Living in a small city or town inherently means you have a much smaller market for your services. In fact, it may just be possible that there isn’t enough work for you to make a living from just shooting photography. While the definition of what we consider to be a “small market” is relative, the absolute reality is that you need to make enough income to support your family. To succeed you need ideas for local marketing plus these eight ideas where you can create income from photography without needing to book a gig.
Deliver workshops or seminars to people who want to do photography as a hobby or specialize in a certain type of photography (e.g., street, landscape, architecture, etc.). You’d be surprised as to how many people in your small town are interested in picking up new hobbies, especially creative ones that are unique. You can offer these classes at the local community center, your studio, or even at a church. This is an excellent opportunity for you to share your techniques and advice, while helping others to find their artistic voice. While most photography skills and techniques are taught online, or offered through books, nothing beats learning from someone in a hands-on environment. Don’t think that you’ll be creating new competition in your market, remember that the breadth of potential customers and opportunities are much broader than just your town. Not everyone wants to practice photography for money, most people simply enjoy taking pictures for the love it.
By offering classes you’ll become the de facto expert in your neck of the woods, and people will often recommend and look to you for photography services. Not only will you make money from your workshops, you’ll be building a solid reputation in your town as the leading photographer. Look for opportunities to work with local photography clubs or interest groups where you can teach or offer a class to members. If there is a nearby university, there are bound to be students who might be interested in learning photography. And if there happens to be a community college, perhaps you can find an opportunity to teach a class there. The key thing to remember when offering workshops is, “What can I bring to students that they cannot do themselves?” For many students, this is simply being able to help them build their confidence, offering critiques or advice in real-time, and giving them words of encouragement to keep them moving in the right direction.
Speak at photography events
Many photography organizations offer workshops and seminars during their regional and national events. If you are a member of a professional organization, seek out opportunities to lead a seminar or workshop at these events. These are excellent chances for you build a reputation and be seen as an expert, which can lead to more referrals and shoots. You’ll get a chance to speak with other members, vendors, retailers, and manufacturers from the industry who can expose you to important new contacts and opportunities.
The American Society of Media Photographers is one such organization that provides regular training for its members. You can apply to become an educator here. There are two types of opportunities to reach their members with your expertise. The first, ASMP Seminars will allow you to present at ~20 locations. Your seminar would be hosted at their 39 chapters and at various industry conferences. ASMP will cover your travel expenses, and pay a stipend for each presentation. While you’ll have to pass their screening process, and agree to use their presentation format, this gives you an excellent chance to build a reputation with photographers outside your area and open the doors to exciting, new opportunities. The second option is to become listed with ASMP’s recommended programs. The society offers a list of programs to its chapter leaders, each program is considered based on strict criteria to ensure your workshop upholds their expected standards, and that your topic provides relevant information for members. Any financial and promotional arrangements will have to be made directly with the chapter (and its leaders), should they decide to host you.
There are dozens more photography organizations around the country, and even more around the world. Visit their websites and see how you can become an instructor or participate in a seminar at one of their events. Read more about the top professional photography organizations.
Offer photographic services
Don’t let the fact that you live in a small town limit your possibilities, as I said earlier, you have to think globally. Since you live in a part of the world with a lower cost of living you could offer services such as digitalization, retouching, printing or publishing for far less than many photogs would pay in more expensive cities. Use the Internet, professional photography organizations, Facebook Groups, and forums to find photogs who may need your services.
Another way to serve the photography community is to create new Photoshop actions that you can resell online. A photoshop action is simply a series of tasks that you play back on a single file or a batch of files such as menu commands, panel options, tool actions, and so forth. For example, you can create an action that changes the size of an image, apply effects to the image, such as contrast and detail, and then save the file in the desired format. Actions can include steps that let you perform tasks that cannot be recorded (for example, using a painting tool). Actions can also include modal controls that let you enter values in a dialog box while playing an action. You can see how creating actions can save other photogs countless hours processing photos after a shoot. Similarly, you can create and sell Lightroom presets. There are numerous marketplaces where you can offer yours, here’s a list of ten of them.
While there might not be much money in it, you can also license your photographs to greeting and post card companies. There are two types of postcard companies: distributors and printers. The printers operate nationally and usually provide ready-made postcards to local distributors. Here are a few postcard printers that buy pictures:
You can expect somewhere between $50 and $100 per photograph, and most printers will be interested in purchasing multiple photographs. So be sure you have a large enough portfolio to present to the buyer. While you may not make much from a single purchase, licensing your photographs to a distributor will open new opportunities and may lead to other offers from competing printers. For example, James Blank, a very prominent postcard photographer, advises others to sell non-exclusive licenses as competing printers often see postcards and reach out to license the same photo.
The other option is to self-publish your postcards, and offer them to stores and shops on consignment. You’ll effectively have to take on the costs of printing the postcards yourself, but you can work with the store directly to earn a modest income from their sale. If you live near a national or state park, tourist destination, or regional getaway this could be a strategy that works much better for you.
Provide complimentary event services
As a photographer you’ll likely be working with wedding coordinators, event planners, and individuals responsible for family parties and gatherings. That means you are creating relationships with the primary decision makers who spend on more than just photography for an event. This is a perfect opportunity for you to refer them to a party equipment rental company, or offer some of that equipment yourself. Whether you refer your clients, or rent the equipment to them yourself, you become a problem solver for your clients, even if they decide they cannot afford your photography. Let’s say after you have your in-person meeting with a couple for their wedding photography, and they decide to pass because they’re going for lower cost option (e.g., friend or family amateur photographer, guests photos, etc.). You want the ability to offer them an alternative, so that you can still bring in some income. That alternative could be something like a photo booth rental. The good news is that there are many companies, such as Mashbooths, that offer franchises. Alternatively, you can strike a deal with a local photo booth rental company for a finder’s fee.
Many events require outdoor tents, bounce houses, outdoor lighting equipment, gazebos, tables, chairs, etc. You can work out a referral deal with a local party equipment company to get a finder’s fee in exchange for referring paying customers. This is a win-win for everyone as you’re able to solve more than one problem (i.e. offer more than just photography), avoid the hassle and cost of running a rental company, and find additional income to your photography services. If you run a studio, consider doubling it as an instructional space for hobbyist or letting other photographers rent it. Looking back at idea #1, you could also use your space to teach a workshop. If you’re space is big enough, you should consider offering it as an event space for things like private dinners, parties, seminars, and talks. Large loft spaces, especially those with distinct features, are a magnet for event planners who are looking for unique venues to host their gigs.
Start a blog or podcast
You have a vision and bring something unique to the industry. Creating a blog and sharing your work will give you a global platform that may lead to passion projects as well as clients from outside your town. If you’re too worried about the technical aspects of blogging, or gaining traffic, I suggest putting your work up on a site like Medium, which has a huge amount of traffic and publishing is as easy as using any word processing software. On the flip side, you can also try starting a podcast or becoming a guest on someone’s podcast to share your techniques or unique eye for shots. If you’ve become exceptionally good at a particular type of photography, there are dozens of blogs and podcasters who would love for you to share your expertise and insights. Similar to blogging, podcasting will give you a platform from which you can reach people outside of your town, opening up new opportunities for work or connecting with other photographers.
So how do you begin?
The key to building traffic for your website is to guest post and appear on as many popular podcasts as possible. Here are some notable photography podcasts, where an appearance by you can go a long way in building a strong fan base:
- This Week in Photo (TWiP)
- TWiP Street Focus
- The Digital Story
- The Candid Frame
- The Photobiz Xposed podcast
As with anything, you should not expect overnight success. They key is to be consistent in posting your work, and then spending as much, if not more time, promoting your work through Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook. While it will likely take a few years of posting interesting work before you become someone worth interviewing for a podcast, it will be worth it. Keeping your focus on the process of taking great photographs, and sharing your work on your blog, will help to keep you motivated as your start out. As you improve, and develop a unique vision, you’ll begin to build a following and opportunities for projects will start to present themselves.
Expand your territory
I mentioned earlier what someone considers “small market” is relative. You could be in a town where there are no stop lights and your downtown is only one or two blocks long. Or you could consider places like El Paso (Texas), Albuquerque (New Mexico), or Jacksonville (Florida) to be a small market. The problem remains that you cannot seem to get enough photography clients from your town to sustain a living. If you’re near a larger city, town, or part of a bigger metropolitan area—looking for business outside of your town is a must. You can do this in a number of ways.
Start by joining a photography group in the larger, neighboring town, so that you can build relationships with other photogs. This is an excellent way to improve your craft, and create opportunities for yourself in the form of referrals and second shoots. You should also look to these larger cities as places where you can strike deals with complementary businesses, and create a mutually beneficial referral system. Offer party rental companies, event planners, caterers, etc. a referral fee. Many chambers of commerce have formal “referral” groups that you can join in order to grow your business. Lastly, look for opportunities in newsletters, Craigslist, local portal websites, and newspapers where you can advertise your services. While newspapers may be dying, in many small towns there are still the best way for citizens to keep up on what’s happening and new developments. Craigslist is and remains a great place for many people to advertise their services. Create a post in the subsections of the towns and cities you’re willing to serve within the “Services” section. You can also look for photography work within the “Gigs” section.
Get involved with your community
Having a solid network of people who can refer clients to you is critical, no matter how large or small your market may be. Becoming involved with your local Chamber of Commerce gives you a chance to build genuine relationship with local business owners who can either hire you or refer you to their clients. Many Chambers offer “Lead Groups” where you meet once a week to exchange referrals, or inform other business owners about your services so they can keep you in mind. You should also seek opportunities to give back by volunteering to photograph local charity and community events. Not only does this give you a chance to practice your craft, but you can hand out your business card and let your neighbors know you’re a photographer.
The reality is that you may only be able to find enough photography gigs in your hometown on a part-time basis, no matter well you market yourself. If you love your day job, and only want to pursue photography part-time, that is obviously perfectly okay. However, the added benefit of having other sources of income from photography means that you don’t have to work for cheap clients, low paying gigs, and you can seek out passion projects. The best part is that you can support your family with work from photography or photography related services — waking up everyday to do exactly what you love while sharing your expertise and insights with other photogs.