Photography, Social Media and Being True to Yourself

A statue, illuminated by artifiical light, in the Musée du Louvre, Paris.

When it comes to understanding color and print quality I'm quite well placed. And that opinion is a result of 9 years tertiary study; almost 40 years industry experience; and many years of darkroom work and teaching printing, color and black-and-white, at tertiary level. I'd like to think this background and my love of photography has provided me with a good understanding of both the aesthetic and technical aspects of traditional printing.

For better or worse, there's very little I do in my life that is not deliberate. But how does that statement affect my working life. Frankly, there's what you like and then there's the commercial reality that, for better or worse, determines your degree of success. That statement, I'm sure, is true for most of us.

For example, when it comes to color, vivid saturation has, for the most part, become the industry standard since the days of Fuji Velvia and high impact glossy magazines.

You're A Good Photographer So Stop Swimming With The Goldfish

Now the question is what do your images look like and, regardless of how good you or I think they are, what chances do they have of selling?

Thousands of photographers are trying to display and sell their work online, via sites such as Flickr. Now, assuming you decide to join the rest of the fish in the very large Flickr pool, there's some questions I want to ask.

  • Are your photographs better than 95% of the other photographers on Flickr?
  • If they are, why put yourself into the same pool?
  • Don't you think it's possible that, by being surrounded by lesser quality images, the water will be substantially muddied in your small corner of the pool?

My advice is to separate yourself from the hordes. Chances are you'll enjoy the freedom and room to frolic, far away from the annoyances and dangers associated with the deep end.

Actually, I'd give the same advice whether or not your photographs are better than the majority of players over at Flickr.

If they are, you'll find it hard to generate the traffic and charge the prices your work deserves when surrounded by mediocrity. That's because your work will be swamped by the majority of lesser quality images that surround it and, as a result, your work will be perceived to be of a lower quality and deserving of a lower price than it otherwise would be.

Ironically, if you're work is no better than that of your peers, it's also a smart business practice to place it in a more exclusive environment. I guess that's a little like talking the talk.

A quiet moment exploring the revealing powers of light on stone while exploring Paris, France.

The Forgotten Secrets To Selling Photographs

Marketing and a more exclusive form of presentation are the answer. Though, of course, it would be wise to continually improve your photography skills and make the kind of images folks actually want to purchase.   

It's worth noting that, with wedding photography as a case in point, the best photographers are not always represented in the list of the most successful. So making great images, in camera, maybe only 10% of what you need to do to be successful. Taking those images further through great post processing may lift the perceived quality and beauty of those images to as much as 50%. But to be able to sell the images you also need to do the following:

  • Display your photographs beautifully and present them in a seemingly exclusive manner or format, whether online or in physical locations.
  • Find your audience and either drive them to your photography or put yourself and your work in the places your audience hangs out, whether online or in physical locations.
  • Market like crazy by keeping up a consistent dialogue with potential buyers. Social media can be useful here, but really only if you're followed by the type of people (i.e., individuals or businesses) who are likely to, one day, buy one or more of your images.

Many photo sharing sites provide little more than a template and, possibly, a way to collect money for images sold online. Add that to your hard earned technical aptitude and you're on your way to being successful. But, ultimately, it's marketing that matters most.

You've produced a quality body of work contained good or great images. It's now all about how you present yourself and your photography, and how effectively you target your audience and market your work and your brand. And that my friends is much the same as it was 30 years ago.

Late afternoon light bathes statues atop the Musée du Louvre in Paris, France.

In Photography Marketing Remains King

Because of the power and reach of social media and email the process of (relatively) direct marketing can be far more cost effective than it used to be. It still takes a lot of time and energy to do well. Maybe as much as 80% of your time could be invested in marketing and brand building. But social media, when used properly, does allow you to market your work to the masses or, alternatively, to target sub-groups that offer a better match for your product, sales and profit projections.

It might seem unbelievable that a photographer could devote up to 80% of their time away from their camera and post processing. The irony is that photographers don't make money by making photos. They make money by selling those photos. And selling starts with marketing.

In fact, if you build a great brand and market your products and services well, the systems you put in place will often sell the work for you.

You put your images onto social media sites as a way of funneling viewers to your blog/website. Unlike the Flickr concept, visitors to your site are looking at your images in isolation. Your work remains unsullied by that of the masses. What Fawlty Towers character Basil Fawlty referred to as "riff raff".

Now please don't get me wrong. I think its great that folks want to get there work out into the world. And the internet is arguably the best way to do that. But I also know that there are very, very few people who actually make big money selling prints online. In many cases selling landscape prints online is not so much a major revenue source, but a way to create a greater sense of prestige for the business in question. And the business in question might actually be based upon the sale of books, photo tours, workshops or, believe it or not, portraits.

A candid image of a bride and groom being photographed in Paris, France.

Photographers Know Your Audience And Your Product 

In any business we have to be clear about what the outcome of our endeavor is to be. In my case I love blogging. In fact I'm passionate about it. But it is not my business. It is a vehicle by which I'm working to establish a customer base to which my photographs and related products and services are marketed.

When it comes to education my market is largely enthusiast photographers who simply want to know how to use their cameras to unleash their creative potential. Over the years I've built up the experience and expertise to help these good folk, quickly and efficiently, in a way that educates and empowers. I've become an expert in my field. But, more important than that, I have a passion for helping people to realize their own, unique creativity through photography

One thing's for sure, to be successful on the web you need to be in it for the long term. But to survive over the long term you have to be doing what's in line with your hearts desire, your life's mission.

Some folks have suggested to me that I'd do even better if I did more technically oriented camera and lens reviews. But is that suggestion totally objective? While I agree that equipment reviews are very popular, I feel these folks are more likely to be saying "make your site more like what I want to read". And there's nothing wrong with that, it's very useful feedback. I just make the point that they may not understand the motivation behind their advice.

At the end of the day I think I'd go crazy running a camera review site. It's just not where my passion lies. Cameras are tools and it's important to end up with the one that suits your own particular photo making workflow. But cameras don't make photos, people do, which is why I spend a lot of time of this site discussing why it is we make photos. Trust me, the how is the easy bit. 

The fact that there are a lot of guys and gals who visit my site, on a continuing basis, means that I'm doing quite well producing content that's appropriate to a diverse range of folks in a way that fulfills a variety of needs. And those that have followed my travel photography guru site over the years will know that I'm forever working to improve the look and functionality of the site. But I do so in my own way and not at the expense of fashion and current trends. I'm building something of quality that will stand the test of time. 

As a case in point, there's this whole thing going on on YouTube involving movies of dudes unwrapping new products (e.g., iPhone, iPad, camera and lenses). How is that a review? How is it technical? Why anyone would want to view such a video is beyond me. We all seem to be time poor, yet why would you choose to spend your time watching someone unwrap a product? How does that help you determine if that is the product you should purchase to solve your problems or fulfill your needs? Just because someone else buys it doesn't mean you should. At least not without a thoughtful review where a compelling case for the features and benefits of the device in question is made that fits your own needs, circumstances and budget.

A coat of arms. behind a class cabinet, in the Musée du Louvre in Paris, France.

The Future Remains Exciting

So, whether you're a Facebook user, a blogger or a photographer employing a website to promote and sell your work, content remains king. The effort and hours involved to produce quality content, on an ongoing basis, is taxing in the extreme. And whether you're objective is based upon financial or more personal goals, to be successful your endeavor must be lifestyle driven. For me the travel photography guru website and blog is an ongoing work of art through which I strive to provide inspiration, enjoyment and education for an ever growing audience. And despite all the years of effort I feel like I'm just beginning. 

Your ongoing support will enable me to continue to improve the quality and diversity of the content offered on this site.

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru