Becoming a Professional Photographer Requires Some Passion, Thought and Vision
Most photographers will say “ah, there's no money in it, I'm pretty much broke. But, I really love it.”
So you have to remember, there's no magic bullet, quick “instant” way to draw a steady income as a photographer outside of some really awesome luck.
Let's Look at What's Required to Make Money as a Photographer
Even with doing all the right things, there isn't a guarantee, but it definitely will move you closer. So what are the right things? One critical assumption is that you produce consistent, quality work.
After that, it becomes your artistic perspective and reaching someone who is willing to buy, license or sell your work on your behalf.
Here are 5 key considerations in marketing “brand you, the photographer”.
- Leverage Your Current Network – Social Media
- Expand Your Reach – Visibility
- Market the Heck Out of Your Work
- Stick with It – Tenacity
1. Leverage Your Current Social Media Network
You're on Facebook? You have a network. You're on Pinterest? You have a network. You're on Instagram? You have a network. You're on other social media forums? You have a network!
Reaching others so they see your work and have some insight to you as the artist is a necessary first step. Informing your current contacts in all of your social media venues that you're ‘open' for business is an easy way to get some early momentum and personal motivation.
Facebook business pages, Google pages and others offer visibility. Instagram is another great vehicle to reach others with your work. Likes, thumbs ups, retweets are good for the soul, but they don't pay the bills.
However, some of those likes may translate to clicks on your website, your artwork for sale, your workshop enrollment or a request for you to photograph a special moment.
It's a balancing act of pushing your work out on social media.
Are you posting your work enough? Are you posting your work too often where folks no longer ‘see' your work when you share it?
Let's take an example, the chronic Facebook pusher. They push out a photo every day, then tweet it, then put it on Instagram all within a few minutes. They do this on a daily basis. Followers can actually get disinterested, thinking it's just another post like the day before.
Posting a few times a week in social media with memorable work is much better than volume and velocity of okay images.
2. Expand Your Reach
To build your audience, it takes more than social media. I'm not suggesting that you launch costly internet campaigns and ads. Quite the contrary!
Network with other artists. Artists that are well down the same path where you want to go can offer valuable experience.
- Study their web presence.
- Ask questions.
There are many professional photographers that graciously share tips and insights. Try expanding your reach by being formally mentored through a workshop, camera club or local professionals group.
Volunteer at your local community center to take photographs at special events.
Partner with an artist of another medium, offer an in-home show or create a small gallery that you can put in a local restaurant or business.
Expanding your reach happens as a result of research, networking and targeted, hard work. Looking beyond the internet and socializing, talking, networking with other artists and photographers is still as vital as it's always been!
Reminder: Always keep your business cards in your bag, your wallet, your car, purse. Networking opportunities can happen in unexpected places.
3. Market the Heck Out of Your Work
The American Marketing Association defines marketing as “the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communication, delivering and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners and society at large.”
In short, marketing is a collection of planned, ongoing steps, tools and activities that motivate customers to buy. Translated today, that means a combination of:
- Websites, Social Media, Local Venues, Networking, and Intentional Outreach.
A robust website reflects your work and your brand. Zenfolio, Photoshelter, Wix, Smugmug are well-known website services that provide photographer-friendly customizable templates.
There are integrated vendors to make it easy for a customer to see and order directly from your website. Photo galleries, your bio, email campaigns, blogs and workshop information can all be easily represented in one site.
Shopping sites that people visit with the intention to ‘buy' art such as Etsy and print on demand sites like Fine Art America, Imagekind.com and others may offer a faster way of generating some income.
The effective use of SEO (hint: really good use of #hashtags in describing your art) will help elevate your artwork in relevant searches.
As you are pricing your work, it's a good practice to have a pricing methodology across multiple sites. A print on one site that's printed on the same type of paper as the other site – you may want to ensure your pricing is consistent.
If you're selling your work on a site that offers framing, metal prints, higher quality inks and papers vs. another site, the pricing should reflect the difference in quality. You are giving your customer options on where/how to buy your art.
Website tip: Include your website URL and sites where your work is available for in your emails, social media postings, on your business cards, etc. to drive awareness of where your work can be purchased.
4. Stick With It – Tenacity
It takes time to earn sales and even more to earn a steady income. Have a plan and work your plan. Remember that it is trial and error. Posting and more posting. Branding, more branding and rebranding.
Sticking with a plan and making adjustments along the way will definitely increase your odds for success. Try to get some feedback from others and ask for advice – even those who aren't photographers but are great business/marketing people.
5. Evolve – Don't Get Stuck
Quality work is a must. At the same time, how do you as an artist feel about your work? How has your work evolved? What are you trying that is new and different while staying true to your own style? Customers who invest in your work are often repeat buyers.
“Wow” your customers and admirers by staying true to your work and also trying new techniques and subjects.
Are there artists who make it there overnight? Absolutely! They're in the minority, I promise you.
Today, you'll find that many artists earning a steady income leverage a combination of the above to stay relevant with their expanding audience.
Separating yourself from the massive pack of photographers and finding customers that will put out money for your work is a constant challenge. This is true for both new and established photographers.
When you feel overwhelmed (I say when, because it almost always happens to us photographers), take a pause, reflect and talk with other photographers or friends/family and see what ideas spring up – you'll often be very pleasantly surprised!
Make Money as a Photographer – Top Takeaways
- Ensure you're networking with people is one of the first real tangible steps.
- If you're on only one or two social media channels, utilize them, fully! Share your work with friends. Others who are simply sharing and mentioning and “liking” causes a ripple effect and that can lead to someone wanting small gig doing.
This in turn, is great for you, your exposure and your website portfolio. Word of mouth is still golden.
- Expanding your reach – voluntary work, camera clubs etc are all great places to be involved in.
- Be consistent and then learn from valuable lessons and feedback so you can evolve and develop.
- Imagine Having A Photography Blog People Actually Visited… by Sheen Watkins
- 7 Useful Post Ideas for Your Own Photography Blog by Jason D. Little
- How Photography Connects Us Through Broadcasting by Jason Row
Thinking about how to make your fresh new Photography Website everything you dreamed it could be?
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Hi Sheen, great article. I struggle with finding regular people on twitter – everyone is marketing their own blogs and I suspect not really reading or visiting anyone else’s. Most of the posts are automated by buffer or hootsuite so I don’t feel like I’m communicating to a person. Do you find that to be true?
Also my audience is non-professional photographers looking for travel photography guides and tips. Just regular people with day jobs who love to travel and shoot on vacations. So how would you reach that audience? Any suggestions appreciated!
Hi Shimona – sorry for the delayed response, I just picked up your message. As you’ve already discovered, there’s not one sure-fire way to reach an audience. It really is a combination. If your network is travelers – what about offering a free-one time photo workshop for one of your local travel agencies – they could offer it and promote you at the same time. It may turn into a regular ‘fee’ opportunity with that agency and potentially more clients looking for 1/1 training. The other is using hashtags – #travel #travelphotography #travelphototips – in your blogs, etc. If you have a facebook business page – sharing your work along with a reminder about what you offer on occasions.
Hope this helps!
Excellent advice on all levels!