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Who Are You as a Photographer?

Unpaid

This is a shot I did on my own for my portfolio. In other words, it was unpaid.

Who am I? This is a question that I ask myself all the time. What kind of photography do I do? Since I am inspired by so many different photographers, across multiple genres (fashion, portrait, photojournalist, product, commercial), it can get hard for me to remember that I can’t be all things to all people, or clients.

For the sake of time, I’ve had to learn to narrow down the types of photography that I will pursue. It takes a considerable amount of time and energy to pursue new clients, to test the waters of a different area of photography.

For example, if you’ve shot primarily weddings and families for the past few years, it will take a lot of time and hard work for you to transition over to the commercial photography world. There’s a whole other language to the commercial world. Words like Prepro Doc, Hero Shot or Call Sheet may be foreign to you. The shooting process is also different, since you are likely working with a creative director before you ever even talk to the client. You also won’t get paid in advance, like you do with a wedding. In fact, I typically have to wait 30-60 days after I shoot the job to receive payment. You’ll likely need to know how to shoot with your camera tethered to a computer. You’ll need to know how to put together a quote, including usage fees. You’ll need to be able to assemble a team, including a hair stylist, makeup artist and stylist. You’ll need to have a separate website for your non-wedding photography and decent SEO for it (which can take years to build) so that new clients can find your work. You’ll need to have a decent commercial portfolio on that non-wedding site to entice creative directors, once they find their way to your site. It’s a lot to think about.

Beyond choosing what areas of photography you are going to pursue, you need to consider what image you are putting out in to the world. If a new visiter were to come to your website or blog, what would they see? Would they see a random smattering of subjects, styles and executions or would they see a focused style, or signature, to the way you compose, light and edit your images? Take photographer Nadav Kander, for example. He’s a portrait and commerce photographer based in London, England. He is not only one of my favorite photographers, but his portraits are also some of the most easily recognizable because of his unique lighting and processing. The same applies to Neil Krug, Martin Schoeller and Dan Winters, some of my other favorite photographers.

While you are in the process of determining which market(s) you want to focus on and you start to bring in to focus a signature style to your work, you need to factor these elements in to the types of clients you take, the kind of unpaid work you shoot for leisure or for your book and which images you show to the world, via social media and your website. For example, you may have the opportunity to shoot for a shoe company, a hair salon, or your kid’s soccer team, and the money is right (as in you’re hard up for cash and it pays the same day). Just because you took the gig and executed it well doesn’t mean that the images need to go on your website or blog. It may not fit in with your other images or be an area of photography you want to delve into, and that’s okay. That doesn’t make you a sell out.

Didntblog

This is from a shoot I did for a well-paying, super kind client. However, since it’s not the type of work that I want to pursue, I didn’t post any of the images on my blog.

Let’s say, for example, that you are trying to transition to the world of fashion photography. You aren’t going to start landing gigs with agencies and magazines just because you updated your bio, listing yourself as a fashion photograher. You need images – great images at that – in your portfolio to show magazine editors or modelling agencies. This means that you will need to shoot these on your own time, for likely little or no money. And once you get those first few shoots under your belt, pick a select FEW images from those shoots (read less than ten) to put on your blog and social media and ONE image from the each shoot to put on your website. Otherwise, if a client goes to your site and sees multiple images that are obviously from the same shoot, they can only assume that you aren’t very experienced in the area of fashion photography and that you’ve only done a couple shoots. You also want to make sure to shoot in a variety of settings, using a variety of different models while utilizing a variety of techniques.

Blog

These are the three images (above) that I chose to put on my blog from a recent book-building (unpaid) photo shoot that I did for my portfolio.

Port

Note the highlighted image (above) is the only image from this shoot that made it onto my website.

This process is of focusing your photography path and carving out your signature look is not a quick one. It’s been almost ten years since I graduated from college with a fine art photography degree and only within the last three or four years have I been able to start to narrow down what makes up my signature look and figure out what type of work I want to pursue. I mentioned earlier that I can’t be all things to all clients, nor do I want to be. The thought of conforming each photoshoot I do to the whims of a client’s mood board is an exhausting thought. Instead, now that I know who I am and what my style is, I can be confident that people are approaching me to shoot a job because they want me specifically. This also gives my voice more weight with a client when deciding which direction the shoot should take. Another way to ensure that you are being chosen for your style is that your prices are competitive with other photographers in the market, and the client isn’t simply choosing you because you’re the most affordable.

Myinput

This is a shot (above) I did for the cover of a local food magazine. The cover story was about edgy, high-end burgers. The editor initially asked for a photo-illustration without any people in the photo. By the end of the discussion, he went with my idea, which you can see is completely different than the editor’s original idea.

Now that I have a tightly edited portfolio, full of images that show a range of the work that I am willing and able to do, I can more easily say no to a job if it doesn’t fit in with my brand. Let’s say that a client approaches me to shoot a sexy swimsuit or lingerie editorial. I would politely decline because that’s not a part of my vision for my brand. Besides, there are plenty of talented photographers who do this exact area of work and would be happy to take the gig. Not to mention, me being a 30-something married man with a young daughter is not the image that comes to mind when I picture a swimwear or boudoir photographer. I imagine a young woman (or man) that lives and breathes sexiness. Meanwhile, I stick to what I’m passionate about.

Paid

This last image is a shot I did Charles Penzone salon, who hired me over another photographer after they saw the top image from my unpaid photo shoot.

Do you know who you are as photographer? Can you share any tips for newbies still finding their way?

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Nick Fancher
Nick Fancher

is a portrait and commercial photographer based out of Columbus, Ohio. His clients include The New York Times, ESPN Magazine and Forbes Japan. He specializes in a no-frills, run and gun approach to lighting. His two ebooks are available here. You can connect with him on Instagram.