Photography Business: The Next Level

This article was written by Tasha Schalk of Redwall Photo. Read on for great information and details on a project (with prizes!). And be sure to read her full bio at the end of the article.

You know how to take great pictures, you get a lot of praise on Flickr and from friends and family, but what next? How do you market yourself as a photographer? How to do you start up a small business? Photography and marketing are two completely different talents, and it can be daunting to make the leap from amateur photographer to semi-professional. Below are a few steps that might make the transition a little easier.

Also, in the spirit of start-up businesses, I am providing a $25 gift certificate to Moo.com and Tracy of Three Heart Photo is donating a 50% off gift certificate for select design services at Three Heart Design. Both of these prizes will go to one winner – to enter, either leave a comment or a link to a blog post about your photography business goals for 2009. What is one thing you want to accomplish in 2009? It can be anything from second shooting at a wedding, to booking a certain number of paying shoots, or to creating a portfolio. Let us know! Brian, Tracy, and I will be chosing the winner.

PROJECT DEADLINE: MARCH 20, 2009

And remember, a comment and/or a link to a blog post will enter you in the contest.

1. Branding

From wikipedia, “a brand is a collection of symbols, experiences and associations connected with a product, a service, a person or any other artifact or entity.” Branding is important because it conveys what your photography and style are all about in one brief glance.

The first step is to devise your company name. Many photographers base their business name off of their own name, others chose something a little different. Whatever you chose should reflect you and your style of photography, and it should be concise and timeless. Pick something that you will not get tired of.

A logo is an important step in branding. The colors and style of your logo should reflect who you are as a person and an artist. For example, if you are a maternity/baby photographer, your logo might be comprised of soft pastels. If you are an event or corportate photographer, you would want clean lines and neutral colors to communicate your professionalism and flexibility.

An extension of a logo is a watermark. A watermark is placed on photos to mark that photo as yours. Many people also employ watermarks as a deterrant to theft. I am a fan of watermarks, not so much for the theft issue, but because it constantly puts your name out there. There are several types of watermarks – those that are intended to deter theft and cover vital parts of the image, and those that are small and unobtrusive along the bottom of an image or in a frame. Which watermark you chose to use is up to your priorities.

2. Business cards

Business cards are a necessity. They are an old-school form of marketing, but effective and cheap. You never know whose hands a business card can fall into. And even better, give friends business cards so that they can hand them out when they run across someone that needs a photographer.

Much of business comes from word of mouth and referrals, so make it as easy you can for people to refer others to you.

3. Get a website/portfolio

Portfolios are necessary so that those people that you hand your business cards can see a showcase of your work. A portfolio should have no more than 15-20 of your absolute best images, with your strongest image at the end, and your second-strongest image at the beginning (first and last impressions are the most important!). Try to show diversity in your images (if possible, only one image per shoot), but remember to make sure that the photos represent your style.

Photoshelter recently released the results of a survey that they conducted on image buyers. The report is a good resource to use when designing (or buying) a photo site design. The report can be found here.

If creating your own webpage, a few cheap and reliable hosts are godaddy.com and 1and1.com. If buying a pre-made portfolio, bludomain.com is popular for higher-end portfolios, while carbonmade.com is a cheaper (but not as flashy) solution. If creating your own website, simpleviewer and autoviewer are easy to use and customizable flash galleries.

Also, don’t forget to get a domain name to match your business name!

4. Network, network, network

Everyone knows someone. Talk to everyone you can. Sign up for social-networking sites such as Myspace, Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr. Get your photos out there, so others can see your talent.

Always be on the lookout for photo-ops – this can include businesses and individuals. For example, if a business is having a grand opening, contact a manager to see if they would like photos throughout the day. If you know of someone that is graduating, ask if they would be interested in graduation photos. Once you get a large enough client base, word of mouth will travel, and you will have offers coming in to you.

Along with networking comes networking with other photographers. Do not be afraid to refer clients to other photographers if you cannot cover an event or job, not only will other photographers begin to refer jobs to you, but you will also have a client that remembers you for taking an interest in their needs. Part of being a professional is also ensuring that you can deliver whenever you book a job. If you do not have experience in a specific area, do not book the job (refer the job to a fellow photographer!). Your clients will respect and trust you for maintaining high expectations for your own work.

5. Pricing

This is one of the hardest areas of starting up a small business. What to charge? You want to charge enough to make it worth your time, but worry about driving away clients with too-high prices. The short answer is that there there is no definite answer.

One way to figure out how much to charge for a shoot is to develop an hourly rate that you would like to earn, then multiply that by how many hours it will take you to plan the shot, take the pictures, and edit and deliver the shots. Don’t forget to figure in travel time/costs if the shoot is not local. Then add in 10-15% for gear wear-and-tear and other unforeseen expenditures:

Rate * (planning + shooting + editing + travel) * (10% incidentals) = PRICE

Remember, that fee is just for shooting – you need to figure in licensing costs and printing fees if you are licensing or printing images.

Also helpful is a program called FotoQuote that provides quotes for a variety of types of photography.

Finally, once you have your prices figured out, create a concise, but complete, rate sheet that shows your prices and packages that you can either post on your website or can send to potential clients.

6. Legal mumbo-jumbo

If you are working with clients, it is important to have a contract that outlines what both parties have agreed to. These contracts should (at the least) outline what work is being delivered, dates and times of shoots, what the price is, and what reproduction rights, licenses, and copyrights the photographer and client have. A fantastic resource for basic contracts is the book Business and Legal Forms for Photographers by Tad Crawford.

Also, insurance is highly advisable. Most major insurance companies will offer business insurance, which will not only cover theft/damage of equipment, but will also offer medical and liability insurance for when you are on-location on a shoot. In my experience, the piece of mind that business insurance brings is well worth the relatively low fee. For more reading on business insurance, check out photo.net’s info page.

Conclusion

Above all, be professional and have fun. Nobody wants to work with someone who does not return phone calls and emails, or shows up to consultations in their pajamas. On the flip side, photographers most often shoot joyous or exciting events, so potential clients want someone that will enjoy their day with them. If you are enthusiastic about your job and work, then others will get exited about your work!

If you have any other tips or invaluable resources, please speak out in the comments!

About the author: Tasha Schalk is a professional photographer in the Chicago-area and owner/photographer of Redwall Photo. Her passion and specialization is music photography, which is evident by her sleep-deprived eyes and arsenal of fast lenses. She also is the full-time photographer for Concordia University Chicago, where she is laden with assignments for event, editorial, and portrait photography. She spends way too much time online, frequenting her Flickr, Twitter, and Myspace accounts.
About the sponsor: Tracy Tesmer is the owner/photographer/designer of Three Heart Design and Three Heart Photo. She helps photographers, artists, designers, and independent businesses market and re-brand. She is an eco-friendly studio and designer with a background in painting, set design, makeup design, photography, and drawing. Three Heart Design can be found on Flickr, Twitter, and Facebook.

20 thoughts on “Photography Business: The Next Level

  1. Daniel

    A lot of great information and resources. And I love Moo Cards. They’re always an eye catcher, plus you can use them as teasers to your portfolio.

  2. Andrew Webb

    My goals for 2009 as i move from amateur to semi-professional photographer is to start charging for services and to get at least one picture in a newspaper. Currently, i do free senior portraits of friends, mostly from my old high school and family friends (They only pay the printing costs), but by the end of 2009 i hope to start charging for it, at least to make enough money to pay off the amount i spent on my studio set up.

    Also, in a different direction i hope to start doing some spot news photography and hope to get at least one picture in a paper, and possibly use that as a start into photojournalism.

  3. Trevor Connell

    A major goal for 2009 is to market my services as an "artist" better. Sure, my family, friends and colleagues know that I am a photographer and they most certainly understand I am more than capable of documenting and capturing moments. But I think what will truly drive my business forward is to market my "artistic eye" better. Because, after all, I’m not really wanting to be hired just to "document and event" rather I want to be hired for my creative and artistic approach to any given job.

    I plan to accomplish this through a more targeted approach, associating my work with artistic networks and communities. I also plan to make more limited edition prints, either for sale or for display, and I hope to send out better branded pieces in reflecting this approach.

  4. Jordan Boesch - Blessed Road Photography

    What a great post! I’m working on my business this year – I haven’t gotten paid for any shoots yet but my main goal this year is a paid shoot! And I need to work on my contracts…I’ve got the idea of how I want them but the actual putting-together of them is not my favorite part.

  5. the_wolf_brigade

    My goals for 2009 are mixed are possibly not related, which has made it hard to work on both at the same time.

    The first is to hold a solo exhibition based around my work at the Lithgow Blast Furnace. My intention is to highlight the beauty of this place and to document the changes as it undergoes restoration as part of the Lithgow council’s plan to make Lithgow more attractive to tourists. I’m struggling with this due to time, but also on how to find new angles and ways to highlight the way in which the structure changes over the seasons. Additionally, a solo exhibition from (at this point in time) an unknown and unestablished artist in the area is an ambitious task.

    The second goal for 2009 is based around my concept of Professions. My aim is to identify what makes a strong portrait in terms of how it represents a persons character, and how best to portray emotion through my work. I’m trying to work mainly in large format as that requires forethought and planning, although I have been using some medium format for when more spontaneous sessions present themselves. The moo cards would be brilliant in this respect as I often see charismatic people on the street that I’d love to photograph, but as yet I haven’t had the confidence to approach them. Having a small card with my details and a smaple of my work on it would boost my confidence and hopefully facilitate more work with people who I consider interesting.

    I suppose both are ambitious tasks, but it’s helped to have to explain it here in this comment, as it has made it even clearer in my mind and has solidified my intentions to pursue both goals more strongly this year.

  6. Melissa Cotton

    I would LOVE to start doing weddings so that I can add this to my portfolio…..I’m such a girly girl at heart and LOVE weddings and everything about them. So my goal this year would be to try and get some opportunities with some amazing couples that would allow me to capture their wedding day. I know in order to get my portfolio built in this area, it will require me to probably do the wedding day for free but I don’t care. I would love to be able to do this one day and hope that 2009 will be the year to make it happen!!!

  7. Janne

    Avoid flash galleries. You lose viewers, which means you lose customers. There’s three problems with flash-based photography sites:

    * They are in-your-face and obtrusive (hey, if unobtrusive is a word…). They animate, fade in and out, they pop up buttons and controls. They look and behave nothing like the rest of the environment around the browser. You are reminded every second that you’re using an application, not looking at pictures.

    Great for branding the flash gallery designer, but if your aim is for people to focus on your pictures, not so much.

    * They don’t adapt to the users’ specific environment. If a customer has a very large screen, or a very small one, it won’t resize the same way other content does. If a customer has bad eyesight they have probably set the default font size to be large and easy to read in their browser, but when they come to your site they’re out of luck since your flash widget ignores it.

    * Viewers can’t link to the content. This is important. Someone sees a really cool wedding photograph on a photographers website, and wants to send a link to their friend who’s going to get married. With a normal site, they’d just email a link to the page with some "Look at this cool reception shot!" or something; the recipient clicks, takes one look and immediately books you for every significant event in the rest of their lives.

    With flash, however, they’d have to just send the link to the main page and a list of instructions: "Go to the gallery thing, then the fifth spinning picture box on the left, then flip to number 16 or 17 I think it was; you’ll know it I think …". Not many people will bother doing that, and even fewer recipients will go to the trouble of actually looking. I know I routinely ignore links to this kind of websites; it’s too much bother.

  8. Jacinta

    My goal for this year is to focus more on my branding and get my promotional materials a bit more cohesive (ie, not continually going ‘Oh, this’ll do until I get around to getting it done properly’). Also to use those promo bits to actively get more consistent traffic through my site, making it more visible and thus boosting my brand profile.

    And maybe take some pictures in between. :)

  9. Luis Murillo

    My goal is to actually get my business going. So far I’ve talked with several people and have handed out several business cards. I have a couple of clients on the maybe list but haven’t been able to get anything concrete.

  10. Jackie

    My main goal for 2009 is simple – to create a company including starting a website and blog. and get paid for at least one shoot.

  11. Alex

    A lot of readers here are very enthuziastic (which is great) and want to start their own business, but I just want to draw attention that in this period a lot of large business owners have had many difficulties even in mentaining the business running. I guess we should really focus on the things needed right now, like – for example – let’s say you do weddings. The people will not cut of their list wedding photos, but they will spent less for it. So in this case make it something special. Make the people really interested in what do you offer.
    Creativity is way much more better than panic – obviously!

  12. Dani

    Thanks for this. Definitely needed it. Branding is done but networking is something I have to work on. It’s the most difficult thing but at least I know I’m on the right track! My goal for 2009 is to network with a group of photographers and create a photogroup where we can edit each other’s work!

  13. Bengt

    Having run a swedish online site for over 2 years i really would have liked this article in the start since it should have saved me som problems…

    Well well, now i am releasing my first international site. I will let it grow slowly and with care. It will be a site for photo amateurs written by amateurs…

    http://photoandpictures.com

    I would be glad if people go there and give me feedback about the first stage of the site especially Brian.

  14. Mattias Wirf

    I find the hardest thing of all is time. I’m in the position at the moment where I do marketing, selling, producing, administration of my company … and the times are not the best. And have a little kid. Bloody hard.

    But on the other hand I sold my first image to large tv-commercial in february :) It was shot with "aus Jena" 135 zebra-lens from the 60′s. You can earn money with $10 lenses! ;)

  15. Andrew

    I have already begun working on promoting my portrait business this year. Some Moo cards would be a wonderful addition.

  16. Neville

    There are some great ideas here and I can definetely use them. I’m currently working on getting a job as a freelance travel writer and photographer for a travel magazine here in India. I also plan on joining an NGO in Ladkakh as a means of helping them and also myself by getting some great shots there. Setting up a website is on my list of things to do this year. Again thank you for the very insightful post.

  17. Kimberly

    Great post! These are all the things I’ve been thinking about lately. I’m going to use this post as a to-do checklist for this year :) Branding and revamping my website are my next goals!

  18. Pingback: Photography Business Project Winner

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>