Gallery exhibit openings, fine art collectors calling, fine art book sales—all of these are every photographer’s dream for their personal work. Some even dream of fine art photography as a career. While creating art photography is one topic, selling the work is quite another. For as many high-tech changes as there have been in the art field (selling prints online!) there are still traditional marketing techniques such as research and print presentation that can make a difference. For this year’s focus on fine art we talk with an expert in the field, Mary Virginia Swanson.
The world of portrait photography is defined by its differences—all potential clients, whether they are individuals, families, or professionals, are different people with different imaging needs. There is a difference in style and approach in making commercial, professional, and social (family) portraits. Commercial clients have something to sell or someone to influence; consumer clients have something or someone to remember. And, at any point in time, a photographer’s style may be so strong or special that it transcends these categories and enters the “fine art” field.
Since my first explorations of the stock photography industry, there have been many changes and upheavals in the business. In this column, I hope to sort out some of the most important changes that have occurred. One is the relationship of the photographer and the stock agency and the changing nature of the agency business itself. Indeed, many stock agencies are now called stock distributors since they no longer work as agents to “represent” photographers. For photographers, there is an even higher degree of specialized subject knowledge and/or access to a subject required for a reasonable sales return on the work.
In my workshops and classes the most common concern is about marketing and getting business. It’s a sign of the times, and folks are asking: “Everything seems different these days in the photography business, what should I do?” My first and foremost answer is to have a business plan and then work that plan. It is simply not enough to put up a website, send out a few mailers, and see what happens. The best advice I can offer is to study up on creating and implementing a marketing plan and make the effort as important as learning and improving your craft.
Technology and availability of “good enough” images has seriously cut into the income potential of professional travel photographers. Even though the lure of travel photography is still ever present in the minds of many photographers, the question needs to be asked—can you still make money shooting travel in today’s marketplace? The answer is “yes…and” due to the qualifiers today’s market has placed on this field of photography. Yes…and you may need to seriously look at stock sales. Yes…and you may want to add value and sales by becoming a writer as well as a photographer. Yes…and you may need to consider adding professional services like video capture to your business plan.
One of my favorite topics is helping you find ways to make money with your photography. Greeting card and calendar clients seem “hidden” only because most photography marketing articles usually focus on the bigger and broader markets like advertising, editorial, or even weddings and portraiture. But the “paper products” companies are still publishing, even moving into e-cards, and they still need images. I will confess, surrounded as I am by photography and photographers, I am still a Gold-Crown-card-carrying Hallmark club member!
“Doing Well by Doing Good” is how you might describe the subject of this column. It’s one of my favorite topics—photographers working for nonprofit organizations and Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) and finding a way to both make a living and make a change in their community. Whether it is local or global, photography has always been used to advocate for social change. There are many local and international communities and organizations you can serve.
Yes, there are staff jobs for photographers! Not as talked about as those who earn their living working freelance, this career path proves to be still viable today. The seven photographers interviewed for this column have a variety of job titles and work for a broad range of companies, including newspapers, big corporations, educational institutions, and hotels/resorts. Though they work in very different environments, it was interesting to me how much they have in common. As I learned, you will find that just being a technically competent photographer is not enough for a staff photography job. Also, make note of their employers’ use of freelancers. You’ll find that freelancing (working as a stringer) is one path to a staff job.
Advertising photography could be thought of as simply making images designed to sell a product or service. Traditionally, this meant a company hired an advertising agency to create ads to sell their products and services, so the ad agency hired a photographer to do the shoot or sought stock or other image sources to fulfill their image needs.
Clients buying location photography can include those from the travel, fashion, editorial, corporate, and even architectural fields. You might well ask—why don’t they just use stock? With so many sites and so many agencies and photographers offering images from every imaginable corner of the globe, hasn’t stock killed this market? Stock photography for this market is a topic for another day—this is about companies that need location photography because they need their people or property photographed and they know that stock will simply not fit the bill. As a related sidebar, we’ll also cover how you can rise above the iReporter-type shooter who often degrades the market by offering travel and lifestyle images for a “dime a dozen.”