Promos We Kept: A Peek at the Photographers’ Point of View

May 3, 2017

By Sharon Ber

Recent promos from Max Wanger, Elizabeth Weinberg and duo HollenderX2 (Jordan Hollender and Diane Collins) share strong branding, good design and covers that flaunt eye-catching typography. But what really tie the three pieces together is their use of layers, cutouts and translucent papers. These features play with the idea of offering a sneak peek at their work—and how they want us to see it.

© Max Wanger. Photo by Sharon Ber for <i>PDN</i>

© Max Wanger. Photo by Sharon Ber for PDN

Max Wanger

With a mix of different textures, paper sizes and accents of gold foil, Max Wanger‘s recent promo looks modern. Measuring 8.5 x 11-inches, it starts off with a transparent piece of plastic, printed with stylized letters. The next layer covers just half of the book, allowing you to see three more levels, each in a different paper stock.

The images, all from recent shoots, are a combination of personal work and assignments for clients such as, Richer/Poorer and the publication Kinfolk. The images share patterns, colors and an overall feel. Wanger says choosing images to include is always the toughest part of making a promotion. “In past promos, I’ve identified a particular shoot, usually a personal test shoot, and designed the promo around it.” For this piece, Wanger wanted to show a variety of images from several shoots.

Polka dots appear throughout the photographs and on several of the pages. While Wanger admits to loving patterns, he credits the color palette and the repeating polka dots to designer Kati Forner who helped him create the piece. “Kati wanted the colors to reflect my work, so we chose a color palette that felt true to my esthetic. We wanted it to be bright and fun, but also sweet and muted, I suppose.”

Wanger, who does one or two mailings a year, says he usually has an idea in mind for his promotions and that he either tackles it himself or reaches out to someone to collaborate with. For this promo he contacted Forner, whose work he admired, and she presented a few ideas. “As soon as she mentioned working with different papers and sizes, I was all in.” Normally, there’s a lot of back and forth in the design process, says Wanger, “but with Kati . . .I put my full trust in her expertise and she delivered.”

Wanger printed a small run of 100 pieces at Print West in Seattle. He mailed them to art buyers, art directors, magazine editors and photo agencies. Wanger says he couldn’t be happier with the reaction he’s received.

His budget for printing and mailing this piece was about $4,000, but says over the years the cost of his promos has ranged from $500 to $10,000. “I got my first Nordstrom job because of a promo I sent out a few years ago.” Getting the job is always the goal says Wanger, “so I always think it’s worth the time and money to do.”

Wanger says every photographer has his or her own view of the world. “What makes photography so beautiful and wonderful is how we all see the world in our own way. You want your promo to reflect that, in the photographs, in the design, in the details.”

© Elizabeth Weinberg. Photo by Sharon Ber for <i>PDN</i>

© Elizabeth Weinberg. Photo by Sharon Ber for PDN

Elizabeth Weinberg

Peering through the die-cut opening of Elizabeth Weinberg‘s name, you see a small bird, mountains, water and sky. At first glance, a type-only cover isn’t an obvious choice for a photographer’s promo. But the hint at the hidden imagery elicits curiosity.

Weinberg has been sending out promos for over a decade. “I started before having an online presence was as necessary as it is now. I knew no other way of getting my work in front of the eyes I needed.”

When she began, it was the promo itself that had to showcase her work. Now, Weinberg sees her mailings as a vehicle to drive traffic to her website. For this reason, she doesn’t include a lot of other information in her promo. “I want the images to be a peek into the larger bodies of work that exist online” she explains.

Weinberg created this 5 x 7-inch folded promo to send to editorial clients—photo editors and art directors at magazines. With a budget of $2,000 for printing and mailing, she produced 500 pieces at Smartpress in Minnesota. Smartpress has been Weinberg’s printer of choice for the last six years, so when the plant recently acquired laser digital die cutting capabilities, she decided to add a die cut on the cover and perforations throughout. The perforations allow the promo to be broken apart and separated into “displayable pieces.”

Weinberg chose recent images that spanned her portrait, celebrity and travel/documentary work. She says she generally does all the editing of images herself because she knows her work best. “I have worked with others before but am never as satisfied as if I just do it myself.”

She tries to do one promo for the editorial market and one promo for the commercial market annually. From start to finish, Weinberg says, the process takes months. She has plans in the works for a commercial promo later this year. For that project, for which she estimates she will produce 2,000 pieces, she’s enlisted the help of a designer.

Weinberg says that in all the years she’s been sending out promos she’s “never not gotten a job or at least an inquiry about a potential job from a promo piece.” But when she checks her website stats and sees new users and potential clients who never had visited before, she knows her promos are working.

© HollenderX2

© HollenderX2


Jordan Hollender and Diane Collins started with a simple design of a blue “X” when they launched their business as photography duo HollenderX2. The “X” represented “times,” as in “times two,” since, in their view, two photographers are better than one. They brought their blue branded “X” to designer K. Nicole Murtagh of Familiar Fox, and worked with her to create a promo announcing their partnership and their business.

Hollender and Collins knew they wanted their promo to be customizable, so that they could mix and match images and tailor it to different audiences. They liked the idea of somehow tethering the images together so that clients could see a small body of work but easily pluck out and save any image they liked. Murtagh came up with the idea of holding the cards together with big blue rubber bands that mimicked the logo.

“This was our first promo in thinking outside the box, in a box really, that either of us have worked on” says Hollender. They had 1,000 boxes created at Neyenesch Printers in San Diego. The cost to produce the boxes was about $3,400 and the cost to produce the cards—with enough for future mailings—was about $5,000. “We went over budget on pretty much everything,” he says. Printing a bunch at a time helped bring the cost down a bit. “We definitely learned a lot along the way and made some mistakes,” he says. The biggest mistake, they admit, was creating the boxes without having a plan for how to ship them. In the end it cost $4 per box to mail. The rubber bands were purchased separately. “We have a ridiculous amount of blue rubber bands, but they do come in handy.”

After the initial box launch, Hollender and Collins have continued to send out 3 or 4 cards at a time banded together by big blue rubber bands, but now they ship in branded envelopes instead of the original box. “Those who we’ve spoken to. . . seem to remember us because of the blue banded ‘X,'” says Collins. “I think that’s the best thing that came out of this promotion—a way for the design to trigger our name.” Hollender says, “Because we are remembered it has been easier to land meetings. Jobs have come from relationships built from those meetings, but the actual promo is just one piece of the puzzle.”

More Promos We Kept:

For the Love of Making Something

More Than Just a Promo

7 Great Summer Promos