Entrepreneur Edition with Erik Isakson
April 21, 2021
What photographers see through their viewfinder is different from what most people see. With an eye that’s attuned to capture a spontaneous moment on a shoot, like a model that can do a backflip, and scout the perfect location, like finding triangles in nature that mirror a brand’s logo, Erik Isakson shares his personal experiences as a top brand photographer. Having worked with leading brands, including Nike, Chevrolet, UCLA and more, Erik provides insights on how to effectively work with a professional photographer to bring your brand story to life, visually, in this new episode of The 19: Entrepreneur Edition.
Rochelle Reiter : [00:00:06] This is the 19. In 19 minutes or less game changing insights from Orange Label, the leading response marketing agency for established brands that are driven by a fearless entrepreneurial mindset.
Rochelle Reiter : [00:00:23] Hello and welcome to The 19 Entrepreneur Edition. I’m Rochelle Reiter, President of Orange Label. In our digital world, image focused platforms such as Instagram, YouTube and Facebook are continuing to grow and have over one billion global users. We all know the saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” and today we’ll be putting that to the test. With over 20 years of experience and an impressive client list, including Nike, Samsung, Chevrolet, UCLA and more. Commercial photographer Erik Isakson is here to share tips, tricks and insights on how to take your custom brand photography to the next level. Erik, welcome to The 19, we’re thrilled to have you!
Erik Isakson: [00:01:02] Good to be here. Thank you.
Rochelle Reiter : [00:01:09] Let’s start off with talking a little bit about your background.
Erik Isakson: [00:01:13] All right. So I’ve always had an interest in photography growing up, studied in high school and studied it in college. I went to Brigham Young University and got a BFA in photography and always had a passion and an interest in photography. And while I was at BYU, I was trying to decide on my final project for my BFA final show. And at that time, the Winter Olympics were coming soon to Utah and there was a posting from an Olympic fencer who is training and for a couple hundred dollars paid me to do some portraits of her. I had so much fun getting creative with these portraits of this athlete that I thought, wow, I could do Olympic portraits because there were so many athletes that were training in the area to.
Rochelle Reiter : [00:02:01] Right.
Erik Isakson: [00:02:01] So I ended up doing 10 final portraits, half of them summer athletes, half winter athletes, and traveled some to photograph them and also locally there and it ended up being an amazing experience. That kind of spring boarded me into knowing, you know, getting into photographing athletes and sports lifestyle. I moved to Los Angeles in 2000 and was a studio manager for a photographer and really learned a lot of the ins and outs of budgets and working with clients and producing shoots and all of that. So and then I gradually got into doing my own work after a few years and to where I was working on my own as a photographer within a few years after that, so.
Rochelle Reiter : [00:02:50] Awesome. What are some of the brands that you’ve worked on?
Erik Isakson: [00:02:53] I’ve done work with Nike, Chevrolet, GMC, Budweiser, Modelo, quite a few ongoing shoots with Samsung as well. So a lot of focus on people, lifestyle, active sports, lifestyle imagery.
Rochelle Reiter : [00:03:11] What are some of the benefits that you see when brands use custom photography?
Erik Isakson: [00:03:18] Well, I had an experience even just this past week. I was in Salt Lake photographing for a tech company and up until this point, they’ve been using stock photography. And there’s a lot of great stock photography out there, but they knew that they needed to really customize it to their brand and their story instead of just reacting to what’s out there already. So how we accomplish that was first of all, they wanted their branding and it threw out their swag, their…
Rochelle Reiter : [00:03:45] Yeah.
Erik Isakson: [00:03:46] You know throughout and photographing at their office and their headquarters are in Salt Lake. So they wanted to tell their story there with the landscape and their people and their office and what sets them apart. In addition to that, their logo is a diamond shape. So they wanted to have me find in nature or in architecture that diamond pattern. So, it was an interesting challenge for a scout day to go out, and I gave them all these options. OK, here’s this mountain range. Here’s these buildings. Here’s how the shadows fall with these shapes to show this kind of triangle or diamond shape. So we photograph people within those areas. So one day was in their office showing their culture. The next day was showing these patterns in nature from hiking to climbing to business meetings on the go with these patterns. So I bring that up because I think there is a big benefit now for them where they’re able to have this custom imagery that really tells the story and shows their branding off uniquely instead of just showing a stock image, which is a good solution in some cases.
Rochelle Reiter : [00:04:57] Sure. No, I love the whole scouting places in nature. Now, do you have to go out a day early to do the scouting and all of that?
Erik Isakson: [00:05:04] Yeah. So I was there a day early to spend the day getting out. We kind of talked about some possible locations beforehand and then I was able to be in touch with them throughout the day and they were able to sign off on it. And then we had talent at these different locations where we were photographing and it really worked out well, and it was a fun experience.
Rochelle Reiter : [00:05:25] Yeah, it seems like that adds a layer of brand recognition.
Erik Isakson: [00:05:28] Right.
Rochelle Reiter : [00:05:29] With the diamonds and the logo and that’s fantastic.
Erik Isakson: [00:05:32] Right.
Rochelle Reiter : [00:05:32] When you’re engaging in a project, how do you start the creative process with your clients?
Erik Isakson: [00:05:38] I like to make a point of not just being a technician, as a photographer, where okay Erik can show up and take a picture. Many people can show up and take a picture. What I like to do is get involved as much as I can in the creative process and give my input on problem solving and making their vision come to life, not just showing up and snapping the shutter.
Rochelle Reiter : [00:06:03] Sure.
Erik Isakson: [00:06:03] But really as much as I can and am able to give my input on those creative calls beforehand. So seeing a shot list, seeing a mood board, a deck of where their minds are headed with it, and then being able to collaborate on that and really narrow down what is most feasible and most accurately illustrates what they’re looking for. So I think good communication going into it is super important. And going back to this client I just shot for, they had mentioned the diamond shapes, but it wasn’t until just a few days before that we had to pivot. We were going to shoot in some of their client locations. And then they. We had to pivot and go, wait a minute, no, we got to really focus now on the diamond shapes outside. So it was good that we had that all planned out very specifically that, nope, we’re not headed this direction. We’re headed this direction. We’re going to put that aspect off till later. But I think always having good communication and really having a good shot list and creative plan makes for a successful shoot.
Rochelle Reiter : [00:07:09] How has that changed during COVID?
Erik Isakson: [00:07:12] So even more communication and even more precautions than ever. I have vetted talent and crew beforehand and had a COVID release and with the putting the client’s mind at ease as well.
Rochelle Reiter : [00:07:28] Sure.
Erik Isakson: [00:07:28] That everyone is healthy, everyone knows the risks. One example is there was a home sauna company that I shot for recently and they almost pulled the plug on the shoot because they were worried about how many people were going to be on set. So we were able to come up with a solution where they were going to get in the home beforehand, set up all the saunas we were going to shoot, they would leave. We came in, photographed it for a couple days, and then they came in after and cleaned it up. So there weren’t all these bodies there. So we’ve had to come up with some solutions like that.
Rochelle Reiter : [00:08:07] Sure.
Erik Isakson: [00:08:07] And being safe, wearing a mask.
Rochelle Reiter : [00:08:10] How do you recommend clients get the most assets out of their shoot?
Erik Isakson: [00:08:14] I think what always helps is, of course, have a really clear vision of what you want to get out of it beforehand. And that can be a very ambitious list. I mean, I think it’s good to have a bigger list, huh? And to narrow down the top priority from there and be able to get the most out of each location. It’s important to have a good location scout day beforehand and know exactly what the possibilities are. And then I think being able to be spontaneous on a shoot, a lot of times you haven’t thought of something and being able to not be too rigid to a script. But hey, let’s try this. Oh, look at this angle. Look the way the light is working this way. Or, for example, on the shoot, like I said, I just did last week, one of the talent could do backflips, not even planned. We were on a hillside overlooking a gorgeous, snowcapped mountain.
Rochelle Reiter : [00:09:06] Yeah.
Rochelle Reiter : [00:09:07] And he just for fun, started doing a flip. And I’m like, wait a minute, stop. Hold on. We got we got to explore this for a minute. And we got these great shots of him wearing their branding, doing these flips on this hillside with the mountain in the background, so.
Rochelle Reiter : [00:09:20] You could almost build a whole ad campaign around that!
Erik Isakson: [00:09:22] Oh yeah, exactly. So just being open to possibilities as you go, not being too rigid or focused on this is exactly. You want to know what you want to get, but being able to react as well to your environment and then of course, being realistic with locations, if you’re moving locations, if you’re moving a lot of lighting, of course, it all takes time. So being able to get as much as you can out of where you’re set up and if that’s just moving different angles and swapping and different talent, different props, different product. And I have done quite a bit of stock photography as well. I know I was saying, you know, custom photography. I see both sides of the coin. In stock photography you have, let’s say you have one talent and then you come up with 100 different solutions for it. Right? In advertising, you have 100 different options that you need to narrow down to one solution, I mean, so to speak. but I think that a lot of times it’s a hybrid of that with my stock mentality where I’ve shot get the most out of the two or three hours you have with a model or a location that you’re paying for. Being able to explore that and work efficiently, work quickly, smartly, but also get exactly what you want. So I think there’s a hybrid. I feel like the way that I work, I’m trying to get as much out of a scenario as possible.
Rochelle Reiter : [00:10:41] So in terms of building an asset library for a brand. Is there any like best practice in terms of what types of photos you need in your asset library to make it effective?
Erik Isakson: [00:10:52] I think the first question to ask is what your story is. If I’m working with a client direct, what is your story or working with an agency? What is your client’s story and what do we want to convey here? What sets them apart? What can we do? Is it the location we’re shooting at? Is it the talent that we’re hiring or the actual or a personality that we’re working with that’s a spokesperson? Or is it the lighting? Is it the product? What sets this shoot apart from the rest? What can we do to elevate it? If you’re talking about an asset library that’s implying getting the most out of it as possible. Some of my biggest shoots have been a half hour.
Rochelle Reiter : [00:11:36] Yeah.
Erik Isakson: [00:11:36] And it’s one person endorsing one product and we get him for that amount of time, and it’s done.
Rochelle Reiter : [00:11:42] Yeah, one and done.
Erik Isakson: [00:11:42] But, if you’re talking about an asset library, then it’s always important to define what what your story is, what’s going to set you apart. That isn’t going to be a run of the mill stock shot.
Rochelle Reiter : [00:11:54] Sure.
Erik Isakson: [00:11:55] But is going to really elevate this and make people stop and look at it and click through again. It’s not an easy answer to that question, but I think it has to do with what types of shots, what types of locations, what types of concepts, what’s the mood of this? And then just having a good well thought through shot list in priority.
Rochelle Reiter : [00:12:16] When you’re out shooting photography and I saw that you do some video as well. Typically, on average, do you get a few snaps of video so that they can use it in social and different platforms since video is so hot right now?
Erik Isakson: [00:12:29] Right, yeah, so that’s very common. I always want to come to my clients with a solution for everything, even if I can’t do everything at once. So in some cases I’m actually shooting the footage. In other cases I’m shooting the stills and overseeing the footage and producing it, directing it. And it falls under my umbrella. You need video with this? Absolutely. We can do that. It’s almost a whole different mindset and equipment change and everything, but it’s very common. You were talking about getting the most out of a shoot to get stills and video and cover the gamut.
Rochelle Reiter : [00:13:08] Right.
Erik Isakson: [00:13:08] And so if I’m not able to do it personally, because of everything that’s going on and how quickly we’re working, I have someone shadowing me and shooting B-roll of what I’m getting on stills or vice versa, so that we’re able to really get the most out of the day.
Rochelle Reiter : [00:13:22] Right, because you have the location setup and models and actors.
Erik Isakson: [00:13:23] Yeah, absolutely.
Rochelle Reiter : [00:13:27] Some clients view custom photography as expensive. What are some of the ranges that you see?
Erik Isakson: [00:13:32] I think with everything, it’s all relative and it all depends on what your needs are and what what your goals are. It could seem expensive and it could seem very affordable, depending on how it’s being used and and what you’re trying to convey. The range can vary from several thousand dollars to tens of thousands of dollars, all depending on the exposure of the images. So the usage of the images, the duration or, you know, sometimes clients are like, I don’t know exactly what I want to use it for someone to do unlimited for two years, let’s say.
Rochelle Reiter : [00:14:10] Okay.
Erik Isakson: [00:14:11] And a lot of times I know that it’s not going to be useful after that time anyway because it’s a specific look or style or product or whatever that widget is going to change in a year or two.
Rochelle Reiter : [00:14:22] Sure.
Erik Isakson: [00:14:23] So it has kind of a shelf life in and of its own anyway.
Rochelle Reiter : [00:14:27] If you had to give three pieces of advice for our listeners about how to approach custom photography, what would you say?
Erik Isakson: [00:14:36] Well, going back to what I said a minute ago, I would say it’s really important, first of all, to define who you are as a company, as a brand and what your culture and what your message is. I think so often we’re just reacting to what’s out there, reacting to our competition and trying to keep up in some ways. Whereas I think we need to define for ourselves and me as a photographer, what am I best at? What do I want to do? What can I offer my clients, you know, and same with brands. What differentiates me? That’s the first thing. And I always love knowing that and having that knowledge going into a shoot so that I can help convey that. I would also say coming into a shoot with the mentality of being collaborative, being flexible and being easy to work with and being able to be spontaneous. Is something, is the weather going to change on us?
Rochelle Reiter : [00:15:32] Right.
Erik Isakson: [00:15:32] Is someone not going to show up or is an athlete going to show up and be in a bad mood? Or I photograph some pro athletes that say, hey, I’m not jumping over one foot a pro NBA player, you know? Okay, well that rules out the dunk shots we wanted to get, so we got to be prepared.
Rochelle Reiter : [00:15:49] Sure.
Erik Isakson: [00:15:49] So I think just hey, let’s go with the flow. This is what we want to get. Here’s our wish list, but let’s let’s see where this takes us and being being flexible that way. And I think that being willing to take chances, being able to set yourself apart, it could be the location, it could be the lighting, it could be the talent. It could be all sorts of different aspects that really set something apart. My challenge a lot of times is clients having a mentality of good enough. Oh, this is good enough. Get it on your iPhone or we just we’re going to have someone just go capture some stills and not set anything up, just something quick and easy. And it’s conveyed in the final product.
Rochelle Reiter : [00:16:28] You can see it,
Erik Isakson: [00:16:29] You can see it and it just shows like how much do they care about what they’re doing. So I think staying away from that good enough mentality and really doing excellent work and something that really shines and sets you apart from your competition. And I love working with clients that love to push that and challenge any scenario we’re in. What can we do to get more out of this and challenge me to get more out of it? So those that’s those are the type of ideal projects that I work on.
Rochelle Reiter : [00:17:01] I love it. Thank you for providing us with a snapshot of the importance of custom brand photography. It’s been a pleasure to have you on The 19, Erik.
Erik Isakson: [00:17:09] Yeah. Thank you for having me. It’s been a lot of fun.
Rochelle Reiter : [00:17:16] Thank you for listening to the 19 entrepreneur edition with Erik Isakson to learn more about Erik and view his portfolio, check out our show notes or visit erikisakson.com. That’s E-R-I-K I-S-A-K-S-O-N.com. If you have any additional thoughts on this topic, send us an email. You can send questions, comments and more to info at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rochelle Reiter : [00:17:45] A special thank you goes out to our contributors, Studio Manager Kelsey Phillips, Michael Panzich, who edits our show, and Ashley Ruiz, Content Writer. Be sure to subscribe to The 19 on iTunes and Google Play and if you like what you heard today, leave us a review!