Marketing is one of the most important aspects of building a professional photography career. Through conversations with photographers, photo editors, art producers and other photo clients, PDN regularly gains insights into the marketing strategies that have helped photographers stay at the top of their clients’ minds. For links to the full stories referenced here, and PDN’s archive of marketing tips, Click here.
For many photographers, Instagram has overtaken their website as the primary way they share new work. Clients are more apt to discover new talent via Instagram, and the casual interaction between photographers and clients on the platform makes it feel more like socializing, and less like marketing. Many clients use Instagram to look for new photographers and to follow the work of people they have hired, or who they may want to work with in the future.
Photographers often treat Instagram like an ever-evolving portfolio, showing a mix of personal and assignment work. Bloomberg Businessweek’s Leonor Mamanna says she loves to see “a photographer’s personal esthetic mixed in with their assignments. I feel like it gives me a more fleshed-out impression of their overall talent and vision.”
Bloomberg Businessweek’s photo director Aeriel Brown says, “It’s not enough to just post photos…You have to tell a little story about the images.” Photographers should also use the platform to connect to people they want to work with. “You have to follow editors you like and like their photos, too (and comment occasionally),” she says.
Angela Owens, who is both a Wall Street Journal photo editor and a photographer with a substantial Instagram audience for her music images, says she posts albums on Instagram because they engage people. “If you post one photo, people swipe by it, and they’re gone. But if you post an album, they stay for a while,” she explains.
Alyssa Coppelman, a photo editor and art researcher for Harper’s and Oxford American, says she regularly searches “hashtags and geotags” when she’s looking for photographs about a certain subject, or when she’s trying to find a photographer based in a specific location.
Owens, however, warns that too many hashtags can be annoying. “When people hashtag almost everything in their captions, that makes it hard to read. I think [followers] want something simpler. Get straight to the point: Here are the photos, here’s what you’re looking at.”
A photograph of Utah’s night sky by Prajit Ravindran. Utah Office of Tourism photo editor Sandra Salvas first found Ravindran’s work on Instagram. © Prajit Ravindran
Though Instagram is often a first point of contact, clients or others who may take an interest in your work will look to your website to see the polished version of your portfolio, client lists, exhibition history and other essential information. “Even if you have a great [Instagram] feed, you still need a website (preferably one that lists where you are located),” says Brown.
In addition to passive marketing done via Instagram, email is another way to reach potential clients and share news about your work. Many photographers send email newsletters to people they have worked with, updating them on what’s new. But if you have never worked with a client, sending a personalized email is far better than sending an impersonal email blast. “I like when people are really thoughtful and pay attention to whatever publication they’re trying to work for,” says photo editor Maria Lokke. “And more specifically, [I like] if someone knows me and the type of work that I usually go for and reaches out because they know they would be a good fit. I respond well to that personalized approach.” Washington Post photo editor Chloe Coleman advises, “[Send] an email that has a link to your website, says where you’re located, and the kind of work you’re interested in doing.”
“Send an email to say hello and to show us what you’ve been working on, and why you think your work fits with the magazine and how we might collaborate with you,” advises California Sunday Magazine photo editor Paloma Shutes.
ESPN senior photo editor Julianne Varacchi says it is important to keep email blasts concise. She cites the quarterly newsletter Stacy Kranitz sends
as a good example. Kranitz “lets her work speak for itself without an overly detailed artist’s statement or repeating information,” Varacchi explains. “It reads like a journal entry, you get to know a little about her as a person and photographer (which is important for editors to know… we work with many amazingly talented photographers but when it comes to making decisions on who to hire for a specific assignment, knowing who you are is just as important as experience and approach).”
Many photographers thought they could give up on “in-person visits when websites came up, and that was a big mistake,” says consultant and educator Selina Maitreya. Photographers should “work hard to create those [face-to-face meeting] opportunities.” Although it is not always possible, many clients want to meet with photographers before giving them an assignment so that they have a sense of a photographer’s personality. RPA senior art producer Jennifer Lamping says, “You see so much work online, sometimes it’s hard to remember whose work goes with who, but you always remember that person if they stand out to you” in a meeting, she says.
Scheduling one-on-one meetings with busy clients can be difficult, so portfolio reviews can be a good way to meet a number of potential clients all at once. “I’ll do whatever local portfolio review I’m asked to do, because out of the 15 photographers I’ll meet, I’ll see one or two people I’ll want to keep in touch with,” says Kaia Hemming, the director of art production at Y&R New York. “Though a portfolio review is only a few minutes, it gives you a sense of the person,” she says. Hannah Frieser, executive director of The Center for Photography at Woodstock, says following up after the review—by providing a leavebehind and sending a personalized thank you note—is as important as the 20-minute meeting. Don’t wait for the reviewer to get in touch with you, she advises. “If you’re waiting for a response, it might never come.”
Printed promos may seem archaic to some, but clients still like getting a well-made promo piece in the mail. “We save promos,” says RPA’s Lamping. Printed promos can help photographers stay top-of-mind with clients, and they can also give clients a sense of a photographer’s sensibility and attention to detail, as well as the types of work they like doing. When she spoke to PDN for a story about effective print promos, Lana Kim, executive producer at L.A. creative agency Ways & Means, remembered putting a mini-poster promo from Zen Sekizawa up in her office. “To me, I look at these and I see the artfulness of Zen’s work,” she says.
WSJ. executive photo director Jennifer Pastore remembered a self-published book by Martien Mulder, which showed Mulder’s personal project about the Indian city of Chandigarh, which was designed by Le Corbusier. Through previous conversations Pastore knew Mulder was interested in architecture, Pastore recalls, but the book “helped refine our sense of the work she most wants to do.”