Market Your Portrait Photography!; A Look At The Consumer And Commercial Realms Page 2

Astor Morgan: Landing the job involves many marketing tools but personal referral is what gets your foot in the door. Once you are in, it is up to your personality and the ability to work well with the potential client to get and keep the work. You have to make sure the client is confident and comfortable in your abilities—both the technical and personal. Does this art director like you? Does the editor think you will work well with the subject and deliver under pressure?

Direct mail is necessary to stay in the mind of your current and potential clients and new tools like Facebook or Twitter can be used to introduce you. They are another type of business card, to get to know your client, to break the ice, and to keep in touch. With new technologies at the fingertips of photographers, video is a large part of our future. I am confident still images will continue to be used, especially when dealing with celebrities. Technology today is just moving so fast. Online publications and websites need content and this content is quickly moving to video.

© 2009, Astor Morgan, All Rights Reserved

Chris Buck: There is an attitude that if your work is good, clients will show up, and this is not entirely true. You really need to connect with clients for portrait work. It is more than doing just a few mailers and giving up when you don’t get an immediate response. You need to be around for sometime because clients want to see your promo pieces (even 3-4 years) to decide they want to invest their time in a relationship with you. I do direct mail and have done well in the juried annuals such as Communication Arts, PDN Photo Annual, and the American Photography book. Clients keep these annuals. I don’t measure marketing success on the immediate responses from just one campaign. There is a larger plan where I am building a regular presence in different ways.

I feel that my editorial work is also a form of marketing and promotion. It might be a smaller music magazine but it helps to build the perception of my doing interesting work. By seeing you in multiple mediums, it builds a sense of recognition and clients get to know you. My clients have said to me, “You are everywhere!” But what they are seeing is my ongoing effort to get my name and work in front of them in different forms.

© 2009, Chris Buck, All Rights Reserved

In the last year or so I have continued to adapt my approach to new technology. I now have my website and e-mail newsletter. I do interviews and keep in touch with serious bloggers. Whenever someone in the digital world contacts me, I say “yes.” Many younger photo editors and art directors are as much in touch with this online world as with the analog world.

I take my e-mail newsletter very seriously; I do it with the same amount of attention as a physical mailer. I don’t just send out a picture, I might tie it into something topical in the news. I include a funny story to go with the image and I often put together a behind-the-scenes video of the image and include a link. They are fun and entertaining for clients to read and I get responses from people I don’t know personally but who feel that they know me.

The bottom line is putting my name in front of clients in a regular way, every two months, that says “hey, don’t forget about me.” That way, when a job comes up, I am one of the half dozen photographers in the front of their mind instead of their having to dig through their bookmarks to find me.

© 2009, Chris Buck, All Rights Reserved

SB: What recommendations would you make to a photographer looking to make a career move into portrait photography?

Colleen Gonsar: To be an excellent portrait photographer it is all about lighting. Master the art of lighting in any situation and that is something that the average photographer can’t overcome.

Rod Evans: Find out what everyone else is doing and do the opposite and do it very, very well. I cannot stress enough how important education is and being great at what you do. That is what will set you apart from your competition and also will give you more passion for what you do.

Astor Morgan: Find interesting people around you and create personal projects. When working on any assignment such as shooting a band live on stage, push to get a portrait of the band backstage. Attend local photo-related events because photographers are always sharing advice and details of their shoots. I listened to Herman Leonard speak of using incense to create ambiance in the backgrounds of some of his images; yes, I have added incense to my camera bag. Be active in local photo groups and events. I contributed to the “I Spy With My Plastic Eye” group show that will hang at A&I Hollywood and proceeds from the show will benefit the weSpark Cancer Support Center ( Also check out the Palm Springs Photo Festival 2010. There is nothing else out there as unique as that festival. It’s a great event to attend, get advice, and make connections.

Chris Buck: This is a very competitive field of photography; there are substantial fees in advertising portrait photography and many people want a piece of that pie. The main thing that you need to do for this work is to think of yourself on the national stage. This is more challenging if you are not physically in a major market like New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles. You should not be looking to your competitors in a small local market because the fact is the big advertising portrait work comes out of these larger markets. For the national market, you need to create a portfolio with a portrait style that is more focused and unique.

Photographers will look at advertising portraits and say “I could have shot that,” but often the clients are hiring you for the more extreme examples in your portfolio—even though they are not going to use that look in their ad. This happens for two reasons. One, this type of client wants to feel they are working with an artist and someone who brings something more to the table. Second, they may only need 20 percent of “Chris Buck” and 80 percent of the client branding but that 20 percent can be the difference between shooting something that the art director is excited about vs. something uninteresting for them. That 20 percent needs to be 100 percent of your portfolio.

One thing I want to add for young photographers is that your physical portfolio is still important. Even with websites, it still plays a substantial role and the presentation of your printed work is still crucial! When a photographer gets a top job, there is a portfolio in front of that client when that decision is made. Clients will judge what they will get from you in an assignment by what you show in your physical portfolio. A website is very forgiving, pretty and simple with small pictures and low resolution. The physical portfolio is much closer to what advertising photography clients receive in a finished ad—especially the level of quality and production. If you show a shabby portfolio, you will not get the top work.