Dear Photographer: How Can I Go From Shooting Editorial to Advertising Photography?

I’m an independent NYC-based editorial photographer with five years experience and a long list of well known clients. For the last few months, I’ve been working on some personal projects with a commercial feel in an attempt to get some meetings with art buyers and transition into advertising photography. Is this what I should be doing as a first step? Any ideas or suggestions from photographers who have made this leap would be appreciated. —Anonymous

‘Dear Photographer’ is a new section where readers can ask advice and/or questions of the Feature Shoot audience to be answered via comments on the post. Please send questions for consideration to [email protected] with Dear Photographer in the subject line.

  • Francis

    I don’t understand the point of the Dear Photographer section. There are other forums better suited to anonymous communication for photographers seeking advice from other photographers with dubious credibility. If I were to post a question, I want one good answer and not 5 different OK answers.

    It would make more sense to have a successful, acknowledged photographer perhaps answer a weeks worth of questions which are culled and curated by the Feature Shoot editorial team.

  • Alison Zavos

    Hi Francis, Thanks for taking the time to comment.

    The section was started to encourage dialogue on the site and for photographers to have some of their questions answered and for other photographers who’ve been in their shoes to offer advice.

    However, I think your idea of having one reputable person answer a weeks worth of questions is smart. As the section evolves, I will definitely keep this in mind.

  • Dear Photographer:
    Like most businesses moving from one market to another requires research and a plan. Going from editorial to advertising is no different. Put yourself in the position of a marketing department, your work is your product and it has to match the needs of a certain customer.

    Hire and Editor to Edit your Work
    The first step is to take a serious look at your work or better yet hire Alison or another photo editor. You need to have some with experience and is not so close to your work to help you edit an advertising portfolio. As you know in the editorial world they expect us to be able to do multiple jobs and shoot many different types of subjects. But in advertising art buyers are typically looking for a specific style or “look” that matches the campaign of a certain client.

    Do Your Research
    What type of work do you shoot ? Yes you shoot editorial but do you shoot food, cars, people, etc. It is critical you determine what you love to do and what you do best.
    Then do your research to find out what clients use your kind of work. If shoot food then you DO NOT want to target agencies that handle car accounts.

    Study Current Ads
    Look at print ads and find photography you would love to shoot or is most like your style.

    Shoot, Shoot, Shoot
    Start to build a personal portfolio of work YOU want to get hired to do. Do NOT shoot what you think someone wants. Art buyers can see right through work that is a check box and has no passion behind it. Build a strong body of work showing your passion using the subjects and style you would shoot for free. The best situation is where you get hired to shoot what you love. Not only is it more enjoyable but it will not be a stretch or fake, you will be an expert in that subject or style.

    Help for Photographers
    Take a look at some one like Companies such as this specialize in helping illustrators and photographers market their work. They have a huge and current database of art buyers, art directors, agencies, etc. and allow you target specific potential clients.

    They also have a program called Campaign Manager which will handle almost every aspect of your marketing program from emails, direct mail and telemarketing.

    Full Disclosure: I am a contributor to AA’s The Lab blog but this has nothing to do with my recommendation.

    My final piece of advice is to remember it takes time. There are no silver bullets and to succeed in advertising means that you have to want it more than the next guy. All of us have seen ads and say to our selves “I could have shot that”, or “my work is better than that”. BUT remember the photographer who got that job busted their butt to get there. There are plenty of stories of photographers who kept marketing to their dream client for 2 or 3 years before they finally got an assignment. Yes the work has to be there but the persistence will win out every time.

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