Monday, January 16, 2012

Magic: Model Interaction - Market Perception

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A big part of capturing and creating Magic is finding the right model to shoot. Finding the right model to shoot hinges greatly upon how your models perceive you before they even meet you. Much of that perception is built on what people say about you, either through direct interactions, through the grapevine and/or how you present yourself on the interwebz. All those perceptions create certain expectations of who you are, what you are, and what you can do.

The flip side of having no "market perception" is having no work to show for yourself and no reputation. If you are relatively new to photography and you want to shoot better models, you'll find that it's difficult to convince good models to shoot with you. And for good reason. You can't expect people to decide purely on faith that they'll get good images from a photographer that doesn't have a proven track record of generating good images. This is a classic chicken-and-egg dilemma because getting Magic can depend greatly on the quality of the models that you use.

Of course, no one expects you to go from zero-to-hero overnight. That's why in my Magic: The Right Model post, I propose that the best model for Magic is the one that wants to shoot with you. What I forgot to mention in that post is that even if you were to bribe a supermodel to shoot with you (with monetary or other incentives), if that model doesn't want to be there, chances are you still won't get Magic. The proper connection is missing when one or more of the parties isn't motivated properly and isn't in the proper mindset for shooting magic.

Back to the issue of market perception. If you're a budding photographer, your goal is to shoot with as many good models as possible while creating the best images that you can create. These images are stepping stones to better models, better images and ultimately better market perception and a better reputation.

So you should mind your reputation closely. People talk. A lot. Whatever you say and do can be used in determining your market value. It goes without saying that you should strive to deliver only positive working experiences and try not to give people reasons to say no to working with you. In my own practices, I listen to the marketplace and sometimes I hear bad things about people in the industry. Whether or not these things are true, the news affects me (and the marketplace) consciously or unconsciously. And if I hear something negative about someone that I might have considered working with previously, it weighs heavily on my decision making. I've actually said this in the past about models but based upon the number of requests I get to shoot, I'm generally just looking for reasons to say no. Hearing negative responses from the marketplace is usually a deal-breaker. Likewise, I know a lot of models that ask about photographers' reputations prior to deciding whether or not they will shoot with a particular photographer. And sadly, rumors get passed around quickly and bad experiences can lead to negative feedback can could ultimately define you as a photographer and devalue your worth in the marketplace.

But good things can happen when you have a good reputation. Assuming you've developed a decent body of work and presented yourself fairly and accurately and given most people a positive experience, this could lead to very positive market perception of who and what you are.

In fact, this could lead to an unreal perception and/or expectation of what you are.

For example, I've worked with plenty of agency models that book me outside of the typical agency protocol. They find me on Facebook, Model Mayhem, or through my website. Most of these models know a lot more about me than I would have guessed. They've watched my interviews online, looked through my older flickr images, sometimes even read my blog. And while I would like to believe that I present myself as a fairly normal human being (occasionally even funny if you've seen my Tennis Geek photo), there's one common response that these models have prior to meeting me; they are intimidated by who and what I am.

And being me, I don't get a power trip about people being intimidated by my work or who they think I am. Mostly I just find it very curious because in person I'm the farthest thing from intimidating. In fact, I go to great lengths to be personable and easy- going. Actually I take that back, I don't try to be personable, I just like to be liked. I don't enjoy making people feel uncomfortable.

But through working with these models that perceive me to be intimidating, I have discovered that such perceptions shapes the overall working experience and can be quite conducive to creating Magic. The models I shoot with are attentive, they are willing to go with the flow regarding location/makeup/wardrobe, take constructive criticism and direction extremely well, and are willing to go the extra mile to make Magic.

What more can I ask? I mean, I could ask them to make me a sandwich but that might be a little much.

In stark contrast, I remember some less than ideal experiences with booking models directly through the agencies. Most of the time the models didn't care to be there. After all, they show up because their bookers tell them to show up. To them (even though the shoots were just tests) it's just a job. They don't know who I am and they typically don't research my work prior to showing up. They come late (indicative of lack of proper motivation and desire to be present). They aren't flexible in location/makeup/wardrobe. They balk at requests. They don't listen. They aren't attentive. They don't put in a whole lot of effort into the shoot.

Now of course that's a summary of all the bad experiences rolled into one, but you get the idea. And of course in each of those cases I did my best to try and make it work, to create the best images we could get from that particular situation. But they were so often less than ideal. When your positive market perception isn't working for you, it's so much harder to get at Magic. And as a result, I pretty much stopped asking agencies to send me models. That dynamic simply didn't work for me. I mean, it works if you're a Testino or a Miesel and your name carries so much weight that it's instantly recognized. But the difference in soliciting and being solicited is night and day.

Which is why again I say the best chances at creating Magic is shooting a model that wants to be there. I seriously can't stress this enough.

Taking one last pass at market perception, I want to encourage that as photographers you pay attention to the persona that you create for yourself on the Internet. Be aware of how people perceive you. Are you working often? Staying busy? Creating new content regularly? Staying on top of people's minds? Do people want to work with you? How do you handle your requests (emails/messages/etc.)? Do you show good work? How do you showcase your work? And more. The answers to these questions plus the real-world experiences you have with people ultimately dictate the market perception of who and what you are.

And in my case people think I'm better than I think I am. And I'm very fortunate for that discrepancy. But regardless of what I think, I am what the public believes I am. After all, I am only one voice in the overall marketplace. While I can certainly influence how I want to be perceived, I can not dictate how I will be perceived. And the industry's perception of me is not only their reality but also ultimately (directly or indirectly) my reality.

I have a very laissez-faire attitude about market perception when it's on the uptick. Obviously if I had to deal with some negative press, I'd have a much different and more aggressive approach in squashing rumors in the rumor mill. But I don't mind that models perceive that I'm larger than life and totally intimidating. Sure, they're disappointed when they meet me, but the Magic speaks for itself.


  1. Great post, Charles.
    Over the past year I've adopted this approach of being more selective with my choice of models. My portfolio isn't so broad that I can limit my shoots only to agency-quality models who solicit me. But as you say, the difference between a model who is paid to shoot (no matter how beautiful) and a model wants to shoot, is night and day.
    I've worked hard to build a good reputation, and it has started to pay off. I think it's all part of the professional work ethic. How do you go about monitoring your online reputation? Or should I save that question for this weekend?

    1. Great question, my initial reaction to the online reputation thing is that it's still and always will be partially a black-box experiment. But definitely ask me this weekend! Cheers!