Content Marketing Conversations: Photographer Laura Austin
Shona Sanzgiri / March 1, 2016
What’s something every professional photographer needs? Confidence—the confidence to show your work, the confidence to network, and the confidence to take your craft seriously. And talent, obviously.
Laura Austin has all of that. The Vermont native, a lifelong snowboarder and outdoors enthusiast, started taking photos to document her picture-perfect getaways with friends across the U.S. The photos were natural, aspirational and improvised, matching perfectly with what lifestyle brands like Nike, Vans and Herschel are after—and why they hired her to shoot campaigns putting their products in scenic scenarios.
In our fourth Content Marketing Conversation, Austin was candid, straightforward and daring—just like her photos. Whether you’re a photographer who wants to make a living, a brand looking for a business-savvy creative or someone who’s ever wondered, “How can I travel the world taking photos of my friends?” this conversation is for you.
You’ve had a lot of experience working with brands as a photographer. What’s the process like? What are the benefits?
Oh the life of commercial photography—the process is always different depending on the client, the budget, their needs, and how they are used to doing things. Sometimes shoots are a very organized, big production with a large group of people (assistants, creative directors, makeup artists, stylists, etc) “on set” behind me and my camera.
But sometimes it’s way more laidback and brands will just send me product which I venture out and shoot on friends/models. I think the biggest benefit to me so far is the diversity in brands I have worked with. I’ve been asked to shoot things I would have never gravitated toward on my own, which is a fun, creative challenge. How do you take something that is completely outside of your scope and still make it authentic to you and create work you are proud of no matter what? It keeps me on my toes and prevents things from feeling like routine or monotonous.
How do you market yourself? How important has that been for you?
I think the standard answer for any photographer in my generation (and most photographers for that matter) is social media. Which is definitely true for me as well; a large percentage of my clients find me on Instagram first, which leads them to my website with more of my commercial work.
But in addition to that I did a lot of blogging when I started out and worked my way into contributing to several different websites on a regular basis. Being able to do stuff that was more long-form than just a photo and a caption on Instagram allowed me to tell more of my story and create a solid base of people who were drawn to what I was doing/interested in.
What are some things aspiring professional photographers must do to gain exposure?
Networking, blogging, social media, and simply not being afraid to put themselves/their work out there. However, none of this isn’t going to do you any good if you don’t have the talent to back you up. Your work should speak for itself, but there are definitely things you need to do in order to get people’s eyes on it.
What was your first experience like working with a brand on a campaign? What did you learn from that experience? Describe your favorite brand-related project.
I was lucky in that I could ease my way into doing bigger campaign work. I have a background in the snowboard industry, and that’s where my photo career started. My first proper shoot was with Burton. Snowboarding being such a tight-knit world, I personally knew everyone I was working with on set. Which brings a certain comfort level to the situation.
The most important thing to know when working on a campaign is to display a certain amount of confidence (not cockiness) when you’re working. That will make the models, the client and everyone else around more confident in what they are doing.
One of my favorite brand-related campaigns I’ve done were some recent shoots for the bike apparel brand Rapha in Alaska and Texas. We got to travel through some beautiful places to shoot and I was able to work more as a documentarian, [which] tend to be my favorite [way to work].
Are you protective about the photography you share online? Is it very selective and deliberate, or more casual?
I used to be very picky about what I put out there, worrying if it fell in line with whatever online persona I thought I was creating for myself. Nowadays I’m much more relaxed. It’s a waste of energy to be too uptight about that stuff. And the idea of what you think you need to be might be holding you back from what you actually can be.
To what extent does feedback influence your photography?
Interesting question. To be honest, I really just do me, I always have. I mean, of course feedback from a client is valid when you are working for them. But I think when you let feedback trickle into your work too much it can become diluted. The goal is to be able to have someone look at one of your images and be able to tell who shot it right away. Taking in too much feedback can strip away the authenticity and uniqueness of your work.
How do you stay true to yourself when working on big, sponsored projects?
I guess I kind of touched on this in my last answer. When you are working on big brand related projects I like to go into it thinking that it is a collaboration between brand and photographer, as opposed to the photographer just being a “hired gun.” They approach you with a concept and it is up to the photographer to take it and make it come to life. If you didn’t insert some of your own artistic vision into it then it would basically be the same as giving a highly trained monkey a camera. You just have to remember that they hired you for a reason and be confident enough with your aesthetic to take whatever is thrown at you and make it visually interesting, satisfying not only the client, but also to yourself.