I am quite confident in my skill as a photographer; and I know many people can take wonderful pictures. However despite their good photography skills, only very few of them reached commercial success, and even lesser that reached popularity. Why? That was the question that I had in mind upon attending Jerry Aurum’s creative talks on Creativepreneurship at Bali Creative Festival 2011 (BCF) in Grand Inna Bali Beach Hotel, Sanur, Bali.

Jerry Aurum is one of the younger generation of photographers who managed to work his way to the top, and becoming one of the most sought-after photographer in Indonesia. He has two photo-books published: “Femalography”, collection of artistic photo shoot on women, and “In My Room” which shots Indonesian celebrities in their own bed rooms.

Beside of taking photos about beautiful women, Jerry also had works on documentary photography for international clients, including the National Geography. Recently he had also made it to the national news by his engagement with Denada, a famous singer and celebrity.

On top of that, Jerry is happen to be my school mate during my study in FSRD ITB, which makes me even more curious to find out how he managed to perform the transformation.

Turned out he got a lot of tips to share indeed, and a lot of stories for us to reflect upon: which currently is about 1,740 projects, done for around 500 clients from 11 countries, which provides a firm testimonial of his commercial success.

Beside Jerry there were also Dharma Parayana, the Network Product Manager of Panasonic Indonesia, and mas Budi (I forgot to ask his full name), a journalist, who act as moderator of the talk show.

Commercializing Photography

In any fields of creative works, I believe there are three levels of achievement: Pleasing (subjective) – Good (collective) – Commercial (sellable).

Pleasing is when you managed to satisfy yourself, including your inner critics within. Good is when your work is considered satisfying by a larger audience, which further ascertain that you are not just being delusional. Commercial is when your work is considered to have qualities that would adds value to a product, service, or idea, thus sellable.

Commercial achievement artworks are those that are considered good by business owners in promoting their brand or product. Usually they appeals to a large audience, though not necessarily mean everybody will likes it. Good artworks are those that adored by many, which usually also satisfying to the creator as well. Should you think you have already achieved both Pleasing and Good level of work quality, then how could you make it to attain Commercial success?

Jerry advised that we should be promoting our work and ourselves to the right audience, as he gave example of how he built his own business.

During his live, Jerry had worked for only about 3 months in two companies; 3 weeks in one of them. Started with mostly high spirit and determination, and knacks for photography and design, Jerry started his business with printing 300 examples of his best photo works as a calendar, and sent them out to 300 company heads in Indonesia with the help of his brother who worked in a head hunter company.

“Why calendar? Because if you are creating brochure, or flyers, people will forget about them soon enough, lost it, or even trashed it” said Jerry

“While calendar will be hung on walls, and people will sees it everyday thus becoming familiar with my works and name” he continued, followed by a laugh from the audience.

“And so when they need a photographer, whose name would first showed up in their memory? It will be mine!” Jerry said confidently.

“If I could only get 1% of them to become my client, then I would already have a business” said Jerry hopefully.

“Just 1%,  come on! That’s a very low expectation, how come it wouldn’t work?” continued Jerry.

And it turned that there were some companies who got interested in his work and responded to this calendar-marketing strategy.

How Jerry Aurum got his first professional camera

Surprisingly, Jerry started his business without even owning an professional level photography tool. He did own a legendary versatile SLR Nikon FM2 but that’s not enough for professional works which usually requires a medium format camera. It was his first commercial assignment that made it possible.

So Jerry told the audience that for the meeting with his first client, he dressed up and looking sharp, to give impression that he had been in the business for a while. However he did not even have any idea of what price he should be proposing. But he then set on a number and making his bid.

“Wow… that’s a bit steep” said his customer

“Wel… you buy peanuts you get monkey sir” said Jerry

“Good photography requires hard work, hence it’s not cheap” Jerry continued

“Hm… yes, I agree with that” responded his client, and so Jerry scored his first deal!

As related to the camera, Jerry further elevate his bid.

“And I would need to have 50% of it up front before carrying the job” he said cleverly, and the audience laughed.

And the client agreed, so now Jerry also had some funding in his hand.

The next step that he did is to call all of his friend who he knew had a medium format camera, and persuade them to sell it to him. Cheap. The audience laughed.

When one agreed, he then proposed another conditions “You will have to stay with me for the rest of the day to teach me how to use it!” said Jerry.

“Because I don’t have any idea how to use the camera, and I’ll be off to the photo assignment deep in the jungle the next day!”, and the room was filled with laughter again.

Commercial Photography tips from Jerry Aurum

Jerry mentioned that in the world of photography, we must pay great attention only to the two “spearheads”: diaphragm & speed, and everything else is only a complimentary to those two.

Diaphragm (symbolized as “f”) deals with the amount of light passes through the lens into the film/digital sensor: the more you have the brighter your picture is. Diaphragm however, read as “1/x” instead of literally, which meant f-1.8 (1/1.8) is much bigger than f-16 (1/16). The other effect it will brings to a picture is clarity: with a big diaphragm, you will have a tight focus distance, meaning you can have a pretty blurred background or foreground.

Speed deals with the length of light touches the film/digital sensor: the less it is, the higher your ability to freeze a moving object. Different with diaphragm, speed read as it is, which is a fraction of seconds, e.g.: 1/60 meant one sixtieth of a second, while 2 meant 2 seconds.

What’s important to remember is both diaphragm and speed never work individually, they’re always works in pair. The good combination of both will determine the many tones and moods a picture would brings.

Jerry also shared 26 tips on taking a good photograph, based on his own experience in determining what works and what’s not. However outside of photography idea and technicalities; sensitivity for composition, aesthetic, and proportion are usually the key factors that determines a photographer’s quality. Luckily those types of sensitivity can be trained, and that’s the main factor on how a self-learning photographer could compete with a school-borne photographers; the key is in continuous learning.

Upon asked on how one can develop his professional competency, Jerry put a great weight on professionalism, that is:

  1. Always on time
  2. Responsible for his work, either his or by those people works under him
  3. Apply an equal professionalism quality and standard regardless of value of the project
  4. Develop trust

As for aspiring photographers, Jerry suggested to regularly get out of their comfort zone, and look for challenge to keep our skill and competence grows — keep the hunger alive.

In order to have media attracted to you, you need to have the media sensitivity: knows what kind of news is worth to cover, and how to appeal to them.

To stay in the competition, you need to be different: find the ideas and thing that will differs your work with others. Jerry against the idea of stereotyping, and suggested to look for complimenting ideas instead. Taking example of one particular area where everyone sells a chilly shaped kentongan, which he passed frequently during travelling between Jakarta – Bandung, he suggested:

“If the store next to you are already successfully selling chilly shaped kentongan (wooden cylindrical bell), then your business should sells night guard uniform istead, since kentongan is closely related to night guarding activity”.

In the same manner, I think when there’s already a lot of excellent photographers, it will make more sense to do business in providing photography tools, or costume rentals for pre-weds photography.

As the closing comments, Jerry suggested that photographers who would like to build their professional competence should apply the rule of scarcity, because uniqueness sells; be different and you will survive. And what’s also very important, is to do it with passion and love. (byms)

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