It’s not the quality of your images that’s stopping you from making more sales and building even a part-time photography business. It’s your fears. To get them out of the way and create the growth you deserve, you first have to identify them — then squish them. You’ll probably find at least one — and possibly five — of those fears here.
Fear of Specialization
This isn’t a fear that’s unique to photography; it applies to just about everyone entering an industry for the first time. You don’t know where the best opportunities lie. You’ve got an empty schedule book and no sales to your name. You’re afraid that stating that you specialize in one topic or one style will limit your opportunities. So you create a website that declares you’re available for any work at all. You offer portraits and weddings, seniors and baby shots. And you create a portfolio of generic images that are attractive but predictable. They have no particular style that marks them out from the competition.
That’s an approach that might work for a while. But it should soon become clear which images clients like the most, and are willing to pay the most for. Once you’ve figured that out, you can earn more by specializing. When Christian Keenan switched from news photography to wedding photography, for example, he stuck with the documentary style that had won him a World Press Photo award. His images are black and white. There are no formals, no family photos and no engagement shots. His approach is clear and it won’t suit everyone. Clients looking for traditional color photography won’t use him. But there are enough couples who want the kind of unique images that he supplies to make him one of the UK’s most successful wedding photographers.
Fear of Rejection
Thousands of outlets are looking to buy and sell images created by talented photographers. Photo editors at magazines care less about who shot the photo than what that photo will do for their readers. Gallery owners love nothing more than discovering and nurturing new talent. It’s what brings them into the business. The Photographers Market, a guide to publications, agencies and galleries that buy images, is nearly 700 pages long and in its print form could double as a house-brick.
Somewhere among those pages are enough buyers to keep you shooting and earning from your photography for as long as you want.
But to reach them you’re going to have to contact a lot of people who won’t want your photos.
They won’t want them because they don’t match their market or their readers. They won’t them because they already have a list of image suppliers that they’re happy to buy from or because they only buy from professionals or because they couldn’t be bothered to wait for your website to load.
They won’t want them because they don’t think your pictures are good enough.
You’ll hear all of those reasons and they’ll hurt every time you hear them. And every now and then, you’ll hear a yes. “Yes, we’ll take that picture.” “Yes, we can put your photo in an exhibition.” “Yes, I like that. Do you have any more?”
Rejection will happen. But it’s just something you have to hear to land acceptance.
Fear of High Prices
Take a look through photography section of craft site Etsy and you’ll find plenty of the kinds of images that you could shoot easily. There are pictures of places (which tend to sell well) and of people, of animals and of flowers. They’ve usually been carefully edited to make them more artistic and to suit the site’s buyers, but the prices for prints usually fall somewhere between $30 to $60.
It’s no surprise that if you pitch the prices too high, sales will fall off. But it’s also true that if you pitch them too low, sales will fall off. As one photographer on the site has told us:
It’s important not to lowball yourself even if you think it might help you sell at first (it usually won’t!). Buyers will only value your work if you value it yourself.
Demanding an amount for your images that would make you think twice about buying them can feel scary. But you have to cover your costs, including the printing, the framing and the delivery charges. And you have to show that your work is rare enough and good enough to be attractive. Look at what other photographers are charging in the same outlet and keep your prices in the same range — even if those prices look high to you. They won’t look high to the buyers.
Fear of Investment
Photography costs money. Cameras have come down in price but they’re not free and lenses aren’t cheap. Once you’ve laid out on the basic equipment, you still have to pay for a website, travel costs and advertising.
If you’re serious about earning from photography, you will have to make those investments.
There are ways you can reduce them. Time on Facebook can spread the word about your business cheaper than an ad in The Knot. SEO can win your site clicks for less money than experimenting with AdWords. Renting, borrowing or sharing a display tent can let you experiment with art fairs before investing in your own booth. Usually, what you save in dollars, you’ll lose in hours.
But rather than think about the amount you’ll be paying, consider the amounts you’ll be making when you land sales. Being willing to make those investments in yourself is the most important sign that you’re serious about earning from photography.
Fear of Commissions
There are two ways to make money from photography: you can create an image and try to find someone who wants it; or you can accept a commission from someone to shoot images that they know they want.
The first only carries a risk to yourself. The second carries a risk to the client. Come back from the wedding without the pictures the couple expects, and you could find yourself with a lawsuit.
Being willing to accept a commission shows that you’re ready to step up. You can start small: shoot friends’ weddings instead of giving them a gift or take pictures of the products made by a family business so that they won’t get mad if they’re less than professional. Start with commissions that either have low expectations or which can be fixed.
It doesn’t take more than a few successful, low-scale commissions to give you the confidence to say “yes” to the big jobs, beat your fears and build your business.