Tips For Finding Photography Clients
It is hard for me to believe, but there are some people who can very naturally approach and talk to people. On top of that, some of those may also have the advantage of being well established in their community. Those people may not need the tips offered here. For everyone else, here are some ideas you can use to help you find photography clients.
Practice Working With People
It starts with being willing to practice working with people. It may not be comfortable for you. Believe me, I get it if you don’t find it easy to talk to someone you don’t know. Not only do I feel totally uncomfortable doing that, the other person often feels that, making it doubly awkward.
Don’t give up on it. Just like you can learn how to make good images, you can learn how to work with people. Think about what it took to learn how to use your camera. Maybe you feel like you are still learning how to use your camera (I know I am), but learning how to do anything requires effort and practice. Some have a natural gift to learn something and excel at it, but most of us have to work hard and practice to become proficient with a skill.
Talking to perfect strangers and working through to the point where they may become your clients may never become easy for you. It may never be something you look forward to. But no matter how challenging you find it as you get started, everyone can get good enough at it to win clients.
Start With Kids
One of the easiest ways to get started practicing with people is to reach out to those around you and ask if you can do a shoot with their kids. Parents are usually very happy to have someone make pictures of their children as long as the camera is not pointed at them.
Plus you get to work with the kids. Kids may bring some of their own challenges in being able to sit still enough or follow directions, but they generally are not worried about how they look or get anxious just because you point a camera at them. Adults tend to freeze up considerably as soon as a “real” camera is pointed at them.
Ask your neighbors, the people at your church. If you aren’t completely confident in your photography skills yet, let them know you are practicing but they can have any of the images they want for free if you can practice with their children.
That said, DO NOT PRACTICE ON YOUR KIDS! There are only so many pictures your own kids are going to let you make of them. You don’t want to waste them as you are learning how to do lighting or have the right settings on your camera. It doesn’t make a ton of sense, but the neighbor kid seems to be fine with making a lot of pictures and sort of having fun with it while your own kids find it a chore very quickly.
It may not be called this, but every town has some kind of weekend gathering place where people come together to sell various goods. You can usually buy an inexpensive spot at the market, set up a photo booth of sorts, and then just practice your skills at talking to people and inviting them to come and make a picture with you.
You don’t have to be perfect with your lighting or camera settings. You don’t have to be great at talking to people. This is a chance to practice with a wide variety of people and improve all of these skills at the same time.
These markets tend to be in the middle of the day when there is very harsh sunlight, so you will need some kind of structure to shoot under. You could ask around to borrow a pop up shade, but it is nice to have one of your own for not only this situation but also other personal needs. If you have never had one you’ll be amazed how often you use it.
You could consider this EzyFast Elegant Pop Up Beach Shelter that is relatively inexpensive, easy to setup and take down, and is white. Avoid a shelter with other colors because your images will have a color cast to them, although a color on the outside is fine if the color on the inside is white.
If the spot at the market is on grass, then you will also want to put a sheet, a posterboard, or something white down on the ground the people will stand on. That green grass will cause a pretty significant green cast to the images as well.
You may want to invest in at least some entry level flash equipment to take a little more control over the lighting as well. Check this out my flash kit for some relatively inexpensive recommendations if you haven’t yet invested in a beginner’s kit – or if you are ready to upgrade that kit. You can also find some tips on how to use the equipment in How To Do Your First Lighting Setup, Getting Started Lighting Gear, Making Good Headshots With Levi Sim.
Finally, everyone wants to see the image you just made with them. You can use the back of your camera for that, but even better would be something like a tablet or a laptop connected to your camera. These days a lot of cameras have WiFi in them and you can connect to those devices without wires. Be ready to take down an email address or phone number so that you can send them the image. Even better if you can send it to them immediately.
You may not get a lot of clients out of those few hours spent making pictures of perfect strangers. But that shouldn’t really be your goal as you are getting started. Your goal should be to practice all of your skills as a portrait photographer.
Home & Garden Show
Similar to the Farmer’s Market, but a little more formal and a little more expensive. This is a show that is usually held in a building rather than outdoors. A chance for vendors to show their products. Home and garden products in this example, but there are outdoors shows, boat shows, all kinds of shows happening regularly.
Just like the Farmer’s Market, you can pay for a booth and put whatever you like in it. If your product doesn’t match the show very well you may not have many people find interest in your booth, but photography as a product is pretty universal.
Even though you are indoors and may not have to deal with harsh midday lighting, you are still going to want that pop up shelter so that you can take control of the lighting. Where you could get away without flash at the Farmer’s Market, you won’t make great images here without using flash. If you haven’t used flash with your photography yet, check out those links above to help you get started.
Levi used a single flash inside a 24” softbox in his home and garden booth. He angled the light so that it would light their face and provide catch light in their eyes, and powered it just enough to cast minor shadows under their nose and chin. You can check out some examples here:
Finally, it is more important here than at the Farmer’s Market to have a way for people to see the images that you create. With power available to your booth, you have a little more you can do to impress potential clients. Levi connected his laptop to a TV inside his booth so that people could see the images on a large screen just after they were made. He also provided them with a link where they could download the images when they got home.
Levi photographed 1,500 people over a weekend. It wasn’t about creating great images, it was about practicing and establishing relationships. When they next thought about needing to have pictures made for them, the hope was they would think back to that experience where the process was easy and hire Levi for their shoot.
It worked. Levi got a lot of business out of taking free portraits that had next to no work done on them.
Chamber of Commerce
Every town has a Chamber of Commerce and/or Rotary Club. There might be other names for it too, but something sponsored by the city that gets small business owners together to have them network. Often the event rotates between different businesses in the area.
Show up, mingle, and then help clean things up after the event. Maybe see about helping get the event setup at the businesses as well. Anything you can do to have the local business owners notice and get familiar with you.
As you are at the event, walk around and introduce yourself as a photographer but don’t just push yourself and your business. Ask the others about their business. What is it they do? What have they done to help their business grow in the area? What kind of marketing has worked for them. Be interested in their business and them as a person and the conversation will take care of itself.
Remember that everyone there is there for the same reason you are. They are all there to improve their business. You don’t have to be super outgoing, just willing to talk to people. Be personable. Be courteous. Represent your business well and people will start to refer clients to you just because they met you.
After six months of doing that, people started introducing Levi as the best photographer in town to the others at the event – even though they had never seen a single image Levi had created. Meeting the wedding planners, the hair stylists, the real estate agents and the like in the town and letting them know you are a photographer is going to mean client referrals.
Don’t Focus on Social Media & Digital Marketing
Social media has been designed for the express purpose of advertising. It is why the platforms exist. But it is a pay to play model, fairly expensive, and often ineffective – at least for photographers. When was the last time you bought something because you saw an ad on Facebook?
Yes, some photographers are seeing success via digital advertising. In fact, I know a photographer in my local area who is getting clients because of the images posted to Facebook and Instagram from their shoots. This photographer is getting a lot of client bookings from doing that, but from what I have seen the success has come because this is the way the photographer is communicating with their neighbors about the photography services being offered.
Essentially this photographer is using Facebook and Instagram as the digital Chamber of Commerce meeting. They are introducing the locals to the photography services being provided and it is mostly being seen by the locals who know them personally enough to follow them. Word of mouth from those local people having great experiences then brings in other clients.
Followers on Instagram and Facebook are valueless. Seriously, high follower count may mean there are people who appreciate your work in some way, but the chances of any of them hiring you as a photographer is very low. Especially when you consider the amount of time you spend posting to the platforms.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a Facebook and Instagram account. Every photographer should have a presence on social media. You will need that so that when your client refers you to their friends that person has something they can check out to see an example of your work.
Just don’t get trapped into spending too much time posting images. Only share enough images that a potential client who has been referred to you can get an idea of the work and then hit the link in your bio to see more and possibly contact you.
Define Your Ideal Client
One of the most beneficial exercises you can do to improve the marketing of your business will cost you nothing. You need to really think through your ideal client. What is the type of client you want to do business with as a photographer? What do they do? What kind of pictures do they need? Why do they need them? What will they pay? What do they need before, during and after the shoot?
If you work through those questions you can understand your ideal client and then lock in on how it is you can reach that type of client. My ideal client is a mother in her 30s with several kids and enough disposable income that she can afford to pay a photographer to make decent photos of her family. That kind of client is going to show up for the shoot, going to pay me a reasonable price for the shoot, going to refer me to all of her friends who will also be ideal clients, and going to hire me to handle all of her future needs as those kids grow up.
From there I have to figure out how I can reach my ideal client. That 30 something mother of 2 is not going to be searching Facebook or Instagram to find a photographer. She may post something asking her friends about who they have used, which I don’t have any chance of being part of unless her friends already know me. This ideal client is however very likely to go to the home and garden show over the weekend.
If you don’t know how you can reach that ideal client, think of the people you know who would be your ideal client and ask them how it is that they found their photographer. They’ll tell you if you are a nice, friendly person.
You also need to think through how to take care of that client. I need to make the experience so good she will not hesitate to go back and tell all of her friends about me. My ideal client is busy enough running kids around to their activities and helping out with church and/or school events. She needs to have booking the shoot be easy, have a great experience during the shoot working with her kids and husband who don’t really want to be there, and then get the photos delivered quickly with no hassle.
I am much better off spending time and money to make sure I can offer that kind of an experience to my clients than pretty well anything else.
Tips For Communicating With Clients
Shifting gears a little, now let’s go through our best tips for how to communicate and work with the client from first contact when they haven’t yet hired you to be their photographer, pre-shoot communication, during the shoot, and after the shoot.
Close The Deal
When these tips have worked and you are contacted by a potential client about a shoot, you have to close the deal. The most important part of this is not your pricing model nor your technical skill and ability to create great images. The most important thing to closing the deal is taking an interest in the client.
Ask the client to tell you about their family. How many are in the family? How old are they? What are their hobbies and interests? Is this an annual photo or is there a special event?
From there you need to take control of the situation. People want to hire a photographer that takes control. It provides assurance up front that you know what you are doing and will help them navigate through this process that feels awkward at best to most people.
That includes the location. You can ask clients if they have a location they were thinking about, but that often ends up being a very poor location for a shoot. Develop a list of locations, which may mean going wherever your client wants to go for a bit to build up that list, or you can ask other photographers where their go-to locations are for portrait shoots.
Make it clear you are not charging by the hour, so you are not worried about the amount of time it will take but ask if they have time constraints you need to be aware of. Also make them aware that most families are just done taking photos after about an hour. They might endure through to two hours but that is the absolute most time you have seen succeed.
Ask them if there is anything they need to know about the shoot that you haven’t covered. If they ask what they should wear, tell them it should be something the family is comfortable in. They can coordinate colors and do some kind of matching if they like, but that is really not nearly as important as having the family ready and willing to take photos for an hour or two.
If they don’t have any more questions, let them know that you will text them a couple days before the shoot and the day of the shoot just to make sure they remember and nothing comes up that might mean the shoot has to be rescheduled. Super important to do this because things happen and people forget or end up with something coming up they didn’t expect, but if you don’t check with them and they just don’t show up they may choose to just avoid you rather than trying to reschedule.
Single Point of Contact
Do everything you can to have a single point of contact with the client. It may be tempting to get contact information for mom and dad, but messages get confused when they go out to more than one person.
Keep things simple. Mom is usually the one hiring the photographer, so have mom be the single point of contact for the shot. Send mom the reminders, she is most likely the one who is helping everyone manage their calendars anyway. Send mom the thank you card because it is mom who needs to be impressed enough to hire you again when she next has a need for a photographer.
Managing the Shoot
The best thing you can do during the shoot is direct the subjects. Most people are not professional models who know exactly what to do as they stand in front of the camera. In fact, it is quite the opposite where most feel intimidated and awkward because they don’t know how to pose. They are worried they are going to look bad in the photos because they don’t know what to do.
Put their mind at ease. Even if you don’t feel like you are an expert in posing, fake it! Assure them before you even get the camera out that you are very good at this and you will help them know what to do so that they will look their best in the photos.
Tell them that as we go through the shoot you are going to be giving them directions. You will probably be giving them the same directions over and over again, not because you aren’t doing it well but because you need them to do it again.
If there are younger children involved in the shoot let mom and dad know that for the next hour it is not their job to make sure the kids are looking forward and smiling. Tell them that the thing that ruins a photo is not the kids, it is the parents trying to make sure the kids are doing what they are supposed to. The parents job is to look forward at all times and smile, you will take care of the kids.
If it is a family shoot, start with the entire family first. It is the hardest of the shots to get everyone looking and smiling at the camera in natural positions, so you need to get that when everyone is most willing to cooperate – at the beginning of the shoot. Though the first few shots are most likely to not be the best shots as it takes a little time for everyone to relax a little.
If everyone is looking a little tense, tell them you need to work on some settings for a second and tell them they can relax. Fiddle with your camera for a moment, then have them all do a crazy pose. Sometimes the crazy pose is one the customer likes to have anyway. Then have them come back together with a normal smile.
Be Like A Dentist
Think of it through another perspective. How did you pick the dentist you have? I am betting it is someone you know or someone that you were referred to by someone you know. Rarely does a person pick their dentist based on ads.
Dentists have figured it out. They don’t waste money on ads because that isn’t how they get new clients. They know they get new clients from word of mouth, which means they need to make sure every client they do have has as positive an experience as possible as you have to visit them twice a year.
So what is your dentist doing to make that happen? They send you a birthday card every year right? They send you a notice a couple of weeks before your appointment to make sure you haven’t forgotten about it over the past five months. They may send you a notice the day before the appointment too. Then they send you home with a goodie bag filled with inexpensive stuff you can use to take care of your teeth over the next six months.
All of that in the hope that when someone asks you what dentist you go to, you won’t think twice about recommending them to that person.
Your pictures don’t even have to be great. After all, the average person doesn’t even know when a photo is actually good. If you provide a client with a great experience in getting the shoot setup, during the shoot, and do something as simple as send them a thank you card after the shoot the chances they are going to recommend you to their friends is very high.
About a year after making photos with a client, send them another card saying that you enjoyed working with them and would love to do that again. This is something very few photographers take the time to do and will really make you stand out.
People want to work with someone they like. Getting photos is something most people hate doing. Most only do it because their mom made them. It is all much better if they can find a photographer that makes the process as painless as possible. Often that means knowing that if a friend of theirs liked a photographer they are likely to as well.
Jeff: Photoshop plugins from Pixnub software. EZ Green Screen, EZ Team Builder, and Sports Photo Automation are all incredible values if you create sports T&I images. Here is an example of the kind of image you can created with this fantastic plugins.
Levi: Platyball tripod head, Platypod Bruno (which since the podcast recording has become public here)