Careful what you cast for.

Right now I'm casting for a hairy legged man for an editorial project I'm shooting very soon. I'm in a hurry so I opened the Craigslist flood gates today. I wasn't expecting this one.

How to get ahead in photography? Sample ads?

Question by:
Daniel Cuthbert
South Africa

Paraphrase of Daniel's question:
What is the usefulness of shooting sample ads (fake ads) that look like published ones as a marketing tool to get advertising work?

Daniel's actual question:
So you've decided you really enjoy thinking of creative briefs for
adverts. You spent a few hours drawing up some story boards and your pretty ready to go ahead and do the shoot, all in the name of showing that bloody agency you can think like a advertising photographer and not make the creative director wake up with cold sweats. Problem is, what's right and what's wrong with doing adverts yourself?

Response by

A common assignment in commercial photography school is to recreate an existing print ad. Another assignment would be to art direct, write, shoot, and retouch a "sample ad" for an existing or hypothetical product. These assignments are all in the name of allowing students to gain an appreciation of what goes into making a real ad. These are great exercises for new photographers, but those sample ads in seriousness should remain out of portfolios and marketing materials. I'll give two reasons and then elaborate.

1. They say amateur "school assignment" and don't reflect a photographers true roll in creating ads. Photographers make photographs. Art directors make ads.

2. In making these ads, you are not showcasing your "point of view" as a photographer. Having a unique point of view will get you work faster
than showing that you think like an art director.

Art buyers, in part hire photographers that can handle "production". Production is having the team and skills to translate an art directors idea into a photograph within the agreed upon budget and time frame. This can include: casting, location scouting, catering, styling, prop building, and retouching. Most of these production rolls are handled by people hired by and overseen by the photographer and his/ her producer. How smoothly this process rolls out is anybody's guess especially when it's a first time project.

An art director will choose a photographer with a unique and defined vision. They want a photographer to partner with that will take their idea and "elevate" it either by addition or subtraction of elements. The chosen photographer's vision is one that that best syncs up with the art director's own on that project. Specifically this can be a sense of lighting, space, humor, gravity, landscape, etc.. Their work must be consistent enough that the art buyer is confident that the photographer will produce something like what they've seen in their portfolio and ultimately please the client and not cause the art director undue stress.

So showing an ad you created in your kitchen doesn't really say much about your competence as an advertising shooter. However, why don't you just make those very same pictures and forget about the ad? Don't try to write copy or place the product on the picture at all. Now put it in your book. A seasoned art director will always be able to see how a photographer thinks by the choices he/she makes. Make images about ideas you have and let that idea be the content of the photo rather than relying on a headline or product association to tell it's story.

One picture can send multiple messages to many people. This is the beauty of art. Ads are generally meant to communicate one message to all people. Don't limit the interpretation of your work by forcing the viewer to think of it singularly. Let it translate unpredictably. If it is in fact a great image, your art director will see it and "get you."
Pick up Archive Magazine and look at the ads in there. Very often they are driven by photography. Although the writing is brilliant, the headline or product attached to them could be many. Their strength relies on this very notion of the unexpected.

Later in your career you may have the opportunity to have an art director call you to help flesh out his/ her idea before it's pitched because your track record shows that you work well in this capacity and they like working with you.

Best Practices

Today I shot an addition to an ongoing personal series I call, Best Practices. Best Practices is about people risking their lives and safety by ill-advised problem solving. Today I worked with Slick Pete. I met Pete near my studio at his job. He's an awesome dude but is certifiably crazy! He invited me into his workshop where nine of his buddies converted a US Post Office into a motorcycle shop.

Special thanks to Krista Gobeli for hair, Stephanie Foyer for production, and Brian Guido for assisting.

Saline Solutions

Time Magazine has posted a photo essay I shot about my visit to Galos Caves, a therapeutic Polish salt cave in Chicago.

Yellow Paint

My work appears in Yellow Paint, a new photography source book being distributed now. You can digitally flip through the book here. See my work on pages 124+125. This is the first annual edition of this cleanly formatted and manageable book.

I think they did a great job keeping the quality of work high and relevant. If you're an art buyer or photo editor and you've not received a print copy, write them and say, "Saverio sent me."

How to get ahead in Photography?

I’m really open to suggestions. Truly. I am cool to hear someone’s take on me even when the news is less than expected. Knowing sheds light on where I might improve. That said, I give a lot of suggestions too. I’m honored by photographers who ask me to review their portfolios and offer my thoughts on the art and business of photography. No matter who shows me their book and what level they are on, one question I'm always asked is, “How did you get started in this business?”

The idea of starting and sustaining a photography business is daunting. With the amount of competition in the world, who would even want to try? Just look at any of the source books or portal websites and you'll find seemingly endless numbers of photographers already established in the marketplace. From a newcomers perspective, where is there room for another photographer?

Obvious first questions arise like: Where am I going to get a gig? How can I get assisting work? Later we ask ourselves about marketing like:
Build a website or portfolio? Does anyone use the print source books? And somewhere in there is: Do I get a rep? and How much should I charge? All the while a good MacPro runs you over $3000 and you just want to shoot new pictures. All this has you remembering that Starbucks pays for health insurance.

So I'm again making myself open to offering suggestions. If you have a question related to entering and sustaining in the business of photography, ask me at info(at) Through my own experiences and those of colleagues, you'll get an honest answer that may just be helpful in thriving in this gig.

Thanks to Heather Morton’s, Ask an Art Buyer for inspiring this.

Fruit of the Loin

At the pub last night, two friends were talking about a really unsettling piece of street-art seen somewhere in the neighborhood. After last call, we set out to find it. Glued10 feet off the ground on a plywood construction barricade, there he was. I don't know what it means, but I'm sure he's the bastard child of Fruit of the Loom.

Competing with Children

With gas prices up over $4.30 where I live, I've been out on my bicycle a lot. It's a great way to meet people and stay connected to the world. While riding through the inner city, I've noticed a near phenomenon of really tiny motorcycles ridden by big people. I mean, these bikes are made to fit a 6 year old.

I met this young dude on the West Side fixing his chain in the middle of the road! Traffic swooshing by, he drew a small crowd of onlookers (likely because he was in the middle of the street) who resisted the temptation to lend a hand. Instead we stared. After he got the chain on, I offered to race him down the street on my bike. He agreed and I readied myself. Of course I had to turn my bike around because he was going to race
against traffic and I guess, so was I. And with sneakers kicked back and knees barely off the pavement he smoked me. I estimated (on my cycle computer) that he was going 28mph before stopping his house to get something to get some candy.