It’s a conundrum all photographers, artists, and creative professionals face: How do you market yourself? In our world of social media, tweets, and “likes,” it can be hard to attract attention amongst all the competition. Ted Forbes offers some tips on self-promotion, drawing inspiration from two highly successful photographers from the days before the Internet:
“A lot of people are really frustrated; I hear this from viewers a lot, and I feel the same way sometimes. You’re putting your work on the Internet—maybe you’re using Tumblr or Flickr or something like that; maybe you’ve got your own website—and how do you get eyeballs on that? How do you get people to look at your work? Sometimes it really doesn’t have much to do with how good you are.”
Weegee, NYC crime scene photographer
Arthur Fellig, otherwise known as “Weegee,” was a press photographer in the 1930s and 40s. He found success by identifying a niche and filling it—which happened to be crime scene photography.
Weegee was ahead of his time in his focus on speed and immediacy. In order to accommodate newspapers’ and tabloids’ desire for “hot off the press” stories, he would hang around police stations listening to the scanner, then try to beat officers to crime scenes to get the first shot at the scene. Then, he would develop the photos in a makeshift darkroom in the back of his car and immediately sell them to the media.
“You’ve got to figure out what it is that you want to do, and then you have to figure out who’s willing to pay for that in a professional capacity, and it’s a matter of trying to find a link between the two.”
Robert Capa, war photographer
Robert Capa, born Endre Friedmann to a Hungarian Jewish family, documented five wars as a photojournalist, but he is most well known for his photos of D-Day during WWII, when he embedded with troops as they stormed Normandy.
After moving to Germany during the rise of the Nazi party, Friedmann found it necessary to conceal his Jewish identity in order to find work as a freelance photographer. So he and his girlfriend picked an American-sounding name, Robert Capa (they thought “Capa” sounded like famous American movie director Frank Capra), and the two of them built a photography business around this new persona.
“You look at somebody who was very talented, very hungry, and they had to find a way (that didn’t have anything to do with the quality of images they took) to self-promote and get their career going.”
These two photographers’ work and approach to photography are still being studied today. Why?
“I think these two are wonderful historical examples. As much as has changed in the world—we have the Internet, and the world is a smaller place—historically, when you look at what it comes down to, essentially it’s doing good work in a clever way of having your own angle on it. And that still holds up today.”
Forbes emphasizes that high-quality content and marketing are two separate entities—there is great work that is obscure and questionable content that is popular due to smart marketing. However, the two go hand-in-hand, and the promotion process looks different for everyone. For example, marketing will look different if you’re selling photography as a service (e.g., shooting a wedding) or as a product (e.g., selling fine art prints in a gallery).
“When I was first starting out, a lot of times, I just felt like, ‘Well, if I just keep doing better and better work, than this is what is going to catapult me, because people will take note.’ There is some truth to that . . . but it just doesn’t necessarily guarantee that you’re going to get your work out there and it’s going to be seen.”
So, how can you get your work seen? Cameras are more accessible than ever, the competition is keen, and we’re over-saturated with photos in the media, online, and in everyday life.
“I still believe that in all of that sea of stuff, you’ve got to find a way to stand out and be a little bit different. And I think it can be done.”
3 Photography Marketing Tips
- Find your niche (and someone to pay you for it).
- Find creative ways to self-promote (that don’t depend just on the quality of your work).
- Be a little bit different from the rest.
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