DNF-Style is one of Cutcaster’s oldest contributors and stands for Danielle and Frenk who make up the photography team. Below is an excerpt of an interview we did with them last week that helps to educate other photographers and explains their background.
1. In today’s visual language, how do you make images that are authentic to “your” brand?
At DNF-Style, Danielle and I try to avoid acting emotional. Using ‘method acting,’ among other techniques, we try to get our model to experience the emotions we want to convey. ‘Method acting’ is a technique in which actors aim to place in their mindset the thoughts and emotions of the character they are portraying in an effort to create lifelike performances.
2. How do you, in this new media landscape, convey an image that “sells” and seems honest as opposed to the professional imagery of 5 years ago?
I guess not at all. We have always tried to achieve honesty in our work and that hasn’t changed the last 5 years. What has changed is that we have a better view on what sells and what doesn’t in general.
3. What’s changed in your mindset? Are all the images just personal based?
If we look at the last 5 years we got a better view on what is being sought by our buyers. Besides improving our technique, which is an ongoing business, it is mainly Danielle that does a lot of research towards finding examples of what sells best within certain settings. This means analyzing the top 50 sales within a setting and trying to find the common denominator of what sells and so getting an idea of how to approach our own.
4. What is the biggest challenge facing you in today’s market?
Trying to keep the sales up in a down market. After the first two months following the financial crisis, the downturn cost us about 30% of our income. Not only because of the setback in number of sales but also, and in a greater value, because of the devaluation of the dollar which we have to convert into Euro in order to collect.
5. What do you ask yourself when you are shooting an image?
There is one question that is continuously in our minds when shooting; “What will the potential buyer feel?”
We try to put ourselves into the minds of our viewer. We have to be able to take one step into the future, in order to see the end result of an image rather then the process we are in at that moment if that makes sense. When learning to shoot, this process gets easier and easier, while other attention points happen automatically. When someone first starts out, anyone can feel overwhelmed by how many facets one has to cover. Examining the end result while shooting is one of the final steps of this process.
6. Where do you sell more of your work, Subscription vs. a la carte downloading, and why do you think that is the case? What is your opinion of the different microstock pricing model’s and how they affect your bottom line?
Microstock has become a very big market in which everyone seems to see a lot of bread (cash). Every stock site now tries to find pricing models that will attract buyers of course. The big danger is that agencies price each other out of a market that is slowly reaching it’s saturation point. The bad I see at the moment is that Microstock sites, in order to survive, go towards a very low pricing model, damaging not only their contributors but also taking down other agencies, forcing them to follow their low pricing in order not to loose their buyers. In the end, the new microstocks do not survive but the ones that went down with their prices in order to keep in a competitive position can’t go up with their pricing tables to their old level without losing the buyers they tried not to lose in the first place. This results in an ongoing price battle in which only the one with the best quality images survives. As a photographer you feel like you are giving away your images for free and after uploading thousands of images it is not so easy to stop investing in the hope it will all get better. Bottom line for us is we also have to try to be the ones that can hold our breath the longest as we wait for this to play out.
7. What are some techniques you have learned over the years to help you get your images seen and sold?
Networking seems to be the key. However this is a kind of networking that can only be influenced by ones imagery. There is no contact with the buyer, no one to build your network on. You only hope that buyers see the quality of your work and start looking into your portfolio before doing a general search. There are many tools, like building lightboxes at Cutcaster. If one is an exclusive with one site it is easy to spend all time and effort on building these lightboxes and using all other promotional possibilities on the site to connect with customers. In our case, being involved in over 10 different agencies, makes that almost impossible. The time that takes in addition to our shoots, makes it so hard to complete everything. We strive towards high and solid quality and are considering thinning out our portfolio’s deleting all the older stuff which we feel does not reflect our quality standard we are upholding today.
8. How was studio started and who is involved in the business?
I have been photographing for 5 years now. Danielle has been modeling and photographing for 6 years now. When we became romantically involved we decided it was time to combine our strengths and start selling our work. Up until that point we both felt we still had stuff to learn (we still do but feel we are at an acceptable level). At the time we met, photography was not our job but our passion. When I got laid off February last year I took the opportunity to start taking photogs as a business. Sadly enough, a few months later, the crisis started. For those of you just starting off in the business, you will need to fight 10 times as hard to keep your head above water. After 18 months of fighting we managed to stand for 50% on our own legs but that is not enough. It seems the crisis is catching up with us now our reserves are almost dried out.
But that wasn’t really the question was it?
When we started it seemed like everything fell in place and all signs indicated we were doing as we were always supposed to. Almost at the same time I lost my job we got a great studio room offered for very little money. Of course we took this opportunity with both hands and started working building up a new network. This time a network of business people. The point we are at now is very frustrating. Everyone is telling us how good our work is but no one is buying or handing out assignments.
Our name, DNF-Style is a business name owned by me but I needed Danielle backing me up. Danielle works during the day at a photo laboratory where she has to correct and print thousands of photo’s. Therefore she has a very good eye for colors and is the one directing our processing. In her free time she is also continuously working on stock, finding ideas, processing shoots and of course organizing and shooting them.
9. You shoot a lot of people shots. How do you find your models and what do you look for in a model?
We are connected with a few major online meeting points were models, photographers and make-up artist are getting together, discussing each others work and answering each others questions.
We are happy to say that our work is up to a specific standard in which we do not have to search for models very actively. They offer themselves to us and are happy to work with us, getting our material in return for their own portfolio.
What we look for in a model is spontaneity and involvement. We are fed up with models that feel that being pretty is enough effort to get us working with them. If we can choose between a spontaneous model that knows what she wants, has her own ideas and is willing to actively search with us to build an idea towards an end result and a very pretty model who is just that, very pretty, then the first model has far better chance of us working with him or her then the last one. Of course any model has to be up to a sellable standards that is dictated by the market that purchases our pictures and the magazines they are in. There is no changing that.
10. Where do you see the microstock industry 5 years in the future?
Thinned out, like I tried to explain in question 6. Hopefully, we will then still be involved as well. But I’m afraid prices will not go up again when the survivors (agencies) are known.
To see more of Danielle and Frenk’s images at Cutcaster and see their DNF-Style check out their Cutcaster studio.