Who the Bloody Hell are You?

At the recent AIPA Image Nation Conference in Auckland, photographers were asked to submit questions to a panel of advertising creatives and art buyers. One of the questions which raised eyebrows and had some of the panelists squirming in their seats was: 

‘Why do ad agencies fly in high-profile photographers from Australia to shoot big budget campaigns here in New Zealand, when there are loads of amazing local photographers who are more than capable of shooting those jobs?’

I know that a version of this question torments many a photographer worldwide. Just replace Australia and New Zealand with any two alternative countries of your choice. Typical scenario: You’re pitching for a local location-based campaign, only to discover that a ‘foreigner’ has been flown in to shoot the beach at the bottom of your street, or the mountain at your back door.

More to the point, why does Vogue Italy send an Italian photographer to Sydney to shoot a fashion spread for their magazine instead of using an Aussie? And the BIGGEST, most common gripe of all…..Why do Tourism agencies fly in photographers from other countries to shoot their campaigns instead of using a local?

The dissent doesn’t stop with photographers. The Where the Bloody Hell are you?’ campaignshot for the Australian Tourism Board via M&C Saatchi, was an example of locals getting their knickers in a right proper twist about a foreigner shooting their lucky country. (The fuss was promptly superceded by worldwide news that the Brits, Japanese and Americans objected to the profanity in the headline …so that was that).

We do tend to be quite possessive about what’s on our own doorstep. Why ever wouldn’t we be? We’ve paid our taxes and our rates to help make the country more safe and beautiful. We’ve worked very hard on reaching our local potential clients. Hell, we’ve introduced clients from all over the world to our locations and and in turn helped grow our economy.

But it’s an inescapable fact. Photographers are shipped into unfamiliar territories by experienced creatives all the time. And perfectly good locals are shunned.

The thing is, whingeing about it will not achieve anything. There are often pretty good reasons for sending photographers across the globe. And there’s no reason you can’t be one of them, rather than the jealous incumbent. Here are the 4 main ways you can work on turning things around in your favour:

1. Relationship

Yes, talent should prevail. But I know many a creative who isn’t going to risk spending three weeks on the road, sharing a vehicle (and possibly bathroom) with some arrogant stranger who may have halitosis. No siree. They’re going to take the guy they know with them. Someone who’s fun to be around. Someone with whom they can happily share breakfast, lunch and dinner. Yep- that’s right, you have to be a paid friend as well as a good shooter. (As an agent it was amazing how many times I had to reassure the creative that the photographer was a nice person!) So build those relationships with your local clients. Be the person they want to take with them when they have that big job- in or out of the country. Either that or you’d better build the relationship FAST during the quoting process.

2. Trust

Having a good relationship with someone also means you get to build trust. Trust equals less risk. If the job requires shooting around the world but the budget restricts the agency team from going, they’re going to try to send someone they trust to get the job done, rather than risk commissioning someone unknown with no supervision. When working with any clients, make sure you always produce high quality results, behave professionally, surround yourself with an amazing team and get the day to day jobs done well- with or without the creative present. It will keep you top of mind for those solo travel opportunities.

A New York based creative sent a trusted NZ Photographer Mat Blamires was sent to Paris by a trusted
A New York based creative trusted NZ Photographer, Mat Blamires, to shoot in Paris without supervision

3. Uniqueness

If you are perceived (and note I say perceived) as the only person who can shoot the job, then all those relationship problems will fade into insignificance. If you are known for something specific, or better still, are famous, then being arrogant, requiring huge quantities of drugs on set, turning up late and going over budget seem to be par for the course. After all, they can say they shot with xxxxx. And presumably the shots will be amazing (how else could you get away with that behaviour?), win tons of awards, blah blah. So work on your uniqueness, and you too can be the celeb landing on everyone else’s shores. Shores which you will undoubtedly choose.

4. A fresh perspective.

The reality is that offshore photographers perceive things differently. More to the point they see things the way a tourist visiting the country for the first time might see it: With a fresh, optimistic eye. And when a country is trying to sell itself to people in other countries they want the right perspective. So stop fretting about the local tourism campaign, and instead why not be that offshore photographer who shoots some of the other hundreds of tourism campaigns around the world? Be the photographer who is genuinely excited about what’s going to appear around the corner, and target your marketing internationally.

Of course when you succeed at one or more of the above, and find yourself abroad shooting a job, just watch out for the local photography industry lynch mob…..