There’s not a single business model, and there’s not a single type of electronic content. There are really a lot of opportunities and a lot of options and we just have to discover all of them. —Tim O’Reilly
You’re going to want to bookmark this website: miramira.tv . Photographer Mario Testino, a favorite of Vogue US, launched the new site this week after sponsoring a 48-hour hackathon asking students: “What could the next frontier of visual communications look like?” They told him, and the results are probably not what you’re doing now, but are almost certainly where we all need to go. Fashion website/magazine Business of Fashion featured Mario and the new website in a top-line article this morning. Testino tells them early on:
“The kids don’t have 35 years of experience, but they have hundreds of years of knowledge through access. The mix of that is quite magical. In a way, I’m looking for new ideas, new ways of seeing things, new ways of solving a challenge.”
What he’s saying isn’t that different from how many of us feel. We’re all looking for new ideas, new ways of seeing things. That’s just part of being a photographer. Unlike the rest of us, though, Testino took some serious steps for force a change in his vision: he relied on eyes that are not his and trusted what they saw. The end result of his effort affects us all, though, whether he intended that to happen or not, whether we like it or not.
Testino has hit on something that requires a change in how we do business. Not that we copy exactly what he’s doing, but consider the structure behind the effort.
Open Up Your Archives
Who among us doesn’t have tons of pictures sitting around that no one has ever seen? Both of the photos above fall into that category. We took the pictures for an event that never happened. They’ve been sitting in my archives, untouched, since 2009. Testino’s model is to worry less about copyright infringement and more about making sure the pictures are seen; all the pictures. Granted, his archives are filled with pictures of supermodels like Kate Moss. Not everyone is going to offer that kind of appeal in their archives. Still, the point is to get the pictures out there. Curate yourself in a bolder, more dynamic way.
Manage Your Social Media
We all have social media accounts sitting all over the place. I don’t know about you, but I have multiple accounts that I can’t even remember. A new website comes along, looks good up front, then goes nowhere. Even on the ones that do have staying power, though, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, our efforts tend to be disjointed, haphazard, and almost accidental. One of the critical aspects of the new website is that it serves as a landing place for all Mario’s social media posts. If he puts a picture on Instagram, it points back to the website. If he puts a video on Facebook, it points back to the website. Everything is coordinated so that social media followers don’t just see one picture and move on. They click and see more.
Organize Photos By The Stories They Tell
We have projects, we have themes, and we have those shoots that are just out there. Traditionally, we would organize them into portfolios according to genre: fashion, editorial, portrait, wedding, babies, etc. That’s the way mine are organized now. Testino hits on a key change in how people view photos online, however. They look for stories, not genres. They want to see a series that has a beginning, middle, and end. Maybe they’re all from the same shoot. Maybe they’re not. What matters is that when someone looks at them, they see a story line that is recognizable. Save the portfolio approach for lookbooks, whose usefulness is limited. Mario makes a good point here:
“Today, I feel that the books are limited because you can only reach a certain amount of people. Whereas online, you can reach 2 million people in one go. There’s something about sharing that I find very interesting, and very of today. So it makes sense to put it online.”
Photographers know they’re supposed to do this, but, as a group, we’re lousy at doing it. We tend to develop relationships based on what they can do for us, not whether we can help each other. Part of what fuels the depth of content coming to this new website are Mario’s relationships with people; not just models, but his assistants, makeup artists, stylists, tour guides, etc. He puts their stories on this new website. He highlights people other than himself. The concept makes perfect sense when one thinks about it. What’s missing for many of us, though, is that concerted effort to create and maintain relationships. I’m horrible at it. That needs to change.
Work In Different Media
On the new website, one not only finds the incredible photographs for which Mario is famous, one finds videos, and podcasts, and stories. Testino isn’t afraid of new and developing media. Instead, he’s mastering it and using it to his advantage. I’ll admit to being frightened by this one. Back when Canon and Nikon first started adding video capability to their DSLRs, I argued that there is a world of difference between video and still photography. There is. But if we stay focused on a singular media the world is going to pass us by. So, maybe we need to take a class or hire a twenty-something kid to show us how it’s done. Staying focused on only still images no longer makes good business sense.
Yeah, it may cost you a bit, but it needs to happen. Get out of the studio, explore different cultures and environments, meet different people, photograph something that isn’t your own backyard. That doesn’t necessarily mean one has to travel far or expensively. Consider volunteering for a charitable activity that takes you someplace different and take pictures while you’re there. Maybe you explore small towns in your own state. There are many ways to twist this. We don’t all need to winter in Abu Dabi. One trick here is to figure out how to get clients to pay for your travel. Don’t ask me, I don’t know. I am certain it can be done, though.
No, I’m not necessarily talking about psychiatric help, though I’m guessing almost all of us could use some. One of the first things I picked up from the BoF article is that Testino has a CEO, and it’s not him. Suki Larson is the chief executive of Mario Testino+. Mario Testino+ is the business side of everything the photographer does. This is where things are kept organized. There are people who schedule travel, organize photos, manage social media, plus his two photo assistants and others. All this business elements are handled by people who are not the photographer. Sure, most of us don’t have the budgets to hire that many people; maybe not anyone at all. Still, we need to find people who can help us. Perhaps we have to do some creative bartering at first, but photographers are notoriously lousy at business. Maybe we need to let go of that side and find someone who knows what a P&L is and why it’s important.
Position Yourself For The Future
Photographers notoriously look backward and long for the way it used to be. They were doing it 30 years ago and we’re still doing that now. Stop it. Stop yearning for the days of film. Quit looking at old business models that failed 20 years ago. Instead, now is the time to be exploring things like virtual reality and 3D imagery. No, we’re not there yet on either front, but they are coming in one form or another. Being able to adapt to those new media quickly will keep you at the front of your field. Don’t be afraid. Look ahead.
Keep Doing Stuff
Not everything is going to work for you. Mario is a rare kind of photographer who has a knack for seeing a niche and making it his own. We can’t all be Mario Testino. What we see in his business model, though, is that we have to keep doing stuff. We have to keep taking pictures. We have to keep trying new things in new places with new people. There is no room for us to sit back and bemoan the fact that no one is knocking on your studio door. Keep moving. Explore what is beyond you. I like what Mario says at the end of the BoF article:
“It’s the doing that makes you get better. Everything has changed, I think I should already be over in a way. I think there is something to be said about staying open to everything and anything. Curiosity is the biggest gift that you have.”
Testino has set an extremely high bar and not many of us are going to reach it. One thing is for sure, though, and that’s the fact that the photography business has already changed around us. We will either adapt, or we will fail.