Anyone with good business sense knows how strong networking can influence the way you build your career, but how about the rest of us who may not be as networking savvy? Proper etiquette says much about the way you conduct yourself and your business. Here is a guide on how to appropriately interact with your photographer peers in and out of your area to insure that the relationships built are positive and productive.
Why is Networking Important?
Networking allows you to build beneficial relationships within the industry that you work in. We all need a little bit of help, encouragement and camaraderie from time to time. It helps keep your morale up and gives you an outlet to other photographers that you can relate to. It also has benefits business wise. Good networking can boost your business by having others recommend your work. Perhaps you only shoot family portraits and a wedding photographer is asked if he can do a family portrait. If you have a good relationship with this photographer the likelihood of him recommending you for the gig is a lot higher than if you just kept to yourself.
How to Get Started
When you feel you're ready to start spreading your wings and are comfortable enough to start reaching out to your peers there are several avenues that you can use to begin networking. From social networking to personal meet and greets the possibilities are pretty much endless. Here are a few ways that you can start getting your name out into the industry.
You can first start by getting your photography business in order. If you plan to reach out as a true professional, make sure that your business reflects that. Create your website, social networks and make sure you have your business properly registered with whatever state you reside in. A professional isn't going to treat you as a fellow pro unless you are conducting yourself and your career as a legitimate business. In fact, several photography groups require that you present your Tax ID before granting membership. If you're putting yourself out there as a hobbyist you'll gain more respect by saying so.
Once you have that in order you can look to see what kind of photographer meet-ups are in your local area. There are several well known photography associations that sponsor photographer meetings including Pictage User Groups and PPA groups. If there's not one in your area you can either create one or just start your own general meet-up. Photography conventions are also another great place for networking. Fstoppers every year has a really awesome FS party that photographers of all levels of experience and specializations attend to network and let loose, as the featured photo of Peter Hurley, Zack Arias, Jared Polin and a few others above shows. Meet-ups can be a really fun way of getting to know people in your industry.
What to do When You're There
Make sure you bring along enough business cards to pass out at the meet-up. Don't be a wallflower. It comes off as being aloof. Start by introducing yourself and making small talk. Ask smart and engaging questions, but tread carefully you don't want to come off as too eager or as an annoyance. Save your business cards until either they ask for it or towards the end of your conversations. If the group is hosting a presentation pay attention. Even if the subject is something you feel you may already know or don't shoot you'll be surprised by what you can learn, and you don't want to give the impression that you're disinterested.
Once the event is over make sure that you follow up with the people you've met. Add them to your social networks and invite them out to lunch if you want to get to know them better. Remember in several states a lunch or dinner with another photographer is considered a meeting and is actually tax-deductible. Even if it is a small percentage. Every little bit counts, right?
Photographer Etiquette and Ethics
Manners are incredibly important when working with other photographers in your industry or area. The majority of people are taught basic manners in kindness and respect in their formative years. Most would consider the points below to be plain 'ole common sense, but lately I have seen more and more photographers crossing the line of good manners and ethics and not even realize the gravity of their poor behavior.
It's painful to see a client or unknown person stealing your images and using them without your permission, but it's especially hurtful when the offender is another photographer. I'll never understand why some photographers use other artists' images to market themselves. It's happened to the best of us, including Fstoppers' own Lee Morris, when his wedding photography was hijacked at the beginning of the year. Whether you use the stolen images on your website, a craigslist ad, a Facebook banner or a post requesting models for a shoot it's wrong, plain and simple. Not only will you quickly gain the ire and disrespect of all of your peers, but eventually your client base will see right through it. It's a slap on the face to your peers and under no circumstances is this acceptable. Did I forget to mention that it's illegal, as well?
Learn to Play Nice
If you're on a gig that requires you to work with another shooter or several other shooters, like concerts, events or weddings learn to work together and become a team player. I have heard countless of stories of photographers fighting for 'the shot' and literally wrestling to get better angles. This is just piss-poor behavior in general.
If possible meet with the crew before the event and lay out some ground rules. Share the stage or angles that you will be shooting from and be aware of your surroundings during the shoot. Never purposely get in the way of another photographer's shot. You'll quickly come off as a jerk and word will spread that you're hard to work with. Remember your reputation is one of your best selling points. Don't ruin that by being difficult to work with.
Also, if you're attending an event (a wedding, concert or another event) and you're not the hired shooter leave the business cards in your pocket unless someone asks you for it. Trying to push out a house photographer is a sure way to not only get a bad name, but be banned from a venue quickly. If you're at a wedding then let the hired wedding photographer pass out their cards, it's their gig, and they should be treated with respect.
If you reach out to another photographer for help when you're first starting out or to help with a shoot please show your gratitude. This is another touchy subject that comes up with photographers. An amateur may ask a professional for guidance or to intern for them so that they can learn from the best only to later break away and try to steal the clients from said professional. Instead of showing their gratitude for the person that taught them and nurtured their growth they show their true bad behavior.
It should be common sense not to go after clients you know that your mentor has. This is a gross example of distrust and ill-business practices. When you show your gratitude it displays your sincerity in learning and wanting to be in a positive place in your industry. Also, recently scientists have learned that showing some gratitude can actually affect your own happiness by increasing the joy in your life. So, start expressing your gratitude for your peers. It will make both of you feel good about working together. Saying, "Thank you," goes a long way.
Recommend Your Peers
If someone inquires about some work that you don't specialize in, instead of just letting them know that you don't shoot that type of photography and sending them on their way go ahead and recommend someone you know will be able to take care of that client. This is the best way to forge positive relationships in your industry. On the same note if a photographer hooks you up with a gig show your gratitude by returning the favor. I myself am constantly inquired on whether I shoot weddings or family portraits, I don't, but I always take the time to recommend people from my area that I know will be better suited for the job.
I even took the time to write a personal blog post recommending my favorite wedding photographers in my area. You might get a few photographers that are offended that you didn't recommend them, but instead of being pressured go with your gut. You know best on who you feel will properly handle the client.
Social Network Etiquette
This is the breeding ground of both positive and negative behavior. What makes social networking such a delicate place is that since everything is written sometimes intent and tone can be hard to gauge. Here's a few points on how to interact with your peers on social networks including the gargantuan Facebook.
Critiques on Facebook and Misc...
Giving and receiving constructive criticism is a great way to learn and grow as a photographer, but where do you draw the line? There are a ton of appropriate places to give CC (constructive criticism). There are groups and fan pages dedicated to just that including our own Fstoppers Facebook Group. I'm not going to explain how to give CC, you can find more information on the subject HERE and HERE.
I will say though, that you should only give CC when asked for it, and NEVER give CC no matter how positive you may word your comment on a photographer's fan page or profile. Those areas are open publicly to their clients and friends. The last thing you want to do is embarrass the photographer you're giving CC to. Also, be wary when a fellow photographer asks on their photo, "What do you think?" This may just be a way for them to open a dialogue between them and his/her clients or potential clients. If you have anything to say keep it positive. 'Hey awesome shot!' suffices. If you don't like what you see, then keep quiet and just move along.
Social Network Fauxpas
Here's a few examples on how never to use Facebook to network. These I have experienced myself and was not too pleased to see the offending photographer encroaching on my little internet bubble. Don't ever use another photographer's page as a way to solicit your services or scout for models. Again, you would think that this is common sense, but alas just this week I witnessed this happen, and it's incredible to see just how clueless some of these photographers are.
If you see a professional photo of a model and would like to work with them, don't express that desire on the photo itself. It may be attached to the photographer's page. This is also good advice if the model has posted it on her own personal page. If it's obvious that the photo is professional it's better to just send them a private message.
Soliciting your services can be walking on a fine line, as well. If there is a company or client that you want to shoot with and you already know that they have a photographer and are happy with them, then in my opinion it's best to walk away. Never solicit your services on another photographer's client's photo album saying you can shoot for them. That's disrespectful to the photographer who shot those photos and the client will probably blow you off, as well. It comes off as desperate, and that's never an image you want to portray.
Networking can be a valuable asset to not only your business, but your social life, as well. It's not just about gaining more clients and work, but it's also about forging awesome and powerful friendships with people that share the same passion for photography that you do. I have a ton of people that I hang out with in my area that are in my field of work and some of them are my direct competition, but I never see them that way. They're simply my friends. This is just a simple guide to get you thinking about the way you interact with other photographers. It's all just a matter of respect, common sense and consideration.
Feel free to write about any experiences you've had with badly behaved photographers below in the comments.