Photographers know that in this industry, technology, tastes, and trends change on a near-daily basis. This means a constant evolution in the way they work, create, and run their businesses. Zenfolio moderated a lively discussion between 6 industry powerhouses to discuss the changes they see coming, and how they manage to find financial, personal, and business success in a volatile creative field. Read on to see how you can make a profit, secure your business, and find happiness as a professional photographer.
What recent industry developments have affected you and your business?
Darty Hines: The biggest recent development is speed. This is true for both consumers and businesses. Thanks to social media, consumers demand product faster than ever- and question why they’d have to wait for proofs or prints. As the creative entrepreneur, we need to teach clients that great handcrafted products demand time and effort! With channels like Instagram, you can tell a valuable story of your brand quality and demand a higher price because of the hard work and expertise that goes into each piece.
Steve Bridgwood: One of the features of my Zenfolio website which has made a huge impact on how I work, is being able to directly upload all of a client’s fully edited photos into the private client access area. I used to post out all of the finished images onto a disk or USB, but now my clients see their photos more quickly and conveniently, and can directly download any images they choose, to print or share with their family and friends. It looks professional and streamlines delivery to couples that are always incredibly excited to see their wedding photos.
How are you dealing with an increased number of semi-pros in the space? Is there room for everyone to succeed?
Jeff Cable: With the advent of digital cameras, there’s been a boom in photographers entering the market. To call yourself a professional, you need to learn your craft and produce quality better than most amateurs. I’ve been shooting for almost 15 years now and have garnered a clientele who is more discerning and knows the difference between high-quality work and that of a novice. This is why my website is so important to the success of my business. It is my #1 tool for acquiring new clients and needs to highlight my work in a clean and professional manner. Is there room for everyone to succeed? No, I don’t think so. Like any field, those who produce great quality keep improving while the others fade away. I hear of a lot of people who want to become photographers because it sounds glamorous, and while it can be, it’s also a very tough business.
Caroline Tran: I think there’s definitely room for everyone- just at different levels. If anything, the semi-pros have made photography more attainable for documenting everyday life and small milestones. People still want professional photos for their major milestones like weddings, but semi pros make it possible for people to document things they wouldn’t have hired a photographer for before, like a baby gender reveal or smaller milestone birthdays.
What niche have you pursued? What does that mean for your lifestyle, and how would you recommend others to pursue it (or avoid it)?
Steve: I am a wedding photographer in the incredibly privileged position of capturing one of the most important and special days in a person’s life. I love that every wedding that I photograph is completely different, but always full of huge emotion and love. What it means for me as an individual is that I work most weekends, but there aren’t many dads who get to take their kids to school most days. For any budding photographers considering getting into this industry, be prepared for the balancing act of photographing and shooting weddings, while dealing with inquiries and having planning meetings with clients who have already booked you. If you’re up for the challenge, it’s a fantastic business to be in!
Laura Grier: I am an Adventure, Destination, and Travel Photographer, and Travel Writer. Creating your dream career around a lifestyle of traveling is easier than one might think! I wish someone would have told me back when I first started shooting photos that I had could control the type of work I attracted by branding my work to fit my aspirations, and I would have saved a lot of time and money trying to do the expected with my photography. I didn’t realize how much control I had over the clients and jobs I could get when I started my business. Instead, my focus was on getting ANY job and not the “right” job. I wish I had understood the concept of networking, of focusing my energy on the types of jobs I wanted, and on how to brand myself.
Amiee: My specialty areas are animal photography and concert photography, both of which align perfectly with my lifestyle. I think when we go into photography we naturally gravitate toward an area we’re interested in. I wouldn’t advise against a particular niche, but I would encourage anyone to research that specialty to make sure there aren’t any deal breakers. If you can’t be out late or be ready on short notice, music industry photography might not be for you. Similarly, if you can’t handle occasional dog poop on your knees, you might stay away from animal photography.
What are the most satisfying aspects of your photography — as a business and as a lifestyle?
Caroline: The most satisfying part of my job is the relationships I’ve had the honor of developing, people sharing their stories and allowing me to document it for them. As a lifestyle, I love my flexible work schedule. I love being able to drop off and pick up my kids from school. The most trying part is perhaps also what makes entrepreneurial work awesome – there simply are no limits. The harder you work, the more gains you’ll see. It’s hard to not keep chasing those gains and lose sight on personal balance. Play for the long game. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
Laura: I have been shooting for 16 years and so far, my work has brought me to 66 countries and 6 continents. What I love about my work is that it is constantly evolving and is always exciting and I grab my inspiration from everywhere and anywhere. In order to be a successful travel photographer, you have to be able to streamline your business, be mobile, and have the ability to pitch, shoot, and deliver your images from anywhere in the world. Fortunately, Zenfolio gives you the ability to do all of this, and it’s made me a more successful photographer while on the go. When I joined Zenfolio, their customer support help me to rebuild the design and aesthetics of my original website into their platform super easily and streamlined them for the mobile face of my business.
Amiee: The most satisfying aspect for me is seeing my photography affect people. It’s rewarding when a client sees that photo that captured their pet’s favorite expression, or when someone walks into my gallery and gets excited over a picture of their favorite singer on the wall. It’s also gratifying to bring awareness of animal suffering through my Animal Rescue Corps photography in the hope of inspiring change.
Jeff: I LOVE my job! For one, I get to be creative every day, whether it is shooting a portrait, a landscape, sports action, a personal event or something else. And the best part is, my clients are truly appreciative of all the effort I put into the work. There is nothing better than having a client write to me and tell me how I brought them to tears with the quality of my work (in a good way). I never had a boss or a client moved to tears from my work in the corporate world — never! On top of that, I get to travel all over the world and share the passion for what I love so much.
What elements of your online presence have been most critical for building your business?
Laura Grier: Photographers are extremely valuable as content creators online and on social media! The internet is starved for new content and I found success in combining multiple mediums for sharing my travel stories; through photo, video, and the written word. Learning how to tell a compelling story through photos and writing, and sharing those experiences on social media and my website, has been invaluable for my business. It’s a great way to establish your niche, and to get noticed for your unique voice!
Amiee Stubbs: I use Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, but the majority of my clients hire me because they’ve found my website. I have a few different Zenfolio sites to focus on each of my specialty areas to avoid overwhelming clients, but I also think it helps with branding to also have a main site that showcases everything I do. On my pet photography site, I include my pricing catalog and details about what to expect during a session. Having this information online can streamline client communication, saving time for me and creating a better experience for the client.
Darty: These days, if you do not have an engaging online presence, you’re all but dead in the water. The good news is there are many ways to have an online presence. While websites are still important, social media provides many channels to work with. These channels should always direct clients back to your website. It’s the only place online that we have complete control over, as Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat control the content posted there. With their algorithms, we may or may not get seen by clients. The one place we can control what our clients see is our website and blog, so it’s critical to send clients to your website, and put in the time to make sure it represents you well.