For the past few years, photographer
Aaron Greene has been shooting
product shots for the various brands
owned by Confluence Outdoor, a
watersports equipment and apparel
company. “I shoot boats and paddles.
It’s studio work on white seamless,” he says.
But he also wanted a chance to shoot some of the company’s lifestyle
advertising work, too. He told that to Confluence senior designer, Chris
Hessman, who looked at Greene’s portfolio, and told him it was missing the
kind of outdoor adventure work Confluence needed.
“My boss is used to working with seasoned [outdoor adventure]
photographers. I can’t just tell her, ‘I think [Aaron’s] going to be able to do it.’ I
had to be able to convince her,” Hessman says.
“He said, ‘Why don’t you do a test shoot and show us what you envision,”
Greene says he “went for it,” and did so without much planning. His idea
images, which he edited down to 55. “I’m sure it was still too many. I should
was to take a couple of friends and some kayaks to a nearby lake and start
shooting. He first approached a friend who had done some modeling in New
York. She had a jewelry business, and Greene had done some photography for
her. “She said, ‘Whenever you need something, let me know.’”
While he was in her store, asking her to model for his shoot, another friend
walked in. “He had a Jeep, kayaks, a tent, everything we needed,” and he was
willing to model, too. Greene asked when he could do it. “He said, ‘Let’s do it
Greene was aware of his handicaps: His friend’s kayaks were gray and
scratched up. He had few other props, no stylists, and no assistants. “I didn’t
let that bog me down. I was just trying to see if I could create something that
He told his two models he wanted them to pretend to be a couple, on a
weekend camping and kayaking getaway. “I described it scene by scene,” he
says. “I would create the story and let them work with it a little bit.”
The shoot lasted all day, and in addition to the kayaking, included a
campfire scene after sunset. When Greene finished, he had more than 3,000
have tried to  to 30 images,” he says. He also shot 45 minutes of video,
which he edited down to three minutes.
He then met with Hessman to show the work. Greene says he didn’t
just send links because he wanted to explain away some of the production
shortcomings—such as the rough condition of the kayaks—in person.
It took several months, but Greene’s effort finally paid off. The first lifestyle
shoot he got was for Bomber Gear, a kayaking apparel brand managed by
Confluence. The brief called for eight images for use in unspecified print, Web,
and catalogue advertising for two years. The second assignment was a shoot
for Perception Sport, Confluence’s entry-level kayak brand, which they were
promoting with lifestyle advertising for the first time.
Looking back, Greene has mixed feelings about shooting on spec. “It was
work I needed to do [to establish my career], and whether they hired me or
not, I needed work for my portfolio,” he says of the spec shoot. But he also
says, “I don’t want to be setting a precedent for clients to expect commercial
photographers to always be willing to do a test to prove themselves for every
Hessman, who now works for Walmart.com, says he didn’t encourage spec
shoots while he was at Confluence. But photographers occasionally did test
shoots with the company’s products, and it helped them get noticed—and
sometimes led to assignments, he says.
Farnum does test shoots to build his portfolio, but he
had never shot on spec to land a particular client. That
changed earlier this year when he shot on spec to land
jobs from Reebok. It worked: Farnum shot his first
Reebok assignment in August, and a second in October.
The key to that success, he says, was the strength of
his relationships with everyone involved, from his rental
house, to his crew, to Cris Logan, the design director at
Venables Bell & Partners, Reebok’s ad agency.
Farnum makes a list every year of the 20 or so brands
he’d like to shoot for. This year, Reebok was on his list,
and he discovered the account had recently moved from
DDB to Venables, Bell & Partners.
“I had worked with them on Intel and eBay, and had
a great relationship with them already,” Farnum says. “I
called Cris and said, ‘You should give all the work to me!’”
Logan said he thought Farnum’s style suited the brand,
according to the photographer. “But he said, ‘I don’t see
ABOVE: From Alex Farnum’s test shoot for Reebok. His portfolio
emphasized romantic lifestyle work, but he proved he could
also shoot the gritty sports action photos that Reebok’s agency
wanted. INSE T BELOW: Alex Farnum