4 Marketing Mistakes I Made in Photography

4 Marketing Mistakes I Made in Photography

Getting photography clients is never easy and there are a host of videos and articles out there claiming certain strategies to be king. I thought it might be useful to learn from my mistakes instead. Here are 5 marketing mistakes I’ve Made.

When I started out in photography Facebook was king. Everyone was on it and it seemed like the ultimate way to promote a small business. This lasted up until the point where my photography was good enough to attract clients. I then tried a host of different marketing strategies before residing to my current form of marketing.

Paying For Social Media Campaigns

When Facebook started to die I decided to pay to advertise some offers I had on. As did every other photographer out there. I thought that if my price was right and enough people saw my work that I would get wedding bookings. The problem is, no one is really going to spend $1500 on a wedding photographer based on a Facebook advert. Not many photographers get cold bookings. There is usually some tenuous link out there as to how the person knew you were a good egg and that you wouldn’t ruin there big day with cheap looking photographs.

Fast forward to 2019, most of us are really fed up with being advertised to in such a relentless way. I don’t remember the last time I purchased something from a social media app. And I certainly don’t think that photography or any premium service would be best sold through one.I probably wasted around $2000 before I realized that I would never see a return on the investment.

Paying for Local Magazine Adverts

In the UK most cities have some sort of local business magazine. It acts as a centerpiece to networking. The companies pay for adverts or paid editorial adverts in exchange for introductions and what not. The problem is, the magazines are just not selling. There isn’t any good content in there to make people want to read them. You will find them in abundance at local supermarkets and cafes. I have done several trades of images in exchange for adverts as well as paying for some. I haven’t ever had a single booking from them. I just lost time and money in the hope that a company may book me based on an advert in a magazine that they are advertising in. In hindsight, it seems like a very flawed marketing model.

Paying for Business Cards or Flyers

One of the first things that I did when I set up as a photographer was to get some very flash business cards made. I used some sort of cheap online company and I was pretty pleased with the results. I eventually managed to palm all 1000 of them off to various people who never contacted me about work. In the last 3 years I haven’t had nor used a business card. If I need to contact someone or if someone genuinely needs my services, I can find their details and vice versa. I get given business cards all of the time, but when I need someones services I Google their details.

I also had a load of flyers printed out with a selection of work on them. I seem to remember them being rather pricey at the time. I set about placing them in key venues and locations. I assume they were either binned by the owners or used as coasters for drinks. They certainly were not used by anyone who wanted nor needed my services.

Paying to Be on a Directory

Heading back to my wedding photography days, back in the early 2010s (is that a thing?) there were a lot of trendy wedding websites who offered photographers the chance to have paid editorial articles about their work and to be added to their directories. I went in for both options. I gained a load of followers on social media and my website traffic increased a lot. Unfortunately, all of the social media people were either photographers or other websites looking to sell me their services.

There wasn’t a single phone call from the directories either. Although I knew that I would never purchase a service from a directory, I still fell into the trap of paying for their services in a moment of desperation to get some wedding clients.

Networking Events

I am very open about how much I hate networking events. Yet, this hasn’t stopped me from sinking days of my life and thousands of dollars into attending them. Out of all of the bad marketing I have managed to pull off, this is probably the one that will be of use to some of you. If you shoot products or headshots, this might be a good way in. By the time I hit the networking scene I was firmly in for genre of commercial food photography and I was shooting for some pretty big house hold names and pulling out a few world wide campaigns each year. I thought it wise to try for more and to begin networking.

However, I am based in a small city where there are very few good ad agencies, and the good ones don’t go to networking events as they are good at what they do and people seek them out. So I ended up sat at a lot of very early morning breakfasts with people who had no interest in my services whilst they tried to sell me services that I had no interest in myself.

What Has Worked?

So far this has all been pretty doom and gloom, but marketing doesn’t have to be that way. I slowly managed to work out that the best thing I could do was to consistently produce work and to put it out into the world. I chose Instagram as my platform of choice. Lots of my peers, clients, and potential clients use it both professionally and socially. Alongside this I make sure that I help others out, I point people in the direction of the photographer or service that they need when I am not the right person and generally try to be a decent human being. It has been far less work and far more successful than any of my previous attempts at marketing.

Scott Choucino's picture

Food Photographer from the UK. Not at all tech savvy and knows very little about gear news and rumours.

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I concur with these observations, almost 100%. However, I will say that I struck up a relationship with my local chamber of commerce, and have made tens of thousands of dollars from that connection. That's not to say that I actually did any "networking" there. Great post. Happy Thanksgiving!

So, what do you do when someone asks, "Do you have a card?" I don't want to be the one to have to somehow explain that I don't see the value. It seems that just spending a few bucks and having a few on-hand is a better and much more professional approach.

I guess he just answers "go Google me or find me on Instagram". Indeed not the most professional approach.

I'm with him on the business cards, although I don't have a solution yet. I don't know how many boxes of business cards I've passed out over the years, ranging from cheap to high-end paper to plastic business cards. I may have gotten a client from a business card, at some point, but I certainly don't recall it.

For me, it's not about their cost, it's about them being totally ineffective at producing inquiries. I could have put fake contact info on all those boxes of cards and gotten the same results.

I have a handful of cards left and don't plan to order more. I'm going to experiment with sending people directly to my website by pulling it up on my phone and having them email it to themselves.

Might work, might not, but it can't be less effective (for me) than passing out business cards.

I hate paper, and hate business cards. The first thing I do when someone hands me one is lose it (by accident or on purpose). The simple act of having to read the card and then put it on my phone contacts feels so old, so outdated, so 1990.
As a photographer I do what I wish a photographer would do to me if I was a client: send my contact through text/airdrop ou simply give my instagram handle or website.

Agree on most of the points. But strongly believe business cards do something decent job in terms of marketing. Also I think networking with peers is also doing pretty decent job. Really helpful post. Keep writing!

What they said - I often get asked for cards, and hand over a moo.com card with a high-quality image printed on the back. Doing charity work and personal projects also gets my name out there, and have led to many months of real income. And covering local running races for free is a very cheap way to get logotyped images in front of thousands of people, which has also led to plenty of real work.

Although your article sounds quite disheartening, I concur that human relationships and being true to our own values is the best way to do ANY job. Although it is hard to survive in this economy, I still believe that the virtual world of "exasperating social media" is actually taking our time and efforts away from what we should do better: get out in the real world, talk with people, nurture friendships... and be happy. Works must come then!

For me this is one of the most relevant articles on Fstoppers yet! I am just in the middle of a Facebook ad campaign. Thanks a million Scott., you have stopped me spending (wasting?) more money.


I wouldn't take that approach, John. I've been experimenting with social media ads on and off for about two years now and all I have is a negative ROI, but I'm not going to give up on it. There's a learning curve with running ads, just like there is with anything else. I've done everything the author has written and gotten the exact same results, so I definitely understand his perspective.

But I'm not giving up on social media ads because I know once I figure it out, it will be a goldmine. Anybody who has paid for any form of advertising can tell you that once you figure out the right combination of your offer, how you present your offer, and who you target with the ad, there's no form of paid advertising with a higher ROI than social media.

When you get that combination correct, you can spend $10-$20 and reach thousands of people who will be interested in what you're offering.

Lots of photographers use social media ads to fill their calendar for the year. It's discouraging when it doesn't work for you (trust me, I know), but it's definitely one of those things that once you figure it out, you'll get way more money back than your learning curve cost you.

I look at business cards the same way I did baseball cards when I was a kid. I “trade” them with whomever asks and if they don’t have one I ask for an email. I mean the whole point of a business card is to make contact, and if you don’t follow up with a future email or phone call the likelihood of a follow up is probably close to slim unless that client has an immediate need. At least with handing out a business card the conversation is fresh in both your memories.

All I keep reading in the comments is people saying “I may have handed out thousands of cards, I can’t remember”. Maybe try asking for others and think of whom you have followed up with...

There are lots of genres where such a card exchange isn't feasible. Take family photography, for example. Many people work jobs that don't require them to have a business card. Also, mom is generally who handles family photos and there are lots of stay-at-home moms as you go up the family income ladder.

In that scenario, you can certainly make the effort to incentivize them to give you their email address, but it's not an automatic exchange the way it is when you're engaging a business owner or someone seeking commercial photography services, like headshots or something.

People with something to sell are happy to trade contact information. But if your target audience is consumers, that's not the case. They have to be incentivized and now we're talking about creating lead magnets, etc. It's way easier to follow up with businesspeople than it is with consumers.

Most of my work in the past has always come from word of mouth/recommendations, this year however had a good ratio of success from paid instagram posts and General Instagram messaging/interaction. Business cards work too for me and get a fair amount from them, however that can be a while down the line and al ot of people now get a bit sniffy with cards and their environmental wastage so often while in front of them I’ll text them link to website and email.

Social media advertising is an incredible value for photographers right now. You need to invest more time into how to effectively target clients and run ads that are effective.

Scott Choucino great points. All good marketing starts with generosity. Figuring out a creative way to help another business owner in your city, or someone that shares your target market continues to be the most effective way to build long-term return on your energy.

Paid advertisements can work, if done right. But they can't spark a fire. Paid traffic can only add a few logs to a fire that is already burning.

"Paying For Social Media Campaigns"

My 42 weddings this year would disagree.

I've made thousands off social media ads, and also directories are SO worth the $10 annually. It's all about SEO, not about getting phone calls from the directory. To get your web site ranked higher on Google, you need backlinks. Photographer directories are one of the cheapest and easiest ways to get valuable, relevant backlinks to improve your SEO rating.

I love this. Do you recommend any particular resources for learning SEO and this type of marketing? Any of your top favorite? Thanks for sharing!