10 Simple Ideas for Creating a Sustainable Photography Business

10 Simple Ideas for Creating a Sustainable Photography Business

It’s one thing to get a shoot now and then, and another to create and sustain a commercial photography business. Here are a couple of thoughts for you to consider.

1. Get a hard edge to criticising your own work and make sure it is living up to your standards.

Getting a good critique for your work is one of the more difficult things to do. While it may be a progressive idea that ‘everyone’s opinion matters’ the truth is the opposite. Not everyone, but specific people with opinions based in knowledge and awareness and taste – those are the people you want to critique your work. Art directors and picture editors and helpful photographers who truly want to see you succeed are far more important arbiters of the value of your work than some anonymous Flickr follower.

Learn to ask for critiques, and take from them the knowledge that someone had an opinion. Change – or do not – but at least you got something strong to consider.

In this article, I look at different ways to get and use critiques of your work.

Be liberal in your pre-selection process… anything that even remotely resembles a possbile portfolio piece is added to the “maybe folder”. Be ruthless in the selection process after that… whittle it away edit by edit until you have only the best.

Then have someone you trust or a good photography consultant who KNOWS what the hell they are doing look at it and work the images a second time.

And a third.

Keep at it and when you are done, you just know it. Seriously… you feel it in your gut when you look at a killer portfolio sitting on the table or on the screen in front of you. Great… you have officially earned a night off.

Drink responsibly.

2. Competitions and contests may be able to shed some light on your work and its progress. Just remember to choose wisely.

Not every competition is right for you. And you are perfect for some competitions. KNOW what competition you are entering and how they judge by researching previous competitions and winner’s work. Communication Arts Annuals are far different styles of competitors than the “Hey Hot Shot” photographers. Which do you fit in with? Which will be a place for you to shine?

There are dozens of competitions out there, and finding the one that works for you takes some research… and, hey there’s this site named Google and

Winning is good for the soul, but simply entering is a good thing to do. It is an admission to yourself that you are ready… at least to enter and start mixing it up. Join the fray… it isn’t expensive and like the actresses all say – “it’s just great to be here…”

But do not expect anything from the win. PR it for all the advantage you can, but in the long run it may not add much to your bottom line.

3. Peer reviews and industry insiders.

ASMP and APA offer peer reviews… other photographers who are there to mentor the new photographer. And surprisingly other people in the industry may want to help as well.

Yeah – that’s right. Not everyone is a schmuck.

Call an art director in your town and offer to buy them lunch if they look at your portfolio and give you a few tips. Sure, that whole cold call an AD and ask him/her to lunch is a totally scary – terrifying really – thing to do. So what? This business has terrified you before, and it will terrify you again down the road. One truamatic little terrifying moment in the middle hardly leaves a scar.

I once called an AD to tell him that I admired his work and would like to show him my book for personal growth only. We had sushi. We ended up being pretty good friends.

And we did considerable business together.

Do it. Most AD’s will not want to kill you with their bare hands after smearing your portfolio with Chipotle sauce. It just isn’t their thing.

You will learn a great deal for your lunch tab.

4. Have an excellent and modern website, and become engaged with clients on multiple levels.

I won’t rant on here, but seriously folks… there are some terrible websites out there with photographers names on them. Terrible. You don’t have to spend a lot, but you do have to spend a bit.

Get out of the damn Flash portfolio site and onto something more modern. Look at the two WordPress Theme ads I have running here and check out what a few bucks can get you. Add a few more for some customization and get a whole new site with a whole new level of respect from the people who visit it.

And if you think that image doesn’t matter… well… just think about it for a second. What business are you in again?

Regarding the question of whether social media plays or will play a big part in your marketing efforts the answer is yes.

It will and it does. I hate to use buzzwords like ‘engage’ – but dammit – involve yourself with your customers on the platforms they are engaging their customers on.

Yeah yeah, I know… its all a fad. It will blow over soon. Just the young people and techies playing with it now.

Like digital photography?

(This post has more information. Take a look)

5. Have an excellent print portfolio, as well as some great stuff on that iPad.

Print portfolios are not dead. They aren’t called in as much as they used to be. But when they are it is for a sizable gig – not a couple of catalog shots. Print books get called in for substantial gigs.

And if you don’t have one… well… You. Don’t. Have. One.

Get a Lost Luggage or a Pina Zingaro, get your prints together and have it at the ready.

Two things come to mind:
1. They aren’t expensive.
2. Having a book in your hand – a real portfolio – makes you feel a bit taller, or more desirable. You may even smell better, I don’t know. I know that having one in my hands makes me smile.

And if you are holding off on the iPad because you think that is a fad too, well get over yourself. It isn’t. And it is something you must consider as part of your marketing arsenal.

And this is rather sobering… carrying the same images on your iPad that are on your website seems a bit – well – redundantly redundant. They have already seen the pictures on your website bigger than they are on your iPad.

Better have that iPad filled with even more eye-candy.

(On the day of this post, I have just set up my wifes Kindle Fire and have to say that the images look fabulous on it. There are not many portfolio apps for it yet, but they are coming. You know they are.)

Here is an older post that has a lot of information on portfolio preparation.

6. Once you have a considerable amount of work, a ‘body of work’, seek a consultant to help you organize and find the gems.

It’s worth it. It really is.

We get too close to the work. We bring baggage from the shoot to the final image… remembering how hard it was to get the shot or how incredible the talent was that day.

Blah blah blah… no one cares. They are only interested in the image.

A good consultant can help you by being a disinterested third party that is highly interested in your success. (Successful photographers return to good consultants for more work after being successfully consulted at the first consultation. Did you follow that?)

If you can find someone in your town, great. If you have to jump a plane, do it.

This is your career we are talking about. Everyone is telling us how hard it is. Finding someone to lead you through at least the first mine-field is more important than that new lens you want.

Believe me – it is.

7. Develop a strong, and well designed email campaign. Well designed…

Did I mention that it should be well designed. It should be.

Well designed that is.

Sorry – it’s just that I get so damn many that suck the suck out of suck.

I recommend MailChimp (www.mailchimp.com). They have some nice, simple, well designed templates that are very easy to use and customize.

I suggest either using the simplest one and keeping the imagery to the fore, or hiring someone who knows how to customize it for you. Comic sans headers with Times New Roman text and some sort of cheapassbrushscript logo is not going to impress an AD who was reluctant to click your email anyway cause she’s BUSY!

And you just sent her some shitty piece of blah with terrible typography, terrible logo, and terrible design.

Attaboy, slugger… take the bench. (She never even saw the lovely photos.)

8. Know the market you are pursuing like the back of your hand. Know everything you can know about it.

If you are courting architects, find out everything you can about architects. Everything you can about architecture in your city. Everything you can about the jobs that are being bid (so you can both pitch the winners and actively discuss the project with prospective clients…). KNOW what you are wanting to do.

Inside and out.

Learn the many ways that the market you are pursuing are marketing themselves. Find out where the biggest players are and pitch them first.

Being involved in the industry you are marketing to is one of the smartest and easiest ways to get to know and be known by the real insiders (movers and shakers) of that industry.

People like people who are interested in the same things they are. They really do.

9. Create a blog. Keep it up. Add new work and let your personality shine… and talk to clients, art directors and art buyers… NOT other photographers. They ain’t never gonna hire you.

Yeah. It is true. I am telling you to have a blog.

I am sure you never heard that before.

Well do it. Share your thoughts on the industry you are shooting in and being involved with. (Note – if it is a bigasswhine about how this and that ain’t fair and how it was so much better before digital… then don’t even bother. You are probably a dead-man-walking in the business anyway.)

And no one wants to hear it, and it is annoying to those who are actually getting shit done.

Your blog should be about what cool stuff you are doing, and the cool stuff you are shooting and the cool clients you are shooting for and how cool it is to shoot with you.

We cool on that?

Read this older post on Six Photographer’s Who “Get It” with their blogging.

10. Consistency across all platforms. Message/look and feel/design/sensibilities…

If you have a ‘look’ let it shine everywhere. Having a cohesive presentation is very important. From the blog to the business card, website to the portfolio to the email campaign.

Consistency in message and consistency in presentation show a consistency in your approach to everything.

Consistency is a good thing when you are trying to convince someone to trust you with a $5 Thousand shoot. And it is a good thing for your client to help them feel a bit more warm and fuzzy about hiring you.

Take all of your stuff and put it in front of you. Does it all look like it came from the same photographer?

If yes, break out a cold one!

If no, find a designer and get to work.

Your competition already has.

Till next time…

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About 

I am in love with light.

Also known as Don Giannatti, photography has been the focus of my life for most of my adult years. I have written three books for Amherst Media (available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble: keyword 'don giannatti'. Lighting Essentials is my flagship blog and ezine with a slightly different slant than most photography related blogs. If you are interested in becoming a better photographer, check out www.project52.org. Thanks for visiting.

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