process, Creative Polaroid
Techniques. However, it became clear that for me to become financially
successful I needed a presence in L.A., Nashville, and/or New York City
and I was unable and unwilling to relocate from Seattle. During this time
I was polishing my "Illustratype" process and its applications
to my personal work and commercial assignments.
The process is an alternative Polaroid film process using 4x5 Type 53
Polaroid film. After the film is processed, I discard the positive and
scan the faint image on the paper backing. Since the mid-90s I have used
Adobe Photoshop to enhance the image with the final print being an ink
jet print. During the mid-to-late 90s, I amassed a large body of work
and began to show and exhibit at galleries. I began adjusting the technique
to produce a more commercial appeal. By 2001, I had reworked the technique
to have both a broad commercial and consumer retail appeal.
SB: What is a typical assignment for you now?
DF: I developed my style based on the idea that we are a society
of individuals connected through our families. From this belief, for a
"group family portrait," came the idea of photographing the
members of a family individually; then framing each picture individually
and grouping them in clusters. This structure allows the individual personality
to blossom while preserving the family structure. Additionally, the viewer
may gain insight into the family dynamic. I will not do a traditional
group portrait in the "Illustratype" style.
The other idea, the Triptychs (a work consisting of three images) is a
more contemporary and striking approach to creating a family portrait.
Flowing back and forth, the interchange and energy among the family is
captured within the three images. I place the family members together
and let them talk, laugh, and horse around among themselves.
By continually shooting the interchange I come up with three images that
make a whole, a gestalt.
SB: How does your marketing
differ when dealing with commercial clients and consumer retail clients?
DF: When I meet with an Art Director (commercial client), I present
a well-prepared portfolio of laminated 8x10 images in a brushed aluminum
case. The work is representative of how I work with executives or people
on location. It might include several "Illustratype" images,
which usually creates some excitement among the clients. When meeting
with retail portrait clients I present two portfolios of 14x18 and 16x20
prints that are representative of my "Illustratype" approach
as well as my BW fiber prints. I then discuss the different approaches
and the differences in the final print. This helps the client understand
why the costs are considerably higher for the one than the other. This
also allows me not to lose the client who is not prepared to spend the
amount required for an "Illustratype" portrait or who desires
the traditional group family portrait.
SB: Describe your future marketing plans for selling your high-end
DF: Every 9-12 months I will have a "salon" viewing
at my studio and invite highly qualified potential clients, past clients,
and a few supporters (usually about 30-40 people). It is a catered event
and I offer an incentive to sign that evening for a portrait session.
I will have rotating exhibitions of my work at local businesses that include
wine shops, coffee shops (this is Seattle), bistros, and restaurants.
The criterion is that the location must have an abundance of "mothers
with children" as customers.
Also, I plan to initiate client-sponsored salon parties at their homes
for their friends. I will photograph their children with no obligation
to buy the prints. However, with a festive salon party atmosphere, the
framed images of beautiful children on easels create a strong enticement
to purchase. Though there is no obligation to purchase, there is an incentive
to purchase because when one person purchases, they all purchase.
SB: What recommendation can you make to a photographer looking
to make a big career move like this one?
DF: Take the time to investigate the market, prepare, and then
stick with it for at least three years. It is tremendous amount of hard
work but very satisfying when the transition is complete.