A guy that started his career without even having a portfolio wants you to know what he finds important to consider when it comes to market your work.
After I published “What is decisive in a photographer’s career?” I got quite a few comments in a couple of Linkedin groups.
In my article I pointed out how opportunities, more than technical skills, creativity or experience, are a key factor to determine success. Someone suggested me to change the wording from ‘opportunities’ to ‘marketing’, because good marketing generates opportunities and, more often than not, photographers seems to lack that very skill.
I totally agree with the fact that effective marketing is essential, but my focus was on something slightly different. What I was trying to underline was precisely the importance of opportunities. And, actually, I believe that marketing doesn’t necessarily replace opportunities.
First of all, what is an opportunity? According with the dictionary, the word “opportunity” means:
1. an appropriate or favorable time or occasion
2. a situation or condition favorable for attainment of a goal.
3. a good position, chance, or prospect, as for advancement or success.
Let’s have a look at this extreme example. Burberry decides to “hire inexperienced 16-year-old celebrity for campaign”.
In the example, the “photographer” is certainly in a good position, isn’t he? Conditions are very very favorable. This seems to be what the dictionary describes as good chances for success. Marketing IS there, but it’s hard to define it because it’s part of a much bigger game. The guy didn’t try hard to present his photography, hoping to be considered by a potential client, he just happens to be the son of his very famous parents. On top of that, his over 6M Instagram followers played an important role. Competing with him? All the marketing in the world couldn’t beat such a good opportunity. And whether he is able or not to shoot good pictures seems to be totally irrelevant.
Now, let’s switch our attention to something less extreme. Remember that time you visited a publisher’s office and they told you to forget about working with them, if not sporadically, because the son of the editor was shooting most of the pieces?
Nevertheless, you didn’t give up, did you? You probably looked for different opportunities. You probably tried to market yourself harder. And you probably got some results. Maybe because of your marketing efforts, maybe not.
Opportunities are not only the ones that come by being “the son of” or “the lover of”.
Opportunities can manifest themselves in more ordinary ways too:
– you publish an image on the net and suddenly someone “discovers” you and wants to work with you;
– a client finds in your portfolio exactly what he is looking for (and forgets about his cousin who is also a photographer);
– you visit a client right after he quarreled with the photographer that had been working with him for a decade;
– you stumble upon a niche market with a lot of clients and not many competitors;
– (your example here).
The thing is: you can’t be sure that someone will discover you on the net, but you can present yourself impeccably on your website and on social media. You can’t be sure that a certain client will find exactly what he is looking for in your portfolio, but you can prepare it scrupulously. In other words, you can do your part and there are no guarantees of success. Your potential clients out there — for their very own reasons — might or might not like you and give you work.
In my case, at the beginning of my career I was so unrefined and off the wall that I caught every editor I visited a bit off guard. They were probably thinking: “This guy is a bit nutty, he takes some strange photos, he doesn’t even have a proper portfolio… let’s see what he can do.” And so they gave me my first jobs. That was my opportunity.
I definitely wasn’t particularly experienced or talented at the time. I didn’t carefully plan the best marketing tactics. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. And, sure, I had plenty of good ideas, I was able to organize and deliver on time, I was full of palpable enthusiasm… all factors that played a role in my success. But marketing? I was just being myself: a bit naïve and kind of unaware of the fact that I was not presenting myself in a very professional way. My weakness turned out to be my strength. By chance. Because someone was in a good mood and decided to see what an inexperienced photographer could do. Or, maybe, because they saw a potential in me.
Anyway they liked what I delivered, liked it a lot, and in very little time I had a number of clients and I began to travel around the world.
What if I didn’t have that first opportunity?
Sometimes, opportunities can be created and other times they just happen to fall in your lap. It’s unpredictable.
As a photographer, with time I learned how to scrupulously market myself. I also learned that, occasionally, coincidences or serendipity play a much bigger role.
All we can do is do our very best to sow our seeds, be flexible and learn how to deal with situations that are not always ideal. If things don’t go our way, we can try to find a different way. True, meritocracy doesn’t necessarily rule, nepotism is strong. So what? We know it and we deal with it. Sometimes we have to swim with sharks, sometimes an unexpected opening surprises us. We are small parts of a much bigger mechanism where everything is connected and — as mathematician Edward Lorenz suggested — the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil might ultimately cause a tornado in Texas. We can’t control everything. We can do our best and prepare the ground for things to happen.
In my next article I’ll share some of the marketing habits that I found very effective. Curious to know what worked for me? Stay tuned…
About the Author
Enzo dal Verme is an Italian portrait photographer based in Milan. He’s been in the photographic industry for over 15 years and had his work featured in various magazines like Vanity Fair, l’Uomo Vogue, Vogue Sport, Glamour and many others. If you would like to see more of his work, visit his website and follow him on Twitter. If you prefer paper to digital formats, you can read his book Storytelling for Photojournalists. This article was also published here and shared with permission.