Business Trends
Lighting His Way To Success; An Interview With Tony Corbell Page 2

SB: Those great moments can only happen during assignment photography and brings up the issue of clients using stock and royalty-free images. How has your business adapted? How are you shooting differently?

TC: As stock photography has changed and royalty-free has infiltrated our commercial and advertising clients' workflow, I have looked more toward clients who need images of very specific items, locations, and people. Almost all of my corporate work will now include the client or their product or service specifically instead of creating the feel or mood of their product or service. Emotion and mood photos are something they can get from a stock image.

SB: Let's look at marketing--you are the "lighting guy" so that helps with referrals from other photographers for jobs. How do your books and seminars promote your business?

TC: I think that my books, DVDs, and seminars only serve to give me credibility in my advertising and editorial client areas. In other words, if I am up for a job against someone else, my status helps get me the work to some degree because they know I have been around for a while and know that I at least have some sort of reputation. I don't think it's much more than that.

However, for the handful of weddings that I do each year, it's about me as a person and how I relate to people. There are 500 photographers who they can find to do the job but it is all about the client knowing I will not embarrass them at their wedding, will come back with exactly what they had hoped for, have safety pins in my camera case, be sensitive to the slower-moving grandparents, and delicately deal with divorced parents of the bride and groom. It's a whole new world of marketing and sales for weddings. It's all about people and personalities.

SB: How specifically do you build your business by referrals? How do you handle the situation?

TC: I really don't think many photographers ask their clients for referrals. I always ask. Earlier, I mentioned a job with a client who operates a nationally known real estate franchise. As we finished up, I gave her a short stack (maybe four or five) of my business cards and said that if she is pleased with our work, we'd be happy to talk to anyone to whom she might refer us. She smiled and said she had already been talking about me. It's amazing how simple and effective this can be as a marketing tool.

SB: How do you feel about using a website for marketing and how do you keep it current?

TC: My new web designers at Net-Flow ( are making it much fresher than it is now. By the time this article appears, it will be all new and it is their job to help me keep it fresh. I have access to change or update anything on the site through their cool "back office" feature so I think I'll be better at keeping it more alive.

I think the website for today's commercial photographer saves on shipping a large portfolio case all over the country. For the most part, clients just want to get an idea of your work and it helps them to know if you can do it and if you have a "look" that might fit. Viewing your website saves them time and you money. I have not printed an actual portfolio in three years. I'm not saying that is the right choice for everyone, but it certainly has been for me.

SB: Besides technical expertise when it comes to lighting, what recommendations would you make to a photographer looking to improve the quality of their clients and to increase sales?

TC: In order to be successful in today's market, photographers have to possess something intangible. They have to like people and people have to like them. There are so many photographers in every area of the country technically capable of doing the job you are being asked about. Lighting expertise is only the beginning. What will make you stand out is certainly the quality of your work and your portfolio but the hidden thing that can push you over the top to get the work is your personality. This sounds nuts but I believe it to be true. Clients want to work with people they like. Be able then to market and promote yourself based on the answer to this question, "Does the client truly feel that you would work well together with them?"