How to gain commercial success – Third party: PhotoTALK with WPO


By Sally Ashley-Cound

WPO-PhotoTALK-commercial-success

For the second PhotoTALK event with the World Photography Organisation the subject was how to gain commercial success. Discussing this topic at the Frontline Club on Tuesday 22 January, chaired by designer Stuart Smith, were the managing director of Balcony Jump Management Tim Paton, Magnum Photos photographer Chien-Chi Chang, director of Panos Profile Francesca Sears and photo editor, advisor and photographers’ coach Monica Suder.

Each of the panel first took the audience through what they do within the photographic industry and Suder was asked to detail the key mistakes that photographers make.

“Procrastination,” she said. “Not wanting to promote yourself and . . .”

“Bad editing,” Sears added.

Suder continued:

Yes, very bad editing. . . . Half the time they don’t really know their strength. They don’t know who they are. . . . What is your vision? What are they about? What do they want to say to the world? Because if you don’t have anything to say, you’re history.

Smith asked Paton what the best way to get attention from an agency is:

It’s a combination of the perfect storm; I get an email from the photographer, I’ve seen some work of theirs in a great piece of editorial, a couple of art buyers are talking about them, a couple of stylists are talking about them and all of a sudden this guy or girl is on the scene and you’re hearing about them quite a lot. So you sort of need a combination of a lot of things – a straight email, unless it’s absolutely exceptional . . . [shrugs].

Paton added later on:

It’s all about your website, absolutely all about your website . . . that’s the first port of call. . . . Work out your website so that you get to the images quickly, you don’t want: “I picked up a camera at the age of eight.” You really don’t need all that. You just want to get the images nice and quickly and give a good description of what you do fairly early on.

On the subject of still photographers diversifying into moving image, because now the cameras they use for stills can do video too, Sears responded:

It’s really, really hard because the general market for that is online and the budgets aren’t there yet. . . . You’re not going to make money back on making a multimedia. And the worst part is that photographers on assignment are often expected to shoot video as well, sometimes during the same period of time and barely getting compensated differently.

To which Chang added:

We are talking about at least six different skill sets at least, we’re talking about still, moving image, sound and then the editing. That’s a complete and utter different skill set. So for me working with the right editor – it’s very important. It takes time to develop that kind of trust and understanding.

Do students get the right training in their colleges before they enter the commercial world?

Paton answered:

A lot of the students I see coming out of college are not commercially minded which I think is a shame because they should be. They need to be.

Suder continued:

It’s a good idea for a student after they’ve finished their studies to work with a photographer they admire or someone in the same direction, in the same type of photography. They can pick up a lot. What to do and what not to do . . . What really is great is to listen to them on the telephone: how they handle a possible assignment, how they talk to their clients, how they present themselves on the phone and negotiate. These are things that take a while to get good at.

Sears added:

If I was looking for a course I would be really vigilant to find the modules that will help you in the real world.

How important is social media for photographers?

Sears:

If you’re on a big project or you’re on a campaign and you’ve got something to say then maybe fine. But for most of them, it’s not yet working because they don’t have their own brand. For those that have their own brand [such as Magnum’s Alec Soth], have a following, are building it, have something to say, have a message to convey, are working with an NGO or it’s an ad campaign, then there’s probably a reason, but otherwise [it’s not really important].

Paton:

As an example, Lara Jade has got 25,000+ followers on Twitter. It doesn’t work out as often as you might think. My theory on this, it’s probably the wrong theory, is that her generation of 23-year-olds, they’re not commissioners yet. So in five years time when they’re 28–29 and they’re starting to commission, they’re picture editors, they will be used to receiving Twitter feeds and seeing work on that. I think the commissioners now are not engaged with that so much.

Sears:

I don’t think you can ignore it but I think it’s a space to watch like it was with multimedia. We’re still working it out. I definitely wouldn’t dismiss it.

One of the final statements from the floor was about the overriding feeling that the old ways of contacting people about your work still stand:

What does come across . . . is that we should probably get off the computer and get back to old fashioned business tools and communication skills. I feel . . . everyone forgets about making the phone call. . . . I don’t think that at university we learn those skills at all and I think that’s a learning curve.

Paton finished by saying:

I think it’s a very important thing to get out and do more face to face.

Watch the full discussion here:

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