The Importance of Photographers Putting Their Best Foot Forward

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All images by Dan Bannister. Used with permission.

Photographer Dan Bannister is all about not only doing creative photo projects, but he also understands the the importance of networking. When he did The Blacksmiths and #WokeUpLikeThis, he understood that he needed to get eyes on his work–so he contacted me. But Dan also knows just how important to it is for people to know about what you’re doing. So every year, he mails a sketchbook called the Assistants. It goes out to art director, designer friends and clients every year. “The theme is ‘The Assistants’ because the book contains images of light tests with assistants from various commercial and editorial shoots, paired with the final finished image we were actually shooting for the client.” says Dan. He’s been doing it for four years.

After a couple of years, he gets calls from designers and art directors reminding him to send them one. “I get designers asking for an opportunity to design it because there’s so much latitude and opportunity to really make it their own.”

Phoblographer: Professional photographers know that much of this industry is al about networking and keeping up relations with people. So what’s typically on your checklist to do so that you’re always on an editor’s radar?

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Dan: I make it a habit to touch base with key people or brands I want to work with whenever I can. A short email with a few images, a PDF or a link to mentions or press my work has gotten elsewhere really helps. My rep, Pam Hamilton at Sparks Photographers is pretty key to this. She does lots of publicity and has developed great relationships with almost everyone in the industry and is well liked and respected so, that helps a lot when clients are trying to find someone to shoot a project.

Phoblographer: Talk to us about the Assistants. What is it? What motivates you to put it out and what determines the content that gets into it?

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Dan: I’m a very laid back, easy going person and when clients hire me for a shoot, they’re hiring the whole machine and I like that machine to be easy to work with. I’ve always gotten great compliments from clients about how effortless the shoot was and how they don’t even feel like it was work, even after a 16 hour day. That doesn’t happen by accident, it’s because I’m picky about crew. I work with people who care about what they do and are very professional about it and I make sure that they leave thinking I’m the best person they’ve ever worked with. The crew you work with determines how the shoot goes and it’s important to me that everyone is recognized for their contribution. I wouldn’t be successful in my job if I didn’t work with good people so, its important to me that they get credit for their hard work.

I was looking for a fresh idea for a promotional piece. Theres so much competition in our business but, there’s an awful lot of repetition when it comes to promo ideas and I really wanted to do something unique. I was brainstorming with an art director friend and the idea of The Assistants just evolved from this. Everyone likes the “behind the scenes” aspect of a photoshoot and when the idea first started, my first assistant at the time (Chris Wedman who’s gone on to do some killer work with live music editorial on his own) always nailed these hilarious looks and poses in light tests.

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There’s just something sublime about light tests to me. The subject is just there to see how the light looks and they don’t care how they look or what expression is on their face and the dissonance between these (usually) highly produced backgrounds and light set ups and a photo assistant who is kinda out of place in the scene is really interesting to me. So, we just married my desire to recognize the work that the assistants did with these funny light tests and turned it into something that I hope is both useful and memorable.

Phoblographer: Why not have a selection of some of your most recent personal projects like the Blacksmiths?

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Dan: I actually thought about doing that this year but, ultimately, I decided to use the Blacksmiths to promote myself in a different way and to keep doing the sketchbook. It’s such a practical piece and every year I get calls from people to make sure they’re on the list to get one again so, I didn’t want to disappoint anyone!

Phoblographer: So what do you want to accomplish this year as a photographer? What are your goals and how do you plan on getting them accomplished?

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Dan: Oh boy, that’s a lot to think about! I love shooting lifestyle work for brands, I’m really passionate about creating great visuals for advertising and I’d like to keep doing that. Coke and Levi’s are two brands that I’d love to work for. Also, Scotch and Soda, a European label, is a brand that really seems to “get” photography and I’d love to create a body of work for them. The other bucket list item for me is “celebrity” portraits. I love making complex and moody portraits that speak to someone’s character or accentuate a persona. I love the work of guys like Mark Seliger and I’m hoping that I can find some opportunities this year to start doing some of this kind of work. Much of the most enduring photography happens because of the subjects as much as the photographer and I’d love to be able to start building a body of work like this.

How I’m going to accomplish these goals is a good question. There a lot of competition out there and there is so much great photography so, It’s very hard to move the needle. I’m just going to keep making imagery that I like to make or enjoy working on and keep showing it to people and I have faith that you eventually find yourself working on the things you really want to be working on.