In a Sea of Photojournalists, How Do You Get Noticed?

Corporate work is what allows me to keep on doing the documentary projects I want to do. While at Magnum, Sebastiao Salgado followed a similar process; shoot highly paid annual reports for a few months and then go off to photograph “workers” in remote parts of the world. If it’s good enough for him…

I know several photojournalist colleagues who have succumbed to the business of wedding photography, jumping on the now somewhat tired trend of “wedding photojournalism.” Such accommodations are necessary because it is becoming increasingly difficult to make a decent living from full-time, “traditional” photojournalism.

Some colleagues of mine seem to be reluctant to change. They update their Web sites once a year and expect the phone to ring with offers of assignments from mainstream publications. At least their patience is improving.

Putting the Customer First

With so many photojournalists going through the same changes, what can we do to rise above our competition? How do we stay in the front line of photographers for hire by leading newspapers, magazines, publishers, Web sites, and other media outlets?

And with an ongoing acceptance of corporate and wedding photography as a means of supplementing a photojournalist’s income, how can a veteran of conflict photography suddenly establish himself/herself as a resource for photographing businesses, products, events and weddings?

Those who know me will probably relate that I frequently harp about “what’s in it for them” — the customer. This is the pure and simple basis of marketing. It is really not rocket science and yet so many people are clueless about it. The concept applies to anyone wanting to make a living from selling photographs and/or photography services.

A Tale of Two Photographers

A scenario: a photo editor at a leading magazine is suddenly in need of a photographer to shoot an obscure event in a remote part of the United States. The photo editor needs to hire a freelancer to cover the event and in scanning the Internet, she has come across two Web sites of photographers who are based in the area. Both have strong portfolios and, photographically, should be able to provide the editor with the pictures she wants.

When contact is made, however, Photographer A seems highly dependent on the magazine to set up credentials, travel arrangements, accommodations, and remote Internet access. Photographer B, on the other hand, immediately takes on these tasks as a natural part of the job he has to do. As a photo editor, whom are you more likely to hire?

Why does Photographer B take on such arrangements — which, after all, could probably be done quite easily by the magazine? It is because he understands that the photo editor is a busy person who has other stories to manage, people to work with, e-mails to read and send, telephone calls to receive and make, photographers to nurture and, oh yes, photographs to edit. By making the client’s life easier, Photographer B will win the assignment — as well as securing goodwill for possible future assignments.

Using Directories

How would a photo editor find these two photographers in the first place? How would a bride and groom find a great wedding photographer? What source would a communications manager use when trying to find a new photographer to shoot an upcoming executive event?

There are many sources, lists and directories of photographers throughout the world. I am a member of a number of professional organizations, such as the ASMP, NPPA and Editorial Photographers. Commercial clients have found me by scanning through the Internet directories of these organizations.

Other directories are available, some more effective than others. The Photographer’s Index is a very basic-looking Web site, but I have had more inquiries from my listing there than any other online index. seems excessively commercial, looking to make money by offering vaguely valuable services to photographers while also posting advertising on their site.

A photographer needs to be selective about where he posts his details; Some Web sites are worthless. Others, such as, although charging more than $300 (as of my last renewal) per year for a featured listing, has generated thousands of dollars in work as a result.

Building Your Brand Online

What I aim to do is “brand” myself. Think of a brown, fizzy soda and you will probably have a picture of a bottle of Coca-Cola in your mind. Think of the catch phrase “can you hear me now?” and Verizon Wireless springs to mind. What do you think of when you consider photojournalism?

What you want is for those that may hire you to think of YOU when they think of photojournalism. How do you achieve this? By associating yourself with photojournalism in every way that you can.

The Internet makes this easy. Setup a MySpace or Facebook account and talk about photojournalism to your friends and their friends. Put up a Flickr site, post a selection of your non-commercial images and join groups that support working photographers (do not get distracted by the myriad of groups catering to amateurs — nothing against amateurs, my wife is one, but they have different motivations for taking pictures and tend to be more focused on equipment than subject matter).

Sign up with LinkedIn and start putting out feelers for work. Connect with photographers in other parts of the world. Several times I have had work referred to me by a photographer I have never met, but who was connected to the same network as me.

Write a blog — if not for an existing organization like Black Star, then put up your own blog and write about something important to you. Even better, write about something that is important to your potential clients, related to photography. Advertise your blog with Feedburner, put your URL in your email signature, on your business cards, etc. Post it in BlogCatalog and include code so that Google can find it and list it in search results related to photojournalism.

These activities just scratch the surface of what you can do to generate awareness of yourself via the Web. The more you get into it, the more resources and opportunities you will find to get your information in front of an even wider audience.

By pursuing the steps above, I had more work coming to me in 2006 and 2007 than I could handle. I didn’t have to mail postcards, blast e-mails or place advertisements. I justed needed a good Web site, an ongoing effort to widen my “presence” on the Internet, and an easy way to be contacted.

[tags]photojournalism, photography advice, photography business[/tags]

2 Responses to “In a Sea of Photojournalists, How Do You Get Noticed?”

  1. Mike,

    Excellent points.

    But I would like to suggest that whatever it is you decide to tackle be it weddings, commercial or conflict photography it is not enough to wait on a leading photo editor from a magazine.

    Targeting your client base and specifically knowing who it is you want to work for (whether that is a photo editor or a johnny and sally bride and groom-to-be) is a more empowering position to begin from.

    I certainly don't mind doing the administrative leg work that a client doesn't care to do, but that comes with a price.

    Of course, the client is always right and service is a crucial component to growing your business.

    But how about fashioning a strategy that focuses very specifically on clients worth working for and catering to their needs to the best of your ability?

  2. Thank you for the great advice. Some of your suggestions I have already implemented. But, you have given me a new list of things to incorporate into my business practices.

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