Advertising work is a good way to sustain a career and support other kinds of work photographers often prefer to shoot, such as editorial, personal, and fine-art work. The challenge for fine-art and documentary photographers, though, is convincing art buyers and creatives that they can reliably produce on a commercial set what they shoot in non-commercial settings.
“The treatment is really important,” says Venetia Dearden, a documentary, fine-art photographer put her career on a more stable financial footing with advertising work. She has to explain her documentary process to advertising clients who are looking at her books and telling her they want that same look. “You’ll sit in a pre-production meeting and Somerset Stories Tenpenny Dreams, which is my first book, will be on the table and they’re like, ‘We want this.’”
The book was shot on film in natural light. In meetings or in treatments, Dearden explains that she can create documentary-style advertising images by setting up situations and letting them “fall apart,” she says. “I set all the elements up as I know they need to be: Lighting, location, all of that, and then I shoot through the motion as if it is just a real situation. It’s almost like directing a movie or directing a moving image. That’s something that I explain in my treatments and if the work [you show in your treatment] supports it and the art buyer supports you then that’s what wins you the job.”
Jimmy Marble got into photography after starting his career as a director. Money from a commercial directing job allowed him to produce test shoots that were essentially personal work. “I was very interested in just making things that I thought were beautiful and anticipated that advertisers might be attracted to them,” he recalls. His tests, which he published on Instagram, led to editorial shoots for publications such as Refinery29, and then he started working with his agent on getting advertising assignments.
At first, though, he lost three bids, including one for which he was the agency’s preferred photographer. His rep told him he needed to improve his treatments. “She sent me treatments from other photographers and said, ‘You need to study this like you’ve never studied anything, and you have to start nailing this way more.’ So I started really being mindful of the language that I was using in the treatments.” What did he change? “It was the tone, and it was also my level of assertiveness.” Marble concentrated on clearly laying out his approach to shoots. “It’s one thing to be a young up-and-coming artist, and then it’s another to act like an up-and-coming artist.”
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