Issue #1: How to Build Awareness for Your Work
We are witnessing the democratization of photography. The rise and rapid adoption of digital technology has made photography accessible to the masses in a way that wasn’t possible a generation ago.
Millions of images are now shared on social media sharing sites by hobbyists as well as emerging photographers and established pros. Some work is superb and other images are merely mediocre.
The result of this seismic shift is that it is increasingly difficult to stand out in a very crowded marketplace. Technical know-how and creative genius is no longer sufficient to becoming an established fine art or commercial photographer. Marketing acumen — the ability to differentiate you as an artist — is now a required skill for photographers.
Free-lance photographer David H. Wells tells me that marketing is as important a skill for a photographer as the actual photographing.
“I would argue that marketing is more important [than photographic skill], proven by the wild success of many photographically mediocre artists who have great marketing systems,” David says.
I found it startling that David spends only 10% of his time photographing. The other 90% is spent on marketing activities. Like many photographers, he has multiple revenue streams including stock photography, assignments, and teaching workshops and he spreads his marketing efforts across them.
Find out what makes you unique and use it to differentiate yourself
“Compared with assignment work and workshop teaching, stock is one area where it takes less promotional effort,” he explains. “I am always looking for new agencies to work with but do not have to promote myself to them in the way I do with the other two markets.”
In order to build awareness for his work, David uses Tumblr® to post an image a day from his travels, currently to India and South Asia. He submits work to various contests and works on one or more personal projects that enable David to tell his assignment and workshop audiences what he is up to.
David also has an educational website (The Wells Point) where he blogs, posts podcasts, and sends newsletters to share information about the world of photography.
It isn’t unusual to have a website. Many, if not all, serious photographers have websites today. What I find refreshing about David’s approach, however, is that he has found a way to stand-out by helping to educate other photographers instead of relying solely on the excellent quality of his images. From a marketing perspective, David’s differentiator is his ability to educate, relying on his superb teaching abilities.
Two examples of successes
I asked David to provide an example of a fine art photographer who succeeded in getting his/her work better known as an artist and then give me his opinion on how they did it.
“I would say that Dave Anderson and Elinor Carucci have used the conventional channels of portfolio reviews, word of mouth, networking, entering competitions and now social media to become better known as artists,” David says.
Dave Anderson: Dave is a former MTV producer and director of television production in the Clinton White House. His project Rough Beauty was the winner of the 2005 National Project Competition from the Santa Fe Center for Photography and became the focus of his first book. “Because of his experience with MTV and the White House, he has a good feel for marketing, media, and popular culture. When he was starting out he also studied with Keith Carter, a very successful and well established fine art photographer.”
Elinor Carucci: “Elinor’s strength is taking a subject matter [family, the human form and intimacy] and then photographing them in a way that is simultaneously intimate, human, and yet not vulgar,” he says. David tells me that Elinor’s work is interesting on its own and so the marketing that she needed to do to promote the work was similar to any other fine art photographer. “You need the work first and the marketing second. You can’t put lipstick on a pig and get very far,” he says.
Three tips for building awareness
Many photographers find the thought of marketing themselves, as Dave and Elinor did, a daunting task. Where do you start?
David tells me “while marketing is important, first and foremost have work that is interesting. If it is too derivative of the work of others, work that is already out there, it will not generate interest.” He offers three tips:
- Research other photographers: “Spend a LOT of time understanding ALL the other work that is out there, especially the work that is similar to what you are doing,” David says. “The folks looking at your work will know what else is out there, so you should too.”
- Understand possible revenue streams, career paths and tools: “Understand that less than 1% of fine art photographers actually make their full-time income selling prints.” David suggests looking at other revenue streams and finding out which of those might apply, how other photographers developed their expertise in those areas and how they marketed themselves. He specifically recommends looking at articles about established photographers and interviews with them.
- Create a marketing plan: “Only after doing all that, start to develop a serious marketing plan. Make a calendar with short, medium and long term goals and stick to it.”
David tells me that “Photography, whether working commercially or as a fine artist, is a profession. Like any profession, it takes time, planning, persistence and repeated execution. If you are not up for that, consider another field and keep photography as something done solely for yourself.”
That is great advice that all of us.
David H. Wells is a free-lance photographer affiliated with Aurora Photos and photo educator in Providence, Rhode Island. He specializes in intercultural communications and the use of light and shadow to enhance visual narratives.
Cindy A Stephens is a Vice President of Marketing and a fine art photographer. She specializes in developing high-impact marketing strategies using digital and content marketing to build brands and expand market share. As a photographer Cynthia specializes in photography of main streets and back roads using unusual framing and multiple planes of perspective.