From creating a side-hustle to finding new clients, twelve photographers share their best business tips for emerging artists and creatives.
“Our creativity can often be measured in how well we are able to adapt in a crisis,” Sarajevo-based photographer Anna Lukenda tells us. While 2020 has been a challenging year, it’s also been a year defined by creativity. In the past months, we’ve seen photographers pivot their businesses, earn money from home, and go all-out in marketing their work.
Going into 2021, we asked twelve photographers from around the globe to share their best business tips for emerging artists and creatives. From creating a side-hustle to reaching out to new clients, here are their suggestions for making the most of the year ahead, while growing as artists and entrepreneurs.
“We are not in this alone,” Lukenda explains. “In some ways, I think 2021 will be a time of supporting each other. Start by looking at your community. You likely have other small business owners in your circle with whom you can exchange ideas or form partnerships. I am so thankful for the community of entrepreneurs and professionals that I have built around me over the last year.”
1. Diversify Your Income
This is one tip that came up again and again among the artists we interviewed. “When the first lockdown happened, I went full-on into other ways to monetize my photography,” London-based photographer Laura BC says. “I was relying on clients fully, and I realized how important it was to have other money streams. I focused even more on stock photography, as you can always photograph your own family, yourself, landscapes, and still lifes.’
“I also started my own photography YouTube channel as a long-term project. I joined affiliate programs. I started a blog, and I’m on my way to setting up an online shop where I’ll sell photography resources, courses, eBooks, etc. All of the above is exactly what I would recommend to every photographer out there. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”
If you’re not sure where to start, spend some time brainstorming potential side-hustles. “This year, I made a point of writing down fifty different ways I could make money as soon as possible,” Ukrainian-based photographer Katerina Klio tells us. “I strongly advise all photographers to make such a list. Toward the end, you might discover unexpected, but effective, ideas you never thought of before.”
2. Become a Specialist
“My advice to emerging photographers would be to focus on developing your own unique style,” Kentucky-based artist Jessica Ebelhar tells us. “There are many talented photographers out there who are generalists, but it’s been my experience that clients really want specialists—photographers with a unique point of view and mastery of their skill. If you have more downtime this year, use it to create, learn, and grow.” Find your niche, and then focus your energy there.
“Once you’ve figured out your niche, get yourself out there,” Toronto-based photographer Joanna Wojewoda urges. “It is still possible to reach out and network without leaving your house! It helps to have a potential client contact outreach spreadsheet where you can note down everything from the person’s name, business name, contact info, outreach date, and any notes. Make sure to follow up if you don’t hear back, as it is not unusual for it to take a few tries before hearing back from a potential client.”
Beyond networking with clients, reach out to other artists and photographers. The NYC-based photographer Darcy Rogers tells us, “I’m primarily a portrait photographer, but I have networked virtually with groups that are not just in my geographic area or niche, and it has been a great way to bring more attention to my work.”
4. Learn to Outsource
“In addition to diversifying, my suggestion is to outsource,” Austin, Texas-based photographer Ashleigh Amoroso says. “Outsource in the areas that are not your strengths. While it might initially bring in less money, it will ultimately make you more valuable and your work better. I have a wonderful team who helps me with admin, retouching, styling, and accounting.”
5. Try Something New
“I think 2021 is all going to boil down to being flexible and ready to pivot at a moment’s notice,” Washington-based photographer Erika Roa says. “I plan on using 2021 as an opportunity to try new things and explore stuff that I’ve put on the back-burner over the past few years.’
“If you’ve always been curious about more personal images with a different approach or style, shooting product photography, creating a workshop, or doing more writing about photography, now is the time to try that out. Don’t get your heart set on any one idea or path. Be prepared to listen, respond, and adjust, as needed, to what 2021 brings.”
6. Stay Flexible
“One of the biggest lessons that I’ve learned this year is to be flexible and accommodating, both with myself on a personal level and with my clients,” Australian photographer Mark Lobo says. “In Melbourne, we’ve been through a pretty strict and long lockdown, which, at one stage, had me packing up my studio to set everything up at home.’
“I think that knowing that nothing would be certain and understanding that it was not going to be easy during this time helped me to be prepared for all the obstacles and mental barriers that would normally hold me back. I knew that many of my clients were in the same boat, so I was always sympathetic and accommodating when there were delays on their end, or if we needed to make any payment arrangements to help them stay afloat.”
7. Take Stock and Re-Evaluate
“It’s also important to evaluate your offerings and make sure they are what’s needed at any given time,” Atlanta-based photographer Kaleen Enke explains. “For example, while my sessions were longer sessions, mostly in homes before the pandemic, I’ve had to shift to short, socially distanced outdoor sessions to be safe.”
Check in with yourself every once in a while, and adapt to your clients’ needs.
8. Keep Shooting Personal Work
“When all of our shoots were postponed last spring, we took the opportunity to shoot some personal projects at home, which, in turn, led to quite a few jobs over the summer and even brought in some new clients,” David and LJ of the photography duo Fluid Frame tell us. “Keep experimenting and creating images you like. Take the time to practice some new techniques.”
9. Spread the Word
“My biggest piece of advice is to make sure you’re always creating new work and getting it out into the world, regardless of whether or not it is for a paid assignment,” California-based photographer Rachid Dahnoun explains. “The biggest mistake many creatives are making in 2020 is waiting for work to come to them. You need to stay fresh, relevant, and front of mind for all the art buyers out there.’
“When you create new work, get it up on social media, send direct emails to your existing network, and submit your work to stock. The photography business is a long game, and you always need to put your best foot forward regardless of the economic climate. The world will right itself, and the work will come.”
10. Learn New Skills
“Never stop learning!” Italian photographer Dario Lo Presti urges. “This was sound advice even before the global crisis, but with the incoming economic recession, it has gained even more relevance. If you are skilled in photography, start learning videography.’
“If you’ve already mastered still images and video creation, take a look at 3D modeling, animation, or graphic design. Clients may require you to take care of multiple aspects of a complex project with a tight budget, and having all the required skills yourself (instead of hiring collaborators) might allow you to stay within that budget.’
“Is there something you have a very deep knowledge of or to which you have privileged access? If so, you may consider exploiting this resource in conjunction with your photography skills to gain a competitive advantage. My last tip—maybe the most important of all—is to keep on trying. You will face rejection but, in the end, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. Stay strong and stay safe!”
Grow your creative business with insight from the pros:
- Outsourcing Editing for Photographers: What You Need to Know
- 14 Best Tips for Styling Your Home for a Photo Shoot
- 50 Free Resources for Self-Employed Creatives and Entrepreneurs
- Photographers Share Lessons Learned from the Coronavirus Pandemic
- COVID and Single-Use Plastics: How Environmental Visuals Build Change
Cover image via Rachid Dahnoun.