5 Things All Photographers Want, and The 1 Thing They All Should Do

As photographers, we all pretty much want the same things. In short, we want to be rewarded for our individual creativity, and make a decent living making the pictures that we enjoy making. Yet, so many photographers feel that this is lacking in their lives. What can be done about this?


Getting more specific, I’ve broken this down into 5 distinctly different wants:

1) We want to work with people who appreciate our unique style and approach to photography.

2) We want clients who will refer us to others.

3) We want our job to be fun.

4) We don’t want to be evaluated solely on price.

5) We want fewer assignments, but higher quality + higher paying.

Having all 5 of these sounds like a dream situation, right? Getting any one of these sounds like a very complicated task. But the truth is, the answer comes down to one very simple thing

Don’t accept every job that comes your way.

In other words, you need to be selective about the assignments you take, and the clients you work with.

You may think that this sounds great in theory, but it can’t possibly apply to you. It just isn’t realistic. You surely have special circumstances that makes you the exception. Any paying gig is better than nothing, right?

If you feel this way, then you probably want to look at the way you’re marketing yourself because you’re not attracting the kinds of clients that you really should be working with.

Let’s revisit that list, only this time I’ll explain how being selective will help you get what you want.

1) We want to work with people who appreciate our unique style and approach to photography.

Make sure your personality and style is obvious on your website. If the wrong people keep contacting you, then you should take a good hard look at what your marketing messages are saying about you.

The first place to start is your website. Is your passion obvious to everyone? What’s your specialty? What do you truly love to shoot? If you don’t make this clear, you’re making it harder for people with shared interests/values to clue in on your uniqueness.

Some examples of people who do a good job of this are: Hunter Photographic (website, blog), and Cowbelly Pet Photography (website, blog.) Both make it clear that they know, and love, their specialty. Both have active blogs, Facebook, and Twitter accounts.

What if you don’t have any images that show your passion or specialty? Perhaps you’ve been too busy working for clients who don’t care about that kind of stuff. You can get started with a personal project that will let you show what you’re all about. Create work that matters to you, and then share it with the world. Personal projects are great for this.

By screening prospective clients, you can find out if they’re excited about your personal vision and the chance to work with someone who is passionate about what they do, or if they think photographers are all just warm body button-pushers.

When you work for someone who doesn’t appreciate your uniqueness, you can’t be working for someone who does. They eat up your time and they burn you out. Don’t accept jobs from these kind of people.

2) We want clients who will refer us to others.

You should aim to work with clients who will enthusiastically refer you to other people in their circle — people who most-likely have similar tastes and interests. If you follow the advice in #1, this should be easy. But how do you figure out if they are the word-of-mouth types?

Justin and Mary Marantz, the internationally-traveled destination wedding photography duo, have this down to a science, and have come up with a brilliant way to determine this before they book an assignment.

They start by making sure their personalities and styles are obvious on their website. Even going so far as to list their favorite movies, foods, and music. Then, they ask a simple question in their contact form:

“On a scale of 1 to 10, how interested are you in having Justin & Mary shoot your wedding?”

How the potential client answers this question helps them judge if the potential client truly appreciates their style and approach. The higher the number, the more likely the client is to refer them to others afterward – and their number one source of new clients is through word-of-mouth.

Facebook is one giant word-of-mouth machine, so they also make it easy for people to get the referral process started. They upload select wedding photos, tag the guests, and get themselves into the daily feed of as many people as possible.

Justin & Mary probably turn down more assignments than they take, and they are happy with that.

“It’s so important to us that we feel like we can really connect with each of our couples, which is why we actually don’t take every wedding that comes to us,” they write on their website. “Only if we really feel like we will be the very best fit for you guys on your wedding day, will we agree to be the ones there with you.”

3) We want our job to be fun.

Don’t shoot anything you don’t genuinely want to shoot. If your days are filled with doing something you’d rather not be doing, then your job is going to get old real quick. But if you’re shooting something that genuinely interests you, not only will you feel great, but the people around you will pick up on this too.

Having fun is contagious. If you’re having fun while you’re shooting, more people will want to work with you. (We all love being around fun people, right?) The more fun you have, the more fun you’ll continue to have, and the more referrals you’ll get.

Don’t accept jobs from people where you won’t have fun because you don’t want to be “that grumpy photographer who acted like he/she didn’t want to be there.”

4) We don’t want to be evaluated solely on price.

Don’t lower your prices because you think clients can’t afford you. Photographers are always second-guessing themselves, and lowering their prices just because they *think* that clients may not be able to afford it. This is crazy.

Try this instead… after you’ve take care of points #1, #2, and #3, do the opposite and RAISE your prices. Once you’ve made your uniqueness clear, started a healthy word-of-mouth campaign, and created a fun experience for your clients – you’re actually increasing the value of your services.

Don’t accept jobs from people who don’t realize your worth.

5) We want fewer assignments, but higher quality + higher paying.

There is a common misconception that if you charge less, you’ll get more work, and that this is a good thing. Although it’s true that lowering prices may increase demand for your services, it’s not necessarily a good thing. Attracting the wrong type of clients (people who are cheap and/or don’t see your value) isn’t healthy for your business or your mental health in the long run.

By being careful to attract the right kind of client, you can justify your a higher rate, and therefore, work less for the same amount of money. In your spare time, you can pursue projects that you are passionate about – and start the process (as mentioned in point #1) all over again.

“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully.” — Steve Jobs

Need help in learning how to say no? Some handy resources:

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This article was written by

PhotoShelter co-founder and GM

There are 9 comments for this article
  1. Allison at 2:43 pm

    Thank you for these tips – this is an aspect of turning my love of photography into a business that I have been wrestling with. For years, I have given away my skills simply because I love to shoot, but now that I am trying to carve out time for a photography business (while working a full-time day-job and still maintaining a personal life…) I have been learning the hard way that taking on every possible job or project is a quick route to burnout. There simply isn’t enough time in the day to spend it on work that does not inspire and motivate me to work harder. Along these lines I am discovering that I really would prefer certain types of clients, rather than taking on anyone who asks. Your point about personal-projects is helpful too – the type of work I’d like to pursue is not currently well-represented in my portfolio, and to that end I have several self-assigned projects in the works, to explore whether or not my interest in some different styles of photography might be a good fit with potential clients. I won’t know until I try! One thing you didn’t mention – learn to love this process! Taking photography from a hobby of several decades to a fully-fledged profession is a process of evolution and self-scrutiny – it’s so far been an adventure I wouldn’t trade for anything. Looking forward to what comes next too!

  2. 33photo at 11:14 pm

    Possibly the est post ever. Reminded me of the things my personal coach told me some years ago. She is now gone but her wisdom lingers on. Thanks Grover for making me remember her and sharing all this knowledge and insight. M

  3. Joseph at 12:54 pm

    Excellent advice. I recently increased my pricing and found that the quality of my leads were much better, more reliable, and less of a headache.

  4. Hunter Harrison at 9:38 am

    Thanks for the kind words about my work and including Hunter Photographic in this article. I definitely agree with point #1 – having an obvious specialty is important. Sure I can take kids photos, but I don’t want to. So I don’t show that work on my site, or I bury it in the “personal” section.

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