I’m looking forward to attending my fourth NYCFotoworks event in October. For those unfamiliar with the premise, NYCFotoworks is a portfolio review event where photographers rotate through a room full of art buyers, agents, and other photo industry experts for brief, one-on-one meetings. I’ve done a lot of these “speed dating” type reviews over the years (ASMP and APA host them, and Palm Springs Photo Festival is also having one in October) and I’d like to share some thoughts about how you should prepare for them, and what you should and shouldn’t expect from your meetings. The most common mistake I observe in these reviews is that many photographers don’t come adequately prepared. Treat it like any other meeting and do your homework!
First of all, give yourself time to build a portfolio you’ll be proud to show. Photographers will sometimes trot out their newest work, “Just shot this on Friday!” This can be great, but more often than not it can just feel tacked on or unpolished. Take the time to create a thoughtful, concise edit, and prioritize a strong overall presentation rather than squeezing out that last project right before your reviews.
Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of people bringing iPads, but they aren’t using them as their primary presentation tool. Instead, they’re using them to supplement their thought-out printed books. This is an approach I have always encouraged, and I was glad to see so many people agreed. It’s an excellent way to keep an ace up your sleeve if a client shows interest in a particular kind of work; or if you have the time, to show your latest projects. However, if you do use a tablet as your main portfolio, that’s just fine, but don’t load up your gallery with 500 images just because you can. Keep it concise, just like you would a printed portfolio.
Next, make sure you have an excellent leave-behind. Don’t print it at home on your inkjet unless you’re a real pro with a printer; also purchase some hardy paper. Again, give yourself enough time! The leave behind is very important! After meeting 12 or 20 or 50 photographers in a matter of hours, anyone is going to struggle to put a name and face to the work. A strong selection of images, or some mini-portfolio to give to each reviewer, will make you a lot more memorable. Don’t rely solely on business cards, even if they have an image. At the end of the day, I’ve got an accordion folder packed with leave-behinds, so don’t make it easy for me to lose yours. Sometimes, at the end of the meeting, photographers will present me with a range of choices, or hand me an image that they saw me linger on, which I like. It’s always good to have a few different options to appeal to different tastes.
Now, no matter what the size of the event—whether you’re hand-selecting a few reviewers, or rotating through the whole group—you know who you’re going to be speaking to. So there is no reason you shouldn’t know about their organization, what they do, and what you hope to achieve from your meeting with them. This is where I find photographers most often fail to plan; they don’t know what they want out of our 15 minutes. You may find that for some meetings your goals won’t matter, as the reviewer blazes through with commentary as you valiantly scratch down notes. Others will open the conversation with “what do you want to get out of our time?” And often, I’ll get a hesitant “well, let’s just look at my book and talk about it…” If you just wanted to meet someone and introduce your work, that’s fine! Don’t hesitate to say as much. That can take off a lot of pressure from the reviewer to offer feedback, and it can be a more collegial chat. If, on the other hand, you want to get direction: be specific! Direction on your edit? Your presentation? Your branding? You could ask what they see as your strengths, or what they would need to see more of before they’d consider working with you, or simply what they’re looking for in photographers. You’ve got a real opportunity to pick someone’s brain who you might otherwise struggle to meet with at all, so don’t be afraid to ask questions!
Don’t forget that this is potentially a job interview, so always come across as a professional. For example: Don’t dress like you’re headed for the beach, I don’t care how hot it is. I managed to wear a shirt with buttons and sleeves on it, I bet you have one too. Also, don’t chew gum during a meeting! True, you don’t want to worry about coffee breath when you’re cozied up at a very small table, but maybe think about a pre-meeting mint instead. Don’t come to reviews with a laptop running Bridge. That’s totally lame and makes you look like you didn’t put forth any preparation. And don’t get defensive if someone criticizes your work. You’re most likely paying one way or another to get feedback, and an honest opinion is far more valuable than sugar-coated praise. Don’t dwell for too long on one single image, even if your reviewer likes it; keep your explanation short, these meetings move briskly. And definitely don’t forget to bring a notepad! Even if you are coming to network more than get direction, you’re bound to get some advice worth writing down. And, just like your mom always said, don’t forget your thank you notes! A follow-up email isn’t just a great way to get a link on their desk, it also makes a good impression. Only once has a photographer sent me a hand-written thank you note. It was on beautiful handmade paper and I still have it on my desk, a year later.
Without question, a face-to-face meeting is more valuable than just about any marketing tool out there. So get prepared, sign up for your reviews early, and knock ‘em dead, champ!
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