Thoughts on a Sunday morning: How to promote your work


General Photography

Photographers and photography students occasionally ask me about how to promote their work (Facebooktwittertumblremailnewslettersblogs….). My answer is always the same: If you want to promote what you do, do it so it looks professional, it’s smartly done, maybe with a dose of your kind of humour, and it looks and feels as if it was coming from you. (more)

Making things look professional is fairly easy (even though you would be surprised if I told you about…), and for many photographers it stops there. Unfortunately, that misses the other two points which are actually equally important.

Promotion needs to be done in a smart way. For example, if you send out regular email newsletters that inform readers of mostly completely irrelevant nonsense, that’s not smart. That’s just stupid. Those emails come at a price: sending them might be free, but the annoyance they cost (or the fact that people unsubscribe) - that’s the cost.

It’s even more important to cater your promotion to yourself. It’s great to have a logo and look, say, but that’s just the beginning. In a nutshell, what you really want with your promotion is for people to get interested in what you do even if it’s not their cup of tea.

I can guarantee you that you won’t achieve that with generic email newsletters or with a Facebook page (which, after all, all look exactly the same, much like a digital Mao uniform).

If talk is cheaper, clicking on “Like” on Facebook is even cheaper.

It’s actually the same situation as a few years back, when every photographer thought they needed to have a blog. I got asked about blogs. So I told people only to start a blog if they really felt there was something they wanted to blog about. A lot of blogs got started, a lot of them disappeared quickly (ever noticed how many such blogs have disappeared, to be replaced by Facebook pages?).

What this all means is that if you want to promote yourself, don’t think about that one picture that you have in some group show in Middleofnowhereville, Idaho. Instead, think about why people might want to hear about it. Promotion is, of course, about yourself - but nothing is more off-putting than people who only talk about themselves.

It’s a bit like advertizing: People will watch a commercial for some product they’d never buy if it’s well done (like this one).

I view promotional efforts by photographers in pretty much the same way. This is not because I’m lazy, or I want to get entertained all the time. It’s simply because given the plethora of promotional materials I am bombarded with (I get a lot of emails, and I read a lot of blogs), the stuff that I really remember is the stuff that sticks out.

What sticks out for me is when I feel like somebody has really put her or his heart into the effort. It’s essentially the same as with photography itself. It’s got something to do with passion.

So you could imagine that I would actually start reading your email newsletter if you talked about that aforementioned group show in Middleofnowhereville, Idaho in ways that are not just blatant self-promotion for, let’s face it, a completely irrelevant event.

That’s how it works for me - other people might see this differently, of course. The newsletters I read are typically the ones that are done well. They might make me laugh or smile, or they might remind me of what makes a photographer unique, or whatever it is.

A newsletter that starts with “It’s time for my quarterly newsletter” I almost always delete immediately. If the newsletter starts with essentially you telling me that the reason you’re sending this is the calendar then I’m not interested. Sorry.

I was thinking about all of this when I read a blog this morning. It’s Tony Fouhse’s blog drool (no really, that’s the name). I’m not very interested in commercial/editorial photography, but I make sure to read it every Sunday (it’s not just commercial/editorial btw.). If you have a look at it I think you’ll quickly realize why.

To stay in the context of this post, I don’t know to what extent Tony regards drool as a promotional tool. Maybe it’s not intended to be a promotional tool at all. Whatever it is, we can take it as very, very good promotion.

I don’t read it because it’s promotion, of course. I read it because it’s smart and fun and interesting.

And that’s what a photographer’s promotional tools should be.