Dana Neibert: Photographer Spotlight

0Comments

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.

What was it like transitioning from an art director to a photographer? Was it an easy or hard process?

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.

What are you visually drawn to? What do you look for when photographing?

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.

Your work spans a variety of categories – lifestyle, landscapes, transportation, conceptual, etc. Have you found this diversity in your portfolio attractive to clients?

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.

How important do you think personal projects are for a photographer’s growth?

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.

You have a large personal stock site. What are the benefits of this over working with a stock agency like Getty or Jupiter? How important is stock to your overall income?

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.

As a former art director, what was it that you looked for in a photographer? How has that influenced the way you approach other ADs for assignments?

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.

What are some successes you’ve had in marketing yourself? What seems to work best?

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.

You have an incredibly impressive list of awards. How have they helped propel your career?

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.

Where do you see yourself and the industry as a whole in 10 years? In 20 years?

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.

If you could give one piece of advice to our readers, what would it be?

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.

Where can we hear more from you or see more of your work?

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

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Matt Dutile

is a New York City based travel and lifestyle photographer. He recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to produce a book on Mongolian nomads. Check the page out to learn more. You can view his website or join in on his Facebook page as well.

  • Trevon Donoho

    First.

    I like the bridge pic.

  • Thanks for the encouragement Dana. I graduated with a bachelor’s of fine arts and have just lately begun shifting into photography, so hearing your path drives me to keep pressing forward with mine. Like you, I feel it essential to follow my passion, or else choose a purely money making job. Good luck to all of us!

  • Salomanuel

    feels like the skies are fake, like they came from another picture
    and there is a heavy use of photoshop

    it’s just my impression? 🙂

  • I like the last picture in the post, so surreal … and I agree that one should do what their passion is. I think that’s one of the most important lessons in life that many people only learn when it is too late for them to change things.

  • Mei Teng

    The last two pics are beautiful.

  • I very much agree with what is said in this post. The most important thing I have learned over the last couple years as I have embarked on making photography a career, is to shoot what you enjoy most, and continue to develop and evolve your style. Great photos by the way as well!

  • Hi

    Totally love the NYC Theme… wish I could have done better with this shot!

    http://kerstenbeckphotoart.wordpress.com/2011/04/04/across-the-huson/

  • Thank you for the great advice. Timely, too.

    I was over at a friend’s house last night watching Monday Night Football (part of my attempt to socialize and spend less time on the computer!). My friend had mentioned that his wife was a highly skilled website designer and had experience as an art director. She currently works for a major publication that covers western land issues. I asked her in an offhand way to have a look at my online portfolio. Denver was underperforming (as usual) so I was psyched when she came back upstairs a short time afterward. She gave my site an honest critique–and gave me some great advice. I was up until one last night making changes.

    Her best advice was to 1) believe in my talent and present my work with confidence, and 2) to figure out who I was selling to and then organize my photography into the categories so that art designers would be able to find what they were looking for quickly.

    Thanks for publishing this interview with Dana Neibert–this is the kind of writing that makes me think Digital Photography School supports up-and-coming professional photographers.

  • PS: If you visit my website you can email comments from the About and Services pages. I’m mostly looking for advice on how to categorize what I do to make it more marketable, but any feedback would be much appreciated. Thanks.

  • Great article. It is very inspiring.

  • I am amazed with some of this guy’s work. I specially like the fact that he was an art director before so he knows exactly what requires a photographer to get that campaign.

  • Very useful advice. Thanks very much for sharing. I always wanted to venture into doing other styles, but it seems I love doing what suits my passion. And I’d like to improve further there.

    By the way I do Automotive Photography and you’ll see my work at http://CustomPinoyRides.com.

  • Scottc

    Just my opinion, but I don’t find much to be impressed about in this article. Certainly none of the included photos. Lots of awards (credentials?), so maybe there is something to be impressed about, but it’s not in this article.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/

  • Those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones Scott.

  • Scottc

    Matt,
    You need to learn the difference between an opinion and an insult. My comment started with “just my opinion”…I don’t think someone who puts themselves out there as a pro is going to be insulted by my lowly opinion. I certainly don’t share any vulnerability in that regard, I’m clearly not a professional photographer and do not claim to be.
    Perhaps you thought my comment was directed towards your write-up, and I can see how you may interpret it that way. If so, my apologies, all you did was publish questions asked and the answers.
    Perhaps it’s not completely fair, but I base a lot of my opinion of DPS articles on the included photos (for those where photos are necessarily included). Again, that simply being my own opinion…..

    The overall lack of response to this article may be an indicator in and of itself.

    Scott

  • Jay

    I love the elephant shot, how the light contrast brings the eye to the focal point (tree and couple) and the composition keeps your eye on the picture plane. Beautiful!

  • Love the shot of the lady out on deck!

  • With each spotlight on photographers i would love to learn about thier photography gear as well…

    thanks for sharing

  • Thanks for the advice, especially about entering show that actually connect with clients and not just photographers! That makes a lot of sense to me.

  • Excellent work! And I agree with you, you need to be passionate about your work, especially photography. Thanks for the encouragement.

Some Older Comments

  • Alyn Stafford September 27, 2011 08:34 am

    Excellent work! And I agree with you, you need to be passionate about your work, especially photography. Thanks for the encouragement.

  • Kenneth Chan September 19, 2011 03:07 pm

    Thanks for the advice, especially about entering show that actually connect with clients and not just photographers! That makes a lot of sense to me.

  • Shobhit September 19, 2011 02:36 am

    With each spotlight on photographers i would love to learn about thier photography gear as well...

    thanks for sharing

  • Paul September 18, 2011 07:41 am

    Love the shot of the lady out on deck!

  • Jay September 16, 2011 12:29 pm

    I love the elephant shot, how the light contrast brings the eye to the focal point (tree and couple) and the composition keeps your eye on the picture plane. Beautiful!

  • Scottc September 16, 2011 10:20 am

    Matt,
    You need to learn the difference between an opinion and an insult. My comment started with "just my opinion"...I don't think someone who puts themselves out there as a pro is going to be insulted by my lowly opinion. I certainly don't share any vulnerability in that regard, I'm clearly not a professional photographer and do not claim to be.
    Perhaps you thought my comment was directed towards your write-up, and I can see how you may interpret it that way. If so, my apologies, all you did was publish questions asked and the answers.
    Perhaps it's not completely fair, but I base a lot of my opinion of DPS articles on the included photos (for those where photos are necessarily included). Again, that simply being my own opinion.....

    The overall lack of response to this article may be an indicator in and of itself.

    Scott

  • Matt Dutile September 15, 2011 10:44 am

    Those who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones Scott.

  • Scottc September 15, 2011 10:32 am

    Just my opinion, but I don't find much to be impressed about in this article. Certainly none of the included photos. Lots of awards (credentials?), so maybe there is something to be impressed about, but it's not in this article.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/

  • THE aSTIG @ CustomPinoyRides.com September 14, 2011 06:12 pm

    Very useful advice. Thanks very much for sharing. I always wanted to venture into doing other styles, but it seems I love doing what suits my passion. And I'd like to improve further there.

    By the way I do Automotive Photography and you'll see my work at http://CustomPinoyRides.com.

  • Mohamed Ghuloom September 14, 2011 10:15 am

    I am amazed with some of this guy's work. I specially like the fact that he was an art director before so he knows exactly what requires a photographer to get that campaign.

  • george September 14, 2011 07:35 am

    Great article. It is very inspiring.

  • Greg Aitkenhead September 14, 2011 06:05 am

    PS: If you visit my website you can email comments from the About and Services pages. I'm mostly looking for advice on how to categorize what I do to make it more marketable, but any feedback would be much appreciated. Thanks.

  • Greg Aitkenhead September 14, 2011 06:01 am

    Thank you for the great advice. Timely, too.

    I was over at a friend's house last night watching Monday Night Football (part of my attempt to socialize and spend less time on the computer!). My friend had mentioned that his wife was a highly skilled website designer and had experience as an art director. She currently works for a major publication that covers western land issues. I asked her in an offhand way to have a look at my online portfolio. Denver was underperforming (as usual) so I was psyched when she came back upstairs a short time afterward. She gave my site an honest critique--and gave me some great advice. I was up until one last night making changes.

    Her best advice was to 1) believe in my talent and present my work with confidence, and 2) to figure out who I was selling to and then organize my photography into the categories so that art designers would be able to find what they were looking for quickly.

    Thanks for publishing this interview with Dana Neibert--this is the kind of writing that makes me think Digital Photography School supports up-and-coming professional photographers.

  • Erik Kerstenbeck September 13, 2011 03:55 pm

    Hi

    Totally love the NYC Theme... wish I could have done better with this shot!

    http://kerstenbeckphotoart.wordpress.com/2011/04/04/across-the-huson/

  • Patrick September 13, 2011 01:15 pm

    I very much agree with what is said in this post. The most important thing I have learned over the last couple years as I have embarked on making photography a career, is to shoot what you enjoy most, and continue to develop and evolve your style. Great photos by the way as well!

  • Mei Teng September 13, 2011 10:41 am

    The last two pics are beautiful.

  • Verena September 13, 2011 10:26 am

    I like the last picture in the post, so surreal ... and I agree that one should do what their passion is. I think that's one of the most important lessons in life that many people only learn when it is too late for them to change things.

  • Salomanuel September 13, 2011 09:02 am

    feels like the skies are fake, like they came from another picture
    and there is a heavy use of photoshop

    it's just my impression? :)

  • Ansley Braverman September 13, 2011 06:55 am

    Thanks for the encouragement Dana. I graduated with a bachelor's of fine arts and have just lately begun shifting into photography, so hearing your path drives me to keep pressing forward with mine. Like you, I feel it essential to follow my passion, or else choose a purely money making job. Good luck to all of us!

  • Trevon Donoho September 13, 2011 06:09 am

    First.

    I like the bridge pic.

Join Our Email Newsletter

Thanks for subscribing!


DPS offers a free weekly newsletter with: 
1. new photography tutorials and tips
2. latest photography assignments
3. photo competitions and prizes

Enter your email below to subscribe.
Email:
 
 
Get DAILY free tips, news and reviews via our RSS feed