Business Bites Episode 101: How to Successfully Provide Brand Photography Services

How to Successfully Provide Brand Photography Services

Episode 101 on the Business Bites Podcast

The Gist Of This Episode:  In part 2 of this 2-part brand photography series, Christina Blanarovich and Rachel talk specifically to photographers about offering brand photography.  Not a photographer? Be sure to listen anyway to gain some insight into the world of brand photography.

 

What you will learn: 

  • What brand photography is
  • How to start offering commercial photography
  • How to choose what type of commercial photography you are going to offer
  • What it takes to be a solid commercial photographer
  • and more!

Expand To Read Episode Transcripts

Rachel Brenke: Hey guys. Rachel Brenke with The Business Bites Podcast. This is episode 101. As always you can find all show notes and everything at rachelbrenke.com specifically /epi101. This is the two parter that we mentioned back in episode 99. I’m joined again today by Christina Blanarovich, who is my brand photographer.

And today’s episode we’re going to be speaking specifically to photographers. We really both of us as you’re going to see, get really excited about the topic of offering brand photography and that’s what this episode is all about. What it is, what it’s not and how to offer it and how to execute it to your clients.

If you guys did not hear the other episode, make sure you pause and go listen over there. But as a reminder, Christina is a film and digital commercial photographer in the NYC area. She is fantastic at storytelling through her photography. She was a wedding and portrait photographer for nearly 10 years and has now transitioned to commercial photography.

She also offers coaching/consulting on transitioning from wedding and portraits into commercial photography. Which as you guys are going to hear about in a few minutes, commercial is more than head shots. And definitely is a good area that either to transition to or to add on as an asset in your photography business. So welcome back Christina.

Christina B.: Thanks for having me again.

Rachel Brenke: Although you didn’t really go anywhere. She’s in person and we recorded 99 right before this. So it’s fresh in our minds and we’ll probably refer to it some. And I actually really enjoy having someone across the table from me as opposed through a computer.

Christina B.: It’s definitely more of a personal conversation. I like it.

Rachel Brenke: And it’s funny as I can see all the judgment eyes and everything when she’s telling you what your clients should do. Because then I know that I have not done what I’m supposed to. But so I’m learning with you guys through this. So again, photographers, this is specifically for you.

But if you’re not a photographer, feel free to listen because I think you’ll be able to learn some good insight into brand photography. And make sure you also listen to episode 99. So let’s start with what commercial photography is and how it’s more than head shots?

Christina B.: Anytime I tell people that I am a commercial photographer or I have transitioned into commercial work, I usually get some side-eye especially from creatives. Because they’re like, oh, yay. So you went from doing really beautiful weddings and portrait work to taking head shots? And doing Amazon product shots on a white background? And that is not the only type of commercial photography.

And I think that people really need to understand that there is a huge market and a huge need for creative artists with a vision in the commercial world. The type of commercial work that I do is, I made up my own name for it. I call it editorial or lifestyle commercial photography. And I focus mostly on brand photography and content creation for entrepreneurs, small businesses, large businesses.

I do a lot of food photography but again, it’s also very editorial based. And I’ll even do product photography for small businesses and entrepreneurs, but more from that wedding flat lay look and creating a story behind it and creating a brand from just the product.

Rachel Brenke: And I think what’s great about this transition of commercial going from head shots to more of this lifestyle/editorial perspective is that that is what we’re seeing in social media these days. It’s providing authentic connections and a lot of influencers, educators and just entrepreneurs in general are needing and seeking out people to be able to provide quality good brand photography.

But oftentimes it’s not so much that they don’t know they need it. Many entrepreneurs know they need to have a good solid visual brand and it’s often the fact that they don’t either know how to find it or it’s not being offered to them. And it’s interesting, I have always taught within the photography industry that if you are a good solid wedding and portrait photographer, that’s not just enough.

But you can also supplement your income with commercial because you can carry over a lot of the same perspective. You can carry over a lot of the storytelling, the editorial aspect and also your quality work. And then you also can just mine for clients within the clients you already have. You can sell the clients that you’ve already marketed to and brought in.

So you can be one that does a complete transition like Christina was talking about. Or you can offer both. I’m a big proponent of offering… as long as you can quality do it, which we’re going to talk about here in a minute. But offering commercial marketing, photography, brand photography to your existing portrait or wedding clients. Let’s kick off with how do photographers decide to get into it and how do they market it, offer it, what all does that look like?

Christina B.: I think a lot of photographers decide to get into it because they either want some extra income during those slow wedding months or they are just burnt out and they want to do something different. And the biggest question that I get is, but where do I start?

Honestly, just like you said Rachel, start with the people that you already know when you are in the wedding industry you know so many different vendors and vendors always loved getting photos from me when I was doing weddings.

And I built up those relationships. You better believe it I gave vendors that were great to work with their images to use. I would go back to them and I would say, “Hey, instead of just waiting for a wedding, why don’t we brand you? Why don’t we do something that’s more creative and more in line with what you want?” And that’s how I actually first started.

I just started making connections, making connections with local businesses, networking and building that up. So it’s not as challenging. It does require a lot of legwork though.

Rachel Brenke: And what is the leg work look like? Because I think we want to make it clear that just because you have a camera and you’re a quality wedding and portrait, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re automatically going to translate to be in a good commercial photographer.

Christina B.: Very true. I think it’s important for anybody who wants to go into the commercial world to figure out which aspect of it that they want to go into. Let’s say specifically brand photography and content creation and start looking at what is offered out there. What’s out there right now? What are people looking for? What are people gravitating towards, what are other brand photographers doing or not doing and how can you fulfill the need in your market?

Rachel Brenke: And so what are you looking for though? Because I know for you, you developed a very good editorial aesthetic and that’s what people are drawn to from corporate down to small businesses. How does someone choose, I mean, obviously you can look in the market and see what’s missing. But how do you really choose what type of commercial photography you’re going to offer?

Christina B.: For me, I just went with what I felt most connected to and most passionate about. I was a storyteller. Part of the things that I love the most about weddings and even portraits is being able to really step back and see what’s going on and tell it from my point of view. And I wanted to do that with commercial work.

And to be honest, a lot of people told me I was crazy. They were like in commercial work, this is how it has to be done. And usually when somebody tells me this is how something has to be done, it doesn’t go over too well with me. So I said, “You know what? I don’t believe that. I believe that I can do it my way. I can play the game but I can play it by my own rules.”

So I went out there and I started thinking, how can I still use my storytelling? How can I still use the documentary I that I had with weddings and finding those little moments? My clients for weddings always used to say, “You find the little in between moments that we never knew existed and we never want to forget.”

So I took that and I said, “I can do that for brands. I can do that with food, I can do that with products.” And I know that sounds crazy but that’s part of telling the story. I am 100% a storyteller for brands.

Rachel Brenke: So how do you… and by the way I’m going to go ahead and reference again episode 99. Because we really got into deep talking about what entrepreneurs should look for when hiring a brand photographer. And one of the key things we talked about was you’re essentially stepping into the role as that entrepreneurs brand consultant or brand advisor. Because you’re going to work with them for the vision.

So how do you recommend the photographers are sitting here, increase their knowledge of that and how do they inject that into their brand photography? Because again, print photography is not just about having the creative eye, picking this, seeing what’s in the market and marketing to that. I definitely think that there’s a huge responsibility on photographers to help bridge that gap like we talked about extensively before in providing this brand assistance.

Christina B.: I think a really solid commercial photographer needs to also be a really solid business person. You have to understand what businesses need to succeed. You have to understand not just the market but how to relate to clients and you have to help your entrepreneur or your small business, whoever you’re working with. You have to help guide them through that because we are the visual experts.

But it’s not enough just to think, like you said from an artist standpoint. You also have to think from a business standpoint and how can I make sure that I am doing my job. I do a lot of background research on my clients. I make sure that I’ve gone to all of their social media. I make sure that I create a brand workbook for them that before we even shoot, I have them fill out homework.

I was a former teacher so I love to tell people like I’ve got a homework assignment for you and it’s due on this day, otherwise you fail. But I make them do that so that I can then sit down and go over it with them to make sure I truly understand their needs, their business and I can then showcase that the best.

Rachel Brenke: Does that brand workbook come before or after they’ve booked you? Which by the way, just FYI photographers, booking when I say that equals contract written by lawyer plus some sort of non-refundable payment. We’ll talk about that here in a bit. But this workbook you’re talking about, is this to substitute for consultations or is this coming before or after the booking?

Christina B.: This is coming after the booking. But guys get on the phone with your potential clients. I feel like in today’s day and age, people don’t want to pick up a phone anymore and that is so important with business owners and with commercial clients. You’ve got to get on the phone, you have to have a consultation, you need to know what questions to ask them.

You need to get what they are looking for because back and forth in email, I can knock out in 15 minutes on the phone what would take me weeks to go back and forth on an email and there could still be confusion. Pick up the phone, call the people and say, “Let’s see if we’re a good fit.”

Because you need to make sure that you can provide them with the services they truly need and you’re not just going to waste their time. Like you said earlier.

Rachel Brenke: And we’ll just go ahead and bring up a real life example of what happened to me is, I’m super busy and so it’s hard enough for me to carve out some time in order to do shoots. Hard enough to do consultation times and there are many photographers and I’m not knocking if you’re one of those, I’m just offering you perspective as a client. That there’s many brand photographers or just photographers in general who will insist they have to meet their clients in person.

Well, life happens. I ended up having to reschedule a photographer multiple times due to sick kids. I was sick myself and I became so frustrated as the buyer and as the consumer of like, why can’t we just do this by phone? And so I feel it was swung the whole other direction. They so bad wanted to have a connection that it actually polarized me from the entire process.

It revealed to me I wasn’t actually their client avatar. Because if their client avatar was a busy entrepreneur such as myself, then they would’ve known that a phone consultation would have been the best medium. Email would have taken too long and I would have become frustrated with that as well.

It’s almost like the, what’s the three little bears too hot, too cold and just right porridge. So for me, phone call was the best but you guys are going to have to fit that with what your client avatar wants. And what fits into their life.

Christina B.: Absolutely. And after years of figuring this out, I know exactly who my avatar is. I know that my clients are busy entrepreneurs who understand that they need this but basically want somebody to come in and say, “I’m going to walk you through figuring it out. I’m going to hold your hand, I’m going to help you but I respect your time. I respect your business and I not going to waste any of it.”

Rachel Brenke: And by the way, if you’re thinking client avatar, what the heck is that? That’s actually one of our most popular episodes, rachelbrenke.com/epi12 I walked through the whole process that I worked through with my clients. And Christina does something very similar with her consulting, coaching clients of how to develop, who it is that you’re talking to and your unique selling proposition with that.

So make sure you listen to that episode when this one is done. If you need some help on going through that. Now let me ask you about this workbook you have them go through. Do you want to touch on some points of what’s included within it? Don’t give away everything here. You got to have some secrets, but.

Christina B.: Absolutely. I think one of the big keys that I really helps me focus is I ask them, we’re going right back to that, that avatar. Who is your client? And you would be absolutely shocked or you probably wouldn’t be because you did a whole podcast on this so you know it’s needed.

You would be shocked about how many people have no idea or they start telling me, well, my ideal client is somebody who buys my stuff. Yeah, okay, that’s great. But who is it? What do they do? And it’s not just, well, where do they shop? I’ve heard people talk to me, well, you should know exactly where your avatar shops and what they buy, what kind of Starbucks they have. I’m like, yeah, okay, let’s dive in deeper than that.

Where are they in life? What do they value and represent because that’s what we need to show. And photographers, if you do not have a client avatar for your work, you are hurting yourself so much. You are not a Jack of all trades. Even if you do weddings and portraits and commercial work, you still want to hone in on who your avatar, who your ideal client is. Because that’s what’s going to a, bring you the most profit and b, bring you the least amount of stress in life.

Rachel Brenke: Well, let’s give an example. I’ll use myself for this and I’ve talked about this repeatedly in past episodes not because I’m high on myself but because I feel I’ve done a really good job of being very targeted in the niche. So if you are a photographer and you’re just introduced to me, I am the founder of thelawtog.com which is the legal resource for photographers.

And because I niche down so much that I work specifically with photographers and you can even get more specific that I really focus on contracts and intellectual property stuff, since those are the biggest issues that you guys face. But now even in non photography groups, when someone has a contractor IP issue, my name almost always comes up in these major industry groups.

And it’s because I am not a Jack of all trades. There’s plenty of lawyers that out there that do also what I’m doing but they’re not known for doing it. And are their names coming up? Maybe but probably as an afterthought. Doesn’t mean they’re not good attorneys. It doesn’t mean that they’re not also be able to provide these services. But I have now, when you think of X, I’m brought up.

And I think that’s really important and a question you should ask yourself. And this is something that you should also be working with your brand photography clients is to say, what do you specifically want to be known for? And I think what’s really important with that is just because I’m known to do photographers doesn’t mean that I don’t do other sort of work.

And just because I’m known only for contracts and IP, it doesn’t mean I don’t do employment or other types of civil litigation. And I always think of it like a bell curve. I’m aiming for the top, I’m aiming for the very specific thing that sits at the top of the bell curve. But I’m still capturing everything else around it. And so talking niche targeted is going to definitely reach.

And I think that’s a great approach that you take with the brands, with the handbook and the homework that you’re giving to your brand clients. Because that’s also going to help you reverse engineer how you approach a session. So we’ll talk about in a second how you approach an actual branding session. But was there anything else in that workbook that you have your brand and clients fill out that you want to share and some tips?

Christina B.: Absolutely. I like to get to know them as a person too. I ask them some very specific questions on that about what are their values? What are the five most important things to them? What do they do for fun? Where do they like to hang out? Because it also helps me when somebody is constantly talking about their family values and that they love being outdoors.

But then they’re telling me that they want to do their entire brand session in an indoor building, there’s a disconnect. And I think that’s what we need to figure out as photographers, as the experts in this content creation. We need to help clients almost get out of their own way, get out of their own heads and say, “you’re thinking small scale. I’m thinking large scale. We can do what you want but let’s expand. Let’s create more. Let’s go farther and really reach out to the people that you want to connect with.”

And then the third thing, there’s a lot more but one of the third things that I think is really important is really understanding visually what your clients are expecting. I always make every single client send me a Pinterest board or send me some images that speak to them. And I tell them, don’t do it just from, I want to have this image myself but what speaks to you and what about it speaks to you?

I tell them it could be colors, it could be location, it could just be a feeling that that image evokes. But I want at least 20 to 30 images and I want a description of why you love that image.

Rachel Brenke: I shared in episode 99 my own personal experience of being a client and how I struggle with visual branding. And I feel like many entrepreneurs out there, even photographers struggle with their own visual branding. And so you have to strike this balance of as the photographer offering the brand photography, you want to not just be an order taker.

You don’t want to just rely upon what your client provides to you because if they’re someone like me who’s not able to articulate. I’m not really visually able to show you what I want always. Then we’re going to have just missed expectations. And I’ve had that in the past. I’ve had solid brand photography but it wasn’t necessarily the brand for me.

And so I think that the reason that Christine and I bring up this subject specifically is because we see in a lot of groups that many creatives, artists, photographers who fall into the trap of thinking, well, I’m the artist. I should have full control. Yeah. But I think what’s important within brand photography is that you need direction.

You can’t just go in flying blind. As the consumer and as the client, I want to be able to trust you. But if you don’t have any idea what’s in my brain, then you’re going to fulfill to the best of your abilities. But we’re still going to miss each other.

Christina B.: Absolutely. And I love it when clients give me shot lists. I love it when they say, “These are the specific images that I have in my head.” Because I know that they’re thinking of the content that they want to create. And my job is to balance what they’re giving me and to push them farther. And to make them think outside of the box. And how else can we create this?

How else can you use this? How can you use bloopers? How can you use the little in between moments? It’s a delicate balance of I am an artist and honestly, I am more creative now as a commercial photographer than I ever was as a wedding and portrait photographer. Honestly. I have more ability to do my own thing and create the art that I see in my brain than I could on a limited schedule that you have during a wedding.

So I laugh when people tell me that commercial work isn’t creative. But it’s important to balance that side with the business side and the actual needs of your client.

Rachel Brenke: And I think that’s a good transition into how do you actually approach a session because you’re talking about being more creative. And I think a lot of times photographers don’t like shot lists because they feel confined and they’re not able to be creative. So what is your philosophy? What is your approach? How do you take that shot list and develop more?

I know we talked before the episode and even during our session today. I don’t think we mentioned this episode but we just finished like eight hours of my own brand photography session. And Christina did obviously all those photos for me. But how do you actually technically, physically execute off of a shot list and add that creativity?

Christina B.: I always have it in my head where, I like to work with the shot list. The first thing I do when I sit down with a client before we start is I lay out all the outfits. I want to see the outfits, I want to discuss what they are thinking with each outfit. So I get a better idea of, again, what’s in their head. I am not in my client’s head but I want to be.

I try to say, “Okay, here are 10 different outfits and here’s what we’re going to do. This is what you’re envisioning for this one. This one is what you’re envisioning for that outfit.” And then we start to put together a game plan. And in my head I’m also taking their visual list and their actual written shot list and saying, “All right, here’s what we’re doing.” And I start compartmentalizing.

As I’m compartmentalizing I’m also looking around and I’m adding my own ideas to it. Sometimes I write it down, sometimes I’m just flowing with it. But I’m also looking and saying, “All right, I know that they need X, Y, and Z but I’m going to give them one, two, and three as well.” It’s also important to move. You’ve got to move around.

So this is something that I used to do with weddings and portraits and when I coached wedding and portrait photographers. I used to tell them, you are your zoom. You move your feet, find different angles. Every single pose, every single position that you put your clients in should have so many different varieties of images that you provide them that they have content for a year.

Rachel Brenke: Let’s give an example of that. We’re sitting in my office right now. So what comes to my mind is you would do a full landscape to show the whole elemental setup of my office. That would be one. And without me the client moving, you’d come in closer and do a three quarter length of me and then a close up or onto my hands.

Without me moving, you could easily get three, five, six shots just from right in front of me. And that’s not even counting going to the 90 degree, 180 degree from me.

Christina B.: Right. And that’s where you have to start getting creative. I always say start with your standard shots. Start with the obvious and then look for the not obvious, move around, find the different angles. Pull the hair back so that you’re seeing over their shoulder, shoot through things.

You saw me today how many times was I shooting through lights, shooting through leaves, having a car in the picture. How can you layer. That’s where your real creativity and trying to figure out how to do the most artistic shot comes in. And honestly get the safe shot first and then move towards the creative. That’s what I always do.

Rachel Brenke: And you know some of the tips that we really spoke to the entrepreneurs in episode 99 was talking about more of clothing. We’re not going to talk much about that here because I want to get more into tech specs and how to choose short versus long sessions. But if you’re thinking in your mind, well how do I advise my clients on clothing or variety, even within what we’re just talking about here.

I can be in one set of clothing and Christina could get three, four, five, six shots without necessarily having a shift any side of me. She could also throw at me a jacket to put on it and it automatically will change it.

Because if I am the client looking at having a lot of brand photography, meaning that I’m going to have a lot of content to put on Instagram, Facebook, website over the year. I can use the same environment and I can change it up simply by quick layering of clothing.

Christina B.: And that’s another important point. As a brand photographer, you need to know when to stop and change. And I think that’s hard because we’re so used to in the portrait session world where you just keep shooting because you’re not going to have clients changing five, six, seven times in a portrait session.

But you have to know like, all right, I have gotten enough in this outfit, we need to change it up. And that’s your job to keep that mental checklist in your head of how many shots you’ve taken in one area, in one outfit and change it up for them.

Rachel Brenke: And I think that actually also directly impacts the next question that I had for you is how do you choose your offerings as a brand photographer? Are you looking at a one hour session, a two hour session, a six hour session? And I think some of that’s also going to boil into your avatar and what they’re looking for.

But how does the brand photographer make that decision? And maybe you should share like what a And you can use me as an example because we shot last year together on a two hour session and then we did like [inaudible 00:26:42] I don’t know how many hours right now. In a long session and they were two completely different approaches.

Christina B.: Absolutely. I think I changed as I progressed through commercial work and where I am now is a very different place than where I started. Where I started I came from that portrait world and I said, “I can do an hour, I can do two hours. And that’s enough.”

But what I started to realize was that I was doing such a disservice to my clients by telling them I can do your brand session in an hour or two. Because all I could do in that hour or two is give them maybe 15 to 20 different images because they’re not changing. I’m not changing, I’m not allowing myself time to be creative. I’m getting those standard shots.

In order to really do what I do, which is more, I don’t even like to call it brand photography to a point. I like to consider it is more content creation. I am helping you visually create your brand content over the course of however long we’re going to be doing this for. And that requires more time. And it’s hard for clients to understand that because nobody really wants to be in front of the camera for eight hours.

Rachel Brenke: Its tiring.

Christina B.: It’s not comfortable. I get it. I totally understand. I don’t like being in front of the camera either. But you have to suck it up and you have to do it because it’s important for people to connect with you. I understand that and I think it’s our job to educate. Just like with everything else, we have to educate our clients on why this is necessary and show them what they’re going to get at each different level.

Rachel Brenke: Because honestly I think about it and I’m on the other side of it now. Because I think going into this I did a lot more corporate style photography when I was shooting, because I know a lot of lawyers, they want the same old boring stuff. It’s not really creative like you do. And so I could whip that out and an hour in the studio, I didn’t have to worry about it.

Coming into brand photography for myself, it was a learning lesson and for me, I just had to go through it in order to see that we couldn’t get 12 outfits in an hour. You physically could not do it. It would be throwing clothes everywhere. It would be insane. And I’m thinking about mulling over in my head is, can we make a recommendation to the brand photographers listening.

I don’t think we can make one overarching, oh you should offer short or you should only offer long. I think you’re going to have a variation based on your avatar, based on your own personal circumstances. Because for example, I could see value in doing quarterly short sessions versus one long day. For us we end up doing one long day because we don’t live near each other.

So it’s not like I sourced a photographer in town. And I did find it easier. I only had to do my hair and makeup once. And then just change clothes throughout the day. But for brand photographers or photographers looking to getting into brand photography are trying to create their offerings, what would you suggest they start with the short sessions? Because I feel the longs would be like jumping into the deep end.

Christina B.: Yes and no. I think really what I recommend all of the photographers that coach with me to do is how I approach all of commercial photography. There is no set schedule, there is no set collection that I offer. It is not the wedding world. It is not the portrait world. You really need to get on the phone, figure out what does your client need. How many hours as the expert do you think you’re going to need to get them what they need and go from there.

Every single commercial proposal that I send out is unique. There is no set template. And that would be my best advice because I spent too long making the mistake of, well I’m going do an hour brand session or I’m going to offer a two hour brand session. Oh crap, that doesn’t work. I have to go offer for a three hour brand session. Where does it end? You have to figure it out.

And I do have clients that I work with every two, three months that yes, I can do two hours every two or three months because we’re making small little adjustments to them. And then I have clients like you that we once a year we’re seeing each other. So we really want to get as much bang for the buck as possible because we want to really bulk up the content. So it depends on your client.

Rachel Brenke: And I think it also depends on not just the client avatar but it’s also what they’re wanting. Because I’m also thinking as we’re sitting here you both you and I are mothers and so we have a lot of going on with our kids and our spouses and everyone’s got life and obligations. If your constantly creating proposals that can add a whole nother level of anxiety.

And I think that’s where a lot of your qualifiers when your potential brand clients come in the door, you have to ask are they wanting an hour session because they only need a solid head shot for their law firm website? Or are they someone like me who is trying to bang out like a year’s worth of content with unlimited outfit changes. And starting there is where you’re going to be able to say, “Right now in my life. I’m not able to fit a six hour session, but here’s someone that can do it for you.”

Or in the end verse, maybe you want to target people who want the longer longterm content creation and that’s all going to go back to your marketing. Which I want to talk about the marketing, but I think it’s a little bit more important for this episode at least. What about the technical specifications?

Because one of the downfalls that I see, especially with photographers who, they’re good photographers and they’re trying their hand at commercial photography, but they don’t necessarily understand the tech specs that they need. The usages, the resolution and all that that you’re going to offer someone simply for their LinkedIn head shots can be completely different than an author who’s going on a billboard.

Christina B.: Absolutely. And that’s something that, again, I’m saying get on the phone because you need to know what your clients are using the images for. Are they strictly social media images? Are they social media and website images? Are they going to be printed? Are they going to be used in other areas? Are they going to be sold to other companies?

Because this person is like you said, an author who now the publishing company needs it and then they’re going to need it for their book tour and they’re going to need it for all these other things. So you really need to know what the images are being used for and charge appropriately. And you also need to understand how you have to shoot for that.

I shoot both film and digital and I would say it’s about 50/50. Some commercial clients who need a high turnover, so a very fast turnover. So they have to be digital or they have to have super high resolution because of the way the images are going to be used. I have some clients that come to me specifically because they want that film look for their images because that’s what resonates with their brand.

So understanding the usage is key to creating a proper proposal. You cannot create a proper proposal and send an invoice for something that you don’t know how these images are being used.

Rachel Brenke: I feel like the only time, well, I won’t say only. I don’t like to speak in absolutes, but I feel like majority of the time you can only really create collections when you’re the one that’s managing what you’re going to offer. If you’re someone who is a brand photographer that’s like willing to take a variety of clients ranging from just LinkedIn head shot all the way through full content creation, you’re going to be custom creating proposals no matter what.

What I used to do when I was photographing in the studio, I was solely corporate head shot. I knew that I could offer a collection because I knew I wasn’t gonna shoot beyond 20 minutes and it was only going to be used for head shots. And that was the marketing that I put out. So I guess what I’m saying is whether you want to be completely custom or could be completely in a box collection.

But with commercial it’s a lot more negotiations than with portrait sessions or wedding [crosstalk 00:34:43] sessions. Which leads me to talking about commercial licensing and transfer of copyright and all of that. I’m not going to go too extensively in this episode since we’ve gone fairly long. I will link in the show notes, some of our copyright episodes. So again, rachelbrenke.com/epi101

But I want to ask you and we’ve established this in the other episode that you will sell copyright. That’s pretty common in commercial photography especially for large brands to ask for copyright transfer, pay accordingly for that.

If you don’t transfer the copyright and you’re just extending a license of use for the uses that the client wants, what is your opinion when a client goes outside that license?For example, what if they throw a filter that is awful on one of your photos? What is your opinion of the best approach?

Christina B.: Honestly, it’s changed over the years. It depends on my client. If I have a relationship with that client, which most of my clients even the larger scale clients that I work with, I’ve established such a rapport that to be honest they don’t do it because they value the art that I’ve given them. Or I can go back to them and just say, “Hey listen, you’ll just call your copyright lawyer.”

I have to say that, yeah, it hurts as an artist and you’re like, oh why did they do that? But it depends. Do I want them as a repeat client? Yes. And so what I will do is the next time we’re having the session, I’ll educate them. I think educating before freaking out. Educating is the most important step. Now if it continues to happen, I happen to know a lawyer on speed dial.

Rachel Brenke: I mean honestly this is not a hill worth dying on I think majority of the time. Of course we want to have the best product out there because we want referrals and all of that. But sometimes I think that’s just not worth the battle taking that on. Especially when it’s a very minor alteration. Even though it may be illegal because it’s outside the license if you didn’t allow for that.

Christina B.: But it also depends on what they’re doing with it. If they’re throwing it up on their social media, that’s one thing. If they’re using it for a large ad campaign and my name is associated with it, then that’s a different story. Because I will say if my name is associated with that, it needs to be my image the way I provided it.

Rachel Brenke: And just to be clear on this, when we’re talking about licensing all that, Christina and I are referring to having written contractual documents and licensing in place. Because by default majority of brand photographers are not going to be W2 employees of your clients. So by default you’re retaining copyright ownership over that.

You’re going to have to make the decision on selling and transferring that copyright by contract or retaining it for yourself within your photography business and then you wii be extending a license. And I think what’s really, really important to understand here is that if you don’t have it in writing, there’s a lot of vague implied licensing going on.

And it’s going to be hard for you to really control the image and control the situation and control expectations which I think is the most important aspect for this. So my recommendation again, check out the other episodes we have on copyright, what that means, the impact for that and a just FYI, shameless plug, thelawtog.com has a commercial contract and license drafted by yours truly that you guys can use in your brand photography business.

Christina B.: And I just want to touch on that too. If you’re looking at doing commercial photography on a larger scale, most companies, corporations and even larger entrepreneurs are not going to even look at you if you are not set up as a proper business with proper contracts and all of that.

So you need to know the terms, you need to walk the walk if you’re going to be a commercial photographer and want to make an incredibly profitable living off of it.

Rachel Brenke: As somebody who spends pretty much every day of the week in the law firm sending copyright infringement federal lawsuits at large brands. I want you guys to understand, do not fall into this false sense of, well, they are a large brand so they must know what to do. I’m going to blindly sign their contract without having a review or understanding what’s in it.

I actually find that mom and pop companies, smaller businesses are more knowledgeable than these large corporations. It’s unfortunate, but it’s what happens. If you have an issue, I eat them for breakfast so I’m happy to help you. but I would rather you guys, I don’t want to be the only one that wins in that situation. I want you guys to come to me for good stuff, not bad stuff. So make sure that when you’re presenting a contract, if it’s your own, you know what’s in it.

You’re standing by it within reason. Customer service is still there, but if these large companies are offering their own documents and negotiations that you have someone solid to help you. Especially when it’s extremely a lucrative deal or it’s going to be very extensive intellectual property information. And transfers and all that sort of stuff, that is definitely the time we want to look and have an IP attorney to help you out.

Get one on retainer if you can, that’s going to save you a lot more time and money to prevent the issues. Then later on, I can’t even emphasize this and am I going to say much more than this other than, you guys will save more money on prevention rather than on cleanup and it’s going to be a lot less stressful. So definitely look at doing that. Don’t feel like the issues are never going to happen to you.

That being said, I feel like commercial photography is a lot more broader. There’s going to be more negotiations so don’t freak out when people negotiate. That’s the name of commercial I feel like, is a lot of negotiations. Contracts are standard and you just have to be prepared in order to respond to that.

Christina B.: Absolutely.

Rachel Brenke: Awesome. Was there any last things you can think of for photographers doing brand photography? Any last tips that you want to leave them with?

Christina B.: I could go for like another 40 minutes.

Rachel Brenke: I know.

Christina B.: So much information. You need to be the expert. You need to know what your clients need, you need to be able to have that relationship. But you also need to be a business and treat this as a business and I promise you that you will be able to be creative and you will be able to be very, very well compensated if you do this the right way.

Rachel Brenke: Oh I agree. And actually just one last note on that, we were having dinner last night when she got into town and commiserating about our Wedding photography days. We don’t have anything against it but if you really sit down and look at commercial photography and you do it really well. And you approach it in a very business standpoint like Christina said, you can make more and work relatively less and less stress than a wedding is. You’ll have more time for life and family and that’s why I made the transition to commercial work.

Christina B.: Yeah. I wanted my weekends back so I took them back.

Rachel Brenke: Yeah. Because then you can fit a commercial shoots in to the middle of the week. Awesome. Well, thank you so much for coming on. Just FYI guys, if you want one to one help Christina is the person to talk to. Especially if weddings are sucking you dry or you just want to add some additional income stream to your photography business. Don’t forget, you can find all of the show notes, links to Christina’s stuff at rachelbranke.com/epi101

Featured Guest & Resources

Christina is a film and digital commercial photographer in NYC. She loves being a storyteller for each brand she works with. She started as a wedding and portrait photographer for nearly 10 years before transitioning to commercial photography. Christina loves to work with brands both big and small to create content that is real, raw and exciting. Commercial does NOT have to be boring! In addition to her photography work, Christina goes back to her roots as a teacher and coach, mentoring numerous photographers a year that want to transition into lifestyle commercial photography and take back their weekends! Her absolute favorite thing to shoot is food on film. Mostly because she loves to eat it. The food, not the film.

You can find Christina here:
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About the author

Hi, I’m Rachel Brenke

Rachel Brenke

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