The music business is a brutal, cutthroat, dog-eat-dog world and I lived it for nearly 10 years. Since the age of 16, I struggled as a touring musician, surviving off nothing but cold Spaghettios and sleeping in a decade-old 8-passenger van. I was fortunate enough to explore the nation and see things that most will never see, but by the time I left the business I was completely burnt out. When I picked up a DSLR some years ago, it was a breath of fresh air, but many of the same business techniques from music applied to the creative world of photography and film. The biggest takeaway being... perception.
As stupid and shallow as it might sound, during my time on the road, it was important to always maintain an appearance, that being of a “rockstar.” If someone perceives you to be a “star,” then in their eyes, you are. An appearance can be a powerful tool, as long as your check your ego at the door and stay humble. The same can be applied to photography; a new client will automatically judge your work and your work ethic. Therefore, it's important to maintain a standard and produce great work all while upholding your brand on set.
During my time in the Bahamas for the Fstoppers Workshops 2014, I took away quite a few tidbits of solid information and some great new techniques. But, hearing the affirmation of the term “perception is reality” from celebrity photographer John Keatley was what really stuck with me. John shoots with a Hasselblad, not only for the quality and image size, but also the outer appearance it provides to his clients who are investing thousands of dollars in John’s work. A client once asked him, “How much did that camera cost you?” John replied, “Just shy of $20,000.” A look of shock came of the clients face as he turned to a colleague, “Wow, this guy is awesome.” Due to John shooting with an expensive camera, the client immediately viewed John as an incredible photographer. We all know word can travel fast and if that client tells his corporate friend, that $20,000 camera just might be the point of discussion which leads to a nice referral for John.
Now, most of us photographers are not shooting with a Hasselblad or Phase One, so here are a few tips I recommend to get the commercial clients talking.
Dress To Impress
Let’s be honest, people judge you for what you wear. No need to show up in a tuxedo or a slim cocktail dress, but find a medium between formal and your gym shorts and Sponge Bob slippers. Wear something comfortable that can get dirty, but be aware of the type of client you're working with as well as your end goal. This tip especially important for wedding photography, as your appearance can have a direct effect on a Bride’s experience.
Bring All Of Your Gear And Know It Well
I’ve heard stories where production crews will rent a grip truck full of gear and setup every c-stand, but end up only using one or two of them. Point being, in the client’s eyes, the more gear you have the better photographer you are. Today’s society associates bigger with better. Take for example a subject who knows nothing about photography, but is presented with “Photographer A” who owns a DSLR with a massive 600mm lens and then “Photographer B” with the same exact DSLR, but a short 16mm wide angle lens. I can assure you the subject is associating the word “professional” with “Photographer A” who owns the bigger glass. With that said, bring all of your gear and know it well. Even if you don’t use it, at least know what you’re talking about when perhaps you do have to break out more than a few lights. The client will notice and feel as if they are getting more bang for their buck.
Bring The Assistants
A client who is investing money in your business wants to know you’re in control and that you’re running the show. It’s essential to step into the directorial role and provide leadership rather than breaking a sweat setting up, changing lighting and breaking down. If you show up with nothing but a camera, then expect to be treated like a just another guy or gal with a camera. But if you show up with a professional team, the client will know you mean business. When your assistants are doing the load-in and setup for you, it gives you ample time to consult with the client. Don’t have the budget to pay for assistance? Then ask a friend or two to help load some light stands and hold a scrim, but be careful as they represent your brand. On commercial sets, having a great assistant is vital and the best assistants are always two steps ahead of you, more on that here.
Time Is Money
In every business, time is money. This is especially relative to photography and art as many charge day-rates. If you’re brought on to shoot a job then make sure you use time efficiently, using your assistants accordingly and to not waste valuable time by chimping, changing lighting or over-shooting. Spend sometime beforehand pre-lighting and mapping out a shot-list and once you have "the shot," move on. The perception here is that you actually know what you're doing! Let's be honest here, many times we all just wing it. The client is there to get the job done and will appreciate the quickwittedness.
Fluff It Up
I’ve touched on this topic before, especially in my last article “Content Is King – 5 Fundamentals To Increase Social Engagement.” It’s very important to have a professional presence as well as professional work to back it up. If you don’t have a good headshot, ask a photographer you admire and pay them for it. If you don’t have good design or typeface skills, contract a graphic designer to design your advertisements and promotions. Along with having a professional brand, don’t hesitate to “fluff up” your online presence. Although to internet is a vast spanse of half-truth’s and satire, people have the tendency to believe much of what they see. Name drop, glorify and tell people you’re doing great things.
This might seem a bit much for some photographers, but for those in the commercial world it’s very important to hold to a corporate standard. Much of this article touches on branding and identity, but at the end of the day you’re being watched by some very judging clients and if you show no fear, then you have no fear. And remember, If you show confidence then you better back it up with a great product.
Perception is reality.