A career as a professional photographer can be extremely fulfilling and exciting. However, getting to a stage where you are financially stable and established takes time and effort. There are a number of key factors to address if you’re looking to forge a career in photography, so here are my top five tips to help you get there.
I can’t stress this enough. Specialising in one or two areas alone will dramatically increase your chances of success. This is for two reasons. Firstly, it enables you to focus on the required skills, marketing and client industry around those fields of photography, thus making you better at it and, secondly, it portrays professionalism and expertise to your target audience. Having a portfolio website listing half-a-dozen or more different ‘services’, with your pet photography being advertised next to your corporate headshots and automotive photography, will do nothing but label you as a jack-of-all-trades. Clients don’t like that.
Remember, for every area of photography in which you promote yourself, there will be countless other photographers who specialise in that area alone. You simply won’t be competition for them.
Initially, you may want to try out different fields of photography in order to establish which you enjoy most, which produces your best work, which is most popular with clients or which pays best. But, once you know the path you wish to take, strip away the peripheral clutter and specialise.
2. Don’t Hide Behind Your Website
If you’re waiting for the phone to ring or that email to arrive, then I have some bad news – nobody is going to contact you. The only way you’re going to get work from clients is to get your photography in front of their faces and make them aware of your existence. Identify your target clients and build a spreadsheet documenting their details, a contact name and record the date you email or call them. Then follow it up periodically to reinforce your presence – but don’t bombard them! For commercial clients, do some research in to their business and tailor your email/letter/phone-call accordingly.
A recent survey by PhotoShelter revealed that when looking for a photographer, almost half of the companies asked will refer back to emails or direct-mail promos they received. If your email isn’t sitting in their inbox, or your promo piece isn’t pinned to their notice-board, you’re out of the running. Also, consider Google, Facebook and Twitter advertising if you want to grow your reach and appear more prominently on the web for when clients come looking.
Different areas of photography require different approaches, so trying looking at your competition and assessing what it is they do to promote themselves. There’s nothing wrong with a ‘me too’ strategy in which you mirror their efforts.
3. Rise Above The Competition
Assume that every person you contact for work will have already been contacted by all other competing photographers. It’s a saturated market, so clients get hassled all day, every day. Therefore you need to stand out among the crowd. There are numerous ways you can do this, from your visual branding across your website and social media channels, your ability to compose captivating emails and posts, your photography itself, or your unique method of contacting clients (ie. direct mail postcard, email newsletter or PDF brochure). Make sure it all looks professional and premium. This way, you will dramatically increase your chances of a securing a meeting or contract. Oh, and never start an email with ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ because it will get deleted immediately. Everybody has a name, so make the effort to find it.
Your potential clients will no-doubt browse through your portfolio website. Therefore, make sure it’s slick and efficient to use. Check out my tips on creating a great photography website here.
4. Maximise Your Income Potential
Different people have different goals on measuring success. If yours is by how much you earn, then think about creating a number of avenues through which you can generate an income. Having a second field of specialism is one method. How about creating a YouTube channel or blog in order to produce revenue through advertising? Or perhaps writing articles for major photography websites? You could teach photography to students, friends or family for fee or even sell your prints online.
Your income from photography will go through peaks and troughs. When one avenue is having a quiet month, you need to ensure your others are covering the deficit.
5. Hard Work and Patience
Earning a good living from photography is not easy to achieve. It is possible, however, but it will take several years of frustration, disappointment and pride-swallowing moments. If you’re prepared to accept those tough times and battle through them with an unrelenting desire to succeed, then you’ll make it.
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You may have noticed that none of the points above refer to you needing to be the best photographer out there. This is because you don’t. So often I see successful photographers whose work is good, but not amazing. Why do clients choose them? Because the photographer put their work in front of them. Sure, if you’re awesome at what you do then you’re increasing your chances of success, but the quality of your photography is only part of the challenge. Some of the best photographers out there don’t make a living from it simply because they suck and the business and promotional side of it all. Don’t be that person.
Author – Oliver Pohlmann