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August 11th, 2009

AFTER STAFF A Closer Look – Nader Khouri, Commercial success with an emphasis on food

Posted by liveBooks

Former Contra Costa Times photographer Nader Khouri contacted me after seeing my request for help with this “After Staff” series on RESOLVE last week. I was immediately impressed that he’d successfully broken into commercial photography in the short time since leaving his staff job. Now that I’ve learned about his background in marketing and heard his insights into understanding and connecting with clients, I’m not surprised.
©Nader Khouri

©Nader Khouri

Miki Johnson: How and when did you transition to commercial work after leaving your staff position?

Nader Khouri: Immediately after leaving the Contra Costa Times a year-and-a-half ago, I knew that I was going to be doing commercial work. I am shooting mostly food right now and many of my clients are branding firms and restaurants. I would love to be shooting food-related subject matter most of the time, but I am still building my business. I am also doing corporate/nonprofit work and am very thankful to some of my photographer friends in the Bay Area for giving me referrals during this transition. For me, this change isn’t happening overnight, and I don’t expect it to.

MJ: How did you present yourself to commercial clients? Were they drawn to your photojournalistic background?

©Nader Khouri

©Nader Khouri

NK: Most of my food clients have come from doing a lot of networking. I got to a point where I said to myself, “I’m sick of hanging around photographers.” So I got as far away from them as possible and started meeting people who I could potentially collaborate with. I had discussions with them about photography and gained their trust. My website was just a confirmation for them. I’ve gotten to the point now where I’m back in the loop of being around photographers. I became a member of APA and am using a lot of their resources. Also, I have done a ton of email marketing and I have to say, even in this day in age of Twitter, Facebook, and Adbase, seeing someone-face to-face is still number one for me.

MJ: Did you work with a consultant or rep to re-brand and find commercial clients?

NK: I studied marketing and it helped me go back and ask myself, “What am I passionate about?” and then set goals for myself. It also helped me focus on how could best serve my clients. I started hearing the word “partnership” more, and that helped me think more about how I can reach out to other professionals to meet my clients’ needs. Photojournalism and commercial work are both collaborative processes. Commercial work just has a whole host of different players. And I think that’s where photographers might end up getting discouraged.

During a transition, photographers need to take the time to understand the scope of the markets they are in and to identify growing markets. I constantly say to myself, “Even in this down economy, plenty of work is being done and plenty of money is being made.” Instead of learning video like many still photographers, I am spending my time researching my markets and making connections there. I think spending time on the content of my images is more valuable than the medium in which I shoot. If I have a client who wants motion, then I’ll hire someone to do motion. But I am still quite passionate about still images and don’t plan to change what I do anytime in the near future.

MJ: I notice that you have a strong “mission and values” section on your website. Has that helped you focus in on the kinds of jobs you want?

©Nader Khouri

©Nader Khouri

NK: Many photographers don’t have much text on their websites, and I decided to use text to help put my work into context. Not all clients will look at the text, but I value it when photographers take the time to give some explanation. I believe in the power of images to give a point of view, but I also think that stating a mission helps complement the images. Not only that, but it helps set the stage for the kinds of expectations I have for myself and of the clients I want to work with.

MJ: What is the biggest difference between commercial work and photojournalism for you?

NK: Commercial work is posed while photojournalism isn’t at all. That’s been an interesting change. Yet in my commercial work, I am using both models in posed settings as well as a journalistic approach. Although I’m not doing photojournalism right now, that’s not to say I’m totally done with photojournalism. But, I’ve gotten to the point where I feel like supporting a movement is the most important thing, not whether or not it is advertising or editorial.

I have been learning a lot from Doug Menuez as he comes from a similar background. I’m going to his workshop in Woodstock this month. [Read Doug’s posts about running a successful photo business here.] I think photojournalists can add authenticity in advertising images. It’s a give and take, and I am learning a lot of valuable lessons from established commercial photographers — including knowing my worth as a photographer. Unfortunately, photojournalists often put all the emphasis on making compelling images and end up being under-earners and giving away too much of their rights to their images.

Be Part of the RESOLUTION: What are you doing to understand what your clients want and to create “partnerships” with them?

Click here for a list of all other “After Staff” posts.


  1. August 11th, 2009 at 4:46 pm

    Rayed Kury

    Nader’s work looks very professional. I am an amateur photographer and I really like his style of foreground and background perspectives.

  2. August 11th, 2009 at 6:39 pm

    George Wahbeh

    Good work Nader,

    Go with the Natural grown produce.

    better taste food

  3. August 15th, 2009 at 9:30 pm

    Nabil Wahbeh

    I am impressed by your clarity and your ability in defining your path. I appreciate your courage in taking the risk to venture in new avenues. I wish you good luck. You are a talented photographer. Keep up the good work. Photographers like you make a difference in their field.

  4. December 31st, 2009 at 9:50 am


    Seems like you are a true professional. Did you study about the subject? lol

  5. November 25th, 2010 at 9:21 am


    The first word that came out of my mouth when I saw your work: WOW
    Love it and eager to see what you come up with next!

  6. August 26th, 2012 at 6:16 am


    Hi Chia Li yah indeed. How time flies and it’s araeldy coming to 3 years ! Wow I can still remember everything about your wedding clearly specially the ever so loving Dai Kum Che ..:p Boy am I old. ..

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