Sunday, April 15, 2012

Me: Lucrative Career. You: Motivated Single Photographer

I found this ad on Craigs List. I thought it read like a personal ad, hence the title.

You are a passionate photographer, and have excellent technical skills. You want to differentiate yourself not only as a talented photographer, but also as a business manager with essential operation skills to run a successful portrait photography business.

Join a sales-optimized portrait photography business and be part of our exciting, growing professional photographer team.

Your responsibilities:
  • Photograph, sell, produce and deliver children, wedding, professional, lifestyle portraits.
  • Attend weekly sales meetings (on Wed) to prospect new clients, build sales database and coordinate with sales team.
  • Process any orders resulting from your photo sessions and sales meetings.
  • Contribute to our Facebook, Twitter, and blog postings on regular basis to market your portfolio.
Your benefits:
  • Option to join a mentorship program dedicated to portrait and wedding photographers. You’ll learn advanced business skills that are critical to pursue your dream career. These skills include but are not limited to Marketing (advertising, product development, pricing), Sales and Business Development, Finance and Accounting, Photo Session Management, Productive Post-Processing Work-flow, and Order Fulfillment and Delivery Process(ing).
  • Competitive profit sharing from your photo sessions and product sales orders generated by our sales program.
  • Access to our sales office that will significantly enhance your presentation and double/triple your session sales.
Your qualifications:
  • Have access to professional camera bodies, two professional flashes; fast wide angle lens, medium focal length lens, and a longer lens (i.e. 70-200 f2.8).
  • College or master degree in photography a plus. Advanced computer skills in Photoshop, Lightroom, and other retouching software preferred.
  • Excellent communication skills; Affiliation with parents/children organization/network preferred.
  • Positive, great attitude. Motivated for success.
Please include in your application:
  • A link to your online photo portfolio.
  • A resume including education, experience related to photography.
  • Expected income and career goal.
  • Email, phone number.
  • Serious applicants only. We will call selected candidates with strong fit for interviews. Successful candidates will start immediately.
I came up with some hypothetical questions that a young photographer might ask prior to scheduling and interview.

What questions should I ask? I’m not sure if there is anything to ask, as the requirements are pretty straight forward.  The employer will be asking most of the questions.

It seems like I will be doing all the work and someone may teach me something, but he or she will get most of the profit. How much should I ask for in salary or hourly rate? You won’t get a salary. You'll get a cut of your bookings. It will probably be a sliding scale, something like 50% on bookings between $1,000 and $2,000, 60% on bookings between 3K and 4K, and 75% on anything over $4,000. I made this figures up, incidentally. If you're hoping for a salary, the nearest similar payment model would be a car salesman. Each month, a salesman gets a "draw" which is an advance on his future commissions on sales. When he sells a car, the dealership subtracts the previous draw from the commission and gives the salesman the rest. But if the salesman quits before he earned enough to clear the draws, he must pay it back.

This may have some advantages so long as this is not a pyramid scheme with an initial buy-in. But it sounds like I will have to drum up my own sales, right? Maybe not.  Pretend you're working for this studio. A potential client calls for an appointment. The Studio will then try to match the photographer’s style to what the customer wants.  An appointment will be scheduled so you can meet with the client. At that point you'll need to sell yourself, and an appropriate photo package. You'll need to have some samples of your work.

If that's the case, why work for this company? Because you may not get much exposure by yourself. Working for a studio puts your name on the letterhead and a link on their web page. If if somebody opens the page, there's your name. If somebody walks in off the street, you may have a chance to get an interview, and possibly a booking. You also have  a place to meet clients instead of having them look for you in a nearby Starbuck's.

I can get the education from books or seminars. Yes you can. But this particular adventure isn't about photography. It may not even be about marketing. It's about joining a turnkey operation with a set of rules and procedures to follow. It's assumed that you've already got the skills.

Last year I did contact a photographer who interviewed me for an assistant position, but I didn't get it. Now that guy is hiring again, and I applied again, but he won't take me because of lack of wedding experience. Isn't this a Catch 22? Yes, and no. If you have a portfolio full a great "event shots" showing that you can light and pose small and large groups of people, that might do. And if you add to that some good location portraits, so much the better. A good assistant should know how to set up lights on location according to instructions given by the primary photographer, swap lenses, cards, and batteries, and do on-location backup. He'll probably need to perform the pre-production file uploads, and probably do the initial editing the next day. He should probably know how to tie a bow tie, a full-Windsor knot, and a neat ribbon bow. In today’s market, the assistant needs to know the equipment inside and out, but may also be required to make photos to help fill out the primary photographer’s album. No recognition, the studio owns the  photos. And since these aren’t formals, they aren’t much of a showcase of what you could to if he was on his own. In many respects, photographing a wedding isn't significantly different from any other form of event photography. One's ability to work with people is what really counts. But you still need to show a variety of top-notch people photos that show that you've mastered the fundamentals.
In all fairness, this is a dialogue that will never happen. But it serves to keep my own head on straight whenever I think there's a career to be had on my side of the camera. This post hopefully acknowledges just how much a photographer must bring to the arena if they are to survive and thrive in the circus that is digital wedding photography. Also, it's better to have had this conversation before one jumps in with the lions, than after.