Pro Studio Basics

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Pro Studio Basics

15. How To Become Famous

The following advice is specific to Australia. Most Western countries have similar structures and the broad principles are similar. However, you should consult your own advisers for specific information. 

Many photographers are lured into our profession by the apparent success of rich and famous photographers. Fame, it appears, leads to riches, and with riches one can take control of one's life.

But how do they do it? Is their photography that much better? Are they more fun to work with? Or do they have close personal relationships that keep them in the loop?

There's no single answer to this question, except to note that success is usually lots and lots of little things working together towards a common goal.
I can remember sitting in one of Anne Geddes seminars and listening to her talk about her ‘overnight success'. For the general public, she may have appeared to be an instant success, but behind her rapid rise was ten or twenty years of hard work.

Anne also had Kel Geddes by her side and she attributes much of her success to his marketing and business acumen. Yes, Anne is a brilliant photographer, but to become famous she acknowledges she needed something more. She needed to be marketed.

Most readers will also be aware of American photographer Annie Liebovitz who started working for Rolling Stone magazine and made it to the pinnacle of the advertising world. The stories of her and her shoots are the stuff of legends. How did she get to be so famous and, one expects, so rich?

I can't remember the American photographer who told me, but at some stage Annie Liebovitz employed three people full time as publicists - for her!

Now, this might be an exaggeration, but the point is well made: famous photographers rarely become famous by just taking great photos. Most of them have orchestrated their fame very carefully.

For photographers beginning their career, the world stage might be a far off dream, but one that is to be nurtured. And to nurture it, the best place to start is at home. Once you learn how to promote to your local market, you can then think bigger and, who knows, maybe one day people will consider you to be an overnight success with an entourage of three publicists too!

Talk About Me

When people hire a photographer, they are buying a product (photographs) unseen. They can't see the product until after it is created, so they need to find other ways to reassure themselves that the photographer they are hiring will do a good job.

This is why a photographer requires a good reputation.

Reputations can be built slowly within a small client base. Do a good job for one client and hopefully that client will refer you to someone else and gradually you'll build up a client base of happy customers.

Reputations can also be built more quickly. Photographers who publish a book, take a very famous photo or win awards can have their reputations fast tracked, if they promote themselves properly.

If you publish a book of your work, people think, "Wow, if this photographer is good enough to have a book of his photos published, he must be good." Whether the photos are good or not is often incidental.

Similarly, if a photographer wins an award, the public thinks, "Wow, an independent jury has decided this photograph is the best, the photographer must be good too".

While we can tell our clients how good we are, it is never as effective as having someone else tell them. Books and awards can help us get our message across.

Of course, people don't rush out and tell the world how good you are just because you published a book or won an award. We still have to do this ourselves, but when we do it, we are using an independent reference point to ‘prove' that we are good photographers.

Silver Awards

Take a look through a bridal magazine and you'll find it is full of ‘award winning photographers'. Some photographers bemoan the fact that these days so many photographers are award winners that they see little point in advertising the fact themselves. In the abscence of a better plan, I'd suggest this is a dangerous strategy. If someone has a choice between 20 photographers and five of them aren't award winners, who will be the first five to be crossed off the short list?

It's true that lots of photographers are winning lots of awards. It is also unlikely that a national newspaper will run a story about your single Silver Award, especially if there are hundreds of other photographers around with a similar story. Or maybe just one other photographer with a better story.

However, that single Silver Award that you win can be incredibly valuable to you when you promote yourself to your market.

One On One

When you win an Award, whether at the Canon APPAs or another event, you will often receive a certificate. Put it on your studio wall. Some photographers even frame it along with a copy of the winning photograph.

Hanging it on a studio wall means you don't have to walk up to your clients and ‘boast' that you won an award. Instead, they can discover it themselves. It shows you're proud of your achievement - and so you should be. If you're not proud of it or you don't think it is important, then your clients can be forgiven for thinking the same way.

When it comes to one-on-one meetings, your walls can be a great support!


Many photographers communicate regularly with their clients (and people they hope will be clients in the future). Using a database of names and addresses, they either produce a paper-based newsletter or send out to an email list.

Some newsletters fail because all they talk about is the photographer and don't provide anything of interest to their clients, but this doesn't mean you shouldn't include your awards.

Newsletters must be interesting for the reader or they won't be read, but it should be an easy matter to dop in a small paragraph or a little break-out box that says ‘Silver Award' and, by the way, I won one! It goes to building a reputation.

Local Press

The local newspaper mightn't be interested in the fact that you won a single Silver Award. There could be many other photographers in the district who did just as well or better.

However, if your Silver Award was a photograph of an important person in the district, of a local site facing environmental issues, or taken for a neighbourhood business, then suddenly you have a new, perhaps more relevant angle. Instead of the paper talking about you, it's talking about the famous person, environmental site or neighbourhood business and, by the way, you're the award winning photographer.

To get a local newspaper or radio station to pick up your story, it's best to do all the hard work for them. Provide a summary of the story on one page, a more detailed story on the following pages, plus a list of names and contacts for follow up. Then provide a series of photos, including your award winner and perhaps a photo of you holding your certificate. Provide variety.

Then be determined. The first two or three times you may get no response, but if you hang in there, eventually someone will find a spot for your story. Persistence pays off.

The information in this article is general in nature and should not replace personal advice given by your own legal and financial advisers.

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