The Photographer’s Guide to Self-Promotion

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Deanna Wardin

By Deanna Wardin

Have you ever been told by your parents “Don’t talk about yourself too much; people won’t like you!” or “Don’t show off!”? Talking too much about your achievements leads not only to criticism, but can also lead to disappointment. There is always going to be someone who worked harder and who has done more than you. The minute you realize you’ve achieved so much in your personal and work life, the reality smacks you and shows you that you’re too big for your boots. Some of us engage in far too much self-adulation and bragging, while the rest of us are afraid of being criticized and afraid to talk about ourselves.

In the photography industry we are met with obstacles that challenge our motivation to market themselves effectively. Self-promotion is an art that allows you to sell yourself – your personality, your knowledge, your experience – as a brand. Learn how to do it properly to achieve the best results. Here are some tips and tricks on how to overcome your fear of self-promotion and make people believe in you and your products.

The importance of self-promotion

Obviously, photographers want to spend most of their time taking photos. However, if you take yourself seriously and want to set up a successful photography business, then you need to dedicate some time to raise your profile and promote your work. Running any kind of business means you’ll have to wear many different hats, and in this instance you’ll need to be both a good photographer and a good marketer for your business.

You may be brilliant in what you do, but if no one knows about your products and services, there is no point in bothering. By being a self-promoter, you’ll be given an opportunity to demonstrate your talent. There is nothing shameless in creating something beautiful and wanting to share it with people who can benefit. Nobody will hire you until you tell and show people who you are and what you can do. If you’re not comfortable talking about your achievements and promoting yourself, it’ll be difficult, if not impossible, to get ahead in your photography career.

Fear of self-promotion

You may be shy or afraid to tell others what you can do and what you have achieved. No matter who you are, if you are afraid of self-promotion, there is a 100% likelihood that this fear stems from somewhere. Your main goal should be to identify what the fear. Once you find the root of this fear, you will be able to reduce its power on you.

Where could this fear be coming from? It could be a fear of rejection, a fear of showing off your artwork as it’s deeply personal to you, or a fear of success and its influence on your life. For most of us this fear is what other people would think or say about us. Therefore, your major task is to identify your personal fears and try to overcome them from within. You never know before you try, so give it a try before imagining your worst fears.

Most likely, the fear of self-promotion is accompanied by the fear of failure. To promote yourself means taking some risks. It means coming out from your comfort zone and putting yourself out there in front of other people.

Everybody fails. Even the billionaire Steve Jobs failed; back in 1984 he was fired from Apple. He co-founded Apple Computer at the age of 21. At 23 he became a millionaire. He was a global celebrity and highly successful man, but he still got fired! In 2005 he said the following words about that incident:

“I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.” – Steve Jobs

In other words, failure is a path to success, even if you don’t see it at first. If everything goes smoothly all the time, you’ll have no reason to move forward and change things for the better. There are many other bright examples throughout history, when famous and successful people were not recognized at first. Don’t be afraid to give it a try!

Four Essential self-promotion tactics

It’s essential to know how to promote your brand and your business effectively. I hope that with the help of these tips you’ll have a grasp of what is required to make your work more visible and to build a successful career in photography.

Get your business online

As a photographer, you need a portfolio to back up your title. A portfolio website is the easiest place for you to showcase your work in the best way and is also the easiest place for people to find your photography. Your portfolio is what the client will use to evaluate whether they want to use your services. It will be what they judge you on. For the digital world, where browsing for photographers is as easy as clicking on the screen, it might even take them five seconds to discard you or to like you based on the images you are displaying in your portfolio. It’s critically important for self-promotion, it’s your image and the face of your company.

There are many ways to build your portfolio online these days. You can order a website from a creative agency or use one of the numerous software solutions available to create a website yourself. Fortunately, this market evolves really fast and brings some really advanced yet affordable options. For instance, Defrozo is an all-in-one marketing platform that helps you better display and market your business online. It’s currently available in Beta version, but it’s totally free and will remain so forever, according to the developers – that’s a great option if you are just getting started with your own business.

2 zenfolio screenshot

For established photography brands, there is Zenfolio and PhotoShelter that offer a long list of advanced features for hosting and selling your work online. These are just a few options to mention, you can find more website building solutions in this list here on Digital Photography School.

Aside from a portfolio, set up your profiles in all the major photo sharing services like Flickr, 500px, Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. The links from those websites alone will contribute to better ranking in search engines. Done wisely, social media can become your most important source of leads and clients. So get your name out there, and more importantly, invest your time and effort in building a credible, socially engaged online presence.

Help and over-deliver

Every time you have a client, they are a potential word-of-mouth marketer, so be sure to be on the top of your game when it comes to customer service.

Not only must the time you spend with your client while shooting be an amazing experience, but the whole overall experience you deliver should be excellent. Take care of the process of delivering photos to your client. You could even send beautiful “Thank You” cards displaying your logo with a flash drive or DVD.

VancityAllie .com

By VancityAllie .com

Another great way to make people talk about you is to HELP. This tip can be easily misunderstood so let me be clear. I’m not talking about helping someone for selfish gain. What I mean is that people are usually happy to recommend someone who helped them in a time of need and this additional buzz is a nice bonus, an amazing feeling you get when you do a kind gesture for someone else. Therefore, a blog post sharing your expert advice, taking part in a charity project, or simply photographing your new neighbors’ kid’s birthday party for free can bring you some really great self-fulfillment, and boost your incoming referrals for sure.

Finally, don’t forget about your social media presence. Spend time where your clients are and share something they might care about. For instance, post a few photos shortly after the shoot and tag your clients. Then grab a cup of coffee and expect a phone call from customers who are sure to be pleasantly surprised. Learn the specifics of each social network and make the best out of it: use Quora to share your expertise and Pinterest to give inspiration to those seeking it. Remember, the key word in “social media” is “social”, so be social and give some likes and comments to your friends’ recent posts as well.

Study psychology

If you want to get ahead using self-promotion and become really successful, consider learning some psychological tips and tricks on how to communicate with clients and talk about yourself correctly. You, as a photographer, have to talk about yourself a lot. However, sometimes it’s challenging to write a proper bio or a good recommendation of yourself. This could sound disappointing, but remember that your potential customers are not visiting your site to hear about you, they want to hear about themselves!

They’ll read the information about you not like “Look how cool I am!”, but “Look how well we could work together!”. See the difference. Your bio or story about yourself is just one more chance for your potential customers to hear: “Hey! I’m here to solve your problems”.

In fact, people love to talk about themselves. That’s why selfies and all these social media sites are so popular. Harvard neuroscientists have found that we share our thoughts because it triggers the same sensations in our brain that food and money do.

4 study psychology pleasure of talking about ourselves

Their studies also shows that people even tend to pay money to talk about themselves. So, listen to your clients more and talk less. But make them understand that you’re experienced enough to solve their problems, for instance, with their wedding photo session.

Network online and offline

Last but not least, utilize the power of in-person meetings. The internet, and social media in particular, have given us enormous opportunities in terms of communication. However, after spending just an hour with your clients face-to-face, you’ll have a considerably better understanding of who they are and what they need. So be sure to get out there a couple times a week and practice your ninja social skills in real life.

Carry your business cards around with you at all times. Don’t be shy to “sell” yourself and give your card to family and friends. Leave them at the nearest coffee shop or a bookstore, exchange them with other media artists and vendors, you never know the source of your next clients!

Creative examples of self-promotion

These days the market grows rapidly and it takes a lot of effort and time to create a truly outstanding self-promotional campaign. Sometimes, it can happen that success comes to a person who even didn’t expect it. Along with the tips shared above I’d like to showcase a few creative examples of photographers’ self-promotion that worked out and brought fame to their creators.

The most epic self-promotion piece ever made

Photographer Jens Lennartsson created 400 GI Jens action figures of himself to send out as promotional materials.

Ami Vitale – Instagram

Ami Vitale, a National Geographic photojournalist who has visited over 85 countries, made a name for herself by uploading her travel images to Instagram.

Sam Horine – Instagram

Sam Horine is a photographer who is most well known for his images of New York City which he posts to Instagram. He has over 370,000 followers there and has worked with such prominent brands as Delta Airlines, NBC/Universal, Sony Electronics and Nike just to name a few.

Jeremy Cowart – Help Portrait

John carver help portrait yeg

The Help Portrait charity project

Jeremy Cowart, a celebrity photographer, became famous with his charity project Help Portrait. The project was founded in 2009 as a community of photographers who gather in cities all across the globe to take portraits for people in need.

John artist help portrait yeg2

Images by dPS Managing Editor Darlene Hildebrandt – Photos of John Carver, sculptor – Help Portrait customer.

Danny Cohen – a 43 Foot banner on a bridge

Photographer Danny Cohen wanted to work for David LaChapelle so much that he opted to plaster a 43 foot sign on a bridge in Melbourne the night before LaChapelle was scheduled to shoot at that location.

Elena Shumilova

You have probably heard about Elena Shumilova by now. She is a Russian photographer who came into the spotlight when 500px ISO interviewed her. After that her heart-warming photography quickly spread around the internet, from Reddit, BoredPanda, and ABC news.

Roof Topper

You’ve probably also seen Roof Topper’s pictures on Facebook or Pinterest many times before. Tom Ryaboi who became famous for his spectacular view photos from the highest buildings in his city.

Over to you

There’s no right or wrong formula for successful self-promotion. Your business is like your baby – you need to experiment and try a number of things to understand what works. Try, mix, and discover different marketing tactics to see what works for YOUR photography business.

What are your most effective self-promotion tactics? Share your tips in the comments.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Nancy Young

is a passionate writer and blogger. She writes tons of inspirational articles on photography and web design, despite the fact that she is an economist by education. Nancy believes in magic of written words to inspire and motivate. She is a part of the PhotoDoto Team. Check out our free ebook on landscape photography!

  • kelly87421

    until I saw the bank draft ov $5787 , I did not believe that…my… mother in law woz actually receiving money in their spare time from their laptop. . there uncles cousin haz done this for only about 10 months and recently repaid the loans on their cottage and purchased a new Chrysler . find out here now….>> -> earn by internet bussiness profession!!! <-

  • Thank you for mentioning Defrozo, Nancy! Some great tips listed in this article.

  • bobw-66554432

    I checked out the “Help Portrait” site, thoroughly. But, it never seems to answer the question “What’s in it for the people we photograph?”

    It seems as though its focus is to give the Photographer a “feel good about myself” day, without really materially changing the lives of those being photographed.

    It all seemed to be was “come with us and well make you up and take your picture and give you a copy.” What happens to the subject the next day, a week later, 2 years later?

    Are we to believe that a one or two hour interaction will change the lives of either the photographer or the subject? It seems to me like an exploitative situation that uses someone else’s misfortune to let me feel good about myself…

  • Hi Bob – well I can answer that because the photo shown above from the event was taken by me. What does the subject get? Well this would be my short list:

    – to feel pampered and handsome/pretty (which many often don’t if they are homeless or destitute)
    – to feel important for a few minutes
    – to feel cared for and the focus of attention
    – to have dignity for a little while
    – to have a finished portrait of themselves or their family, many of which have never had that. The guy I photographed (there were many stories) was sending it to his sister to show her he’s doing okay.
    – human connection
    – hugs/affection (can’t speak for everyone but I hugged all my subjects if they wanted it)
    – to have some fun
    – lunch or snacks often provided too, so a meal potentially depending on the location

    I’ve worked as a volunteer with an inner city charity for over 25 years. I’ve seen a lot of homeless and a lot of poverty. They want to feel special and pretty and have dignity too and often it is hard for them to get that or feel that way. Yes it’s only for an hour or a little while but these are the skills we have as photographers so we are using them in the best way we know how to help others. Maybe you’ve heard the phrase: I am only one, but I am one.

    So is it helping them get out of their situation? No. But does it help them forget for a little while – I’d say yes.

    Does that help?

  • Romil Mittal

    Great article, Nancy!

    I can’t agree more with the importance you have given to both being active on social platforms as well as creating your own portfolio website. I think they are equally important for photographers to promote themselves.

    One thing which I have noticed is that many photographers create their website but then it quickly goes out of date. They keep uploading new stuff on social platforms (which is great), but then can’t keep their website always updated at the same time (as that’s a difficult thing to do). There are some interesting solutions (like http://siftr.co) which solve this problem, thereby allowing photographers to post on social media and getting their site automatically updated.

    Thanks again for sharing this nice writeup!

    Disclaimer – I’m a team member at Siftr, so some of my views could be biased.

  • This post is pretty old, so not sure if you are going to read this Darlene – but I just wanted to say thank you for bringing this to my attention! In London it is very popular to volunteer these days rather than just donate money to charity, but I have always struggled with finding a volunteering opportunity that involves something I am really passionate about. This looks awesome and a worthy cause!

  • I get notice of all replied to my comments and I answer most of them. I’m glad you found it. I wrote more about Help Portrait on my own site here https://www.digitalphotomentor.com/help-portrait-2012-top-5-portrait-tips/

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