How to Find Your Visual Identity and Style As a Photographer | A Chat with Erik Almas

Interviews May 8th 2014 1:35 PM 7 Comments

It’s an early Saturday morning in the beautiful city of San Francisco. Erik Almas, and I are sitting in a cafe enjoying breakfast, and discussing the photo-industry and its future. This article is a collection of some of the interesting discussions that we had in that cafe.

Erik Almas and SLR Lounge

For those of you out there that aren’t that familiar with Erik Almas, he is a highly successful commercial advertising photographer, based in San Francisco, that has worked with some of the biggest clients out there. This man is a strong believer in creating personal work and finding one’s own visual identity and style:

“Photography has gotten so popular lately: there are hundreds or even thousands of stock photography websites out there, and of course we shouldn’t forget about the millions of images uploaded on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. So in order for us to be successful as photographers, we need to be able to create and provide something unique, that stands out from this mass of photography. If you produce something everyone else produces, it’s not going to stand out, and the only way you can make money in our industry, is by standing out from the crowd and creating something unique.

So, if you want to make a living with your photography, you have to have something unique- and that uniqueness can only come from who you are as a person. My philosophy is that the only way your work will stand out in the marketplace is by creating work that is a reflection of who you are as a person. And the key to that, of course, is finding out who you are – what are the things that you’re drawn to, what is your visual language? If you figure those things out, you can tap into that knowledge, and you’ll be able to find that voice and find that uniqueness that you’re looking for.”

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…if you want to make a living with your photography, you have to have something unique- and that uniqueness can only come from who you are as a person.

As photographers we often times seek inspiration from magazines and other photographers, but Erik feels that it’s always important to remember not to get trapped in the latest trends and styles, and instead encourages us to seek after our personal standing point and visual style:

“I think that in order to be a good photographer you need to be conscientious of your language. We are often times too easily distracted by new trends and “cool things” that other photographers are doing. Instead of following and copying these trends, we should pause and reflect on the things that we ourselves enjoy doing. In today’s market place, this is a necessity – it’s the only way you can stand out, and truly make a good living out of your photography.”

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Once we figure out who we are as photographers, and start producing personal projects and images that are a reflection of that, the clients will start coming, asking you to create photos with your own aesthetic and style. Once we are in this situation, it’s easy to forget about doing personal projects, but Erik wants to remind us that we should always keep on developing ourselves through these personal projects:

“Clients hire you for the work that you’ve done in the past. They will not come to you saying ‘Oh, we love your work – can you do something totally new and different for this project of ours?’ instead they will be asking you to apply the visual aesthetic of your previous projects into their project. So, in order to grow and develop as a photographer, and also attract new types of clients, we have to always keep on creating personal projects. And these new personal projects will again lead to new clients and commercial paid work.”

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…in order to grow and develop as a photographer, and also attract new types of clients, we have to always keep on creating personal projects.

In the past few years Erik and other commercial photographers in the industry have found themselves in a situation where the advertising agencies have been asking them to combine photos and moving images into one cohesive package that they can offer to their clients. Erik has embraced this request and these days, shoots and directs video-productions alongside his large scale photoshoots. Below you can see a great example of how he has been able to bring his own visual identity both to the still and moving images in this campaign for Westin Hotels:

[REWIND: BEHIND THE SCENES WITH ERIK ALMAS AS HE SHOOTS A NEW AD CAMPAIGN FOR WESTIN RESORTS]

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“We are photographers, but my point of view is that, in the eyes of advertising agencies and clients, we are seen as content providers that they seek out to work with. These days a successful campaign doesn’t consist of one ad in a magazine – instead that one ad should drive the viewer into the clients social media space, or a micro-site maybe, and from there to a physical or online store, and this way creates a sort of a brand-connection with the potential customer. The whole point of advertising these days is creating this connection between the consumer and the product, and one ad in a magazine just doesn’t do it anymore.

This is why in order to succeed as photographers, we need to be able to create more than just images and this way be a part of this whole “chain” of advertising. Yes, we should concentrate on producing beautiful images, but we should also see the “bigger picture” and start considering doing behind-the-scenes videos, and other moving images as well.

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I don’t want to call us content providers, as that really cheapens the image of our craft, but commercially, and especially in the eyes of ad agencies and clients that is what we are.

After talking about this new direction of the photography industry, Erik and I talked about one of the things that most of us photographers struggle with the most – marketing. 

“I wouldn’t say that we photographers are especially bad at marketing, but I think we are maybe a bit unaware of the necessity of it. We see advertisements from the biggest brands in the world, all around us, every single day everywhere we go. Magazines, billboards, social media, radio, television – those advertisements are everywhere all the time. So why don’t we as advertising photographers, who actually work in the advertising industry, do the same thing? It’s baffling to me that there are so many commercial photographers out there that don’t remember to do this in their own marketing!”

Erik had a great point about remembering the fact that marketing is a process that often times pays off only in the long run:

“The problem with most of us, is the fact that we don’t keep our marketing efforts consistent. We should always remember that marketing is often times a process that will pay off in the long-run, not necessarily after the first letter, email or phone call that we make.  I like to talk about a term called “top-of-mind awareness”  – if you send a email, or a postcard to an agency, and they love it, it still doesn’t mean that they are going to hire you for a project that comes up six months later. They simply don’t remember you anymore. Instead they are going to remember someone else they’ve seen, or heard of, recently. That is why it’s so important for us to stay in our client’s top-of-mind awareness. Sending an email once a year won’t do the trick. Instead, we need to have a detailed monthly marketing plan that goes over the next two or three years.

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We should always remember that marketing is often times a process that will pay off in the long-run, not necessarily after the first letter, email or phone call that we make. 

Finally, to finish out the discussion, I asked Erik to give all of the aspiring advertising photographers out there his number one tip that will help out in “making  it” in the industry. Instead of one tip he gave us three!

  1. First of all, you need to remember to be unique. 
  2. Secondly, you need to be aware that uniqueness is not something you achieve on the computer. You achieve it by reflecting on yourself, by learning how to see light, and by finding an emotional connection with the subject. These are things that don’t happen on the computer. You capture these things in-camera. You can enhance and take your images further in post-processing, but the process never starts on the computer. If you’re a photographer by heart, you should be out there taking pictures, working on the emotional connections and finding your personal visual identity and uniqueness. 
  3. And finally, remember to plan and set goals. If you want to succeed, you can’t just drift about without a purpose and goals. Figure out who are the people and clients that you want to work with, and draw out a marketing plan and start working on it.

This discussion was definitely an eye-opener for me as a commercial advertising photographer, and I hope you guys have gotten some inspiration out of this article as well. Erik has produced an educational DVD with over 14 hours of educational material in it. If you got excited about this conversation of ours I strongly recommend you check out his DVD from the link below:

Erik Almas – On Aspects of Image Making

Also, make sure to check out Erik’s portfolio, Facebook and Instagram-pages:

Portfolio
Facebook
Instagram

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Lauri L.

About

Lauri Laukkanen is one of the youngest established advertising photographers in Finland. At the ripe age of 21 he has already been working with some of the biggest commercial clients and his photos have been featured in the media, all around the world. Check out his portfolio here.

7 Comments

  1. Hanssie

    Love Erik’s work. And I love that he’s telling people to not get trapped in the current trends and do your own thing!

  2. Tommi

    When we can have Erik’s workshop in Finland?

  3. Tyler Friesen

    Erik’s work is incredible.

  4. Derek Grant

    Great, planning and goals something I need to work on and focus upon. Great advice and a damn good read.

  5. Aaron Cheney

    So fun and creative! It’s great seeing how the scene is created and captured:)

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