This week’s Questions with a Pro features James Farrell.
James is a Brooklyn-based photographer specializing in photographing active individuals. He strives to convey the vision of what it really means to be an athlete through his photography. He works with countless big-name clients such as Nike, NFL, Forbes, and many others. Here, James explains how he decided to focus his career around athletes, advice about photographers getting paid for what they are worth, and his biggest stressor in running his business.
We asked: How did you decide to focus your career around producing dynamic images of athletes?
James said: I originally started off photographing skiing, which I love. I look back on all the things it taught me that I use in my career daily, like learning how to focus quickly and accurately when subjects are moving extremely quick. It also trained me to make a photograph at the exact moment where the peak action is because back then you only had 36 exposures per roll! Lastly, I learned that your career is all based on connections and growing your network of people in the industry. When I moved to NYC, I knew I needed to be around athletes and outdoor oriented people. Transitioning into the athlete side of photography was pretty straightforward. I had done all the ground work and then just needed to push to learn more about new sides of the industry.
We asked: What advice do you have for aspiring young photographers about getting paid what they are worth?
James said: The hardest thing to do in photography when you are trying to pay bills and make new work is say “NO.” By saying “no,” you don’t hurt the industry as a whole. Over the last 10 years, we have watched a drastic change in budgets and this is due to the fact that companies know they can find someone who will do it for pennies. If you own all your camera gear you have thousands of dollars worth of equipment that needs to be paid off!
We asked: How do you typically go about marketing yourself to find more work?
James said: I make sure to post new images to Instagram a few times a week. I send out email promos a couple times a year when I have work that I feel my list would be interested in. I also try to send out a mailer once a year to clients as well as prospective clients. We may be in a web-based world these days but there is nothing quite like a printed mailer!
We asked: What is your biggest stressor in running your business, and how do you overcome that stress?
James said: The thing that stresses me out the most is the estimate process. It’s hard to build a relationship with a new client and put in all the work to make a proper estimate of the costs associated with shooting and then have them not respond. The estimate is a negotiating part of the process and I understand there is going to be some give and take, but to choose not to respond because I was one of the 3 bids needed for a client is completely unprofessional, in my opinion. Unfortunately, this seems to happen on a weekly basis and I know some other photographer friends who have gone through the same. I’m not at all complaining about the opportunity to be a part of a prospective client’s work. I love meeting new people, talking about projects and getting my brain going. As a teenager, I grew up in a space where it was very important to have good customer service and I try to bring that same mindset to my business as well. If someone doesn’t answer after we’ve talked about a project and I’ve sent an estimate, I see that as bad customer service. As of lately, I have handled this by working on my meditation in the morning and setting a goal and working towards that. It doesn’t have to be something huge and can easily be something as simple as send an email or hang out with my daughter all day. I just have to take my mind away from the business and remember I am here to make fun work for myself!
We asked: How important is personal work to the well-being of your client work and business as a whole?
James said: It’s the most important part! I try to shoot multiple personal shoots a month. I like to have new photos for social media and website updates as I feel that clients like to see evolution in one’s work. I also love to shoot landscapes and travel stories but my passion is active photography. My personal work really is my client work! In my experience, clients want to hire someone that they know if they are put into a precarious situation, they can still make great photos. Recently, I had a shoot where the clothing got stuck in transit and wasn’t going to make it in time. The client put a stylist with the clothes on an airplane who made it to set with 2 hours of light left to shoot. This was where all the years of making personal work in a quick 2 hours came to fruition!
Find more of James’ work on his website.