Whether it’s ditching the day job to live the dream of being a full time professional photographer, or just making some money on the side to buy some extra kit many people dream of earning an income from photography.
Those who have made the leap from photography enthusiast to turning their obsession into something they make money out of know it’s not easy, so we spoke to some of the speakers at our Going Pro Workshop, and they offered the following advice:
1. Develop a Style & Specialise
You can’t please all of the people all of the time, so you need to decide which area of photography you’re going to specialise in and then create an amazing portfolio around that.
Pick from many niche areas including wedding, food, product, portrait, fashion, stock, sport, wildlife or many others. Some go well together such as portrait and wedding, or food and product, but it will not help you at all if you have lots of sections in your portfolio showing some animals, a few shots from your amazing travels, several cute baby shots, your friend’s wedding and a handful or macro shots. You’ll need to be brutal and cull some of your favourite images so that your portfolio is clearly focused around the area of photography that your clients are looking to buy.
Furthermore, you need to develop a strong style. Lots of different styles will confuse potential clients because they won’t know what to expect from you. People should clearly be able to understand the type of images they will get if they work with you. Accept that not everyone will like your style, but those that do will be very interested in working with you. Maybe one day people may be able to look at an image recognise it as yours. Take inspiration from other photographers but don’t copy them.
2. Be Seen
Being successful in most things can be more about who you know rather than how good you are. No matter how great the work you are producing is, you need to get it in front of the right people.
Obviously you will have a website. You’ll need to learn the dark art of SEO or pay someone to do it so that people find your site in Google. This is a tough thing to do as there is so much competition, but if you’re specialised you should be able to show up relatively highly in Google for some specific terms related to your area of photography.
Another reason to specialise is that it’s much easier to rank highly for terms like ‘classical musician photographer’ than it is for ‘London photographer’.
You need to set up social media sites for your photography, including a Facebook page, Twitter, Linkedin and Google +. Instagram, Pinterest and others may also be useful. It’s time consuming to keep them all updated though, so pick 2 or 3 to work with.
Attend events, enter competitions, group exhibitions and talk to people about what you do. Send your your photos to magazines and websites, give out business cards.
Building a following takes a long time. You have to start somewhere so set targets for yourself, such as writing one blog post with an amazing image every week, or posting something great to your Facebook page every 2 days.
The photos you publish obviously need to be amazing for people to be interested enough to come back, so not only do you have to promote yourself regularly, you also have to produce great work all the time. If you can do that, then you’re definitely on the path to success!
You have to constantly push your work out there to be seen, it’s rare that fame happens overnight, but with a consistent output of great work, and an ongoing plan to push it out there, you give yourself the best chance of your work being seen.
3. Sort out the non-Creative Stuff
It may be boring but it’s essential. You’ll need to register as a sole trader, complete a self assessment tax return, each year, have your kit insured for business use and get personal liability insurance. The gov.uk website is a good place to start
4. Create a Brand
To differentiate yourself as a photographer in a very crowded market you need a consistent and clear identity which is strongly defined to reflect you and your photography. If you have a clear identity it will enable your potential audience to quickly see what you do and what they will be buying into. If your identity is not clear, working with you will be perceived as a risk because it is harder to ascertain what you are about.
The good news is that you don’t need a massive marketing budget to create your brand. A few simple but effective things can be done.
Begin by writing down everything that makes you and your photography different from everyone else. Think broadly and cover areas such as your style of photography, the subjects you shoot, your personality, your affiliation to potential clients, pricing, location, and training. Then make sure the areas where you are strong are clearly communicated, and incorporated into the channels you appear in, be it your website, Flickr or emails. It can be communicated visually through your images and in writing in the types of posts you put on Facebook for example.
When you’ve done this consider creating a brand name and strap-line that reflects it.
Lizzy Jones, Photography for Rock Gods. From that one line you know what Lizzy does and who her customers are. You can imagine how Lizzy’s website will look, the tone of her communications, and the type of images she’s likely to produce.
Beautiful Gardens Captured on Camera by RHS Fellow Ian Smith would be a totally different type of photographer, but you still know exactly what to expect.
Ensure that your tone of communication and every image you publish though any medium is consistent with your brand. This includes in all of your promotional materials from your website, social media profiles, emails and business cards.
Decide who the target viewers for your images are, and who your target market it. Ensure your brand, services, and pricing match your target clients. If you want to attract high-end clients who spend a lot of money then your products, service and brand will have to reflect this. Similarly if you want to attract a younger market with a cheaper product, your brand will have to reflect this.
Start somewhere and grow from there, it will be a slow process. Don’t expect to conquer the world in the first month, but take small steps forward all the time with new clients, more work, new contacts. Assess what works and what doesn’t, then change to make things work better. You won’t get everything right first time, so learn from your mistakes. Take opportunities as they arise. Be persistent and tenacious. You have to keep going, stay motivated and overcome obstacles if you want to be a success at this.
Understand that only a few people make a full time living as a photographer, and fewer still make it to the very top. As well as talent, these people have had some luck, they’ve taken their opportunities, and the have been incredibly persistent and focussed. That’s what you also need to do.
By Andrew Mason