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THE WORK WE SHOW AND THE WORK WE DO :: Find Balance, Make It Your Own

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Two weeks ago I sat on an open discussion panel during the AAF (American Advertising Federation) Academy event for the Fox River Ad Club, in which students and freelance professionals could ask a number of us questions related to entering a creative field. A student attending brought up a question relating to which work we show in our portfolios and specifically, do we show work that is geared at a specific client or create work that matches their particular demographic and only show that to them. In fact, this is a question I have been asked fairly often.

To that, I say no. Well, sorta. Although it is important to show work that is relevant to an art buyer, an ad agency and their clients, I think that my creative vision always needs to be at the forefront of my portfolio. It’s what separates me from the sea of photographers around me and makes me stand out amongst the crowd. I went on to explain that I show a lot of highly-produced and dynamically lit images, sometimes dark and satirical in nature, and often times featuring musicians, the occasional celebrity and some rather unique characters from my client list. But at the core of importance is showcasing my vision as a photographer and the ability to tell stories within my work. This not only derives from client work, but reiterates the importance of showing personal work throughout my book.

At times this can be a double-edge sword. Some clients may perceive that I only shoot this specific style of work including elaborate digital retouching and surreal composited scenes… and in fact, it could cause me to loose the opportunity to be considered for a job. With that being said, it’s my responsibility to effectively communicate my vision to potential clients and articulate how my creative process can be implemented into their specific projects and brands. I still shoot the doctor walking down the stairs with a clipboard, the lifestyle campaigns and a series of products shot on a high-key white background. This type of work is my bread and butter and the true mainstay of my client list. If we can find some balance between the two and bridge the gap from personal work to client work, while keeping our vision at the forefront of the images, we succeed.

I’ve worked some pretty awesome jobs for clients shooting lifestyle campaigns, airport snowplows during a blizzard, editorial features for internal publications and even warehousing logistics. It’s not exactly a metal band standing in a desert landscape looking all bad-ass, but it’s the work I love tackling and shoot most often. I pour the same creative vision into these projects as I do with rock bands and my personal work.


(CLIENT: Element Mobile)


(CLIENT: Oshkosh Corp – Airport Division)


(CLIENT: WOW Logisitics)


(CLIENT: United Paper)

You see, my clients get it. They hire me for my technical ability, my vision, my personality and in general… invest in my experience and the production value of my team. They know my work. They understand that if I can light Trevor on fire in a photo or show me wrestling with an elephant, I can efficiently and effectively tackle most jobs that match their client’s needs to showcase the brand’s image. To say that I never create personal work that fits into a different market would be untrue. I currently see a place for it in my portfolio and we’re actually in the process of shooting new work to fill in some gaps in our book, but it needs to be work that is uniquely mine and has my style written all over it.

So, I say: Show your vision, show your personal work and let them see your capabilities. Don’t simply show what is expected. Make your portfolio exceptional. Design a secondary portfolio that you can use to showcase those “expected” shots. Go and create work that is relevant to a specific area within the market, but make it your own. And with that, always continue to build relationships, grow within your vision and be honest with yourself as a creative.

~dave

One Comment

  1. Posted 11 May ’13 at 9:24 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the inspiration Dave!

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