How To Work With Profitable Photography Clients

As an artist and as an entrepreneur, you need to actively position your photography business to work with as many high quality, profitable clients as possible.

That may seem a little obvious, but it is actually a lot harder than it sounds. 

Toronto commercial photography renovation contractor magazine by JP Danko blurMEDIA

What Makes a Quality Photography Client?

The short answer is: Someone who values your work and is therefore actually excited to pay you well for it.

The long answer is a bit more complicated, read on.

How To Evaluate Photography Clients for Profitability

One of the business gurus that I follow is a guy named Ramit Sethi.  One of the most valuable lessons that I have learned from Ramit is what he calls “The Pay Certainty Technique”.

Essentially “The Pay Certainty Technique” is two questions:

1.    Does my target client have the ability to pay.

2.    Does my target client have the willingness to pay.

Let’s apply Ramit’s “Pay Certainty Technique” to a few photography examples.

Example One:  Etsy Product Photographer

Jewlery Product photography JP Danko blurMEDIA

I don’t think that most Etsy sellers make much money, or have a budget for custom product photography.  They also seem to be perfectly happy with taking their own iPhone product snapshots, so I would say Etsy sellers as potential photography clients fail the “Pay Certainty Technique” on both counts.

Example Two:  Infrastructure Photographer

Architectural Infrastructure Industrial Photographer JP Danko blurMEDIA Toronto

This is an area that I have personally struggled with.  I have a background in structural engineering.  Photographing construction projects and construction workers is something that I have a personal interest in. 

There are loads of large construction companies, engineering and architectural firms that make a tidy profit, so they certainly have an ability to pay.

The problem is that most construction executives and engineers are very practical and technical people – I am quite convinced that they simply don’t have the ability to appreciate the value of quality photography. 

Therefore, by extension, they are not willing to pay for the full value of photography. 

Example Three:  Luxury Wedding Photographer

luxury wedding photography niagara on the lake wedding photographer JP Danko blurMEDIA

OK – I’m struggling a bit to think of a niche market that is actually willing to pay for awesome photography. 

Over the last few years, there has been such a downward spiral in pay rates, even high end commercial clients are less and less willing to pay the full value of quality photography. 

If you think of a niche photography market that meets both pay certainty tests, leave a comment below and let us know.

In the meantime, I am going to use luxury wedding photography as an example. 

Brides that are throwing a big budget luxury wedding certainly have the ability to pay for fabulous wedding photography (or maybe, they’re at least willing to go into serious debt to pay for it – but ignoring the perils of modern consumerist society, I’m still counting that as ability to pay).

High end brides are also totally willing to pay.  A luxury bride hires a photographer because they love their photography – price is no object.  They value looking as gorgeous as possible in their wedding photos, and they value the long term investment that quality wedding photography becomes.

Who Actually Hires Photographers?

Once you have identified a set of profitable photography clients that more or less satisfy the pay certainty test, the next step is to figure out who actually makes the call to hire a photographer.

Say you are a sports photographer and you really want to shoot for Nike.  Well, guess what, Nike doesn’t hire photographers.  Nike hires advertising agencies, and the ad agency hires photographers.

But you have to be even more specific than that. 

What ad agencies work for Nike?  Out of those ad agencies, which ones are responsible for advertising campaigns that feature photography similar to yours?  At those particular advertising agencies, who worked on those specific campaigns?  Who is responsible for actually recruiting and hiring photographers?  Do you have work in your portfolio right now that is of similar style and quality to the photography that your target client would want to hire you for?

beach volleyball uniform sports athletic photographer JP Danko blurMEDIA Toronto

I organized and shot this beach volleyball session purely so that I would have relevant content to pitch to the advertising agency art buyers that work for profitable sports clothing companies, such as Lululemon and Under Armour.

If you’re a wedding photographer, it’s not going to do you much good to target grooms as potential photography clients.

Everyone who’s had a wedding knows that it’s the bride that is going to make that call, so obviously you have to market to brides.

But again, you need to be laser specific. 

Once more, let’s use high end brides as an example. 

Where do luxury brides live?  Where do they shop?  How old are they when they get married?  Where do they buy wedding rings and dresses?  What are the top high end wedding venues in your area? 

Luxury Wedding Photography Niagara On the Lake Wedding Photographer JP Danko blurMEDIA

I don’t shoot many weddings, but I accepted this one because the couple was awesome and they truly appreciated my work. 

Their wedding and reception was also held at one of the most exclusive wedding venues in my area, so I also gained a positive reputation with the venue (on top of the best wedding meal I’ve ever had).

If you are into wedding and lifestyle photography, I suggest that you play around with a few Facebook ads just to see exactly how effectively you can target your marketing.

If you’ve never used Facebook advertising – it is a fascinating tool.

For example, I recently posted a Facebook ad for my wife’s blog PicturesByMom.

We targeted:  Women, in the USA, who are married, who are between 25 – 35, who have kids, who speak English, who have a college degree or better, who indicated that they like photography.

Out of Facebook’s billion users, that narrowed our advertising campaign down to about 20,000 target clients that we felt were the most likely to have the ability and willingness to pay for that particular product.

Who Are Your Most Profitable Photography Clients?

How did you land your most profitable photography clients? 

Besides luxury weddings, what other photography clients would pass the “Pay Certainty Technique”? 

What common photography markets are a certain financial dead end?

Share your thoughts with the community by leaving a comment below!

medical photography cancer treatment toronto commercial photographer JP Danko blurMEDIA

About The Author

JP Danko is a commercial photographer based in Toronto, Canada.  JP
can change a lens mid-rappel, swap a memory card while treading water,
or use a camel as a light stand.

To see more of his work please visit his studio website blurMEDIAphotography, or follow him on Twitter, 500px, Google Plus or YouTube.

JP’s photography is available for licensing at Stocksy United.

  • Chris

    Thanks Danko! Great article. Did you ever get hired as a infrastructure photographer? Thats quite a niche isn’t it?

    • JP Danko

      It is quite niche. But niche is where its at these days. I have done a lot of gigs directly for contractors / engineers etc. yes – but rates are always a big hassle and because they are not very sophisticated buyers, I run into all kinds of license creep issues – so I have pretty much given up on that market.
      On the other hand, a similar, but I have found to be a much better market is the publishing industry that surrounds infrastructure companies – trade magazines – such as the Renovation Contractor piece in the photo at the top – professional associations, people who market to the industry.

      • Chris

        ok, thanks a lot Danko!

  • Rick

    You need to ask one more question, “does the client stand to benefit from my work”. While good commercial photography helps Nike sell shoes, it doesn’t help Engineers and contractors sell bridges and sewer lines. Engineers are hired on technical merit, public works contractors are hired on price.

    And while many Architects will splurge on high end photography for “signature” pieces, with most architects those projects are few and far between. The multitude of 5,000 s.f. church or library additions which help keep the lights on are not the kind of things they like to brag about.

    • JP Danko

      Great point Rick. But they still do use a lot of images in presentations and job proposals. The current bidding trend is for contractors / engineers / architects to submit a bid proposal which is then graded by potential clients. I think a pretty proposal would sell a bid a lot better than a bunch of job site snapshots – but that’s clearly not how they see it.

  • Kevin Blackburn

    Good piece but there is not real answer the the question in the title other than the eventual over crowded dead end Wedding market at any level to be honest. Seems more like a fishing article for yourself and not an educational lets help the photographer market article but that is just my opinion

    • fetanugs

      I think there is some truth to your statement. Boiled down it says “go where the money is” while also asking “where is the money”. That said there’s no reason not to ask for ideas from others. Neither you, him, or any of us that read this article are likely in competing markets so why not pass on some good advice. If anything it says you got know how to execute your hustle wisely and don’t waste your time.

  • David Liang

    Great article

  • Jayson Carey

    So far, my best corporate client is a very successful, growing gun range. Not only did I get paid well for a single night of shooting video, the owner also threw in a concealed carry course and some other goodies. He recognizes the value in quality advertising media and has the ability to pay for it.

  • Olivia Heartelly

    What a great resource! I suppose the hardest one is the point at which you meet your perfect customer, they cherish your work,
    completely get and need what you are doing yet can’t manage the cost of it! So hard! Do you take after your heart and give a markdown or raise the business and dismiss custom?

    • JP Danko

      That is tough. There is a lot of opinion that says discounts devalue your brand – so if you want to give a client a break – give them something for free that costs you minimal time or expense. For example – if they want to license 4 images, you could give them a 25% discount, or you could sell them three at full price and give them one for free. People like getting free stuff, and the value of your product stays at 100%

  • Steve Hall

    Thanks for thinking out loud with this piece.

  • Photographer’s Source

    Maybe the best answer to the initial question is this: Master Marketing! (…well. at least the briefest :)

    How to Master Marketing? Find a mentor who does. Maybe should be somebody who is already a Highly Recognized Photo Business Doer and Highly Paid Photographer as well not “just” a Big Talent or a Photography Geek…