Spec Work

Here’s one of many blog posts that I had sitting unfinished in my query.  Initially this was going to be a rant about spec work, but I decided to turn it into something of value and possibly impart some wisdom.  

A few weeks ago I came across a story on Adweek on spec work.  I want to share my thoughts and a story on shooting for spec.

For those that are unfamiliar with the concept of shooting for spec allow me to fill you in.  Spec is short for speculative and its know in the creative industry as work performed prior to a formal engagement with hopes of being paid by client.

In theory this has been in practice for decades, however spec work has evolved to a path of unpaid collaboration. Here’s something that I came across.  Company name has been withheld to protect the identity of these cheap fucks.

Client approaches creatives for spec work.  Client provides their vision of the shoot, mentions they’re looking for $2K photo shoot look.  Talking about their vision blah, blah, blah.  They’ll throw in a line saying they’re a startup and don’t have a “large” budget for a photographer.  And by mid conversation that budget is really none existent.  Their real intention was to develop a working relationship by paying with products and have a chance for future paid business.  Sounds like golden opportunity right?  I’ll let you be the judge of that.

Don’t get me wrong.  Spec work can work in favor for a photographer, however it should be under different circumstances.  For example let me tell you about spec work that I did for a client of mine.

So I’ve been shooting look books for an e-commerce clothing company.  The client has been using her friends as the talent to model their clothes.  For my first shoot the talent just happened to be with Caity of No Ties Management, one of the modeling agencies that I test with on occasion.  She was of agency standards – tall and great skin.  That shoot went without a hitch.  It turned out great and the client loved the outcome.  I even wrote up a blog post as part of installment for Behind The Shot.

For our second shoot the client used a few of her friends as the talent.  They were on the opposite spectrum of an agency model from what I’m used to for client work.  The talent couldn’t get the hang of it and the results turned out mediocre at best, at least to my standards.  In my opinon the shoot didn’t go as smooth as I’d like. By the end of the day I did the best that I could with the talent that was provided.

So fast forward to a few weeks after delivering the pics.  I got in touch with the client asking about what she thought of the shoot and how come she’s hasn’t used any of the pics.  Long story short, she just didn’t like the pics.  She didn’t like how it came out, she didn’t like how the clothes didn’t fit and how the talent didn’t really “sell” her clothes.

Now in my head I’m thinking “Oh fuck!” the client just spent a considerate amount of money on this look book and got nothing useable out of it.  In my head I thought that this would be my last shoot with them.  In order to salvage the situation I wanted to show how her clothing fits on an agency model and the value of having one brings to a shoot.  So I offered to shoot her clothes to spec so that she can get an idea of what a difference the talent makes.  Cause lets be honest, not every pretty girl can be a model.  It takes more than just a beautiful face.

Rodney-Alan-San-Diego-Fashion-Photographer-spec-work 1

A couple of days later I reach out to my goregous model friend Morgan of Scout Models.  With a little persusion of lunch and a fun time I convinced her to test with wardrobe provided by my client.  The test was pretty simple, no makeup artist and just a walking trail in San Diego.  We actually had a lot of clothes to choose from so I styled Morgan with a handful of looks.  The client loved how the clothes looked on Morgan that I sold her on the idea of booking agency talent for their future look books and e-comm work.  We even used Morgan for one of their e-comm shoots.

So to make this blog post come full circle, shooting for spec does work in favor for the photographer.  I think that if I didn’t do this I would of potentially lost them as a client.  Shooting for spec doesn’t guarantee paid work, however in my case it certainly saved from losing a client.

At the end of the day everyone will run their business differently.  Accepting spec work or not really boils down to the creative, but don’t be surprised if the practice of spec work continues because if one person says no there is another one jumping at this “golden opportunity.”  Collectively if all creatives stop accepting spec work I beileve that we can change the industry.  If not at least rattle its cage.

And if you haven’t seen the video of what other industries think of spec work you should definitely give it a watch, its quite entertaining.  And True.

-Rodney Alan











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