In our last episode you were thinking about becoming a professional photographer and I was giving you a lecture on passion and understanding the craft. I’m assuming I didn’t scare you away—you’ve got the bug and you’re doing everything to make sure you build your skill set as a photographer. In the process, you need to ask yourself the following:
• What kind of photography do you enjoy the most? Photography is an art form; if your heart isn’t in it, no matter how talented you are you’ll never capture images that tug at people’s heartstrings. Be it weddings, portraits, photojournalism or fine art (to name a few), spend whatever time it takes to identify your niche.
• Got your niche? Now match it up with your skill set. What else do you need to learn to guarantee outstanding images every time you click the shutter?
• Last, match up your skill set with your gear. Don’t be too quick to buy everything you think you need. Most photographers start out with two to three focal lengths in their lenses, a couple of camera bodies, a strobe, … and that’s about it. You can always rent what you need and expand your gear as your expertise and the demand build.
You now need to start laying the foundation for your network and marketing.
Your network, which in turn supports and helps you develop your marketing plans, is an important part of your overall framework. It’s time to get to know the industry:
• Get yourself to a good trade show and convention! Attending these events will give you a feel for the industry and the multitude of companies that support your passion for imaging.
• Join an association. Look for a state chapter of PPA, ASMP or APA, the three biggest associations in professional photography. Their state convention, monthly meetings, and newsletters will keep you in touch with other professional photographers.
• Social media will give you an edge that years ago none of us had. Start following other photographers, especially the icons of the industry. Just about everybody is on Twitter and/or Facebook. Read their blog, look at their website, and listen to their podcasts.
• Look for professional workshops to keep your skill set tuned to the latest techniques in capture, post-production, marketing, and business. Make it a point to meet other photographers each time. It’s often as simple as just talking to the person next to you! SmugMug meet-ups are an outstanding way to meet your peers while continuing your education. Check out http://www.smugmug.com/pro/ to find out what’s going on in your area. They usually meet monthly and almost always have a guest speaker—one more person for you to add to your network!
• Going Pro (www.GoingPro2011.com) is loaded with information to help you with marketing and business. In fact, it’s everything but photography. There’s also Going Pro Bootcamp and over sixty-five podcasts to help you through the process.
At this point you should see a pattern developing in your thought process. You’ve met lots of people, visited exhibitors at trade shows, and have been reading what other photographers are saying about different aspects of the business. Keep an open mind to new directions and don’t be afraid to take a different path now and then. You’re work in progress—being the best professional photographer you can be requires a never-ending flow of educational experiences.
Getting hands-on experience is next on the list, but it should be something you’ve been doing all along. You need to build your portfolio and that means getting experience actually shooting. Nobody’s portfolio was ever built overnight. Look for opportunities with friends, family members, and local events where you can volunteer your services. Every image you include in your portfolio has to be a showstopper. Here’s a great question to ask as you review your images, “If this was the only image I could show people, would I hire me?” If the answer is “No,” don’t be upset—the process is about practice and education. Your portfolio is an important part of your marketing: you’ve got to have great material for your target audience with the goal that the work you show becomes habit-forming.
As you’re shooting and building your portfolio, remember the hierarchy of why people hire a professional photographer. The top three categories for consumers are brides, babies, and pets, in that order. There are an estimated 4,000,000 new babies born every year in the U.S., just over 2,000,000 weddings a year, and over 160,000,000 dogs and cats! That’s a huge market, but your ability to grab a piece of it as a professional photographer will depend entirely on your skill set and your marketing.
Tune in next issue as we’ll start talking about the key elements of your website, marketing ideas to target your niche audience, and how to build your business.
About the author: Author of six books on photography, including “Going Pro,” which this article series is based on, Skip Cohen has been a fixture in the photographic industry for his entire adult life. He’s served as President of Hasselblad, Rangefinder/WPPI, and in 2009 founded Marketing Essentials International. His exciting new venture is SkipCohenUniversity.com, with a faculty that represents the “Who’s Who” in photographic education.
This article originally appeared in the Spring 2012 issue of Resource, which is available online here.