Marketing for Photographers, Part 2


Here are additional insights from friend and CSB AB Photo co-faculty member, Emi Pascual.

Marketing for Photographers, Part 2.


Marketing for Photographers, Part 2

Here are additional insights from friend and CSB AB Photography co-faculty member, Emi Pascual

This is a well-written piece on Marketing. But please allow me to share some key insights that most professional photographers have failed to do.

1. It begins with a clear understanding of your personal/professional brand: who you are, your values, your personality, brand truths, what you promise to deliver,and what you stand for.

2. Your product: Your product needs to be remarkable. Because no marketing tool or social media buzz can replace a remarkable body of work.

3. Have a keen understanding of your target market – their interests, what they look for in and what they hate about photographers. As an exercise, perhaps you may want to take a look at the type of photography that they use and see where you can add more value.

4. While all the marketing tools are available, one needs to look at the combination of tools that works for him/her. There is no such thing as one size fits all – not one tool works, but a combination of tools. Thus, you may have the most fantastic looking website, but you need to develop a strategy that will drive traffic to your website.

Also, professional photographers must understand that there is a huge difference between marketing and selling. And this could be another topic for your blog.

Marketing for Photographers

I asked for topics to write for this blog, and landscape photographer, Jay Jallorina, answered “Marketing!” He raised these questions: “I’ve been reading a lot of marketing for photographers stuff but I don’t know if much of it is applicable to our setting here in the Philippines or if agencies/clients are still receptive to marketing practices by photographers.

Perhaps a case study of actual steps that a new professional can do to market himself/herself, in the context of the Philippine market. Things like creating portfolio books (are they still relevant?), cold calling agencies and asking for an opportunity to present your work and skills (can you still do that today?), and so on and so forth.”

Marketing – now that’s a challenging topic.

There are many resources, printed and online, on “Marketing” and even specifically on marketing for photographers. Therefore, expounding on this topic requires more than a blog – so let me address the specific questions that Jay brought forth on our Facebook group, Business of Photography.

I used to teach “Marketing Strategies for Photographers” at the College of Saint Benilde, which is the only school that offers a full college degree on photography, so allow me to share what I have learned, not only in the last seven or eight years of teaching, but from being in the business of photography for the last forty two years. Incorporated in my answers are lessons that I have learned from fellow teacher, Emi Pascual ( as well as from author/photographers’ consultant and friend, Selina Maitreya (

Jay asks “…if agencies are still receptive to marketing practices by photographers?”

There are many ways that photographers market themselves and their services, and as long as they use the most appropriate approaches relevant to their target audiences, then I would say a resounding “Yes!”

The paradox of today’s marketing scene is that today, technology has given us many channels for reaching our target markets, but it gets more and more difficult to connect, as well as stay connected with them.

In the old days (we started Adphoto in 1973), professional photographers were fewer. We approached potential clients mostly through referrals and cold calls. I used to carry around John’s portfolio in an inexpensive clearbook. The more expensive and more impressive leather portfolios with acetate sleeves were not available then. (I will write another blog to reminisce about the old days!) But once we made the connection, and made a favorable impression on the clients and creative directors, then we could wait for the phone to ring. Marketing simply meant keeping the relationship warm through phone calls and personal visits.

Today, I see impressive websites, social media posts and campaigns, events being sponsored or attended by photographers. Digital portfolios – in CDs, DVDs or thumbdrives are given away. Glossy magazines feature photographers. Since the introduction of digital printing, it has become possible to order a few copies (versus the old days’ expensive minimum run of 1000 copies for offset printing) of fancy brochures or photo books – so that many portfolios are no longer in cheap clearbooks. And if you want them in expensive and impressive portfolio cases, they’re available, too.

When projects need to be done, clients and ad agencies no longer just go to their old reliable “supplier,” but search for the photographer whose works are similar to the project that they are conceptualizing. Or they could even design a campaign based on something that they’ve seen a photographer present. While in the old days, photographers were marketing themselves, today, they have to “sell” their visions.

And while there were maybe fewer than 50 photographers vying for jobs four decades ago, today, we don’t even know if there are 50,000 photographers? (Am I over- or under-estimating the number of professional photographers?) The current situation makes it even more imperative, and difficult, to not only stand out, but to be perceived as the only one capable of doing the project. Now, if you are indeed the only one with the capability, ability, facility, expertise, vision and style for this particular job, but somehow you failed to let it be known, then this is your marketing failure. It is often said, “Talent is not enough!” You can’t expect clients or customers to be knocking at your door if they didn’t already know about you and where to find you. The question to also ask is, where would they be looking? The Internet hosts “showrooms” from all over the world, and is open 24/7. Is that enough? Not really, you have to design your website so that you can be found, and search engine optimization is another ballgame.

But is Internet presence enough? Probably not. After clients have found you on the Internet, and contacted you, how will you keep them exploring the possibility of working with you? Will your marketing or sales people be able to answer their inquiries, show more samples of your work, appear friendly, accommodating, competent? Will your office and studio elicit confidence? Will you?

The process could be reverse. It is entirely possible that someone with whom you have worked with has referred you, and now the prospective client would like to check out your online credentials.

In short, as a professional photographer, you would have to explore the many, different channels that you would need to reach your potential clients or vice versa (your potential clients reaching you) – and your marketing efforts should not neglect any of the appropriate marketing channels. Many photographers are all over the Internet, and give out impressive brochures and flyers, but fail to develop their face-to-face, interpersonal communication skills.

How ideal – but also how expensive – to cover all possible grounds and paths! Since resources are limited to even the best of us, we need to do some planning. Who are we targeting? What’s the best way to reach them? What can we show that would interest them? How can we best demonstrate our capabilities, style and vision? With the resources that we have, what are the best marketing tools to employ? What kind of timetables are we setting? Have we given our marketing efforts time to bring us positive results? How do we assess that our marketing strategies are reaching our target markets? If they are not, what is our Plan B? Plan C? How do we measure our success? Is this where we want to go, or do we want to change directions?

As I wrote earlier, marketing strategies is a broad topic, and I do not presume to cover the grounds with this short article, so let me leave this topic for a while, and answer another specific question from Jay.

He asks: Perhaps a case study of actual steps that a new professional can do to market himself/herself, in the context of the Philippine market. Things like creating portfolio books (are they still relevant?), cold calling agencies and asking for an opportunity to present your work and skills (can you still do that today?), and so on and so forth.

In class, we require graduating students to have their printed portfolios (as well as digital), and encourage them to set up their own websites, photo exhibit or get published, preferably with an article on themselves and their photography, and not as incidental photographers. These are the initial and practically mandatory steps. We also have a contest on the most creative but least expensive ways of promoting themselves. So far, the most inexpensive suggestions and most creative system of distribution are going to a bookstore and finding books that would most likely be looked at or bought by prospective customers and inserting one’s business card in those books, and offering one’s best images to be sample prints during trade shows on photography or graphic design or printing. With full and prominent photo credits of course. And arrangement to be allowed to take home those large prints. We have another session on portfolio presentations where they actually present their portfolios to an invited art director, editor or curator. In another session, they present their list of target clients. So these are the actual steps that new professionals can do to market themselves in both the local and international markets.

Are portfolio books still relevant? I would say yes to that, and probably more so today. Anybody can put together a digital portfolio, but to go through the more demanding process of printing a portfolio – that takes some confidence. Since printing is expensive – especially when photographers choose to print large prints (there are 11”x14” portfolio cases at Fully Booked, and I have seen students print spreads) and have them done by a high-end photo lab, photographers will have to be really choosy. This strict selection of what should be printed challenges the photographer to raise his standards.

I have been told by friends in the industry that they feel a higher sense of authenticity when handling a portfolio of prints, than digital portfolios. Viewers tend to think that images are really the presenting photographer’s and not ripped off from the Internet (Note: of course, there is no such guarantee but maybe this impression is the result of the photographer’s going through the additional hurdles of additional printing expense and the requirement for higher-resolution files needed for printing). Plus, it’s a more tactile experience.

Jay also asks: “…cold calling agencies and asking for an opportunity to present your work and skills (can you still do that today?)

Unequivocally, again, I say “Yes!” and my thoughts on this on are on

One last thing. Marketing is not only when you are starting, or when business is down. Even when you are busy and well-sought after, it is important to have a marketing program in place. It is more difficult to renew your marketing efforts when you have gotten out of the range of your clients’ radar. You have to be top of mind, or ideally, the only one in the minds of clients, customers, agencies, art directors, editors, curators, buyers – not once, but as often as possible.

Your questions and comments are most welcome.

Instant Pricing

In a lecture that I prepared on pricing, I listed about twenty factors to consider – client’s requirements, your expertise, equipment, facilities, direct costs, indirect costs, invisible costs, desired profits, your availability, client’s expectations, your competition, urgency of requirement, added values, variations, how quickly you can shoot, how quickly you will be paid, how much you like the job, how pleasant or difficult it is to work with this client, how many people will review your images, how much time they would take, how you will submit your work, whether or not your client is VAT-exempt or Zero-VAT and a few more.

However, one young photographer who was in a hurry told me that he is not ready to analyze all these factors. He had neither time nor data, and needed a quick way to decide how to price. His potential first client was waiting for his quotation.

Reluctantly, I put aside my lecture notes to tell him the following:

1. If you are in a real hurry, or you have not kept records of your expenses, and you can’t compute your cost of doing business, you just might want to call a few competitors and ask how much they charge. You may or may not reveal who you are – that’s up to you. When we were starting, I mustered enough courage to approach an esteemed competitor, and he very generously shared his rate sheets with me. I will always be grateful, and I’m glad to say that after more than four decades, we are still friends, but that’s another story.

2. Pricing-to-wish-for happened to a friend who is a wedding photographer. The father of the bride-to-be, who happens to be a photography-hobbyist, was interviewing and screening photographers. Here’s how the conversation went.

Father of the Bride-To-Be (FOTBTB): “Do you have a ________ (fill in the blank with the latest model, most expensive camera that you know).

Photographer (P): “Is it important to you that I have a _____________?

FOTBTB: “Of course. I want only the best for my daughter. The latest and best camera now is a ______________, and the photographer at my daughter’s wedding must have a ______________. Well, do you have a _____________?

P, without blinking an eyelash while actually lying through his teeth, said, “Yes, I have a _______________!”

Convinced that he (the FOTBTB) had found the most worthy photographer, the conversation continued – about requirements, fees, photographer’s availability, details of the wedding, etc., and at the end of it, the FOTBTB and the P shook hands. Done deal! The FOTBTB signed a check for 75% of the wedding coverage. Unknown to the FOTBTB, the photographer had tucked in the cost of a brand new __________ in his price.

The photographer then bought himself a brand-new _____________. He did the work, submitted his photos, and collected the final payment.

Then, at the next meeting of his camera club, he brought his _________, which was slightly used (only one wedding), not only to show off but also to raffle off. For the price of one ticket, in a limited edition raffle, his camera club co-members could have a chance to win the still shiny, almost brand new camera. And that is how the photographer doubled his take on the latest, most expensive camera model, ___________. ☺

3. This is a tale of two photographers. Their wives usually handle sales and do pricing (well studied, consistent, and based on the formula Expenses + Profit = Price), but because cellphones now allow clients to directly call their favorite photographers, they did.

One such client called a photographer to ask him to quote for a project. He described his requirement but while the photographer was still thinking of a price to quote, his assistant barged into the studio and said, “Excuse me, Sir, but the water pump broke down.” The photographer said to the client, “Excuse me for a moment,” covered the phone with his hand and asked, “How much is a new pump?” His assistant named a price, and the photographer signaled him to wait. He turned back to his client on the phone, and gave the same price. The client agreed to the quoted price, and the photographer gave the thumbs up sign to his assistant. It turned out that his client was delighted with the unexpectedly low price.

On the other hand, the second photographer’s computer could not do the job at hand, and he needed to upgrade to a newer, better model. When asked how much he would charge for a job, he gave the same cost that the computer store quoted to him. He also got the job, and he was thrilled that he could have such a high quote (something he was unused to) approved.

4. Super Whopper. I attended a talk on pricing, and the speaker was a portrait photographer. Unlike advertising photographers who have to customize quotes for customized projects, portrait photographers have published rates for pre-described set ups. She advised that if you have a low, medium and high rates, offer also what she calls a “Super Whopper.” A lot more expensive than your high rate, but with a lot of bells and whistles. It just might work for some of your customers. It did for her.

5. One advice that I hear photographers – not account or sales people – say is this: If you don’t like the job or you don’t like the client, charge higher. This way, if you are feeling miserable while doing the project, then you can be consoled by the fact that you will be earning more than your usual rate.

Photographers who can laugh at themselves laugh when they hear these stories, (being told among themselves and understandably, not in the presence of clients). However, I still hope that they would bring out their business records, sit down in front of their computers and seriously study their numbers for proper pricing, because photography may be fun, but pricing is a serious matter.

As for the young man in a hurry, he was happy enough with the advice to just ask his competitors. He did not even have time to digest the other stories.

What Do You Do with Profits?

What do you do with profit?

Some business questions are easy to answer.

What do you do with a job? You do it.

What do you do with a vacation? You enjoy it.

What do you do with a bill? You pay it, or you collect it – depending on whether it is a payable or a receivable.

But what do you do with profit?

Most people who are new in business think that profit is to be fully enjoyed or spent. After all, they’ve worked hard for it, and they deserve to treat themselves to the “fruit of their labor.”

I’ve seen many young photographers, especially freelancers working together on a project, split up income and profit, and after they do, they themselves split up – each to look for other jobs that would either bring them together again, or to do on their own.

What do you do with profit?

I’ve learned that the answer is: To save some, to invest some and enjoy some.

Save some. A fund must be set aside to provide for contingencies, like a slump in the business, extraordinary losses or unexpected expenses. It will help the business tide over difficult times.

Invest some. Like fertilizer to a plant, a business grows when additional investments are poured into it. The fund – derived from profits and specifically set aside for future investments in equipment, facilities, developing human resources and expanding the reach of the business – especially when initial capital was little to start with can be culled from past profits to ensure the company’s future growth.

Enjoy some. You all know the proverb, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” You, your employees and your family may resent your work if all there is to your business is working hard and working long hours. Spend for timely and appropriate breaks for you, your work team and your family. They will resent it even more if you kept the profits only for the business. In fact, if your business is a corporation, the government will penalize you for keeping more than the allowed retained earnings. Your company is required to distribute dividends to your shareholders or to re-invest in your business or both. So, do enjoy and share some of that profit.

Should profits then be divided into savings, investments and enjoyment in equal proportions? Generally, yes, but they may be carefully adjusted to favor one or the other, or one fund may borrow from another, from time to time as needs arise. Just be sure a plan for paying back, and for restoring equalized contributions, is in place. Save some, invest some and enjoy some and you can ensure that profits can contribute to the growth of your business and yourself.

Invisible Expenses

I learned that a seemingly simple business formula is actually far more complicated than it appears. Expenses + Profit = Price.

Profit is a figure to play with, sliding it up and down depending on how we assess the demands of the job as well as the clients’ receptivity to our cost estimate or quotation. I’ve read that profit is like an elevator that we mentally compute going up or down. We decide to get off at a certain floor when we decide on a certain profit level to add on to expenses, as we hope then that client will meet and welcome us at the floor that we selected, ready to sign on the dotted line. It is not a simple add on amount, but a fluid one that must be balanced between our need to make a profit and our client’s budget (which may or may not be known to us) or on clients’ perceptions of the advantages we offer over our competitors’.

But what about expenses? There is a formula for arriving at the cost of doing business, but this formula can only be used when a business person (and all professional photographers should learn to be business persons) meticulously, dutifully and faithfully list down all expenses. That should be easy enough if we prepared vouchers and required receipts to help us monitor expenses. But are vouchers and receipts enough?

I may be going into something that could be a cultural thing. From what I know of typical American families, 18-year olds are expected to support themselves. Parents may pay for college education or students may get student loans, but they are expected to be self-supporting by working part-time or full-time, while they are still studying.

On the other hand, we all know that Filipino families tend to pamper their grown children, often supporting them financially even after they have graduated from college. Many continue to support their sons and daughters – and Westerners would be shocked to learn – even after they have gotten married.

This is not a social treatise on cultural differences between Filipino and western families, but just a short intro on why “invisible” expenses happen in the business of photography in the Philippines.

Okay, let’s explore this topic. What are these invisible expenses that do not get recorded and do not get factored in the formula “Expenses + Profit = Price.”

Suppose you’re a fresh grad, and you’ve decided to become a professional photographer. Your parents would like to help you get started, so they let you set up your studio in an apartment or condo unit that they own. They’ve also decided to let you use one of the family cars, one that you were allowed to drive to school. They’ve bought you a camera and a basic lighting set because you majored in photography in college, and they were required equipment at school. Basically, your business is being supported by what my daughter refers to as “Parents, Inc.”

You’re not paying rent, and the camera and lights were gifts, so you did not record any expense for rent or purchase of either item. In fact, your parents were so thrilled that you had a photography project to do right after graduation, that they lent you members of their household staff to assist you. Since you did not have to pay your assistants, you did not record any expense for them, either. You did record the expense for food delivery, which included lunch for you, your client and your assistant.

Your bid was lower than your competitors, and you got the job. You made a sale, but did you make a profit? Since you did not charge your client for what you considered to be “non-expense” items, your price was lower than your competitors’ bids – but stop and think a while – did you just allow your parents to subsidize your clients, when they meant to subsidize you?

Accounting books may not mention “invisible expenses,” but they are real. Analyze your operations and learn to identify your invisible expenses.

To be on the right track towards a financially rewarding business – especially in photography – stop making Parents’ Inc. a sponsor of your clients’ projects.