Amanda Sosa Stone has been working with award-winning photographers from around the world for over 10 years. Based in Florida, as a freelance consultant, she works with visual artists who span media and is the in-house marketing and industry consultant for Agency Access.
Amanda can approach photography with both the unbiased view of a marketer and the heart of a dedicated artist.That’s why we asked her to give us tips on how photographers can refine their audience, set a solid tone for their portfolio and take their work to the next level to attract clients they want.
How does a photographer refine an audience and find a spot in the marketplace?
First, a photographer needs to be able to clearly describe the client he wants to go after and the work he has to offer that client. I always ask a photographer: Where were you, where are you now, and where do you want to go?
Where they are now versus where they want to go becomes an equation that can show whether they’re heading in the direction that they want. I check to see if a photographer has content to support what they want to do.
That’s how you define your target audience. Is the work there, do you understand the dream versus the reality, and how does your location factor in? Once you can answer those questions you can refine.
How do you set the tone of your portfolio?
I think that people often try to assume what they think their target audience wants. Whether it’s someone who wants to shoot for ESPN or do wedding photography, it doesn’t matter—photographers assume the bride wants X and that ESPN wants Y.
I actually do the opposite. At the end of the day, they’re hiring you for your style. You have to really pull back from showing clients what you assume they want and instead show them what they want but in your own style. That’s a hard distinction to make.
People will tell me that they’re ready to gut their portfolio for an upcoming meeting with a potential client and turn it into something they think that particular client wants to see. I think that’s fine for an iPad portfolio, but I advise not to gut your primary portfolio because that portfolio embodies your style as a photographer. Of course, I’ve done “safe” edits too; sometimes you have to. But I always tell photographers to know the direction you want to go in and know how you will explain it using your own visual voice.
Photographers wear their hearts on their sleeves; their art is their life, and they want everyone to approve. There’s no way every client can love you. You have to be bold enough to tailor your portfolio to yourself.
How do you recommend going about the actual editing?
I use Adobe Bridge because I really like to work in a hands-on way and also because I’ve just used it for so many years. But I do also use Aperture for building portfolios. I have lots of clients who use Lightroom. I think you have to use whatever you’re comfortable with.
The software doesn’t matter as much as the person doing the editing. You have to be emotionally removed from the process. I tell my clients to send me content that’s edited down to what they love, what they like, and what they’re not sure what to do with. That starts to remove the emotional filters. I then ask them to consider why they love an image—was it because of the experience of the shot (which doesn’t translate to the viewer) or was it because it represents exactly where they want to go?
How do photographers decide the number of photos to include in their portfolio?
Because the number of photos you can include in your portfolio can be unlimited, photographers sometimes think that’s an invitation to share everything. But they need to think when curating: What happens if I only have two minutes to connect with a potential client? What do they need to see?
For the person who has two minutes and wants to hire a photographer you’ve got to really sell them. And two minutes is generous. I would say it’s more like selling someone in the first two to five clicks.
I remind photographers that they can’t always verbally walk someone through an online portfolio. You can add a caption and information, but someone has to be able to look at an image and walk away with a story. They should feel like they know who you are. That’s when you’ve done a great edit.
Portrait and editorial photographer Jason Myers has been in the business for just a few years. He’s based out of Florida, not in a prime location, but it could be used to his benefit. So we hired Alexandru Vita from PhotoShelter, to completely gut Jason’s website portfolio. We went through the whole process of refining his target audience. When I highlighted the work he had, he said, “That’s not what I want to be. I want to be a portrait photographer.”
Over the span of six weeks, Jason shot about 80 portraits. Now that’s serious dedication. He was determined to get what he wanted. And he got picked for PDN’s “The Shot” and landed his dream client, Garden & Gun Magazine.
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