Shifting Focus: Is It Time To Quit Photography?
By Rebecca Bradley
Recently, we spoke to Tash Haynes, photographer at Ike & Tash, Nicole Ashley, photographer at Nicole Ashley Photography, and Narrative’s Co-Founder James Broadbent, photographer at Chasewild about building successful photography businesses and their advice for photographers in 2022.
Below are some of the key questions we covered during the session.
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N: Utilising social media was a big thing. Sharing your work, not being shy to share your work. You have to show what you want to shoot, even in terms of brand and style. So if you can, build a portfolio and don’t be shy to reach out to friends and family and ask if they can model for you.
T: We use our social media to pour into our community that is following us. We did a lot of really significant giveaways in the beginning. We gave away shoots, and our community got the free pictures, but we got what we needed to build our portfolio. We weren't too proud to work for free to build something that we could be proud of. And that was a really big part of our marketing plan.
J: We talk about “portfolio jobs” and we have the perspective that this shoot is going to be crucial to helping build a portfolio. Because the reality is, when people look at your portfolio, they're not looking at the quality of the photos and asking, “do I want this quality of photography?” They're just looking at the weddings, and they're asking, “do I want my wedding to look like that?”
N: I think it’s important that all of us talk about this topic of marketing because I remember looking at people's portfolios and seeing them shooting in Morocco, or all over the world, or at these cool weddings, and I would think that I'm so far away from that. But even just the transparency that we have all created a styled shoot to show off our technical skills, driving a portfolio that you want in the future. So I hope that people who look at other artists' portfolios don't get discouraged.
J: For us, it was all about networking. We worked hard to network with photographers from all around the world.
We ran a blog where we wanted to write stories about the most influential photographers in the world. We spent a few months travelling to do that and coincidentally, we became friends with them all along the way. We let them all know, “you have to come to visit us, we'll send you inquiries in New Zealand”. And in response, they did the same to us. That was definitely how we got our first five international inquiries because referrals are such a strong way to get bookings.
And then off the back of that, once it's in your portfolio, people understand that you’re willing to travel.
How did you establish your pricing strategy? And what are the most important considerations when it comes to pricing effectively?
T: Initially, I felt like probably every other photographer, that I needed to earn my pricing. I think there's always a little bit of imposter syndrome. I think the best way to determine your pricing is to look at what you need to earn and what you'd like to earn.
For us, every three shoots that we got good feedback on, we'd raise our rates $50 and we just continued to do that. Then over time, we realized this is the kind of life we want, and worked out what we need to do to create that lifestyle.
We would work out how much we needed to make which would determine how many shoots we needed to book. I think it's really important, especially when you're starting out to not take advice from people who are not living the lifestyle that you're living, because people will tell you that you need to charge a certain rate, but only you know what you're comfortable doing. You don't wanna be putting on pants that are too big for you. It will just mean that you don't ever get to leave the house because no one's willing to pay you. You gotta earn your keep. You gotta show that the value that you're producing is worthwhile. Be careful to keep your eyes on your own paper, because even though we're all taking a test, it's not always the same one.
J: We had a method of testing higher pricing. What you'll find is that occasionally you will get a person enquiring who is planning a wedding for two to three years away. These are the people to test your new pricing on. By the time that date rolls around in two years, you're gonna have 10 other inquiries that come through for the same day.
We would put up our wedding pricing in increments of $500. As soon as we had one or two people book at that price, it gave us the confidence that people do believe that we're worth this much money.
N: If you're booking too easily or you're landing almost every one of your inquiries, it may feel good, but it highlights a problem that you're probably too low. I was being confronted with that so I raised my pricing. Before I did that, I did reach out to a bunch of photographers who are in my city who match my market, who know what people are typically spending here. Don't be scared to do that if you haven't before. I checked in with people who had similar experience to me and I then raised my pricing by a thousand dollars. I was terrified, but I already had enough bookings that I would be fine that year if nothing came of it.
T: What has worked for us was being very clear on what our audience was looking to us for. It was really important to us that we understood why people were coming to us, what they were drawn to and just continuously putting that out there. We spent a lot of money and time on understanding our clientele, understanding the community that was supporting us. We put a lot of money into events and things that would bring them to us.
What we've learned in our business is that a lot of our clients are drawn to us, and our work is secondary. So we put a lot of time into understanding our audience, but we also put a lot of time into making sure that our personalities and the things that make us unique and the things that we enjoy are always at the forefront. If you go to my Instagram, you'll see all of our work, but you'll see family positioned throughout my page as often as you're seeing my work. We know that people hire people that they love and feel connected to. And so for me, I either want people to be drawn to me or repelled away from me.
J: I think if you can fill a niche within any vertical of photography and find people who want that you're gonna be in the sweet spot. One of the things that we used to always say is, if you wanna do weddings, don't have a website that has things like family and maternity. If people are trying to book a wedding photographer, they don't want a wedding photographer who does a whole lot of other things too. They want an expert in wedding photography. I think the tighter your branding can be within your vertical the more you drive inquiries from those kinds of people.
N: I wish I could go back in time and tell myself to specialize sooner rather than trying to do it all. I do think family, maternity and weddings blend well and I do shoot all of that stuff. But at the time I was also shooting music festivals, commercial work, babies, family, maternity. I was doing everything because I just assumed if money was coming in and that means I'm successful. The problem was that a lot of that work didn't get me excited to work or excited to create. I held myself back from excelling in areas that I was supposed to be shooting. It's really important, especially if you're new to not just say yes to everything, just because it's money, it's way better for you to turn down a job if it's not something you’re excited about.
T: I'm not a big fan of the whole niche down thing. I think it's a beautiful sentiment but I've always been against it. I do think that we learned something in the last two years about what specializing can do to your business because all these wedding photographers who only shot weddings were suddenly out of work. I think the biggest lesson that we've all gotten is that we need to be willing to pivot and to see our skills and our strengths as something that can be used in a lot of different areas because we are living in a very digital world. I just think it's really important if you're a multi-passionate entrepreneur and you are very passionate about other things, lean into that and be okay with that.
N: I was finding I was at the point where even with my pricing raised I still couldn't keep up with the volume of work. And typically if your pricing seems to be about right, and your volume of work is still growing, it means it's time to outsource or it's time to expand.
It was really important to me that people trusted me when they hired me for their day. I wanted to have a trustful second shooter and not hire someone new each time. I found someone I liked that I had shot with a bunch of times. We had a really good team thing going on, but it wasn't official. Then I asked her if she'd be interested in being an associate photographer. We worked out an arrangement so that she was working under the umbrella of my company, but very much still growing and being her own artist. I do have her photo on my website but with a link to her website too. I think where it gets tricky is when you build a team or you add an associate, but you want them to only grow your brand. There's a shelf life to that. We give each other work and we help each other out and we've been doing that successfully for almost eight years. So, there are a lot of things to factor in if you wanna grow a team. But I think making sure that it's not just someone building your dream, it's somebody who has room and growing their own business too.
T: I feel like the biggest thing I had to overcome was recognizing that my road to six figures wasn't gonna look like everybody else's. I think a lot of times we try to do things the way we see others that we look up to do it. And sometimes that route isn't the route that we're gonna take. So for me, it was just being confident in our plan and how we ran our business, knowing that we would see the rewards and benefits from it. I think it's really easy to have all these goals because this is what we're taught in the industry, but what if those things aren't aligned with your life and what you're trying to accomplish in your life?
N: Being confident enough to put myself and my work out there. I'm very much an extroverted introvert and I think a lot of photographers can align with that. But I knew it was important in this job to get people to trust you and be comfortable around you.
J: For me, it was about efficiency in my business. I would have the shortcuts key for Lightroom open just as I was learning so that I could just be as quick as possible. And I was all about finding tools that would save me time. I used to spend more than half my week on things like image selection and editing and realized I had to carve out more time to do things that were going to grow my business. So getting efficient in every part of your workflow is important.
N: Instagram currently has a huge focus on reels. Gone are the days when you could just post a photo and get a bunch of likes and a bunch of followers from it. Instagram very much has a calculated algorithm now. To grow and see a real difference in numbers, they said that you have to be utilizing all of the tools of Instagram with a focus on video. That can be daunting for a photographer as many don’t do video. A way I have seen photographers overcome this is by making a little video from every shoot or wedding. It could just be behind the scenes, as long as the first part of the clip has some sort of video footage with your face in it as this is likely to perform better.
TikTok focuses on short-form videos and is not as clean as Instagram. That's why people are drawn to it. It's not supposed to look as polished. Instagram is great to show off more of your polished work like your portfolio and TikTok can be used to show less polished things like fun behind the scenes.
The best place I have seen online for building community comes from online courses. Not only do you get to learn a lot, but they usually use a platform to build a community also (Facebook Group/Discord/Circle). As you’re there for a shared reason, the community that is built is often very uplifting and supportive. General photography Facebook Groups can also be great but just be careful about what ones you actively read. There are many amazing ones, but some tend to be quite negative. It’s important to choose the information you consume carefully when building a six-figure business.
For offline communities, local photography Facebook groups often post about meetups. Put yourself out there and go alone to these as it forces you to talk to people you don’t know. Once you have some connections you can start to organize your own catch-ups and invite other photographers who are new to the area or are just starting out!
In-person workshops are also a great way to meet new people. The same goes, go alone and try to talk to as many people as possible! You will often be surprised by how many connections you can make in just a day.
Take a step back and look at your marketing efforts from every angle. If the leads you are getting only come from one source, it’s a good indication that you may need to put your marketing efforts into other areas also. If you only get inquiries from Instagram, it’s very easy to just put all your energy there. But to scale your business effectively, your leads should ideally be coming from a few sources. Start by writing down 3-4 other places you could get leads (think Facebook ads, Google, vendor referrals) and brainstorm all the ways you can start generating leads from these sources.
When someone books a consultation with you, they are already interested which is great! Now you just have to show that you’re the photographer for them. At this point, I think the most important thing is to provide as much value as possible! Are they talking about a problem they have? Share your solution to it. Even better, provide solutions to problems they haven't even thought about yet. The more value you provide, the more likely they are to book you!