Photography: Pete Prodoehl
Brand yourself an expert and you’ll have already overcome one of the toughest challenges in marketing yourself as a photographer: you’ll have given yourself an edge over the competition and buyers a reason to choose you instead of someone else with a camera. Nor do the benefits end there. Photography knowledge — particularly the kind of strange, specialized photography knowledge that few others understand — is a valuable thing. It can be shared for a fee and, no less importantly, it can be demonstrated to buyers, create a unique brand and win some useful, free publicity.
And marking yourself as an expert isn’t difficult to achieve. The processes themselves require effort and time, but they aren’t impossibly challenging. Anyone can do it; the benefits derive from the fact that so few people actually do.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t any challenges at all though, and the first is to choose what kind of expert you want to be.
How Specialized Is Your Photography Knowledge?
Clearly, the type of expertise that brings the most benefits is one recognized and appreciated by the largest number of people. Scott Kelby’s field of expertise, for example, is digital photography, which is a broad enough topic to make him an expert in the eyes of anyone who puts images on memory cards and manipulates them on monitors.
Lots of people know how to do that and many of them may know how to shoot and edit digital images at least as well as Scott Kelby does, but because Scott has the reputation and the expertise, his images are treated differently to those produced by his competitors. Buyers and clients familiar with his name assume that his products and services are good. Because he’s an expert, they’ve already given him the most valuable thing any marketing effort can win: their trust.
Pick a topic as broad as Scott’s though, and you’ll be facing a large amount of competition. Your knowledge – and your ability to share it – will need to be particularly high if it’s to survive the scrutiny of a large number of critics. The more prominent your position, the greater the number of people who want to take it.
That’s less true when you choose to stand out in a niche. Alan Detrick, for example, is the author of a book on macro photography. But that too is a relatively broad field with no shortage of other experts competing for attention, so Alan brands himself even further by showing that he specializes in a particular kind of macro photography. His website focuses on “garden and landscape photography” and his book is aimed at “gardeners and nature lovers.”
That limits his market. There are fewer potential buyers of garden photography services – or books — than there are buyers of digital photography knowledge. But those who are interested in the topic will consider Alan Detrick an expert, and the top buyers will turn to him first. He’ll also have less competition for the top expert brand.
Alan Detrick though is primarily a macro photographer. It’s likely that he could also create other kinds of macro images if he wanted too, but his main interest is floral. Every photographer has interests that specific. You might enjoy shooting landscape images but it’s likely that you tend to shoot a particular type of landscape, whether that’s a certain kind of location or in a particular kind of style. So you could brand yourself as a landscape photography expert in general – and battle with lots of other landscape photographers – or you could position yourself more easily but more narrowly as an expert on Utah landscapes, abandoned spaces or images taken at twilight.
Four Tools to Make You an Expert
Once you’ve chosen your field, demonstrating your expertise is remarkably simple even if it does require a little hard work. There are four main tools that can move a photographer out of the crowd and up to the head of the pack.
Teaching is always one option. The better the school, the greater the appearance of your expertise but teaching an adult education course or even an online course can deliver expert branding power. It’s unlikely that the instructors at BetterPhoto.com are more (or less) knowledgeable than the average successful professional. But because they’re instructors, they appear more confident and more competent too.
In part though, that comes not just from their teaching but also because many of them are said to have written “how-to” guides, and book-writing is another way to demonstrate expertise. These days that’s easier than ever. While winning a traditional book contract may take some persuasion, it costs nothing but time and effort to produce an ebook, a Blurb book or a print-on-demand book. And you still get the cachet of saying that you’re “the author of…”.
Easier still is to create a blog. While that demands a long-term effort, rather than the one-off investment involved in writing a how-to guide that shares your techniques, blogs do cost nothing to produce and, with advertising, are easier to earn from. Lee Torrens is certainly not one of the highest-earning microstock photographers, for example, but his informative blog Microstock Diaries, has won him a great deal of respect in the industry, just as David Hobby’s Strobist blog has positioned him as an expert on lighting.
And finally, you can write press releases. These take the least effort of all but the expert branding power is also temporary. Offer reporters a story about photography — whether that’s a photographer’s take on a story in the news or something seasonal such as tips for better picture-taking while on vacation – and anyone who sees your quote will assume that the reporter considers you an expert. That means they’ll consider you an expert too and as an added bonus, you’ll also get to say in your marketing material that you’ve appeared the New York Times, or whichever publication ran the story.
Press releases do tend to be a little more hit-and-miss though, and you often have to write plenty of them before you strike a story. Unless, of course, you’re already an expert.