There are more photographers than ever before. And while I don’t believe that’s necessarily bad, it does create a lot of marketing “noise.” Our mission must be to raise ourselves above that noise so that we become more of a solo instrument, with the din of all the ‘others’ serving as our backup band.
We are constantly getting slammed with information and instructions to “put more out there”, share more images on Instagram, start a TikTok account, post more… more more more more.
And once in a while, make a photograph if you are not too exhausted from 24–7 marketing endeavors. And I say bullsh*t to that. There are more ways to make yourself known than posting shots of your lunch on Instagram. Lots more.
Let’s look at these ideas that you can begin today to help jumpstart more attention on your work.
Print more images
I am such a huge believer in printing our work that I stand by my comment that if it is not printed, it is not really a photograph — it is a digital representation of a photograph. You may disagree, and that is certainly fine. But a print says permanent, a print says commitment. A print says, “I’m in it for the long haul.” By printing your work and letting others know about it, you can gain some vital interest among that part of the community that is a cut above professionally and looking for photographers with commitment and drive.
Lots of books. Make books of photographs for the year, quarter, or month. Make a book from your vacation images. Make books only for yourself or as gifts to friends. Make books to sell. Make short-run, exclusive books to sell to collectors. Books in the 24–32 image range can sell for well over a hundred dollars when they are numbered, signed, and exclusive. Add an 8×10 print, and get even more people interested. A print and a book may wholesale for $24, and you could sell it for $100 in a short run of 100 books for a profit of $75 each. Books are becoming the collectable art for those who do not want to collect individual prints for a variety of reasons. I have Joni Sternbach’s book Surf Site Tin Type. I only wish I could afford a print, but this book gives me a lot of lovely images to look at whenever I want to.
Show your work
Austin Kleon’s great book by the same name explains why showing people what you do is one of the best marketing things to do for visual media. It helps get you the feedback we all need and, at the same time, introduces your work to the world. Every way you can is the best advice you can get. Just know that showing up without following up may be slower and take longer. And, yeah, sure, he talks about Instagram and such, but there is a difference between showing your work and obsessing over stats. You know the difference. Don’t obsess over stats — just do the work.
Do Pro-Bono work
Everywhere you go, there are people who could benefit from money coming in. From soup kitchens to homeless shelters for kids, these vital programs need help. Help them in any way you can. From working with their PR agency or a non-profit company to helping raise awareness to even a print sale with all the proceeds going to the charity, there are so many ways to help others while also benefiting from the publicity and visibility the work can bring. But remember that doing Pro Bono won’t help you if you don’t take advantage of the PR opportunities when they are most needed.
Yes… BLOG. Stop depending on Facebook or Instagram for your traffic. OWN your own little plot of the digital world. Giving up your autonomy and fixating instead on some walled garden owned by a billionaire oligarch who doesn’t give a squatter’s damn about you will never work out well. One post per week, with good SEO, will result in more organic traffic than a post on Facebook, where they throttle your engagement by up to 80%. Do you have to write a big blog article every week? NOPE… Just put up a few images and say a little something about them. Austin Kleon weighs in.
I can not express how important it is to do personal projects. It is vital to keep active. It is beyond vital to have new work to share on your blog, on your sharing site, with your potential customers, and with your current customers. New work makes you engaged in the process. It gives others a sense of your commitment to making images, and that gives you even more credibility. You never know who you may meet out there when you are doing a personal project. Out and about with a camera gives you opportunities you will never have sitting in your pyjamas arguing with some photographer somewhere about whether ISO is important or not. A personal project is like therapy for the creative mind.
Whether Toastmasters, SBA, Chamber of Commerce… whatever you do, speak. Hold speaking events at the public library. Bring some work and share it live with an audience. Be involved in presenting your work. Make a video of the presentation, and put it on your blog. This sort of thing gives clients great insight into what it may be like to work with you. If you are a member of ASMP, find out what topics they may be wishing to be presented that you could present. Venues are looking for speakers. And remember… PR PR PR.
Teach a workshop
People everywhere want to know how to make better photographs. Hold a workshop for beginners, and open their eyes to the possibilities of great photography. You aren’t training your competition, you are helping amateurs become better at something they love. That is a wonderful and very satisfactory endeavor. Video the workshop and post it to your blog. Use it as a way to get people to sign up for your newsletter. You DO have a newsletter, don’t you? Oh my… another topic for another day.
I know I know… everyone says to do it. But — wait, there may be something to it when you realize that so many incredibly talented people are telling you the same thing. And a journal for us photographers should be filled with images. Even if you print them out on regular non-photo paper and paste or tape them in, your journal can become a centrepiece of your creative spirit and your creative output. Whether you share the journal with anyone or not, it will help you focus on what is important, what is fun, and ideas abounding for doing what you need to do to keep the above ideas going on. Juggling in your head is never going to replace the fun and beauty of a paper journal. And for those of you who are simply NOT interested in paper, then journal online. There are lots of great tools to help you. From Mem to Evernote.
Create a Photo Series That Engages
Do a set of images focused on a unique and controversial subject that has the potential to go viral on social media: By choosing a subject matter that is not commonly explored and adding a provocative or controversial element to it, a photographer could generate a lot of buzz and attention on social media. However, it is important to handle the subject matter sensitively and ethically while carefully considering the potential backlash or negative attention that may come with tackling a controversial subject. Discuss your idea with a close group of people for some insight. And be true to your values and convictions.
Partner with a local art gallery, coffee shop, or municipal building to showcase your work in a group exhibition or even a solo show. Partnering with local galleries is a great way to build relationships with other artists and gain exposure. It also gives potential clients a chance to see your work in person and can lead to future collaborations or sales. Choose coffee shops or venues that attract the right sort of clientele. I am not going to define that for you, you know exactly what I meant when you read the line. Right?
Workshops Are Fun
Host or teach a photography workshop or seminar to share your expertise and build your reputation as an expert in the field. Teaching a workshop or giving a seminar is a great way to share your knowledge and skills with others. This could help establish you as an authority in the photography industry. There are a lot of amateurs and pro-amateurs who would love to learn from your experience. Hosting photo walks is also a fun and visible venture. Remember; the more you do, the more people see you do.
Be Philanthropic with Your Talent
Offer free or deeply discounted photo sessions to non-profit organizations and charities: By offering your services to non-profit organizations and charities, you can generate positive PR and good word-of-mouth referrals. This is also a great opportunity to give back to your community and use your skills to support a good cause. Doing well by doing good. Can’t beat that.
Do Something Different
Consider offering unique and rare photographic services, such as 360-degree photos or drone photography, that will set you apart from other photographers. Being able to do some design and copywriting would be a huge boost to your client services offering as well. Instead of ‘only a photographer,’ you can become a super valuable partner for small and medium businesses.
(Coming this June: The Creative Class… just you wait for this one!)
Style It. Style It Big
Develop a true signature style or technique that will set you apart from other photographers in your area: By developing a unique style or technique, you can establish yourself as a standout photographer, one who is always innovating and working on visual solutions. This may help you attract clients who are specifically interested in finding something unique for their brands while you begin to be seen as an innovative artist.
Collaborating with artists and creatives on a multimedia project can be fun, challenging, and super rewarding. Creating something unique with musicians, dancers, actors, lighting artists, and others can be a great way to combine everyone’s skills and create something innovative, unique, and beautiful. This always leads to increased exposure and will help you establish good working relationships with other creative artists. And, this is the best part, it is simply a blast to do. Remember, this stuff is supposed to be fun. Make some fun happen.
The power of social media influencers can be yours… by partnering with them to feature your work on their channels. And you won’t even have to dance to silly music. These folks can be a great way to reach wider audiences and gain exposure for your work. Partnering with influencers who align with your brand and values could possibly attract new followers and, potentially, new clients. Make sure you are partnering with influencers who are real and are not competing with you or what you do.
Participate in photography competitions that could gain you recognition and exposure. Photography competitions are a great way to gain recognition and exposure in the industry and can also serve as a way to see where you stand in comparison to other shooters. Winning or placing in a competition can be a great way to build your reputation and attract new clients. Offer to judge or be on the jury for local clubs or groups.
OK, I think that’s about eighteen ideas that have got to get you thinking.
One of the things I always remind my students is to be a professional photographer, you must first be a photographer.
BE… a photographer. A photographer first. A photographer who loves the medium.
A photographer that makes photographs.
About the author
Don Giannatti is a photographer, writer, designer, entrepreneur, and avid motorcyclist. After enjoying a 40-plus-year career as a commercial photographer, he has successfully mentored hundreds of students through his Project 52 Pro system and helped them transition into full or part-time commercial photography. He has owned studios in Phoenix, LA, Chicago, and New York and has been a guest instructor on CreativeLive. You can subscribe to his newsletter In The Frame. This article was also published here and shared with permission.