Going “pro” isn’t easy with photography. But when you do it, it can be killer for your income and reputation. Here are some fine tips.
As mentioned earlier, once you determine what you like to shoot the most and what you’re best at, this will determine the market(s) that you target to sell your work. One advantage that you have over an established, full-time pro is that you don’t have to shoot things that don’t interest you. By specializing, you’ll probably develop your craft more than a photographer who generalizes, and you’ll enjoy doing it.
In the process, it’s important to develop your own personal style. While you’re learning, or doing photography for your own enjoyment, it’s fine to imitate someone whose work you admire. However, when you want to sell your photography, it’s time to strike out on your own. Besides, if a photo buyer prefers your mentor’s style, they’ll probably call that photographer – not you.
Find out all you can about your potential client before sending unsolicited photos. Remember the adage, “You never get a second chance to make a good first impression.” It’s a good idea to query the publication or company first with a letter, outlining several ideas for photos or photo/text packages. When the potential client wants to see your work, submit only your best – no weak or inappropriate images. Whenever possible, familiarize yourself with the client’s needs. Spend time researching the company or publication, know what types of photos they prefer, and what they’ve used in the past.
Learn to Write
With many publications, such as community newspapers and magazines (like this one), it’s easier to sell photo/text packages than individual photos. So, in addition to your photographic education, you might consider taking a journalism class or two. If you’re not a seasoned writer but you’ve got a great idea, the editors at the publication can polish your work into a usable article. If writing is just not your thing, consider teaming up with a writer and splitting the profits.
Your photography can decorate the walls of homes and offices, and it is a great way to display your images for other potential buyers to see. Interior decorators are a very good source for this type of work as they can recommend you to a number of their clients. Begin by finding out if there’s a local American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) in your area, contact them and ask for a membership list. (You can also check the local Yellow Pages under Interior Design), then approach these decorators.
You can also go to offices, restaurants, hotels and banks and speak with their management or director of public relations about displaying your photos on their walls. Keep an eye out for places that are redecorating. You might be able to work out an arrangement where you can include your name and phone number with your photography, so that people can contact you about buying your work if they like it.
In recent years, photography has experienced a growth in popularity as a collectible art form. If you do fine art photography, besides displaying your wares on the walls of local restaurants or businesses, you might want to approach gallery owners. There are some photography galleries, but many are primarily art galleries that have special photography shows throughout the year, or spotlight photographers from time to time.
In this type of market, it’s especially important to establish your own individual photographic style. To capture the attention of a gallery director, you must have work that makes a statement. Gallery owners have a definite idea what will sell to their clientele. Before you approach a retail gallery, be sure you have an understanding of its client’s needs.
Nonprofit galleries can offer less-experienced photographers a lot of opportunity, especially if they are sponsored by an educational facility or by a cooperative. Profits from sales in these galleries are generally lower than with retail galleries, since their primary goal is to expose the public to a variety of art forms and new artists, or photographers.
If you’re always abreast of local and national current events, you can shoot pictures to submit to your local newspaper, or even provide photos for the national media when a local story grabs their attention. If photojournalism is your primary focus, major newspapers and news services, such as Associated Press, often need good stringers around the country.
To begin, you can photograph events of local interest and send them to your community newspaper. For example, if you belong to a service club, you can photograph an event such as the installation of new officers. You can also cover rallies, visits by politicians and many other community events. Although the pay at local weekly papers is often minimal – or even nonexistent – you can at least get your pictures published with a photo credit. It’s a great way to familiarize editors and the community with your work.
Photos of local school or community sports teams can also be sold to local newspapers, or to the teams themselves and their families. Many teams often want group portraits or their awards dinners photographed. There are even a few companies that make trading cards, buttons and other products that you can sell to sports teams. If you love sports and action photography – and don’t mind working on weekends – you might be able to turn this into a great sideline business.
Opportunities abound for portrait photographers in every city across the country. With families, there are formal and informal portraits, passports, new baby photos and wedding photography. Schools have yearbooks and class portraits. Local businesses often need executive portraits for their in-house publications and annual reports.
If portraiture is your chosen field of expertise, you must have access to a studio (many photographers utilize part of their home for this purpose). There are also times when you’ll be called upon to photograph events in the field, especially weddings. As a beginning portrait photographer, let people know about your services by putting ads in local papers or contact schools to bid for class portraits. Happy customers will be your best source of advertising.
You can start locally in this market by photographing restaurants, hotels, churches, schools, and a wide variety of businesses. With some computer software programs, you can even produce your own postcards and greeting cards and then sell them in large quantities back to these businesses. They, in turn, can sell them to their customers.
When you’re ready to start approaching greeting card, calendar and poster companies, just remember that there are more than 1000 greeting card companies in the United States alone, and they produce billions of paper products. A great many of them work with free-lancers. Again, it’s important to look at retail greeting cards, calendars, note cards, etc., to see what’s selling.
After your research, query companies you’re interested in working with and send them a stock photo list. These organizations usually receive thousands of submissions regularly and they often prefer to know what you have before you send it. This can also lead to future sales even if your particular stock inventory doesn’t meet their immediate needs.
Although it’s a highly competitive market, there are tens of thousands of magazines published every month. These include trade, special-interest, business, association, regional and general-interest consumer magazines. Chances are that some are looking for the type of photography that you do. Again, go to newsstands and libraries to research the various types of publications that are out there. When you find several publications that may be able to use your special talents, call or write to them and request submission guidelines and an editorial calendar. These guidelines will inform you of the magazine’s policies, their photographic needs, and their pay rates.
When you contact these people again, be prepared to let them know what your specialties are (since you’ve done your research, you know that your work is appropriate for them), and suggest five to six photographic ideas or photo/text packages. Your chances of acceptance are far greater when you offer options, instead of just one idea.
As you develop working relationships with one or more publications, you will probably start getting assignments from them, and you may be able to negotiate higher rates.
Stock Photo Agencies
Stock houses like Getty Images are great places to market your existing photos, especially if you have a lot of high-quality images and are continually productive. These agencies market the use of these photos in return for a percentage of the rate received, usually around 50%.
What’s amazing is that there are a lot of niche opportunities for specific products. As an example, I recently searched the web for stop snoring mouthpieces and found this site. Now, it’s pretty clear that this site is in desperate need of some “snoring product” photography. I contacted the site owner, who certainly knows his “stop snoring advice”, and pitched him on taking some shots of the products he recommends. He said yes. I ended up getting a couple of thousands of dollars worth of business out of him simply because the companies that provide things like pillows, mouthpieces and other snoring devices simply don’t hire a photographer!
Stock agencies are ideal for those who would rather not market their own work, and can negotiate higher prices than you might ask for. However, the world of stock photography is a highly competitive one, and you must consistently produce saleable images – and lots of them – in order to succeed. Photo needs vary from agency to agency, but a common request of stock houses is images of people in professional and leisure-time activities. Model and property releases are a must.
Do research to find stock houses that market the type of work you like to shoot, and approach them with a list of your stock subjects and your portfolio. For lists of legitimate stock agencies, contact ASMP (American Society of Media Photographers), 609/799-8300; or PACA (Picture Agency Council of America), 800/457-7222.
Don’t Give Up!
It’s easy to give up after a few rejections (and we’ve all experienced them). Learn to consider each rejection letter a lesson learned, and continue to submit and tailor your submissions to the needs of the client. Whenever possible, try to get feedback from the client or photo editor.