2.08.2013

This post is for the pros and aspiring pros. If you don't need to show a portfolio then reading this is optional.

A shot from Esther's Follies. Funny, silly, essential Austin Entertainment.

Golly Jeepers! Photographers are from Uranus and Art Buyers are from Venus...

Belinda and I got invited to a nice dinner at Lambert's last night. An fun, upscale BBQ restaurant right next to city hall in downtown Austin. We were guests of the Austin Center for Photography and the local chapter of the ASMP. The occasion was the kick off of the Texas Photographic Round-up which will feature presentations by photo stars like Dan Winter, Andrew Hetherington, Adam Voorhees and others. 

For a lot of professional (advertising and commercial) photographers one of the big draws of the show is the opportunity to sit down with an art buyer, photographer's rep or magazine editor and show a portfolio of your work. The Photo Review.  The idea is to get a critique that will help move your career forward.  You sign up for the review, pay your money and take your lumps (or get well deserved strokes from a tough industry insider = you win).

I'm sure portfolio reviews have value but I feel like I learned a lot by having dinner and drinks with five of the women who flew in from places like New York and San Francisco to do the reviews. And I'd like to summarize what they told Belinda and me last night in an hour and half's worth of wine fueled honesty and good food.

These are not my local-yokel opinions. They are the nuanced opinions from the top facilitators and gate keepers of the industry we all work in or want to work in. I'm going to paraphrase but I'm trying to be very accurate about the content of what they said (and unanimously agreed upon).

1. "We do not care about what camera or brand of lights you used. We never ask. We never want to know. We don't care. All that matters on that front is how the image looks and how it's presented. (and I would infer from their collective body language that you supplying a running inventory pisses them off. Big time. And it makes them understand that you really don't get that the subject is more important than the toys...)."

2. "We do not want to know what technique you used; either when shooting or when post processing. If it works for us we'll like it without you having to give it a name. If we don't like it we also don't need to know what you call it or how you do it. Period. The discussion of how the sausage was made seems to always curb the appetite."

3.  We don't...... mind.....iPad presentations but they (iPads, physically) are so unpersonalized. Quote: "Flick, Flick....now who's book am I looking at again???" If you show work on an iPad there are two things they (the buyers and reps) want you to know: 1. The work better stand out. 2. They feel as though the image inventory on the average photographer's iPad presentation is.....endless. And not in a good way.  Many sighs around the table and unified nostalgia for big, beautiful, printed portfolios....

4. "The impression of the photographer's fun quotient and fun to be around quotient is at least as important as the work. One magazine art buyer said, "If they are wonderful, happy personalities and easy to work with I don't care what their book looks like." (interpretation: if you are a self-centered ass you probably will lose more jobs than you'll gain with a personal portfolio show)."

5. "We've all seen thousands of presentations that are copies of really good photographers and we've seen lots of commercial work. If we want a famous person's style we'll try to hire them. What we want to see in a book is what makes you, the photographer, excited to shoot. Personal work. Wonderful personal work."

So, by having dinner with the reviewers we were entertained and learned what the big fish are really thinking. It all boils down to this:

We don't care about cameras
We do care about personalities
We want the presentation and the work to be memorable
We don't want to hear how the sausage was made
The thing you are selling us is your style. That's it.

Sounds like good advice to me. And the brisket at Lambert's was really good. None of the guests did anything embarrassing and everyone seemed to be having a really good time.

Now, you'll have to excuse me, I'm frantically trying to narrow down the images I have on my iPad, print a new, sexy portfolio and review my dog eared copy of "How to Win Friends and Influence People" by Dale Carnegie.  Good luck out there.




19 comments:

Unknown said...

With a billboard, you've got one image to make an impression in 5 seconds at 70 mph... It's the photo and the quality that matters!

Michael said...

Point #2 sounds a lot like this post from TOP a couple years back:

http://theonlinephotographer.typepad.com/the_online_photographer/2011/05/no-one-cares-how-hard-you-worked.html

edshots said...

thank you Kirk for making sure i DON'T sell my A3 box. i moved to m43's last year from Canon partly from your blog and i'm totally loving my OM-D and GH2 combo. you've also swayed me into thinking if i have to buy a big camera again it'll be a Sony or a Nikon with a Sony sensor.

Lanthus Clark said...

Just saved me a bunch on the iPad I don't need to get! Thanks Kirk! ;-)

David Liang said...

Gahhhh....there's goes the $12 I spend on a portfolio app Scott Kelby and many others suggested.
I think it's time to stop fighting it and get a printed portfolio.
Awesome post Kirk, thanks!

bobfoto said...

BUT, But, but....My iPad portfolio is so convenient. Guess I will join Kirk and cull mine down too and get the best ones printed for the book.

By the way, I think it is Dale Carnegie, not Don

Kirk Tuck said...

Um. Hunh? Were we talking about billboards? Weird analogy since art buyers control how long they get to see each image and they do it up close, seating and going zero miles an hour.

Anonymous said...

Nothing has changed in 30 years except maybe ease of access to art buyers. A unique printed book is memorable. Make several copies. Use only the best printer (human) if you don't print your own work. Construct a unique book for it's intended target. Make an image CD and print/tear sheet copies to leave with the books viewer(s). Often, at an agency, your book will be passed around. It's an expensive and ongoing process. Update constantly. Everyone has a web page these days. An ipad presentation may be a help if in the company of a printed book (latest job of interest to the buyer - no time for portfolio prints on the pad).

my 2 cents
-salty

Anonymous said...

These folks have a great rep. I have no interest in this outfit, other than as a customer. Find your local version of this kind of Co. for a great looking book.

http://www.taurusbookbindery.com/portfolioPhotoAlbum.html

-salty

theaterculture said...

This reminds me of the 15 minutes or so I worked in casting in the early 2000s, at a large off-broadway theatre that had a big casting department and subcontracted out to do casting for other theaters, commercials, tv shows, and print.

Every working but non-famous actor in America has a reel that's too long and too many productions and acting classes on their resume. They think that if a director once worked with somebody you took a class with and liked them, they'll give you a chance, so you better list everybody you've EVER worked with (but for whatever reason they don't conceive of the possibility that they might just as well have worked with that person and NOT liked them...). They think that if the casting is for featured extras for a commercial that requires wearing a toga somebody's going to actually drill down into the 700 things they have listed in 5 point font on their resume and say "gee, this guy played Julius Caesar in university scene-work, call 'im back!" They think they should save their best screen performance segment for the end of a 5 minute reel so it's "climactic," little thinking that the casting person will have 60 reels to watch in 30 minutes before they go to lunch so you need to make them say "wow" with the very first thing or they're going to find the eject button but quick.

The takeaway seems to be that the people who are picking from among the talented mostly already know what they're looking for. You may or may not be it, but if you're material doesn't make this obvious clearly and quickly, nothing else really matters.

Carlo Santin said...

Really no different than any other business or industry out there. You have to do good work, be reliable and trustworthy, make your client look good and feel good. This is the way of all business.

Kirk Tuck said...

Actually they said they love doing their jobs because they get to see new and interesting stuff they've never seen before. They like discovering the next cool thing...

Kirk Tuck said...

Yep. You never ask you dentist what brand drill he uses and you don't go back to a car mechanic you don't trust. You won't go back to a restaurant where you didn't have a pleasant time no matter how good the food is.

Kevin Lloyd said...

Cheers Kirk, much appreciated

Raianerastha said...

Thanks again Kirk for offering some sane, realistic observations.

I recently sold a photo taken with an "obsolete" Olympus E520 and 40-150 kit lens. The subject (a pro guitarist) only asked one question regarding the photo: how did I decide to do it in monochrome instead of color? Other than that, he was effusive in saying that it was probably the best photo of him in concert he's ever seen.

The impact of the photo is a combination of my personal style and my goal for taking a "performance portrait" of the guitarist during a very special concert for him personally. I succeeded because the subject was more important than my technique to me. I hope plenty of people read this article and realize that it really is about the image.

Daryl Davis said...

This strikes me as good advice for anyone, and not just in the realm of photography. Thanks for sharing it, Kirk!

theaterculture said...

Of course, "next big thing" is always something fun and exciting to be looking for. My comment was more that it seems like, at least in what I took away from reading your paraphrase of their comments (especially about too many photos in a not distinctive enough portfolio format) and what I experienced myself helping to hire actors and models, if your materials aren't clear and concise you're nowhere...

Nobody's going to spend as much time and energy with your portfolio or resume as you did, and if the best of you as a person and an artist isn't communicated by the first glance the depth of you is likely to remain discovered.

Kirk Tuck said...

Got it. And you are right.

Belinda Keller said...

I saw my name and did a double-take. Not too many Belindas out there. AND great read, thank you! -Belinda Keller