Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Do you have what it takes to be the next Ansel Adams?

You’ve been taking photos for awhile now… maybe you took some photography courses, you joined a photo club or became a regular at reading tutorials and watching “how to” videos online. Regardless on how you got there, you did, and you are feeling confident in the photos you are producing and sharing with friends and family. Then a family member or friend says, “I want to buy that image from you!”

You sell it and the natural progression begins. People start to wonder if one can make any money at this. The simple answer is, “Yes”. You can start shooting portraits, pets or weddings, you can enter into the world of stock photography or submitting images to calendar or card companies. All are good options, but the downside is they are highly saturated and competitive. The simplest way is to start producing an income by selling prints of your best work. Chances are, you won’t be able to quit your day job, open a gallery and become independently wealthy. But when someone acknowledges your work as art it provides motivation to continue the never ending pursuit of the perfect image.

The Reality Check Time
Before I begin, I am fully prepared to hear that my POV is wrong… but that’s OK… this is my blog. :)~

I really would love to hear people’s opinions. If you disagree with anything I am about to say, sound off and let some aspiring photogs know about your success stories.

OK, here goes, let’s take a little step back be honest with ourselves. There are only a select few people that ever get the kind of recognition and income that would supply you with the life you are probably living now. Leaving the elite photographers like Annie Leibovitz out of the equation, I bet you can count on one hand the photographers you follow that would make the kind of income you would want to make.

Wedding and portrait photographers are a dime a dozen, I live in a town of 100,000 and there are at least 15 of them in my city alone. While the busy ones make a decent income, they are tied to shooting venues. Shooting is only a portion of the workload, there is just as much, or more, time needed to edit. You have to constantly market your company, and quickly you are a slave to shooting venues and your weekends are potentially shot. Not that this is a bad thing if that’s what you want. Just be prepared to put a lot of effort into building this business. And get ready to spend a boat load on the gear you are going to need.

Nature and wildlife photographers comprise the majority of amateur photographers out there. This genre has more enthusiastic participants than all the other type of photographers combined. Your options are selling images, teaching people to take images, or writing a blog to amuse other photographers like I do…

Stock photographers are also numerous, and unless you find the sweet spot for desired photos you really are not going to make any money following that strategy. But hey, I hear rumours of people out there making a couple thousand a month… I have yet to meet one, so I will stick to belief that’s it’s an urban legend like the Loch Ness Monster.

Have I lost you yet? I hope not, read on and let me give you some ideas and suggestions that at least increase your chances of making a good second income from your photography hobby.

Baby Steps…
As I mentioned before, most photographers’ first sales come from a friend or family member. Depending on your relationship with the buyer you may want to consider doing it for free or just covering your printing costs. Your work is your business card, the more people see your images hanging at family members homes, or at local coffee shops, the more your name will be recognizable and you increase your chances of being contacted by a paying customer.

Sign every image. I either sign the back with my web address, or sign on the matte and number the image. Beside any image I hang in a business I ask if I can hang a write up on myself. In this write up I place my website address so people can view more of my work and contact me.

So the first step, saturate the market with your images as best you can.

Here are a few places to think about: (1) local coffee shops, (2) newspaper and fall fair contests, (3) photo sharing sites on the web, (4) give your images framed to your family as gifts.

Create a Plan.
No business ever succeeded without the foundation of a business and sales plan. I am not suggesting you create a full fledged business plan, but have an idea in your mind on where you want to go with this. Then, investigate how and who will help you get there. For example, when visiting restaurants, banks or coffee shops, make a point of looking at the walls to see if they’re in need of art work. Speak with the manager or owner and ask if they would be willing to hang your photographs to decorate their walls at no cost to them. The reciprocal benefit is that you could split any money made if one is sold. It means you’ll need to develop a portfolio to show the decision makers your work. It also means an initial investment by you in terms of time and money, but this should pay off in the long run.

Be Your Own Toughest Critic
Display only your BEST work. Scrutinize your work and get trusted people to give you feedback on each image. It’s better to hang two fantastic prints than ten average ones. Many fine-art photographers introduce only one or two new pieces each year. Some even tell me the ratio of taken pictures to ones that make the portfolio are 5000 photos for that one image they are proud of. Think quality rather than quantity. Your work is your resume.

Many photographers host their own website and sell their work through it. If you decide to pursue this route, keep the site simple and make the ordering of prints easy for the buyer. Potential purchasers don’t want to navigate a multitude of pages to get price, size, shipping, etc., information. Start small but think big!

You have a few options here. You can build your own and host it, or you can use a template website. Or, there are companies that use a combination of both. Its personal preference, so do your homework before you make a decision.

Whatever decision you make, take your time, do it right and create your identity online. This will be your most cost effective marketing tool and can bring you more business than any other method. Investigate “Search Engine Marketing” and “Search Engine Optimization” and talk to your web company about optimizing your site to be search engine friendly.

Always Be Learning
You probably have the same people you shoot with or the same sites you share your images on… and that is great. But I would like to see you challenge yourself. Expand your circle of influence and get introduced to more experienced photographers.

My point here is that you should always learn from better photographers than yourself. Push your boundaries and never be satisfied.

I hope to see your photos hanging in a gallery or gracing the pages of a magazine soon!

Until then, happy shooting fellow photographers!