About once a week I get an email from a student or aspiring photographer that wants advice on how they can break into a career of being a professional photographer. I found that I was writing the same response every time. So for the sake of time just as much as my desire to share what I have learned, here is my list of six things that I think every beginning photographer should be doing.
1. Get a website
Even if you don't have any money, you can have a website. First, buy your domain name, using your name if possible. Clients would rather say "We use John Doe for our photography" than "We use Shimmering Pixel Photography". "Shimmering Pixel" could be one person or several. It can easily get confusing. Let your signature, instead, be in your work. If you don't have the money to hire a designer to create a website for you, you have some cheap options. Both Wordpress and Squarespace cost around $100 for a year and are super easy to use. They are also both very SEO compatible. Tumblr is a fantastic resource, for blogs especially, because it's free and you can customize the html to make it look exactly how you want. It also allows for audio posts and video embedding. Not to mention, the site allows for people to subscribe to your site and reblog your posts.
2. Start a Facebook Business page
Facebook is another brilliant resource for photographers. Not only is everyone and their mother on Facebook, it's free. I "friend" anyone I have ever worked. That way, when I post new photos to my Facebook business page, I can tag the people and instantly reach all of their friends. Since all of my work comes from word of mouth, having the ability to reach thousands of friend's friends in one post is essential.
3. Create a Google Places page
Google has taken over the world, so you may as well embrace it. Creating a Google Places page is another free resource that nearly every business is already using. It allows you to post up to five searchable tags to describe your business such as "portrait studio" or "wedding photographer", or you can write in custom tags. You can post up to ten of your portfolio images as well as one YouTube video. You can get reviewed by clients, which is huge. The more people that are searching for you and talking about you on Google, the higher you will rise on organic Google searches such as "Columbus, Ohio Fashion Photographer". Not even Google AdWords is as effective as organic searches.
4. Join Flickr
Flickr may be affiliated with Yahoo!, but it is still one of the top ways to get your images to show up in Google image searches. Once again, make sure to tag the hell out of your photos. The best part of Flickr is their relationship with Getty. Getty shops Flickr user's photostreams and invites select images to be added to their catalog. This means money. I have personally made money from several clients on Getty, through Flickr.
5. Shoot for Free
Selectively. Photographers are a dime a dozen these days. What gets you the jobs over someone else is, more times than not, if someone knows you. The second thing that will win you a job is your portfolio. So your portfolio needs to reflect a diversity of images. This means, multiple locations, subjects and styles. So if your portfolio isn't very diverse, start thinking about the types of clients and jobs that you want to get, and then approach them. There are plenty of small businesses or bands out there that would be thrilled to have you shoot for them for free or for trade or a for a discounted rate. If it means that you get to add the types of images to your portfolio that you need, then it's mutually beneficial. Not to mention, now this business owner or band that knows other business owners or bands is talking about you and your photography. Soon, people will come to you, asking for you to do for them what you did for the other business. And these guys may have money. If you aren't busy with life or other shoots, you have nothing to lose. At the least, you have new material for your blog.
6. Share Your Knowledge
Everyone loves watching behind-the-scenes videos. This is our bread and butter, here at FStoppers. They are a great way to help others as well as promote yourself. If you know that you will be doing a unique photo shoot, consider having someone shoot some video. If you can, include technical info like EXIF data and lighting diagrams. Then send your video to every applicable blog you can think of. Even if this doesn't immediately lead to paying work, it's good juju.