Thursday, October 1, 2015


Hearing what you want to hear at its best

Following the Road Trip Podcast (Part II) Commercial Concerns and the Special Guest Billy Coker: Commercial Photography and Videography podcast comes a common theme of ego and how that ego gets in the way of commercial success.

Hell it's not just photographers. It's people in general.

Look, I get it. We lie to ourselves to protect our fragile egos. It's a lot easier to believe that Santa Claus is a jolly fat man who will give you presents just for being good, than it is to work two jobs to buy Christmas presents for your kids because (spoiler alert) Santa Claus doesn't actually exist.

Case in point, Keith and I podcasted our reactions to a photographer (Educator versus Dream Killer Part I and Educator versus Dream Killer Part II) that kept saying, "My clients love me but they don't want to pay me". If you haven't listened to this podcast my general response is, "Umm, no. They love you like people love sleeping on the sidewalk overnight in the freezing cold in front of Best Buy the night before Black Friday. Which is to say they only tolerate you because they are getting something for free."

You are a means to an end. And that end is free.

Because if they did love you, they would pay you. Incidentally, that same photographer kept asking me what gear he needed to buy, insisting that he needed the best gear on the market because he didn't want to give his clients any reason to not hire him.

Wait, what about the part where your pictures are terrible?

And despite telling him over and over again that 95% of my pictures were created with a "nifty fifty" (usually a 50mm f/1.8 from Nikon/Canon/Sony) he insisted that his equipment was at least partially to blame for his lack of business. Why? Because his competitors were shooting with top-of-the-line gear. Realizing that he wasn't hearing a word I was saying, I tried a less sensitive approach and blurted out, "You're photography needs a lot of work and that's why your clients don't pay". To which he responded, "Bro I've been shooting for 10 years, my clients love me, I know how to shoot".


But it's not just him. When a client doesn't hire you, it's not good enough to say, "It's because the other guy has better gear" or "It's because the other guy charges less". Because here's what I know about people. If you can convince them that A and B are not comparable, then they won't judge A and B using the same criteria. Per my podcast with Rodney Alan, if the prospective client believed that Rodney was offering a unique product/service, then they wouldn't have picked the other guy just because he was cheaper. 

Let's say I'm in the market for the 42MP Sony A7RII and someone offers to sell me a Holga for $10. Chances are I don't say "Close enough!" and then buy the Holga. Why? Because buying the Holga doesn't solve the problem that I still don't have the Sony A7RII. And chances are I need the Sony A7RII for some specific reason. 

You're probably thinking, "This is a bullshit example. Everyone knows that the Sony A7RII is not the same as the Holga". 

But how do you know that it isn't? Who told you the Sony A7RII was not the same as the Holga? Where did this perceived difference come from?

"Well, there are all these blogs, videos, hands-on reviews, commercials... oh snap! It's all marketing!" 


Because if I believed that the Sony A7RII and the Holga were for all intents and purposes the same product, then I would just buy the cheaper of the two. And it would be Sony's fault for not illuminating me on the benefits of having the A7RII.

And that's just it. If you don't listen to what the client is really saying then you can't address their true concerns. Rodney's wrote off his prospective client as being cheap when perhaps what the client was really saying was, "I can't tell the difference between a Holga and a Sony A7RII". Had he heard what the client was really saying he could have repositioned his offering to the extent where the client could not hire the other guy unless they wanted something else altogether. Basically forcing the client to conclude that they would receive an inferior product or service by not hiring him.

Last example. When I started my photography career six years ago I genuinely thought I was going to make money from models and magazines. Yes, that's what I actually thought. One day I forced the issue with a modeling agency for whom I'd been shooting unpaid tests. I asked the modeling agent when her agency was going to start paying me for tests. My argument was that I was getting paid tests from Ford so I should also be getting paid tests from her agency. She said, "That's not how it works" to which I replied, "Then tell me how it works". She revealed only a handful of photographers got paid tests and that the decision was out of her hands. I got mad because in my head I heard her say, "The reason you're not getting paid tests is because the agency is very bureaucratic and I can not influence the decision maker". In actuality what she was really saying was, "Dude, you're not offering us anything that we can't already get for free". I should have seen that the market was saturated then (as it is even more saturated now). Because fast forward 3-4 years and it's been at least 2 years since any big modeling agency has offered me a paid test. Though it wasn't clear to me then, seeking paid tests from modeling agencies in 2012 was like selling VHS players in 2002. I was a decade late and already obsolete.

Can it be done? Sure. You can still sell VHS players to museums and antique collectors. You can get paid tests from smaller hungrier modeling agencies no one has ever heard of if you're willing to shoot men and children. Rodney can undercut the photographer that undercut him. And you can convince a client that they should hire you just because you have the best gear. But just because you can doesn't mean you should. It's time we listened to what our clients are really saying, instead of hearing what we want to hear.

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