Her Focus Is Marketing Photo Work

Times Staff Writer

If you're trying to make a living as a photographer, it doesn't take long to discover that shooting pictures is only half the challenge. Selling your work is the other half and that's where Maria Piscopo can help.

Based in Costa Mesa, Piscopo markets the works of free-lance photographers.

"Most photographers are not taught much about representing themselves," Piscopo said. "They're taught to be talented and to have a portfolio so people will give them jobs. And that is simply not enough."

That system may have worked in years past, but the market has changed radically, she said, pointing out that today there are fewer jobs and more photographers.

"In my database, I lost 10% of the ad agencies I was selling to," Piscopo said. "They just disappeared or merged with other companies. That's a serious drop when you're looking at a market that's taking in more photographers every day.

"And, it's a great shock to those photographers (just entering the market) to discover that no matter how talented they might be, (the work goes to) the person who has done the best job promoting" himself.

She believes that the mistake most photographers make is that they don't learn to detach themselves from their work, and that neither the photographer nor the client understands the value of it.

Piscopo, 34, was born in New York and reared in Anaheim. She studied at UC Irvine and Orange Coast College, where she started in the photography program, but bailed out when she realized she didn't enjoy the technical end. So, she became a business major and also found what she considered the perfect job--working in a photo lab where she could combine photography and marketing.

"At the time, I didn't know the difference between Ektachrome or Kodachrome," she said. "I wanted to get into sales and management so I switched companies a couple of different times. I ended up at MPS Photographic where I worked in customer service, then office manager, sales and sales manager. I worked there until 1978."

Working at the lab brought her into contact with the top photographers in the county, two of whom joined her in a business venture. They handled the photography and she did the sales.

Then in 1980, she launched her career as a photographer representative. By 1987 she was well established and even wrote a book, "The Photographer's Guide to Marketing and Self-Promotion." She also teaches classes at four different colleges.

Piscopo has found the most luck selling to the advertising field.

"Reps came about because art directors in agencies (who do the) buying for half a dozen clients have half a dozen needs," she said. "He can see one rep with six portfolios" instead of having to interview "a separate people photographer, a location photographer, a product photographer, an airbrush artist. He can buy very efficiently that way."

Most representatives charge 25% of the photographer's fee. The cost is a consideration but it must be weighed against the potential of more jobs and higher day rates through better sales, promotion and negotiations with clients.

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