It’s one thing to be a portrait artist who uses modeling talent in your work regularly, but it’s very different when you take that show on the road. Shooting locally is complicated enough, but things become exponentially more complicated when you do the same thing out of state, and especially out of the country. Each new project in each new town presents new problems. But all model photography requires a lot of the same concerns and methods. In this article, I approach these from the artist side of things, which is how I’ve been approaching travel for about half a year now exclusively. I am going to focus on planning and executing amazing projects on the road, but not how to get paid model photography work on the road (something I don’t do anymore, but that’s another article).
A year ago, we decided to do something drastic. We stopped marketing for portraits and weddings. The bookings started to slow down and then eventually dried up enough that we took them off our website completely. Scary? Yes. Crazy? Maybe. We have more than replaced that lost income, but we had to overcome some major hurdles. The first was to find the work. Getting that signed contract after an initial inquiry is the biggest hurdle. After a lot of trial and error, we have developed some solid concepts to help portrait photographers bid on and book commercial jobs. If you approach commercial inquiries with the same mindset as weddings, boudoir and babies, you will find yourself getting passed over a lot. If you want that sweet corporate payday, you have to think differently.
Every time I look at a project, I ask myself, “What’s the story?” In commercial photography, a team of creatives conceives stories around a concept to sell a product. In editorial photography, the subject is the story, and I collaborate with a writer and photo editor to illustrate that person’s story. Then there are personal projects, where I have the opportunity to mix those worlds together. Whether my job is to adapt a story into an image for a client, magazine or myself, or to simply photograph what or who is there, my process involves an interplay of three equally weighted components that make an image work: light, subject and context.
When I started moving from wedding photography to studio work, one of the appealing aspects was expanding my creativity. As a wedding photographer you’re creative, but you’re limited to the wedding world. As much as you may want to go outside the box, you’re still photographing a wedding. Once I moved to studio photography as my main source of income, I realized I was still in the same boat, just in a different-themed boat. Instead of being boxed into weddings, I was boxed into headshots and standard commercial shoots. In order to exercise creativity, which is so important to any photographer’s career, I had to arrange shoots of my own.
Enter “how to become a commercial photographer” into Google, and most of the results are subpar at best. Most commercial photographers say they just fell into it, while others are much more secretive. As a photographer who’s worked alongside some amazing advertising agencies and brands, I’m going to tell you how to start and why it’s not as glamorous as you might think.
Commercial photographers capture images that will be used to make their client money. If Procter & Gamble hires a photographer to produce images for its latest Tide campaign about how its product gets whites whiter, then the photographer must create images that convey that message. This is usually the highest-paid type of commercial work. The finished works are tear sheets. You find the images in magazines and on signs and websites. Commercial photographers are paid each time their images are used for an agreed amount of time.
This month we dive into running and producing a commercial shoot for one of our clients: Delmonico Steakhouse in Las Vegas. Photographers have more access to this type of work than you might expect. Any client walking in the door for a headshot is a commercial client. Think of headshots as the gateway drug for a more in-depth relationship and project delivery.
When you think about creating a black-and-white photo, ask yourself, why black and white? Some clients simply want it for a particular marketing look or just for the love of black and white. Either way, you should know why you’re shooting in this style. In this article, I focus on a recent black-and-white project I did for a commercial client.
Nothing beats window light. It’s broad, diffuse, indirect, soft light that’s flattering to anyone in its path. But what do you do when the sun has set, there is no window or Mother Nature isn’t cooperating? With the right tools and techniques, you can re-create it. I’ve seen this sun-drenched looks-like-daylight-but-isn’t look used often in Gap ads. The light created for these images has the open, airy quality you get from daylight streaming in through a large window. It’s perfect for Gap’s brand. I’ve always loved this quality of light and wanted to use it in my own work. How they did it was the big question mark.
My first paying gig as a photographer was shooting headshots of doctors at a medical convention, packed into a tiny corner of a trade show booth. Back then I didn’t quite understand the impact that type of situation would have on my methods of lighting. Every technique I developed over the next decade was based around learning to shoot a great, professional portrait quickly and in just about any location. I’ve since refined the process, and have found that most of my lighting for high-volume headshots can be categorized into three main techniques.