Hi, I’m David and I’m addicted to two things; photography and travel. Now there’s something else I need to tell you. This is my first article for Breed. It’s an honor to have the opportunity to write for such a well-respected publication and even more of an honor to present you, the reader, with the knowledge I’ve gleaned along the way. As many of you already know, there is no instruction book on how to become a fashion photographer. All the advice in the world from the most well known artists in the business is simply their experience in getting to where they are. What’s working for me is taking bits and pieces of what I’ve gathered and using it to forge my own path.
Last November I decided to live abroad for a few months to expand my market as a beauty and fashion photographer. I travel. A lot. I mean to the point to where I’ve begun to reevaluate the concept of “home.” And while I’m currently based in Los Angeles, there’s more than a few other places I’d hang the proverbial hat. One of those is Thailand. Now when you mention Thailand in the context of fashion photography it doesn’t exactly conjure up ideas of runway shows and the world’s forefront authority on couture. But the truth is Asia does have a fashion scene and Thailand, as a nation that has developed massively over the last two decades, has begun to stake its claim.
I based myself in Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand traveling back and forth to Bangkok and throughout Asia as opportunities became available. At the end of March as my time abroad was coming to an end I decided to make a final trip to Bangkok to shoot with some agency talent. I had known for a few weeks that Bangkok International Fashion Week 2017 would be coming up soon. I had a loose plan to get in somehow and do some runway shooting and networking with designers. I felt like it would be the icing on the cake for this trip. I began searching Google, Facebook, and Twitter for info about how to gain entry. I was really surprised to find next to nothing.
I knew where the events would be held so I contacted the event space information center and asked if they could provide any information. After a lot of patience, some phone calls, and emailing with the event coordinators, I finally managed to get the schedule of shows, dates, and times. This would be my first runway show so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Part of me felt like I’d be able to show up with my gear, request a press pass, and just walk right in. Well, 2 out of those 3 things happened. What didn’t happen was me walking right in.
I found out who the event coordinator was and politely explained half in English, half in Thai that I was a photographer visiting from LA working with the agencies in Bangkok and that I was there to photograph the show. This was met with a lovely smile but a firm “No.” She explained to me that the event was meant for press from established fashion blogs or well-known publications.
Lesson #1: Know Your Market and Local Culture
If you’re going to be a traveling photographer it’s imperative to understand the culture of the market you’re working in. I knew from experience and previous visits that most everything is negotiable in Thailand. I knew that “no” only meant “no” until I could negotiate or sweet-talk my way in. I asked politely if there was any way that I could be placed on some sort of backup list for entry if another photographer didn’t claim his press pass. At this point, I reiterated that I had traveled from Northern Thailand specifically to be at this event and that it was very important to me to be there.
For that evening the answer was still “no” but she gave me her business card and asked me to send her an email that night with links to my portfolio. I handed her my card that has all of my online portfolio info and told her that I would message her as soon as I got back to my apartment. The takeaway from this is to always be prepared. Have your portfolios updated, have a card that clearly has all your information, and most importantly make sure you have those cards with you. I have the horrible habit of packing everything but forgetting my business cards.
We emailed back and forth late that evening with me again speaking half English, half Thai. I’ll paraphrase the last exchange of the conversation. It said something like…”I cannot promise that I can give you a pass for tomorrow’s show but if you come and register at 3 pm you will be the first on the list in case a slot opens up”. I replied, “Thank you for your consideration and generosity. I’ll see you tomorrow at 3 pm.” Now we were getting somewhere.
Lesson #2: Language Skills
I emphasize language skills a few times in this article as it ties back to a previous point I made about understanding the culture of your market. If you are considering becoming a traveling photographer it’s obvious why you would want to become familiar with the language of the market you’re visiting. I cannot emphasize how far this goes when you’re working abroad. When I was going back and forth in a mixture of two languages it did two things. It built credibility by showing that I was knowledgeable in the language of my market but at the same time it allowed me to maintain a level of humility when I would switch back to English. Being humble has always gotten me far when I’m asking someone to bend the rules for me. In this case, I needed her to believe I was serious about living and working there but also empathize and want to help me.
I hope you enjoyed reading part one of my first article. I’d love for you to follow Breed on any of their social channels and stay tuned to see what happened when I showed up at 3 pm the next day.