Some stubborn subjects impose more issues than others. ”While every product presents its own challenges, from a difficulty standpoint, I’d say jewelry causes the most problems,” he says. “Setting it up, rigging these tiny objects to hang in a particular way, making sure the rings are standing up correctly—you need to use wax to do that, for instance, but you want to minimize using wax, because you don’t want to have to retouch if you don’t have to.
“Inevitably, those are the types of shots where you’re actually ready to capture the final image and something falls over. Then you go in to fix that one little thing and you bump something else over. That’s the frustration with jewelry photography.”
Staying informed about the latest digital cameras, software, and peripherals also helps Burda keep ahead of the pack.
“I read a lot, and I test as the new equipment comes out,” he says. “Of course I have my favorite equipment. I work with a Leaf system that I love. But every time there’s a new system that comes out, the resolution gets better. I always have the manufacturers bring the newest equipment in for a day just to see if it’s any better than what I have. You have to do that, because you always want to give your clients the best possible product. It was like when you shot film—every time someone came out with a new film, you’d go down, grab a box of it, and try it out to see if it suited your shooting style.”
Clients also appreciate the soft-proof printouts Burda bestows on them at the end of a day of shooting.
“It’s just a reference to show them the color and contrast, the essence of what it should be,” he says. “Plus it’s nice because we can put acetate over it and the client can mark it up. It’s kind of like the first step in the retouching process in terms of getting everything cleaned up.”
Made for Marketing
While the bulk of his business comes from the word-of-mouth he’s successfully nurtured over the years, Burda spreads his selling sense across the board. “I do a little bit of everything,” he says. “I always make it a point, for instance, to be in at least one sourcebook every year. Whether you get calls directly from it or not, at least the ad drives people to your website and shows you’ve been around. If someone picks up a sourcebook and sees your name every year, they figure, ‘Hey, this guy’s been around for 10 years or more, so he must be doing something right.’ Then, maybe, they give you a shot.”
Direct mail has proven successful for him as well. “In past years especially, this worked incredibly well,” he says. “I’d send out 3,000 promos, and within a week I had 10 calls for my portfolio. Of course, because of the Internet, that doesn’t happen so much anymore. People are using the Internet in lieu of the printed portfolio.”
When he was just starting out, Burda dabbled in small-run, handmade promos made on luxurious papers. “I would only send out about 50 of them at a time to the best of the best in communication arts,” he says. “It didn’t work, though. It’s hard to say why. I just think that those people in communication arts are probably getting thousands of promos from other photographers from all over the country. So even if you do handmake something and send them this unique piece of artwork, it may not work. If someone is not working on a still-life project at that moment, the promo may not have immediate interest for them. That’s why the saturation-bombing technique seems to really work, because a lot of it is timing. One of those promo cards hits someone’s desk, they happen to be working on a still-life project, and they call me.”
Burda also attracts new clients through his website. “The first incarnation of the site was about four years ago,” he says. “It was very crude. The latest incarnation, however, was designed by a company in England, and it’s been fantastic. It really opens your eyes to a whole new way of showing your work. You’re used to showing transparencies mounted in these black boards, or in this linear book where you flip the pages. But this is something that’s pretty amazing in the way it can be set up. It’s a whole new set of visuals that you can use to get people to understand your work.”
As much as he acknowledges that his website does expand his prospecting horizons, he still sees certain disadvantages to the medium. “As much as the website helps, it’s a little harder to track what promotion is working for you,” he explains. “Someone might receive your promo, bookmark your website, and then give you a call six months later. When you ask them where they got your name, they just say ‘from your website.’”
Burda is a believer in putting faith in his biggest asset—himself. “One of the biggest mistakes a photographer can make is to immediately sign on with a rep—unless, of course, one of the superstars wants to take you on,” he says.
“There just aren’t that many good reps out there. My theory is, when you’re starting out, you’ve got nothing but time on your hands. Pick up the phone, and get in to see as many people as you can. You’re going to see more people than your rep will, because he or she has five other photographers to sell. Plus, an agent going after big dollars may overlook the smaller jobs that pay $1,000 a day. But those jobs can cover your overhead.”
Just the logistics of scouting out real estate and picking a studio location can make or break the most talented creatives.