Growing Your Photo Business: 10 Tips From Joe McNally, Jeremy Cowart, Peter Yang & More

Growing Your Photo Business: 10 Tips From Joe McNally, Jeremy Cowart, Peter Yang & More

What’s the secret to breaking into the photo industry, developing your style, and making great connections? In our guide, The Inspiration Handbook: 50 Tips from 50 Photography Trailblazers, we compiled advice from 10 photographers succeeding in their fields, including Ryan Pfluger, Gregory Heisler, Jasmine DeFoore, Joe McNally, Jeremy Cowart, Art Wolfe, Christian Oth, Peter Yang, Winnie Au and Jade Beall.

1. Ryan Pfluger, Editorial & Celebrity Photographer


Photo by Ryan Pfluger

“I think the key to being successful is not losing yourself at the cost of trying to be proactive. Staying true to who you are as an artist and human being goes a long way. When it comes down to it, the most important thing is to constantly challenge yourself and don’t get complacent. No matter how successful you are, nothing is ever due to you and the experience and learning never stops. You have to constantly remind yourself that you’re very lucky to be doing what you love – take full advantage of that, stay humble, enjoy yourself and remember the importance of having a community of creatives you can bounce things off of. Once it becomes “work”, you’re doing something wrong.”

2. Gregory Heisler, Portrait Photographer

“I’ve been very fortunate in my career and have enjoyed great freedom. Even so, the biggest mistake I’ve made has been to not listen to my inner voice. It always leads me to a great place, but I’ve failed to heed its call in the past, choosing instead to please too many masters or second-guess myself creatively. Every time I tune in, listen up, and go for it, I’m happier, my pictures are better, and my career continues to grow. Pretty simple.”

3. Joe McNally, Photojournalist & Nikon Ambassador

No use of image is allowed without Photographer’s permission, prior to use, and subject to compensation. The licensing usage agreed upon with Joe McNally, or an authorized member of his staff, is the only usage granted. Photographer retains ownership and all copyrights in the work. This is not a work-for-hire. Photographer is in no way responsible for the implications, legal or otherwise, of any unlicensed usage of the artwork by the Agency, its Client, its Successors, Assignees or Transferees.

Photo by Joe McNally

“I strongly suggest that photographers make a huge effort to make appointments and show your portfolio to companies that are local to your area. I always associate getting jobs and doing work with getting on an airplane and going elsewhere, but there’s great opportunity in increasing your visibility to companies and clients in your own community, which are numerous.”

4. Jeremy Cowart, Portrait Photographer & Founder of Help Portrait

Jeremy Cowart1

Photo by Jeremy Cowart

“It’s important to keep the gas pedal floored. For me, that means continued work on my personal projects, experimentation, updating my website, business ideas, and expanding the audience on my iPhone app, OKDOTHIS. This industry, more than ever, continues to be an unpredictable roller coaster. I think people assume that guys like me are on cruise control and have it all figured out. But I’m hustling and working harder than ever, even when the jobs aren’t coming in. You simply have to these days to make it all work.”

5. Art Wolfe, Conservation Photographer

Ultima Thule Everest Expedition members in front of the North Face of Mount Everest, Tibet

Photo by Art Wolfe

“In the beginning I was more familiar with the outdoor world than the fine art one, so I approached gear stores like REI, The North Face, and Eddie Bauer – lobbying for in-store space rather than in galleries. It didn’t take much convincing to allow me a little space on the walls. So, behind a rack of jackets there would be an Art Wolfe photograph. The visibility worked, and I started confidently pitching to editorial publications. Especially today, photographers need to think outside the box on how to get their work seen.”

6. Christian Oth, Wedding Photographer

Christian Oth

Photo by Christian Oth

“The secret to growing your business is to offer your client the entire package. Not only does your photography have to be great, the experience you give your client must always be top-notch. The guy who takes days to return an email or phone call won’t get the job. Professionalism and quick, attentive communication between you and your client are key. Most importantly, while your artistic style may set you apart from other photographers, at the end of the day, those word-of-mouth referrals only happen if your clients are happy. From the moment they send their inquiry, to the big wedding day, to the delivery of their album, give your client your best. You’ll know you’re doing it right when the bride tells you that you’ve made her day.”

7. Winnie Au, Portrait, Lifestyle & Dog Photographer

Winnie Au

Photo by Winnie Au

“Make sure you understand your strengths and weaknesses. Focus on your strengths, and get help from others for your weaknesses. Don’t assist forever, and keep on shooting. The more you shoot, the more you will know what you like/dislike, what works/doesn’t work for your workflow, and it will help you develop your style. If I looked back I would have told myself to quit assisting earlier.”

8. Jasmine DeFoore, Photo Editor & Marketing Consultant

“Figuring out who you are and what you want to shoot for is one of your greatest challenges. But it’s also one of the most important things to do when creating a portfolio.You can start by looking back over your work, and think about which images excite you most or jobs you’ve enjoyed in the past. This will help you narrow your focus based on what you’re genuinely interested in.”

9. Peter Yang, Portrait Photographer

Peter Yang_edited-1

Photo by Peter Yang

“To me, the first step in developing a style is through lighting. Especially when starting out, an aspiring photographer seldom has access to great subjects or great locations. Thoughtful, deliberate lighting can really help elevate your pictures. Find your style and stick to it. You don’t need to light everything exactly the same, but your portfolio should feel like a cohesive body of work. I don’t think developing a visual style happens overnight, and it’s often about trying everything you can and stripping away what doesn’t work. It’s a slow but gratifying process, and often times, someone will tell you they dig your style before you even know what it is!”

10. Jade Beall, Photographer & Founder of A Beautiful Body Project

“My best piece of advice for aspiring photographers is to ask questions. I’m a self-taught photographer, and I had to ask a lot of questions. I didn’t understand gear; I didn’t understand what camera I needed. I found a mentor right here in town—a photographer I loved and became friends with. I tried to offer them some business in return for helping me understand equipment and how to light better. Look for people who inspire you and ask them questions. Be constantly inspired by other people’s work.”

Want more inspiration to jumpstart your photo career? Check out our guide, The Inspiration Handbook: 50 Tips from 50 Photography Trailblazers



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