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Photographers: Work On Sales, Not Your Portfolio

Over the last year we’ve been hitting our marketing pretty hard. We run ads on Facebook for awareness, knock on doors, put out promos, and give pitches for many different kinds of shoots. What do most people who don’t know anything about photography want? They want to be shown something else. 50% of the time, enough isn’t enough. “There’s only 45 portrait examples in this portfolio. Can you show me more?” or “Four of those pictures were lit dark, are you going to take my pictures with shadows? Can you take out all the dark ones? I only want to see your bright examples. By themselves.” or “Well, I see you can do business photography, live events, weddings, and portraits, but can you make me a gallery of male only birthday sessions you’ve done?” These are all real things I’ve been asked within the last month.  People even come in our studio and, while literally being surrounded by our work hanging all over the walls, say “Do you have any other examples I can see?”.

As a photographer, you need to refuse to play those games. People don’t understand the time it takes sifting through hard drive after hard drive to put together another gallery that’s just more of what they’ve already seen. It’s hard enough updating the ones that already exist. You should already be spending hours and hours each month uploading photos in galleries and on social sites, and because of that you shouldn’t have the time to make John Doe a 10th gallery all because, well, he’s still “just not quiiite sure….” Which leads me to my next point: They like it or they don’t. If a potential customer sees 50 of your pics, they’ll know whether or not you’re right for their project. If they keep asking for gallery after gallery they’re just wasting your time at that point, and if you’ve done your due diligence and given them a good number of examples, just say no to anything beyond that. When they ask for more examples, or some altered version of the ones you’ve already handed over, just say “Those are it, those are the only examples we offer. What do you think?” and you’ll save so much time. That answer also makes you sound confident in your work, and non-creatives/photographers will almost always back down and move on with the process.

Sadly, most of the time selling your photography isn’t about the work. It’s about the sell. If you have awesome work, the sell becomes easier. If your work sucks, it’s a bit harder. But no matter the quality of the work, if you can get a consistent sales flow going, you’ll get paid in one market or another. A lot of people who try and sell photography also make another fatal mistake I’ve been seeing a lot lately: they don’t sell at all. They pick a potential customer or market, and then they sit around trying to GUESS what they’re going to want. They spend MONTHS going “Maybe a lifestyle portfolio! Ok, an all female lifestyle portfolio! Well, they’ll definitely need a lifestyle brochure, but uh oh, we’ve used all our lifestyle shots in the portfolios. Scratch that, we need a portrait portfolio!” Then they do the same thing with pricing, “I think we’re too high, well, now we’re too low, but look what so-and-so charges!” The annoying thing about photographers that think like this is they count all that time they waste as “Sales” time. Then they go off and complain that no one wants to pay for photography, whine about the market and the cheap cost of cameras, and start doing free shoots for models in their backyards while wallowing in their own bitterness.

Take your best portfolio and go sell with it. Let them know that’s the best of the best. DON’T give them the “Oh, this is my old work, but my NEW work is much better!” excuse.  If that’s true, quit being f@%king lazy and put your new work in your portfolio. If it’s not true, just stop. Nobody cares about potential work you have that could be better, they only care about what they can see. Give them your best, and move on. Anything beyond that, and you’ll probably just get jerked around, and end up being one of those “I sold my camera to pay the bills!” posers. Which would be, like, …