How To Survive a Down Economy As A Photographer

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Image by kwerfeldein

Image by kwerfeldein

You can ask 10 photographers what they think is their key to success in a bad economy – okay, flat out terrible economy – and you may get 10 different responses. Recently, a fellow photographer who had been following my blog commented that he wished he was busier, “but not Annie-busy!” He was stating this because I post client photoshoot sneak peeks on my blog every few days. Being a successful photographer is more than having a lot of business, it’s also about being profitable and, more importantly, being happy. That last point may sound hokey, but if having one photoshoot every few weeks makes you happy or making just enough to send your family on vacation is what you strive for, then that’s success.

Hearing this new term, Annie-busy, made me think about how I’d explain to other photographers what I’ve done in this economic recession that has kept my business flourishing. Though there are certainly other things that can be added to this list, here is what has been working for me.

There are three main points:

1. Have The Right Attitude

Even if you are a leader in your field, you need to keep learning new things – whether they are new gadgets and equipment or new techniques. You can take classes, attend seminars, and read industry publications. You can connect with other photographers to brainstorm ideas and learn tips.

Once you feel complacent and have an attitude that you don’t need to learn anything further, you will fall behind the pack.

2. Don’t Wait For Business

Whether you are busy with multiple photoshoots every week and a positive cash flow or your camera is collecting dust, there are many things you can do that can help your business.

Take action.

Here are some ideas to get you started: Can you update your portfolio? Are there vendors you wanted to try? Is there anything you can improve on your website? Are there things your competition is doing that you are interested in doing/having (ie, cool paper products, a blog)? Is there a way to expedite your workflow? Did you want to try out a new technique?

3. Think Outside The Box

I come from a Marketing background, so in my opinion, the three biggest reasons for one product’s success over another is Marketing, Marketing, Marketing. In this case, your “product” is you.

With that said, think about what else you can do to market your business.

You first have to have good online presence. So make sure you are happy with your website, and happy with how you and your business are presented to the public.

In addition to the traditional marketing methods, like advertising where your target audience will see the ad, there are also marketing avenues that are more effective… and often free! A good example is Relationship Marketing. It starts with creating a relationship with your clients. If your client refers you to someone else, that is 100 times more effective than having 100 people see your ad. Also, you can talk to business owners who share the same clients. You may be able to find common interests and run a co-promotion or find a way to help each other out. In this kind of economy, many businesses have to cut their advertising and marketing budget, so you may want to consider a product/services trade.

In the last few years, social networking has been growing in popularity, but it has also proven to be the new way to advertise. And it’s free! Networking sites, like Facebook and Twitter, are places millions of people frequent every day. I have gotten clients within minutes of an existing client posting their photos on their Facebook page. It is like getting an instant referral because that person knows my client, and referrals go a long way in this industry!

Another consideration is expanding your business in the form of your product line or even type of photography. I started out as a lifestyle photographer specializing in children, maternity and families, then tried out commercial photography and event photography this year – and really liked it! The commercial and event photography balances out the fast-paced, running-and-jumping-with-the-kids-til-I’m-sweating kind of photography! Expanding what you do to other types of photography will also expand your client base.

If you do this, don’t forget to stay true to yourself. Know what makes you happy and don’t change what you love only to grow your business. Clients will be able to detect your passion, or lack thereof, for the business. Plus, your artwork will reflect how you feel, so stick to doing what you love.

So test the waters, think outside the box, don’t wait for business to come to you, and have the right attitude regardless of the state of the economy.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Annie Tao is a Professional Lifestyle Photographer in the San Francisco Bay Area who is best known for capturing genuine smiles, emotions and stories of her subjects. You can visit Annie Tao Photography for more tips or inspiration. Stay connected with her on her Facebook page

  • Just get out there and do stuff! Take pictures, do marketing, build your portfolio. You will never get anywhere doing nothing!

  • I got a day job and have put freelancing on the back burner for a bit. It’s great, I only take photos I want to take.

  • Thomas is right, it’s all about the art of the start.

  • It’s great to hear success stories in this financial climate. You’re right it’s all about doing and getting out there, I’ve been upating my blog as a good starting point…

    Thanks for the advice

  • af

    Go to work for an HR department. Bring your shovel. Cliches, cliches…

  • I love outside the box at Travelin’ Local every day. I love what I do. And I’m taking action as we speak. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • ted

    Also remember to expand your photo outlets by offering images through services like iStockphoto, Fotolia, Flickr and Youtils (http://www.youtils.com). Cast a wide net in your distribution.

  • I think this is very pertinent because I’m just trying to start up a photography business now. It’s very difficult; there are a few established photographers in my area who are very good, but very expensive so I’m hoping I can differentiate on price, but the first to go during times of recession are luxuries and I feel that photographs are a luxury. Saying that, people will ALWAYS want pictures of their newborn babies.

    Great post, enjoyed reading.

  • It is hard to get a business started in these times…

    One of my clients keeps telling me to have a profile on Facebook, but I keep putting it off..Maybe I should really think about it.

    Thank you for all the tips, Annie.

  • Just shooting an event which you have not been hired for can sometimes get you introduced to someone for a future event. Being in the mix, talking to people, you never know who you might run into and suddenly you’ve got another shoot. Keeping your prices reasonable is especially helpful in times like these. People want photos, but they will do it themselves if they have to, for economical reasons, so make it fair.

    But also catching up on all the training opps, software practices, backing up and always carry a card…

    I’m still working on my website so the giant photo has to be reduced but you’ll get a view of some of my work. Great success to you all.

  • Like the last guy said….ALWAYS CARRY A BUSINESS CARD…and hand them out! I also carry a purse/bag with photos printed on it (from snaptotes) every time I go out shopping etc. People comment on the bag and I hand them a business card. It really has helped to get my name out there and brought in business.

  • Really awesome! I so badly needed to read this! I have been sitting wondering what can I do to make it better ๐Ÿ™‚ I feel good that some of the points you mentioned I have been doing ๐Ÿ˜€

    I just think to myself I just need to push through and at the end of this economic struggle I will have more business than I know what to do with coz of all the positive changes I have made to make sure I get some business during this time!

  • Thanks for this info Annie. I am an amateur photographer, just tarting out, but I have a passion for photography and enjoy it as a hobby. However, it is an expensive hobby and so I would love to start making some money out of it, if it is even to support the hobby itself. Your tips are vary useful and I will no doubt benefit from this.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/stunnerj/

  • love it thanks!!!! I would really love to make a living in Photography……addicting!

  • I appreciate everything that has been written here. And Annie Tao is cute =) I would really love to make a living in Photography……addicting!

  • A photographer friend who had been doing about $60K per month in commercial photography (for advertising and packaging) has adapted to the downturn by shooting everything else: high school senior portraits, high school sporting events, family portraits and weddings. This may be something photographers do in small markets but this is a guy in Chicago. Something to think about!

  • Random question: I am just starting my blog, but how did you start gaining readership? was it just natural? I mean how did people start finding you?

  • @Brad Jones: I have a facebook Page and Twitter. I have my RSS from my blog feeding onto both, which means when I update my blog, the post appears on Facebook and Twitter, as well. Hope that is helpful for you.

    I’m also a start-up, and I’ve sold a few prints, but have yet to secure any shoots. I have had some “almosts,” and I get lots of compliments on my work. I carry my business cards EVERYWHERE. I’m on Facebook, Twitter, I sell prints 3 places online,and I’m having a web site built. I also have photos up in one restaurant (no sales yet,) and another friend who wants to put some of my stuff up in his home office. Every little bit of exposure helps, I think, and something for us start-ups to remember is that it takes time to find clients/for our clients to find us.

    I’m interested in commercial and artistic photography. I could see doing corporate events, publicity shots, etc.

    Jennifer Moore
    JenniferLynn Productions, LLC

  • For certain! Vendors referrals are huge!

  • I am totally agree with Thomas, itโ€™s all about the art of the start.

  • @Stan,
    I think your friend made a good choice. To me that’s just good work ethic. If you don’t have business, you should be doing something. If it’s something else that you still enjoy, that’s even better.

  • This is a good article. I think the downturn in the economy is on everyone’s mind. Photography has certainly been affected. I shoot for Getty Images as a freelancer and have regular corporate clients. I also have a day job. My plan is to gear things up so when I retire from the day job, I can support myself with the photography. Many years ago I supported myself entirely with photography, cinematography and graphics. My income was 100% production and post production. I traveled and lived very well.

    Now, I started a family in the very worst of times (financially) and have managed to build up a decent freelance income to supplement my main income. I project that once I start publishing some coffee table books and exhibit in a few galleries, the market aspects of those activities will propel my business beyond the magazines and newspaper work into fine art and hopefully commercial and fashion. It helps to love what you do. The next step is to actually get well paid for it. I forgot to mention I published a website called The Red Carpet University, located at http://www.tear-sheets.net to help amateur and pro photographers make a smooth transition to the art of editorial entertainment photography aka red carpet photography.

  • I am just starting out but what I have found that gets me the most business is Facebook. I have a business page & when I do a shoot I post the best pictures on my page, with my signature on the photos, then tag the person who is in the photo. The pictures pop up on their page & their friends see them, with my signature on them so they know who took them. Then if they ‘like’ my photography page they can comment on the photos, add themselves to photos, ect. It’s great when they ‘like’ my page because whenever I post new photos from that shoot or other shoots I do, it shows up in their newsfeed. I am no expert & I am a total beginner but I am always willing to share what little amount of knowledge I have.

    Also, when posting pictures, only put up your best pictures. Don’t put up a lot at once, spread out when you post them so people keep coming back to your page to look at the new photos and don’t feel overwhelmed looking at several pictures at once.

    Hope this helps ๐Ÿ™‚

    http://kateballmanphoto.smugmug.com

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/kadiebird

  • Thanks for sharing this info Annie.I think that photography lover will love it Itโ€™s very difficult; there are a few established photographers in my area who are very good, but very expensive so Iโ€™m hoping I can differentiate on price, but the first to go during times of recession are luxuries and I feel that photographs are a luxury.. I am an amateur photographer, just tarting out, but I have a passion for photography and enjoy it as a hobby. However, it is an expensive hobby and so I would love to start making some money out of it, if it is even to support the hobby itself.

Some Older Comments

  • Helios Monocular January 23, 2012 05:46 pm

    Thanks for sharing this info Annie.I think that photography lover will love it Itโ€™s very difficult; there are a few established photographers in my area who are very good, but very expensive so Iโ€™m hoping I can differentiate on price, but the first to go during times of recession are luxuries and I feel that photographs are a luxury.. I am an amateur photographer, just tarting out, but I have a passion for photography and enjoy it as a hobby. However, it is an expensive hobby and so I would love to start making some money out of it, if it is even to support the hobby itself.

  • Kate October 18, 2011 06:00 am

    I am just starting out but what I have found that gets me the most business is Facebook. I have a business page & when I do a shoot I post the best pictures on my page, with my signature on the photos, then tag the person who is in the photo. The pictures pop up on their page & their friends see them, with my signature on them so they know who took them. Then if they 'like' my photography page they can comment on the photos, add themselves to photos, ect. It's great when they 'like' my page because whenever I post new photos from that shoot or other shoots I do, it shows up in their newsfeed. I am no expert & I am a total beginner but I am always willing to share what little amount of knowledge I have.

    Also, when posting pictures, only put up your best pictures. Don't put up a lot at once, spread out when you post them so people keep coming back to your page to look at the new photos and don't feel overwhelmed looking at several pictures at once.

    Hope this helps :)

    http://kateballmanphoto.smugmug.com

    www.flickr.com/photos/kadiebird

  • Steve Mack March 10, 2011 03:57 am

    This is a good article. I think the downturn in the economy is on everyone's mind. Photography has certainly been affected. I shoot for Getty Images as a freelancer and have regular corporate clients. I also have a day job. My plan is to gear things up so when I retire from the day job, I can support myself with the photography. Many years ago I supported myself entirely with photography, cinematography and graphics. My income was 100% production and post production. I traveled and lived very well.

    Now, I started a family in the very worst of times (financially) and have managed to build up a decent freelance income to supplement my main income. I project that once I start publishing some coffee table books and exhibit in a few galleries, the market aspects of those activities will propel my business beyond the magazines and newspaper work into fine art and hopefully commercial and fashion. It helps to love what you do. The next step is to actually get well paid for it. I forgot to mention I published a website called The Red Carpet University, located at www.tear-sheets.net to help amateur and pro photographers make a smooth transition to the art of editorial entertainment photography aka red carpet photography.

  • St Louis Wedding Photographer November 13, 2010 12:43 pm

    @Stan,
    I think your friend made a good choice. To me that's just good work ethic. If you don't have business, you should be doing something. If it's something else that you still enjoy, that's even better.

  • MobiStealth October 6, 2010 05:55 am

    I am totally agree with Thomas, itโ€™s all about the art of the start.

  • Endless Boudouir December 17, 2009 07:45 am

    For certain! Vendors referrals are huge!

  • Jennifer Moore August 18, 2009 05:30 am

    @Brad Jones: I have a facebook Page and Twitter. I have my RSS from my blog feeding onto both, which means when I update my blog, the post appears on Facebook and Twitter, as well. Hope that is helpful for you.

    I'm also a start-up, and I've sold a few prints, but have yet to secure any shoots. I have had some "almosts," and I get lots of compliments on my work. I carry my business cards EVERYWHERE. I'm on Facebook, Twitter, I sell prints 3 places online,and I'm having a web site built. I also have photos up in one restaurant (no sales yet,) and another friend who wants to put some of my stuff up in his home office. Every little bit of exposure helps, I think, and something for us start-ups to remember is that it takes time to find clients/for our clients to find us.

    I'm interested in commercial and artistic photography. I could see doing corporate events, publicity shots, etc.

    Jennifer Moore
    JenniferLynn Productions, LLC

  • Brad Jones August 1, 2009 02:57 pm

    Random question: I am just starting my blog, but how did you start gaining readership? was it just natural? I mean how did people start finding you?

  • Stan Malinowski July 27, 2009 01:35 pm

    A photographer friend who had been doing about $60K per month in commercial photography (for advertising and packaging) has adapted to the downturn by shooting everything else: high school senior portraits, high school sporting events, family portraits and weddings. This may be something photographers do in small markets but this is a guy in Chicago. Something to think about!

  • Kelby Montojo July 17, 2009 05:56 pm

    I appreciate everything that has been written here. And Annie Tao is cute =) I would really love to make a living in Photography......addicting!

  • Kelby Montojo July 17, 2009 05:55 pm

    love it thanks!!!! I would really love to make a living in Photography......addicting!

  • Stunner July 17, 2009 10:31 am

    Thanks for this info Annie. I am an amateur photographer, just tarting out, but I have a passion for photography and enjoy it as a hobby. However, it is an expensive hobby and so I would love to start making some money out of it, if it is even to support the hobby itself. Your tips are vary useful and I will no doubt benefit from this.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/stunnerj/

  • Tanya July 17, 2009 08:40 am

    Really awesome! I so badly needed to read this! I have been sitting wondering what can I do to make it better :) I feel good that some of the points you mentioned I have been doing :D

    I just think to myself I just need to push through and at the end of this economic struggle I will have more business than I know what to do with coz of all the positive changes I have made to make sure I get some business during this time!

  • carole July 17, 2009 03:39 am

    Like the last guy said....ALWAYS CARRY A BUSINESS CARD...and hand them out! I also carry a purse/bag with photos printed on it (from snaptotes) every time I go out shopping etc. People comment on the bag and I hand them a business card. It really has helped to get my name out there and brought in business.

  • Rich Collins Photography July 14, 2009 10:34 pm

    Just shooting an event which you have not been hired for can sometimes get you introduced to someone for a future event. Being in the mix, talking to people, you never know who you might run into and suddenly you've got another shoot. Keeping your prices reasonable is especially helpful in times like these. People want photos, but they will do it themselves if they have to, for economical reasons, so make it fair.

    But also catching up on all the training opps, software practices, backing up and always carry a card...

    I'm still working on my website so the giant photo has to be reduced but you'll get a view of some of my work. Great success to you all.

  • Iris July 13, 2009 11:08 pm

    It is hard to get a business started in these times...

    One of my clients keeps telling me to have a profile on Facebook, but I keep putting it off..Maybe I should really think about it.

    Thank you for all the tips, Annie.

  • Matt July 13, 2009 04:26 pm

    I think this is very pertinent because I'm just trying to start up a photography business now. It's very difficult; there are a few established photographers in my area who are very good, but very expensive so I'm hoping I can differentiate on price, but the first to go during times of recession are luxuries and I feel that photographs are a luxury. Saying that, people will ALWAYS want pictures of their newborn babies.

    Great post, enjoyed reading.

  • ted July 13, 2009 04:21 pm

    Also remember to expand your photo outlets by offering images through services like iStockphoto, Fotolia, Flickr and Youtils (http://www.youtils.com). Cast a wide net in your distribution.

  • LisaNewton July 13, 2009 01:42 pm

    I love outside the box at Travelin' Local every day. I love what I do. And I'm taking action as we speak. :)

  • af July 13, 2009 11:23 am

    Go to work for an HR department. Bring your shovel. Cliches, cliches...

  • Mandy July 13, 2009 07:00 am

    It's great to hear success stories in this financial climate. You're right it's all about doing and getting out there, I've been upating my blog as a good starting point...

    Thanks for the advice

  • Noel Hurtley July 13, 2009 05:58 am

    Thomas is right, it's all about the art of the start.

  • tyler July 13, 2009 05:54 am

    I got a day job and have put freelancing on the back burner for a bit. It's great, I only take photos I want to take.

  • Thomas Flight July 13, 2009 02:59 am

    Just get out there and do stuff! Take pictures, do marketing, build your portfolio. You will never get anywhere doing nothing!

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