Behind-the-Scenes Videos — Take Two

Posted on: June 20th, 2011 by: Zack Seckler

There’s a new twist on the ubiquitous photo shoot behind-the-scenes video and it looks less like something you’d see on YouTube and more like something you’d see on MTV (well, back when MTV played music videos). F STOP photographer Michael Levin recently showed me a stylized  short film of him shooting on the south coast of Japan. It’s stylized, it’s slick and it’s a far cry from the BTS videos that only photo geeks can relate to. At close to 75K views in just two weeks of being released it also seems to be doing a damn good job at introducing Levin’s work to lots of eyeballs. I asked Michael a few quick questions about this project; our brief interview follows below.

What was your goal in having this film made?

The film was actually the result of another project I was working on. A production company needed footage of me at work in Japan for a documentary and that’s when I decided to contact Brad Kremer. So my original intentions for the video grew into something much more as we stared filming. Brad recognized while we were shooting that the footage might be used in a couple of different ways, one of them being a short video set to music. So this is the first video in a trilogy of projects we’re working on right now. The video has provided me a platform to help expose my work to a larger audience. I think with some creative marketing I’ll be able to promote the video in areas that are photo centric based websites or magazines.

Why did you want it to be different from other behind-the-scenes video?

Well, I don’t think this is a true behind the scenes video in the traditional sense. I really think it’s a story about a day in the life of a photographer at work. It captures some of the small moments that i encounter yet isn’t really revealing in a “oh that’s how they do it” way.  After studying my photographs Brad came up with some interesting ideas on how he might want to tell this story and we ran with it. It became clear that neither of us wanted a straightforward video of me standing in front of some  picturesque scene, that’s not what my work is about. From the onset  Brad wanted to film me in ways that took my photographic style into consideration and he tried (and succeeded) to incorporate those elements into his filmic style. I think the scene at the 3:01 point demonstrates his ability to place me within the frame of something that I might shoot, yet  I was shooting something completely different. So in a way he’s taking a voyeuristic approach to filming me and I’ve unknowingly been placed within one of my own photographs. Because of the technique I use for my photographs I’m often in one location for a number of hours at a time. I was concerned that this might not be that interesting to a videographer as there’s really nothing visually dynamic going on. This proved to be quite the opposite as Brad clearly was able to make unremarkable scenes into something much more.

Why did you think Brad Kremer would be a good fit for this project?

I really enjoyed a short film he did called “Hayaku” shot entirely in Japan. I’ve visited those places that he filmed in a number of times and I really thought he had captured them in a spectacular way. It was clear to me that he also shared a true fascination with the Japan that exists outside of the big cities. The other factor was that he frequently uses time-lapse photography to create video and I thought this would be the perfect style for capturing me at work as I stood there for a number of hours in one spot.

How did you convince him to come on board?

I sent him an email basically outlining the project I was working on. We had some back and forth dialogue and within a month we were having beers and sushi in Japan.

How long did it take to create the film?

We did all the filming over 5 really long days in the beginning of January 2010. Brad and I met up in Kyushu, Japan and as soon as he arrived we started discussing concepts. Once Brad was back in the States he started assembling the rough edits over the next two months. During that time we had numerous phone discussions about the sequencing and clip choices as there was a lot of footage to go through. He then worked with his team coloring and editing the final footage to a song by Röyksopp which I think worked out quite well.By the end of May the final edit was completed, so about 4 months from start to finish.

How have your results been so far?

Once the video was completed we both realized that this was something really unique and we were both proud of it.  I’ve seen videos of photographers at work before before but nothing like what Brad had come up with.  Brad posted it on his Vimeo page and it really took off and has received considerable attention and favourable praise from around the globe. It’s been viewed over 40,000 times in less than two weeks which I think is very promising.

Your Next First Stop

Posted on: February 22nd, 2011 by: Zack Seckler

Last month I got an email with “Love your work” in the subject line. Not that compliments work on me but I proceeded to quickly open the email and read every last work. What I found was a great idea:

The idea:

“Everyday we creatives are glutted with promos from photographers and illustrators and far more often than not, they get thrown out…it’s not that we don’t love their work, we do! but we have no place to file it all – physically or mentally. that’s why we made first-stop, a free and easy to use online showcase for photographers and illustrators. the site gives creatives direct access to the artists they want to work with, while providing a paperless alternative to the barrage of promos.”

First-Stop is in it’s infancy but there’s already piles of great work up there (including images from yours truly…not biased at all). The site has a somewhat addictive quality too…lot’s of great work accompanied by a clickable “stamp your approval” graphic which adds to an image’s popularity ranking and helps sort through what images you like. Most importantly, it’s good for the environment and easy on the photographer’s wallet! from matthieu brajot on Vimeo.

Marketing & Self-Promotion — Part Four

Posted on: November 17th, 2010 by: Zack Seckler

This series provides answers to questions that every photographer has about marketing themselves and their work to ad agencies. Each part in the series is an interview with a different art buyer or art producer about how they find photographers and what works and what doesn’t when it comes to marketing and self-promotion. Their answers are completely candid and oftentimes surprising.

If you read the whole series you’ll find tons of useful nuggets plus some interesting differences in opinion on what many (myself included) may have assumed to have been clear cut issues. Read part one here, two here, and three here.

Part four of this series is my conversation with Doğan Dattilo, a Senior Art Producer at TBWA\Chiat\Day who’s been in the business for five years.

Art Production by Doğan Dattilo

Seckler: Please tell me your process for finding a photographer, what’s the first thing you do when you receive a layout for an ad?

Dattilo: Our department is constantly looking for talent. Not only photographers but illustrators and other artists. Even motion has creeped into our world a little bit, so we’re constantly exploring what talent is out there and what they’re capable of. Much of that happens by way of shows. We get a lot of promos by mail and by e-mail. Gallery openings. Essentially, we’re keeping up with the pulse of the industry. When we do get a layout, we converse with our creatives to get their thoughts on a concept. Kind of get their take on things. Once we’ve done that, we go back to our resources, have conversations with other art producers in the building who’ve done similar productions.

Seckler: So tell me, how large a list of photographers are we talking about?

Dattilo: That can depend on time, and the creatives’ approach to things. Sometimes it could be a list of ten to twelve, and other creatives want to explore a little bit, see what’s out there, don’t know exactly what direction they want to take it because they obviously realize a photographer’s going to take it to yet another level. So that list can be as big as forty or fifty. The one benefit I’ve noticed, especially over the last five or six years, is that we’re going much more digital now in terms of reviewing portfolios.

Seckler: So tell me a little bit more about how you construct your lists. You mentioned word-of-mouth, do you ever look at source books?

Dattilo: Occasionally. We have a lot of rep shows that come through, so we’ll all individually bookmark different reps that we like to work with. Honestly, I bookmark every rep. And I go back through that. I use a Firefox tagging system to tag the links of these photographers. If you tag them properly, you can very effectively search for what they may be looking for. Other people will, you know, still get all the promos from their mail. And keep them in a big box, and kind of flip through it. More like a postcard kind of thing.

Seckler: Do you look at sourcebooks online or in print?

Dattilo: I look at them online.

Seckler: Do you like print promos?

Dattilo: Yeah, but I would say we’re a tough audience to reach, because there are many, many photographers and artists who are trying to reach a small pool of art producers. I get, thirty or fourty promo e-mails a day. And then when I go to the mailroom, I probably have twenty, twenty-five printed pieces in all. I mean, to be honest I can’t look through all of them, much as I’d love to. And the other thing is, keeping them all would get ridiculous. You could build a mountain out of it. We use our interns to look through a lot of stuff. Other people that have different interests in the photography world will point out a promo that they’ve seen, throw it up on the island. So we’re all kind of communally continually looking for things.

Seckler: That’s a good idea. Do you know what percentage of, for example, e-mail promos you actually open, versus what you have to delete because you don’t have time?

Dattilo: Unfortunately, I’d say it’s pretty low. Maybe ten or fifteen percent. And that also depends on how crazy things are. If I’m involved in a shoot, I hardly look at any. And then when things slow down a little bit, then that’s a moment of trying to catch up on some of that stuff.

Seckler: What about print promos? Is it about the same percentage?

Art Production by Doğan Dattilo

Dattilo: Print promos, for me, go a little faster, because they’re isolated away from other work. You know, when you get a new e-mail promo, a bunch of them are scattered within a bunch of other e-mails you’re getting from everyone you’re working with in the building, or if you’re on a production.

And they almost seem to get in the way, more than the ones that end up in your mailbox, because we don’t get any mail or correspondence that really has to do with our jobs anymore except for promos. The occasional invoice, but even that’s all digital. So when I go check the mail, it is a box full of promos. So I can, at that point, at least flip through it. If I see things I like, what I normally do is put them on a pile on my desk, and then ideally go back through them and put their websites into my bookmarks.

Seckler: What really unique promos have you received that have left a mark on you?

Dattilo: I once got matchboxes with matches in them. I believe it was from a rep. I unfortunately don’t recall who it is at this point. This was two years ago. And it was an image — on the edge was a website of the representatives, and then on the larger face side of each matchbox were images of the photographers and artists they represented. And I think the key thing with that was, those promos actually permeated into my personal life because I ended up taking them home. Maybe by the grill or with the candles. So those promos actually lived at my house for six months.

Seckler: Did you end up hiring any of those photographers the rep represented?

Dattilo: No. I don’t necessarily think a promo will lead to a hire for specific job. It’s more like you end up on a list and maybe get selected for a future job. I think the key thing is, what it does for that photographer or those reps is… it keeps you top-of-mind. And the other thing is, we have a system here where each art producer works on a collective of accounts. For instance, I work on a sports brand, so I’m constantly looking for more sports-related photographers. And that’s not to say that we won’t get concepts that deviate from just sports photographers, but more often than not, knowing who shot professional athletes, those are the ones you turn to first.

Seckler: What about award annuals…first off, do you look at them?

Dattilo: Sure, we do get a lot of those books. We flip through them, we keep them around for a while. Although I try to live as digital and clutter-free as possible. A lot of other guys keep books around.

Seckler: Does an impressive award list make a difference for you in terms of pulling out a photographer, deciding whether to bookmark them? Does it have an impact on you?

Dattilo: I think it could, if from a conceptual standpoint it was their creative vision. Then yes, I think that would have an impact on me. And I think we see that more often in younger talent, that’s still finishing up school, that has not only had to shoot their own material but actually come up with a concept. And then you kind of see their entire brain working. Not that photographers aren’t creatively involved without a concept, but if they’re winning awards for ideas from agencies, I don’t know if that’s going to have as much of an impact on me.

Art Production by Doğan Dattilo

Seckler: That’s an interesting delineation. So, talking about younger talent, are you open to working with “emerging talent,” people who’ve been in the business only a few years?

Dattilo: Sure we’re definitely open to that. In certain circumstances it warrants it, and in other circumstances we can’t: you know, we do live in a world of creative and financial and client compromise. So if an opportunity presents itself where we can use young talent, we’re definitely open to that. We’ve looked for talent at various schools, sometimes help to connect them with industry professionals.  Ideally when we use younger or inexperienced talent, we surround them with a team, such as an experienced producer to help them through the process.  Shooting for yourself is one thing, shooting for a major brand with expectations is another.

Seckler: Let me ask you about motion. Have you have been working with more motion projects recently?

Dattilo: We haven’t worked with, necessarily, motion. I think it’s something that we’re keeping an eye on as the photography industry evolves, and technology evolves.

Seckler: So no real work in that area yet?

Dattilo: No, I think right now it’s an exploratory phase. Obviously we have a broadcast department that does all of our motion, but we are noticing a trend, especially going back to photographers’ websites, where they’re starting to do more motion. Delineating between whether or not that’s going to be in a broadcast capacity, or interactive and online, is something we’re continually keeping an eye on. I think, in the near future, there will be projects that lend themselves to a photographer not only shooting the photography but shooting some of the video as well, and I say video in a non-broadcast capacity. Then there are others that are more than capable of directing or being DPs on a broadcast level as well. That level of integration is slowly starting to happen.

Seckler: If you were a photographer what would you do to get in touch with an art producer at an ad agency?

Dattilo: Well, you know I have the luxury of not being in that position. It’s a hard question to answer. Honestly, probably a lot of what they’re already doing. I mean, much like any industry, it’s relationship-based. If we could have relationships with every great photographer or great talent out there, we’d certainly try to do that. We try to set up as many shows as possible. We have individual photographers who come in, just discuss what they’re working on, understand their personalities. But, you know some of that stuff needs to remain objective. We’d hire based on what we’re seeing on the page, instead of personality.

Seckler: Would you say that, of the photographers you hire, most of them come from having previously met them or their rep?

Dattilo: Yeah, I think at least having met their rep or us having had interaction with that company, sure. I think that’s pretty common.

Seckler: Could you throw a percentage on it?

Dattilo: I would say more than fifty percent, including those who we haven’t worked with directly but we have a strong knowledge of. A producer that’s worked with this rep, that’s worked with this photographer. You know, at the end of the day it’s really not our call. We definitely help with the decision making process, but it’s ultimately the art director’s call most of the time, and then again money and time. And clients will dictate some of that as well. We just at least try to put together a list of talent that will satisfy our creative needs while keeping in mind client needs and coming to a happy balance. Ideally the happy balance is as creative as possible. That’s the goal.

The Path to Becoming a Director

Posted on: September 13th, 2010 by: Zack Seckler

Written by Zack Seckler
Edited by Greg Faherty

Like many other professional photographers I’ve been keeping a close eye on the motion phenomenon and have been quickly upgrading my skills so I can create both still and motion content for my clients and myself.

In the search to educate myself about directing motion I came across an excellent book called The 30-Second Storyteller: The Art and Business of Directing Commercials by director Thomas Richter. It’s a fantastic resource. Not just because it is indeed about the art and business of directing commercials but because it comes straight from a person who cut their chops as a director, not as a still photographer.

This is important because we get a peek into the world of full-scale commercial productions. Or in other words: we get to see how the big boys roll.

I interviewed the author/director Thomas Richter about his directing experience, his views on the industry and where still photographers fit into the mix. What follows is a ton of valuable information for anyone interested in professionally directing motion.

Seckler: What was your path to becoming a commercial director?

Richter: I went to college with the goal of becoming a director. At the time there was the perception that if you start off in commercials you get to work faster, and eventually you’ll have a shot at doing movies. Some of the recent graduates at that time, like Michael Bay and Zack Snyder, had done just that, become really successful commercial and music video directors. It hasn’t always been like that. There were times when it’s been difficult to be a commercial director and make it into the movies. But there was this opportunity, and so a lot of us just thought, let’s do a commercial reel because it’s cheaper than shooting a movie.

I graduated in ’96, with a commercial reel that was very heavily children’s commercials, be it a car commercial or food commercial or whatever. Doing that served me well to start out with, because it was a specialty niche, but I got tired of it pretty quickly and switched over to a more comedic style.

Seckler: How long did it take until you were able to start making a living at directing?

Richter: It was pretty quick. I was doing really well by, like, ’98. I got my first smaller jobs in 1997. Mostly in Europe. I had some bites here [in LA], but then it started going a little better in Europe.  Public service announcements, lottery type spots, etc. The types of projects where production companies hire fresh, new, young directors. The budgets ranged from $10,000 to $20,000.

Seckler: So, those things start to come along and then you start to get bigger jobs.

Richter: Yeah. Obviously it’s different for everyone. One of my student friends back then, he did this spec spot for Budweiser, and it was so funny that Budweiser actually used it for the Super Bowl. So all of a sudden he had a Super Bowl spot. And that’s just the way it is. You start with smaller jobs, and then hopefully someone will see it and it’s good enough so that your reel looks good, and some agency will give you a shot. Unfortunately, this is a really hard time to do that because of the entire state of the industry. But opportunities are always out there.

Seckler: When you started out, did you have a production company representing you at that time?

Richter: Yes, you always have to have a company, because they have the contacts. So it’s always good, almost necessary financially, to have a production company behind you that has some clout, that can curry favors and can get the equipment and have the insurance.

Seckler: Got it. So tell me, what’s the typical career arc of a director? You mentioned in your book that directors will only spend a few years at the peak of their career. That begs the question: what happens after your peak?

Richter: You can be a director for longer, but there’s usually a time when you’re really hot. And sometimes guys manage to make that peak longer, and sometimes they manage to have sort of a second peak or a comeback type thing. It’s different for everyone. There was a time when Tarsem Singh (who directed the R.E.M video “Losing My Religion”) was the hottest shit around. And, right now he’s not really doing many commercials. He had a very specific style that was hot for a moment, and now it’s not hot anymore. And the same for people like Michael Bay, who did a very specific kind of music video and commercial that was high-production, that was very over-stylized in a storytelling way. But he managed to move on into features. Very successfully, obviously. Others start production companies. Some keep working in commercials. So you definitely want to be aware that you might have a time when you’re making a ton of money, but that’s not going to last so you’d better put the money in the bank. And try to find some kind of solid income for whatever comes after.

Seckler: Can you give people an idea of what a director could make while they’re doing really well, and then what they could make after they’ve gone through that hot period where they’re just kind of working for the bank?

Richter: Well, if you have a really good year, you might shoot fifteen commercials, maybe twenty. That’s a lot. And these are not the A+ list commercials, because those take longer, so you can’t shoot as many. You’re probably going to make twenty grand per shooting day. That’s an upper average. So you can make upwards of $350,000 -$400,000 without being one of the super-hot top guys, who can pull $5 million or $6 million quite easily. I was able to make $100,000 – $120,000 for two or three years straight by shooting between eight to ten spots a year.

Seckler: Is that still a valid range?

Richter: It’s gotten a little tougher. A lot has changed with the recession and the general downturn in advertising, so the rates have dropped dramatically. For someone like me it’s pretty much stayed the same except there’s less work. Because I would consider myself the B- range, and there are a lot of A guys that are doing work now they wouldn’t have touched three or four years ago. They’re doing detergent commercials. I’m bidding against people that, and it blows my mind. I bid against David Mamet. And I’m just like, are you kidding me? I’m bidding against a literary icon? It’s like, if I were an agency and I had the choice between David Mamet and me, I’d be working with David Mamet, just because then they can walk around saying that they worked with David Mamet. So that’s why it’s gotten hard at an entry level.

Seckler: For the people out there who aren’t at the top but are getting ten jobs or so a year what do they do for the rest of that time?

Richter: Well, it’s misrepresenting to say you have ten shooting days, because each shooting is preceded by a one or two-week pre-production phase, and in some cases you’re part of the post-production. In some cases you’re not, but usually you’ll at least do a director’s cut, which will take two or three days. So each project is generally at least a two-week project. And then you have to take into account writing the treatment and bidding for the job. That can take a week, and chances are for every spot you book you were bidding on ten others that you didn’t book. So that’s all work, you know.

Seckler: What’s your opinion about where the industry is going? Do you think that it’s specifically tied to how the economy is doing, or do you think the industry as a whole is changing because of, for example, new media and people gravitating from television to online viewing?

Richter: I think that in a way it has been the perfect storm for this industry. With the recession and the overall economic downturn, the first thing to get cut is advertising budgets. But besides that, online media and the proliferation of things like You Tube and the web have caused clients to say, ‘wait a minute, why should I pay $500,000 for a commercial, and why should I pay a TV network $10 million to run it if I can distribute it for free over the Internet, get 10 million hits, and shoot it for $20,000?’ And the main change has taken place in the mid-field.

All of the commercials that were between $300,000 and $750,000, those commercials are gone. All the top commercials, the ones where they spend $750,000 and up, they’re still around. And the whole convergence of Internet and television that we’re witnessing, and the change of the entire prime-time network model, no one has really figured out how that’s going to work. Television networks are clinging to the old models because that’s where they make most of the money. They don’t have the answers. They don’t know how they’re going to keep their model in existence, quite honestly.

Seckler: What’s your opinion?

Richter: Well, I think the good news is that content is going to be king. Good content will be what takes a commercial to the top. That’s what we’re seeing with the video sharing, with people sharing cool little clips. Internet and television are going to be the same appliance. So I think the budgets are going to stay low. It’s never going to go back to the good old times. But even with that said, there’s still a pretty good paycheck in most cases because things just cost money if you want to do them right.

Seckler: You mentioned lower production quality…when the HD-DSLR cameras hit the market, how did that impact the motion industry, specifically commercials?

Richter: HD opened the door to a lot of high-quality cameras people wouldn’t have considered before, especially agencies. There’s a perception still in many places that it’s just low-budget and low production value to shoot HD. But agencies can be convinced that shooting on a digital format can look exactly the same as shooting on film. It really depends on the project how much is saved in the budget and how big the fit is.

Seckler: In terms of influence, I was thinking that it’s made high-quality video available at a much cheaper price to many more people, especially professional still photographers. So, in that sense, have you seen an impact? Have you seen a lot of still photographers make the transition into commercials?

Richter: Anyone can go rent or buy an HD camera nowadays, but that’s not going to make them a director. The good commercial is still an amalgamation of so many things. It’s the content; it’s how you shoot it. It’s how you conceptualize it. And then there is the editing, the music, that will make it look and feel professional. I think one of the major challenges for still photographers would be editing. You know, editing in motion pictures is probably the single most powerful tool. And it’s the only thing that filmmaking has that no other art form has. Everything else we borrow. If I was a photographer trying to break into commercials, I would study editing because that’s what sets it apart from still photography. You can look at a still image for ten minutes and appreciate every inch of it. In commercials, you can’t do that. You see an image for maybe two seconds, and yet you have to communicate something with that image instantly.

Seckler: Do you have any specific advice for still photographers who might want to break into directing commercials?

Richter: The editing is a huge deal. I would study editing. I would look into how editing works, because there’s a dynamic motion that can make things seem fluent or it can create conflict. And that’s because it all goes back to storytelling at the end. It has a lot to do with how your brain processes information. In animation, for example, your brain fills in the motion. It’s actually about the gaps in the motion more than it is about showing every second of one motion.

Seckler: What about advice for building a reel? In the book you recommend spec spots, right? Why is it important to actually feature a real product as opposed to just doing something that’s good in and of itself but doesn’t feature a brand name?

Richter: Your reel is what will get you into the door, not just with a production company but also with agencies and ultimately clients. And every step of the way is less creative. People are less creative, less artistic, less imaginative. And they’re going to be looking more at some sort of bottom line, be it financial or a fear of losing their job. So each agency creative who looks at it also thinks about, ‘how can I show this, how can I sell this to my client?’ They want to be able to say, ‘okay, this guy knows what he’s doing. He’s done this before. I can trust this.’ So if you have beautiful fantastic stuff, or even super funny stuff, but it’s something that’s not quite a commercial, then it raises questions. And the fewer questions that are raised, the better.

Seckler: So it’s about safety.

Richter: Yes. If you have a reel and everyone knows it’s all spec, they’re going to be scared. Ideally you want the commercial to look absolutely real, where they don’t even question, where they don’t even ask if it’s real or if it’s a spec spot. And those are the spots that will give you the most for your money.

Seckler: So how do you recommend people start out building a reel?

Richter: Well, the first thing you have to do is take stock of what’s out there and see how you fit into that. What’s your style? Do you like comedy, do you like pretty pictures, do you like tabletop? And then you look and see, what’s hot right now. What are people looking for? And you can either buy into that completely and do what everyone is doing, or you can try to do your art form and add something to it, make something that’s interesting and at the same time commercial. In the comedy world, one way is to ask creative if they have boards. Creatives will write, like, fifty spots for every spot that’s even considered by a client, so they have tons of stuff lying around. Tabletop is easy because you can go and buy some products and just shoot it really pretty. Cars are really expensive to do, so that’s one of those things where you’ve got to sort of work your way into cars rather than do a spec car reel because otherwise you’ll be spending a lot of money.  I’ve known people who spend $120,000 on their spec reel and never get any work out of it.

Marketing & Self-Promotion — Part Three

Posted on: June 29th, 2010 by: Zack Seckler

This series provides answers to questions that every photographer has about marketing themselves and their work to ad agencies. Each part in the series is an interview with a different art buyer or art producer about how they find photographers and what works and what doesn’t when it comes to marketing and self-promotion. Their answers are completely candid and oftentimes surprising.

If you read the whole series you’ll find tons of useful nuggets plus some interesting differences in opinion on what many (myself included) may have assumed to have been clear cut issues. Read part one here and part two here.

Part three of this series is my conversation with Wini Alcorn, an art producer who’s worked at McCann Erickson for ten years . Our interview took place in her New York office back in April. Since the interview she’s changed positions within McCann Erickson and will be working in their broadcast department.

Photograph by Patrick Demarchelier. Art produced by Wini Alcorn.

Seckler: What’s your typical process like for finding a photographer?

Alcorn: Typically I just get on my computer and start going through my bookmarks. Hopefully when I see a layout a photographer comes to mind. And then if none of those people fit what I’m looking for, then I really just go through my bookmarked websites. I definitely start off on the Internet and I also use my coworkers as a resource. Especially if I’m not coming up with anything that fits. If my own website searching and [coworkers] doesn’t really come to anything, then I usually will look at At-Edge. I also look at Le Book [and]

Seckler: Are Le Book, Workbook and At-Edge the three sourcebooks you go to?

Alcorn: For photography those pretty much are the ones I go to. Sometimes I’ll look at Altpick and I know I’ve also done the APA [website] recently.

Sometimes it’s easy if you’re shooting in New York or L.A., but if you need to shoot in Ohio or in Kansas, [the websitses] have a nice feature where you can type in locale. I also did do a search recently for aerial photographers, which I know nothing about, and typed in ‘aerial photography’ and it gave me a whole list of photographers.

Seckler: So, it’s good for the specialized and non-primary market based searches.

Alcorn: Right.

Seckler: When you are using sourcebooks do you tend to look at the print editions or do you look at them online?

Alcorn: Now I look online. If I have the print edition, I don’t even know. You see, I have a bookcase there, full of books and rarely do I get up and go look at them (Laughs).

Because online I feel like it’s more current. I think if there’s a change in an artist’s rep, it’s going to be online. [When] you’re looking in a [printed] sourcebook it’s already outdated.

Seckler: What about photographers who do one or two page ads in Archive or Communication Arts…does that have an impact on you?

Alcorn: I don’t look through those books as much. It’s not my thought to look there when I’m looking for photographers. If I’m looking at those books it’s because someone was like, ‘you should read this article about this photographer’ or ‘look at this cool ad.’ And then I get the book and I look at it but it’s not something that I think of as a resource. They don’t have to buy a $10,000 page in a sourcebook. They can just send me an e-mail and I’ll probably see it and then I’ll bookmark it.

Seckler: Are you open to working with emerging talent?

Alcorn: We want to work with the best photographer out there. But I do think there’s always some nerves in terms of production. Because I do think when you work with someone more established, you know that they’ve had the experience working with the big agency, they’ve had the experience working with the client, or they have a team who knows how to handle all the drama that comes with the big agency and the big client. So I think there’s some security [in using established photographers] but I would say, certainly if it’s the right photographer for the job, it would just be one of those conversations like ‘this may be your first or second big job, but we think you’re right.’

But there’s always the clients ‘oh, can we work with Annie Leibovitz?’ So they have these big names in their head, and it’s like, ‘there’s more photographers than that and she’s not even the right photographer for your project!’ I think sometimes clients fall in love with the idea of working with a famous photographer. But I think in this day and age, budgets are so tight, there’s more of a chance for the younger photographers because the bigger photographers may not be willing to bring their fees down.

Seckler: Has print work started to pick up a little bit recently?

Alcorn: I think it’s definitely busier here. Last year was not a great year. Everyone was very nervous. Seeing the closing of a lot of those magazines was scary. I think it’s picking back up. But I think it’s kind of this unknown. Where is this going? Where is media going? I think everyday I see more photographers sending an e-mail [with a link to] their website and they have video! I think really it’s all about digital and interactive. I think it’s all about knowing how to bring it all together. It seems to me like everyone is talking about behind-the-scenes video for the Internet. So we need to shoot the print, but we need to shoot some video, and wouldn’t it be great if the photographer knew how to do both.

Seckler: Have you or your colleagues hired photographers to do both stills and the motion?

Alcorn: I don’t know if we have here. I do know that I recently did something where there was a director that was hired. And there was discussion about having the director shoot the video, and then pulling the stills from the video. And then the more we talked about it, the more we felt that, perhaps we should also shoot some stills. The more we talked about it, we said maybe it would be better to shoot from a still camera. And the director actually shot the stills with the still camera.

Seckler: Right. So it happened, but instead of hiring a still photographer you hired a director…

Alcorn: A director, and he did both. I don’t know if we’ve hired a photographer yet and actually asked him to do video. Certainly I meet a lot of photographers who come in, and they show that. When they’re showing me their portfolio, they say ‘I shot this after we wrapped the shoot, I decided to do this for myself and the client really liked it, and they went and threw it up on their website.’ So I think that’s smart. I think that that’s the next thing, if you can learn to do it. It’s also kind of learning what’s good and what’s not good. For me it’s also a new aesthetic. I think it’s just a new language for all of us print people to look at.

Seckler: Circling back to the topic of promotion…does winning the major awards have an impact on if you’re considering a photographer for a job?

Alcorn: I would say no. If anything I like the PDN 30. Of the magazines that’s one I look at. And I use that magazine when I’m trying to read about new technology and photographers and what the trends are, and I think that’s a good source.

Seckler: What about the annual competitions like Communication Arts Photo Annual or the Lucie Awards?

Alcorn: I think, if anything, because they’ll do promotions for who won I’ll see it. It’s good in that sense, that if you’ve won, I’ll probably get an e-mail, and your name will be on it, and there’ll be a photo. And then I might go look at it, whereas before I might not have been drawn to you. But in terms of if I’m hiring for a job it’s still more about does it fit the concept? Is it in my budget? Does the art director feel like this photographer’s going to bring the right sensibility to the ad? Yeah, I don’t think the award trumps any of that. More, it might just be a way for them to get in front of me.

Seckler: Now, you mentioned using bookmarks a lot, about how many photographer bookmarks do you have?

Alcorn: I used to try to alphabetize them so here, let’s start at “A” and just keep going… (scrolling down for several seconds).

Seckler: That’s a lot (Laughs).

Alcorn: That’s a lot.

Seckler: How many photographers do you recommend to an art director once they’ve given you a layout?

Alcorn: I’ll look through my bookmarks for a couple hours. I usually try to narrow it down ten. And if that’s too much, five. Because I think art directors — it gets overwhelming.

Seckler: Do you like to see a very specialized look in photographers’ websites or does it throw you off if they have a few different categories?

Alcorn:: I think it’s good [to have variety], it doesn’t throw me off. I think it can throw clients off, and people who aren’t as creative. It’s confusing if you’re in a meeting and your portfolio has every other picture’s as a different style. Then people are going to be concerned about hiring you. But I think art directors like to see it because I think it gives a better impression of the artist’s vision. Either way, when I look at portfolios I think it’s nice to have two portfolios. ‘Here’s my landscape book and here’s my portrait book.’ I think it depends on your audience and how you’re trying to sell yourself.

Seckler: Do you like e-mail promos or do you find them overwhelming?

Alcorn: I find them a little overwhelming. I definitely get a lot. And honestly, it depends on how busy I am, and my mood…whether I’m going to look at them or not. I think the best e-mails have in the subject line something [specific] that makes sense. Not something vague and not something too clever. Just tell me what it is. I don’t have time to read [lots of text], if I’m interested, if I like what you send as a visual, I’ll go to your website. So you don’t need to give me all the backstory in the e-mail. Just send me a photo, and a link. But as I said, sometimes I’m busy, and I don’t open them. I’ll just delete them.

Seckler: Right.

Alcorn: Which I don’t like to admit to but occasionally I will if there’s a lot. I personally like mail promos. If I like them, I keep them. I hang them on my wall, I put them up. On my door I have magnets where I hang up the ones I like the most. Some people like e-mail blasts, some people don’t. You’re never going to find the answer. I think everyone likes something different. So I would just do what you feel is your best way to show your work.

Seckler: Any pearls of wisdom for photographers out there who are looking to get in touch with the right potential clients? Advice for maybe a unique promotional idea or something?

Alcorn: The fun promos are cool, but I don’t know if they really help you get the job. People who do the theme promos, where it’s a box and there’s stuff in it. Where they spend a lot of money. Maybe that leads to work, but I don’t know if I’ve ever hired someone where I’m like, ‘Oh my God, that cool promo!’

And if you’re going to call and set up an appointment do your homework. If you want to shoot food, go to the agency that handles the food account. Don’t go to that agency and try to sell fashion and beauty. If you’re smart and say, ‘I’m going to be in town, and I know you guys handle these accounts, and I work on this kind of stuff. Would you be willing to meet with me?’ I’ll think most people are willing to meet with people.

I would also say do your homework and be considerate. And don’t inundate people with e-mails. Lots of times I’ll get the e-mails like, ‘I’m just following up to see if you got my e-mail, dot-da-da-da-da-da.’ And it’s like, I’m sure I got it. But do I remember it? I don’t know. And then you get the phone call, like, ‘I’m just calling to see…’ and it’s like, oh my God! It’s just too much. (Laughs)

You got to have some faith that it reached me. And if not, do another one in three months. We probably get thirty e-mails a day and it’s a lot. Sometimes I only remember the ones that really are applicable to what I’m working on. So it’s not because your image sucked. It’s just not pertinent to what I’m doing.

Marketing & Self-Promotion – Part Two

Posted on: May 24th, 2010 by: Zack Seckler

This series provides answers to questions that every photographer has about marketing themselves and their work to ad agencies. Each part in the series is an interview with a different art buyer or art producer about how they find photographers and what works and what doesn’t when it comes to marketing and self-promotion. Their answers are completely candid and oftentimes surprising.

If you read the whole series you’ll find tons of useful nuggets plus some interesting differences in opinion on what many (myself included) may have assumed to have been clear cut issues. Read part one here.

Part two of this series is my conversation with Sandy Boss Febbo, a fourteen year ad industry veteran who works as an Executive Art Producer at Carmichael Lynch.

Seckler: Please take met through your general process for finding a photographer once you receive a layout for a potential job.

Boss Febbo: I don’t think there is necessarily a general process. You know, I’m constantly on the prowl for talent. It’s a daily thing of looking at stuff that comes in via e-mail and promos to searching out some favorite sites and blogs and keeping a pulse on what’s going on out there. The hopeful intent in making it a daily task is that when we’re working with our creatives as they’re developing concepts they’re already starting to put artists against it – which is ideal. There are definitely some jobs where we’re retrofitting a concept, where something will hit our desk and we need to figure out who would be best suited to execute the idea. I think it’s a better collaboration if you can get ahead of it and commission artists that will have more of an opportunity to do what they do to elevate a campaign. The hopeful goal is that the work that somebody’s shooting will inspire part of that campaign.

Seckler: So tell me a bit more about how you find the talent that might shape a campaign.

Boss Febbo: What happens is I’ll fall in love with somebody’s work, and either by bookmarking them and going back to their site and seeing new work, or contacting an agent if they have one, or putting something that they’ve shot up on my wall, it kind of becomes a wish list. And then you’re hoping that a campaign’s going to come through where that work’s going to make a really good fit. And it happens at times, even in other genres that we produce within art production, if it’s typography or illustration or design. I’ll have someone on that list for a number of years before I find the right collaboration. And then when you do it’s kind of like ‘score!’ I finally get to call this person and work with them. You know, I just discovered in a couple other conversations I’ve had on a similar topic that it can be that this artist may not even know that I’m looking at their work. Because until I have the right project I may not be calling in a portfolios, because it’s kind of expensive to do that. I don’t really make that move until it’s a live project that they’re suited for.

Seckler: And you may not want to get their hopes up too much, if ultimately nothing does come through for them.

Boss Febbo: Yeah, exactly. That’s kind of the way I think about it, but I get mixed comments on that. That maybe it’s really rewarding and adds some hope to know that people like your work. To know I’m looking at it and trying to find a good project for you. But it can take a while, and maybe that’s discouraging.

Seckler: Do you ever use sourcebooks?

Boss Febbo: Not as much as I did earlier on in my career. I think sourcebooks aren’t always the best way to find talent. The talent in a certain sourcebook might not be of a consistent caliber or what I’m looking for. And honestly I’m just not satisfied having five known places that I go to look. I always want to know what else is out there, and take the path that might not be the clear one for commercial commissions.

Seckler: Are you interested in working with emerging artists?

Boss Febbo: I’m definitely interested. I won’t say I’m more interested, I’m just equally interested. It’s really rewarding…chasing down who’s shooting what, in different publications, just finding a really great editorial shooter and then seeing that they’ve got the right pieces for us. [But] I know I will need to have a conversation with them about production, because for a commercial job it’s often sadly kind of a dog and pony show. If I need to be a little bit more involved in the process to make sure the production value is what it needs to be, or make a recommendation for a line producer that the photographer could work with, to me that’s an easy part to resolve.

Seckler: Let’s talk about promos.

Boss Febbo: I get absolutely bombed with them, but I don’t mind. I would rather have an opportunity to see somebody’s work than have them hold back or not send it.

Seckler: Do you look at all of them?

Boss Febbo: I do look at all of them. I was just out on a production for a couple of weeks, and when out on the road they absolutely stack up. But I still look at all of them.

Seckler: And what percent of them do you find to be relevant to the accounts that you work on?

Boss Febbo: Relevant to the specific accounts that I’m working on, maybe 25%? But that’s okay by me. My primary account right now is Subaru, and then I’m also fairly dialed into what’s going on with Harley-Davidson. And we have a number of other clients that don’t produce the volume of those two. But I don’t want to receive promos from people who just think “I’m a car photographer” or “I’m great with bikes and lifestyle so I should contact CL.” I want to see all of them, because you never know what’s going to bubble up in a campaign or what creative need is going to come through.

Seckler: Do you prefer print or mail promos? Are they equally effective for you?

Boss Febbo: I think they’re equally effective. I don’t have a strong preference. If I have a strong preference for either one, it would be to see a single really solid image. You know, it’s about the image before anything else. And if it’s a really compelling image, I’m going to want to go to the website, or I’m going to want to hang onto that piece and watch for the next one to come through. You’d be amazed with the number of e-mails I get that just kind of announce like ‘Hey, I have this new thing, and you should go to my website to check it out.” And the e-mail doesn’t have an image. There should be a teaser, something that my eyes are going to go, ‘Oh, yeah!’

Seckler: What about award and competition annuals? Do you look at the major ones like Communication Arts and so on?

Boss Febbo: I do look at all of those.

Seckler: And does that make an impression on you? If you go to a photographer’s site and you see that somebody’s got a long list of big awards, versus if someone’s got good work but they don’t have any?

Boss Febbo: No.

Seckler: Doesn’t matter?

Boss Febbo: No, honestly it doesn’t. I think it’s a really great nod from the industry, to get an award and to be in that company. But if I’m looking at somebody’s work, and they don’t have any awards, but their work is amazing, it doesn’t matter to me that they haven’t won an award yet. Because I just figure that hopefully when we collaborate it might lead to something great.

Seckler: Does whether or not a photographer have representation matter to you?

Boss Febbo: It doesn’t. No, we’ve commissioned photographers over the years that don’t have reps. It might be their first project commercially or it might be that we’ve commissioned their first project in the States if they’re an overseas shooter and they don’t have U.S. representation. I think it’s a more telling thing to have a creative call to see if there’s a nice rapport in the conversation and if they could be potentially really cool to work with. You also learn a lot when you estimate a project. So much comes through when you figure out how they would approach it and what kind of thought they put into the process to deliver the image. That says volumes. I think reps can be really helpful, for sure. I know there are some that I’ve worked with that I have vast amounts of respect for, and I think that they’ve done a lot to further their artists’ careers, but it’s not a requirement.

Seckler: You mentioned hiring photographers where it may have been their first commercial job. Has it ever been difficult to convince the client to work with someone that hasn’t done a big commercial or high production job?

Boss Febbo: It hasn’t been difficult to sell it through. We’ve awarded full campaigns for large clients to shooters who’ve never done a commercial project before. And sometimes the point of selling that through is that the photographer might be so firmly tied to the work that they’re shooting and the lifestyle that they’re capturing that it gives credibility to the campaign. We would never do it just to do it, to say that we’re the first ones to shoot with somebody. But when it’s the right project, it’s right. And usually we’re successful in selling that through.

Seckler: Have you had occasions when you’ve had to find somebody who shoots stills and motion?

Boss Febbo: We have. We’ve done that a few times, some with more success than others. It depends on what needs to be captured. Like if we’re doing a still campaign and then adding an online video. An online video definitely carries less weight than doing a broadcast spot. Some things are really going to have a higher level of finish in the work. Last year we did a mix where we shot still work and then did product video on motorcycles. The intent was to do something that was much more rough in feel, so we had a mix of high-def video and super 8, just to give it the effect we were looking for. Which worked really well, and was already evident in this particular photographer’s portfolio. That kind of capture had already happened, and it wasn’t something that we were forcing. Personally, I think that still imagery and motion capture are two different mindsets, and to have someone who does both really well is kind of a rare instance. When it works, it’s really great. But we have, fortunately, an agency that’s nicely committed to making sure that we have the right talent for what the material’s needs are.

Seckler: Can you give specific examples of blogs, websites or editorial media where you find your photographers?

Boss Febbo: Here’s a very partial list of photography links I have bookmarked – can’t give up the whole story though!


Marketing & Self-Promotion – Part One

Posted on: April 27th, 2010 by: Zack Seckler

How should I market my work? How do I promote myself? Where should I advertise? How do I build client relationships?

Age-old questions. Classics. Questions that every photographer has asked at one point in their career. Questions also that never seem to have a definitive answer. Why? The answer is a matter of opinion; everyone’s different. Plus, a constant stream of new software and tech toys keep broadening the self-promotional tools that are out there.

With this in mind I thought it would be interesting to take the pulse of the industry right now. Hear what people who matter have to say about what works and what doesn’t. So, I reached out to a handful of art buyers and art producers and spoke with them at length about their views on marketing and self-promotion. Their answers were completely candid and oftentimes surprising. I think everyone from seasoned pros to those just starting out will learn a great deal from these interviews.

I’ll be publishing this series over the next few weeks. What follows is the first interview in this series, a conversation with Kristina Hicks, an art producer who’s worked on several major print and interactive campaigns during her five years at Saatchi & Saatchi.

Seckler: Please explain your process for hiring photographers.

Hicks: I meet with our creative team to learn the directives of the campaign. It always helps to determine exactly what they have in mind. I usually get layouts or I talk with them to get an idea of the campaign’s emotion, color palette, texture, and where they want to go with it. And then I start searching. Much of that search is done online, so I’ll go through my bookmarks and see if I have anybody who immediately comes to mind. If that fails, which happens occasionally, I’ll reach out to reps.

Seckler: Besides searching within the community of people you know, in what other ways do you search for photographers? Do you use sourcebooks for example?

Hicks: I use sourcebooks from time to time, though mostly when I’m searching for illustrators.  However, every once in a while when I want to work with new photographers, I’ll open a sourcebook for inspiration. I’m looking for emotion. I’m looking for somebody who can convey what the art director is looking for in a particular image. It helps to locate an image that closely correlates to what the art directors are looking for. Literal translation is a great place to start, if you can.

Seckler: Which sourcebooks do you prefer and do you use the print or the online versions?

Hicks: I primarily use Workbook. Sometimes I’ll page through art magazines. I also look at BlackBook and At-Edge. I almost always look at the book itself because everything else is done virtually; sometimes I need to look at a printed copy.

Seckler: What about photographers who pay big bucks to advertise in industry mags like Archive…do those ads have an impact on you?

Hicks: Absolutely. I think advertising is always a good idea because it just gets your name and images out there. People need to see your work. But I also think that it’s important to meet with galleries and ad agencies in person. For instance, if I have a chance to meet a photographer, and he or she seems talented, I feel better about trusting him or her with the production. It definitely gives a photographer a leg up if he or she comes in and meets with us. I would say we’re more likely to hire photographers we meet in person versus those we come across in sourcebooks. Conference calls say a lot too.

Seckler: Photographers often have the impression that they can’t walk into agencies and show their work. Do you often meet with people with whom you’ve never worked?

Hicks: It’s more challenging now. I think it has to do with the economic downturn. People have less time; they are working more. However, if you’re an ad photographer and you do your research and go to the agencies that apply to you, and you’re personable and you build a relationship with an art producer, they will likely meet with you.

It actually just happened to us with this one photographer. We’d heard of her, but we hadn’t ever worked with her, and she just happened to have the look and feel we wanted. We showed one art director, and he was like, ‘That’s exactly what I’m looking for, assuming that the job gets approved.’ Sometimes it’s about timing; you never know. I’m always happy to meet with people.

Seckler: What do you think of e-mail promos? What do you like? What works?

Hicks: I like them. It’s another avenue for me to see your work. What I don’t like is when photographers make it seem like it’s a personal message when I have no idea who they are. Don’t talk to me like I’m your best friend because I’m not. And a lot of us feel that way. It’s overkill; I prefer, ‘Hey, check out my work.’

Seckler: Do you look at all the e-mail promos you get?

Hicks: I look at about 90 percent of the digital promos I get, but I may or may not click through to look at the photographer’s website. It depends on how relevant they are for me at the moment. They don’t have to be famous for me to click on them. Just because I haven’t heard of them doesn’t mean I’m not going to explore them.

Seckler: What about print promos?

Hicks: I prefer e-mail, as do many art producers because they are environmentally responsible. But if the print promo is nice, then I actually keep it. I definitely like digital promos because I can hold more in my computer versus filling another file cabinet.

Seckler: What print promos have grabbed your attention?

Hicks: I like little books. It’s always nice to receive those. However if you aren’t a photographer who shoots images conducive to storytelling, then I wouldn’t encourage it. We get all sorts of things. It’s nice to receive print promos that are fun, but I wouldn’t suggest spending extra money on it. If you’re going to send a book, be conscious of your paper stock and printing. If you’re going to do it, do it right. Otherwise, just send e-mail.

Seckler: If you were a photographer, how would you promote yourself? What would your strategy be?

Hicks: It depends on the type of photographer you are. It seems expensive to have a book, but exposure is key. Self-promotion is about building relationships and getting exposure. You have to be smart and target your market well. The problem is that many photographers are not great business folk. That’s okay; that’s why you have a rep. Targeting your market is important because for all the photographers who want to have meetings here, many of them didn’t do their research to learn that we don’t shoot babies or clothing. Just do a little research. If you can, take time to build a relationship with an art producer and then come in. Most of them will bring you in right away, but if not, e-mail back and forth a few times, and then pop by and say that you happen to be passing through on another job. Good personal skills are vital. It’s like any relationship: If you are friendly, enthusiastic, and excited about sharing your work, it’s contagious.

Seckler: What about working with photographers who don’t have representation?

Hicks: It doesn’t deter me.  Obviously we like to work with reps because they understand the business. They are accommodating and quick. Sometimes we need rapid turnarounds with estimates, so if you’re working on another job, and not getting a number to us quickly, then you might not get hired. If you are on your own and don’t have a rep, it’s fine, as long as you can be prompt.

Seckler: Do photographers with a long list of industry awards stand a greater chance of catching your attention?

Hicks: I wouldn’t say it helps get you hired. I don’t think it makes a difference. Getting hired is based on your qualifications. If there’s a producer who’s worked with you before, and that producer has also worked with other photographers, for example, but said something good about you, then that has impact.

Seckler: How meaningful are recommendations from colleagues?

Hicks: It’s a bonus. Art producers talk. And when we work with someone good—whether he or she is a stylist, producer or a photographer—we keep lists that we share with each other. I’m a big connector. I like to bring talented, competent people together. Whether it be helping photographers find a rep that would be a good fit or putting together solid production teams. At the end of the day, I am grateful if the job went well and all teams and clients are happy. And, it’s always nice to have a friend to thank for helping to get the job done right.

The Move to Motion

Posted on: March 9th, 2010 by: Zack Seckler

Shooting motion has become the new it topic in the last two years. It used to be ‘film versus digital’ and now it’s ‘stills versus motion.’ Opinions about where the still and motion industries are headed and if/how/why still photographers should learn to shoot motion run the gamut. One thing’s for sure though, there are a lot of questions. I wanted to get some answers.

Liane Thomas is an executive producer at the Toronto based commercial production company Sons & Daughters. They represent nine very talented directors (including F STOP’s very own Mark Zibert who shoots both stills and motion) who shoot top-notch television commercials and online projects. I recently interviewed Thomas about topics I thought still photographers would want to know about motion: what equipment is used, what the fees are, how to transition from stills to motion, what strengths still photographers offer and what skills they need to learn.

A few fantastic commercials from the Sons & Daughters’ portfolio along with our detailed interview follow below. Please note that frequently when still shooters make the move to commercial motion they take on the title of Director; hence the constant talk of what Directors think and do.

Seckler: How has the your industry changed in the last couple of years?

Thomas:  Our business is strictly commercials, we do a ton of advertising so the shift has been towards the digital age and doing more online stuff. We’ve been forced to look at new technology and new camera equipment. We shoot less and less on 35mm film. We are really into the Red and the Phantom and all these new cameras, this new technology. Although the 30 second format hasn’t changed that much, a lot of the technology has.

Seckler: Does a director’s fee go down substantially if they’re working on an online project versus a television spot?

Thomas: One of my directors put it like this  “they are commercials with no money”. I think the industry is in transition right now and I feel that everybody is trying to figure it out. I think that there has been a lot of misconceptions in what shooting for the internet is really all about and what it really costs. And I think our job is to help educate our clients about how to do it and do it well. Anybody can strap a camera on their head and go do some YouTube type thing but I think that’s quite limited in terms of watchability and in terms of communication. I think there’s so much more you can do and I think as long as we work closely with our clients and the agencies we can grow that medium into something that is actually quite interesting and exciting.

Seckler: Are directors less interested in doing online work because there’s less money?

Thomas: No they sometimes are more interested because creatively you have so much more freedom. You don’t have the rules and restrictions of the CRTC (Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission) there are a lot of rules and regulations in North America television.

Seckler: So directors are okay with the movement towards online productions?

Thomas: Totally. I think we’d all like to figure out a positive business model around it because realistically we can’t do what we do for nothing because no one would be open anymore. I think we are all hoping for a model that works and I think it is a matter of time. We are all transitioning into this new world and it’s about education and working closely with people and people seeing positive results and people wanting to put more funding towards doing it.

Seckler: Can you give me an idea of what directors would get in fees for doing a television spot versus an online piece.

Thomas: It depends on the budget that comes to us. Canadian directors are usually somewhere between ten and fifteen thousand dollars a day Canadian [for television spots]. We are doing some higher priced online stuff right now and the director is getting his fee. We like to align the right type of guy to the new media stuff so he is going to get his full rate. There are a lot of great guys that have lower fees and they are more appropriate to do the online rough and tumbly type stuff.

Seckler: HDDSLR (High Definition Digital Single Lens Reflex) cameras are all the craze right now, do any of your directors use them?

Thomas: We own a Canon 7D and we use the Red a lot and a lot of our guys love using the Phantom. So those are kind of the predominate cameras we are floating around but there is some new stuff coming out, it is ever changing. We look with both visual and performance based directors so all of them have different needs and different interests. Obviously it is more of the visual guys that tend to want to work through new technology and test out what’s going on out there. The performance comedy guys are really more into the performance and the actors.

Seckler: With cameras like the 7D coming out, which are so affordable and available to the masses, how has that impacted the industry?

Thomas: It is allowing them to think about new ways to shoot. It is exciting. It is just another option to us. I think creatively if the 7D or the new cameras are relevant then we will apply them. But we are not changing the way we do business because of these new cameras.

Seckler: So ad agencies aren’t saying ‘well you’re able to use this cheaper equipment, why don’t we bring down your fees now?’

Thomas: No it’s amazing. What it has done is open up new creative opportunities.

Seckler: That’s fantastic, what kind of creative opportunities?

Thomas: For example there was a really interesting spot that we quoted which was sort of from an interesting perspective, taking a bunch of stills on a road trip. Often times when we want to use something other than film cameras, clients get a little nervous because they aren’t used to it. But creatively this job lent itself beautifully to the Canon 5D Mark II and we pitched it and they loved the idea and we got to use that camera. So it’s allowing us to create a different look for a creative spot if it needs it.

Seckler: Have you seen many people the move from still photography to motion?

Thomas: I have worked with a few successful ones, one of them of course being Mark Zibert I have also spoken with quite a few others who I think have a ton of potential but haven’t quite made the leap yet. I find it is a very exciting transition.

Seckler: Tell me about making the leap.

Thomas: This business, and I am sure it is the same in the stills industry, is a lot about who you know, not always about what you know. I think knowing people in the advertising agencies, which a lot of these still photographers know, is the first step. A lot of these photographers are suppliers to agencies for their stills work so they form a great relationship, there’s a trust there and they work quite closely together. What tends to happen is there might be a commercial that might have a stills component and the creative has enough confidence to say ‘I would like to give you a shot.’ Usually they are going to be called upon for a spot that has a more visual stylistic spread. A stills photographer brings a very unique visual perspective which sometimes a motion guy doesn’t. A motion guy often thinks about pacing, thinks about performance, thinks about other things, while a stills guy is really a lot about framing, lighting, techniques, lenses. They come to the party with a really strong visual language that sometimes the other motion guys don’t have.[For still photographers who] come from more editorial and art backgrounds, it is sometimes harder for them to know the language of advertising. I have met with some great artistic photographers and the transition is way harder because it is much more of a challenge for them to understand the needs of advertising. They might have an amazing look but they don’t know how to sell that product at the end of the day.

Seckler: What advice do you have for still photographers who specialize in non-commercial genres?

Thomas: Go take an acting class. In moving pictures you’ve got to know how to move your talent. You have actors, people, and oftentimes, the number one thing I find is you have to know how to work with actors. I think [non-commercial still photographers] do get some experience with that but when you are creating moving pictures, you have to carry an emotion, a conversation, you have to know how to motivate your actors to give you the performance that  you need.

If you take an acting class you are going to better understand what you need to do to get your actor to perform. Even if it’s just a spot with a girl walking down the beach…she’s not just a prop anymore she’s a person, you have to carry the commercial with what she’s doing and what she’s thinking, and saying. It’s this element that still photographers don’t have a ton of experience with. I am not saying when they are doing a stills spot they are not talking to their subjects and motivating them but it’s sustaining that.

Seckler: What suggestions do you have for still photographers who want to build a commercial reel?

Thomas: When you look through a lens you have a point of view. Carry that point of view into motion, that is what people are going to want you for. If you already have a strong portfolio in stills, chances are you’re getting hired a lot and that’s a perfect calling card for these other people that will hire you.

Seckler: How did the directors that you represent start out?

Thomas: One guy came from being a very successful editor, another was a creative art director, another guy was a very successful stills photographer for advertising agencies, another guys’ mother was in the agency [world] and he was a treatment writer. You have to work in the business I guess.

Seckler: So what do these directors do on their first one or two projects that gets them repeat business and ultimately helps them become a successful director?

Thomas: They have a distinct point of view. They can work within the limitations and expectations of the client. They understand the art of advertising. We want to make something that looks really neat or has a different perspective to it, but at the end of the day we still understand we are making a thirty second spot. They want someone who will bring a unique perspective to their project, bring their script to life but understand they are still working within the [commercial] framework that has been established for many many years.

Seckler: As online media is consumed at an ever-growing pace where do you see motion content going in the next few years?

Thomas: I like to think it is going to be the good old television that’s going to dominate, because that’s my main business. I think quality is going to go up. I don’t think the homemade type of video is going to sustain people’s interest forever. I think people will always look for something that is going to stimulate them. I think with the onset of 3D TV the bar will be set quite high in terms of things looking good. [In the online world] things will improve tremendously. Things are going to start looking better and streaming better, and sounding better. I think we will be bombarded by visual stimulation all the time, the phone, billboards, who knows.

For stills photographers this is your time. You guys know how to make things look good. It is about coming to the table with a different perspective on visual style.

Photographer Promo Videos

Posted on: January 14th, 2010 by: Zack Seckler

I’ve been working on a redesign for my personal photography site over the past couple of weeks and one thing I keep dreading is redoing my “about” page. Listing out clients, awards, and contact info is no problem but the “bio” always gets me. How much should I tell people? Do people really care where I was born or if I like to rock climb? Does it have to be funny? Clever? Should I just get the facts down and be done with it? Does anyone even read these things anyway!?

Well I just came across a brilliant alternative to writing one of these bios that will most likely only be read by my Mom anyway. Make a video!

Over the past month Redux Pictures has started uploading two or three minute promo videos for each of the photographers they represent. They have over twenty of these well-produce videos up on their Vimeo page now and after spending at least half an hour browsing through them I can say that it’s definitely a good idea. You quickly get a feel for the photographers’ work, the people they work with and most importantly…their personality. I didn’t watch all of the videos but below is one I really liked about photographer Kevin Cooley.

Kevin Cooley – Photographer from redux pictures on Vimeo.

Found it on Strobist