A little over 20 years ago now I was awarded a diploma for photography and was whisked into my new adult life with wishes of luck. I never expected to have a business that supported my passion as a photographer. Yet, here I am, 20 years later, after hard work, sweat, tears and a little bit of blood from scraped shins and bruised elbows; I have a business that I am super proud of and, I can honestly say, a life that I wouldn’t trade for the world.
I am a landscape photographer out of passion, not necessity. I had my first photography break as a wedding photographer, lugging bags of gear and film, telling stories of special days. However, I felt that I wasn’t telling my story, or expressing my passion. I put my camera down for a very long time until I could resolve my passion again. Today, I still lug bags of gear, 65lb backpacks to be precise, but my film has been replaced with a DSLR and many SD cards. I was asked to ‘expose’ on you a few piece of advice to make your photography business a success. Here they are…
What do you want to accomplish with your photography business? Take the time to really think about this and outline the goal. Do you want to photograph portraits, products, wedding, landscapes, pets? The possibilities are endless and the only way to become successful is to focus on what you really want, what you exceed at and what you want to accomplish with your business. I set my sights on landscape photography because I had – and will always have – a passion and connection with the natural world around me; I wanted to tell the story that I saw when I stood in a national park or beautiful scenic location. My business isn’t totally focused on photography either; a good portion is focused on live events, graphic design and coaching small businesses to help them grow, which allows me to be more passionate about what I do, as well as be more selective with the projects I do take on. This is the business model that works best for me. With that said, create your brand. When building your business you want to find your voice and, when doing this, you create your brand. It will define you to the world and also communicate who you are and bring in the clients you want.
Never stop growing. To be a photographer, a really amazing photographer, you have to keep testing and pushing your craft. Don’t stop adapting to and adopting new technology. I take workshops, online courses and in-classroom courses all the time, learning new techniques and pushing the limits on what is out there. This also means taking business courses and really understanding what it takes to run a business. Yes, you might take amazing photographs, but you must also understand what it means to protect yourself from copyright infringement, how to pay taxes on items that you’ve sold, or how to market yourself to get in front of the right clients.
Constantly travel through your local area and the world around you. The more you explore the more you grow as a photographer. You should always be testing out your skills in different light and different environments, taking you out of your comfort zone. I recently traveled to New Zealand and for almost the entire 21 days that I was there, it rained. I am known for sunset photography and, since there was no sun, I had to push my limits and grow as a photographer, testing my skills in ways I never had to before.
Social media is the biggest tool a photographer can have. From Instagram to Facebook, it is the easiest and most inexpensive way for you to promote, share and connect. Promote your work, where your audience can purchase your photography or hire you for a shoot. Share your work, let your audience know where you are working, what gear and equipment you are working with and position yourself as an expert in your field.
Connect with new clients and other photographers. Social media is such a wonderful tool whether you’re starting out or have a well-established business. Connecting with other photographers allows you to create a community in which you can test your knowledge, ask questions and network in a way that will help your business to grow and even land more quality clients. The biggest caveat I have with social media is that you know your rights as a photographer prior to uploading your photos. Know what you can and cannot share through social media, and understand your audience. A lot of time and research should be invested into how you present your social media accounts to the world.
My biggest advice would be to never give up. The world of photography is tough and everyone is fighting for a position. No, it doesn't mean that you stop trying and fold up your portfolio with your head hung low; instead, keep pushing forward and follow that dream. I have knocked on many gallery doors and been turned down more times than I care to count, but this only made me push further, test my skills more and grow as a photographer.
Figure out what works and what doesn’t, keep a journal, keep a blog, and look back at where you came from. From client to client, I have seen my portfolio grow and my style change. I’m always asking fellow photographers to critique my work, pushing to the next step, so the next time I knock on that door it stays open and I hear a yes.
Overall, when starting a business, like with anything in life, you need to begin with a very strong foundation. If your foundation is weak, your business will collapse onto itself and you will be left wondering what really went wrong. Knowing your market, knowing the laws, understanding your audience and following your passion will allow you to build a successful business and create connections within the industry that will last a lifetime. Never stop telling your story.