Interview with Evan Naka | GBPW Episode 96

You have to be very aware of your own ability and skill level. You need to be honest with yourself when it comes to this type of photography and any photography in general.

Evan Naka

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This week’s episode is all about commercial product photographer Evan Tanaka, also known as Evan Naka on most social platforms. Evan has a unique approach to business and an equally unique approach to his creative work. He regularly shares behind-the-scenes videos on TikTok, where he has amassed over 500,000 followers. He’s active on Instagram and YouTube, where he shares helpful tips for aspiring commercial product photographers.

We talk about:

  • why it’s important to take initiative when you reach out to businesses online
  • how to take outstanding commercial photos
  • how to present your photography online and offline

& much more!

Evans shares many value pieces of advice in this episode. I’m sure that you’ll learn a lot from this episode, especially if you’re interested in elevating your photography business online and improving your product photography.

Here is a preview of our conversation with Evan Naka.

Q: How do you come up with fresh ideas?

Evan Naka: That’s difficult because I always love being very collaborative with brands. In the past, when I was first starting out, I was very gung-ho and almost ignorant of what brands needed. It was more “I just want to create something really cool.” They’d give me a product and I’d go to my studio, shoot, and send them back the photos. I realised that’s not the best way to approach commercial product photography.

Brands have an identity and a desire. Even if you’re faced with a brand that says, “We trust you, we want you to do whatever you want because you’re creative. You’re the one with the vision,” it’s so important to have some type of insight or direction. At the end of the day, what might have worked for one brand won’t always work for another.

For me, the process is always getting a good understanding of the brand identity and hearing what the goals of that content are, whether that’s running ads on it, social storytelling, informative, whatever it might be. Then, we’re able to develop a concept around that. I always love adding some type of action and motion into my photos. Still, I’m always keeping in mind what that brand is looking for and what the end goal is.

Q: Many photographers struggle with asking for money and setting rates. Do you have any advice for those people?

Evan Naka: If you have any tips, I would love to hear them as well! This is something that you will struggle with your entire life. The best thing I can tell you is to be honest with yourself and set a standard. Some projects are going to pay more than others. That’s just the truth of it.

When I was building my portfolio, something that really helped me was realising that one brand isn’t going to make you rich. What will make you successful is ongoing relationships. I totally understand the value of a photographer, the value of your time and your work. However, if you’re building your brand and you’re still worried about what your rates are going to be, you’re still building. You need to be flexible. You’ll work with brands that are going to pay a little bit less and some that are going to pay a little bit more. It’ll all balance itself out in the end.

I don’t think it needs to be hung up on that much. Set yourself a standard that will ensure that you can pay for your bills, your mortgage, your rent, and the equipment that you’re wanting to buy. Don’t get so hung up on things like, “Oh, well, I charged him $1,000. Maybe I should have charged him $1,200 because that’s closer to what my worth is.” In the long run, that $200 won’t be a lot of money.

I don’t care how many brands will tell you that it’s all business and no personal. Every person has a personal side to their business and will be thrown off the more difficult you make their life. They will say, “Nope, not going to do it.” Even if your work is good, if you’re difficult to work with, they’re not going to want to work with you. I believe in long-term relationships and getting in the door and proving your worth by your content, not by the money you demand.

Q: You have a large following on TikTok. In your opinion, what kind of photographers should be using that platform?

Evan Naka: I think TikTok is an extremely good marketing platform. It can get a bad rap because of how it originally started with a lot of the dancing and skits. If you use it to market yourself and show what you’re capable of, it has the ability to bring in some really amazing work and opportunities. It did that for me. It opened a lot of different doors for me because I used it as more of a marketing and educational platform. I was sharing things and insights that I’ve had to learn the hard way to create the images that I wanted.

I also show what photography looks like. It’s not all glitz and glam. You might think, “Oh, these successful photographers don’t run around and lay on dirty streets to get photos like I do.” That’s not true. Even though I’ve been doing this for a while, and I feel like I’ve progressed pretty well in my career, I’m still laying on dirty streets. I’m still a one man show. This new age of creators and photographers need to be able to wear a ton of different hats, whether that’s taking photos, setting up lighting, or carrying equipment. Showing that aspect of it adds a little bit of humility. People can connect with that. That’s what I’ve chosen to share.

If you’re a photographer that has yet to get on TikTok or social media and really use it like that, keep that in mind. People just want to see people being themselves. Don’t get caught up in the trendy aspects unless you can relate it to what you’re doing. That way, when brands see your content, they’ll see you as more of a professional than as somebody who’s just trying to gain a follower or a like.

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