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Sooo you wanna be a photographer? But you’re struggling to find photography clients. You’ve been searching high and low, putting yourself out there and nobody seems to bite. It can be really discouraging, especially when you’re first starting out.
When you first start out as a photographer, it’s really important to have work to share. Really, the ONLY way you’re going to attract paying clients is if you’re showing great work and improving your photography. But that’s the ultimate dilemma, right? You want to find photography clients, but don’t have enough work to get them into your inbox. It’s a catch 22 situation, right?
I’ve been there. When I first started my photography business in 2015, it felt like throwing spaghetti against the wall, trying to figure out where I could magically get people interested in my photography work enough to hire me. What I realized was this:
In order to get work that I could share in my portfolio to actually get PAYING inquiries, I first had to shoot a TON of stuff for free.
One of the best ways to start a service based business such as photography, is to start off doing that service for free in order to get experience and portfolio work you can use to market yourself and in turn, find photography clients.
But then the next question comes, “Well how do I find people to get in front of my camera, even for free?” Over the years I’ve had so many course and coaching students ask this question. You’d think people would line up for free photos, but often that’s not always the case, especially if you’re JUST starting out.
So, below I’m going to share some tips and tricks I personally used in order to find photography clients (whether paid or for free) when I FIRST started my photography business. Let’s dig on in…
This was the first place I started when trying to find photography clients. I think it’s the easiest and best place to start. Your community is an incredible resource to pull from when first starting your business, whether it’s your college sorority, your church, friends from your gym class, or even your book club. You know more people than you think. And 9 times outta 10, the people you ask to shoot will be SUPER excited to not only help you out, but get some really great photographs in exchange. Along with that, it’s even more fun to photograph people you already know, thus making it an even more fun experience for the both of you.
For me personally, my community helped me IMMENSELY! When I first started my photography business, my church community caught wind, saw talent and started hiring me to shoot their family sessions, engagement sessions, and eventually weddings. But I FIRST started out shooting a couple of those sessions (I called them practice rounds) for free. Something REALLY great about photographing people within your community when you’re first starting out is it allows you to feel more comfortable.
I know when I shot my first wedding, it could have been a SUPER stressful day. Instead it was an amazing learning experience. My first wedding I ever shot was when I second shot with one of my close friends for another close friend’s wedding. When you’re shooting around people you know and trust, it makes you feel a whole lot more at ease.
The last thing I’ll mention about photographing close friends and family in your community to start out, is that if the session is free, you have more flexibility in setting the scene and look of the shoot. You get to pick the location and YOU can help choose your friend’s outfits in order to curate a shoot that looks exactly like the style you would want people to book you for. Don’t forget: people will hire you based on the type of photos you show.
This was one of my FAVORITE ways to find photography clients when I first started. When it comes to this app, you HAVE to get comfortable messaging friends of friends, and even strangers. You probably WILL get rejected once or twice. And that’s okay. It’s part of life. But let’s be real here… it’s pretty exciting reaching out to random strangers. For me personally, I either did Couple Calls on Instagram or straight up reached out to photograph strangers asking if they wanted a free photoshoot, in which they eventually became some of my best friends.
I especially used Instagram as a tool to find photography clients when I was strategically trying to set up a shoot in a destination location. It’s nice to use your community in your own hometown, but if you’re wanting to set up a session in another state you don’t live in, and don’t know anyone in, it becomes a little tricker.
We’re getting a little stalkerish now, but stay with me. 😉 Start by looking at Geotags on Instagram for the specific location or city you’re wanting to shoot in. If you search for a specific location in Instagram posts, you’re able to see hundreds upon hundreds of results. Start searching through profiles of people who have used the Geotag in the location you’re wanting to shoot, and browse their profile. If they look like they’d be a perfect fit for your shoot, reach out and send a nice message asking if they want to model for a free session you’re setting up.
You can do the exact same thing by searching through location specific Hashtags on Instagram too. Figure out what hashtags people are using who live in the town or location you’re wanting to shoot at. And shoot them a personal, genuine DM introducing yourself and asking if they want a free photoshoot.
Another place you can search to find potential photography clients for paid or free photoshoots are specific facebook groups that would be pertinent to what you’re wanting. The first place I started looking for potential clients was local town or city facebook groups. Check on Facebook and see if your city has a local facebook group for the people who live in that city, or even more specific local facebook groups for different types of people in that city.
Examples: Kansas City Ladies Meet Up Group or Kansas City Book Club. While specific groups like that might not have anything to do with photography, if the group allows you could still ask people in that community if they want a free photoshoot to help you grow your business.
The other kind of Facebook Group I used when first starting my business was actually Photography Facebook Groups. These can be either local or even general photography groups. Other photographers understand the challenge of portfolio building, and are usually more than willing to get photos themselves and help fellow photographers out. No matter what Facebook Group you’re using, make a post sharing who you are, what kind of shoot you’re planning, and if anyone would love to model for you in exchange for free photos.
Wedding photography can be one of the hardest niches of photography to get portfolio work in, because typically people aren’t super willing to give a complete newbie a shot at shooting one of the most important days of their lives. The exception to this rule is couples who are on a very strict budget and will choose you over their uncle with a camera. The downside of getting portfolio when you’re first starting your wedding photography business is that the types of couples willing to have you shoot as a beginner probably aren’t the type of couples who are planning a higher end wedding that will give you photos that will attract other higher paying couples to book you. Again, we’re in a catch 22 situation. Enter: second shooting.
One of the BEST ways to build your portfolio as a beginner wedding photographer and find photography clients is to reach out to other photographers in your town asking if you can either assist them on a wedding day OR second shoot for them on a wedding day. If you’ve NEVER shot a wedding before, I’d personally start by asking to assist for free just to purely get experience, serve that photographer, and see what wedding days are like from a vendor’s perspective. (It’s a LOT different than from a guest’s perspective, I’ll tell ya that haha.)
As you slowly start building relationships with other photographers by assisting and second shooting, as well as setting up your own free styled shoots using the tips and strategies above (or a more in depth blog post HERE), you’ll start getting work in your portfolio that will help you market your own wedding photography services.
We’re now moving onto the categories in this list that are more for paid shoots, instead of free shoots. Once you’ve built up a bit of a portfolio, where can you start sharing your work to find paying photography clients? If you have the cash in your marketing budget to do this up front, advertising on wedding websites are an excellent place to get clients if you’re a wedding photographer specifically. The most popular ones you can pay to advertise on are The Knot and Wedding Wire. These sites are popular wedding websites that MILLIONS of couples use to plan their big day and search for vendors. Talk about some SERIOUS exposure.
It’s a wonderful way to get recognized by potential clients. This route isn’t for everyone; if you don’t have it in the budget or if you’re trying to attract an ideal client that doesn’t use these sites to plan their weddings (think more adventurous elopement couples) then it might not be the route for you. It’s still worth mentioning as an option, and it’s one I used when I first started my photography business.
This one is a hands-down MUST in order to find photography clients. If you’ve created a website, you want to make sure you’re doing EVERYTHING in your power to direct clients to your website through SEO, search engine optimization. In layman terms this means Google or other search engines judge whether your website is trustworthy, valuable, and relevant enough to rank you high on specific search topics that you fall under. So it’s important to be able to utilize and build that precious SEO so YOU are the site that comes up when people are searching for a photographer in your area. Here are a few easy ways to get started.
Decrease the file size of all the photographs on your website. This one is IMPORTANT for photographers because our sites are FULL of images. But Google won’t rank your site high if it takes too long to load. Remember, Google wants to show their clients (anyone searching something) the BEST sites for their search and a site that takes forever to load doesn’t make Google look good. So one of the best ways to make sure your site loads fast is to export your images for web view, which is different than the file size you’re exporting your photos for your clients. Your photos going on your website should be no larger than 72 ppi (pixels per inch) and 1500 in width. A wonderful tool to make your file size even smaller without detracting from the quality of your images is Jpeg Mini.
The next thing you should absolutely do is rename all the photographs uploaded to your site to keywords and phrases. Do NOT leave the photo names as IMG_1339. For example, if you’re a Hawaii based elopement photographer, name your photo file as hawaii-elopement-photographer.jpg. Name each photo on your site a variation of keywords and phrases people would be typing into Google to find YOU. Some more examples could be Oahu-Wedding-Photographer.jpg and Honolulu-Elopement-Photographer.jpg, etc..
Overall, starting your photography business is a journey. There are some hurdles to overcome at the beginning when it comes to getting people in front of your camera and finding photography clients, but it is absolutely possible. In no time at all you’ll be growing your photography business and rockin’ your shoots like a pro! If you found this blog helpful, another resource you might enjoy is my business marketing podcast, The Heart & Hustle Podcast! We publish episodes twice a week, every Tuesday and Thursday on all things business, entrepreneurship, Photography Tips, Social Media Marketing, and SO much more. Come hang with me on the podcast right HERE.
If you liked this post and want to learn more about growing your photography business, I have another post that walks you through finding your ideal client right HERE.
Lindsey Roman is an intimate destination elopement photographer turned business educator, podcaster, and entrepreneur based in Florida. Her heart beats for teaching creative entrepreneurs branding, marketing, and social media strategies, while empowering them to own their God given gifts. She loves outdoor adventures, spicy food, and a good game of Catan just as much as she loves teaching women to be all God made them to be.
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