Three Tips to Land a Photography Sponsorship

Three Tips to Land a Photography Sponsorship

For many photographers, the holy grail of “making it,” as a photographer is a sponsorship. The truth is that it’s really not as difficult as it sounds, but to make it easier, I’ll give you three tips to landing your first sponsorship.

This article is written only for those of you interested in landing a sponsorship, whether that’s for free gear, marketing yourself, some extra income, or even "prestige."

Let me begin by saying that this isn’t a fluff piece and I’m not trying to sell you anything. I’m literally going to give you the three rules to landing a sponsorship for free. Nada. Nothing. Zilch. Why? Because everyone deserves a shot. I will urge you however to be careful what you wish for. Many of you have the makings of great photographers and sponsorships will only detract from your path as a creative entrepreneur. Focus on your personal endeavors first and realize that you probably do not need a sponsorship to achieve your goals.

In case you were wondering, David Beckham made $5.3 million playing for Paris Saint-Germian for his last five months playing soccer. He also made $42 million from commercial endorsements that same year from his sponsors: Adidas, Coty, Sainsbury's, Samsung, and of course H&M.

Why was he paid that? Because he influenced people's purchasing decisions. How many kids bought David Beckham shirts and Jerseys that year? How many people bought Adidas shoes after that? It's all boils down to mind share and mind share can be profitable.

Could he live off of $5.3 million? Probably. He donated it to charity instead. My point is, he could have just as easily just played soccer and been happy. We all have different endeavors in life.

Before you start pitching companies to work with you and trying to land a sponsorship, I want you to remember these three rules:

Rule 1: Remember, It’s Not About You

I see it all the time. Photographers want free gear, but believe it or not, most companies don’t give away things for free, but most provide things at a discount. On top of that, they want something in return – something of equal value for their investment. No one gives anything away for free (except for me of course). Whether it’s a camera company, lighting company, or a camera bag company, they all maintain their businesses by selling product. If you cannot leverage sales, then you are useless.

Every photographer's relationship with a sponsor will vary. Some photographers are paid. Some photographers get "free" gear. Some photographers get discounts. The blatant truth is that the more you can sell their products, the more you'll benefit.

To be clear, I’m not saying that you need to act as a salesperson, but you have to think about creating content with the mindset of a salesperson or better yet, an entrepreneur. The smartest "influencers" will only partner with companies that fit their specific workflow in order to create a seamless and wholehearted relationship. It's 2017... people read through the bullshit.

What value does your work have to leverage sales of a company’s product? For instance, if you have 100,000 followers on Instagram and promote an image that actively makes people want to buy a product, then you have leverage. If you have a 100,000 people and no one cares, then you’re probably not what the company is looking for, which brings me to rule number two.

Rule 2: Depth Matters More Than Width

Social media is a great marketing tool for companies to sell products.

Regardless of what companies tell you, as a sponsored photographer, you're a glorified salesperson for those companies. That's the nitty gritty truth. Yes, David Beckham probably would wear the clothing anyway, but why not get paid for it?

I don’t care how many followers you have on Instagram or how many subscribers you have on YouTube — engagement sells, views do not.

Views are meaningless. Anyone with enough money can drive viewership to a website and we’ve seen enough click bait articles to prove that. Engagement however is what measures if those viewers engage in your content. Are they actively reading your content, watching your content, and searching your page? Viewers who are actively engaged become loyal followers and are more likely to become clients or purchase items you’re using.

If your following is not engaged with your content, then you’re not converting any leads for the company that you’re promoting. Wise companies understand that and they’re actively looking for photographers who can help drive sales.

I'll even put my money where my mouth is. Below is a current (as of January 30, 2017) report of my Facebook stats compared to many of the industry leaders in "Photography Education." On that list are several Canon and Nikon ambassadors — while I don't have the "width" or audience that they have, my Audience (Total Page Likes) to Engagements ratio far exceeds anyone on that list. Plainly stated: I have my audience's attention.

This is a report I pull for myself (daily) and monthly for the companies I work with. My job as a "glorified salesperson" is to always make sure that I'm on top and that my brand continues to grow. Maintaining that focus is how I've been able to consistently grow my brand over the least year.

Rule 3: Don’t Jump from Sponsor to Sponsor

Don’t do it. Jumping from sponsor to sponsor is like jumping from relationship to relationship in a small town. It’s a small industry — people talk. People catch on and they’ll quickly realize that you’re in it for either free stuff or just for the title. Camera companies, lens companies, etc., want people they can count on and not someone who is going to abandon ship when the next opportunity comes around.

With sponsors, relationships matter. This is why you can’t have a prima donna attitude and expect to last in such a small industry — stay humble and remember that at the end of the day, you’re a glorified salesperson. If you can’t sell product, then you’ll quickly find yourself without a sponsorship.

This is the part where I refer you to the first paragraph in this article: This article is written only for those of you interested in landing a sponsorship, whether that’s for free gear, marketing yourself, some extra income, or even "prestige."

Working with sponsors can and will consume any free time that you have outside of working with normal clients. If you're hustling and making money working with private clients and do not see a benefit in adding this on your plate, then don't. I personally enjoy this aspect of my career because it allows me to be really analytical and competitive — which isn't for everyone.

Bonus Tip

This should go without saying, but I'll inevitably get 50 emails if I don't include it: You have to be great at what you do. Not just good, great.

In order for people to want to work with you, you have to be able to "play soccer" with David Beckham. Beckham wasn't just a handsome face. He was a great player. The same can be said for Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky, Muhammad Ali, Tony Hawk, etc. They were all unapologetically competitive and great. It's the one variable that can't be taught through an article, but from years of practice, dedication, and raw talent.

Finally, it's important to note that every "sponsored photographer" has different types of talent. Some are great marketers. Some are great speakers. Others are amazing artists. Each photographer is different, but at the end of the day, they're all great at something and have learned how to capitalize on their unique talent.

Jeff Rojas's picture

Jeff Rojas is an American photographer, author and educator based in New York City. His primary body of work includes portrait and fashion photography that has been published in both Elle and Esquire. Jeff also frequents as a photography instructor. His teaching experience includes platforms like CreativeLive, WPPI, the Photo Plus Expo, and APA.

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I'm not sure why this is a priority for any photographer - let alone a "holy grail". Wouldn't the "holy grail" for any photographer be to use whatever equipment is necessary to make the best pictures possible for yourself and your client(s) and get paid well to do it?

If you are already at the level where you are influencing people's purchasing decisions and a company approaches you with a deal to use their equipment exclusively, then by all means entertain that offer. But trying to get "sponsored" before actually having gotten to the point of regularly shooting high-end work seems a little strange to me. I'd rather actually shoot the work than be a spokesperson constantly praising the cameras/lights/whatever and trying to move product. I also realize that the world needs all kinds of people in all different kinds of roles to make it function, but then at that point, why not just focus on being a spokesperson and call it what it is?

I'm going to answer your comment using one single line: Mike Kelley's moral standpoint on what defines success isn't appropriate for everyone.

Now, let me be clear! There are many things that I agree with you on... but also points that I'd argue. i.e. What defines "The best pictures possible?" I'd counter that with "At what point are you qualified to start charging for photography?"

What defines "regular shooting?" Is it Daily? Weekly? Monthly? etc. When does one start defining themselves as a regular shooter?

What qualifies as "high end?" Is is $5,000? Is it $10,000? Is it $100,000?

Do you see what I mean? If we used your disposition as a bench mark... we'd be running around like chickens without heads and a ton of red tape. This is why most companies define who they work with as "brand ambassadors." A brand ambassador is "paid to endorse or promote particular company's products or services."

In which case.... the third paragraph should summarize the answer for you:

"I will urge you however to be careful what you wish for. Many of you have the makings of great photographers and sponsorships will only detract from your path as a creative entrepreneur. Focus on your personal endeavors first and realize that you probably do not need a sponsorship to achieve your goals."

Mike Kelley... where do you fall in that statement? ;)

I think I'm somewhat in the middle of you two. For me, earning a living doing what I love would be the holy grail no matter what I was doing. I don't make enough from my photography to quit my day job, so for me, sponsorships would be a way to make that happen.

Ultimately, though, I think it depends most of what type of photography you do. If you shoot commissioned / commercial stuff (portraits, fashion, architecture, products, etc.) then sponsorships might be nice, but not critical as your work is mostly paid. If you shoot nature or spec stuff, however, stock is all but dead, print sales are minimal, and workshops are nice, but also very competitive, so sponsorships might be the key thing to keep you afloat, financially.

If I ever reach the level of having a sponsor interested in me, however, I can't imagine hawking something I don't use or like, or spending more time selling that shooting.

"Making it" as a photographer used to mean doing great work. Work you enjoy. Whether it's high end advertising or commercial work, important editorial or photojournalism or fine art that people want to show and other people want to see. For many people it also means paying your bills and living where and how you want to whether a flat in Paris or mud hit in Mali.

Currently making it is having a lot of followers or likes which translates into free stuff from the sponsor and probably doing workshops. Not shooting so much as talking about shooting and doing videos about why you are using SoNikanon instead of NiksSonCan.
How many of the photographers profiled in magazines like Communication Arts or PDN are also Brand Ambassador Captains of Light Spokesmodels for a camera or lighting brand. I really don't know. Once a photographer becomes sponsored anything they say regarding equipment should be taken with a grain of salt as they are working for the brand. And then there's the sales pitch, and click to buy from here to support my website.

It's a different world today and there are tons of sponsored workshops about strobisting, bikinishooting, wine country photoing in Tuscany. And all that stuff is great, sounds like fun to shoot with real rockstars. I have been to one. It was like going to a movie. Fun but not life changing. Would I put anything I shot at the workshop in my book. Nope. It wasn't mine.

Becoming sponsored should be secondary to doing the best work you can, this isn't NASCAR

Great read, as you put everyone has different goals when it comes to their photography business. Spot on with the engagement part, if no one is actually paying attention then a company wouldn't be to interested in "investing" in you. I like the part about not loosing yourself in the process, that in itself can impact your work.

Your tips are valid, but like Mike Kelly, I'm not sure many photographers are motivated by sponsorship.

For the past 4 years, I've relied exclusively on income from photography to provide for my family. I shoot for clients who I choose to market to so that I'll be hired to do work that I want to do. I occasionally blog and I post to Instagram, but both I view as outlets to show what I've been doing, rather than a game to get followers.

I've also met photographers who make their income from tutorials, workshops and speaking engagements. The photography that they do is to build content for their offerings, rather than for clients. For them, following on social media is crucially important.

I observe two types of "working photography". One does work for businesses, the other for photographers. In almost every case, they operate exclusively in this space. Someone like Joe Macnally or indeed Mike Kelly, being an exception.

The "educator" might dream for sponsorship and this makes complete sense. Their market is other photographers.

The other photographer type doesn't seem to give a toss about sponsorship. Speaking for myself, it would be a nice to have, not something to aspire to. As a business tool, camera equipment is actually cheap (compare it with most businesses that require property or vehicles). Sponsorship for me would be more about the prestige of telling my potential clients that I'm a **** ambassador.

Lastly, in recent times, I've found some of the photographer salespersons so nauseatingly obvious, I've stopped following them. This is a shame as many of them used to produce interesting and valuable content. Now they seem to produce review catelogs.

Good point about McNally, he has years of real time photographer experience, but learned he could cash in (like Beckham) on the workshop tour. Wasn't there a Joe and Hobby tour of like 30 cities across the country?That's a lot of work but easier than shooting in 30 cities...
Take Chase Jarvis , his popularity grew with his social media presence. I don't know if he is sponsored or just in a position if ha calls up Phase one or Nikon they will loan him whatever he asks for. His work is great as is his SM footprint so he probably doesn't need sponsorship.
There are plenty of youtube stars, guys wearing fedoras , or doing BTS of how fun their shoots are (BTS is now part of the marketing package that many clients want) who are popular for being popular.
A friend of mine is marginally sponsored by a lighting co, his work is pretty mid level. Not sure if the sponsor gets anything out of it.

My point about working photographers falling into one of two groups wasn't at all about the quality of their work. Because photographers doing workshops and so on are not doing client work, their work is often stronger. It is not tied to clients needs. I mentioned Joe, because he does phenomenal work for clients and is also a phenomenal teacher. Thats a rarity. Chase Jarvis IMO fits more into the educator bracket. I've heard stories of his high end commercial shoots, but I've never actually seen the images. I think he is an excellent teacher and communicator though and he doesn't drone on about any specific camera brand.

Last I knew Jarvis was a hassleblad master.

Awesome tips! Great article as usual.

Thanks so much Louis!

Nice article, Jeff!

I used to agree with you that getting photography sponsorships was the "holy grail" and dedicated a year to getting sponsored. In my experience, the idea of a photography sponsorship can actually be quite easy depending on the brands you are pursuing. There are of course the big dreams of being sponsored by Canon/Nikon (which indeed would be the "holy grail"), but there are also tons of small sponsorship opportunities, spurred mainly by the fact that there are TONS of photography products on the market with more and more coming out faster than we can keep track of. I found it very easy to get sponsorships for bags and camera accessories since many of these small companies are eager to get their products in the hands of what they deem as influencers. However, getting big camera brand sponsorships from the likes of Canon/Nikon/Sony remain elusive and hard to come by.

My ultimate point is that there are levels of sponsorship out there and that should be distinguished for anyone seeking photography sponsorship.

Thank you kindly! I totally agree! :)

No offense but has the writing quality of F-Stoppers gone down hill or something? Seems as though you guys are scrapping the bottom of the barrel. I know when I started photography I dreamed of being "sponsored". I mean give me a break. This article is nothing more than an ego centric rant, an absolute joke which provides zero value to actual working or aspiring photographers. I mean really, is this really considered the "holy grail"? If this is the level of writing that you guys have stooped to allowing on your site many of us may have to actually move to a more reputable resource.

I'd actually disagree without about everything you've said... but important the "many of us..." part. Maybe you have moved to another site because what you're looking for is not what the market is moving to... but surprise times change and website evolve. I won't speak on behalf of Lee and the rest of the team at Fstoppers... but as an ENTREPRENEUR or someone who makes a LIVING off of photography and trying new ideas in world of photography.... I'll assure you that your mindset is one of failure.

If you can't see the smart business practices mentioned in this article, then maybe you're not reading it the way it was written or who it was intended for. I'm not here to teach people about becoming a starving artist, I'm here to teach people how to be creative entrepreneurs. ;)

My problem is i cant afford all the fancy snazzy stuff, even if i wantedto advance my photography, i affordably couldnt cause i cant afford all the snazzy 42 mp cameras that cost 2k, hell. The one i have now was like 100 bucks. And for my nature i usually use my S7 cause its a higher quality then my camera on certian aspects. I dont know how to Advance any farther. Kinda stuck. Any advice would be great. Ive been trying different approaches to types of photography, but i dont know if my approach is correct. Anyway. If yall have any advice or any direction that would be fantastic. If you would lile an example of my photography its
Again thanks for anyhelp
-A Seeker of Wisdom