Those are all essential and they form the foundation of any successful online presence, but within the last few months, the global pandemic has forced many photographers to think outside the box and create new ways of engaging with their audiences virtually.
In the past year, we’ve seen creative giveaways, print sales, tutorials, video trailers, and more, as photographers around the globe up their social media game and inspire their followers in the process. We rounded up this list of ways photographers can market their work, while spreading their knowledge and building creative communities. Read on for some fresh ideas—and a few timeless techniques—to try as you grow your network.
1. Host a gear giveaway
“I am doing a collaborative giveaway with four other excellent photographers: Kate Woodman, Matt Carr, Inti St. Clair, and Jan Gonzales,” the photographer/filmmaker Pedro Oliveira tells us. “Having an academic advertising background, I am always trying to come up with ways to put my name out there without being too pushy.”
The internet is vast, and there are so many great photographers out there with similar or complementary styles. People might follow one without knowing about the others. I reached out to photographers I admire and proposed the idea for this collaborative giveaway. The conditions were as follows: our followers had to follow all the other participating photographers and let at least two friends know about the giveaway.
“So far, it has been an enormous success, and we’re already planning the next giveaway! Awareness is everything in the photography business, so don’t be afraid of telling people about what you do.” The prize for Pedro’s giveaway was a top-of-the-line backpack, and he plans to do it with more great gear and accessories. You can do it with cameras, prints, or something else, depending on your resources and availability.
2. Challenge your followers
“I recently created a ‘5-Day Challenge’ on Instagram to start a community for photographers who were looking to connect with other creatives,” the photographer and coach Emma O’Brien reflects.
“On each day of the challenge, I set a theme, including colour, B&W, texture, shadows, and character, and I asked each photographer to create and submit a new image in 24 hours. This left very little time for overthinking and helped the photographers to get creative in their own spaces and think on their feet.
“I also coach photographers, so I decided to run the challenge so I could build my audience in a genuine, fun way as well as share my expertise with photographers who would benefit from a bit of creative inspiration. The most rewarding part of the challenge was seeing the photographers in the group shoot work that was totally different from their usual subject matter and getting feedback that the challenge helped them find a new creative direction.
“Building an online community takes time, and the best advice I can give is to keep making work that you want to make and consistently and honestly share it. What other people think shouldn’t be something you spend time worrying about. When you make authentic work, you’ll attract an audience.”
“What other people think shouldn’t be something you spend time worrying about. When you make authentic work, you’ll attract an audience.”
3. Launch a contest
“A few times a year, I organise contests on my networks,” the Montreal-based photographer Dariane Sanche says. “The winner receives a photoshoot with me. Often, I will create a specific theme, plan the decor and the artistic direction, and then invite my followers to enter the contest by liking my page or leaving a comment.
“It’s important to me to have a unique theme and direction to differentiate myself from all the other photo contests in my region. The winners are selected randomly. I love the experience, and it allows me to explore my creative ideas while also attracting potential clients.”
4. Organise a takeover
“Instagram takeovers are great for gaining more visibility,” Dariane says. “I collaborate with companies within the photography industry to organise ‘takeovers’ of their platforms. The last time I did this, I explained everything that went into creating an image, while showcasing the equipment I used and sharing my techniques.
“Sharing my knowledge and experience with other photography enthusiasts is rewarding on so many levels. The added benefit is that it helps me to connect and interact with people who appreciate my work.”
You can do a takeover of an Instagram feed belonging to a brand or publisher, or you can ‘take over’ another photographer’s page for the day and let them post on yours. Either way, you’re reaching a new audience.
5. Tease an upcoming project
“I love to share my creative process with my subscribers by releasing ‘teasers’ or short previews of what I’m creating in the studio,” Dariane continues. “It gets everyone excited for the end result, and it also allows me to give my subscribers and followers some exclusive content just for them.
“At the beginning of this year, I started using video for these promotions and behind-the-scenes peeks at my process during a photoshoot. I mostly use social media to promote my work, so it’s been fabulous to collaborate with videographers to tell people a bit about the person—and the personality—behind the photos. It’s something I can give my audience that’s totally different from other photographers.”
6. Run a print sale
The Utah-based photographic artist Laura Hendricks hosts regular, limited print sales through her website’s art shop—with teasers posted on social media leading up to each event. “I typically announce the date of a print sale a few weeks before on Instagram and in my monthly newsletter,” she tells us.
“I’m usually very transparent about which prints will be included in the sale, their size, and how much they will cost. I find that gives people some time to really decide which print they want and put some money aside for it. The day of the sale, I’ll do a few Instagram Stories about it with a ‘swipe up’ link to my website shop, and I will make sure the link in my bio links directly to the shop as well. The sales usually run two to three days.
“I decided to structure my sales like this because I work a lot more efficiently when I can focus on a specific type of work at a time. I enjoy being able to focus on creating for a chunk of time without the distraction of other tasks. This way, I can plan for the sales and stay organised with my approach to printing, packaging, shipping, marketing, and all the other moving parts to selling artwork.”
7. Share resources through Stories
“I believe that Instagram Stories are one of the most powerful ways to use the platform,” the wedding photographer Vanessa Joy explains. “You can immediately ask for engagement, create a call to action, and have a ‘swipe up’ available for easy redirecting. I find that I often hit a different audience with my Instagram Stories than I do with my posts.”
Vanessa doesn’t just direct traffic to her website and portfolio but also to an array of educational resources for emerging artists. “My favourite way of using Stories is utilising the ‘swipe up’ feature,” she says. “Ultimately, while I love engagement and replies and such on Instagram, the goal for me is to create a revenue stream or capture the audience and bring them into my network. Having Stories that swipe up to my Free Posing Inspiration Guide or my classes like Social Media Demystified means that I easily direct viewers to actual conversions.”
8. Share your personal vision—and your real life
“We use social media to show our personal work—and give an honest glimpse into our personal lives,” Ken Kinzie and April Riehm of the creative duo Kinzie+Riehm explain. “Instagram is where we’ve had the most success, and we’ve gotten quite a lot of client work through the platform.
“Staying true to our photographic vision and style (even though sometimes Instagram feeds can look very similar after a while) is the best advice we could give someone starting out. Don’t try to make your work look like everyone else’s.”
Your Instagram feed (or Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest) don’t have to be devoted entirely to client work or commissioned shoots. Share something personal and unique, and be your authentic self.
9. Initiate a group project
The London-based photographer, artist, and author Maria Marie recently launched Creative Postcards, a project for twenty women (for the time-being) who want to share their work with others.
“During lockdown, my friend Jess, who is an illustrator, and I agreed on doing a weekly challenge by illustrating stories for each other on blank postcards,” she tells us. “I remember, as a child, receiving letters in the post from relatives telling stories about their day-to-day lives, and these illustrated postcards gave me that same sense of excitement.”
“I did a Story on Instagram telling people about the project, and the response was amazing! Everyone wanted to join. I decided to open this first edition to a small group of women. Even though we can’t meet in person, we will stay connected via Instagram. During an entire month, these women (myself included) will be creating postcards for each other.
“Each day will be dedicated to one woman. We will visit her Instagram account and try to capture ‘her essence’ and then interpret it with our own creative expression through a postcard. The process will be shared on social media so we can stay up-to-date with each other’s work.
“I’m encouraging everyone to explore different mediums, as this will be a great opportunity to try something new. Some are planning to do watercolours, and others will try collage. In the end, we will all have 20 postcards that will be ready to be sent in the post.
“The project has evolved into a sort of ‘online space’ to support women as they navigate their creative journeys. We have created this community where we are sharing our daily struggles with our creative ventures, coming together, embracing creativity, and having fun together—no matter where in the world we are.”
“We have created this community where we are sharing our daily struggles with our creative ventures, coming together, embracing creativity, and having fun together”
This edition of Creative Postcards is full, but you can subscribe to Maria’s newsletter for updates on the next one, and you can also start your own project in the meantime.
“My advice to any photographer who would like to do a community-based project like this one would be to lead by example,” Maria says. “You first have to set an example, and then you will inspire others to join you. If you are honest and passionate about your project and goal, it will resonate with others.”
10. Give prints—and give back
Okay, this one isn’t a social media tip, but it’s important nonetheless. “The most creative way I’ve marketed my work has been by delivering free prints to my subjects,” the film photographer and director Justin Lamar says. “Nothing beats a physical print. It transforms the portrait session and adds immense value. Then, when it comes to social media, I just engage with my audience as much as I can. I comment, show love, and repost. In return, they support me and everything I do.”
About the contributor
Feature Shoot showcases the work of international emerging and established photographers who are transforming the medium through compelling, cutting-edge projects, with contributing writers from all over the world.