So you want to become a professional event photographer? This appears to be a popular topic among readers, as not one, but TWO of you emailed me with this question recently. There’s really no short answer to this question, but I’ve come up with some tips to help you get started.
1) What kind of event photography do you want to do?
The very first thing you need to do is embrace yourself as a photography business. If you’re seeking to make money through photography, you’re a business, and you need to view and treat yourself as one. As a business, start off by branding yourself accordingly, and writing a firm mission statement that embodies your business and what you stand for. What are your core values and passions, and how do they factor into your value proposition? Also, what kind of photographer do you want to be?
By definition, an event can be just about anything with a gathering of people, such as a wedding, corporate fundraiser, children’s birthday party, or a bachelorette party to name a few. As someone who has branded herself exclusively as an event photographer, I’ve been asked to shoot all of these sorts of events, even though there’s really only one type of event I’m really interested in: corporate events. So before you do anything, narrow your focus by defining what event photography means to you. Also, from here on out, I’m sticking with event photography to mean corporate event photography, and all examples will be catered to this definition.
P.S. My formal photography business name is “Altimate Images by Suzi Pratt.” I really have no idea where “Altimate” came from, but I was very firm on NOT having a name like “Suzi Pratt Photography” (boring!) and having a business name that started with the letter “A.” You never know what lists with alphabetical sorting you might be placed on. Something to consider.
2) Put a portfolio together.
After you determine what kind of event photographer you want to be, put together an online portfolio (online is the key word here) that has at least three things: a portfolio of images, a page with your smiling face and a biography or summary of your experience, and several ways to contact you. For a solid event photography portfolio, you want several types of pictures in particular: images of groups posed and smiling, candid shots, general atmosphere and setup shots, images of corporate sponsor branding, and any shots that make an event seem well attended by happy, excited people. Remember that the whole reason why photographers are paid to shoot events is to visually illustrate that the event was a success.
If you don’t have photography examples, start building one immediately! As I mentioned earlier, event photography is pretty darn general, meaning that just about any sort of gathering of people is a perfect opportunity to snap “event photos.” Intimidated by the prospect of web design? Creating a website by yourself isn’t as hard as it seems, and if you ever need help, feel free to message me directly.
One other thing to consider when putting your portfolio and marketing materials together is how you want to price your services. Whether you opt to include your prices on your website or not is up to you, but you should have a pricing in mind before you start approaching clients. Not sure how to price your work as a freelancer? I wrote an article with some pricing tips here.
3) Assemble marketing materials.
Even if you choose to not do advertising, there are some core marketing materials that every business, large or small, should always have. These materials include a logo, email signature, and business cards. Learn more about how to go about getting these marketing materials here.
4) How do people find event photographers?
The next step is to figure out how your ideal customer will find you. I’ve been a professional corporate event photographer for three and a half years now and have learned that there are three ways I get photo jobs. At the top of the list are referrals from friends and colleagues who know that I focus on corporate events. A close second is the great Google search engine, and the final source is from in-person networking. These points are illustrated in the below screenshot of my Google Analytics acquisition report. As the screenshot shows, people reach my website the MOST through organic Google searches, followed by referrals (ie. they click on my website through someone else’s), direct traffic (they enter in the URL for my website directly), and finally social media referral. While social media referral is by far the lowest source of website clicks, I still get a fair amount of social media referrals, but through direct chats (a point illustrated later in this article), rather than clicks to my website.
I don’t do any sort of advertising, paid or free, not even on Google. All of my marketing is free of cost, but it does take an investment of time, which leads me to my next point.
P.S. As a photographer, you should ALWAYS watermark your images if you’re placing them on the Internet. This doesn’t guarantee they won’t be stolen or used without your permission, but it makes it harder for this to happen. When considering what sort of verbiage to put in your watermark, consider spelling out the URL to your website (in my case, I brand all of my photos with a watermark that states, suzi-pratt.com). I don’t have empirical data to back it up, but I do believe that contributes to a high percentage of referrals to my website coming from direct traffic.
4a) Marketing 101: Start with who you know.
To get the word out about your services, start with the people you already know. If you know any publicists, event planners, fundraising consultants, etc who work in fields related to events, take them out for coffee and chat them up. Find out what kind of photography needs they have and how they currently find photographers. Don’t be afraid to offer up your services as well, but if you do so, make sure your portfolio is top notch and you have a price in mind.
Embrace social media if you haven’t already, and use your network to tell people about what you do and what sort of work you’re looking for. Personally, the Facebook posts that get the most likes, shares, and comments are the ones that have to do with me reaching personal or professional milestones. In general, people (especially your friends) are very supportive and will do what they can to help you out. All you have to do is ask. Don’t just make one post and forget about it. Make it a habit to post photos or status updates telling your network about your professional successes, but remember to retain authenticity and credibility. Again, your friends like to see you succeed, and by giving them updates, they will not only be happy for you, but they will also be reminded of the kind of work you do so that your name will come to mind if they or someone they know are in need of photography services. Afraid of bombarding your network with too many posts? Experiment a few times and strike a balance, but definitely don’t avoid social media.
4b) Marketing 102: Get to the top of Google.
It’s the desire of anyone who owns a website to be the very first search result in Google, and luckily, this is very possible for just about anyone to do given the myriad of search terms out there. But first of all, figure out what search term you want to rank first in. All it takes is a bit of research using Google’s free keyword search tool, Google Keyword Planner. I used this tool to figure out that “Seattle event photographer” was one of the best search terms for my business, and I optimized my website by implementing SEO tactics and blogging (hint hint: one of several reason this blog exists at all) to appear near the top of Google search results. While this does not produce an overwhelming amount of inquiries, I get at least 2 or 3 a month via Google (a fact I know thanks to Google Analytics), and I’ve had big brands such as Ann Taylor, American Express, and even Google themselves hire me for gigs because they found me on Google. To reiterate, being at the top of Google doesn’t happen overnight, and even if you’re at the top, that shouldn’t be your sole form of lead generation, but this is a tactic definitely worth investing in over time.
P.S. One of the fastest ways to get listed on Google at all is to make a free Google Business Listing.
4c) Marketing 103: Network, network, network!
After you tap your existing contacts for referrals and references, figure out who you need to know to take the next steps. As a corporate event photographer, a majority of my inquiries come from publicists, event planners, and secretaries of big corporations. While a good chunk of them come from personal references and organic Google searches, the rest come from networking events. Pretty much every major city will have Meetups of personal and professional nature, so scour these listings and look for events to attend! Here’s a quick tip: don’t go for the photographer meetups, as you’re most likely to just connect with other photographers which…has its benefits, but other photographer aren’t going to hire you for photography jobs. Instead, look for other professional group meetups where your ideal client is likely to be. Personally, I attend monthly meetups for professionals in my neighborhood, technology startups, and for other young creatives. Speaking of local, also look into your city or town’s Chamber of Commerce and get listed in their directory and attend any meetups they host.
When you go to a meetup, bring business cards and have your elevator speech ready to quickly (in one minute or less) have an answer to the question, “So what do you do?” Keep it short and simple, and be sure to focus your answer on the fact that you do event photography. More often than not, this will spark interest from the person you’re talking to, and they may mention needing photography services. Bear in mind that this may not produce immediate results either, but it is planting a seed for possibilities to grow.
P.S. If you happen to be photographing an event for work, introduce yourself to EVERYONE there. Often times, there are multiple vendors of every type at an event, from caterers to DJs, and they are all potential leads. For example, this time last year I was photographing a corporate event for McDonald’s and started to chat with a photographer running a photo booth at the event. Even though we were both photographers, he only provided photo booth services and he was happy to meet someone who photographed events. The very next day, I got a call from a prospective client he had referred me to.
5) Don’t quit your day job.
My final piece of advice is to implement all of the above tips over time, and as generic as this advice sounds, don’t quit your day job until you really get things moving. I did photography as a freelance side job while also working a 9-5 office job for two years before I felt I had a big enough client base to do it full time. Think of marketing in particular as a way of planting seeds that will sprout over time at different intervals. Some may blossom quicker than you expect, and others may take longer. Even if you meet someone at a networking event who seems genuinely interested in your photography services, you don’t know if they’re just being polite or if they actually have a job for you. Never badger or seem desperate, but do follow up at regular intervals if and when it feels appropriate. My latest client that I landed was someone I met at a networking event in May. We had a pleasant chat and exchanged business cards, and I followed up that day via email, just in case. Two months later, when I least expected it, she emailed me wanting to meet up again, this time to talk about working together. That little exchange is captured in the email correspondence below.
Becoming an established photographer can be easier than you think, but it definitely takes an investment of time and extra behind-the-scenes work to make it happen. I sincerely hope these tips help, and would love to hear any success stories or other tips and questions. Please followup in the comments below, or my email inbox is always open.