Fresh Lenses: 4 More PGH Photographers To Follow (Part 2)

Photos by Sarah Bader

Interview by Thomas Agnew

We’re back again for round 2 of the Fresh Lenses series with 4 new photographers (Elise Michaux, Scott Benning, Christine Grago, and Michael Parente). The first time around, we talked to the photographers about how they utilized their creative vision to navigate in the field. This time around, we asked about the business side of working in a saturated market, lessons working with clientele, and more.

 

Elise Michaux (@elise.michaux)

What is the most challenging aspect of working and staying in the industry?

For me I think it’s the pressure that I put on myself to post photos that are aesthetically pleasing and appealing to the masses, yet staying true to my art. The likes and features are gratifying because it’s an opportunity to have your work appreciated and showcased to an audience that may not have seen your work otherwise, but I never want that to be the sole reason I share my art; likes cannot be the motive.  The motive should be capturing sharper images, learning more in Photoshop & Lightroom, thus seeing improvements in my own work. That’s what should fuel your fire as an artist and then all the hard work will pay off.

As a freelance photographer, what was the first hard lesson you learned dealing with clientele?

I think it’s important to be upfront about your processing post-photoshoot. People expect the photos to be turned around very quickly and that is just not the case if you want quality.  Just because photos are digital, does not mean that the editing piece won’t take some time. However, that is the culture we live in, right? Everything should be given to us quickly to satisfy that instant gratification mentality. In my opinion, photography (if done correctly) should not quench that thirst; let your clients know that they’ll be given the pictures in a reasonable amount of time. However, good pictures take time.

On the other hand, be the artist/photographer that does turn around work to clientele because it’s disrespectful if you do not.  A lot of times when we’re working with models, we take for granted that they deserve to have photos to pull from as well. They also put time into his or her craft. We owe them the same respect that we ask for as photographers.

With social media being flooded with people’s work, have you found it difficult to market yourself and how have you overcome that to continue having success in the field?

It is very difficult to market your work because everyone has access to a camera these days. For example, the iPhone has features where you can just automatically put things in and out of focus without any skill — just a push of a button. I try to market myself by formatting my work in a unique way on Instagram. I love landscape and portraits, so you’ll see a nice mixture of those on my page and simply do sets that have a theme so that people don’t just enjoy the one picture, but see how it connects to all the pictures around it as well.

I also try to show different types of people on my page because diversity is important to me.  We live in a world where that is not often celebrated and thorough my photography, I have the unique opportunity to take advantage of the fact that Pittsburgh and the people with whom I come into contact with, are worth being on display — no matter his or her ethnicity.

It’s easy to take the class Pittsburgh picture, right? The key is to make it your own, so that it stands out amongst all the other folks taking that same picture. Never stop looking for ways to make the ordinary, extraordinary. My tagline is: A unique take on the ordinary.

Scott Benning, BLKxWYT (@blkxwytmedia)

What is the most challenging aspect of working and staying in the industry?

A lot of people think it’s as simple as getting plugged in once and that’s it. Really though it’s all about building solid, mutually-beneficial relationships with the right people. Find the right people that you can work with, who will work with you, to make something dope that both parties can use to positively add to their portfolios. You have to understand what YOU bring to the table for it to be 50/50. Once you know your worth it’s easy to know what clients are worth your time. Don’t take advantage of anyone giving you opportunities and don’t give anyone opportunities to take advantage of you. Also, NEVER burn bridges. You never know what the future holds for you or anyone else. You might meet someone who can’t help you at the time, but a year or 5 years down the road might lead you to great opportunities. Always be professional and stay dope.

As a freelance photographer, what was the first hard lesson you learned dealing with clientele?

You can’t live up to everyone’s expectations. Some clients expect the world from you. I always say “they want the most for the least.” They want their shoot to look just like the one you did for another one of your clients who, unbeknownst to them, had quite a larger budget. Or they’ll want you to do this, that, and the third for them offering to compensate you solely with the “exposure” your work will receive when they post it. With these clients you have to approach it with a “you get what you pay for” type of attitude while still making sure you create something dope. It’s all about finding ways to make that small budget shoot look like a larger budget shoot. Other clients will have expectations coming into a shoot based off their previous experiences with other creatives. They’ll say things like, “well this person does this different,” or, “can you do this like so & so does it.” While your client might like ideas and work from other creatives, you have to let them know that they booked you and have to trust in your talent. Find a way to meet their expectations while staying true to yourself and not compromising your own vision.

With social media being flooded with people’s work, have you found it difficult to market yourself and how have you overcome that to continue having success in the field?

Social media is one of, if not the number one, most useful tool we as creatives can use to market our talents. With more and more “photographers”/”videographers” uploading daily, it’s easy to see the field as over saturated. If you’re not careful your work will just blend into the sea of photos and videos on Instagram. It’ll be way harder to find success if you look like the next guy out here doing all this stuff. Finding your own lane and emphasizing what makes your art unique is crucial if you want to make a name for yourself. You have to think about why someone would book you over the next creative. There has to be something about your work that sticks out for someone looking for video/photo work to say, “yeah, we need THIS guy.”

Christine Grago, Fleeting Glimpse Photography (@fleeting.glimpse.photo)

What is the most challenging aspect of working and staying in the industry?

Photography is a really saturated market these days. There is so much talent out there,  it’s hard not to notice, compare and have feelings of doubt. Therein lies one of  the biggest challenges for me. I am constantly reminding myself that just because others are successful, doesn’t mean I’m a failure in my business. Everyone’s hopes and dreams are unique and everybody is on a different path to success.

As a freelance photographer, what was the first hard lesson you learned dealing with clientele?

When I stepped out on my own to pursue this passion, I learned quickly that it’s not possible to please everybody all the time. I make it a point to be completely transparent with who I am so people know what they’re getting when they choose me as their photographer.  My style and vibe is not going to be perfectly compatible with every individual, and that’s okay with me. Being authentic, open and honest has made all the difference in my client relationships.

With social media being flooded with people’s work, have you found it difficult to market yourself and how have you overcome that to continue having success in the field?

Your vibe attracts your tribe and I believe this to be true in my life. My business is an extension of that, it is part of who I am. So essentially I am marketing myself. I work with mostly young woman and I have a genuine desire to know them. It is my joy to lift them up and help them see their value and worth. When I talk with my clients, I’m listening and learning their stories. Creating an experience around their dreams and visions for their ideal photo shoot helps to set me apart. In a world that seems so connected through so many digital platforms, people are still searching for that real, genuine human experience. That belief shows in my social media and that’s what gets people excited to book a session with me.

Michael Parente (@Mi_Parente)

What is the most challenging aspect of working and staying in the industry?

I am most interested in shooting fashion and editorial style photography. That being said, there is not a huge market in Pittsburgh for that work. For me, it’s most difficult to shoot things I’m not necessarily interested by and still connect with the client and execute great work. However, I am grateful every time I get behind a camera with the opportunity to earn money. 

As a freelance photographer, what was the first hard lesson you learned dealing with clientele?

You are chosen by clients for your eye, taste, style, and ability – and once you’re hired there are times when against your advice they want their own style, angle, look, etc. It becomes your job to relinquish your personal opinions for the satisfaction of your client.

With social media being flooded with people’s work, have you found it difficult to market yourself and how have you overcome that to continue having success in the field?

The key is to own an identifiable LOOK. If you have a distinct look and do good work you will get referrals. In my experience, referrals have been the most effective form of marketing.

Written by Thomas Agnew