When it comes to finding photography gigs, there isn’t an exact formula for success. Sometimes it’s who you know. Sometimes it’s time-consuming research and marketing. And other times, it can be just pure luck. Right place, right time. The life of a freelance photographer is unpredictable, and with that uncertainty comes waves of anxiety. In order to combat this, here are some tips to maximize your exposure in order to sustain a steady, fruitful career as a photographer.
KNOW YOUR MARKET
I’ve been lucky enough to have a successful career in Hong Kong, Chicago, and Savannah, GA – three completely different markets. In Hong Kong, it was social media that landed me jobs for luxury brands. In Chicago, it was research and marketing that brought me work as a photo retoucher. And in Savannah, it’s mostly word of mouth bringing me campaigns for lifestyle brands, interior designers, and architects. Regardless of the city you’re based in, start with market research. Buy regional magazines to discover which local companies have the budget for marketing. Create a spreadsheet to record their name, address, and e-mails. Look at their website to see if you can find the names of the owner or relevant team members. Next, look at who is shooting those ads or editorial spreads within the magazine. Look at their websites to browse their work and client list. After you’ve done a deep dive, is there a skill set you have that the competition does not? What is your competitive advantage? Is it your lighting, your retouching, your creative quirk, or do you offer something that is underserved in your market? I recently bought a drone for my architecture clients because it’s something my competition doesn’t offer. Yet. I’m not saying you must buy the latest, greatest tech to stay ahead, but you should know your competition just as much as you know your market. In Savannah, there are an endless amount of portrait and wedding photographers, but not many interior photographers and even fewer lifestyle photographers. So that’s where I’ve focused my energy.
After you’ve gone through a healthy stack of regional content, go online and survey social media just as you did with magazines. Only this time, disregard budgets and money. Who are your dream clients and again, who is providing them with content? Some companies shoot their own content but double-check for tags or photo credits in their posts. Follow these companies and check in regularly to see when they are doing events. If they are someone you want to shoot for, then drop everything and go to every function they host.
Before you hit the streets like a social butterfly, I’d recommend being prepared with a website, social media presence, and business cards. With your contact list on standby, craft and tailor your website to your market. Create a logo or have a logo created for you (you’re a photographer, barter services with a graphic designer you admire), and try to concoct a design that fits your style of imagery. Again, look at your competition and dive into website builders like Squarespace that have clean, customizable templates to showcase your work. Most sites will give you a free two-week trial to upload and test your work with their templates. Your website should be your anchor and the go-to place to view your work at an appropriate resolution. This will take time. Try to secure an “[email protected]” or “[email protected]” e-mail when you set up your website to elevate your professionalism. I’m always a little thrown off by business professionals who give me business cards with generic emails, but that’s just my personal opinion. I have my [email protected] e-mail automatically forwarded to my Gmail, so I don’t have to check numerous emails.
If that’s jumping into the deep end for you, then start by creating an online profile with a platform, like Artrepreneur, that has been developed for helping emerging artists. They can give you exposure and provide you with resources to help jumpstart your career. Even if you’re already established, good exposure is good exposure, and these companies invest in exposing your work.
Next, I’d recommend designing a business card that is a perfect reflection of your website. I’d suggest starting with your website so you can use the same font. Sometimes options are limited. Screens can be misleading, so make sure it’s clear and legible on a quick inkjet print before sending it off to print. Above all, you want the information to be readable. There’s always a debate on whether you should include a photo on your business card. I think that’s a little dated personally, and since I shoot numerous genres of photography, there’s not an image of mine that covers everything. Keep it simple. Try to integrate your social media by offering images or behind-the-scenes glimpses that your website doesn’t have, so they can feed off of each other. Rules are always meant to be broken, but I think the cardinal rule with brand identity is to stay consistent, especially with promos. Using my contact list, I mail 6×8 postcards to both existing and potential clients once per quarter. Not only am I seeking new clients, but I’m maintaining steady communication and treating each client like a friendship. I use the same logo, font choice, and aesthetic as my website. I use images based on the season or the type of client I’m focusing on. The promo below was sent out during Spring to interior designers and architects within a 100-mile radius of me. I’ve had pretty good luck with this method, as it’s better than cold calls (don’t do them) or e-mails. Make sure you check USPS guidelines for postcards if you go this route. For inspiration on other types of promos, check out www.aphotoeditor.com or @aphotoeditor on IG. It’s a great source for photography news and trends as well.
Once you’ve got your brand identity under control, it’s time to go out and be fearless. Easier said than done, but if you’re going to go into the business of yourself, you MUST be comfortable with pitching yourself. Humble bragging is an art. It’s pivotal that you integrate yourself into the creative community by attending gallery receptions, restaurant openings, and community events. I was very introverted in high school, so it took me a long time to get into this routine. Work rarely just falls on your lap and competition can be tough, but finding your next gig starts with sticking your neck out as far as you can with appropriate tools. Good luck, you got this!
How have you landed your photography gigs? Have you used the tips in this article? Let us know in the comments!
Adam Kuehl was born in Oak Park, Illinois in 1982. While obtaining a BFA and MFA in photography from SCAD, he worked for the university to produce award-winning look books, national ad campaigns and coffee table books.
Although Kuehl thrives in photographing a variety of subjects, his work is rooted in nighttime landscapes. His series Savannah Nights has exhibited internationally and gained him inclusion in Magenta Foundation’s Flash Forward Tenth as one of the Top 100 Emerging American Photographers. Kuehl was named 25 Under 25: Up-And-Coming American Photographers by the Center for Documentary Studies. His commercial work has appeared in The New York Times, Architectural Digest, Vogue, PDN, National Geographic Traveler among many others.