How (Not) To Be Successful In Any Market

How (Not) To Be Successful In Any Market

Let’s face it. From the first moment we decide to pick up a camera, call ourselves a photographer, and try to make some money at what we do, we are constantly trying to find ways to stand out from the billion or so other photographers in our our who are trying to do that exact same thing. Whether it’s by offering deals, attending meet-ups, posting to local Facebook groups or any of the other ways to go about it, making a name for yourself and letting people know you’re there and ready to work is perhaps one of the biggest challenges we face.

So how do we photographers / business people let potential clients know that we’re out there and ready, willing and able to go to work for them? Well, there are a number of ways, actually. In the old, pre-internet, days, it was simple; hang a single in front of your storefront, sit back and wait for the clients to show up and give you their money. Today, it’s not so easy. All you have to do it take a walk around your local mall, open air market, and/or coffee shop and you’ll see literally hundreds of photographers and digital artists so desperate for work that they’re taking photos of things they’ve already paid for and putting them up on the Internet and saying, “hey, this is the food I ate today - hire me!” I don’t know what the success rate is for something like that, but I’m sure it’s a very low percentage.

I thnk we can all agree that it's a crazy, mixed up world right now. With a little help and that pointers that I’ve listed below, however, you’ll see that making waves, getting people to notice you and, more importantly, hire you, isn’t as difficult as the starving photographers in your area would have you - and everyone else - believe. As with anything else, however, there should be a basis from which we begin. In writing this piece, I’m going to assume that while you might not be in a new market per se, you are actually in a market. Meaning, if you’re moving from Anywhere, Kansas to Los Angeles, New York, Miami, London, Seattle, Chicago, this article will be helpful to you, but if you’re move from those areas to a smaller area in the middle of nowhere, this may be helpful, but your time may be better spent if you stop reading here and reconsider such a ridiculous move… 

How (not) To Be Successful

1. Location, Location, Location: This goes without saying and piggy-backs onto my last paragraph. If you’re in an area without a market - a small town where you are the only photographer - your chances of domineering the market are pretty great. If this is a possibility, seize it and enjoy your new monopoly. If, however, you decide you need to live in a metropolitan area, chosing a location closer to where you’re going to be working would be ideal. While it might not be possible to live in the City Center, living as close as you can to the action is a good bet that sooner or later, you’re going to be in on that action. Just being in the same area adds a level of coolness and success that other will see and immediately want to emulate. 

2. Buy As Much Gear As Possible: As photographers, one of the first things we recognize is the need for a lot of big, heavy, expensive gear. Without spending thousands and thousands on cameras, lenses, lights, etc, we’d simply be unable to make good photos (everyone knows this). There are rumors that it’s possible to make great photos with a minimal amount of affordable and/or inexpensive gear, but I believe those have been started by Gear Minimization Campaigns and those rumors should be discards as just that. Buy more gear and buy it often. A client doesn’t want to see you show up to a shoot with a camera bag and one two lenses. Instead, they want you to show up with an entire flatbed worth of gear and...

3. Never, Ever Read The Manual: Nothing makes a client happier than seeing the photographer they are paying struggle to figure out how to use a piece of their own equipment. In fact, if you’re having trouble with a particular piece of gear, it’s best to Google it (using the clients computer obviously), call a friend and discuss the problem out loud, and perhaps my favorite, ask the client if they know how to work the equipment. 

4. Don’t Spend Any Time Learning The Rules of Your Craft: Nobody likes a bookworm. If you spend any time in front of a book and/or a computer reading up on how to perfect your art, it’s going to show. Instead of taking imaginative, free-form, abstract photos which people will yearn for, learn the rules so you work will become bound by them. Suddenly, what were once beatiful photos will become boring and uninspired. You can take solice, however, in knowing that armchair photographers the world over will nod in agreement with your decision to stick to such antiquity. And I mean, the rule of thirds is called the rule of thirds because it’s just that: a rule. Nobody wants to be a rule-breaker, do they? 

5. Invest in Time-Saving Techniques: Learning Photoshop is time consuming. Nobody has time for anything these days and especially no time for color toning and retouching their photos. Instead of spending hour after hour in front of our computer while our friends play Kickball or Freezetag (or whatever the kids are playing these days), I’ve found it’s much easier to invest in products that will cut the time spent indoors in half - or more! Presets and plug-ins are a great way to not only get our retouching done in almost no time, but it also ensures that everyone’s work look alike - thus maintaining that stale sort of consistency regardless of the subject, genre, etc. 

6. Avoid Group Meet-ups: Let’s face it, getting to know your competition means that when the time comes, you’re going to hesitate before going in for the kill. It’s better, I think, to keep a safe distance from everyone this way when you’re up for a job against another photographer, it’ll be that much easier to start a career-ending rumor because there won’t be any feelings of friendship or camaraderie involved. As additional benefit of maintaining a distance from everyone is that just as sports loves an underdog, social media loves the outcast. Nobody understands you. Embrace it.

7. Let Others Do The Legwork: Nobody wants to spend a second longer than they have to in a meeting with potential clients and even less people want to spend time going out and actively searching for those potential clients in the first place. And really, why bother putting your boots to the pavement and spending all that time looking for and building up a client base if they’re just going to eventually hire their brother’s friend (you know - the one with the nice camera) to shoot their product instead of you. You’re busy. If the clients want you bad enough, they’re find you. 

8. Undercut Everyone: What better way to get clients than to find out what they’re paying someone and undercut them by a few hundred dollars? Everyone loves a value, and in the long run, both your clients and your fellow photogs will thank you for doing them a favor and making them realize the true value of their profession. Whatever they’re paying that guy, offer to do it for less - much less. The clients will love you for saving them money and over time, your fellow photographers will grow to respect your keen business sense. 


As I mentioned earlier, this article won’t be helpful for everyone (or, anyone), but I think it’s important to realize that in this over-saturated market, the workday simply doesn’t even when the five o’clock whistle sounds and well-paying jobs certainly aren’t going to come looking for us. Granted everyone has a different understanding of what “success” in this industry is, but if we’re going to be successful in the Biblical sense in this field (or in any field), we have to go out and hunt the work down, drag it out, and make it our own. It’s a 24/7 non-stop field and those who rest fall behind. Those who don’t…well, those are the ones we read about. 

John Schell's picture

John Schell is a Lifestyle photographer and writer currently based in Miami, Florida

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John, your adages so easily remind me of Seth Godin's wry observation: "It tastes like chicken is not a compliment"

Keep it up, my friend.


Some good points John. Enjoyed your new set of photos.

This snark is strong!

now that I'm done reading this I can get back to freeze tag:)

9. Only shoot gigs that pay well. If a paying client isn't involved, then pulling out your camera is a waste of time and resources.

Killer shots John, and you forgot one other key point, and that is to avoid sites like FSTOPPERS and SLRLounge, where tons of misleading information can destroy you :P

I'm not too sure about the location, I thought vast majority of very successful fashion photographers move to the NYC and LA areas intentionally to get the most work possible by big agencies.

I went through Nowhere Montana the other day! Population 15. I saw 14 photographers taking pictures of each other! The other person? The agent!

These are some helpful point John

These are some helpful point John

Nice preset for a winning recipe

This "article" was a waste of time on what is normally a fantastically informative site. This was just a place for John to dump on things that annoy him in a not-so-entertaining bit of snark. And I like snark. If this was written better, maybe it could have helped our fellow photogs. But there was nothing revealing in this article. It strikes me as a way for John to vent about his frustrations with photography. I apologize if this is a harsh critique, but I believe John and FStoppers are better than this.

John is an immensely talented photographer and his articles are usually thoughtful and well-written. This article strikes me as the result of a tough day of shooting, or seeing someone else get a client he was pursuing for a lower rate.

This belongs on John's personal blog and is not up to the quality FStoppers usually delivers.