3 Essential Tips for Making It as a Celebrity Photographer – Stuck in Customs

3 Essential Tips for Making It as a Celebrity Photographer

I decided to write this article because I found a really interesting guy to interview about this subject-matter! Here’s a quick story of how we met…

I’ve ended up with a few celebrity/famous art collectors who get my limited edition large-format works. On occasion, I have them over to my art studio in New Zealand. One day, I got a request from Brandin Cooks, who some of you may know from the NFL. Anyway, he came into my studio here with a gentleman named Eric George. We all hit it off immediately! These are two of the nicest guys I’ve ever met in my life. We liked one another so much that we decided to visit Japan together!


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We had a great time exploring Japan together! And, even better, we’re going back soon!

Anyway, it turns out that Eric often hires photographers for various purposes. Oh, it’s worth noting that he didn’t pay me to take these photos, since I was just doing it as a friend. However, since he does hire photographers often, I thought it would be useful to ask him a bunch of questions about this rather lucrative and unknown field.

Hmmm, so what’s up with this guy, Eric George? He’s a nationally renowned hand surgeon, serial entrepreneur, and investor. Apart from treating NFL and NBA athletes, and owning a hospital and several ambulatory clinics, he founded and currently runs ERG Enterprises, an investment company valued at more than $1 billion to boot. He’s also a recent author of the new book, We: Ditch the Me Mindset and Change the World. His book, released earlier this year, has received endorsements from names like Thomas Tull, founder/former CEO of Legendary Entertainment and minority owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers; Archie Manning; Jim Breyer (who was an early investor in Facebook and is a billionaire like Tull); and others.

This is all to say, Eric is among those in rarefied air, who celebrity photographers make their living on. I talked to him and here’s a copy of the transcript for you! 🙂

Question (Trey): Hey Eric! When do you look to hire a photographer?
Answer (Eric):
I feel like I’m always in need of a good photographer. From a personal standpoint, we hire photographers to travel with me and take pictures that I want to remember. Earlier this year, I took a trip to Southeast Asia with my family. We hired a photographer to travel with us and capture the experience. There are also other instances when I want to be photographed—most involve some degree of travel. A wedding, a party, a graduation. It always has to do with capturing a memorable experience, and it always involves the people who are most important in my life.

On a more professional note, I do a lot of speaking engagements and events where I need media captured. Partly to build my brand as a thought leader, and partly to stay active. For example, the best way to secure a keynote is to have a recent photograph of you giving a keynote. So, we look for photographers in that context too.

And beyond me specifically, we hire photographers for any number of reasons. To update a website, for instance, or capture pictures related to a project. ERG is a very active investment company, and we’re fully diversified, meaning we have a lot going on. We’re heavily involved in real estate and hospitality, for instance. Every property that we acquire, we need pictures. Our company has a unique investment philosophy, and that is to acquire and renovate existing properties, which means we always need pictures of the renovations and the eventual grand reopening. We’re also involved in other industries such as consumer goods, technology, health care, you name it. In those cases, we need photos that tell a company’s story, advertise a product, speak to a value proposition. We’re connected to all these different businesses that all need a good photographer with the right skillset.

Question (Trey): Yep… it’s all about good story telling. That’s a tough skill. What do you look for when hiring a photographer?
Answer (Eric):
To be honest, the people who work for me evaluate and select anyone we work with. But I can speak for them.

First and foremost, we look for someone with a strong network. I say this not because it’s most important to us, it’s just how we start the process of finding a photographer. Personally, whenever I’m looking to hire anyone, I ask my kids, wife, friends, professional connections. Our team does this too. “Do you guys know a good photographer? One I can trust to do [A, B, C]?” This isn’t unusual. All of us follow this process for any important transaction.

Starting with our network streamlines the process and it’s more effective in helping us find someone we can truly trust. So, having a strong network is key to getting our business. If I were coaching someone on how to be a successful photographer, I’d tell them to get out there, network, and build a base of loyal customers to grow from. That’s true of any discipline, but particularly freelance photography.

It’s also important to have a strong online presence. Once we get a recommendation, the first thing we do is look up that person on Google. We check out their website. When it comes to photography, at a bare minimum, we look for a portfolio, their bio, and any endorsements and testimonials they have. The portfolio is key and must show us that they know what they’re doing. If they have great pictures, great. If they have great pictures of recognizable celebrities or business leaders, even better. That speaks to their professionalism, marketing, customer service. It also tells us they’re adept at meeting high expectations.

Outside of just finding a website, we also check out social media. For photography, that means mostly Instagram. Again, we’re looking for a great portfolio. We also take notice of the number of followers they have. It’s an added benefit if we know they have, say, 10,000 people following them, since that’ll go a long way in terms of promotion when they share their work.


My Last Photo Of Anthony Bourdain

I take a lot of photos of celebrities. To me, it’s all about the connection and understanding who they are in the eyes. That’s the best storytelling mechanism of all.

Question (Trey): Let’s say you find the right photographer. What do you expect from that person?
Answer (Eric):
During the actual process of working together, I expect great customer service. That’s because there’s nothing for me to see yet. What does great customer service mean? It means anticipating, sensing, and addressing my needs. Am I uncomfortable? Do I need assurance? Direction? It also means being honest and direct. We don’t have much time together. Should I do something to improve the shot? Does the light make me look terrible? If it does, I expect that person to tell me. (Tactfully, of course).

Great customer service means making the experience a positive one, while providing me the direction and information to make the best product possible. It means taking care of me as customer during the present as well as the future.

That’s very different from someone who only tells me, “Everything’s great. These pictures are wonderful.” Sure, I’ll enjoy the photoshoot, but I’ll be incredibly disappointed when I see the finished product. To me, that’s an example of terrible customer service, it’s customer disservice. There’s always a way to make the experience enjoyable while adhering to the parameters of one’s craft.

That brings up another thought worth mentioning. For personal photos, customer service becomes even more important. That’s because I want whoever I’m working with to become a part of the experience of a family trip, say, or an excursion. I want them to blend in with the experience at the very least, enhance it if possible, but certainly not to hinder or distract from it.

I sound like I have really high expectations, and I do. But again, I wouldn’t say I’m an outlier. I think I’m a part of the majority in this respect.

Question (Trey): What qualities do all successful photographers share in your experience?
Answer (Eric):
The most successful photographers, in my experience, are entrepreneurs. What I mean by that is they’re great at all the functions needed to run a successful enterprise. It’s not just about being skilled at the craft and mechanics of photography, even though that’s most important. Success means they have to be great at marketing and relationship-building, which helps us find them. They also need to be skilled at sales, so we buy their value proposition. Of course, they also need stellar customer service, which I just mentioned. They need to do all these things, and it’s a lot for anybody. But the most successful photographers can manage each process effectively. That’s what I think it takes to compete at the level we’re talking about.

Question (Trey): OK, last question. Do you plan to hire a photographer soon, and if so, for what?
Answer (Eric):
For ERG, we have several projects underway that call for a photographer. Two are luxury hotels that we’re very excited about and plan to announce soon.

I’m also going on a book tour and need a photographer to come along. I also plan to take a long trip next spring with you, Trey, and Brandin Cooks, who is like a son to me and a good friend of yours. The plan is to go to Japan, and of course we’re relying on you as our tour guide.

Trey: See you guys in Japan! Let’s have another sushi party and take some crazy photos!

If you want to learn more about Eric, head over to his website, www.ergenterprises.net. There, you’ll find the exciting businesses and projects he’s involved in. I’d also encourage you to check out his book on Amazon. It’s a great read and provides insight into how Eric approaches life and business. He’s one of the nicest people I have ever met!


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Here we are exploring the Kabukicho area of Shinjuku, Japan. Right after this, I took them over to one of my favorite secret bars in Golden Gai that is only big enough for about seven people!

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