Many photographers are uncomfortable with promoting themselves, feeling self conscious or thinking that self promotion is the same as bragging.
But here’s the thing. Self promotion is not about you. It’s about your clients and your marketplace. You have a product. They need it. You’re actually doing them a favour by providing that product.
Keeping this in mind, you can start to think about where your market looks for images and what you can do to help them find them. For me, this shift in thinking put aside much of the anxiety I originally felt in approaching potential networking contacts, and I think it has also increased my success rate. This is no small shift. You are actually moving from a sales focus, to a relationship focus, which is a huge jump. For starters, it is time consuming. Instead of a discussion, a quote, forward the image and get the payment, it’s regular phone calls, e-mails and cups of coffee with potential clients who may not even become clients for months, years or at all if you don’t have the specific images that they need. But if they do become clients, they are very likely to become repeat clients. Why? Because you’re there, they know you and feel comfortable that you have their best interests at heart.
These contacts also most likely have friends in the same industry with similar needs, and these needs might just be in line with what you can supply. It might just be that your name comes up in a casual conversation and a recommendation occurs because you have acted out of giving rather than trying to get, and you have another client. And it snowballs. And in this industry, as in most, it’s all about who you know.
If you come from a place of trying to help people, rather than trying to sell them something, often this is felt and appreciated. People feel more comfortable with someone who understands their needs and looks for solutions to meet them rather than someone who is simply looking for the next sale. And if it’s not appreciated, then maybe that person or group is not one that you are likely to build a successful long term relationship with anyway.
Much is debated about the gear needed when heading out on a photography trip. Which lenses you should take and what accessories. Camera’s and lenses are all well and good, but what about the essentials that no one talks about, but that are just important to planning a full day or even week’s shooting away from home? I’ve put together a short list of things I never leave home without. Please feel free to add to it.
Guidebooks- Help in scouting locations and getting from place to place. Also include places to eat and stay.
Notebook- Cannot count the amount of times I have struggled to remember where an image was taken when I’ve returned home and began keywording and editing.
First aid kit- How often do you get a cut or sprain something right next to a pharmacy? Also include travel medicine in this.
Good shoes- Because if your feet are aching all day long, you’re going to be thinking of putting them in a bath instead of the photos you’re supposed to be taking.
Swiss army knife- Actually I have the little credit card sized thingy. Great for on the spot repairs.
Cleaning cloth- I’m notoriously neglectful in keeping lenses clean when shooting and often come to regret it later when I have to spend hours removing dust spots, but wiping with a lens cloth occasionally can save you time on this. Especially when you’re shooting in wet or dusty conditions.
Money belt- You just don’t know in a new place, so better to be safe than sorry and carry your cash and important documents in a hard-to-get at money belt, rather than your wallet which can easily be pick pocketed while you are distracted by something shiny and new.
Suitable clothing- As with the shoes, if you’re too cold or too hot because you don’t have appropriate clothing your mind is not going to be completely on the task at hand. Basically, it’s a matter of making yourself comfortable so you can concentrate on taking photos instead of fighting the temptation to just go back to the heated hotel room.
Alarm clock- To get you up in enough time to watch the world wake up and catch the best light.
Attitude- A smile and politeness will open numerous doors in a foreign place and increase your chances of some memorable images.
Power adapter- For recharging batteries, your phone, Ipod and any other electronics you carry with you.
The more I talk with other photographers who travel, the more I realise that there are two types of travel photographers out there. Firstly, the ones who do it first and foremost for the experience. To explore and learn of faraway places and cultures. And the trophy hunters, the ones for whom the travel is just the means to the end. The end being the specific image they are chasing. These types are often not really interested in the experience of travel, or sometimes even their subjects for that matter. They simply want an image of say, a Buddhist Monk, so they will travel to Nepal or Tibet, and bully the first monk they find into position to get the image they want. ( I might be exaggerating a bit here, but I’m making a point).
The common theme when looking at images from photographers from each of these groups is that those whose first priority is the experience tend to produce the better images. By better I mean images that speak to you and make you feel something for their subject, be it awe of a beautiful landscape or empathy for a person.
Both may be able to create a technically good shot, well exposed, focussed and post processed. But only one will capture your attention and make you want to see more. And really, what is the point of a technically perfect exposure that does nothing else. Maybe it could be used in a classroom to teach students on exposure, but I don’t know what else.
So after all this rambling, here’s my point: I’ve learnt that if you want to create great photographs, don’t set out to create photographs. Instead involve yourself in the experience, learn about a culture, treat its people with respect. Start a conversation instead of asking to take a person’s photograph first off. Gain an insight into who that person is before asking if you can take their photo. Then when you do come to take their portrait you will have an idea how to bring out their personality. You may not even need to. Having had a casual chat, that person may feel comfortable enough with you that their smiles will come easily, their body language will be relaxed and natural and you can take an image that reflects the nature of the Buddhist Monk, rather than a man wearing a monk’s clothing. Not only will you gain from this approach, but it allows you to give something back to the exchange instead of simply taking.
I will now dismount from my soapbox, but think about how these trophy hunters effect the reputation of photographers in general and make it more difficult for those of us with genuine interest to interact with those from other cultures.
It’s not often that I come across a landscape photographer that makes me stop everything else and just stare open mouthed, but Bruce Percy did just that when I came across his work for the first time on his website.
Bruce is an Edinburgh based photographer focusing mainly on the wild Scottish landscape and creates beautiful moody landscapes and travel images that evoke a wanderlust like few can.
Bruce also leads photography workshops and produces educational books and podcasts that, if you have any interest in landscape photography, are well worth the time.