The most frequently asked questions I receive from friends and strangers alike surround how I market myself & work, what works and what doesn’t. I am blessed that I am able to generate a moderate income from my photography without traveling to the ends of the earth, neglecting the personal relationships in my life, or giving up all hope of retiring one day…..hopefully WITH health insurance.
A few years ago when I realized that I COULD actually generate an income from my photography (thanks for buying those prints Mom!), I thought long & hard about the path I wanted to take and if I wanted to attempt to make this a full time profession at all. I quickly decided that as much as I love photography & the great outdoors, traveling to the ends of the earth 200+ days out of the year, away from friends and family, all without the security of a full time job was just not for me. Aside from the overall risks personally and financially, I just didn’t want to lose the most important part of photography to me…the simple joy that it brings me. As much as we all love to fanaticize about our passion leading to undying fame and untold riches, quitting your job, cashing in your 401k and hitting the road in your Honda Element may not be such a great idea. I mean, if it was THAT easy, I would have tore the sleeves off my jean jacket and started talking with an Australian accent a long time ago.
This brings us back to the question at hand. You jumped in with both feet and bought that shiny new Nikon D800 or 5D3. You have the tripod, the filters and a lens for every occasion. You have Photoshop, Lightroom, Nik, OnOne AND Photomatix and you STILL aren’t as popular as Trey Ratcliff. You are drowning in +1’s, likes, hearts & glitter graphics and even hash tag entire paragraphs online and still….no one is buying your work. This is the point at which most photographers start asking themselves why and questioning whether or not their work is good at all. The question should not be why….but why not?
The images that your photography friends like and the ones you personally feel are your best images are NOT the same ones that will be selling to real customers. Take that glorious sunrise image you captured from the top of Mt. Rainier that you are sure is going to be a hit. The question you need to ask yourself is what can this image be used for? Sure, it could be used for Washington tourism, or to sell climbing gear or some other mountaineering product but the list is short and very limited. The second problem is that the better your composition is (in the eyes of yourself and your fellow photographers) the less desirable it is as a marketable image. Customers need space for their products and information. Your perfectly crafted image does not allow for that. Now ask yourself how a picture of the Bay Bridge in San Francisco may be used. It can sell California tourism and anything associated with California. It can be used to advertise almost any business in San Francisco and the surrounding area. Because it sits in one of the world’s most popular destinations, it can be used for airline & auto industries and almost any aspect of travel in general. The possibilities are endless.
The same is true for fine art prints. 15% of my photography revenue last year came from selling prints. I expect that number to rise to 25% this year. These prints are VERY rarely the images I am most proud of or the ones I would choose to hang in my own home. People need to connect to a piece before they purchase it. It needs to evoke an emotion for them. I’m not talking about a simple emotional wonder of the beauty of a landscape; I mean a deep personal emotion. They are buying it because their youngest child goes to school there, or because they got married there. They are buying it because their fondest memory was created there during a vacation taken with their mother just before she passed away. Sometimes they are buying it simply because it matches the colors of their home and looks good over the back of their couch. I sold a collection of ten 30” x 45” canvases a few months back for over $5,000 and all of them were abstracts. I see you reaching for that macro lens!
The point I am trying to make here is that you can find success in your own backyard without giving up your stability, your free time or your family life. You can continue to enjoy your own personal photography and generate revenue from it on the side without being a full time photographer.
I have decided to take more time to share the things that I have learned in the past few years as a photographer on this blog. Stay tuned for the second installment of this post tiled don’t ask why….ask how? This will come in the next few days and will hold a wealth of valuable ideas on how to market your work. Till then, if you would like to find a personal connection with one of my images or are interested in high quality imagery to help promote your business please visit my website at http://www.aaronreedphotography.com and if you want to spend some personal time with me learning more about photography and how I do what I do, please consider one of my in the field workshops at http://www.exposurenorthwestphotography.com Thank you for taking the time out of your busy day to read this article. If you have specific questions that you would like answered in a future article, please leave them in the comments below.