Tokyo is a tough town, but has a ton of opportunities, the very reason I came here to start a career as a photographer. Tokyo is a mecca for aspiring models, photographers, and stylists who see it as an easy place to make it big. The truth is that it isn`t easy anywhere, though there are certain advantages to being a struggling artist in Tokyo.
The community is small, after a few years you will know pretty much everyone, and as a foreigner you automatically stand-out socially and in terms of artistic style. I have yet to meet a foreign artist that successfully imitated the Japanese artistic sense. If you are able to navigate these differences smoothly, understanding and playing off this contrast, while still respecting the Japanese style and culture, you can have success and opportunities will pop-up wherever you go.
In addition to the particular cultural navigation inherent in living in Tokyo, it is also essential to have a checklist of what every professional needs in mind. Professional photography is not about photos nearly as much as it is about the business and image. Here are 5 essentials to guide you as you successfully find your way to paying photography gigs in Tokyo :
1) Portfolio – a photographer’s portfolio is their most important asset. A portfolio should represent your best, your style, and what the client can expect when they hire you. Important elements of a professional quality portfolio are:
• Theme - how do your images relate to each other?
• Quality - only include images you feel showcase the best of your work.
• Style - as a set, the images you choose should show a defined photographic style.
• Perspective - show your images to as many people as possible that are professionals, and adjust based on their comments.
• Presentation – how you present your portfolio is as important as the images. If you plan to charge a lot for your services, make sure the is expressed through the way you present your images.
2) Brand - part of any business is a brand image. With photography where there are a ton of people who claim to be photographers and no real qualifications, it is important to distinguish yourself as a professional through a well designed brand. Important elements of your professional brand are:
• You - everything about you is the first thing that defines your brand, from your voice, gestures, to your clothing. Be consistent and conscientiously create a powerful statement of who you are as an artist.
• Logo - whether it is your name in a particular font or a logo you have designed, create a custom logo and stick with it.
• Color - chose a set of colors to use on all of your marketing materials that represent your brand.
• Font – chose a specific font that represents your brand.
– your social network will have a huge influence on your success as a photographer. Always meet new people, maintain relationships, introduce people, and understand that almost all of the jobs you get will be from people you know. Important elements of your professional network are:
• Team – build up a team of people you work with and do projects together. If you are doing fashion photography this is particularly important.
• Clients – slowly build your base of clients by providing excellent service and images. Keep in contact.
• Business Associates – meet other people in related fields that have a connection to your business. These people are invaluable in introducing you to potential jobs, make sure to return the favor.
• Other Photographers - as odd as it may seem, you will often get work from other photographers. Whether they are busy and cannot take a job or it is not their specialty, other photographers are important connections.
4) Marketing Strategy – your ability to market yourself well is an essential skill for any photographer. Understand the importance both of in-person networking and online social networks. Keep these two networks connected, keep in contact, and always be producing professional images to promote your business.
• Homepage – having a homepage is essential to getting the word out about your business. Make sure it is professionally designed and connected to all of your social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube.
• Business Card – essential whenever you meet a new person.
• Social Media – great for getting the word out. Remember to tag people in photos, use a watermark, and quickly respond to comments.
5) Business Plan – succeed where other photographers have failed by understanding photography is a personal business. Do research on business practices and sales and apply them.
• Sales – study how to sell yourself and your services. Sales is an art and when used consciously will exponentially increase your conversion rate.
• Contracts - have all the contract you need ready. Whether this is a model release, intellectual property agreement, or a contract for a specific job, contracts are essential for a professional.
• Costs - keep track of all your costs and factor them in when deciding on your guarantee. Remember although digital cameras are free to use, they become outdated very quickly.
• Guarantee – charge what the market dictates. Deciding on your guarantee is difficult, do your research, ask other photographers, and put yourself in a good negotiating position by not relying on any one job.
Would you like to know more? Check out my homepage to see my portfolio and more information on how to become a professional photographer. In addition I am conducting seminars around Tokyo, next one is at the end of September, contact asap for more information and reservations.