The web can be a fantastic way to increase your exposure when you’re starting out. Get it right and it can make your career.
Over the last few years in particular, there has been a seismic shift in the way people are using the internet. Dismissed initially by many photographers as being second-best to their hard-copy portfolio as a showcase of their work, photographers’ websites are now increasingly becoming their main shop window, and being viewed as a first step in the commissioning process by potential clients.
This can be particularly the case with smaller clients, who aren’t necessarily used to commissioning photographers. Just as with anything else they might be looking to find something out about, the first place many of them turn to is Google. And while more established photographers might not want to waste their time aiming to get smaller, less well-paid jobs, for newcomers to the industry, this provides a valuable resource for harvesting those hard-to-find first clients. This doesn’t mean that you should undersell your services – you should still charge a rate that is commensurate to your experience. But the smaller jobs that might often come in via the web can provide a great way to get professional experience. You can guarantee that you’ll learn something new every time you embark on a shoot, however small.
In the past, the likelihood was that a client who was unused to commissioning photography on a regular basis might have used an agency of some sort, relied on personal recommendation, or classified directories (not so long ago the Yellow Pages would have been the first place for many people to look to find a photographer). It goes without saying that these days search engine results can give clients far more precise results than they could have ever dreamed of from a text-based directory, and from the photographer’s point of view your website is the perfect way to quickly put across an idea of your skill as a photographer, plus give the potential client an idea of how well you might be able to fulfil a brief. Also, the beauty of the web is that if you shoot something specialist, you no longer have to go out of your way to find potentially interested clients – in many cases, they will come to you. As a side-observation, it’s worth bearing in mind that the more you are able to specialise your photography in a particular area, the more your work will stand out from the crowd and the more you’ll be able to present yourself as a ‘specialist photographer’, allowing you to sell your services for a premium as there will be less competition.
Advertising and design agencies are still going to want to see photographers and their portfolios in person for the bigger jobs – there are other considerations after all than just how good your pictures are as to whether or not you get booked for a shoot (professionalism, reliability etc…) but ignore the web at your peril. It’s not just people who want their pets photographed who are scanning the internet for talent. There have been stories recently of big clients commissioning photographers directly based on their web presence – for example Microsoft. In this case, they didn’t event approach a full-time professional, but a talented amateur who’d posted their photos on Flickr. There have been numerous other examples where this kind of thing is taking place, creating all sorts of opportunities for photographers to profit from their work without necessarily being full-time professionals.
It’s worth taking a long-term view at increasing your web presence and visibility. The sooner you start, the sooner it’s going to pay dividends. One of the most important things you should be looking at if you’re interested in your site doing the work for you is getting the search engines on your side. Unfortunately, as far as the likes of Google, Bing and the rest of them are concerned, images don’t provide a lot of information for them to index (at least not yet). So you need to include text in your site, and that text should complement your work in such a way that it will provide useful additional information for anyone thinking about using you (and as a result, the search engines will give you a ranking boost). The more specific it is, the better. Use gimmicks sparingly, and don’t even think about having sound to accompany your images (less relevant now, but there was a time when many sites would have a distracting soundtrack – nothing’s guaranteed to turn off a potential client faster). If your images are strong, they should speak for themselves – all you need is a site with simple functionality and some descriptive to support your work.
Consider adding a blog to your site (and actively maintaining it). This can be a great way to broadcast updates on recent projects, talk about specific areas of your work that you might like to describe further, or generally put across an idea of your personality and level of experience. Google is becoming increasing intelligent at establishing the quality of a website’s content – and if you can get the world’s biggest search engine on your side by creating great content, then that means potential clients can find you more easily, which in turn means you’ll soon find work coming your way. You should also spend time talking about yourself and your work on social media, and linking everything back to your main site. Don’t expect results overnight, but if you put in the hours and build up a genuinely interesting web presence, then the natural selection process of the internet is bound to ensure you start heading to the top of the pile. This can be absolutely priceless as your site will then effectively be working as your own personal marketeer.