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Marketing strategy

How to market your photography business

You may be reading this article because you have just started out as a professional photographer or thinking about becoming one. Perhaps you are interested in reading this because you have been running your photography business for a while now and are looking for further growth. In this article Dutch photographer Vincent Hartman will try to give you some general advice and will share some of his own experience.

First of all it is good to realise that a photography business is actually exactly what is written on the tin: a business. Everyone involved in photography, or any other creative industry for that matter, will tell you how important passion is in this field. And of course it is. You will need to have a constant drive to develop your skills and field of work constantly to become successful, but that applies to any other business. The most important passion and drive you need here is that you want to be successful in running your own business. In this article I will limit myself to the marketing side of running your own photography business.


Your marketing mix

As an old school marketeer I will categorize the marketing mix into 4 different fields: Product, Place, Price and Promotion. Your Product here is your offer on photography and the niche(s) you choose. 

1.  What is your photography offering?

There will be a few disciplines in your photography that you like most. The general rule is that you are best in what you like most, because you will automatically develop you skills in this field. In the professional photography business you will need to add to this, the market or demand side for it. Are there people who want to pay what you like most? How many photographers offer that discipline and how are the doing businesswise?

Over the years I have seen photographers come and go. In some disciplines there is an oversupply in offering of photographers and most newcomers will not be able to survive. It is true that a modern digital DSLR makes the entry into the field of photography relatively easy and affordable, but do realise that you will need to come up with a product that is considerably better and different from what people can do themselves before they will be willing to pay for it. There is a continuous discussion in the professional photography scene if specialization or diversification is the way to choose. Some very successful photographers have a very strong drive in a certain field of photography or subject and specialization already starts at art-school or photography academy. The advantage is that the graduation can be used to generate publicity and that it may be picked up by talent scouts, magazines or art-directors looking for new talent. Downside is that this route may be limiting your development as a professional photographer and you will become more of an artist. This will be different for every individual. As I re-entered the market after being absent for 13 years, I decided to develop as a versatile Photographer in most photographic business services without being average and with a upper middle market pricing structure.

First you need to decide who you will be selling to. The private market or the business market?

Photography for private individuals

The quickest way to get going is to offer you photography skills to the people in your own network. This will give a an instant growth of your portfolio and it will generate the much needed cash to live on and expand your equipment. When I started out, the photography for private use was certainly the biggest percentage in the first year, but not enough to survive on. This will be different for every photographer and the power of your marketing communication and publicity will be a determining factor.

  • portrait photography: familyshoots, portraits for family events and social media
  • loveshoots, pregnancy and newbornshoots. For me as a Photography Studio based in a relatively small village close to Zwolle in The Netherlands, we still generate 25% of our business from private customers. We do quite some wedding photography and loveshoots and pregnancyshoot is a logical combination. We hardly do any newbornshoots. The fact that I am a male photographer may have something to do with it, but there are also no examples in my portfolio. It is a very small niche in the private photography field and other local photographers are better suited to do this. So over the years different photographers develop in different directions and the local  market will be segmented between different photographers.
  • wedding photography: As with the above mentioned discipline, a lot of photogrphers start out with wedding photography. This is strange because wedding photography is one of the most challenging fields of photography. The constant time pressure and changing light situations, combined with moving subjects will challenge even the most experienced photographer. In this market segment are also a lot of photo enthousiasts active and the offering is huge. Because of this pricelevels have come down year on year, whereas this field of photography is one of the most time consuming disciplines. One of the negative consequences it that the average quality is going the same way and that consumers now percieve this as the standard. This makes wedding photography one of the most competative market segments. There are however a lot of photographers who can still make a decent standard of living out of the premium wedding photography.

Commercial photography

Due to my training in marketing, the photography for businesses has always been the majority of my activities. Today 75% of my turnover comes from business customers. Although it may seem that the entry in this market is more difficult  due to higher investments in equipment and technical requirements, there are many examples of photographers who started very successful in a certain niche shortly after their graduation. This is often documentary photography, fine arts or fashion.

  • documentary or press photography: its is not only the availability of good performing and cheap DSLR’s that brought the revenues down in this segment, but also the upcoming of the photographic capabilities of mobile phones. Through social media news became instantly available and a lot of press agencies use public generated images in their media. These days it is hard to earn a living from press photography for local newspapers. Only photographers with a strong documentary drive for certain subjects and their own signature way of covering it will be able to make a living with national newspapers and magazines.
  • advertising photography: although any photograph, stock or purposefully generated image’ can be used for an advertisement, for a theme based advertising campaign, advertising companies or marketing communication departments of businesses and government bodies need a series of high quality images that are specifically made for purpose. Also here are the ‘haydays’ over but still good money can be earned in this field of photography.

  • corporate photography: general photography for business and organisations going over several disciplines like portraits, architecture & interiors, production and logistics, meetings and presentations.
  • product photography: for manufacturers and (online) retailers. General pricing for volume product photography is extremely low these days, but entry level investment is still relatively high and the skill set needed for high quality product photography is still the craft for professional photography. In this segment it is still possible to build a good business.
  • architecture and interior photography: a highly specialised niche of professional photography. Also here part-time photographers and enthusiasts have entered the market for cheap interior and exterior shots for local estate agents, but there is still a market in the premium segment for architect and designers. They will appreciate good compositioning, straight lines and good contrast and colour reproduction that specialised interior photographers create.
  • editorial photography: the next step up from local newspaper photography or the next step down from national high quality documentary photography. Photographs for business magazines in all sectors of industry and society.

2. Place, from home, studio or travelling?

Do you want to be the woman or man turning up with a camera at the customers location, or do you want to welcome your client in your own or rented studio? There are a lot of things to consider, but you will find that most things develop naturally. For group familyshots you will need a large studio and the same applies for the photography of certain products. Also you will find that certain corporate customers expect a professional looking place where they can meet the photographer and his or her team to discuss their needs. You will find that tjhis will develop over time.

3. Pricing

The most important thing here is that you realise that your pricing is part of your marketing mix and must be in line with customer expectations. There are a lot of articles to be found on the internet where you can learn how to calculate your hourly rate. The most important thing here is that not a lot of hours are actually spend behind the camera. A lot of work is done in post-processing your images. So you have to take that into account. An industry average number of 24 chargeable hour’s are spend taking the actual photographs. So other hours need to come from selling prints, rights or hours spend on post-processing. Don’t forget that you not only need money to live on but also to maintain and renew your equipment, software, computers, data storage, insurance, marketing and transportation. This is all a very complicated matter and I have personally outsourced all my financials and business administration to a local accountant.

4. Promotion or Marketing Communication

You may have expected that the majority of this article was spend on this subject as the word ‘to market’ or ‘marketing’ is often misunderstood as only talking about marketing communication or what used to be called ‘Promotion’. Marketing however also comprises your product, place and pricing as you read above and everything is very much interconnected. There are a lot of different tools to make your photography business know to a wider audience and it depends on your target market and the stage your business is in what media is the most suitable for your specific needs. As you will have found this article through the internet, we will discuss internet marketing first:

  • internet marketing: Of course you should have a well designed and functioning website that is easy to use on all devices. Your website should breath what your target audience is looking for immediately. This means that you may need more than one website as a business customer looking for fashion photography may click away when confronted with a pink website full of new born photos and vice versa. For this reason I am using two different trade names with each their own house-style, website, headed paper, and business cards. When having your website up and running, make sure that your SEO or search engine optimization is up to scratch. So do your research (through the google key-word or ad-word planner) to know the relevant keywords for your niche and adjust your URL’s, headings, meta information and page text accordingly. Make sure you build natural looking and quality backlinks to your site(s) like for instance article marketing and also don’t forget internal linking. Also social media is an excellent way of generating publicity for your site and getting visitors.
  • advertising: it may help to have some regular and targeted advertisements in local papers or magazines;
  • networking: how important online marketing may be, it is very much a source when people cannot find the photographer they need within their personal network. A large personal network is also important for referral marketing where other people are recommending your services;
  • good causes: good causes are a perfect way to show your corporate social responsibility. It is a perfect way to show what you are capable of and get your name across. It is an excellent tool to generate traffic to your website. You can write a blog about it with images and links to further images. I do this a couple of times a year and can see through Google Analytics that this leads to a lot of visitors to the website and that these visitors also visit other pages where the conversion is eventually done. 

About the author:

Vincent Hartman has a Bachelors degree in marketing and is Bachelors of arts in Photography as well. He studied marketing in the early nineties when his photography was merely a hobby. His contacts in marketing and communication led to his first assignments for commercial photography. After graduation he ran a small photography studio in Zwolle for four years before returning to the field of marketing and sales. 13 years later he decided it was time to start again and after completing a study at the Dutch Fotoacademie in advertising photography he set up STUDIOVHF.