Photography Marketing Made Simple by Vik Orenstein

Photography Marketing Made Easy

A Big Mug by Vik Orenstein

“A Big Mug” by Vik Orenstein.

Does marketing make you groan and roll your eyes like this guy? He’s cute, but there are probably more effective ways to approach marketing for your photography business. Photographer Vik Orenstein’s article “Marketing Made Simple” provides simple plans and tips for marketing your photography. Read an excerpt from the photography marketing article below, or you can find the complete article on

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 Marketing Made Simple by Vik Orenstein

I’m going to go out on a limb here and issue a statement that might make me unpopular in certain circles: Speaking strictly in monetary terms, great marketing and sales ability are more important to one’s ultimate success than great photographic and artistic ability. This isn’t fair. But it’s true. I speak from my twenty-plus years in the business, observing my own and my colleagues’ studios. There are photographers who are more talented than I am whose studios have failed. There are photographers who have little vision whose studios are thriving. The factor that separates the “Captains of Industry” from the photographers is simply the ability and the willingness to put yourself out there and forge and maintain relationships. In other words, those who are willing to market and sell.

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You are your own product. Like it or not, when you’re wooing a client you’re not just selling your services or your products—you’re selling the experience of working with you; you’re selling your image, your personality.

It sounds so simple! If selling is the key to success, why are so many of us reluctant to get out there and just do it?

“Shyness,” says Lee Standford. “There is a reason we like the back end of the camera instead of the front. It’s scary to put yourself out there.”

Makes sense. But how does one get over it?

Peter Aaron suggests that a young photographer does well to remember that the potential client welcomes the opportunity to see good photographs. “Call them up, and say, ‘I’ve got some interesting pictures I’d like to show you and I’d like to meet you and see what it is that you guys do.’ You’ll be surprised at the warm reception you’ll get. They welcome it; it’s a break in their day.”

But be aware that not every call or visit will lead to an assignment or a new client, at least not right away. “I call it ‘planting seeds,’” says Patrick Fox. “You make a contact, you’re nice to the person on the phone, you’re nice to the person at the reception desk. You get your book out there. Sometimes it results in a job right away. Sometimes it takes years. You have to plant a lot of seeds.”


Every good salesperson knows her product inside and out. She knows its history and its use. She knows what makes it unique. She knows how to tell its story. Before you can market yourself, your services and your product, you need to know exactly what it is that makes you different from all of your competitors.

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When I started my studio in 1988, my own message went like this: I am the only photographer in town who specializes in wall portraits of kids. I only shoot kids (parents and pets welcome when accompanied by a child). I only shoot black-and-white film, and I only offer black-and-white, sepia-toned and hand-painted prints. I only shoot kids acting natural, both in action and at rest. I use no traditional posing. I capture the true spirit of your kids. I am the kid specialist.

. . . .

Once you have refined your message, what’s the next step?

Says Karen, “You have to hit ’em with it until they get it.”


Usually people aren’t going to call you up and hire you the first time they hear your name. You have to get under their skin. They need to be exposed to you and your message multiple times before they take action. So you need patience, you need persistence and you need a lot of ammo.


Back before the days of e-mail I decided to do a direct-mail piece. I wanted to spread my budget as far as possible to reach as many people as I could. I was determined to purchase a mailing list of five thousand households and send them each a postcard. But my contact at my mailing service was insistent that I take a different tack: Buy a list of twenty-five hundred households and send them each two postcards, about two weeks apart. I hated that idea! I couldn’t get over my naïve impression that more households equaled more bang for the buck. Apparently a lot of people think that way. But in the world of marketing, common wisdom holds that people need to see your name five and a half times before they will buy from you. So hitting a few households (or architects or art buyers or ad agencies) repeatedly will yield better results than a blanket approach.

. . . .


You’ve told them your message, the story of what makes you unique. Now you need to tell them why they need your special talent. You need to tell them how they will benefit from working with you.

“It goes like this,” says Karen Melvin. “I would call an art buyer and say, ‘Hi, I see ABC Window Company is one of your clients. I shoot a lot of architectural products and lighting is my thing—I imagine great lighting is very important to showcase your product. I’d like to come in and show you some of my work I think you’d find germane.”


Marketing takes a lot of energy and inspiration. You’ve heard it said, “You can’t create in a vacuum.” You can’t market in a vacuum, either. Keep your batteries charged by sharing marketing ideas and woes with other business people. Don’t limit your contacts to other photographers. I recently sold my house and through a few casual conversations got a boatload of interesting marketing ideas from my realtor, and he got a few from me.

Take a class or seminar now and then on marketing. Again, don’t limit yourself to offerings targeting photographers. Cross train. It’ll help you be as creative about selling your work as you are about making it.
. . . .


In order to be successful at marketing and sales, you need to set quotas for yourself. If you give yourself a goal to make twenty-five cold calls a week, or send out twenty-five e-mails, you’ll be much more likely to follow through than if you say to yourself, “Well, I think I’ll make some calls each morning between nine and ten.” It’s unbelievably easy to find other things to do and to never get around to those calls or e-mails. Ditto for printed material: Set a goal of, say, four postcard mailings and one newsletter or blog entry a year. If, after a little time goes by, you find the goals you’ve set prove to be either too easy or too tough, adjust them. It may seem somewhat arbitrary, but the point is to have a realistic, workable marketing plan. If you set the bar too low, you’re only cheating yourself. If you set it too high, you won’t stick with it. So set it at a level at which you’re comfortable, and maintain it.
. . . .


You have marketing and sales experience. You might not realize it, but you do. Have you ever applied or interviewed for any job? Then you have sold yourself. Have you ever worked as a server in a restaurant and recommended the daily special or suggested a special glass of wine to complement a meal? Ever worked in a library and recommended books? Then you have sales experience. In fact, I’d be hard pressed to name any job that includes people contact that doesn’t involve selling.

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In recent years, the marketing tools available to the photographer (in every specialty) have changed as dramatically as our camera equipment. In the past we talked about directing mailings, buying spots in creative sourcebooks, showing portfolios, making cold calls on the telephone and making printed brochures, postcards and other material to use as leave-behinds. This was all very expensive (consider four-color printing, postage and paper costs) and it required a lot of fortitude to follow through and follow up with your prospects. Not so in this day and age.

. . . .

So many of the old marketing avenues are blocked; but there are new ways to get the word out that are kinder to the environment, faster, more efficient, more cost-effective and easier. That’s the good news and the bad news—now everybody can have equal access to art buyers, decision makers and other prospective clients. Here are some of the new marketing tools and ideas for how to best use them for your business.


While websites aren’t really new, they are now absolutely necessary for any photographer who wants to be in business, whether full-time or part-time.

. . . .

You don’t have to be a computer whiz or spend a fortune setting up a site or maintaining it. There are several online websites including my favorite,, that sell ready-to-use out-of-the-box websites complete with domain registration and hosting. The rates are amazingly reasonable, and the templates are so easy to use even I can do it (and that’s easy!). Even well-known commercial photographer Patrick Fox has switched to a template after years of maintaining a custom site. “It’s a little boilerplate, but I’m selling my images, not my web-design skills,” he says.

. . . .

Maximizing your web presence

Having a website is your first priority. Driving people to it is your next priority. It’s all about how many people find your site while they’re cruising the Web. Say you’re a portrait photographer in San Francisco. There are a lot of portrait photographers in San Francisco, so how can you make sure that when a prospective client goes to her search engine and enters, “portrait photographers San Francisco,” your site will pop up right at the top of the list?

Setting up your domain
. . . .

Choosing keywords
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Linking to other sites
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Purchasing key phrases
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Sponsored links
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. . . .

Follow your stats: Many services are available that will help you find out who, when, how, why and from where people access your site. I use Google Analytics. and are others. By using a service such as this, for free or for a minimal fee, you’ll be able to see that someone in England came to see your website at 3:00 a.m. on Saturday, November 12th, looked at your streetcar gallery and your prices, stayed for 1.6 minutes, and got there from a Yahoo! search. If that’s not truly amazing I don’t know what is! You can use this feature to keep tabs on what brings visitors to your site. For instance, whenever I add a client’s portraits to my galleries or blog, I tell them to take a peek at their photos online, and they tell their friends, and it results in a spike in both new and previous visitors—and every visitor is a potential client.


Vik Orenstein is a photographer, writer and teacher. She founded KidCapers Portraits in 1988, followed by Tiny Acorn Studio in 1994. In addition to her work creating portraits of children, she has photographed children for such commercial clients as Nikon, Pentax, Microsoft and 3M. Vik ­teaches several photography courses at

Excerpted from The Photographer’s Market Guide to Building Your Photography Business © 2010 by Vik Orenstein. Used with the kind permission of Writer’s Digest Books, an imprint of F+W Media, Inc.


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