Brad Mollath was a photographer I knew in San Francisco some years ago. He was a fantastic fashion shooter who had crossed over from shooting food. Years later, after I had moved to Los Angeles, I ran into a model's agent I knew from my model testing days. We had one of those nights of lots of wine and reminiscing about the old days. I asked about Brad, and the word was that he went back to shooting food because the money was better.
Most photographers, even though they are typically associated with one genre of photography, are usually very good at two or three. About this time, I was experiencing a complete burnout on the fashion industry. I was tired of shooting editorial campaigns for art and clothing catalogs for money. I needed change. My agent at the time was all in favor of supporting me in my reinvention as location shooter dude.
I changed my portfolio, my Web site, and my promos to all location photos. I had no idea what the market was like, but I did know that I didn't have to hire a whole bunch of crew and talent to execute a shoot. It was bliss for the first few months. I had booked a job from an agency handling the Anderson Windows account. I got paid $5,000 for two years of usage for a sunset picture of El Matador state beach in Malibu, California. The shoot itself took 20 minutes, and I didn't need an assistant. Sadly, that was the only job that came my way as location shooter dude with that kind of money associated with it. I picked up a few small jobs, but art directors were calling me to see what I had that was already shot that they could license. My reinvention experiment lasted 10 months before I decided that I had spent enough of my savings account. I started rebuilding my people portfolio.
There was an interesting effect that occurred as a result of my foray onto another genre. Since I had dropped out of the fashion/lifestyle scene, people were calling me up wondering what happened to me after apparently being gone for a year. I wanted to tell them about my riveting experiences shooting beach fronts for window ads, but I chose to casually evade the question instead.
Reinventing yourself in a different genre is definitely an attainable goal. You just need to consider a few issues and plan your move wisely. Start by getting yourself in a position to build a financial cushion so that, when you make your move, you'll be able to afford the dry spell you'll be faced with when trying to establish your name in the new genre. As you're building your new genre portfolio, keep shooting in your original field, and keep your mouth shut about your plans. You don't want to scare off your current clients. They're eventually going to find out what you're up to, and you'll never be able to predict how they will respond. Don't feel compelled to chase their paycheck away too quickly.
Utilize what you know. You're not just graduating from art school here. You've been in the trenches. Embrace your experiences from your first round and plan a sophisticated marketing assault on your new industry. You know what works and what doesn't work. Choreograph your launch so you hit the new genre hard and fast. See how quickly you can start getting a response in comparison to your first time out. Whatever you do, do not be lazy and waste your existing intellectual and experiential assets.
Some people I have spoken to about this idea of reinvention are advocates of going dark, which means dropping out of your current scene for a period of time and then popping up in your new one. I'm not sure that that is so helpful because you're typically moving over to a whole new group of people who have not heard of you anyway. And, like I mentioned previously, you don't want to cut off your current cash flow. You also have to realize that none of the people advocating the going dark method have actually tried it. It sounds dramatic and Hollywood as hell, but being broke sucks.
Because you are committing to your new genre, make sure you are absolutely passionate about it. This was my biggest mistake when I tried my train wreck of a reinvention. I love shooting location photos on my terms—when the mood strikes me. To me, the worst day shooting the type of stuff I shoot now is still a pretty fabulous day.
When you're ready to launch into your new genre, throw a party Invite all your friends from the advertising world. There is no quicker way to launch onto a scene than by throwing a party with your new genre images hanging on the wall. Gossip moves like an Australian bush fire in the summer. Don't let the word get around slowly and by itself. People will invent reasons why you're genre switching. Throw a party, get them drunk, and tell them yourself why you're switching. You can't control gossip, but you can go on the record with an accurate version of the truth. In general, people love bold moves like this. Nothing says you're more confident about your choice than a fabulous gathering.
Which brings me to my final point. Be confident in your choices. This industry has very little tolerance for genre confusion. People like to categorize photographers. I'm not saying it's right, but it is an absolute truth about this industry. If you're going to reinvent yourself as a new type of shooter, under no circumstances should you do it half way. Embrace your decision with everything you have!
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