How I Got the Gig

How I Got the Gig

How I Got the Gig with Moshe Zusman

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Just a few weeks ago, I photographed 20 Miss D.C. America contestants in my studio—all in one day. Not a bad way to make $4,000 in a few hours with the most minimal overhead. Wondering how I managed to get that gig? Here’s how it all began.

 

I have to start with my first encounter with pageant photography a few years ago. I was still a wedding/event photographer at the time. I had experience in portraits and fashion, but they weren’t my forte. When I did a fashion shoot for a bridal designer in my brand-new studio, I befriended one of her models, a freshly titled pageant girl and a former Miss Maryland USA who was a Top 5 at Miss USA. I started photographing her more and more, and asked her to bring her sash and crown so I could practice. She introduced me to her pageants friends, who allowed me to photograph them as well. I enjoyed working with them.

 

I was able to advertise my pageant photography with the new photos I had taken. With my reputation as a portrait photographer, it wasn’t hard to get noticed in Washington as a pageant photographer. I made connections through corporate clients of mine, like the director of the Miss D.C. (of Miss America) organization. Thanks to these relationships, I was given the opportunity to photograph the newly titled Miss D.C. for 2015, but without pay. The organization was looking to replace its old photographer, and liked my work and style.

 

I don’t work for free unless I see value in it. There was value in this shoot because I’d be adding a beauty queen to my portfolio, and I was developing a relationship with the organization.

 

I kept practicing with my current clients, pageant girls, former and current titleholders, taking criticism and notes as I worked. I partnered with an amazing pageant-affiliated judge chair who coached me as I honed “the Moshe look.”

 

At that point, I was still developing my style by looking at the work of the top pageant photographers in the country, like Joe Kelly and Fadil Berisha. “It’s a Fadil photo,” I kept hearing from pageant girls. I still get the “It’s a Moshe” when people see my wedding photos and headshots; when starting out in pageant photography, I wanted to get to the point where I’d get the same comments for that style.

 

A year later, in 2016, the Miss D.C. organization asked me to be the official photographer for all its contestants, not just the new titled girl. I agreed to do it for a special fee for each girl. They were committed to use me as their exclusive photographer for contestant headshot submissions. I set up a special payment and information page on my website that was sent to the contestants by the organization so they could pay online before their photo shoot. By the time of the shoot, I was paid in full.

 

I created a perfect clamshell lighting setup that worked well for all the girls, with minimal changes needed to account for different heights and skin tones, which made the shoot smooth and quick. I had a great makeup artist and a stylist. With my quick tethered workflow, each girl proofed and picked her image on the spot. I photographed 20 girls in less than eight hours in my studio. It took less than five minutes to shoot each girl, and then two to three more minutes for proofing and selection of the final image.

 

For the post-production workflow, I exported all 20 final images to my retoucher. We delivered the images to the pageant director, who distributed them to the girls.

 

We had a ton of fun creating beautiful images, and I made some good money that day and gained 20 new clients. We asked the girls to use only the watermarked version of their image on social media, and to provide a photo credit and a mention. Those 20 new clients were now my 20 new PR agents.

 

Every year, I set up the same photo shoot for the Miss D.C. contestants, and get to photograph the official winner a few days after the pageant for press releases. As always, the agreement includes full photo credit and mentions on all image uses.

 

Check out the video to see a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the shoot.

 

Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the June issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.

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How I Got the Gig

with Moshe Zusman time to read: 4 min
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