How does an amateur photographer find clients?
December 11, 2012 2:04 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to start a modest photography business, but I'm not sure how to find clients.

I studied photojournalism in college, but time passed and I've made my way into the editorial side. A year and a half later, I'm just now getting back into the swing of things. I miss photography! I really enjoy taking photos of people, and have a solid portfolio and some practice shooting portrait, graduation and engagement sessions -- enough that I'm past the point of just needing to build my portfolio, and that I wouldn't feel bad charging for my services, but not enough to consider myself a professional (or able to charge toooo much). I need a lot of practice. I've put together a website and would like to shoot some portrait sessions on the side. I'm not planning for this to become my primary income, but I'd love to make some side income. (Living in New York is expensive!)

However, since NYC is so large (and filled with so many aspiring photographers), I'm a little more stumped on ways to get the word out. When I lived in smaller cities, I had some success posting on Craigslist or Livejournal groups, but I feel a little lost here. I also don't have friends that are getting engaged or having babies or need portraits taken (although if any pop up, I'll be all over it). NYC Craigslist seems to be filled with the same group of people spamming their services over and over again, and the advice I find online says that Craigslist usually just results in a lot of spam and not many clients. I'll probably still put up ads there, but I have a strong suspicion it will be a tough road. I'd love to find clients who are understanding of the fact that I'm an amateur (but a pretty decent one, I think...), and looking for something on a tighter budget.

My question is: What are ways for a young/amateur photographer in NYC to find clients so she can start building a business & reputation? Are there alternatives to Craigslist? Any other suggestions? Or is this idea totally crazy? Thank you!
posted by good day merlock to Work & Money (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You can go to different venues that have weddings and see if they want to use you as their "in-house" photographer.

You can link up with wedding planners, offering them something in exchange for sending customers your way.

Ditto baby clothes stores.

Offer to take pictures of different people, people who have lots and lots of contacts. They can flash the picture around and send business your way.

Call DJ's, often they'll get corporate gigs and having someone who can take photos can be a nice compliment.

Basically, networking. Go wherever people get married, have babies, or to the ancillary places where these things are celebrated. Churches, florists, Halls, Country Clubs, Caterers, etc.

Be prepared to offer something in exchange for the recommendation, free portraits, etc.

Word of mouth is the BEST advertisement. Once you get a few under your belt, your happy customers will be your best adertisers.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:11 PM on December 11, 2012

You should offer your services for free to a couple of popular mommy groups. Moms always want family photos done and if you offer a giveaway to a few groups the word will get out! You could even get the group to organize a photography "meetup" where you spend 15 min with each child a get a cute picture at the park. If you do good work you will get gigs.
posted by saradarlin at 2:17 PM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

A friend of mine started shooting family portraits last year; she did a bunch of give-away portrait sessions with moms in her area to build her portfolio and her reputation. I don't know if she asked for testimonials as well or not.

She posts one or two photos on facebook, watermarked with her company name / url, I think every single day.
posted by gauche at 2:19 PM on December 11, 2012

My credit union offered its members a free 20 minute photo session and free 8x10, with the option to buy the CD of all the photos (of course we did, and I'm sure most others did too). It was a good way to get a lot of clients at once (the sessions were held over 2 days, and judging by the response, I think she had about 20 families in all). Maybe team up with a business and do something like that?
posted by katypickle at 2:22 PM on December 11, 2012

If you think you're a good fit, I'd consider advertising with A Practical Wedding. They have a very active NYC readership and they're always running "amazing deal"-type posts about up-and-coming photographers. (I'm not affiliated with them, just a reader, etc.)
posted by synchronia at 2:52 PM on December 11, 2012

Word of mouth is definitely a hugely important way to get photography jobs. We found our wedding photographer via a personal recommendation from friends, and so did almost everyone I know. I know this can present a chicken-and-egg problem before you have a set of clients who can recommend you. I think saradarlin's suggestion is a good one for bootstrapping this process.

You may also want to consider hanging out on photographer's blogs, forums, and wherever else photographers talk and offer your services as a "second shooter" at weddings or other big events. This way you can benefit from the exposure of an established photographer without building up their client list. Then, if they have a schedule conflict some weekend (and eventually, every wedding photographer will), maybe they will recommend you for a couple gigs and you're off to the races.
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 3:42 PM on December 11, 2012

I think, in a creative field, especially one saturated with individuals who are just as skilled as you, if not more, much of how successful you are comes down to marketing and branding (and, of course, tenacity!).

With that in mind, can you find a specialized niche or angle within the photography market? In starting my own creative business, my thought process was really inspired by Ann Rea, a painter who's got a thriving market painting "relaxing" portraits of vineyards.

In finding her buyers, Rea did three things I love -- (1) She has a great story about adversity and redemption through art (2) she found a niche that allows her to ride on the backs of other, already successful businesses by supplementing their product, not competing with them, and (3) her niche market (people buying from vineyards and taking wine tours) consists of people with disposable income who are likely to think of themselves as cultured.

Basically, what that comes down to is the ability to gain access to a pre-existing (large) network of (munificent) people who will come to think of you as their go-to photographer?

(Also, erm, Rea also seems to be doing quite well teaching other artists how to find and corner their own market, which I'd bet is more lucrative than the art, but that's a whole other thing.)
posted by lesli212 at 8:35 PM on December 11, 2012

Taking photos is the easy part - now you've discovered the hard part.
posted by bradbane at 9:33 PM on December 11, 2012

I found my wedding photographer through reviews for local photographers for

If there's a local wedding blog in NYC that is popular, try working with them to get your best photos shared on the blog and make sure to put a little design with your name in the photo somewhere.

Make sure to have a website with a gallery, which was important for me when shopping around.
posted by dottiechang at 11:53 PM on December 11, 2012

Fundraiser: A local photographer came to our preschool and took family pictures at the preschool giving each family a cd with their pictures for about $150. The money was split between the school (fundraiser) and the photographer. There were about 30 families who participated. It was a win all around as the photographer didn't have to schedule the families all individually and got all the pictures in 1 1/2 days. She offered touch-ups and prints at an extra price. A couple of the parents helped as photographer assistants -helping make babies smile, twitching collars, etc. There were many details to consider: to minimize light switches the photographer specified what to wear (all white, no white - examples from different years), there were additional fees for more than a couple family configurations (otherwise people wanted every individual and configuration), families were allowed 20 minutes in the schedule although sometimes a crying baby would mess up this schedule.
posted by kimmae at 4:59 AM on December 12, 2012

Photographer here. May seem counter-intuitive and may take a bit longer to start getting work, but reach out to more established well known photographers. If you have the chops shoot them an email send them a link to your work and let them know that if they need a second shooter or paid assistant (second shooting usually pays more) then please consider me.

Better yet give them a call and take them out for a coffee or a beer and bring a portfolio and just talk to them about the business. Most photogs I know love to talk about themselves and jump at the chance to do so. They probably won't be throwing clients at you but busy photographers sometimes get overbooked. They don't want to give the job away to another really well established photographer so they look to someone they can trust that is good but still getting started.

There is also professional groups like the ASMP. ASMP New York Page Go to a meeting bring a ton of cards and hand them out and give them your pitch that you are new and want to start assisting or second shooting for money.

Another route for event work is to start reaching out to PR firms. They often budget for a photographer. I am sure they have their go to list but it can never hurt to get on the list too.
posted by WickedPissah at 8:04 AM on December 12, 2012

I was going to suggest exactly what WickedPissah suggested, except I was going to say you should volunteer to second shoot or be an assistant for free (kind of like an apprenticeship).

In the meantime, offer to take photos of all your friends and family so that you can build a portfolio.
posted by echo0720 at 5:13 PM on December 12, 2012

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