Photography is everywhere and it seems everyone is a photographer. But while there are more platforms than ever before to share your work, the digital space is now crowded with creators. With over 100 million images and videos reportedly shared per day on Instagram, how do you cut through the noise and stand out in the creative market?
I’m a photography producer, consultant, and mentor. I spent over half my career working in advertising agencies as an Art Buyer, commissioning photography on behalf of the agency’s clients, and I would receive around 20 – 30 emails a week from independent photographers or agents, asking to come in and show their work.
I now run a production company and, through my consultancy work, help independent creatives establish strategies for career growth that they can implement themselves.
Whether you’re an established photographer looking to break into a new sector of the industry, or a fresh face looking to get your first commission, here are my top tips to making your work stand out, and be seen by the right people.
Keep your target small
Before cold calling anyone, do your research! Start by making a list of all your dream clients, big and small, and group them by sector (e.g. for a commercial lifestyle photographer, this might be: banking, retail, public service or charities). Then prioritise these until you have a Top 5 for each area.
Working in small blocks of five at a time will stop it feeling like an overwhelming task and allow you to really get to know each brand and their behaviour.
Make it personal
Start looking at what campaigns brands have launched in the past twelve months, and across what channels, to get a feel for how they talk to their particular audience. You want your pitch to clearly show you understand their brand positioning and core audience, while also showing what you could bring to the table. E.g. if their images usually have a soft, airy feel to articulate a dreamy, aspirational quality, don’t lead with a hyper-real or heavily saturated edit – these can feature in your book or on your website, but a short, concise introduction should be tailored for each brand.
Use your network
Once you have your Top 5 brands, find out which agencies they work with, or if they handle everything in-house. This can be tricky, but try looking for PR around a recent campaign itself in marketing industry press such as Campaign magazine and The Drum, both available online. And remember, big commercial brands will typically work with more than one agency: one for above-the-line (ATL); below-the-line (BTL); shopper; PR; experiential and/or social media – try targeting the smaller agencies first, where you can cut your teeth but still work with household names.
Finding the right people to contact can be tricky, I always start on LinkedIn to see anyone I know can do a direct intro to the brand or agency (think: six degrees of separation!). If not, you’re looking for the people who commission creative jobs: marketing, content, brand or production managers in-house; and art buyers, creative/print/integrated producers and/or project managers in advertising and branding agencies.
Roles in ad-land have become much more hybrid over the years, so dig around online to get a feel for the different titles each agency uses. Online directory services, such as Bikini Lists, list up-to-date contact details for much of the commercial and editorial sector, they can be quite pricey, but some offer a free trial.
And put it out to your network if you’re in any creative groups: champion ‘community over competition’, and you may be surprised who can help you out.
Less is more
Keep your intro emails short and sweet, explaining who you are, the work you make and why you feel you might be a great fit for the brand. Attach a PDF (two-page max) with your tailored images laid out – you don’t need fancy software, you can do this in Google Slides – and ensure you include your name and contact details (phone, email, website) in this document in case it gets detached from your email along the way or saved into a central folder.
Include a clear call to action in your email: if you have 10 minutes I’d like to drop by next week and show you my portfolio. Or simply: I would love to be considered for your next campaign; when you are next shortlisting photographers, please drop me a line.
Consider your niche
‘Short and sweet’ extends to your own bio too. No one likes to be pigeon-holed, but having a clear and succinct description of what you do makes it really easy for someone to make the leap between your work and their brand. This is your “Elevator Pitch”, and you should be able to sum up your offering in one sentence.
Once you have your description, make sure this is being articulated across all your comms. E.g. if you’re a portrait photographer with a focus on youth culture and fashion, it would feel at odds to have a food section on your website – it dilutes your core offering. Just because you CAN do something, doesn’t mean you need to list it out. Focus on what you love and you will attract the kind of work you want because you are embedded in it, and it feels authentic.
Emma Tunbridge is one of the UK’s leading children’s photographers, it’s her niche. But her bright, poppy style and beautiful treatment of skin tones meant she landed a commission for a Panasonic epilator ad! Good Art Buyers look beyond a rigid niche and see opportunity in your skill set, it’s what we do, but let it be our call. Pitching for everything risks you coming across as a jack-of-all-trades: have faith in your niche and own it.
The people who commission photography are your customers, so be active where they are. Yes, this will include Instagram, and it’s where commissioners will likely go to see a broader spread of your work and get a feel for your style and personality. But it might also be a mix of LinkedIn, The Dots and creative blogs, so make sure you are flying your professional flag here too, shouting about your achievements or sharing your opinion on creative topics.
Without a good hook, it can be tricky to get articles written about you specifically, so consider submitting photos to image-led blogs or publications, such as Selfie On Film, Frankie magazine or Boooom, which not only helps your visibility, but backlinks to your website are great for SEO.
Create Personal work Regularly
I can’t stress enough how important personal work is in your portfolio. As an Art Buyer, I’m looking for what you can bring to the table, creatively. Previous commissions are great validation, but they are also fulfilling someone else’s brief; personal work tells me you love photography, that you care enough about your craft to be seeking out stories and honing your skills. I don’t have to love your personal work, but it shows me your creative eye. What would you choose to shoot if you had no brief? This is what I’m interested in!
Dan Prince is an established commercial photographer who is constantly shooting personal work. His niche is working with real people, and giving a platform for their incredible stories. He says: “shooting my own projects allows me to push myself creatively outside the constraints of the client brief, and is often the thing that potential clients talk about the most at portfolio viewings.”
So, in short, if your work is truly aligned with the values of the brands you are pitching to, and you’re targeted in your approach, your work won’t just stand out, it will sing.
Emma will be speaking at The Photography and Video Show next month, on the Masterclass Stage. She will be discussing how to build your creative resilience, and sharing tools to help maintain inspiration and combat isolation when working alone. We have 2 tickets to give away for the event, which runs from 14th – 17th March at The NEC, Birmingham. Each ticket is valid for one-day entry only, and please note that some sessions require an additional fee to join.
To enter send an email to email@example.com, first come first serve!