post production

How I started my post-production studio

post production

Mehmet Turan is the owner of a small still-life post-production studio in Istanbul, Turkey serving clients internationally. He has been selected among “The Top 25 influential and inspiring Retouchers” globally by Creativepool for 2019.  His experience is in image retouch, compositing, and 3D/CGI images creation. Has delivered hundreds of visuals to advertising agencies, photographers, fashion brands, and corporations, including some Fortune 100 and 500 listed ones located from LA to Sydney. You can check some of his works at www.35milimetre.com

At the time of my childhood (the 70s-80s), Turkey was a half-closed country in terms of economy. Importing was controlled by the government; therefore, access to foreign-made goods was minimal. My mom had studied and worked in Germany before she got married and had friends that used to visit us almost every summer. 

I don’t remember when but at one of their visits, they brought a USSR made copy of a Zenith 35mm camera; Revueflex. It was a complicated camera (or so it seemed to me at the time); I’m not sure even my parents knew how to use it. They had some memorized settings and used it like that. When I started to go to high school, I took the camera to a shop and asked them how to use it. Those were the good days, and they showed me what they could in half an hour. 

I started taking photos and experimenting with it, and in the last year of high school, I took portraits of friends and sold them, making a good earning for a teenager. Though at the time, 

my parents got separated, and I believed I had to make a “safe” choice for college and make a good earning as soon as I graduated. 

I studied economics and worked at a student organization called AIESEC that helped me travel and work abroad. During this time, photography was a serious hobby. After graduation, I decided not to work at banks (my dad was a bank manager) and took an opportunity at Turkey’s first ISP. I worked at various ISPs, telecom, and technology companies and after a while made earning well above my country’s average, was good at what I did as I liked technology, and was good at selling them. I used some of what I earned to invest in photography equipment and improving myself in the trade; at the time, it was just a hobby that took the stress of work. 

In the late 90s, I didn’t have any space in my flat to convert to a dark room, therefore, decided to invest in a high-quality film scanner (Nikon Coolscan IV) and bought my first digital camera in the 2000s with that I got involved to Photoshop and started using it to post-process my photos.  When I licensed Photoshop, I’m sure I was among the very few hobbyists with a licensed Adobe Photoshop CS6 in Turkey. At the time, even some professional studios were using the cracked version of it. My income enabled me to make those investments. I bought many books on retouching and using Photoshop on photo edits through Amazon (that weren’t again available in my country); even the post office stopped bringing heavy sacks to my flat and asked me to pick them up from the distribution center. I won’t recommend learning Photoshop from books any longer, but that was the only available option at the time.

I also attended local photography workshops and as well to international ones. I got interested in fine art nude photography. Those black & white shots looked like pieces of paintings, and I still feel the same. Twice I attended the workshops of Andreas Bitesnich in Vienna, and they helped me a lot on photographic vision. Also, I’m among the first to get training from Natalia Taffarel, a world-known beauty, and fashion retoucher.

As I like reading and learning in my career, I enrolled in an MBA at a respected university in my country. I thought it would help me step up in my marketing and sales career, but it allowed me to manage my startup when I left corporate life. 

Like any job, if you don’t really “love” what you do, or you don’t have the enthusiasm, there comes the point you can’t move any further on the corporate ladder nor feel the urge to do so. I thought I got stuck at age 37; I had very few choices; look for another job which was limited and probably wouldn’t change the final result as I would work from nine to five at something that I didn’t enjoy, get orders from younger managers until I get retired if I can manage that at all. 

I decided to take the plunge, though I had a family and had to think of our family’s well being. Therefore took the beating for three more years, saved as much as I can, and finally gave my notice. 

My initial plan was to go into commercial advertisement photography. As I took all kinds of photos on the weekends and holidays in all those years, I had grown a network of photographers and took one as a partner—we setup Diapolis Images (https://www.diapolisimages.com). I was expecting there would be difficulty penetrating the market, though I had planned we should make a living by the end of the first year. Little did I know about that market, we visited almost all of the leading advertisement companies, talked with the producers.

We were able to take very few jobs, and most were limited. There was a network between producers at agencies and photographers; we couldn’t break into that shell. We made some names for ourselves but definitely, what we made wasn’t enough to make a living. Though there was one thing; from the start, we were cautious about our spendings. That made us last long, and the company is still active but more like it’s in hibernation. 

As we delivered a few jobs, I did the post-production work. Interestingly, even some work that didn’t include photography but only post-production work jobs came in, and I delivered them. Then came international clients from various channels, Upwork, Behance, direct but carefully curated mails, and so many others. I had a website where I displayed my hobby photos, replaced the content with post-production work, and 35milimetre Post-Production Services was born.

I still make less than what I earn in corporate life, but I have other luxuries now, such as not spending one hour to travel to work and another hour to travel back. I can work from my room and go out for errands when I need them. I don’t have a manager and responsible for everything that may come in my way. 

Like any business, I have to keep investing in my business. When I look at it, 70% of my time passes with administrative tasks such as marketing, writing bids following payments, and running after collections, and the rest is the actual work. I try to outsource whatever I can when I get the opportunity; I also invest in many tools that most of my colleagues don’t consider, like Grammarly as English isn’t my native language or CRM tool like Cloze so that I can track clients, projects and prospects. I attended workshops before, but with the pandemic and ease of reach, I moved to online courses and invested in them regularly to update myself and learn new software such as ProEdu.

I’m here today because I like photography; photography alone is a very location-specific job, and I couldn’t go over the regional boundaries in my country. Still, my love for visuals helped me find and work on projects I couldn’t have imagined; I worked on well-known companies and brands and sometimes quoted some massive projects and brands; you have to accept you can’t win them all. If a tender is lost, you take what you learn and a sign to fight on another day. 

Finding the right client for you is the most important thing, but it’s at the same time, the most challenging part of our profession. Production companies and agents manage top-paying jobs, and for a couple of years, most didn’t even reply to my mails, and I gave up. Then in 2020, I received an invitation from one for a specific market. That means you shouldn’t be running after them; you should keep on creating and publish them; they’ll find you when they need someone. 

I like what I do very much and rate myself accordingly, usually far more than the market average because I spend far more time on visuals than other retouchers, and I care. I send messages to my old clients to learn how my images did, not get new jobs but see if my work helped in sales. I don’t compete in pricing but instead on quality, relations, and references. It’s easy to compete on price, and there will always be someone who’ll quote lower than you; therefore, it’s a no-win game in the midterm. Rather than that, I kept increasing my rates every year because of that, I lose some clients but get some new ones who accept my updated rates. I highly recommend Seth Godin’s books and a Youtube channel named “The Futur” for creative enterprises’ business side.

Takeaways;

  • Be good, don’t be evil or jerk. No one wants to help jerks or work with them.
  • Help anyone as much as you can, even to your competitors; I had competitors who gave me work when they were overloaded, so be nice.
  • Keep investing in your education, and continuously try to learn something new. Things that may not make sense may surprise you in the future.
  • Always try to have some cushion, especially financially, better to skip a nice beach holiday rather than becoming desperate for money.
  • Borrow at minimum preferably don’t borrow any money
  • Stick with what you believe and hang with it but also put milestones. If you miss your milestones one after each other, revise them and at that moment, consider changing plans. Holding to what you believe is essential, but more important is knowing when to quit. 
  • Don’t assume anything.
  • If you’re going or planning to go into a new market, do research as best as you can
  • Talk with people in the industry before you make the jump.
  • Don’t take the word of anyone for granted.
  • Keep your eyes open; sometimes, opportunities come from very unexpected places and be flexible enough to change your plans.
  • Outsource anything that you’re not good at outsourcing. If you start making money and tasks that cause you to lose time, outsource them. If you can’t outsource them yet, find ways to make them faster (there may be a software, online tool, etc.)
  • Don’t wait to be a perfect start from where you are; you’ll improve continuously and won’t be ready anytime. If a job gives you goosebumps, that’s an excellent job for you. 
  • Outsource accounting; it’s complicated and will cause you too much headache if not done correctly.
  • Outsource tasks that you don’t like doing, even if it’s part of your core job. As an example, I outsource clipping jobs to others.
  • Find people to collaborate with. Paid jobs are usually dull and may not look that shiny on your website; on the contrary,y some portfolio work may not have any money in it but will help you evolve and earn you new eyes. Therefore when you see the talent and feel that they worth it, collaborate on a portfolio project (not on commercial projects, commercial projects should be paid)
  • Find people you can work with together, sometimes projects come as a bundle, and if you can’t take it as a whole, you may lose it. Therefore if you are a retoucher like me, you better have a few CGI artists, illustrators, magazine or brochure designers in your address book, and they have to be good. I always look for such talents and keep them in a database. 
  • The world is global if you can find how you can apply what you’re interested in o a worldwide market and don’t limit yourself to your local or national. Market.
  • Don’t compete with a price; that’s a bottomless hole, and you’ll take your brand image with you as you go lower. Big brands don’t choose the cheapest option, price is important, of course, they are also aware that what it would cost to complete that job. Would you take your BMW to the cheapest repair shop in town?
  • Invest in health insurance, life plays tricks, and you won’t get any help and no money if you have any health trouble. That’s one of the reasons why you should consider all these expenses in your offers.
  • You should be saving for your retirement too. 
  • You should keep on looking at what others are doing, look at strong visuals daily that will help you train your brain on what good images look like. Don’t bother with visuals at your level; always find and check the best in the industry. 

Feel free to ask any questions via Twitter @35milimetre, Instagram @mturan

Also read How I Got the music supervisor job

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