Editor's Choice / Inspiration

The Story of a Modern Generalist Photographer

The internet is teeming with advice for the next generation of professional photographers. Advice givers say developing a niche expertise early on in a pro photography career is the only way to stand out in today’s increasingly-competitive industry. But generalist photographer Floyd Dean’s career and success path shares a different story. In fact, his fast-paced, diverse career is reminiscent of pro photography’s historical, generalist roots and reflective of the boundless opportunity offered by today’s contemporary world.

Delaware-based Floyd Dean started his career in upstate New York at age 12, assisting a photojournalist, primarily covering motorsports events including the Grand Prix. After college, Floyd’s big break into photography came in the form of a staff photographer position with a prominent advertising agency.

“I was one of three staff photographers assigned to shoot for the agency’s array of clients across different industries,” Floyd recalled. “Their tall client roster included big-name brands such as Fila and Swiss Army. We were challenged to make every photo stunning, as the success of the campaigns were heavily dependent on standout images. That pressure for greatness in every type of photography challenged me to deliver my best work with whatever they threw at me.”

In 1986, Floyd left the agency life and created his own freelance photography business. Now celebrating 30 years of success, Floyd has earned repeat business from the world’s largest agencies and most iconic brands such as Mercedes Benz and Coca-Cola Company to name a few. Floyd shoots people, places and products across an extremely diverse set of industries including shooting sports/defense goods, automobiles, political figures, food and beverage products, fashion, footwear, restaurants, tourism – among many others.

Floyd and his five-person team have a signature client-centric approach.

“When clients asked, ‘Can you do this?’ I always replied, ‘yes,’” Floyd said. “We continued to earn a good reputation within particular industries but also consistently took on new project types and actively welcomed opportunities within other industries. That flexibility was critically important. Our clients appreciated having a go-to partner that could handle a variety of project types and do them reliably well. That earned us the referral business that propelled our growth over the years.”

Capturing emotion in photography has never been more important than it is today, Floyd explained and described one factor he believes to be critical to success.

“Every single project, no matter the size, budget or purpose, is special to us,” Floyd said. “That’s why 90% of the work occurs before the shoot. The prep is extraordinarily important. You have to thoroughly understand the client goals. You have to ensure all of the details are set in advance – from the makeup to the equipment needs, especially lighting. When the prep is done right, shooting the images is the easy, fun part. Some photographers say they show up and ‘wing’ the shoots. You simply can’t capture the right emotion that way. When you’ve not sufficiently prepared for a shoot, you’ll end up preoccupied with issues tied to not having the right equipment, making it impossible to focus on the emotion. Prep hard.”

While his prep emphasis has remained rock solid over the last 30 years, his business has evolved, in step with technological advances and client need changes.

“Being nimble and able to shoot and shoot well across a variety of subjects helped me keep the business flowing, though the world changed,” Floyd said. “For example, the auto brands and their ad agencies don’t have the substantial photography needs that they once did. I know many photographers who’ve been hurt when those industry shifts occur because they spend most of their time building clients and portfolio around a highly-specific specialty. That’s risky.”

Floyd believes there’s greater opportunity with generalist photography than is often shared in the industry.

“The limitation with developing a specialty is that along the way, you create a very defined comfort zone,” he said. “After a while, anything you attempt outside of that particular type of photography is outside of your comfort zone. That’s a dangerous feeling. As a generalist photographer, my clients constantly throw new projects, subjects and needs at us. My comfort zone is my process. I’ve done enough of everything that very little will throw me off. That being said, egos don’t exist with me or my team. We love what we do but we’re constantly in awe of the work of other photographers. I am often stunned by the incredible work some photographers are doing today. The drive to keep getting better never goes away and it shouldn’t.”

While Floyd recognizes the importance of developing a signature photography style, he urges photographers to keep reinventing it.

“Style, by its very nature, only lasts so long before it appears dated or overdone,” he said. “The same goes for photography. You should be challenging yourself with new styles and subjects and your overall brand. Do the research. Always know who’s better than you. Show what you want to do, not what you do. Stay constant with what people see of you and your work as it evolves. Be driven – exceptionally driven – and you’ll be successful.”

Floyd is a longtime Vanguard product user.

“I always tell photographers that tripods, heads, bags and cases can be as important as the camera,” he said. “You want to have a reliable system with heads and plates that work seamlessly together. I wouldn’t be without my Alta Pro tripod. It’s never failed me in any location. It’s lightweight and solid. The VEO tripod is designed for travel and perfect for tethered shooting.  The Heralder backpacker is light, highly portable and provides fast access to gear.”

 

As a Vanguard Professional, Floyd graciously offers advice and behind-the-scenes looks at his exciting shoots. Here’s a sampling:

For an inspiring look at Floyd’s eclectic photography, check out DeanDigital.com and follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

 

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One Comment

  1. Tracy Pielemeier says:

    Thanks for the nod to good lighting! Gaffers, the unknown heros! Floyd Dean is the best of the best.

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