These are crazy times. And as panicked as the might feel right now, there will be a time very soon where you realize that there’s nothing you can do but put your nose down and get some work done. As much as it’s hard not to be able to go out and make photos, this crisis allows us to find time to do the type of photography housekeeping that makes any professional successful. This is something we all neglect. And this is the perfect time to take care of those things in our photography business that we neglect.
As I said at the start of this crisis, we can either sit on twitter and stress about the world, or we can hide away indoors and work on a project we were previously too busy to take care of.
I’ve split these categories into 3, not necessarily on skill or talent level, but more along the lines of where a certain photographer might be in their business.
For example, even though I’m a professional photographer, I still need to work on things in all three categories.
Get Camera Comfortable
Getting “camera comfortable” is one of the most underrated skills of photography.
What this means, essentially, is getting to a place with your camera that you could operate it in the dark, and without thinking too much. Being camera comfortable means that when you encounter an image out in the world, you can capture it. Getting your camera settings twisted to the way you need them really quickly is really important.
I used to play a lot of video games in University, and I always describe getting camera comfortable in the same terms. When you play a video game, it starts you off only pressing 1 or 2 buttons. Then over time, it progresses you along to more complicated moves. Eventually, you don’t even think about the buttons you’re pushing, you just do them.
The same thing happens with cameras.
How to Get Camera Comfortable
It sounds silly, but just walk around your house taking pictures. Keep your camera on you all day. If you see an image you want to take, take it. Go from taking a photo in your dark room to taking a photo out the window into the daylight.
It’s all about practice.
Don’t focus so much on the actual photos you make, but more so the speed at which you can get the camera set right.
Then, when you think you’re getting good, turn the lights off and try to manipulate every button. If you can handle your camera in the dark, you’re there.
Build a Website
I’ve always been a huge proponent of having a website. In fact, I really don’t think I get to where I am now if I didn’t start a website back in 2010. My business just wouldn’t have survived without one. And even if you’re never planning on operating a website, it’s good to have for your portfolio, blog, or to sell images on.
How to Build a Website
You can buy domains at basically any website host. I used to recommend Host Gator. But, honestly, I haven’t built a WordPress site in ages, so I’m not sure what’s best anymore.
The tech-savy will likely head somewhere like WordPress because they want full control over their site. My website is on WordPress.
But, if you’re looking for a more simple way to build a website really quick and easily, SquareSpace is the go-to for photographers and creatives. It’s fairly easy to do. In fact, when Thomas Heaton and I were building our website for our Antarctica trip, we used SquareSpace. We built our entire site in just a couple hours.
Create a Portfolio
A portfolio isn’t just important for business purposes, but just as a collection of your favourite images. I’m a firm believer that every single photographer should have a portfolio. It’s a great tool for teaching yourself the art of selection. And from a business perspective, it’s the best way to showcase your best work.
How to Create a Portfolio
I think the easiest websites to make a portfoilo are SquareSpace and SmugMug. But, I’m also a big believer of self-hosting. So, you can do it yourself on a self-hosted WordPress site.
The step of getting the website is easy. Selecting the images is hard.
For me, I think a portfolio shouldn’t include more than 12-20 images. But, you can also have sub-categories. For example, you might have your main portfolio. Then, you might have your landscape, portrait, and street photography portfolios. Each of those might also have 10 images. You might also make destination portfolios.
And, for what it’s worth, this isn’t only a beginner’s project. This is one I need to take on again. And, it’s one that every photographer needs to constantly refine.
Build Social Media Platforms
Most probably have a series of social media profiles. But, if you’re starting a photography business or looking to build your brand, you might need to start new ones on platforms you’re not really active.
For photographers, I think you need to be on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Sites like YouTube, Pinterest, and TicTok are also extremely valuable.
Give Yourself a Photography Challenge.
I’m a big believer in photography challenges. If you’re stuck in isolation, finding a project indoors can be fun. Maybe try photographing your family members. Or, if you have pets, work on your pet photography.
Another cool example of a photography challenge (although it’s more of a business) comes from my buddy Jeff Bartlett. Jeff has offered his photography skills in a way that maintains social distancing.
What he’s doing is offering “front porch portraits”. The idea is that he walks up to someone’s house and photographs the family or friends that are isolating together standing on their front porches. It’s clever, and I think the photographs will be a really interesting reminder of the times we’re living in.
Play with Macro
This might sound crazy, but there is no better way to truly understand depth of field than playing with macro photography.
It’s also something totally different to what most people do. But I always say that the best way to grow in your field of photography is to try something totally different. Street photographers and landscape photographers alike can learn a lot from doing some macro photography.
Best yet, you don’t need to buy a macro lens. You can buy a set of macro extension tubes to convert basically any lens to a macro. I always have extension tubes in my camera bag, as you never know when you might resort to a bit of macro.
Organize your Lightroom Library
Being stuck means that you have the time to catch up on your housekeeping. I think most people have messy Lightroom libraries when they start – myself included. In fact, my Lightroom library was a total mess until earlier this year when I made a concerted effort to get it organized.
It’s not fun, but it will make your life a whole lot easier once you do get back to photography and editing.
I think that the single best way to improve your photography skill is to have your work critiqued, and have others critique your work. It helps you see the flaws in your own images, and it teaches you how to look for things that might be wrong in other people’s work.
Best part? You don’t need new photos to critique. Heck, you don’t even need to be the photographer to look in on other people’s critiques. You can learn a lot, too, just from looking in.
We often do critiques in my Facebook community.
Make a Photo Book
I think it’s really important to print your work. Somehow, seeing it in physical, non-digital, form, makes it feel more real. It also helps you see that there is a massive difference in how things look on a screen vs in print.
Moreover, it really helps you learn the art of selecting your favourite images.
Refine your Portfolio
People forget that making a portfolio isn’t something that should be done once, and left. Photography portfolios are in constant need of refining.
Personally, I use Lightroom to refine my portfolio. I give images 1 star if I want to keep them on file, 2 stars if they were good enough to edit, 3 stars if they were good enough to share, 4 stars if they are a “destination portfolio” image, and 5 stars if they’re a part of my portfolio.
To explain, I only have 12 x 4 star images from each country. I only have 12 x 5 star images of all my images.
It’s so important to keep a refined portfolio as it keeps the quality up. If you have 100 images in your portfolio, it’ll be judged by the average of all the photos. If you take that same 100 and refine it to 12, it just brings that average up.
Submit to Microstock
If you haven’t been uploading your work to microstock photography sites, now might be a good chance to apply to join a couple. Or, if you’re like me and it’s been about 3 years since you last uploaded images to micro stock, it might be a good time to get caught up.
And yes, I know that it’s a bit demoralizing seeing how little images sell for on microstock, but believe me it adds up. Even though most image sales are only 33 cents or so, due to the high volume of sales, I have single images that have made over $1000 worth in sales.
Refine a Pitch
Ok, so you might not be into the business of photography. But that doesn’t mean that you might never be. If you’re bored, it might be a good time to sit down and write a pitch. What I mean by that is write a 2 paragraph written pitch that would explain to a potential client what you do, and why they might want your services. The art of pitching is so important. It’s not usually the best photographers that are successful, but the ones that are the best at selling themselves.
Start a Blog
I can’t stress this enough, blogs are huge for business.
Having a blog allows you to build another way for people to find your work. Google is the world’s biggest search platform, and it’s not even close. People search things like, wedding photographers in my area, and landscape photography guides, like crazy. You can reach them by writing a blog that focuses on your expertise. Practicing good search engine optimization techniques could lead a lot of people your way.
Photograph your Pets or Family
You might drive your family members crazy, but if you’re looking for a subject to practice a skill on, they’re as good as anyone. Practice using flash, or natural window light. Practice macro using their eyes. Practice anything.
And if your family members don’t like it, hopefully you have a pet.
Find an Agency
Honestly, this is a terrible time to pitch photo agencies. Most of them are struggling right now and probably not looking to bring on new photographers.
But it might be a good time for you to search out a bunch of different rights managed agencies that you might want to pitch your portfolio to when it’s all done. That way, when this is all done you can give it a couple weeks and then you already know who and where to pitch.
Clean up your Social Media
Social media can get messy. You just tend to lose track of things like your branding, what links you’re using, and what design you’re going for.
Take this time to go through your social media and check your banners, your profile pictures, and the links you’re using. Have a look through your bios for grammar, spelling, and redundancies. Clean things up and minimize the content.
Build a Business Plan
Funny story, most photographers don’t have a business plan. I used to be included in that. Then, about 5 years ago I sat down and built one out. I was tired of scraping by and living in debt.
I thought about the various streams of income I could potentially draw from, and built income goals and profit projections. I made a timeline of when it was all going to happen. And, I made a list of goals for my business.
I think this is when I transformed from being a person with a camera, to being a business and a professional photographer.
Add a Social Media You’ve Been Neglecting
Social media is a time suck, there’s no doubt about it. But, the reality is that most of us have a lot of extra time right now. So, now might be the time to try your hand at some of the social medias that you might have neglected for a while.
I hear lots of people saying things like, “I’m not on Facebook/Twitter/Etc. because I hate it.”
But, that’s fine as a person. But if you’re looking at yourself as a business, you need to use all the available platforms – at least to a minimum. The social medias you should be using are: Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. There’s an opportunity on TicTok too. I’ll get to that.
Try TicTok? Huge opportunity.
I get that most of you probably think TicTok is an app for kids who like to dance in front of the camera. But, I personally think there’s a massive opportunity for photographers to get known out on the platform. There are a handful of photographers already doing things like photography hacks, smartphone photography, and quick portraits. But, there’s a lot of room for others.
The accounts I’ve seen doing photography, are all gaining thousands of views, and some have a couple hundred thousand followers.
Am I there? Yeah, but I don’t post that much (yet). I’m brendanvanson.
If you haven’t done a lot of it, now is a great time to refine your printing skills – or at the very least understanding what makes a good print photo.
It’s amazing how different work looks printed vs digital. And, I think it’s so important if you’re planning on selling prints at any point to print things out and do a thorough critique of your own printed work.
Do an Online Photo Workshop or Course
While you might have to wait a bit to join one of my photography tours, there are actually a lot of photography courses online. Most of them are fairly easy to follow video courses. There are courses on photo editing, organization, the business of photography, and everything in between.
You can, obviously, also use the school of YouTube to learn your photography.
And of course, when this bit of isolation and social distancing is all said and done, you might want to join me on a trip! If you do, feel free to sign up for the newsletter below to get information when new tours arise.