Interview With Ethan Pines

I was one of the authors of a book published a few years back, the ASMP Guide To New Markets In Photography. My contribution was a series of oral-history interviews with thirty-two photographers, totaling 21,000 words. The editor, the late Susan Carr, asked me to speak with successful women and men whose age and specialties ranged widely: fine art, editorial, and commercial.

Photographers are in business, just like musicians, writers, stained-glass makers, and other creative entrepreneurs. Successful ones never cease to be preoccupied with keeping their careers and work fresh and engaged. We wanted to find out how they managed it.

Most of the interviews have never appeared outside the book. I am publishing a few of them here, appearing exactly as they are in the book.  Other than the introduction, the words are the photographer’s.


Started career in 2002

Career Summary: After photography school, worked for a few years as an assistant but quickly became an editorial and advertising photographer.   Portraits, conceptual, lifestyle, fine art.

Production Value
I’ve been putting together a higher level of production value into my testing – and even into my editorial shoots – to create more portfolio images that hopefully stand above the crowd.  The only way to avoid bidding wars and the ensuing race to the bottom is to offer something that’s not easily replaced by another photographer.  You want the client to hire you for the way your shoot, not for your pricing.  From what I’m seeing right now, clients are starting to commission more new shoots than they were over the last one or two years.

I’ve also worked on bringing in more revenue from stock.  Clients are commissioning fewer unique shots than they used to, due to decreased marketing budgets and the cheapness and availability of microstock and royalty-free stock.  I make sure to only do shoots at a high-quality level that are viable for rights-managed stock, and I’ve had some good stock sales.

Night Trees Project
I’ve always shot a ton of personal work that I felt had a fine art bent to it, but if you want to have a gallery show, you really need to have a body of work that’s long-term, a cohesive body of work.  The Night Trees project started very spontaneously. I was in Las Vegas for a two-day shoot.  I had my 4×5 with me, and I didn’t use it at all on this shoot, but at one point I was just driving through this neighborhood and I just saw this bare tree above a house.  Both things just looked like they were out of the late ‘60s, just weathered and vintage.  No chain link fences around, no new hardware or windows or doors.  No billboards around, nothing like that.  It looked like it could be from any era and this tree was just perfectly centered in front of the house and towering over it like a lollipop.  I just loved it and it looked great at night under the lights.  I  just loved the way it came out and felt there’s something about it that speaks to me I haven’t seen it before so I just continued this Night Trees project.

How do you separate yourself from other photographers or get some recognition.  Many times it’s just beautiful personal work that really resonates with people.  You have to do whatever it takes to stand out a little bit above the crowd because there are so many photographers now and so many good ones.  And that being said.  I’m shooting this because I want to.  Maybe it’ll bring in some clients maybe not.

Faced with increased competition and my own inner drive to continually improve, I’ve made my product – my images – more compelling and more sophisticated over time. And my marketing has changed. With the increased competition that exists now, I have to market more than ever, via more avenues than ever. It’s so easy for photographers and would-be photographers to promote themselves that it’s far more difficult to stand out above the din and clutter. It used to be you could have a website and a spread in Workbook and be all right. Now, there’s the website, sourcebooks, online portals, email blasts, social media, blogs, getting on to other blogs, photo competitions…the list goes on. You have to do it all.

Relationships are very important.  I have good relationships with my clients.  Having more personal meetings is something that is part of my marketing plan for this year. It’s more about fewer clients, but having real relationships with them. I do an e-mail blast about once every two months.  I get some good responses, some people actually write back from design firms and agencies and say thanks, we really like your work.  I get a few opt outs but not many. Over the last four years I’ve either been in Archive or AtEdge consistently. I do contests.  Which can be, if you get in, really good.

The Trees were in the Communication Arts Photo Annual in 2010 and then actually last year in The International Photography Awards.  Which was cool.  It’s nice exposure and it gives you something to send out in an e-mail.

Personal Work
My website doesn’t distinguish between…it’s just portrait, lifestyle, and animal.  There is a section that says Personal, but there’s nothing that says the stuff in my portrait, lifestyle, and animal sections can’t come from a shoot that I set up myself.  I feel if it’s in a section on your website, it should have a consistent feel because it’s just too jarring for people to be going through and suddenly something’s completely different.

The biggest thing that you can offer that distinguishes you from other photographers is your imagination, your mind. That’s the tool you’ve got that will really take it to the next level.  Equipment is great.  It’s fun and it’s exciting, but the most important things at the shoot are you and the subject.  The people in front of the camera.