The advantage of the digital age is that anyone with talent can now market themselves as a photographer. The disadvantage is that with so many photographers to choose from, buyers and clients have to make some difficult decisions. When they’re looking at portfolio after portfolio, each filled with professional-quality images and each indicating clearly that the photographer has all the right technical skills, how should the client make a choice?
One option is to look beyond the images to the person who took them, a criterion that’s particularly important in wedding photography when the photographer has to blend in, deal with nerves and emotions, and get the shot without affecting the day.
“More and more photographers are realizing the importance of uniqueness and personality in booking clients willing to pay top dollar,” explains Ron Dawson, owner of Cinematic Studios, a company that creates promotional videos for the photography industry. “It’s important for the photographer to sell the photogra-pher, vs. just the photogra-phy.”
For Ron Dawson, that means shooting a short video clip of the photographer at work that the photographer can then place on his website or, with Ron’s help, use for viral marketing on networking sites, iPods and blogs. The clips last between three and four minutes and cost from $1,500 to $5,500. (“Most photographers who hire us go with a package in the $2,500 to $3,000 range,” Ron says.)
“Just Act Naturally”
To create that four minutes of footage takes about five hours of shooting, a timescale that might sound familiar to photographers who spend a huge amount of time to get just a handful of sellable images. The video might be shot by Ron himself, or more likely by one of the videographers he outsources to in almost a dozen metropolitan areas around the country. Whoever does the filming will have had to show that they understand depth of field, lighting and movement, and can tell stories too. Ron often uses wedding and event videographers to shoot the photographers because, he says, this is what they’re used to doing with their wedding clients anyway.
The video itself rarely shows any of the photographer’s images, focusing instead on the photographer’s personality, how they interact with the client and how they behave on the job.
” A potential client can view the photographer’s online portfolio if they want to see their work,” Ron explains. “Only a video can show the client what the photographer is like.”
Not for Retiring Types
To get the most out of the video, Ron recommends that the photographer acts naturally, a suggestion that at the very least will help photographers to understand how subjects behave when they tell them to do the same thing. Fun photographers can show how enjoyable their shoots are; personable photographers will get to show off how easily they connect with their subjects. And photographers who are “quiet,” “reserved” and “extremely introverted” probably shouldn’t get a video, Ron recommends.
That sounds a bit harsh if personality really is important for winning jobs but it’s easy to understand that a video showing a photographer doing nothing but moving lights and saying “thank you” is hardly going to make for a gripping film. Those photographers then, could use a blog to let their personality come through (Ron does) and highlight the personal work in their portfolio to indicate to clients what they think and what interests them in a photo.
Ron’s idea that it’s the photographer who wins the jobs as much as the photography is an important one, and it draws on the marketing knowledge he picked up during his studies at UC Berkeley’s business school as well his work as Chief of Operations at Screenplay Systems (a movie industry software company) and as Business Marketing Manager for Intuit’s Quicken division. But perhaps the most valuable lesson that any photographer – even quiet ones who don’t want to spend several thousand dollars on a video clip – can take away from Cinematic Studios is the way Ron markets his own business. In addition to shooting photographers, his company is also the official videographer for WPPI/RangeFinder, Pictage, and PDN’s PhotoPlus Expo. Other clients include GraphiStudios, Bella Pictures and Shoot dot Edit, all of which are part of the photography industry.
“I chose the photography industry firstly because I was already very familiar with it as an event videographer. Second, when I first attended WPPI last year to produce their recap video, I saw how big the market was. Everything from mom and pop studios to large multinational corporations fall into the category. Lastly, I relate well to photographers as a fellow visual artist myself,” Ron says.
Most importantly though he also adds: “I wanted to focus on a specific industry because companies that specialize in an area will be the first ones that come to the mind of potential clients in that area.”
That might not be the sort of marketing help that Ron usually supplies, but the value of copying that sort of niche targeting could well be worth at least as much as a short video clip.