After all, Vivian Maier rose to legendary status after John Maloof shared her photos on Flickr. Small-town photographer Mike Disfarmer became a nationally recognised name decades earlier, after his pictures were published in Modern Photography. Eugène Atget received recognition in large part because Berenice Abbott worked tirelessly to promote his collection.
Of course, behind every one of these once-in-a-lifetime discoveries and “big breaks” lie countless hours of hard work and dedication. In some cases, there were rejections and disappointments; Atget’s photos, for instance, didn’t sell in the beginning. More often than not, building a career in photography takes time and patience, but if you stick with it, it can pay off.
We asked eight talented photographers to tell us about how they’ve gotten their work noticed, online and in person. Some have shot cover stories, while others have won international photo awards. They’ve worked with influential brands or been featured in the pages of leading magazines. Read on for their best tips for getting your work in front of the right people.
1. Never stop shooting
“The only way to get your work noticed is to have good work in the first place, so my advice is simple: shoot, shoot, shoot,” the Buenos Aires-based photographer Irina Werning advises. “This is especially important in the beginning of your career, when you learn by trial and error. Try to stay aware of the amount of time you spend on your computer with the back office stuff versus the time you spend shooting. You should spend more time shooting than on your computer!”
2. Get involved
“Involve yourself with other artists and publications that you feel passionate about,” the California-based photographer Maya Umemoto Gorman suggests. “If there is a publication you want to publish your work, reach out! If you have a photo series you want to pitch, pitch it. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. I believe we should take the reins in our own journeys and make things happen.
“Don’t be afraid to be loud when carving your path. Take photographs that resonate with you, and cover topics that hold a place in your heart. In an age where gaining followers and exposure feels increasingly daunting to up-and-coming artists, the best way to create is to create authentically. By staying true to the photography that speaks to you, you will be noticed by those who see and understand your vision.”
3. Tap into communities and resources
“Getting your work noticed can be difficult at times, but the avenues that helped me the most have been word of mouth and online directories,” the Miami-based photographer Melody Timothee explains. “Word of mouth is by far the best tool because it is a personal referral someone can give to someone else. My friends share my work on social media, and it then reaches more people and their communities, and so on. A high percentage of clients I receive is because someone else shared my work.
“The second thing I recently discovered is an online database for photographers. There are plenty of databases, directories, and communities that will share your work on their platforms. They have inclusive ones for POC, LGBT, Women, Latin American, Indigenous Photographers, and more. Often, they’ll also team up with other communities to spread the word and do Instagram ‘takeovers’, where they feature work from each other’s databases, on a weekly or monthly basis. That’s the best way to be a part of a community with talented creatives just like you, who want to be seen. Some also have group chats where they share tips, job opportunities, grants, and advice.
“Plenty of industries are finally realising that they’re lacking in diversity for their freelance work so will purposely search these databases, looking for talent for their projects. I wish I knew about them earlier, but I joined back in June 2020. I’ve had major companies reach out to me for freelance work, and I credit these communities for helping me get those opportunities. There aren’t as many as I’d hope, but there are resources out there for us, and new ones are being created all the time.”
4. Have a portfolio ready to go
“Make sure you have a solid, complete portfolio ready to show any potential clients,” the Dutch photographer Ramona Deckers advises. “For instance, if you want to shoot for more fashion clients, make sure there is enough fashion work to find on your website. Instagram is hip and relevant, but don’t underestimate a professional-looking website and bio.
“I always make a small PDF file to send to potential clients, along with a link to my larger portfolio. I include recent work and a short introduction, contact info, and details about who I am. I add this as an attachment so that people can have a quick look without having to search for my website.
“I’d also suggest being selective about what you show online and where you publish it. Always aim for the best magazines or websites and share only with publications that suit your vision. When I first started, I randomly shared my images with any magazine that was interested. These old photos still ‘haunt’ me today. Google keeps them forever.”
5. Take risks
“I cannot stress how important this tip is,” the NYC-based photographer Sophia Wilson says. “I truly believe that if your art is significantly unique and you are producing images that are different than those that you have seen before, you will inevitably gain a following and get recognition for it.
“I also think a lot of people are scared to post a lot of their images on the internet because they don’t know how people will respond to it. But in my case, if I hadn’t posted one particular photo of mine back in 2015, I might not have popped up on the Explore page of an editor at Vogue Italia, which in turn set off a whole chain of events and opportunities that I might have missed otherwise.”
6. Network online
“I can’t understate the importance of building a community for yourself and your work, and this is easier than ever because of social media,” the Los Angeles-based photographer and digital artist Ellie Pritts tells us. “Instagram is a massively powerful tool that you can use to elevate yourself and your work, and it’s completely free.
“Social media has also led to nearly all of the biggest gigs I’ve gotten as a photographer. I was resistant to using Instagram for my professional work back in the day, and I only wish I had taken it seriously sooner. Fostering genuine connections with people always goes further than winning a contest or cold emailing an editor.”
7. Share your journey
While it’s important to curate what you post online, people always want to see the artist behind the photos. “What helped me when I first graduated was making a lot of work,” the Amsterdam-based photographer Melissa Schriek explains. “I was photographing non-stop, often not even with a plan, but I just felt that I needed to find a way of showing my reality.
“I find social media a great tool to connect with people, and it is also a great tool to show your work and process. If you are making a lot of work, as I did, there will probably be images or projects you are unsure of. I think it’s important to not overthink what you share on your Instagram.
“You can show your failures and your process. You can show images that are not yet what you want but are leading to something better. Especially when you are just starting out, it is so important that people can see your journey. They want to follow what you are working on instead of merely seeing three excellent images. Be honest, and connect with people in a meaningful way.”
8. Be confident and consistent
“I think it’s incredibly important to have a certain level of confidence in the fact that you will always have people who are interested in your work, and you will also always have people who aren’t interested in your work, and that is okay,” the Baltimore-based photographer Akea Brionne Brown tells us.
“Make the work, and the audience will follow. I think it’s great to share your work and to apply for things, but it’s also just as great to create value around your own creations. Be clear about what you want to get out of your practice and also be clear with yourself about what you are willing to do to get to that point.
“Are you willing to shift the work you create in order to satisfy others? Or are you dedicated to your unique perspective and willing to create a lane that is entirely your own? I believe what has helped me has been making what I want to make, even when it means making it alone. Value yourself, value your voice, and know that everything else will follow as long as you are consistent.”
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.