Go on any photowalk, attend any workshop, or just put several photographers in the same room, and inevitably, what happens? Fanatical debate and banter on subjects such as gear (camera bodies, lenses, tripods), workflow (Lightroom vs Aperture, CS3 v. CS4), or philosophical topics (Is photography art?, to HDR or to not HDR, convergence between video and stills) and so on.
Now don’t get me wrong, there is a time and a place for all of these topics. Nevertheless, sometimes we as photographers become so entrenched in our position and defense thereof, that we lose focus (pun intended) of more important matters.
Although we may have entered photography for a variety of reasons, we all enjoy showing our work to others. Show your work long enough (and to enough people), and you begin selling your work. Those of you keeping score at home, those “people” just became your “customers”.
If you thought selling one image took work, remember that a business survives on repeat customers. This means now that you’ve shown your work and made a sale, you really need to target and market yourself to your customers. This is something that takes time, research, and most importantly, focus.
Understanding your customers, knowing your competition, knowing how your customers find you (website, Flickr, Twitter, Facebook, yada, yada, yada) are important components to any photographer who is intent on selling images. Once you understand them, you then have to develop a plan to market yourself and your work (yes, those were intentionally separated) to your target audience.
You put time and effort in to selling your work, and you get a repeat customer (or a new customer, it really doesn’t matter) who is interested in purchasing your work. Hooray! Those of you seasoned folks know this, but for you new to the selling game, let me let you in on a secret… the aforementioned customer does not care what gear was used to make the image, what post processing steps/tools you utilized, or whether you think HDR is good or bad. Customers buy prints because of the emotional response they have to your work. Plain and simple.
Have you ever lost a sale because you didn’t shoot with a 5D Mark II or a D700? I didn’t think so. The gear and the process (and even the philosophy) are nothing more than tools you use to make your work. To put it another way, a hammer is a hammer is a hammer. What you use the hammer to create is what is important.
I am not trying to assert that these heated debates are not without merit, quite the contrary. However, I will take the position that too many in the photographic community spend too much time defending their position and attacking the other side. Countless hours are lost to the defense of topics, which from the customer’s perspective, do not matter.
Photography is not an easy business. There are more and more talented people picking up cameras every day. This means your competition is rising. As you find your niche and continue to market it, remember, that if you do not take care of and continually target your customers, someone else will.
Better to spend the discussion ferver on your customers and remained focused.