How To Become A Pro Photographer, Part 3 - Marketing and Self-Promotion

Posted on 10/19/2010 by Daniel H. Bailey | Printable Version | Comments (0)

Welcome back. Hopefully you’ve taken some time to ponder the topics that I’ve covered so far in Part 1- Making the Jump, and Part 2- Getting the Gear and Expertise. If you haven’t had a chance to read read those articles yet, be sure and check them out.

Today we talk marketing.

Marketing is where things start to get scary for some photographers. After all, we’re passionate enough about our imagery to want to make this our full or part time profession, and we’re certainly adept with technology and digital imaging gear. However, this is where photography starts enter the business realm, which, unfortunately, doesn’t always come easy to some creative and artistic types.

However, photographers are good at creative problem solving, right? We problem solve apertures, shutter speeds, lighting conditions, subject placement in the frame and tweaking our shots in post processing.

Well, marketing is the same thing. It’s solving a very simple creative problem that can easily be summed up in one sentence.

“How can I convince clients to hire me?”

Marketing is simply finding creative ways to get your name and imagery in front of potential customers enough times so that they remember you and eventually find a reason to hire you. In that sense, marketing is a long term solution. It’s laying a foundation that you build on each time you make a contact.

They say it takes seven impressions until someone remembers you. Sometimes more, sometimes less. It takes longer than that for them to need your services, and it takes even longer for them to actually pull the trigger and call you for a job.

I send promo cards to my clients on a regular basis. Then one day, after about seven years of that, one of my cards landed on the desk of the Outdoor Photographer Magazine editor right when he was trying to decide who to feature in the next issue. I got the call, and it not only turned into a feature story about me and my work, he also assigned me to write a feature article and photo package about the stock photo industry for their sister publication, Digital Photo Pro.

That said, there are definitely times where someone will come across your website, see what they like and call you right away. In fact, these days, with websites becoming the primary way to view a photographer’s work, it’s happening more often.

Whether someone calls after seeing your website once or because they’ve seen your promo cards for ten years, the basic rule of marketing is the same. You have to make each impression count, ESPECIALLY the first one.

Your Website

In this day and age, you have to have a website and it has to be great. End of story. In most cases, your website is the first time that potential customers will see your work. It’s your first impression, so you need to make it as good as you can.

I’m amazed at how many photographer sites I visit that just aren’t visually appealing, or that load slowly because they’re so heavily laden with Flash, music or other cluttering add-ons, or that simply look like they were built by an amateur. Don’t make that yours.

Your website should look professional. It should reflect both you and your brand. It should be easy to navigate, consistent in design and consistent with your print marketing, and it should present a clear impression of who you are, what you do and what kind of imagery you make. It should also be SEO friendly. If you don’t know much about SEO, you can find very good info in the resources that I’ve listed at the end of this post.

If you do not have the skills to make a professional looking website, then you should either hire someone to build it, or else use one of the online services like Livebooks or Smugmug. Here’s a review that I did of some of these services on The Photoletariat.

Depending on what kind of photography you do, your site can either be a simple and stunning visual impression of your work, or it can be a feature filled tool where customers can purchase and download stock, view portrait albums or place orders with full e-commerce capabilities. That’s up to you and your budget. If in doubt, smart simple and build from there. At the very least, get something up that looks great.

Print Marketing

In addition to an awesome website and professional made business cards, you should also create and mail print pieces to your potential and established clients on a regular basis. These effectively act as little “reminders.” With print marketing, it’s a numbers game. Send enough reminders, and someone is bound to call you.

Of course, your print pieces have to be eye catching. Imagine the millions of promo cards that cross in the mail every year and land on the desks of photo editors. Here’s a great post on A Photo Editor that actually shows how many cards a typical photo buyer gets.

With that in mind, your cards have to stand out, because, chances are, they’re going to be bundled together with at least a few other cards that also showed up in the mail that day. The editor will probably give it a quick glance, because, believe it or not, editors are always on the lookout for creative new talent. If your card doesn’t immediately intrigue their visual senses, though, it will likely end up in the recycle bin without a second look.

If you don’t have ability or design sense to create a great looking print piece, then hire a graphic designer. Better yet, barter with one. After all, designers need imagery and trading for services is a just one way that photographers can be resourceful.

Social Media

The social media revolution has taken us by storm and it’s here to stay. However, many photographers simply don’t know how to use it in the most effective way. Not that I’m an expert, I’m learning more every day just like many of you, but I’ve stumbled on a few basic rules that seem to make sense.

There’s a reason it’s called Social Media. It’s all about people interacting with each other as they share ideas and content. The operative word there is “interacting.” The people and companies that run successful and effective social media campaigns are those that actually take part in this interaction. They listen to, respond and communicate with the people on the other end of the keyboard. They don’t stand around holding up a virtual sign and then sit back while they wait for the traffic to come in.

Unfortunately, that’s how many photographers use social networking sites, though. They post links to their work and expect that all their followers and fans will simply drop everything, go check it out and then share your content with all of their followers as well. Somehow, they think, this will eventually get them some work. Don’t feel bad, we’ve all done it that way from time to time.

Sorry, it doesn’t quite work that way, UNLESS the content you post is absolutely stunning, which brings me to my next point. You have to give people a reason to follow or like you. Great content is certainly one reason, but more often than not, you also have to give them something else. Something they can actually use, whether it inspires, intrigues, educates, informs or helps them, or simply makes them laugh. Never underestimate the power of laughter!

Engage with your social media friends and followers. Bring them into the discussion and let them say what they think or let them share their content and ideas. Listen to them and actually be a real person instead of a page. I think you’ll find that the more you interact with your followers, the more they’ll interact with you and share what you have to say with others. Social media is just like life- if you want the love you’ve got to give it.


Social networking is no different than any other kind of marketing. It’s all about building and maintaining lasting relationships with your customers. You need to show them that you can provide them with a valuable service, and give them a reason why it should be you they hire and not someone else.

You do this by being personable and easy to work with, AND, of course, by going the extra mile to give them the finished product that ends up being better than they expected. If you do that on a consistent basis, you’ll not only get the call, you’ll get referrals, which are worth more than gold in this business.

A few months ago, I spoke with a potential new client who said, “alot of the photographers I’ve hired are not very easy to work with…”

What the…?! Not easy to work with? You should be VERY easy to work with. You should be downright ENJOYABLE to work with. So much so that they can’t wait to hire you again, and better yet, go out for a beer with you after the shoot! Now that’s networking.

Be yourself. Be positive. Be easy going. Be interested in who they are as well. Remember editors are people too. The most successful photographers work hard to maintain their professional relationships through regular contact and interaction.

Don’t just put your work out there, put you out there. In the long run, that’s what people will respond to the most.

There are lots of great books and resources out there on marketing, networking and social media. Professional Photographer Magazine actually has alot of great marketing tips that are geared towards wedding and portrait shooters and studio owners. If you shoot this kind of work, consider subscribing. The Photoletariat also runs regular columns on marketing, social media and self promotion tips.

The Linked Photographers Guide to Online Marketing and Social Media is an excellent and very up-to-date book that shows photographers how to get the most out of social media and online sites and create a successful online marketing campaign.

It covers how to really use Facebook and Twitter to your advantage, and it even has a section on that covers SEO, which will show you how to create or modify your website so that it will actually be found.

And for those of you who follow our good friend Jack Hollingsworth on Twitter, aka @photojack, he’s even featured in the book! As many of you already know, Jack a great photography social marketing resource on his own and he’s always sharing good ideas with his followers.

The Photographers’s Guide to Marketing and Self-Promotion is another great all around guide to marketing and networking that I’d highly recommend to anyone who wants to ramp up their photo marketing plan.

The Author, Maria Piscopo, who is a professional photographers’ rep, shows you how to define the type of work you do, how to build and present an effective portfolio, and how to create and run a successful marketing campaign that includes print, email, newsletters and more.

This book is definitely worth checking out, it’s recommended by Popular Photography Magazine and Photo District News.
Ok, your assignment today is to spend some time thinking about how you’re going to market yourself and get your name out there. Get out your little notebook and jot down answers to the following questions:
  • What products or services do I have to offer?
  • Who are my potential customers?
  • How can I let them know who I am and what I can do for them?
  • Why should they hire me instead of someone else. i.e., what are my strengths?
  • How can I communicate that to them?
  • Is my website design fresh and is the content up-to-date and eye catching?
You don’t have to come up with complete answers to these questions all at once, in fact they’re questions that you’ll keep coming back to. Hopefully, you’ll keep finding new and creative solutions to these problems throughout your career as a professional photographer.

Copyright © 2010 Daniel H. Bailey. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

Dan Bailey is a full time adventure and outdoor photographer and writer based in Anchorage, Alaska. Visit his website at


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