Recently I have been thinking a lot about marketing oneself as a street photographer. Through the past year on my blog, I have featured a great deal of street photographers who are extremely talented yet haven’t had the coverage that they deserved. Thinking more about the subject, I thought especially about Vivian Maier who was indeed one of the great street photographers, but was unknown until after she died. Of course Maier purposely didn’t share her photos with others, but I think that photographers have a duty to share their images with others to inspire and show the beauty of life.
I know there are many street photographers out there who are still very talented yet don’t know how to get their work out there. I have divided up this blog post up to three parts which will hopefully help you understand what you want out of street photography, how to get your work out there, and how to get your work recognized as well.
Introduction: Define what you want out of street photography
First of all, you have to think about what you want out of street photography. Do you want to make money/sell prints? Do you want to become a famous street photographer? Or do you just want to get your work recognized and appreciated by others?
I find 80% of the people out there simply want to get their photographs commented & critiqued by others. The other 20% I noticed want to make some extra money on the side through their street photography. I will first start off by saying it is extremely difficult to make money through street photography, but it is possible. Disclaimer: nobody really buys street photography prints and books anymore, and it is extremely hard to make money off either of those. Fortunately I am able to make a full-time living out of street photography through the workshops I teach. Another idea is to create and sell street photography e-books.
Regardless of what you want out of street photography, keep it very clear in your mind. If you simply shoot for fun, market your work so as many people can see and appreciate your work. If you wish to make money, figure out creative ways how to sell your photography through posters, prints, books, workshops, etc. Although both have overlap (you can aspire to shoot for fun and try to make some money on the side) but I find concentrating on one or the other is essential in being successful.
Step 1: Building your name
If you want to market your street photography, you need to build your name. Start off with some of these tips:
Only show your best work
One of the biggest problems I see with most street photographers is that they show too much of their work online that isn’t their finest. When I am looking at the work of a street photographer, I will most likely only have the time to look at their first five or so photos. Therefore make sure whenever you are showing your work, make every image count. And if you want people to take your street photography seriously, please don’t mix your cat and dog photos into your Flickr stream!
Have a solid style
If you want your street photography to be recognized, you need a strong style. For example, when I think of David Gibson I think of funny and whimsical juxtapositions. When I think of Thomas Leuthard I think of a guy with massive balls and getting close candid street portraits. When I think of Charlie Kirk I think of a guy using a wide-angle lens and a flash close to people.
If you cannot describe your style in a single sentence, others will have a difficult time knowing who you are or what you shoot. Think long and hard about what your style is, and stay consistent to it and don’t deviate. This will help you in the long run in marketing yourself.
Have a professional-looking website
With marketing, it is all about packaging. Therefore when somebody stumbles upon your website, their impression of your work is highly dependent on how your website looks. You don’t need to spend huge bucks to get someone to design your own site, but you at least want it to be clean and professional. I highly recommend indexexhibit, which is free and easy to customize.
Step 2: Getting your name out there
The more social networks you are on, the better
Managing your social media networks is a full-time job. Anybody who says you can take shortcuts when it comes to social media they are lying. However in this new age, this is one of the best ways to get your work out there. In an ideal world, you would have a Facebook fan page, Twitter, Google+, Flickr, 500px, and even Tumblr. The more social networks you are on, the more likely other people are to spot out your work.
Start your own blog
One of the ways that I was able to build up my online audience is through this blog. It has probably been the number one factor in helping me get my work out there. Out of all the blogging platforms, I recommend WordPress the most as it offers the most flexibility and customization. Also in regards to hosting I have found out bluehost.com is the easiest in getting set-up (as it allows you to do a 1-click install of WordPress). To clarify, you don’t want to use the WordPress.com platform (you will be using WordPress.org which allows you to host your own blog).
If you have a street photography blog, make it fun and interactive. Don’t simply just show your work–spread your knowledge about street photography and thoughts. Write helpful guides, tips, and tutorials and also host other street photographers. Also the most important thing is to keep your blog consistent. For those people who are starting off, I recommend a schedule of at least 3 times a week (Monday, Wed, Friday). I believe this schedule is manageable and allows you enough lee-way to only show your best blog posts and photographs.
Build a network
The adage, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” is very important to keep in mind. If you want to get your street photography out there, build connections with fellow street photographers who you share the same style and passion with. For example, check out the online street photography collectives out there such as In-Public, Seconds2Real, and Un-posed which have a core group of photographers who help promote one another.
Start your own network small on Flickr or any other photo social networking site out there. Have a small and core group of street photographers out there (around 5-10) and build it out from there. Remember it is not necessarily size that is better. Keeping it tightly knit is more advantageous.
Step 3: Getting recognized
There are constantly tons of street photography contests out there on the web. You can go to Google or Twitter and search “street photography contests” to keep you posted with what kind of contests are going on. If you stay connected via social media well-enough, you should be well-informed on what types of contests are going on. Regardless of the prize they offer in the contests, the recognition is far more important. By winning a street photography contest your work can reach a large audience that will appreciate your work.
There are many street photography blogs out there that feature interviews with street photographers. This is a fantastic way to get your street photography work recognized. The best way I suggest is to find street photography blogs you would like to be featured on (mine included) and send a short introduction telling the editor your name, where you are from, and that you are interested in being featured. Attach 5 of your best shots and be concise and to-the-point. If you have a good enough portfolio and pique the interest of the editor, you will have a high likelihood in getting featured.
If you want to build your reputation, you should get your work exhibited in galleries. It is easy to get your work featured online, but people take you more seriously if you mention you were featured in “real” galleries.
My suggestion is to start small. Find local cafe’s or restaurants that are wiling to show your work. From there, invite all the people you can to help build the buzz about your own street photography. If you have enough positive feedback, this can help you build your way to get exhibited at more prestigious galleries and exhibitions.
Conclusion: What now?
As a concluding point, it is much more important to shoot street photography than market your work if you wish to get better. However the Catch-22 is that if you want to get your work recognized, you need to spend a ton of time marketing your work. Try to keep a balance– what I always do is shoot during the day and work on all my marketing efforts at night. Also realize that the tips I gave above are just a primer and some basic concepts.
Furthermore realize that there is a danger in over-marketing. This is when you over-saturate your photography or message to your audience to the point it is simply “too much.” This will cause people to ignore you, and can detract you from putting out only quality photos or blog posts. Remember, it is all about quality, not quantity.
Nobody out there in art or life simply gets “discovered.” Be hungry and be proactive. Only you hold the secret to your own personal success. Now go out there and like Nike says, “Just do it.”
If you have any other thoughts, please leave them in the comments below.
For further reading, I highly recommend Thomas Leuthard’s blog post on Marketing in (Street) Photography.