Monday, July 20, 2009

Distinguishing Yourself

While I spent the formative years as a photographer switching seamlessly between my Hasselblad and my 35mm film cameras, frankly, my preference for shooting, for example, weddings, was 35mm. I was of the opinion that I could be more free and able to catch that fleeting moment with a 35mm autofocus camera, than my manual focus Hasselblad. Yet, somehow, when I sat down with a prospective bride and groom, they asked about my camera. "Will you be shooting with a medium format camera?" was the question. The reality is that I could have said yes, and turned up with my 35mm and they would not have known the difference. Yet, somehow (whether a magazine article, or another photographer) they had been told that photographers using a medium format camera were somehow distinguished as more of a professional, and the quality of the work would be better.

When I talk to a prospective client for an ad shoot, there are ways to distinguish yourself too.

(Continued after the Jump)

"we'll of course have a certificate of insurance for this shoot incase there is an issue, and I want to encourage you as you're talking to other photographers to be sure they have that too." A full 50% of any collection of photographers I am competing against for work will not only not know what that is (a COI) when the client asks, but won't have the ability to get one either.

About the only time having a diploma from a college from the standpoint of getting a job is when you are trying to get a full-time job at an organization with an HR department. In 20 years as a photographer, I have never had any client ask if I have a degree, let alone a degree in photography.

One of the great things that the Professional Photographers of America (PPA) does is they have a certification program. Their Certified Photographer program gives you a variety of designators that follow your name. So, just as there is "PhD", or "Esq" as a designator after your name, so too is there "CPP", which stands for "Certified Professional Photographer". PPA encourages you to distinguish yourself thusly - "It’s like quality assurance because certification is a credential consumers and businesses understand. More importantly, it provides you with a tool for telling the world—and all those potential clients—why they should call you rather than the competitor down the street." PPA has other designators as well, "M Photog. Cr" which is "Master Photographer Craftsman", and others. The key here, is to actually market your credentials.

If you are in the enviable position where you know the client is only calling you, then saying something like "and be sure when comparing us to others..." you give them idea that maybe they should. I often ask "are you just talking to me, or are there others you're considering?" Often, I get "I was referred to you by several of my colleagues, and I haven't called anyone else." If, however, I get "we are talking to several other photographers", then I know it is time to set forth my credentials. Sometimes, when the location is a hotel venue, you can define yourself easily by saying "oh, we've worked in that ballroom several times, and are very familiar with that space. The location is tricky be sure you're talking to other photographers who have worked there before." Or, it could be "...that hotel requires all vendors have a COI, and we've provided ours to them previously...". Or, it could be that you distinguish yourself by saying "as you're talking to other photographers, be sure they are certified as a professional photographer. We are, and it's a characteristic that ensures you'll get a level of quality over taking your chances with another photographer who is not certified."

Besides the PPA certifications, utilize your memberships in professional organizations. "We are members of the American Society of Media Photographers..." or "We are members of the National Press Photographers Association", and then there's "We are members of the Advertising Photographers of America". Each of these distinguishes you as a professional, to one degree or another, and demonstrates your commitment to being a full time professional photographer.

Maybe though, you have none of these memberships or credentials? "I was a staff photographer at {insert publication name here} for X years...." is a distinguishing characteristic. Or, "my website demonstrates that I specialize in {insert type here} photography, and I would love to bring that specialization to this assignment."

The key is to know your prospective client type, and convey to them reassurances that you are indeed capable, skilled, and reliable for the photo shoot you are being considered for.

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J. J. J. Schmidt III said...

"Their Certified Photographer program gives you a variety of designators that follow your name. So, just as there is "PhD", or "Esq" as a designator after your name, so too is there "CPP", which stands for "Certified Professional Photographer".

Yep, that would clinch the deal for me when choosing a photographer. Youbetcha.

Remember, post-nominals for business certifications fall below AA for your experience at community college...

I prefer McDonald's epicurean fare because their franchisee's have attended Hamburger University. This distinguishes them from other fast food providers...

Andre Friedmann said...

The ability to provision certificates of insurance for comprehensive general liability and workers' comp distinguishes working photographers from newbies and wannabees.

Brandon D. said...

Great post! I've never thought much about any of these things before!



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