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This commercial photographer spotlight features advertising photographer Dana Neibert. Before entering the world of commercial photography, Dana was an award winning art director. He works with clients including American Express, Four Seasons, Lexus, GM, AT&T, Eli Lilly, Frito Lay, Johnson & Johnson, USTA, Intel and more. Dana lives in Coronado, California.
The process wasn’t as much as easy or hard as it was scary. I left a perfectly good paying job with benefits and took a gamble on a photography career to support my wife and children. But also it should be known that I didn’t just quit cold turkey and then pick up a camera. I had been working on a portfolio for several years and near the end of art directing I was already getting into photography award shows, gaining outside interest in my work and booking jobs. I also worked for a great creative director and ad agency that nurtured my new found passion and would give me time off when I booked a job to go shoot it.
I love finding real moments and situations—the quintessential image that you might have in your mind of a particular situation or event. And that’s also what I get hired to shoot a lot. Visually I like things to be simple and graphic. I am influenced by Edward Hopper, Norman Rockwell, Richard Diebenkorn, and Wayne Thiebaud.
I just take what I have and try to make it look as good as I can. On the commercial jobs I have a set of parameters I have to stick to, but the visual ideas and the inspiration… I usually find that stuff when I get to the location. On a commercial shoot we’ll go out a day before the shoot and look for the angle we’re going to take, and then I start figuring it out there. A lot of the time I have a blank canvas before getting there, and that’s when I find what I’m looking for.
I look at those categories more as just different subjects. I have a distinct color palette and cinematic way of composing my images which is what defines my style. I just apply that to a car or a couple on the beach or a landscape. Separating the subjects out on the web site helps art directors gather what they need for a presentation.
When we send out promo pieces all the work is mixed together. I take my favorites from the last year and compile them all together. I don’t market each section individually. Those sections have just been curated as a way to organize things. It’s based on when we’re involved in pitches or bidding on jobs, agencies always need samples to show their clients. After a while when people approach you asking for the same things consistently you make a section of that.
Personal projects are huge for a photographer’s growth both personally and commercially. Your style evolves over time and the personal work is instrumental in nurturing that. Agency creatives also love to see what you shoot when you are not confined to a creative brief. It helps get dialogs started and opens new doors for you.
My interior landscapes project is really intriguing me right now. It’s still a work in progress and I’m oversimplifying it with the shallow focus, but the exploration I’ve gone through when I’m shooting the indoor landscapes helps shape all my other work. The things I’ve learned while doing it are always in the back of my mind no matter how tiny or big a part of another shoot that knowledge is.
I still work with Getty in addition to my personal stock site. My long term goal is to have enough images in my own site that it becomes a viable destination for an art director to go search for stock images. Right now, I only have about a thousand images or so on my site. I think it would be a mistake to make a large effort to send a large amount of people to my site only to disappoint them with a small selection. When I hit around five thousand images, I will start marketing the site. Until then, I have Getty hawking some of my images for me. Stock makes up a small portion of my income right now but it would be nice to someday having my images bringing in a bigger chunk of income. Obviously, when I have enough images to cut Getty out of the picture, I’ll be gaining the commission they take from me now.
Every ad campaign is different than the next. So, when looking for a photographer you look for what style is going to work the best for the concept, brand category and particular client. Just because you always wanted to work with a certain hotshot photographer doesn’t always mean that photographer would be great for the campaign on hand. As an art director, you always have a mental library of whom you want to work with and what they would be appropriate for. You also probably have stacks of promos and bookmarked web sites for reference. I know some art buyers will categorize web sites and promos by style before filing them away. So, knowing all that you realize you will not be right for every job out there. But it still means consistently getting your work out there so that your work gets filed in those mental and physical libraries.
There doesn’t seem to be silver bullet in marketing yourself. I wish there was one thing you could do and you could just concentrate all your efforts to that one thing. But rather it’s a concerted effort of many things working together that makes the best marketing strategy. My agent and I do mailed promos, email campaigns, print ads, portfolio shows, award shows and social networking. Art buyers and art directors are all different in that some love mailed promos, some hate them. Some never open an email, some live for them. The shotgun approach seems to work best as hopefully one thing or another will break through the clutter. If a couple things break through then it just reinforces your message.
Award shows are great for moving your career along. But you have to be careful where you spend your entry fee money and enter shows that art buyers and art directors will see. Most art directors and art buyers have never heard of PDN and many of the other photography shows. If you get into those shows then mostly only your peers will be calling to congratulate you. There are a few art buyers, art directors and photo editors that are photo buffs and do see the photo only shows. But I would say 95% of the people that will hire you do not. You are better off entering shows the like Communication Arts Photo Annual—every art director inAmericagets CA. The absolute best way to get into a show is to shoot a campaign that just rocks. Sometimes when a concept comes through that is so good, I let the agency know how excited I am about the concept and that I’ll do whatever it takes to shoot the job. With great work, the agency will be entering the work in all the advertising shows and it will pay you back more than your fee ever would have. A lot of the jobs that got me into some of the big shows had rock bottom budgets but we made them work just so we could be part of the campaign.
That is so hard to say. Photography as a medium has changed so much in just the last 5 years. It was about 5 years or so that all the top tier pros made the switch to digital nearly over night. Everyone was still shooting film and then all of sudden digital was validated when Phase One and Canon really worked out the kinks. The print world seems like it is changing on a monthly basis. It seems that with all the chatter out there, good creative imagery will still always be needed for content whether it appears on a billboard or an iPad. Hopefully in 10 or 20 years I’m still doing what I love making images that people love to see.
Always do what your passion is. Don’t change your style because that’s what the flavor of the month is. Don’t make images that you don’t enjoy doing because then you will lose the passion—you might as well become a hedge fund manager or venture capitalist as you still may not enjoy your job but you will make a whole lot more money.
www.DanaNeibert.com/new always has fresh work on it which I contribute to weekly
www.facebook.com/DanaNeibertPhotographs I post more behind the scenes stuff here
www.twitter.com/DanaNeibert a syndication of the Facebook page but for Twitter folks
www.bit.ly/DanaNeibertPlus a syndication of the Facebook page but for Google+ folks
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