Captivating an audience can be a difficult task. You can produce the world’s most awe-inspiring and talented images, but it won’t mean too much if no one sees your work! Whether you’re a seasoned professional or a serious amateur – you probably already know that taking beautiful photos and gaining exposure for your work do not go hand-in-hand.
Where do you start, and how much money does it take to get the ball rolling so that more people take notice of your work? Below are five free or very inexpensive ways to gain exposure beyond simple pay-for advertising:
1. Query Publishers
Rarely do publishers find fantastic writers who can also take beautiful images, so they are always on the lookout for great photos to compliment their pieces. You may have to introduce yourself several times before they take notice, but the reward is definitely worth the effort.
The key here is quality, not quantity. Spend time to tailor each proposal to the publication you’re writing to. For example, if you’re a nature photographer, you wouldn’t send the same letter to a national magazine as you would to your local newspaper.
Also try to get in touch with someone over the phone first to see if they’re even interested in new photographers. It can save you a lot of time, and it’s always a good idea to introduce yourself first instead of randomly sending an email.
2. Where Do Your Photos Belong?
While sending query letters to publishers is a fantastic way to gain widespread exposure for your photographs, it’s not the most original. Take a moment to think about where your photos belong and who would like to use your work.
For example, say you’re a fashion photographer who just did a stunning model shoot in Central Park. Sure you can put together some proofs to send off to Vanity Fair, but think outside the box. Who else would be interested in your images?
What was the model wearing – a certain designer? Send them an email with images attached showing how great you captured their line. The same thing goes for landscape photographers – think of all the businesses, agencies, etc. that would benefit from showing your latest beach shot….your state office of tourism or conservation office? Local newspapers?
This method works incredibly well, especially today. With the power of social media, there’s no need for these interested parties to purchase your image or hire you as a photographer for you to jump on their popularity level. They can simply post the photo on their Facebook page or Tweet about it with a link to your website. A few seconds of work can bring a flood of online interest to your photographs, which is where the best business relationships can start.
3. Create a Digital Presence
If you don’t have a website for your photography, then you’re losing out on a lot of attention. While there are many elements of design that can help make your portfolio seem more appealing – such as a straightforward navigation and neutral colors – the most important part is to have one that is easy for you to update. I used to have a flash website which looked great, but it took me forever to post a new image so I ended up only updating my new photos every couple of months – this is not the best way to approach your online portfolio.
Since then, I’ve switched to a more interactive site layout which looks like a portfolio but also acts as a photo blog – all under the same URL. The WordPress foundation will automatically grab the image from my blog posting and put it in a gallery, a.k.a. my portfolio. Best of all, it's incredibly easy to update and I'm simultaneously writing a new blog posting AND adding the image to my portfolio.
This kind of integration is far better than simply having a portfolio site for two major reasons:
- Your site is more interesting when you write a short story about your photo – whether it be a technical how-to or more about the environment you shot in. “Behind the scenes” stories are also great things to talk about, as well as important tips here and there.
- When you integrate a blog with your portfolio, you’re always creating new content. This is why many photographers have a blog to drive traffic to their portfolio, but the best situation is a blog that is integrated into the portfolio itself.
While I’m an advocate for the WordPress platform since it's easy to learn and highly customizable, there are many other website templates you can purchase and then make your own for very little money – or totally free.
In addition to creating a portfolio, make sure you tap into social media – especially Facebook and Twitter. With the inclusion of these services on cell phones, it’s easy to see how much free exposure you can get.
Don’t expect a flood of traffic to come your way the very first day – creating a digital presence takes time, but will eventually snowball to be one of the strongest ways to get your photography seen on an international scale.
4. Galleries and Art Shows
Depending on the line of work you do, your images may find a home in galleries or juried art shows. Not only can this garner a vast amount of exposure, but it can also create important relationships within your local art community. The social nature of art shows and galleries provide the perfect environment to converse with fellow photographers that you may not have met otherwise.
However, I would investigate galleries that charge a fee to display your work – this may suggest that they’re more concerned about who pays the most for a display spot rather than the quality of work shown. This isn’t the case for all galleries who charge, but it’s certainly something to consider.
5. Enter Photo Contests
Photo contests are a fantastic way to gain exposure – not to mention that they usually come with a nice prize package. If the contest is sponsored by a well-known organization, then you can guarantee that your images will be seen by a huge audience.
Additionally, you’ll get to add the honor of being selected to your resume. With that in mind, it’s a wise idea to ask the sponsor how many images you were chosen from.
A word of caution – if the contest requires a substantial amount of money to enter or if they are not sponsored by a large entity, skip over it. There are many unreputable contests that solely want to collect images from unsuspecting photographers to use and sell for profit. If there is anything in the fine print about obtaining the rights to your images, it’s definitely not worth your time to pursue.
However, not all competitions that require a fee are scams. For example, the International Garden Photographer of the Year competition requires a small fee to enter each photo, but the prize package is quite substantial. Additionally, it’s connected with respected photographers and well-known organizations, which brings much validity to their competition.
So in short, trust your gut. If you've never heard of the sponsors before or if there’s fine print about waiving photo rights, continue your search.
Now that you’ve gotten their attention, what are you going to do with it? Are you interested in selling prints of your work or would you rather offer a service – photographing weddings, portraits, fashion, etc.? Think about what you want out of all this new interest before you jump into the ideas listed above – make a solid plan and be ready.
The best part is that these are just starting points – you have no idea what kind of path you'll set out on just by taking the first step and showing your work to a wider audience. The people you meet and relationships you build to make your photography a true success are waiting. All you have to do is put yourself in the right environment!