On Reflection: Week 5, Module Four

‘It is important to remember that numbers do not translate easily into significance. There is a tendency in content analysis and cultural analytics to assume that if something occurs very often, it is more important than something that occurs rarely’ (Rose, 2016).

As a concept, this can be applied equally well to how we measure not only the success of our images, but also the success of our marketing activities.

Is an image which is posted to Instagram and attracts 100 likes better than an image also posted to Instagram which attracts 1 like from a photographic agent?

How are we measuring the success of our images? And how are we measuring the success of our posts to social media?

If we post to a social media account and our image attracts likes, who is it that likes our images? And why?

As previously discussed, the old adage ‘horses for courses’ applies – is the best platform for a commercial photographer really a Facebook page? Or is an Instagram account which can be seen by agencies and businesses with commercial photography opportunities a better option?

Philosophically, if I pick up a camera and operate the shutter, does that make me a photographer?

If it does, at what point do I cease being a photographer?

On this basis, no level of skill is required and no quality of output.

By what name do we call someone proficient in the art of photography and having quality of output? Artist perhaps?

What is the quality that defines an artist and differentiates them from being a photographer if we take the above definition of a photographer to be valid?

Clearly the answer lies in much more than a name.

Prima facie, not all photographers are created equal …

What lies at the very heart of these questions (what underlies this line of questioning) is a desire to realise my identity …

Who am I?

What am I trying to achieve?

How am I trying to achieve it?

How successful am I being?

I am constantly trying to define (and refine) my identity …

Is my identity as a photographer separate to my identity as a person? Should the two be discrete?

This is fundamentally important because it relates directly to how I describe myself to potential clients (how I brand myself).

It is, therefore, a worthy investment of time.

 

Reference:

Rose, Gillian (2016). Visual Methodologies: An Introduction to Researching with Visual Methods. London: Sage Publications Limited

Marketing 101

Having been implemented several days ago, an initial ten-week marketing plan has started to yield some interesting results. Notably it has demonstrated my predictions regarding potential audiences for my photographic output to be accurate.

However, for my marketing activities to be most effective, a degree of realistic expectation is needed.

An all-important question is who could I potentially work for? Simple, basic. Yet there is a geographical consideration in order for this question to be answered in a manner which is meaningful from the point of view of running a viable business. Not only is the who important, where is also fundamental. Despite operating in the age of the digital image, advice garnered from initial discussions with a photographic agency is to focus on becoming established in one’s local area first.

Commercially, photography is a commodity and as with all commodities, there is supply.

Key questions here are as follows:

Who are the other photographers that work in my area?

Who else is supplying the clients in the applicable market?

Who are my competitors?

And because there is a supply, there is also demand.

Identify the amount of demand. Is there an overpopulation of photographers supplying the market earning a low share of the available revenue, or is there a small number of photographers supplying the market, taking a bigger share?

Having identified potential clients, the key is to reach them through targeted marketing activities.

Bowkett (2017) suggests that ‘photographers should choose where they would like to have their work displayed and develop that space to reflect their visual identity’.

Establishing a brand, the public image you present, is another fundamental requirement. Being consistent across a range of modes of presentation is essential to successful branding, as is adopting a professional yet stylish design.

It is this ‘visual identity’ which can be presented across the various social media channels.

Barthes referred to the contexts in which images can be consumed as “channels of transmission” in a tripartite system where the authors of images he describes as the “source of emission” and viewers become the “point of reception” (Barthes, 1977, p. 15).

Contemporary social media owes much of its popularity to its interactive nature where the community members are authors and contributors as much as they viewers and consumers. Images contributed to social media help individuals to define their online identity, where they “shape” the way in which others see them, where they portray themselves as they wish to be perceived, their “ideal”.

Social media is a dialogic form of transmission, meaning that there are many sources of information and many users, or to put this in terms Barthes would recognise, there are both many sources of emission and many points of reception. This is opposed to traditional forms of media which are monologic where the sources of emission are typically a very small number of powerful organisations delivering information to a wide audience.

From a marketing point of view, not all forms of social media are equal. One may be more beneficial to one type of photographer, to promoting one genre of photography than to another. Again, there is a need to be realistic.

Quality content – for photographers, this translates into having high quality images, is the obvious input to social media.

Tagging is necessary to create viral spread.

Regularity is also key. However, quality is again the overriding consideration, fewer quality posts are better than frequent low quality and irrelevant posts for the sake of posting.

But to assume these two activities alone constitute a successful social media marketing plan is a gross oversimplification.

As discussed previously, there needs to be a strategy.

And this needs to start with the question ‘which social media channels are the most appropriate to reach the target market?’

Commercial photography requires a more ‘no-nonsense’ approach to social media, for example, examples of successfully completed projects and behind the scenes shots, bearing in mind that behind the scenes shots build trust.

Stick to a plan diligence is key. Setting up accounts and posting regularly for a few days before the novelty wears off is a common mistake to avoid.

Successful social media marketing campaigns share certain characteristics. They begin by targeting a specific market, and avoid random posting.

Such campaigns also consider the value of interaction on social media. The best strategy is to engage with the target audience, for example, replying to comments.

Whilst engagement is valued, social media can be a black hole, try to limit time spent interacting on social media to, say, 20 minutes per day.

It is also beneficial, from an efficiency point of view, to identify which social media channels are most important, especially in the case of small businesses, and choose two or three maximum to concentrate on. Again, identifying the target audience, then identifying which social media platforms are most likely to be used by that audience is key.

The jewel in the crown, as far as marketing is concerned, is the website. The online presence for a business should be focused on the main target market, with all content being relevant to the target audience and their needs.

Only best work should be featured, even if this results in the gallery remaining small – ‘less is more’ being particularly apt in this instance.

In terms of operation, a website should have two main characteristics: these being that it is quick and easy to access. By analogy, a website is a shop window. Potential customers need access to the window if they are to view the goods on display. Any barriers put in place prevent easy access to the window. Simplicity is paramount when designing a website. Appearance and functionality go hand in hand.

Finally, a word on speculative marketing.

Businesses are curious regarding the appearance of their products look like and how they are perceived by the market. It is the need for such information that results in companies spend significant amounts on market research.

They are also interested in understanding the ways in which different photographers can portray their products.

Consequently, there is a lot to be gained by carefully targeting potential clients. This can be achieved by producing high quality images of products which are commercially available and sending them to the appropriate department within the product’s manufacturing company. This is an attention-grabbing way to potentially secure a meeting.

These, then, are the kernels of recommended best practice, the nuggets of advisory wisdom harvested from the internet which will bolster my marketing plan as I look to move forward over the forthcoming weeks and months.

 

References:

Barthes, R. and Heath, S. (1977) Rhetoric of the Image in Image Music Text. London: Fontana

Bowkett, E (2017) ‘Creative Brief’. The British Journal of Photography, Vol 164, Issue 7858 (April 2017), pp.84-85 [online]. Available at: http://ezproxy.falmouth.ac.uk/docview/1920352153?accountid=15894 (accessed Thursday 26 October 2017)

 

 

On Reflection: Week 4, Module Four

Slater_Archivist_Life-is-Sweets 2

Nigel Slater & Archivist Alexandra Hutchinson examine original Rowntree’s artwork

(Life is Sweets, BBC Four, 2012)

A week of decisions as the deadline for the module four assignments creeps closer …

I continue to be aware of the tension between commercial work and project work: trying to reconcile the differences and appreciate the similarities.

Photography as a tool for research in the fields of visual anthropology and social science is of increasing interest to me.

As much as I love food imaging my research has led me to question the function of commercial food photography, recently describing it as the art of persuasion. What does it offer beyond an open invitation to exchange money for food or drink?

From a visual anthropological point of view, contemporary food photography can be viewed as an invaluable source of information, recording the way we eat and our relationship with food for future generations.

5 November 2012, BBC Four and Nigel Slater guides us through the story of his life as recollected in sweets: toffees that inspired him to write a memoir, marshmallows and travel sweets which remind him of his mother and father respectively.

During the documentary, Slater outlines the growth of confectioners Rowntree and in doing so meets company archivist and historian Alexandra Hutchinson.

Together, they examine original artwork from the Rowntree archives.

Proof that commercial imaging plays a valuable role in recording our social history.

As is often the case, more questions than answers …

Who uses images? What are they used for? What is the life cycle of food images? Is there a different life cycle for images from a commercial perspective? And from a domestic perspective?

How do compare contemporary food images with early food images? How has food imaging evolved? How does food imaging fit into an historical context? And other contexts?

Rephotography is typically used as a tool to measure how geographical or architectural features change over a period of time with images being taken from an exact location, which is repeatable and reproducible, at pre-determined increments of time.

Food photography is different, the subjects being extremely ephemeral in nature and with no fixed coordinates to return to. By maintaining a record of how packaging evolves over time, food manufacturers are capturing important data in the same way that social scientists, geographers, geologists and architects are capturing data regarding glacial movements and the ebb and flow of urban developments.

There’s a lot to research in this area …

 

Reference and Image:

BBC Four/Nigel Slater: Life is Sweets (2012) YouTube Video, added by Elle [Online]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q5Y5YIXJgs8 (accessed 09 November 2017)

A Photographer’s Sketchbook …

Brief: ‘create and implement an Instagram strategy that you feel will help you reach future, potential clients (whether ad agencies, curators or potential collectors), and then develop your account so you have 30 followers over the course of a week’ (Pfab, 2017).

An Instagram account has been set-up: philipmorrisphotography

Based on initial feedback from the operation of this account plus feedback from the ‘sharethesmarties’ viral image campaign, a successful Instagram strategy appears to include the following:

Key to (successfully) posting images is frequency, consistency and timing

The appropriate addition of succinct text to images

Use of hashtags – quality, quantity and frequency count

Following and being seen to follow other Instagram accounts.

Based on this strategy, appropriate metrics will be collected and analysed. The results will then be used to inform the Instagram element of a marketing plan extending into 2018.

‘Many photographers approach Instagram in much the same way they would a personal sketchbook, but one in which images are viewed publicly. In this sense, using Instagram can become a natural extension of their professional practice’ (Heinz, 2017).

I think Heinz raises a salient point. There are significant advantages to Instagram as both a marketing tool and a portfolio. However, there are significant disadvantages also, namely the loss of fidelity when an image is uploaded to the platform, and the fact that there is no direct means of loading images to the platform direct from a PC.

On this basis, can it be much more than a sketchbook, a tool for recording moments of inspiration for future reference?

 

Reference:

Heinz, Lauren (2017), ‘5 Instagram Lesson from Magnum Photographers’, magnumphotos.com [online]. Available at: https://www.magnumphotos.com/theory-and-practice/instagram-lessons/ (accessed: 19 October 2017)

Pfab, Anna-Maria (2017), ‘Sustainable Prospects’: Instagram. Falmouth: Falmouth University [Online]. Available at: https://flex.falmouth.ac.uk/courses/84/discussion_topics/2794 (accessed: 19 October 2017).

A Marketing Plan

Week 4, Module Four…

The brief: ‘create a marketing plan for your practice which covers the next 10 weeks’ (Pfab, 2017).

Fundamental to developing a marketing plan has been to define the business offering. In line with this an Artist’s Statement has been developed. This will feature on the about page of a website (currently being developed) in addition to other promotional literature.

The goals of my 10-week marketing plan are as follows:

To establish and raise a profile within the photographic industry and within the wider community

Prepare the legal and financial framework required for effective business management and metrics.

The objectives which will facilitate this are as follows:

Establish a brand across a range of formats

Develop industry specific knowledge appertaining to contract and copyright.

Strategy:

Design, develop and launch a website

Increase the number of Instagram followers to 300 (30/week over 10 weeks)

Establish a Facebook page for the brand

Post (a minimum of) 3 images per week to the social media platforms

Add (a minimum of) 10 images to my commercial portfolio (programme of constant renewal)

Preparation of business documentation (e.g. estimates, invoices, receipts, terms, etc.)

Research and join at least one professional organisation (e.g. Royal Photographic Society)

Research and subscribe to at least two networking organisations

Arrange and hold discussions with at least one photographic agency

Research and subscribe to at least two sources of industry specific news

Design business cards, outsource printing.

The marketing plan will cover the ten-week period commencing Monday 16 October and ending Sunday 24 December 2017 (inclusive).

Appropriate metrics for the various platforms will be collected and analysed.

A marketing plan for a further 13-week period (01 January to 01 April 2018 inclusive) will be developed using the results of this analysis. The expectation is to rollout four 13-week marketing plans during 2018, and two six-month marketing plans per year thereafter.

 

Reference:

Pfab, Anna-Maria (2017), ‘Sustainable Prospects’: A Marketing Plan. Falmouth: Falmouth University [Online]. Available at: https://flex.falmouth.ac.uk/courses/84/discussion_topics/2797?module_item_id=6502 (accessed: 18 October 2017

Back to the Beginning

Sushi---Crop-2

Morris, 2013. Sushi

What was it that inspired me to become a photographer?

The work of Czech photographer had an effect upon me from first glance.

Sudek’s images are photographic impressions which represent light as a substance which occupies its own space, which has a presence of its own rather than merely influencing the way a three-dimensional subject is shown in a two-dimensional format.

The influence of Clarence White is visible in Sudek’s earlier work – highlights glint from within deep shadows cast by dimly lit interiors, the same highlights appear to glow in a manner which can only be described as vaguely Orton-esque.

Sudek was a master of capturing the ambience of an images lighting – highlights seem to retain the character of the natural light which was their source – it takes very little effort to discriminate between images taken in cold, wintry or warm, summery light and the viewer is immediately transported to another place, another time.

I would go as far as to suggest that the highlights in Sudek’s images have an aura.

The paintings of the old Dutch masters were also a significant influence.

Perhaps, though, the actual catalyst was an article, published in a popular photography magazine in the autumn of 2010, describing how to use light painting to produce still-life photographs in the style of the oil paintings of the Dutch golden era. By the time I read this article I was already using a camera but had yet to find my genre and had yet to find my style.

It is fair to say that this article set me firmly on the route which I now take.

Returning to an early example of my work.

Sushi is an image taken in 2013, in the early days of my food photography – having found a genre which worked for me, a genre which I felt comfortable working with.

I remember taking this photograph. Working intuitively the result was a close up shot which placed the viewer in the scene with the subject, achieved by shooting ‘over the shoulder’ of some minor subjects.

It remains an image I am both pleased with and proud of.

As previously discussed, this image has considerable value for me in evaluating how my technical and creative ability have developed over time.

So much for looking back. Why do I continue to photograph?

Photography can, for me, be a double-edged sword. I want to produce beautiful images of food, I want to produce beautiful still-life images. Some of the work I produce excites me, some work disappoints me. Some manages to do both at different times.

Working with my camera is a way for me to interact with the world. It is a way to explore – often producing more questions than answers.

I am increasingly interested in the way that photography can be used as a tool for visual anthropology, as a tool for social science.

(More) Photographic DNA …

Pfab (2017) suggests ‘what sort of photographer are you?’ is a question familiar to most professional photographers.

She continues:

‘There are many labels you can give yourself: documentary photographer, food photographer, fashion photographer, commercial photographer or stock photographer, among others. But which one is right for you?

Is it important to know? Do you need to specialise?’

Pfab explains her position on this very succinctly: ‘I think you do, because if you don’t know what your final destination is, then you will never reach it.’

How, then, can specialisation be achieved? Put another way, although seemingly obvious, what is specialisation?

According to Pfab:

‘Most photographers therefore specialise, at least in style but often also in subject matter – this will help you stand out and make your work recognisable – but you don’t necessarily have to limit your client area or market. So it might be your unique lighting technique, style or colour palette – Nadav Kandar is a great example here – or it might be your subject matter. I believe it’s important to find your niche: how else will a future client identify and remember you? A consistent portfolio stands out, and is much more likely to be remembered than a portfolio full of varying styles, colour palettes and lighting styles.’

Pritchard (2012) outlines the following advantages of specialising:

There is more chance of being remembered when a suitable job comes up

If you choose one area that you genuinely are interested in and enjoy, you will naturally take better pictures and be more motivated

There is more likelihood of your becoming an expert in one area if you spend more time on this one area

It will make a potential client feel confident that they are making the right decisions, thereby giving you a better chance of getting the job

Having a niche generally gives you focus and direction. You can put all your efforts into one area and not be distracted.

As previously discussed (see ‘Down to Business’), and it’s well worth repeating, Scott (2014) identifies three different types of professional photographer:

‘The first is the high-end professional who works with a cross section of professional clients within one or across a wide spectrum of photographic genres. They are defined by a high quality client base, which in turn results in a strong financial reward for their work.

The second is the general professional who also works with a cross section of professional clients within one or across a wide spectrum of photographic genres. They have a slightly less prestigious client base and therefore receive a lesser financial reward for their work. The general professional aspires to be a high-end professional. They usually come from a creative academic background and are informed by the work of their peers. Both of these areas are focused on creating, keeping, and enlarging their commercial client base.

The third is the domestic professional. They do not work for professional clients whose job is to commission photography, but rather they work in the wedding, events, and domestic portrait market. This sector is most often self-taught, regionally focused, and dependent on constantly finding new clients, as the clients they have rarely recommission due to the nature of the reasons for their commissions. The domestic professional is an area that also appeals to the semi-professional, as they do not have to always be available for commission and much of the work is weekend based.’

Scott, then, suggests that it is possible for professionals at the pinnacle of the career to operate successfully across a number of photographic genres. Pfab, on the other hand, is in agreement that it is better to specialise.

Is there any common ground that can be found within this?

I think the two key statements are Pfab’s suggestion that specialisation can be ‘at least in style but often also in subject matter’, and that specialisation ‘might be your unique lighting technique, style or colour palette … or it might be your subject matter.’

Here she is very clearly indicating two possible options.

Firstly, to specialise in terms of subject matter (just not being too specialised).

Secondly, developing a signature style to operate successfully over a range of genres.

Relevance for my photographic practice?

I have been very aware recently of the need to develop a marketing plan, and the place that this occupies within Sustainable Prospects. This requires a clear and concise definition of my work, and this requirement has consequently led me to question what exactly my work is and how this relates to how I define myself as a photographer.

Sometimes, I think, it is necessary to disengage from an idea and to explore other options in order to see both the strengths and weaknesses of the original idea – in effect providing a benchmark.

It is through such dissonance that surety results. It is only through critical evaluation, with the possibility borne in mind that one’s beliefs could be wrong, that the positives and negatives of any idea can be fully appreciated.

This is about making art that is saleable – a commodity that people want to invest in.

There are many clear advantages in specialising, from a commercial point of view. Operating as a food photographer commercially does not (and should not) preclude me from working in other genres, this can be classed as personal project work and showcased accordingly.

Professional practice, like so many things in life, is about finding a compromise and I think this solution finds a happy medium. But rest assured, one thing which will never be compromised is quality … the intention, at all times, being to exceed expectations.

 

References:

Pfab, Anna-Maria (2017), ‘Sustainable Prospects’: Defining Your Photographic DNA. Falmouth: Falmouth University [Online]. Available at: https://flex.falmouth.ac.uk/courses/84/pages/week-4-defining-your-photographic-dna?module_item_id=5351 (accessed: 14 October 2017).

Pritchard, L. (2012), Setting Up a Successful Photography Business. London: Bloomsbury Printing plc

Scott, G. (2014), Professional Photography: The New Global Landscape Explained. Oxon: Focal Press

On Reflection: Week 3, Module Four

‘“I am a photographer, I take photographs,” that is and has always been the spine of any photographer’s professional practice. But is it enough today?’ (Scott, 2015).

Those who are in a position to commission work are aware that images are no longer always still, and they are aware of podcasts, and post-production techniques. They are aware of a whole range of methods by which photographic work can not only be disseminated but also created as a result of new technology.

They are also aware of social media.

Fundamentally, Scott writes: ‘they may not be fully informed about everything but they will expect you to be. They will expect you to be exploring the opportunities that the new environment brings and to be doing so passionately and with excitement.’

Time, then, for me to embrace the entity described as ‘social media’.

Distilled, social media is simply a variety of software packages. It is the user-generated content which prevents such applications from being little more than digital code.

It is no longer, in my view, sufficient for a photographer to be able to operate a camera. Instead one needs to be a social animal, one needs to understand how social media software works. And in order to understand that, one needs to understand how people work.

Social media is now an extremely cost-effective method of marketing. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc. fundamentally operate by the creation of communities of like-minded individuals. Key to harnessing the power of social media in a marketing campaign is to understand how to identify these communities and direct them towards your website. The crucial element then is understanding how to successfully convert site visits into page views, and page views into revenue.

These are areas for ongoing research and development over the forthcoming ten-week period.

The phrase ‘absolute narcissism, and crippling self-doubt’ is, for me, very apt.

Whilst an idea may stay fresh in my mind’s eye and have perpetual visual appeal, the reality that quite often sits before me is somewhat different.

The dissonance caused by first looking at an image and thinking it to be excellent, then seeing the same images on another occasion and thinking it to be second-rate at best is remarkable.

But how would we progress, evolve, develop as artists without the self-interrogation that arises from such dissonance?

Where else would our critical thoughts come from?

 

Reference

Scott, G. (2015), Professional Photography: The New Global Landscape Explained. Oxon: Focal Press