Are you scaring clients off?

Written by: Glyn Dewis

Published: May 24, 2010

Category: General

Let me explain…

What are you?
A couple of years ago I was recommended to a large International Company to be the photographer of choice for a new Marketing Campaign. Clearly the job was going to be quite lucrative but unfortunately another photographer was chosen instead of me.

Now you could be forgiven for thinking that the photographer who got the job had a better portfolio but I was assured that wasn’t the case. I managed to speak to the marketing lead for ‘research purposes’ as negotiations hadn’t even reached ‘quote’ stage so neither was the decision made because he/she came up with a more attractive figure. I was told in no uncertain terms that the company concerned liked my portfolio but I didn’t get the job because and I quote ‘we don’t know what you are”.

You see at the time of all this I had a different website to what you see now. On my old site I had a number of portfolios…Portraits, Weddings, Commercial, and Editorial. Sure I’d done work in all of those areas but this company wanted a ‘specialist’ for want of a better word in one area ie Portraits as opposed to someone touting as a ‘Jack of all Trades’. I can remember feeling totally confused and not knowing which way to turn; I mean I knew my style of photography but what was I?

In November of last year when I was over in Atlanta I was lucky enough to have Zack Arias go through and critique my work; a great experience if not a little unnerving being as it was at around 1.30am and amongst a group of about 6 other photographers. The feedback I got back from Zack was, as you would imagine, incredibly helpful infact as a side note I would thoroughly recommend seizing the opportunity to have your work critiqued by someone who’s work and standing in the industry you admire should the moment arise. Sure at times it may not be all that pretty but if it’s constructive then it can only be of benefit. Anyway after the critique, a couple of burning questions I put to Zack were ‘What kind of a photographer would you say I am? and ‘What area should I specialise in?’ because it stands to reason, if I don’t know what I am, how do I market myself and more importantly ‘to whom’?

Needless to say, having a clearer understanding of who and what I am as a photographer my portfolios have now been ‘slim lined’ but this is something I’m constantly reviewing, as well as what images I choose to show: The Turnaround
Interestingly enough, since having more ‘focus’ and understanding of what area of photography I’m ‘specialising’ in, I’ve experienced a significant increase in enquiries and job confirmations. Hit rate on my site and blog has increased considerably too which can only be a good thing (so long as those visitors are turned into clients of course.)

Those of you who follow this blog will know that I recently completed a 2 week assignment photographing a new Marketing Campaign/Initiative for Air New Zealand at Heathrow Airport, but why am I mentioning this? Well you see Air New Zealand are the very same company who picked another photographer over me 2 years previous because ‘they didn’t know what I was’. This to me was confirmation that reducing the amount of portfolios I was displaying and focusing on one specific area was the right business decision to make.

Now I’m not saying it’s right or wrong to display a number of portfolios on your website, I just wanted to let you know about my experience. However that being said I’ve seen websites from other photographers saying that they do: Portraits, Weddings, Commercial, Editorial, Landscape and so it goes on and I can’t help thinking that having gone through my experience that they’re scaring clients away.

I’m certainly not suggesting that as photographers we only do ‘one’ style of photography but maybe if we do then the best solution is to have a website for each style as I know some photographers do or maybe just reducing the amount of portfolios we display; could this be a case of ‘Less is More’ if you know what I mean?

Have you been through an experience similar to mine when a company who previously didn’t hire you, did once you’d changed your website / portfolios?
Do you think it’s ok to have a wide range of portfolios on your site because maybe it shows your diverse Photographic skills?
Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to ‘hear’ them so please feel free to make use of the comments section below.

Enjoy 🙂

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  1. p4pictures

    Glyn a good post, you surely get/got value from Zack’s teachings.

    I’ve seen advice to show the work you want to do on your portfolio to attract the work you want to do, and this looks a clear proof that this is indeed the case.

    I also see great sense of direction on your site and in your work these days, which I expect is good for clients old and new.

    By analogy, replace photography with breakfast!
    You go out to buy breakfast, but probably the all-day breakfast place is not where you go. You know what kind of breakfast you want, so you go where the breakfast offered meets your needs

    • Glyn

      @Brian…Thanks for dropping by and taking the time to comment.
      I’ll be honest, when I went out to Atlanta the question of ‘what am I?’ was on my mind alot and it was this that I wanted help in answering. I’d have been happy to go all the way there just to get that answered but of course spending time on the OneLight was a real bonus 🙂

      Having a clearer idea of where I’m heading and what line of work I want to focus on has been a real breath of fresh air for me. Clearly there is alot of hard work to be done if I’m to continue going the way I want but at leaast now I feel as though I’m walking in the right direction.

      Must meet for that coffee soon Brian.
      Take care and speak soon,

  2. Dave T

    Hi Glyn,

    Fascinating post. I can relate to the not knowing what genre or style of photography best defines you concept, because that is exactly the position I am in.

    I perfectly understand the point that Zak has made and can see that it has benefited you. Going back to one of your earlier posts about having a consistent naming protocol for your main website/business/blog, defining what you are, provides a focus for your buisness activity. You can write your business plans and supporting objectives accordingly.

    However, the thing that I have always wondered about is that by defining just one main theme for your photography, would it potentially rule you out where someone is looking for a photographer who can turn their hand to other styles if needed.

    I suppose that’s one of the reasons I haven’t gone full time pro, as I don’t definitely know what particular genre I want to concentrate my efforts in, and without that certainty I can’t begin to chart out a buisness plan.

    But my thoughts above everything else is that I want to persue what I am happiest in doing. That way my creativity and passion is going to come through. So for the moment the journey of discovery continues

    As I said,fascinating post. Thanks for the tips

    • Glyn

      @DaveT…Interesting point what you say Dave about being potentially ruled out where someone is looking for a photographer who can turn their hand to other styles if needed. From my own experience, clients have an idea of what they want and that’s usually a particular style/look. Tim Wallace as an example has a very distinctive and recognisable style/look to his automobile images and he gets clients from other fields ie still life, band promotion material etc because they like his style but he doesn’t really show that work on his site. I guess showing your style is the most important thing as it’s that which seems to attract the clients. Does that make sense?

      Cheers, Glyn

  3. A.J. Wood

    Your post is on topic for anyone considering to start a business. The fact is a lot of folks who turn a passion or hobby into a business fail simply from lack of preparation. A love for wedding photography does not mean knowledge of running a wedding photography boutique.

    As you pointed out, not only do you need a personal vision of who you are, and what your business is about, it helps establish your company’s identity. Something as simple as a mission statement can focus your energy in the right direction instead of going too many places at once.

    Once you know what you want, it’s easier to find the path to get there.

    • Glyn

      @A.J…The idea of a mission statement definitely rings true. If I’m honest this is something I need to do myself; it’s in my head but not written down and I understand that it holds weight. Something to be done over the next few days for sure!

      Thanks A.J. for commenting; makes absolute sense and what you say combined with knowing your style and what it is you want to concentrate on can only be a good thing,

  4. Noel

    Did someone say breakfast? Very thoughful post Glyn, which is what we have been thinking about the last couple of weeks. I am just thinking about my style as well and funnily enough I have an ‘Ireland’ section on my website and am in a quandry about whether to take it off or not.

    As for mission statements, I am in two minds about them. I think they are to be taken with a pinch of salt; I can’t see a client changing their mind about using you if you didn’t have one and it won’t be the mission statement that attracts a client to you in the first place – it will be the pictures. Just my thoughts.

    Focused style can only be a good thing, you have hit the nail on the head. Scary picture by the way! I am going to review my website imediately!

    take care and lets have breakfast soon…

    • Glyn

      @Noel…I’ll be honest I’m very much in favour of having a mission statement; not necessarily for clients to see but more for my benefit to give me added focus.
      So you mention about reviewing your website….what kind of thing are you looking at changing or are you happy with the portfolios you have already?


      ps> Yeah Breakfast sounds good to me 🙂

  5. kelley

    Glyn, You have had me thinking about this for the last couple of weeks now. I agree with you whole heartedly. I was told by a Photographer Rep that taught my business class to show the work you want to do more of. You may be able to do everything but only show what you want to do. I had the wonderful opportunity to have her critique my work and be told “what I am”. However, since then I have enjoyed doing some work I had never done and thus added it to my portfolio. This began the downward spin of losing focus again.

    I’m so glad you wrote about this topic and started the thinking ball rolling again. Your posts and comments have been such an inspiration to me in my work, you will probably never know.

    Something else I’ve noticed about having “confused” portfolios on my site is that I am getting asked to do work I really don’t like, but feel I should do. Perhaps removing all the photos that resemble that type of job would help and being true to myself and saying no thanks would be good too.

    Thanks so much for your words, I was actually scared to read it because I knew what you were going to say and I knew you would be right and then, in turn I would have to do some hard work. I was right, so now the work begins. Again, there you are pushing me along.

    Thanks a million my friend!

    • Glyn

      @Kelley…Really pleased to hear that you found this post useful. Sorting out what images to include in portfolios is no easy task. I know when I’ve done it (and continue to do so) I have to be really brutal with myself and not include pictures that I have an emotional attachment to but those which represent the kind of work I want to do.

      My old portfolios used to contain photographs of kids and family groups but Zack said straight away to take them out as my strongest work in his opinion were my photographs of adults alone. It was real hard to remove some of the pictures but it had to be done and I’m glad I did now.

      Thanks again and all the very best to you,
      Glyn 🙂

  6. kelley

    PS I was thinking the place for all the other stuff one enjoys shooting could be the blog. That way your personality shows, and your “detailed love” can still get out without compromising who you are as a professional. What do you think?

    • Glyn

      @Kelley…The blog would be a great place. My own feeling about a blog is that it can be used to not only show your work but also to show more of your personality and that in turn will attract clients to you rather than seeing you as being a faceless photographer; does that make sense?


  7. DaveT

    Glyn -Yes, it makes sense. Thanks.

    Kelley, David DuChemin of Pixelated Image (great photographer and writer) mentioned some time ago about the problem of taking on jobs that you don’t really have a passion for, but because you do a good job for your client you then get more of that type of work. He advocated sticking to your vison and only accepting work that is of the type you want to be involved with and known for.


    • Glyn

      @DaveT…Thanks for including the comment by David DuChemin; says it all I guess 🙂


  8. David Kelly

    Hi Glyn. Another thought provoking post….

    Firstly marketing people are very pernickety – trust me I’ve dealt with them enough over the years in various roles. The larger the company the more self believing I’ve found their marketing people to be. Being assured that the other persons work wasn’t better but that “We don’t know what you are” sounds like typical marketing cop out speak to me. Pragmatically though if you want to win the tender you got tick all the boxes of the client and in this instance it didn’t happen. I wonder if the other guy had worked with similar size companies before? I know a lot of marketeers won’t deal with 3rd parties if they feel they haven’t worked with sufficiently credible companies i.e it’s not the quality of work you’ve done, but who you’ve done work for.

    I can imagine it must of been pretty gutting to be told that your work was better but we didn’t go with you. Sounds like it was a low punch that knocked the wind out of you. However you’ve re-evaluated, got up of the canvas, changed / adapted to meet the situation and have clearly reaped the benefits.

    With regards to you image selection on your site, what’s your criteria? I only ask as I find my fav photographs or picks to be different from those of non-photographers, and I wonder if you try to put more of what you think are ‘mass appeal’ photographs online rather than perhaps the ones that you personally like for, let’s say, the technical work that has gone into getting the lighting right in a tricky situation. Does that make sense?

    Best wishes,


    BTW What answer did Zack give you to your 2 questions?

    PPS There’s nothing wrong with a good all day breakfast is there? I enjoy the occasional Ulster fry or traditional English breakfast 😉

    • Glyn

      @David Kelly…That’s a really good point you make about my original experience with Air New Zealand in that did they choose the other guy because maybe he had worked with other large companies before. I guess that’s one thing I’ll never know but I can see that being a reason someone could be overlooked for sure.

      Sorting out my portfolios and having a clearer ‘direction’ has certainly had a positive impact and I’ll be honest when I was originally overlooked it didn’t knock the wind out of me but rather made me sit up and take note; I could see what they were getting at from a client point of view…the only challenge was how to move on from that point.

      With regards to images in my portfolio I choose the ones that represent the kind of work that I want to do and also show off my style best. It’s hard to describe how i do that but I am quite brutal with myself and critical of my work. Key points are not to have a number of photographs of the same person in the same location with the same lighting; variety is the key showing you can work in different situations and produce results. Bottom line though is that i choose pictures I feel have some kind of a feeling or are likely to make the viewer think about the image…does that make sense?

      Zack’s critique was extremely useful and the advice he gave was to remove the photos of kids and families out of my portfolios as my strongest work was adults. Editorial/Commercial was where he saw me.

      Cheers, Glyn

      ps> You’re right…there’s absolutely nothing wrong with an all day breakfast 🙂

  9. Neil Holmes

    A thought provoking post as always Glyn, so here’s my two-penneth worth. I became a photographer because that’s what I love doing, its always been my living, but its my passion and my hobby. I’ve seen a lot of good photographers fail simply because they are poor at the ‘business of photography’

    I agree that its better to focus your business, because this makes it easier for a client too choose you, but I still think its a good idea to be flexible in your approach to work, as long as I enjoy the work I’m happy to give it a go. I made the mistake a few years ago of working perhaps 70% of my time in a particular area (direct mail catalogues as it happens) the rewards were very good until the tap was turned off very rapidly and I came close to putting up the shutters for good.

    That really made me take a long hard look at myself and my business because, I hate the term Jack of all Trades, but I am a specialist at a few, my reputation’s built on Corporate (my biggest earner recently) engineering (a worthwhile addition to my profits) the Care Sector (been a strong for the past decade) Maritime (well I do live next to the river Humber) Local Authority work (hears one that may suffer in the current climate) and something I neglected, Wedding (I did my time with a Hasselblad & Tripod) but finding the challenge fun in the digital age, oh and a bit of teaching!

    I’ve split my websites because I do agree that its easy to confuse potential clients and that comes across very strongly in the Zack Arias critiques but I still need to do more work in this area.

    In summary their are two things in business that have always served me well, possibly better than any advertising and marketing ‘Its not what you know, but who you know’ and the best recommendation you’ll ever get is by ‘Word of Mouth’

    Cheers Neil

    • Glyn

      @Neil…Thanks for taking the time to comment Neil.

      I agree totally with what you say about being flexible with your work, so long I guess as being flexible still means you end up photographing what you like/enjoy. I do quite a bit of food photography…I really enjoy it…the time and patience that’s needed to make the photos and actually find it quite relaxing. However it’s not an area that I want to work in too much (at the moment); I may in the future, I’m certainly not ruling it out as another ‘string to my bow’ but when/if I do I’d certainly have that work on a completely separate site just as you mention you have with your other work too.

      Word of Mouth is without doubt the best form of advertising I agree and the more ‘commercial’ work I do ‘it’s not what you know but who you know’ seems to be coming into play more and more…lol 🙂

      Cheers and thanks again Neil for a great contribution,
      All the best to you 🙂

  10. Rick Wenner

    I couldn’t help but laugh a little bit to myself when I read this post. I found it funny how similar our paths have been over the past year. I was also in Atlanta with Zack for his Photo 101 workshop. It was actually just before (or afterr, not sure) the workshop you went to. At the end of the last night’s workshop, I asked Zack to critique my work. At the time, I only had two portfolios on my site. “People” and “Earth”. Two very different subjects that I shot in two totally different styles. First thing out of Zack’s mouth, “Get rid of the landscape photos if you want to be a portrait photographer”. After critiquing my portrait work, it was very evident that I needed to work hard on my technical skills as well as choose better images to present in my portfolio. The wide variety of images that I was showing in my “People” portfolio would confuse any potential client as to what they would get out of a photo shoot with me. I’m hoping that my new portfolio website will show a lot more consistency and a set style in my work, which in turn, will hopefully bring me more work.

    Great post Glyn. Definitely a topic that needs to be spoken about.

    • Glyn

      @Rick…It’s sure does seem like we’re on a similar path Rick; just better make sure they cross soon cos I could really do with that Guinness we’ve talked about…lol 🙂

      So after Zack’s critique how did you feel? Did you find it hard to remove the landscape work because I’m guessing you’d put it there originally because it was/is something you really enjoy doing?

      Whatever the feeling you went through it has served you well. I’m really enjoying checking out your blog on a regular basis mate and if you don’t mind me saying I’ve seen your images go from strength to strength with each shoot taking on another level. Keep it coming because it’s motivating to see and I’m sure many others will agree.

      All the best to you,

  11. kelley

    David, Thank you SO much. I have the paragraph circled on page 13 in the VisionMongers! Thanks for that confirmation!


    • Glyn

      @Kelley…Thanks for the page reminder; circled in highlighter pen too although the only colour I could find was pink 🙂

  12. Mike

    What an interesting blog post and how the hell did I miss it in the first place??

    This is very very relevant to me at the moment – remember the very first conversation we had many months back?? LOL

    I haven’t had the issue arise with me as yet but then I suppose I if someone hasn’t spoken to me about it then I wouldn’t have had the feedback to appreciate the clients view. Maybe it is time to get some more feedback to see why!!

    • Glyn

      @Mike…Oh yes I remember the conversation we had on the phone…spooky huh 🙂
      To be honest I very much doubt I would have known the reason for not getting the contract with Air NZ first time round had I not asked for feedback. My experience is that Commercial clients seem all to happy to provide feedback as to why they choose one photographer over another and this feedback can be priceless.

      Cheers 🙂

  13. kelley

    Glyn, pink is a wonderful color!

    Now I have another question…

    I was told that with how I shoot I should target the markets of editorial and high-end consumer clients. In that sense do you think I should continue to show images of children as I’m trying to attract that kind of work? It would really be great to meet for coffee and discuss this sort of thing yet it would be a rather long drive and wet too.

    • Glyn

      @Kelley…My own opinion would be to only show on your main site the kind of photographs that you want to take/work on otherwise things can look a little disjointed and as i found out, confuse the client as to what you are. Having a range of photography is great but it’s where you choose to show it I think that’s important. Next months Guest Blogger is Bert Stephani; an incredible portrait photographer that I would really recommend you check out if you haven’t already. Now, Bert’s site generally shows the main work he focuses on but his blog is very personal; he shows pictures of his kids, day to day life, photography related posts…the lot and that’s his style. This has clearly helped people to see Bert as a passionate, family orientated, genuine guy rather than just a very talented photographer.

      The photos you choose to show on your main site is obviously your call Kelley; I’ve chosen to do things the way I have based on experiences I’ve been through and client feedback. Mind you, my portfolios are something I’m always reviewing.

      Hope that all makes sense,

      ps> Coffee sounds like a great idea. Sure there’s quite a distance to cover but believe me I plan to be in the US alot more in the future so we’ll sort it at some point 🙂


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