Reluctant to ask Assistant Question

Discussion in 'General Shop Talk' started by dpolston, Oct 31, 2007.

  1. dpolston

    dpolston TPF Noob!

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    I have been playing around with this photography "business" dream for awhile and I think that I am trying to fast track myself into the business. I am a 38 year old father of 2, self employed, building contractor. I am trying to promote this part of my life like the rest which is very much purely self driven successes and failures. I have the website ready to be officially launched, I have the blog, I have the portfolio, the camera and the goodies that go with it (although I need a good dedicated flash), I am however not in the position to blindly start all over again in this stage of life.

    It seems like a lifetime ago (early 90's), I worked full time as a studio photographer that shot female portraits (formals to high heals and a smile). It was an established studio that had very nice equipment but it was already dialed in when I got there. The lights were set, the camera (Mamiya C330's) were mounted and the hardest thing we did was try to be somewhat creative in a generic, 6 light, 3 photographer studio. "Advanced Glamor Shots".

    Now I look at so many websites of you guys and see and hear of the travels, money, good and bad experiences, equipment and stories you tell. I am amazed and envious every day of some shot you've taken, client you have or studio you've set up and I know that a successful business can be achieved.

    My inner struggle is getting back to the basics and re-learning photography 101 techniques. I should brush up on real basics (exposer, f-stop stuff, etc.) but what I really want to know is if I need to be asking about working as an assistant for someone locally. Frankly sometimes I just want to throw all my cameras away and say forget it all. Why do I need a camera that costs 1600 bucks and a lens that cost me 1000 bucks to take snapshots of "leaves on my driveway" ( http://davidpolston.blogspot.com/2007/10/feaf-prints.html )

    I am at the point of bugging one of my photo idols ( http://www.lanpher.com/ ) that I have emailed and spoken with on the phone, but I don't want to push it so that I irritate him. I'm just looking for "real world" advice. I'm just looking to take him to lunch and pick his brain for a bit.

    So... to the point of this. How do you as "professionals" really feel about newcomers in the business? Are we a threat to you, gonna take your business, do we just have too many shooters out there? Are you really willing to teach someone your lifestyle? How hard is it really to get your name out there?

    Please don't patronize me when you answer this post. I am in the same spot you were in once upon a time. I have found something that I want to do professionally, full time, and I need to know how to get there.

    Do I need to market myself better, pick a "poison"; specialize ("senior portraits", theater shots", "building exteriors")? Look at the photos I have, just tell me if I suck or what I need to work on! I need to know. www.davidpolston.com/flash.html (this is the back door link. I know there are some typo's, this is my web guru's almost ready to post;yet still rough draft of the site.)
     
  2. Alpha

    Alpha Troll Extraordinaire

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    The corporate stuff is pretty good. The black and whites need a lot of work in exposure and post-processing. They're soft, a little flat, and there's absolutely way too much middle gray.

    As for newcomers, I've always found that people who believe that you share their passion are most often willing to help you. Someone with as strong a body of work as Keith Lanpher would most likely not consider you a threat. This is largely due to the fact that he's already established, and therefore already has many established clients and professional contacts.

    As for picking a specialty of sorts, that's a very tough call. If you want to get into fashion or glamour, you'd have toget out of Norfolk. There no market for it (no real agencies and few to no real models). So basically, if you want to do one of those two, you're screwed. On the other hand, freelance shooting for little to no money abounds in Norfolk. I personally know a few models in the Norfolk and Virginia beach areas, though they aren't professional and won't pay. You can have fun with it, but won't earn a cent. You can, however, earn money doing commercial work (either advertising, product, or architectural photography).

    I should add that if you really intend to make a move into the professional world, you will need seriously professional gear. I think the most common mistake that people make when "going pro" is severely underestimating the costs. You'll need a serious camera (ideally full frame) and a strong and varied set of lenses (certainly not cheap for Canon and Nikon DSLR's today). Then you'll need lights. You can get away with something like AB's or WL's, but if you're doing anything mission critical, you'll want to invest in strobes with more consistent color temperature. That gets expensive, fast. At the bottom you're probably talking something like the Calumet Travelite series. Then there are the big boys, such as ProFoto, Broncolor, Hensel, and Speedotron (particularly the black line). If you need to do work on location, you'll need a portable setup with a power pack. That gets even more expensive. On the other hand, if you're making an unsure step into the business, you probably shouldn't invest a huge amount of money into lighting initially. However, no matter what brand of lights you buy, you will most likely end up spending more money than you had anticipated in accessories (reflectors, softboxes, umbrellas, snoots, grids, gels.....ad nauseum). Then there are the smaller things that add up very fast. Make no mistake, accessories-- particularly lighting accessories are absolutely critical to getting the job done properly. They are not optional. If you think you can do everything with an octabox and a white reflector you're sorely mistaken unless you're only going to shoot senior portraits. You'll need reflectors of different sizes and colors, as well as scrims. Don't forget about light stands.
    *deep breath* ...see what I mean? Then there's proper advertising, beating the pavement to find work (do you have time for that?), and a lot of time spent processing images (got time for that, too?).

    There is another option, though, that will allow you to test the water. And get out with minimal financial loss if you want/need to. That's equipment rental. Work with what existing equipment you've got. Buy a strobe or two and a set of accessories (that's a grand, easy). If you pick up clients whose needs you can't satisfy with your own equipment, then rent other equipment to pick up the slack. Strobes generally run $50 and under per day. Accessories are maybe $10 a day. Over the long run, that can add up. It can also, though, keep you from ever really having to make a huge investment if you're not bothered by renting all the time. If you start picking up real commercial clients, they can be billed for the equipment rental on top of your hourly, day, or contract rates. I know a lot of professionals who've operated like that for a long time.

    Oh, and your website. Your images are too small. And you do need more practice...a number of them look like snapshots.

    I hope that helps. By the way, I live in Richmond at the moment, so if you're ever in the neighborhood, drop me a line and perhaps we can have lunch or something.
     
  3. LaFoto

    LaFoto Just Corinna in real life Staff Member Supporting Member

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    This is some sound insight and advice, Max. Whoa! You may easily NOT see the immense amount of cost involved in "setting up studio" BEFORE you begin to set it up!

    Well, David, I cannot give you a reply in the way Max did, since I am not one of the professionals you are calling out to, but I feel I can give you my personal experience view on your question on whether your local (established with studio already) photographer would want you as an assistent to let you in into his tricks and ideas.

    As an enthusiast, I was, of course, quite curious and interested when a new photographer opened up shop in the neighbouring town (keep in mind this is mere countryside, and nothing here could ever be compared with business in the cities such as Hamburg or so!), so in February I went into his shop, asked him a silly question about how to clean the sensor of my camera, praised the photos in his shop window ... and then asked if maybe there was a slim chance I might accompany him on wedding photo events, maybe, as assistent or just on-looker and learner?

    He took down my address, all right. I bought a voucher off him for a photo session which I gave to my friend as a birthday present (February), and she finally felt the family were ready for a family portrait about a week ago today. I had never heard of him since back in February.

    My address was still sticking to his pinboard when (myself included since I wanted to watch him work) we all appeared for the family photo session in his studio, but had he ever contacted me? Never.

    I feel he does not really want me to learn from him and "step into his domain". He may have read, heard, learned somehow (local newspaper) that I had a little exhibition and my name was out (with the title "photographer" attached to it :oops: ) in connection with a dance performance in town ... and although he knows I only own a tiny entry DSLR, he might feel I am stepping onto his toes. He was friendly, all right, when my friend, family and I were there for their session, but ... I doubt the small, local person really wish for someone else to enter the business.

    My experience was that his particular one was less than helpful.
     
  4. dpolston

    dpolston TPF Noob!

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    Thanks Max and LaFoto.

    As you can probably guess from the tone of the post, it came from a bit of frustration last night.

    I do have a light kit and backdrops but frankly I haven't played with them much in a studio setting. I bought them for a wedding that I absolutely had to have them. I am trying to find somewhere to set them up and play with them so I can see what they're made of (I don't have a place to set them up in my home comfortably and I am garage-less).

    To be honest, I know that my web pics are snapshot-ish, but I really do not have a client portfolio that is large enough to feature. I have been talking to my wife and we think it's a good idea to shoot a series of our friends family portraits and their kids... and pets... houses... whatever it takes, for free; just to fluff up my portfolio (we will sell them prints though. I'm not a complete idiot). I already have 4 or 5 senior (style) projects, 2 families and a trio of girls (sisters) to shoot now. These are because I bug my daughters friends (and their parents) to let me shoot them.

    I am kind of wiggling my way into sports portraits (long story to talk about) and I am interested to see where that goes, mainly because I don't follow, or like to watch, ANY sport (well... except MMA).

    I'm looking forward to seeing where this post goes. And Max, yes, we'll do lunch! I have driven to Elisabeth City, N.C just for lunch before (good ole BBQ), so 90 minutes for your company... no problem! =o)
     
  5. dpolston

    dpolston TPF Noob!

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    I just picked up on this.

    My quote was:

    This wasn't me trying to justify buying these things, I own these things. I shoot a Nikon D200 (with an MD-D200 battery pack on it) and a Nikkor 70-200, 2.8 along with a backup camera and some other goodies. I know that equipment doesn't make the photographer (in composition, focus, blah, blah, blah), but good equipment helps. I try to buy good tools.

    That reply was probably unnecessary <bother>. I guess the main point is, "I got the stuff... now how do I make the money back for the investment"?

    Thanks again... keep the comments coming. I have a strong feeling I'm not alone in this quest.
     
  6. Big Mike

    Big Mike I am Big, I am Mike Staff Member Supporting Member

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    As with most any business...you need to have the skills and knowledge to be competent...but to be really successful, it helps to be a good salesman. There are plenty of average photographers who are making a lot of money because they can sell themselves...and there are plenty of extremely talented photographers who don't make much or anything with their photos.

    You said that you are already self employed...so I'm sure you 'get it'.
     
  7. Alpha

    Alpha Troll Extraordinaire

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    Making the money back is all marketing. Two fundamental things you must satisfy in order to make any money.
    1) The proof is in the pudding. You can be a good salesman all day long. Nothing substitutes for a killer portfolio. And nothing picks up a client faster.
    2) You have to get your name out there, whether it's via web, print, or simply handing out lots of your business cards all day.

    One other thing. Don't quit your day-job. And I don't mean that as an attack at all. Probably the biggest mistake that people make behind underestimating setup costs for this sort of business, is overestimating the amount of money they can generate. Unless you're really churning out portraits, it can be tough to make money shooting people, particularly if there are already other established studios in town. As I said earlier, if making a bunch of money by shooting is really important to you, then have a closer look at weddings (Not for everyone, it's like photo-journalistic portrait photography that pays well), product, misc. commercial, and architectural work.

    And I didn't mean to poke at your camera. It's a good camera. I just meant you'll need lots of pro gear in general if you didn't already have it.
     
  8. photogoddess

    photogoddess TPF Noob!

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    Check out Bruce Dorn's seminars - you'll be blown away by his lighting using Canon Speedlights. He sells lighting modifiers as well which are awesome and he and his wife are genuine souls that truly have a passion for this business. Don't let anyone talk you our of pursuing your dream... just proceed with some caution. It's definitely a balancing act as it can be a rough industry to be in. You can be an awesome shooter but without marketing and business skills, you'll quickly go hungry. Drop me a PM if you'd like to discuss technicals, your work & goals - I'm happy to help if you're interested.
     
  9. dpolston

    dpolston TPF Noob!

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    Only if you tell me where "Lala Land" is. =o)
     
  10. Renair

    Renair TPF Noob!

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    Last September while in Newark Airport, I spotted American Photo, it had good articles about photographer assistants. Very hard work, but sometimes its good to do it a few months if need be, get the experience, get the knowledge, make some contacts, but more importantly, build a name for yourself. I would jump at the chance of doing it, but since I have a considerable amount of debt, I cant afford the low wage....

    I saw ask your local guy, you never know what happens.... worst case, just do Saturdays for him for free, no-one will turn down free work plus you gain lots of experience...
     
  11. photogoddess

    photogoddess TPF Noob!

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    Los Angeles area - Long Beach CA to be exact. :lol:
     
  12. Alpha

    Alpha Troll Extraordinaire

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    Something like an SB-800 is $300. For that price, I can pick up a second hand Travelite 750 with a much higher power output, a 250w modeling lamp, and a recycle time that's 3 times faster than the regular SB-800, and is still faster even with the Quick Recycle battery pack.

    They're an absolute waste of money unless you need ultimate portability. If you do need ultimate portability, then you're not shooting with as many accessories as Mr. Dorn does anyway.
     

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