I am willing to bet that almost all photographers want their work to be seen by others. I personally take photos because I enjoy the exploring and creating that comes with photography, but I would be completely lying if I told you that I did not like my work being visible to eyes other than my own. The obvious, quick and easy way to get your photography seen is through social media, so I’m not even going to bother focusing on that. While social media truly can be a fantastic way to expand your reach to people you may not otherwise have access to, the attention spans on Facebook and Instagram (my own included) are limited to a few seconds at a time, and your photos are competing with an endless number of others, many of which probably involve adorable animals doing adorable things. And those adorable animals are going to go viral before your photo of a mountain or a sunset every single time.
One of the problems with social media is that, because of the bombardment of content we experience each day, it is extremely difficult for our photos to stand out from the crowd and make an impact. Many people focus on the ease of social media and how one click and a few hashtags can reach hundreds, thousands, or even millions of people. However, those that go viral are in the small minority. And those who see the lasting effect of dedicated, invested followers of their work (and I don’t just mean “followers” in a social media sense) are even fewer.
Due to the poor attention spans of the internet, I have stopped putting all of my stock in Facebook and Instagram. I absolutely still use them and I am certainly not recommending that you stop either, but I have started to realize the benefit of a grassroots approach to getting my photography seen by others, and seen in ways that are potentially more meaningful and useful in the long term than choosing the best hashtags on the web.
Make a Website That People Can Interact With
Alright, so this one may be fairly obvious to some, but the importance of having your own website independent of social media cannot be overstated. Many social media platforms come in and out of popularity and are constantly trying to evolve to keep ahead of each other. The changes they make may be good to get your photography seen by others, or they may prevent you from reaching a following that you have spent time building that is specific to that platform. Facebook in particular already throttles the reach of posts made by business pages in an attempt to make them pay for their own followers to see their content. Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, has recently introduced changes that seem to moving in that direction as well.
This fickleness of social media platforms means that spending effort pointing viewers towards the webpage you control instead of the social media platforms that you don’t could save you if changes are implemented that hurt your reach. By focusing more attention on a webpage that you can control, you can design a place that you can choose to evolve and expand on your own terms. And, more importantly, it will be a place where your photography isn’t directly competing with pictures of adorable animals, unless those pictures of adorable animals are your own.
Use Your Other Skills to Compliment Your Photography
Chances are that if you are good at photography, it is not your one and only skill. And your photos do not have to be the one and only thing that drive people towards your photography. If you excel at teaching, start teaching a class in photography. I took a class when I first started out with photography and inevitably looked up the teacher’s portfolio to make sure I would be in good hands. If you excel at writing, find websites, magazines, or local newspapers where you could contribute work that somehow relates to photography. I learned during college that I enjoyed writing, so I have written articles for several websites, Improve Photography included, that allow me to share my knowledge and sometimes point back to my own photography at the same time.
Are you good at working with your hands? Make your own custom frames and show them off by putting your own photos in them. Do you love to travel or explore? Make a travel guide or help out a tourism board and use your photos to show off an area. The possibilities are endless. Make a list of the things that you think you are good at and figure out ways to pair them with your photography. In doing so you will inevitably extend your photos to an audience you may not have been able to reach otherwise.
Emails, Emails, Emails
Emailing is absolutely a numbers game. If you are emailing strictly as a way to directly market your photography or offer your photography services, your responses may be a mixture of radio silence, polite no’s, impolite no’s, or positive interest, but the first three responses may very well be the most common. While I do email potential clients with the intention of seeking their business, I have found myself having unexpected success on several occasions from sending emails simply asking for more information on a certain topics.
For example, as someone who does a lot of night sky photography, planning out places to shoot sometimes leads me to inquire about getting permission to access various locations at odd hours of the night. More often than not the person I get in touch with gets curious and asks more about what I do, which leads to me showing them my photography. These interactions have often turned out to be ways to not only make valuable connections, but introduce a few new people to my photography in a way that is more personal than a click on Twitter.
Try to include photos or links to your photos in the emails you send whenever possible. At a minimum, have links to your website and social media accounts in your email signature. However, I have also found that including a photo in the body of the email often yields good results. Email attachments and website links can be ignored, but a nice looking photo that appears in the body of the email is hard to miss.
Work with Local Businesses
With how inevitably far-reaching the internet can be, we can often get lost in the desire to reach people across the country or across the world. However, if you make a goal to get your photos in front of 1,000 or 5,000 or even 10,000 new people this year, don’t forget to look close to home.
I have definitely felt the tug of social media when trying to get my photography seen by others. As I mentioned before, that potential for something to go viral, unlikely as it might be, is certainly enticing. However, when I thought about it in a different way, I realized that I grew up in a town of about 35,000 people. It was a suburban town with nothing terribly notable about it, but it did have 35,000 people in it, most of whom probably were not landscape photographers. Like any town, however, it had restaurants, doctor’s offices, coffee shops, and bars, all of which are potential locations to either offer my services as a photographer or hang photos that I have already produced.
Many businesses are looking to either purchase art to fill their wall space or get free decorations in exchange for artists being able to offer their work for sale. If you get one of these opportunities, take it, and make sure to have business cards hung next to each photo so that those who see it can know where to find more of your work. My first photography sale was from hanging prints in a bakery, and it served as a valuable reminder that, although social media does potentially provide a staggering bounty of “likes”, the engagement of a real life person staring at your photo while eating a scone can still lead to a more valuable follower, and can also be more likely to lead to a sale.
I was shy and reserved when I was younger, so I never wanted to admit that networking could be such a valuable asset, because that would mean I would have to go talk to people I didn't know. However, after years of growing and breaking out of my shell, I would very much like to go back in time and give shy and reserved me a stern talking-to about the benefits of networking. For those who know how to network, this piece of advice is already a no-brainer. However, for those who limit their efforts to get their photography seen to posts on social media, it’s time to embrace networking and learn how to do it properly.
I think the thing that surprised me most about networking was just how simple it could be. Connecting with others doesn’t have to be a big production. It can be as simple as reaching out to someone with a question and starting a dialogue or meeting for a coffee to discuss similar interests. For photographers, another obvious choice is to get out and shoot. When you add more people to your network, you begin to have access to their networks as well, meaning there are more eyes that will see your photography.
Talk About Your Photography to Others More Often
Last year I was out with friends while an acquaintance of theirs was visiting from out of town. When I eventually got a chance to chat to him, we began with the usual small talk about where we were from, how we knew our mutual friends, and more. Typically, in these conversations, people (myself included) will ask the question “What do you do?” However, the guy I just met instead asked me how I liked to spend my time. Instead of telling him what my day job was, I started talking about photography, and realized that we had a more engaging conversation because I was talking about something that I truly passionate about.
Ever since that interaction I try not to ask people “What do you do?”, because they often talk about their job. And while plenty of people like their jobs and are happy to discuss them outside of work, many other people don’t—or they at least don’t care enough to talk about it when they are outside of the office. However, since the question does not actually require the answer to be about my day job, I have started answering it by talking about photography, something that I am far more passionate about than environmental consulting…
I don’t mean to say that you should force your photos on others every chance you get. Waving your photography in the faces of others unprovoked isn't likely to solicit a positive response very often. However, talking about something passionately has a way of getting other people interested. I would much rather hear someone talk about something they love rather than something that is part of their life because it is the most practical way to pay off a mortgage.
Getting your photography seen outside of social media is something that will likely take a lot more effort than simply sharing a photo to Instagram and letting the likes roll in. The failures with trying to get your photography seen via email or in person will be more noticeable. However, in a time when Facebook, Instagram, and others are inundated with images similar to yours, try standing out by being the one that actively engages other around you, whether it is with companies that interest you, businesses in your hometown, or the occasional person you meet on the street or at a dinner party. You never know when an interaction like that could lead to your photography gaining more visibility. When it does, however, the connections very well be deeper and more beneficial that that ones that come with a hashtag or social media “like”. Good luck out there, and have fun!