As with all forms of artistic and creative endeavors, selling photography is a tricky business, and how and what you can sell, and to whom, ranges widely. Being specialized and finding niche markets is often the best formula for success unless you want to go to work for a major wedding photography business, youth sports team, or school picture company and begin climbing the ladder. However, if you want to create your own business, you have many choices in a photography career as to what you shoot and how you generate revenue with it.
The average photographer tends to be a jack-of-all-trades who has tried a wide variety of photography styles and subjects, although he or she may have settled in to a specific type where the most success has occurred. For example, it is common to find independent photographers who shoot everything from senior portraits, to weddings, to family portraits; however, this is a highly competitive area and anything but a way to get rich quick. Other photographers go after commercial business, shooting everything from architecture to product photos for brochures and catalogs. And then there are artistic photographers who eke out a living showing their photography in galleries as well as in shows and various fairs and festivals. Still others focus on creating stock photography presented on the Web by stock agencies or used and purchased editorially by various print publications and Web sites.
The bottom line is you can sell photography, but if you intend to make a living at it, you need to treat it as a business so you do not simply become yet another starving artist. Specializing in an area requires that you go against the grain of creativity somewhat, because you may not be able to pursue a wide variety of photography styles, which is what many photographers love about it. The more specialized you get in a photography niche, the more limited your images can be, but, ironically, the more earning potential you may find that you have.
It’s critical that you focus on the business aspects of what you do — not just the artistic aspects — which is the hardest part for most photographers. Nonetheless, if you can run a small business and you can work your way into a specialized area of photography, you may very well find yourself able to make a good living at what you love. Here are a few areas that are more specialized, among many others; even these, however, may have already-established competitors ready to outbid you for work. The primary emphasis in this short list is to present areas of photography that can generate revenue, are easier to sell, and do not just offer purely creative opportunities:
- Real estate
- Restaurants and bars
- Automobile dealers
- Alternative youth sports (for example, gymnastics, martial arts, extreme sports)
- Stock photography
- Church membership photography
- Insurance photography (documenting business and personal assets)
- Small business executive portraits
Another thing to note is that some of these areas of photography may require that you have specialized equipment to shoot, or have the ability to provide school packages or other printing services.
Selling your work may vary from providing a disc of images to a client, to hosting an online gallery where customers buy prints directly, to selling prints in a gallery or other venue. How you sell will depend on whom you need to reach, but to sell photos in today’s market, a nice-looking online gallery is almost essential to optimize sales — and it’s absolutely necessary if you intend to sell your images outside a given geographical region.
For commercial and personal photography, it’s important to understand how to fairly and competitively charge for your work. If you overrate yourself and charge too much, you might find business hard to come by; on the other hand, if you charge too little, you might find yourself working very hard for little or no profit. Every successful photographer must find a “sweet spot” for pricing that both attracts customers and also pays the bills.
The first thing to do is to canvas your city or area to see what others are charging. Some photographers list pricing on their Web sites, while others require that you meet with them to get quotes. Generally it’s a better idea to be able to provide custom quotes than it is to list prices for shoots on a Web site, which lets anyone else undercut your prices and also lets customers price shop too easily. The prices in an online gallery are misleading in terms of the cost for a shoot, given the prices are only for the actual products, not the entire service; for example, a wedding photographer may have charged several thousand dollars for the actual photography of a wedding, and the images are for sale separately in an online gallery to guests.
Commercial photography rates can vary widely, and there’s really no excellent way to set a standard for pricing other than by gaining experience in a market or by talking with photographers in similar nearby areas or cities. You should join the Professional Photographers of America (PPA) (www.ppa.com) and/or its local affiliates in your region and spend time with other photographers to learn more about what’s available in your area, and to learn about the going rates. Furthermore, you can then use membership in the PPA as a marketing asset to give your business credibility. It has an extensive Web site (figure 11-8) with myriad resources for photographers, as well as a referral system.
I recommend attending at least one or more of their seminars on selling and marketing photography, which take place at various times and places, and always at their conventions/trade shows. It’s a great way to spend time with other actual and aspiring professionals who are addressing the same issues as you. Furthermore, their magazine, Professional Photographer, is very useful and is filled with great information about the business of selling photography.
Stock photography is specialized because you need to shoot generic shots, devoid of any brand names or recognizable features/characters.
Many art and regional festivals provide spaces for booths where you can sell your work, as well, but you’ll need to have your work, complete with framing, ready a setup for selling and showing photographs, and a staff. You’ll also have to pay for the space — or give the festival a percentage of your sales. Some festivals further require that you submit a proposal because they may take only a limited number of each type of artistry; they may even require that your images fit within a particular theme, style, or regional slant.