“Don’t let your gear be an excuse…” — Bertrand van der Berg
In this episode of the podcast, I interview Bertrand van der Berg. Bertrand is a professional photographer, qualified mechanical engineer, and mostly rehabilitated web developer from South Africa. His career went from designing products, to marketing the products, to developing websites for these products to professional photographer. Through most of his life photography was a passion, but not his main income. That has changed over the last few years and he happily spends his time behind the lens now. His paid and published work includes fashion, beauty, editorial, portrait, and product photography for various publications both print and digital and he also does street photography. He has published photographs with established brands including The Sunday Times, Channel24, GoDaddy, DKNY, and Dior.
Full Episode Transcript:
Kenny Soto 0:01
Hello everyone and welcome to Kenny Soto’s Digital Marketing Podcast. Today I have a very special guest. In this episode of the podcast, I interview Bertrand. Bertrand is a professional photographer, qualified mechanical engineer, and mostly rehabilitated web developer from South Africa. His career went from designing products to marketing the products to developing websites for these products to professional photographers. Throughout most of his life, photography was a passion, but not his main income. That has changed over the last few years. And he happily spends his time behind the lens now, his paid and published work includes fashion, beauty, editorial, portrait, and product photography for various publications, both print and digital. And he also does street photography. His published photographs with established brands include the Sunday Times, Channel 24, GoDaddy, DKNY, and Dior.
Hi, Kenny, thank you for having me. Thank you for the nice intro as well.
Kenny Soto 1:11
So I wanted to talk to you about many, many things today. But I wanted to start off with your background, right? And just get a general understanding of how you went from mechanical engineer to photographer, can you give us a little background information on that transition?
Absolutely. Maybe the easiest place to start is the mechanical engineering side. That’s what I studied. I love designing things I love the creative side of of solving problems. So mechanical engineering was was what I studied, and I started working in. And then very soon I realized that the success of the product is very often not due to this tasteful design, but mostly due to successful marketing.
And that’s why even in the corporate jobs or positions that I worked in as a mechanical design engineer, I quickly realized that the marketing department is really important. And I moved over from the design side to the marketing department. And very soon also in two of the companies, I worked for we combined marketing and product design so that we can do the market research and the design in the same department, which helped a lot getting products out faster.
Making the the marketing guys more involved in the design side is really beneficial usually, and then then got stuck on the marketing side for quite a few years in corporate both locally and internationally for different companies. Marketing is definitely a passion of mine, something that I love doing. And since 2012, I started my own marketing agency.
So digital marketing mostly. And having studied mechanical engineering, and also even before that having done a lot of coding, developing, doing websites, apps, and different things. And even as part of mechanical engineering, like programming is part of our course. So I’ve always been coding and developing and doing websites and digital things.
So it was a nice fit for me. And then being able to understand the products and the design of the products when you have to market a product for a customer was also an advantage. So it was a nice fit. I enjoy the marketing side. And then photography I’ve been doing since even before school since I was pretty small, something that I’ve always loved.
And all the years I’ve been doing photography, but mostly for myself and for my own projects. And with my own marketing agency, luckily, I got the chance of also doing some photography for some of my customers. Obviously websites need good photographs.
And that’s where the commercial side of it started. So a lot of my first paid photography, shoots were actually for my own guests. And that’s where I did the digital marketing and websites for them as well. And that was an easy fit. I strongly believe that the photos or images you use on a website can really make or break a website.
So that’s where the commercial side of it started. And my passion for photography then moved over into becoming my my full time Profession, which is something that I enjoy doing is I’m glad that I could make that transition. Not everybody is as lucky as that. And I’ve enjoyed every moment of it.
Kenny Soto 4:46
That’s very impressive, the background that you just described. And as a follow-up, I would like to know and our listeners would like to know how has your career evolved and changed specifically in 2020 due to COVID-19
Oh, absolutely, it’s COVID-19. In the lockdown, especially the long lockdown and we’ve had in South Africa is, is a big game-changer. Especially in photography, a lot of photography, customers were also private people booking photoshoots, family shoots, and other normal shoots. So those sort of photography projects are very few right now.
And also in some stages of our lockdown in South Africa, they were actually not allowed. So that’s something that pretty much not much of those sorts of photography shoots are left. But luckily, commercial shoots, business shoots can still carry on right now.
And also with the whole shift towards e-commerce, there’s a lot of websites needing updated photography, if you think about the about pages, a lot of portrait photography needs to be done to update the back pages for businesses.
And then also just for the E-commerce products, product shoots, lifestyle shoots, products in use all these sorts of things. So there’s on the one side, there’s been a loss on on more personal shoots. But then on the other side, business, photoshoots product photoshoots are picking up. So that’s a good balance.
Also, a lot of influencers right now are looking to do more photoshoots, because I think a lot of companies are placing the focus now on digital and online way. They had many other avenues of marketing previously. Now with a really pushing e-commerce in South Africa, there’s a lot of companies investing in or pushing influencer marketing. So a lot of the influencers now are looking to get photoshoots, which is good as well.
Kenny Soto 6:50
Okay, and in response to that, what, what would you say? Let’s say I’m an aspiring photographer, right? And I don’t necessarily have any other skills. Besides photography, what would you say is the best starting point in 2020 and 2021-2022? Moving forward, What’s the best starting point for me as a beginning photographer to actually get my career going, especially now that COVID-19 has hit?
Perfect. So I get this question quite often, I just this week, I had somebody go with me to do some street photography was looking to get started. To the point that we, he hasn’t even purchased his first proper camera yet.
He just wanted to go with and see how I approach it. And we had a long chat and discussion about this. And I often get this question. So first off. Doing things like watching YouTube videos, for instance, it’s good if there’s a specific technique you want to learn a specific setting you need to know about on your camera, or something like that.
But don’t think that sitting and watching YouTube videos of other people doing photography is going to necessarily make you a better photographer. So that’s the one thing that I get often, people just sit and watch hours of YouTube videos of photographers, well-known photographers, but they’re not using the on-camera, which I think is mistake number one. So getting out and taking photos, that’s the one most important thing.
If you’re not taking photos, you’re not becoming a better photographer. I’ve heard it said by some of the famous photographers that the first thing 1000 images are going to be the worst. And that’s true. So you have to get through that first thing 1000
Kenny Soto 8:39
Why is that?
The more for learning the the settings and training your eye to look for things and and learning the camera camera so that you can react quickly. Getting the interpersonal skills as well when you’re talking to somebody on the other side of the lens, getting them to relax, getting them to do what you need them to do for a good fighter, getting the confidence.
I think a big part of being a really good photographer has been confident in your skills and what you can bring to the photoshoot. If you come confident the results will be better the model will relax or ever the person on the other side will see that confidence and they’ll relax and they’ll they’ll, in the end, you’ll get better shots.
You also need to know all the settings and things. The technical side of photography, let’s say that the specs on things like the cameras and the lights and all these other things are not as important as a lot of people think they’re chasing specs and looking at megapixels and things on cameras.
And that’s not really as important you can. For the last five to 10 years. Digital cameras have been good enough to do any professional work. Even 40 to 80-year-old phone cameras can still do professional work and a lot of people still do professional work with phone cameras. So there’s this is no real excuse when it comes to equipment, it’s more, really doing it a lot and being confident in your skills and, and just taking more photos and, and, and doing different exercises and testing different things.
So coming up with with something that you want to taste the seating or the lens or something that will, that will challenge you and then going out and making that image that’s, that’s more important than, than most other things like the technical side of the cameras, or will things like watching YouTube videos for instance, so so for sure, just actually doing it is the most important thing for me.
And coming up with with little exercises for yourself also helps like, if you think of photography, as similar to a sport. I’m not watching YouTube videos on how to run a marathon and then I go out and run a marathon, I need to spend the time on the road running the kilometres to be fit to run a marathon.
And it’s very much the same, I can look at a few videos and get some good tips and look at what shoes might fit me better and what to do and how to train. Because if I just endlessly run, that’s also probably not going to be a good idea. Basically, you need a good focus and, and plan on how you’re going to be training.
And I think with photography, it’s the same. So if you challenge yourself, if you make sure you regularly shoot, for me, that means at least one-day doing street photography in a week. And at least a couple more days where I do at least one one hour of photography as well. So between one full day, and maybe three to eight more hours, just testing different things for myself, and that’s excluding customer shoots.
That’s how I keep my eye in and get better at my photography and challenge myself. So for instance, if I’ve got a lens that I don’t like that much, that I think this lens doesn’t suit me much, I might just take that lens and one of my camera bodies and go out and shoot only that lens for a month, just to get used to it and to see if it’s really as bad as I think it is in my mind.
Because challenging myself definitely gets me to push the boundaries off, of what I can do with photography. Yeah, especially things for me like street photography, where I can’t control the conditions helps me a lot in, in developing my photography. Because if I if I can get a good portrait, for instance, on the street, then when I walk into a studio, and it’s a professional model, and I can control the light, it’s so much easier.
So it’s these little things, I think a lot of aspiring photographers are concentrating on the wrong things. They’re either focusing on gear, or they too much focused in just like watching other people do photography instead of themselves doing photography.
Kenny Soto 12:51
And just to highlight what you just said, it’s mainly about the practice of the craft, making sure that each and every single day, you’ve taken the time to create the content in this case the photos Correct?
Absolutely, absolutely. And and don’t let the Gibby be an excuse in practicing your craft, you can use smartphone and older form cameras, anything that you’ve got, it’s good enough for for practicing and training you I definitely
Kenny Soto 13:21
Don’t let the gear be an excuse. I like that that’s very important to reiterate. Now let’s say I’m six months to a year in as a photographer, and I am getting in the reps. I am actually going out every single day. And I’ve gotten at least one to two clients, but I want to start scaling my business. What is the purpose and the usefulness of a website? In this case?
Yeah, so I think for any creative, anybody who does creative work for themselves, your portfolio is what you’ve got. That’s what you’ve got to market with. That’s what you that’s what you show somebody when you’re sitting in front of them, that’s probably hopefully what somebody sees when they come across maybe an online ad or you’re clicking through from your social media profile or wherever they stumbled across you.
Hopefully, you can funnel them to your portfolio so and I think that’s the same for any creative work your portfolio is really the key to marketing yourself. So that’s where your focus should be. If you want to get better clients, more clients, grow your business, maybe up your rates over time. All these things will change upon having a good portfolio because that’s what gets you into things like publications and other things.
If you can show them work you’ve done for similar publications or other publications and it’s really good professional work then it’s really a lot easier getting in the door. Your portfolio is key.
Kenny Soto 14:55
How would you go about designing a portfolio are there key aspects that you look for when updating your own portfolio, what would you do to actually get started with the minut? Details of a portfolio?
Absolutely. So, first thing for me, right now 2020, I think the best place to have a portfolio is on your website, on your own website, not somewhere on somebody else’s social media or something.
All these other places could be nice to engage with customers and get them to click through to your portfolio. But for me, I think it’s key that it’s on your own website, you can control the experience, you can control the branding, you can control everything on there And what’s really important for me is your competitors aren’t on your website.
If you are sending people to a Facebook page, for instance, and telling them to go and have a look at your portfolio, they there could be ads right next to it of your competitors, your competitors are Also on Facebook, it’s two clicks, and they’re gone.
And not only your competitors, there’s so many other distracting things, their notification could come in, somebody’s gone. So for me, firstly, have it on your own website where you can control the whole experience start to finish. That’s, that’s number one. Number two is you need to continuously update your portfolio as you do new shoots, go through your your photoshoot and say, Well, this is the best image of that latest photoshoot of mine, then take that image and compare it to your portfolio.
Is it better than anything that’s in your portfolio? If the answer is really Yes, dropped something from your portfolio and put that one in. Keep doing that and over time, your portfolio will just get stronger. So every time you do a photoshoot and you’ve done your edits, and you’ve delivered to the customer, just ask yourself, is there something in there, that should be in your portfolio, if you drop something in your portfolio, put that one in, keep doing that.
The other thing about your portfolio is down to have it too large, I think that’s a something that happens often. Some photographers, for instance, could have 100 images, just in one photo gallery has his portfolio on his website. Generally, nobody’s going to scroll through 100 images to see if the photographer is any good.
And just by chance, maybe his best photos are at number 54 and 65 or something, nobody gets to see those two amazing shots. So being able to condense your portfolio into a small amount of images is really important. What you could do is you could split it up, for instance, and say for instance, okay, this is product photography, there’s my 20 best images for that.
This is my portraits, there’s my 20. But in that gallery, there should only be a limited amount of images. Otherwise, people won’t see all of them, and they could just see the wrong ones, and then you’re sunk. So make sure you’ve only got your best images in there. And there’s not too many of them. Also, show that the type of work that you want to get booked for.
So if there’s a specific type of photography that you don’t really like, but you’ve done it in the past was good-paying jobs. And you want to transition away from that into a different type of photography, show the type of images that you like taking, for instance. So let’s say, for instance, you want to move from product photography to real estate photography, then show more real estate photography on your portfolio, because what’s in your portfolio is generally what people will expect from you, and then they’ll book you for exactly that.
So if there’s anything that you don’t like doing, try not to show it, you can still take bookings, you can still do that type of work until you make the full transition. Or if something that you really like is something that’s hard to get by bookings for, let’s say, wildlife photography, or something which might be a bit tricky to get paid bookings for.
But you’re really good wedding photographer, which you do. But you want to transition into our lovely show more wildlife, for instance, it doesn’t mean that you can’t do something. But definitely whatever you are showing in your portfolio, you’re gonna get more of that, that sort of work. That’s the key.
Kenny Soto 19:11
Now, I’m thinking right, While you’re seeing all of this, there is going to be a small percentage of the audience, the listeners that are going to be wondering, okay, well, this all sounds great, but I’ve never designed a website before I don’t even know where to start. What would your response be to that?
Okay, so I’m a little biased here because I build a lot of websites and I’ve got my favorites when it comes to all the tools. There’s a couple of tips. So if you’re a photographer or an artist or somebody that does visual work, one of the things you need to keep in mind is images, slow down websites.
So you need to build this thing as fast as possible because people get frustrated by slow websites and they leave , if they’re waiting for something to load for too long, they will just leave. So a couple of tips on that, if your target market is in a specific area, or region, or country, try and get a server as close as possible to there.
So that’s the first thing that will make a difference. So if my, my market is in South Africa, in Johannesburg, and I want to host my website, on a server, in Johannesburg in South Africa, so that’s the first thing that’s going to make a big difference. The second thing is, try to use a platform for building your website that will be fast. There’s a couple of good ones. I prefer WordPress, as do a lot of website developers.
But also, there’s some other good ones like Squarespace, especially if you’re in the US, because the servers are the, and they’re quite fast. And there’s a couple of different platforms, but just make sure that it’s a fast and well Support Platform. You don’t want to be redoing your website. Just because it’s too slow, or whatever platform you chose is now not supported anymore. Something choose something with a future.
Definitely, something like WordPress will be the will be supported and around for a long time to come. So that’s a that’s a good option. For that, I would suggest. WordPress takes a little bit of work. And it’s a little bit more technical than something like Squarespace.
But both of those are good platforms, Squarespace is a little bit more visual and easier to build for somebody who doesn’t, who is less technical. But there’s some trade-offs in what you’re capable of doing the and how much you can customize it. So that’s the that’s the main thing there. But I think both of those would be good. Just make sure that your server is close.
Whatever you’re doing is fast. When you’re building your website, if at any stage, you can optimize for speed and getting the images to load faster, that’s always a good thing to do. I’m thinking quickly about doing things like caching. And image compression to a certain point you don’t want to degrade degrade the quality of your images, but up to a certain point, you can compress it and it will look perfect on the screen.
Also serving the images, the grid size for the screen. So if somebody is browsing from the phone, you don’t need to send over big images, you can send up phone-sized images to the phone device from your server. If somebody’s got a big 4k monitor at their house, and they’re looking at your images, you need to send over a bigger image and all these things or like settings you can do when you’re setting up your website.
So So loading speed. Then the other thing is, what I’m finding is simpler websites that are easy to understand for people coming to your website are generally better. It’s nice to have if you’re creative, and you want some bells and whistles on your website. The only problem is if you confuse people or if they don’t know where to find things.
Or if there’s too many options, people get lost, and they just leave. Generally, they expect things to be in a specific place. They expect a contact page and about page gallery page, and maybe a rates or services or products page wherever you’ve got the homepage. And if they can’t find these things easily, or if it’s not easy to navigate to them, especially on mobile phones, then people will just leave.
So keep it simple. Make sure your images are all the attention grabbers on any page. And there’s no other distracting elements. So too many other images, like graphical elements on a page, could distract from your photos, for instance, if you’re a photographer.
So I generally find that like less is more when it comes to website design. And it will also help on the speed side again if your website is not too heavy with all these other bells and whistles and things.
Kenny Soto 23:44
Now I do have to a follow-up question. But before asking, I just want to highlight something for the listeners, when you just mentioned about PageSpeed being very important. If you’re listening to this and you want a specific tool to discover the PageSpeed definitely check out Google PageSpeed Insights developers.google.com forward-slash speed, forge splat slash Page Speed slash insights.
It’s very important that you’re measuring this and a go-to tool that I use specifically is Google PageSpeed Insights. And if you’re using WordPress, you can connect this tool and many other Google tools. With the plugin sites kit by Google.
It’s very important that if you’re using WordPress specifically that you are measuring your page speed for each page and posts that you’re creating. Now with that being said Bertnard what this might be a little bit more on the technical side and this is good for our listeners, especially if anyone is going to be creating a website this month or in this coming year. What pages are important obviously a homepage is important a portfolio page but what other pages are essential for a photographer’s website.
One page that I think usually gets neglected, which is a really important one is your about page. So, looking at stats on websites, I often see let’s say it’s an e-commerce Store, I often see people go to the product. So they they do a Google search, they come in from Google, because the products on that website, they look at the product, they look at the price, they read the description, then the next page, they click is not the checkout page, it’s the about page in the top in the menu, then they look at the people.
And this is now the case. For companies that aren’t that well known, for instance, or smaller, like one min companies or things, this is not a well-known brand, like people don’t click on the about page for Apple, for instance, but are any smaller shops, we often see them do exactly this.
So they go to the product, they’re coming from Google, they go to the product, they read about the product, they look at the price, they click on the about page, they look at what’s the history of the company, what’s the background to all the people working there. And then when they’re comfortable, and they trust this company from the bath batch, they will go back to the product add to cart, and checkout.
And if they don’t like the about page that will just leave straight from the about page. So this is something I very often see. And the about page is often something that’s just slept on at the end. Sometimes it’s not even on websites, and people, they find what they’re looking for, but they don’t get an idea of can they trust this company? Can they buy from this person? Can they book this photographer, so they’re like the photos, but there’s no bracket background, they don’t know what this person looks like. They don’t know what the background is they don’t they’ve got no idea of who they’re gonna speak to if they pick up the phone. So the back page for me is definitely I think something that’s neglected often.
Kenny Soto 26:48
And I liked that you. You said trust trust is a very operative word and what you just mentioned that and not even for photographers, but anyone selling anything. Trust is the foundation before a transaction is even considered.
Kenny Soto 27:06
Wow. A lot of stuff here. I think this is a perfect way to end the podcast for any listeners who would like to connect with you, where can they find you online Bertnard?
For my photography work, the easiest is Bertrandone.com. That’s the easiest way my email address and contact details on there. So if you’ve got any questions, that’s a good place to to contact me. And you’re all my social media accounts and things also linked from that from that website. So that’s the best place.
Kenny Soto 27:47
And we’ll include that in the show notes. Again, thank you so much for your time, Bertrand. Thank you so much to the listeners listening to this podcast. We really appreciate your time and we hope that you walk away with some actionable advice. Again, this is Kenny Sotos’s Digital Marketing podcast and we are signing off, have a good day.