On Self-Promotion & Being Uncomfortable as a Photographer

A New York photographer by the name of James Maher once wrote a guest post on the popular Digital Photography School website where he shared a few pointers on how to be a successful freelance photographer. The tip that stuck out to me the most was when he said that “The jobs that scare you s***less are the most important ones” and I’ve held on to this true statement.

After reading the article, I was left with the idea that if you want to be different and successful, you have to learn to be uncomfortable. Think about it for a minute. What’s comfortable about marching into your bosses office requesting for a raise or reaching out to a potential client selling your services or asking a person out on a date? Nothing comes easy and the moment you feel comfortable with where you are, that’s when one should look at what the next challenge should be.

I can’t speak for every photographer but I think the majority who are starting off like me, they don’t want to be a sales person selling photography per say. We just wanna own the best gear that we can afford, have an idea and go create some compelling photographs and not have to deliberate with practices on what we must do to promote it. The reality is that thriving in this industry is not solely based on one’s talent and ambition but also in knowing how to conduct yourself as a business which has been my biggest test mostly because I don’t see myself as anyone other than a person who loves his camera.

Nikon HandsFriend Erin Gazzo posing with her Nikon D90 at The Metropolitan Museum in Manhattan.

The challenge in photography comes when you start considering it as a job - something to get done rather than something to do. I already have a day job that pays my bills, feeds my family and enables us to live comfortably. At the moment, any opportunity I get to extend what I do as a photographer such as selling prints or writing guest articles on other sites is a window for me to stand out and create avenues for something else.

I’m not the best at self-promotion because I don’t generally like calling attention to myself but I do value developing relationship with people, whether it’s online or in person. That’s been a vital element in attracting the type of exposure I probably wouldn’t have sought out for myself. Instead, the act of being “known” has been the by-product of networking with people who may not be photographers themselves but have an appreciation for the craft and whom I share similar interest with.

Having photographed mostly for myself the last couple of years, at no point did I think that taking photos would lead to a few people potentially wanting to buy them. Whether it’s on Flickr or Twitter, I occasionally receive flattering comments complimenting my work and I often joke by responding that the reason they may think it’s nice or interesting it’s because I never publish the bad ones. Any way to get your name out there is good. The goal for me wasn’t to find the best platform to sell my prints. The real goal was to get traffic and get people to see what I was photographing and read what I was writing in the very busy media space that is the web.

Who Should You Photograph For?

Photographing for a market is a always good discipline but I always suggest photographing for yourself first, that way your photos will have a genuine passion without trying to work out how to sell it. The question I often ask myself before venturing out to shoot is “how can I begin to justify the time and effort I am going to put into this and feel that I’m bringing something new into the world with it?” Bearing in mind that almost every place I can think of has already been photographed, there’s a need to focus on how one can cover familiar places in fresh ways. Photography is about freshness and going out to explore the unknown and make it notable.

Don’t just have ideas about places or people you want to photograph because that simply wastes energy you could be putting into doing it. I’m not generally sitting back in pensive mood analyzing on how else I can make money but more on what else I can photograph. Photography is often classified as a lonely profession and it’s your passion that will very often sustain and reward you. I have friends who’ve asked for advice on how to get started with this whole photoblogging and selling prints gig and I always tell them not to worry about camera, blogging platforms or how much to charge for anything, until they have truly made their work as good as possible. The enjoyment and adventure will all come through in the photographs.

I always found the process of self-promotion and networking to be uncomfortable and ironically enough, doing it is what has contributed to my growth as a photographer.