Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Magic: Model Interaction - Niche Focus

Couch Surfing. Roarie. D3/50mm, 1/200th, f/1.8, ISO2500.

At first I didn't think that the subject of niche and focus would be relevant to Magic. Then when I thought about it, I realized that having a specific style and genre of photography really focuses your ability to pull certain models; models for (your type of) Magic. When I thought about it further I realized that this was all part of Model Interaction. That models look at photographers' work and then decide whether or not to work with you based upon your genre, your niche, your focus, and of course your abilities in that particular niche.

Take me for example, you'll find a lot of fashion nudes in my recent work. I shoot fashion nudes because I like shooting fashion nudes. It's that simple. So my very first recommendation to any photographer is to first find your passion and then shoot your passion. Don't get sidetracked with all the wonderful sub-genres of photography; glamour, beauty, lifestyle, fashion, etc. If you like something more than anything else, shoot that.

It will do wonders for your portfolio and your ability to pull the right models.

Why? Because people want to understand who and what you are. They want to categorize you into a "box". When you have everything from fetish to fashion in your portfolio, it's very confusing. No one knows what you are and no one knows that you want.

Now there's a big difference between how you want to be perceived and how the market actually perceives you. If you look at my website, you'll find mostly fashion photography. For a couple reasons. First and foremost, I'm a fashion photographer. That's how I want the world to perceive me. That's what it says on my business card. That's the kind of work I get paid to do and that's the kind of paid work that I want to receive. It's how I define myself first and foremost as a photographer. Of course under the overall umbrella of fashion, on my website you'll find the usual companion sub-genres of fashion photography such as beauty, editorial, commercial, and lifestyle photography. However, the lion's share of my work is (commercial) fashion.

In my personal work however you'll find a lot of fashion-nudes. It's what keeps me interested in what I do but it's really a sub-genre of fashion photography. I call it "editorial" on my website and since my website is a lagging indicator of what I do, you won't find nearly as much editorial work in my portfolio.

But it begs the question, "Do you want to confuse people and upload a lot of editorial work into your portfolio if you are primarily a fashion photographer?" Secondly, it begs the question "If you're a fashion photographer then why are you shooting so many fashion nudes?"

Those are great questions. Let me first give you my canned response which is what I would recommend to everyone. Don't confuse your audience. Shoot what you love and love what you shoot. You'll be happier and get more paid work of that genre. That's the number one issue I find with most workshop photographers and their portfolios. There's no consistency to what they shoot, how they shoot it, and how they present it. It's a mishmash of anything and everything. My official stance is that you ought to narrow your focus and hunker down on a single genre of photography. In fact, hunker down and really focus on a single sub-genre of photography. Fashion is too broad. Be specific. Is it beauty? Is it lifestyle? Pick one, stick with it, focus your 110% attention on that sub-genre.

You'll attract more work and better models of that particular category.

Now, to answer the first question editorially. The truth is that most fashion photographers should demonstrate aptitude for shooting multiple sub-genres of fashion in order to survive in this industry. In my particular case, I still get paid to shoot beauty even though you won't find much of it in my personal work. And with my outdoor natural polaroid-esque style, I also get paid to shoot lifestyle. I also get paid to shoot nudes (usually through direct bookings). And of course I get paid to shoot commercial fashion through campaigns and what not. As a fashion photographer, I create more potential revenue streams if I demonstrate the ability to shoot multiple sub-genres of fashion photography.

But if you ask any fashion photographer, they'll all tell you that they get paid through one particular revenue stream more than another. Whether it's beauty, or lifestyle, commercial or something else. Each of us finds a particular sub-genre where we attract and get more work.

And that's how it should be.

Now to answer the second question, "Why shoot so many fashion nudes if you're a fashion photographer?" The simple answer I've already given. I like shooting fashion nudes. The better answer to that question, whether intentional or unintentional, is that fashion nudes attracts a lot of attention. It allows me to fill workshops, it attracts the right type of models for Magic, it gives me good street cred with models and photographers, and overall it's simply good marketing for me.

Because let's face it, most people respond much more to a nudie pic versus a well-styled fashion picture.

Perhaps the better question is, "Based upon your ability to shoot fashion nudes, shouldn't you just shift the overall sub-genre of your website over to fashion nudes?" The answer to that (currently at least) is "No, because that would detract from my ability to generate revenue from my biggest contributor which is (currently at least) commercial fashion". Ideally companies would pay me the same amount or more to shoot fashion nudes. But that's a paradox because other than the art itself there's no merchandise to feature (unless it's just accessories, which is something I'm focusing more on going forward). So currently at least, my official stance is that I'm a fashion photographer even though my personal projects consist mostly of fashion nudes.

These aren't easy questions to answer. The short answer is to do as I say and not as I do. Because if the monetary reward weren't a factor in this equation, I probably wouldn't shoot anything outside of fashion nudes. Or if there were more (direct) ways to monetize my personal projects, I might stop shooting beauty, lifestyle, and commercial fashion altogether.

But to bring this post around full circle, let's look at the bullet-points. Find ways for people to easily categorize you into a box. That you are a [fill in the blank] photographer. Make sure that your mission statement is clear. Make sure your mission statement is visible on the websites that you showcases your work. From Facebook to your personal website. That you're known for [fill in the blank] photography. That way you can attract the right models for Magic in that sub-genre. Because personally I can't use alternative models for what I do. Neither do I want to attract glamour models for my fashion nudes. The more I shoot fashion nudes, the more likely I'll be solicited by fashion models to shoot fashion nudes. It's a vicious cycle. The only downside is that you won't be known for other types of photography. But that's a small price to pay compared to the overwhelming benefit of having the right models for your photography niche. And this ultimately leads to more paid work for in that photography niche.

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