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is a New York-based portrait, food, and nature photographer who has
made a specialty of working with establishments like restaurants and
hotels. During his day job, he works as a Chief Creative Officer within
the Omnicom Advertising Network, the world’s largest Advertising Agency
He got my attention via Twitter, when he mentioned that Playboy bought one of his bird images, “Vulture seeking spiritual guidance“, for inclusion in the magazine as well as displaying it on the wall within the mansion itself.
“An executive saw the image and contacted me a few weeks ago to purchase a large print as an engagement present for ‘some old bird’ in the organization who had himself seen and commented on the image in layout form for an upcoming issue,” Shapiro said.
“It’s nice to know one of my images will be hanging in a Mansion filled with some of the more beautiful people the world has ever seen.”
After a little back and forth, I realized that he was getting a lot of attention from his “finer feathered friends” series of photographs in his PhotoShelter website. He sold 4 of them to a collector in Belgium, and a really famous hotel wanted to put them on display in a new lounge they were building.
Photo by Alan Shapiro
It made me wonder – how do you sell images to restaurants and hotels? Are there any special marketing tactics that work best? How do you get the word out to this segment of the fine art photo buying community?
I just kept asking questions, and thankfully, he kept giving answers.
“My marketing plan is less formal than I’d like, especially given my day job. You’d think I’d be better organized,” he said.
“Photography became my creative stress reliever and a sort of daily creative exercise regime. I had a lot of portrait, nature and wildlife work but I really wanted to shoot food. I offered to do a test shoot for a really well-known local chef, and in exchange for the usage of the photos, I simply wanted to be able to display them on my site and go from there.”
Shapiro says that this relationship has evolved into a full-blown friendship where he is helping the chef with his branded products and a cookbook. That first test shoot set him on his way to more food photography assignments. He is now working on projects for four other restaurants based on the work that came from that test shoot.
I asked him to put together a list of tips for photographers interested in working with restaurants, hotels, and maybe even the Playboy Mansion – and he agreed.
Thanks for being so generous with your knowledge, Alan.
10 Tips for Photographers Who Want to Sell Images to Restaurants and Hotels
1) Understand the opportunity.
Want to shoot food? Know what’s involved: lighting, styling, etc. Likewise for the hospitality industry; chances are pretty high you’ll be asked to do lifestyle or architectural work.
Think about who you want to go after. Targeting is critical. For those of you starting out, you’ll have a much better shot shooting for a single restaurant or boutique hotel than for a chain.
Of course, there are lots and lots of exceptions which is where I prefer to focus. My largest commission to date is from a very “Ritz-y” Hotel who will be using a group of wildlife images (see my “Finer Feathered Friends” gallery for a taste) to decorate a large new public lounge area at the top of their hotel. Which leads me to…
2) Don’t Sell Yourself Short.
My work has been mainly portrait and outdoors with a focus on nature and wildlife. So that’s what my portfolio is full of. But I also love food. I’m what you’d call an “eatertainer”. I love cooking, eating out, collecting cookbooks and restaurants. And I’m proud of my ability to talk food and restaurants with the best of them. I knew that I wanted to shoot food but until a short while ago, I hadn’t had much opportunity and was on the lookout.
Here’s how it started for me: Someone I used to work with but hadn’t seen in a few years called me up wanting to introduce me to a chef who needed some work done. I met with the chef and rather than showing him my work, asked him some leading questions. (More on this below) One thing led to another and now I’ve done numerous shoots for him and we have since become very good friends. (In fact, we’re working on a cookbook and line of branded products together).
Once this relationship was established, this chef was more than willing to help me network some more. Same thing happened with a different chef that saw my work on my site and called me up. She’s set up meeting for me with two other chefs (after making me promise that I’d devote more quality time to her). Which leads me to the most important item on my list…
4) Be nice.
This goes without saying (no matter what you want to do or how well established you are but I’m always surprised when I hear some of the horror stories people like to share (over and over again.) I personally find it much easier to be friendly, accommodating and positive. In this day and age, you have to be a photo god or incredibly specialized to get away with anything less.
5) Begin with a conversation.
When meeting with a client for the first time, I always get them talking first. Based on the conversation that follows, I can tailor my presentation and play to my strengths.
When I’m out and about, one of the best parts of photography is the conversations I have. I really like talking to people. And that’s usually how I go into any situation; with my gear packed away. I do bring my camera everywhere (doesn’t everyone?) including restaurants and will always ask the waitstaff or maitre d’ if they mind if I take some pictures. I’ve never had someone say “no”. And this usually brings out the chef. BINGO! An opportunity for another conversation. And a chance to connect over a shared passion.
6) Have an opinion.
I’m not shy about letting a client know when I think their visual materials aren’t good enough: to either differentiate themselves from their competition; aren’t showing off a particular aspect of their establishment; or they are just showing work that is substandard. But delivery is everything and I’m careful to be very specific when pointing out things I’d like to see changed. Which leads to…
7) Have a vision.
You can’t say anything negative without immediately offering up something positive. Phrasing things like “Here’s what I’d like you to consider…” or “Have you ever thought about approaching it this way…” shows your creativity and also that you are solution-oriented. I’ve literally gotten assignments without ever showing my work based on the conversations I’ve had and some of the solutions I’ve proposed.
8) Offer a test shoot.
I’m big of this and see it as a very worthwhile investment especially if it’s a new area for me. I’ve asked chefs if I could spend a few minutes in their kitchen with them and used that as an opportunity to show how quick or easy I am to work with. Or I’ve asked them if I could shoot during a less busy service like lunch. And then asked them to prepare me their favorite dish while I shot away. I love shooting people and have gotten some great shots of chefs in action. Can I tell you how many of those shots I’ve sold? So far, I’ve never had a test shoot not turn into a paid assignment. (Insert sound effect of knocking on wood.)
“Lamb Chops” by Alan Shapiro
9) Be flexible with your rates.
This is especially true if you are starting out. We all need to pay our bills. Some of us want to make a lot of money. And none of us wants to set a bad precedent by underbidding. Just ask yourself how bad you want to work in this category weighed against the size of the opportunity.
One restaurant client insisted I bring clients to his establishment to entertain them based on my willingness to cut my rates to accommodate his budget. Win/Win. And because I have come to know his entire staff and send them all shots for their Facebook pages or whatever, I get treated like a King. Now there’s a longer term strategy which links back to the whole “niceness” rule I live by: when the Sous Chef, Sommelier, Bartender or Maitre D’ goes somewhere else or decides to open a place of their own, who do you think they’ll call?
10) Use the tools at your disposal.
I spent a ton of time researching all the different website options available and I can tell you that my PhotoShelter site, the SEO component and the various options (some of which I have yet to tap into to their fullest) have been invaluable. As someone just starting in photography, I found the range of white papers to be terrific and the customer support as simply amazing. As far as my overall marketing plan, I am still figuring it all out. I have a blog but it’s showing a greater variety of work than is probably recommended.
Likewise for my Twitter stream (@alansphotos). And I love my Moo cards which allow me to create mini gallery shows in the most unlikely of places by lining up or tacking up 6 to 8 cards arranged around a particular theme.
His bottom line:
Do what you love and share what you love in every way across every channel possible. And make sure you’re key-wording the heck out of it every step of the way.