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When was the last time you googled your city and your genre photographer? I tried this the other day, and I used ‘Chicago lifestyle’ and ‘travel photographer.’ The search results returned 18.5K results. Yes, that is ‘K’ as in thousands.
Photography is an extremely competitive field and it can be difficult to make your photography stand out. Low cost of entry in terms of gear, free online tutorials and a pool of clients who want everything for ‘free’ or ‘low budget’ means there is work for anyone who wants to get into the field. Sure, some genres are harder to get into than others, perhaps. But the reality is that if you want to get paid to take photos for someone else, chances are you will be able to do that relatively easily.
Now, I am not against any of this. We all start somewhere, and I had also done the ‘free’ photoshoot when I was starting to get my feet wet. I understand all that is needed to become a photographer.
But I quickly learned that the $50 or $100 photoshoots are not worth my time, effort, and talent. As a photographer, there are many expenses such as:
I was effectively paying people to let me take their photo.
That math did not add up and made no sense what so ever.
If you want to make it long term in the photography industry, there are several things you need to do to get yourself on the right track and stand out from the rest of the crowd when it comes to your skill, your business practices and your presence – on and offline!
Don’t be a one-hit wonder. Consistently create and produce new work. Even if that work is just for you, personal projects or collaborative projects.
If you have to do ‘free’ or ‘low budget’ shoots, have a plan on when, how, and what you are going to get and give from these shoots. Spending 6 months providing free shoots or low-cost shoots to build up your portfolio is okay, but taking 2 years to do so is a bit much.
Also, realize that free/low-cost shoots tend to look very different from clients who are willing to spend $1000 or more on a family photo shoot. So be practical with your goals.
A lot of photographers offer styled photo shoots and portfolio-building photoshoots. This is where a bunch of photographers walk through a styled setup and create work that they can showcase on their portfolio. There is nothing wrong with this but only if you use this as a way to build your skill.
For example, you are editing clients of different skin tones, learning how to photograph in challenging light or how to pose and interact with clients. Don’t use these images as ‘your’ work. You are better off indicating images from a styled shoot as such than you are in showcasing work/styling that isnt your own.
Instead of consistently looking for styled shoots for building a portfolio, invest in one of your own. It doesn’t have to be elaborate or fancy. Loop in a few vendors and see if you can set something up that can fit your brand and theirs. This is a win-win for all involved. That way, you create unique images and also make friends in the industry.
This relates to number 2. Make friends in the industry. I belong to many FB groups and Whatsapp groups for creatives and photographers. We meet, chat, connect over business issues as well as offer advice and help as needed. I also am a part of a group with many different kinds of entrepreneurs to build a community of like-minded people and professionals. I have gotten a lot of business from these groups but have also made some life long friends and mentors. People who are always there for me because I am always there for them.
No matter what level of business you are at or even if you are just a hobbyist, there are always people who are just like you and are looking for the same things as you – friendship, love for photography and camaraderie. Give out as much as you can, be helpful and uplift others who are on this journey with you. The more you put out there, the more you will receive from the universe.
Photography is a very competitive industry. At any given point in time, there are bound to be people who can do something better than you. And that is totally okay. Know where your strengths lie and use those to your advantage. Aim to be in it for the long haul and not just the short term gigs that are one and done deals. Build relationships with your clients so that they will refer you and come back time and time again for quality results.
Success doesn’t happen overnight. Be consistent and be patient, and things will happen in their own time.
Whether you choose to be in business or not, be true to your art. Get inspiration from other photographers and daily life. There are many amazing things around us at any given point in time. Just because no-one else photographs it, does not make it boring. Similarly, think outside the box. Just because everyone photographs something a certain way, does not mean you have to follow the pack.
When you are starting out, don’t obsess over clients, getting work, and making money. Yes, they are absolutely important but take the time to perfect your art (to the point where you are confident charging money for your photography). Then, money and fame will follow.
When I used to work in Corporate America many many years ago, one of the companies I worked for had a 360-degree approach to annual performance evaluation. My performance was judged by how effective I was in four areas: my peers in my team and across teams, my managers, and those who worked for me. Apply this approach to your photography. No matter where you are committed to helping those just starting out, collaborate with your peers, learn from those who are where you want to be. This can be in terms of meetups, workshops, and conferences or even just meeting for a cup of coffee to connect with others.
In my opinion, the tips for making your photography stand out from the crowd focus on things that are more important. Your attitude towards yourself and others, your mindset, your willingness to get help and help others, and your long term vision for where you want to be, are far more important than your skill with the camera. After all, almost anyone can take a picture – simply point and shoot. It takes a lot more to become a successful photographer who consistently creates art.