Other photographers often ask me often how to get into commercial photography. In my earliest days, my entry into the commercial market was through existing personal relationships, and referrals stemming from event coverage. However, beyond that, The answer(s), based on my journey, may surprise you. Consider the following:
- Laser Spine Institute and HGTV hired me because of my diverse portfolio. Both clients needed a generalist photographer able to shoot both people and architecture (interiors and exteriors), which is somewhat unusual.
- Social Media Mack asked me to cover an event after we met at a Northwest OKC Chamber of Commerce meeting. I gave Tess my business card, and a few months later, my phone rang.
- David Joseph, an NYC/Ohio based architectural photographer, flew into OKC this summer to shoot the Will Rogers for his client, Gensler. He needed a local assistant, and read about me on my ASMP profile. He (only half-jokingly) mentioned later that he hired me because I am a woman and I lived in Romania. He had recently worked with mostly men, and wanted a change in pace. Additionally, based on my travels and prior career, he knew I’d be open-minded and cool. Or something like that. 😉
- Ackerman McQueen‘s Photography Manager, Justin, hired me (three times now) because I called and introduced myself, and scheduled an in-person meeting after I moved to OKC. Apparently not many photographers do that. (Justin also agreed to be a guest speaker at a SMUG meeting as a result of our becoming acquainted.)
- Keith Ball and John Jernigan, both incredibly talented and well-established commercial photographers in OKC, have become incredibly valuable mentors to me. When I arrived in OKC, I started emailing and calling local photographers. Some of them ignored me, but some generous souls, like Keith and John, agreed to meet with me over coffee to trade notes. John advised me to 1) schedule meetings with ad agencies like Ackerman (see above), and 2) join ASMP. Keith actually 1) became my ASMP general-member sponsor, 2) selected me for Photo Slam and 3) spent an hour training me in studio lighting one Sunday afternoon in his old studio.
Based on the above, here are some take-aways about how to get into commercial photography:
- Be Yourself. Talk about who you are on your online marketing materials. I’ve struggled with this, but over time I’m learning to trust that by doing so, I will attract the right people.
- Hang Out With Photographers That Are Better Than You. The biggest mistake budding photographers make is networking with photographers that are at their same level (or below). While doing so makes us feel feel better about ourselves, it also seriously stunts growth. It’s much better for your career to hang out with significantly more skilled and long-term photographers, even if it is hard on your ego.
- Network With Business Owners. In person! Online marketing isn’t enough. Scheduling meetings, particularly with ad agencies, can be humbling if not terrifying, but it’s most likely the only way you will create an impression that distinguishes you from the sea of other photographers. For every ten meetings, you might get one call. That’s okay. In fact, it’s probably normal. Additionally, identify local non-photography professionals that are well-connected and/or have a large following, and make sure they know you.
- Expand. Develop skills in many areas. Most experts advise against being a generalist, but I think this applies mostly to the elite editorial and commercial studios, not people trying to launch a business or get their foot in the door. Although over time, I am becoming more narrowly focused, learning about many types of photography allowed me to add recognizable and nationally based clients such as HGTV and LSI to my resume. It’s also helped me hone in on which type of photography I enjoy most (which is architecture).
- Join ASMP. Becoming a member of ASMP is, without question, the single best investment I’ve made so far in my career (well, except for getting a wide angle lens for interiors :)).
Do you have any stories about unusual reasons you’ve been hired? Any other tips on how to establish yourself as a commercial photographer? Any questions about any of my comments? I’d love to hear from you below!