Ask Maven is a new column created to answer your questions about anything related to advertising photography. Questions about self-promotion, production, estimates…you name it and Maven can help. Maven has fifteen plus years of experience in the advertising world and for the last six years has been an art buyer at a highly esteemed international ad agency.
Email your questions to: maven (at) thefstopmag (dot) com. If picked, your question and Maven’s answer will be published on this blog along with the option of a link to your work.
Our question this week comes from Finn:
As a young photographer I got some great advice a year or so ago as to how to bridge the gap between the book of personal work and (very) small budget jobs shot whilst assisting, and the adverts shot with real briefs, for real money. Here it is: “Go offer to shoot spec work for art directors/creative directors who are pitching for new accounts, or trying to raise their profile by entering competitions.” This has worked really well for me as it’s allowed me to build relationships with art directors and agencies. I also did some work for out of work art directors who were polishing up their own book. Now I have a book with adverts and this opens up new avenues to me. Nothing has ever run without me getting paid and so far everyone has been respectful of my time and efforts as well as my reasoning for doing this.
What’s your take on this? Do you think it’s a good idea?
Manar El amrani
Thanks for the note. It’s a provocative question you ask- doing spec work is indeed a great way to get into an agency, but you also run the risk of becoming “that spec guy”. It’s dangerous for a photographer to give their talents and concepts and point of view away for free, as a practice it can be sticky, and you don’t want to get folks used to you doing stuff for free. Plus, it can be a bit of a slippery slope when it comes to generating ideas for an agency — if they decide to shoot the concept with another photographer, you may get into a litigious situation, and this should be avoided at all costs — ya kind of don’t want to go up against a big agency in this situation. Not sure there is enough Advil in the world for that headache. (or whiskey for that matter).
I say that but I also see the value in doing it from time to time, and here’s why: if it’s a piece that is going to make your portfolio orgasmic, then do it. If you have always wanted to shoot cars and the guy who was just booted from an agency is freelancing for Porsche, do your thing. It will be a solid piece of work for your book, though I will caution that most agency folks on big accounts tend to go with more established photographers for big campaigns. I would stick to doing super conceptual stuff that allows you to play and be creative — think editorial in feel — there are less factors at stake when doing spec work, so you can really go for it. I have talked about the joy and liberation of doing something for free, without the stigma of money attached and just for the pure love of it. Maybe you’ve been looking to work with an art director who’s a genius who is also looking to express him/herself. If I were you, I might make a blog of the whole thing if these peeps would allow it — shoot a free ad a week and start posting them. Maybe do open letters to agencies and art directors you want to work with, and offer up your services via your blog. Could be fun to see the results. Personally, I recently served as fashion and photo editor for an editorial feature in a cool magazine, and man did it feel good. I did not get paid to do any of it — and neither did anyone else, but we created something truly magical that we all felt great about, without a lot of red tape and rules. Think we actually broke quite a few rules, and it felt AMAZING. (I am a bit of a rebel at heart).
Even the most cautious and angelic of us need to break the rules sometimes, right? Because there aren’t many left to break, you know? We’re all just trying to survive in this industry and whatever you can do to get noticed, please do. As we know, the old rules don’t apply in this rather new world we live in.