Always aspiring to learn and improve, Dan Sellers is a self-taught photographer. Specializing in photographing executives, CEOs, and high-level professionals, Dan has been successfully running his own business for more than 30 years. Many of his clients are nationally known, some only within their specialized field and some of the higher profile subjects are known throughout the world because of their public visibility.
We asked Dan what it takes to specialize in photographing the world of big business where, of all places, time is money.
Why did you choose portrait photography as your specialty?
I became a portrait photographer because I love photographing people. Even early on when I was shooting architecture and products, photographing people was what excited me the most. For some reason, CEOs, high level executives and high profile professionals became my specialty. I think this appeals to me mainly because of the high stakes at every shoot; there are no reshoots. If you miss it, they walk out the door and hire someone else.
How do you approach a shoot with a demanding, high-profile professional?
I do my work both on location and in my studio. I would say 60/40 respectively. My workflow is slightly different for the two situations, mainly because of the physical differences of my studio vs. location, but my goal is the same.
I light everything, almost never using available light. I want my portraits to have my signature look, no matter where I am. Lighting is one of the disciplines that help me deliver the results I want. My goal, whether shooting in studio or on location, is to make my subjects look their best.
I have photographed executives so often, be it in-studio or on location, that I am extremely comfortable with either. Many times I dont get to scout in advance but I can go in and quickly access the space to decide on the approach. After that its a simple matter of me directing the assistants as to what and where to set up. Once it has been roughed in I use my assistants as a stand-in for the subject in order to tweak.
Once the setup is complete its just about keeping the energy going and directing the subjects, making them comfortable throughout the process. Once we are finished its a quick edit to send the client a web gallery using Capture One. Most of the time I will select one or two images that are my favorites to include in my gallery. About 99% of the time those are the ones chosen by the client.
What does Phase One mean to your work?
I recently purchased an IQ160 back and I absolutely love it. Although I shoot tethered I am starting to use the user interface on the back more. The IQ160 is my fourth Phase One digital back. My first was a P20. Then came the P30+, which I still own and use for backup. My third was a P45+, which was a trade in when I bought the IQ160. Im someone who is always reaching upward; I do this as a way to challenge myself and as a motivation to improve as a photographer. When the IQ backs became available I knew I would eventually have to own one.
Although all of the Phase backs are excellent I can see a difference in the subtleties of the IQ160, and love working with the speed of the captures in addition to all the available information of the huge files. I do quite a bit of post retouching to give the images my signature look. I feel this is where I make my images come alive and having large 16 bit captures makes this so much easier.
There is another reason why I love the large files of the IQ160; I use it to upsell. Not so much from the technical side, but when a client calls me and asks for a head shot, I can offer them a three quarter portrait and with my images, they can also get a headshot cropped from that. I sell them the idea that you pay more to get more.
Although I have only had the IQ for a short time I have already used it on several occasions. The quality is amazing and so are the results!
What do you love about photography?
Photography is an amazing business. It gives you the opportunity to grow creatively and as a person. To be successful I think you have to be open to all the changes and challenges the business brings. Plus, in what other career do you get to enter into so many worlds, gaining access to the famous, the notable and the not so notable?
As a self-taught photographer, how do you manage to grow your business in an increasingly competitive industry?
Although I've worked for advertising agencies, design firms and editorial clients, today I mainly shoot directly for clients.
About 10 years ago, when photography went into the chaos period, I felt business was so scattered that it was becoming more difficult and time consuming to find work in conventional ways. I thought about how I could make it easier for potential clients to find me and not the other way around. I know that I turn to my trusted keyboard when searching for information or commodities, and I know other people do the same. So I set out to sell myself by specializing and becoming a niche marketer. By doing what I defined as inbound marketing, I had the business come to me.
Since I had a love of photographing executives, I set out to learn about search engine optimization. The rest is history. Today about 60 to 70 percent of my new business comes from my web site, with people contacting me. The rest is repeat and referral.
Almost everyone who contacts me from the website remarks on the quality of my portraits, and although Ive spent a lot of time honing my craft, I feel that Phase One and Capture One is a great part of what helps with my success.
I have been in business for over 30 years, evolving from the film world to digital. It's a constant learning experience and I have embraced the ride. It has certainly been a wonderful one and I look forward to it continuing into the future.