Marketing as a photographer is more than just showcasing your portfolio. There are many places for you to market your brand like social media, emailers, print mailers, etc. Wherever you are marketing, you’ll need content to go with it. Our instincts are to show portfolio-worthy content but, there is a huge benefit to being real with your audience. This is when behind-the-scenes come into play. While I regularly struggle to keep up with developing my own content, I wanted to share some of my experiences and what has been helping my company as well as other photographers I work with.
Sharing Your Process
Let’s be real here, people are nosey and like to live vicariously through others. Behind-the-scenes content can give you the opportunity to educate your new potential clients by sharing your beginning-to-end process. Think of how great it is to have an experienced client reach out to book you. By producing content like this you are priming your future client to understand how you work before you even know they exist. You will be setting some expectations through your messaging and so it’s important that you are communicating something that is sustainable in your business. If you can easily meet their expectations then you’ll likely exceed them with a little extra effort leading to top-of-the-line customer service and a long-lasting relationship.
I’m sure some of you are worried… “But, if I share my process, then my competitors will know how I do everything!” Sure, some of your “competitors” will pick up skills and ideas from you. They may improve how they run their business because you inspired them. But, the question I purpose to you is “Why would that be a bad thing?”
I personally don’t believe in competition. Everyone is unique in their own way and even if they have your beginning-to-end workflow, they will always be missing the “secret ingredient”… YOU. They will never be able to replicate what you do. For your own benefit, I challenge you to remove the idea of competition from your mindset. The more you help and inspire other photographers to do better, the industry as a whole will benefit from it. Why do you think publications like AP Almanac exist?
Higher Engagements Than Photos That Take Hours to Edit
I know we have all spent hours editing an image only to post it online and receive little to no engagements. That can feel really defeating. A few years back, I got my assistant to capture images and videos of me working on set and collaborating with clients. Not only was this a great way to keep them occupied when there wasn’t anything for them to do but, I was able to build a large library of content to pull from in a pinch. Once I started posting this work, I quickly realized that every post would receive more likes, comments, and DMs than an image I spent 3+hrs editing. Pairing this with a valuable message would outperform anything I ever shared. Typically, I’ll provide a story about the shoot, tips, and other valuable information about myself, my business, and processes. These posts are so versatile that you can literally talk about anything and not feel restricted to write about the image itself.
A few ideas for messages to go with your image:
- A challenge you experienced and overcame on set
- Your relationships with your clients
- Your process and workflow
- The gear you love and why
- Your personal journey in life and your career
- Shout out to your team members, contractors, clients, etc.
- The weather… whatever you want!
The list of what you can write about is endless. The visuals are more just a way to capture your audience’s attention. Keep in mind who your primary target is and write a message that will resonate with them. Remember, social media should only be a small portion of your marketing so use this content throughout the rest of your strategy.
Before & After Retouching
In most cases, we capture and edit our own images. That means you are no longer just a photographer but, also a retoucher. If you want your clients to understand how much post-processing goes into an image it’s up to you to show them. Your clients only see what happens when they are around and there is often a ton to fix in post-processing. Many properties that we are contracted to shoot will have poor lighting design, mistakes by contractors, damage, dirt from kids, garbage, cars, power lines, and the list goes on and on. Even experienced clients don’t realize how much work is done at this stage.
There are many ways to share this content depending on the platform but, here are a few that have worked for me:
- Carousel posts showing the after image (first) and then the before. You can add markups to your before image if you want to draw more attention to the changes or just let the viewer play a game of “spot the difference”.
- Before and after image sliders on your website
- Retouching timelapse to a cool tune. (This is a personal favorite because I have many clients who know about a magic button in photoshop that seems to fix everything for me… I still haven’t found it though…)
- Before and after reels of a full project or a portfolio
- Before and after GIFs
Get creative and try to be unique with your presentation. It is guaranteed to “wow” your clients and your online audience.
Behind-the-scenes content can reinforce professionalism by showing how you treat your sets, clients, and the gear you use. This doesn’t mean you need to have “high-end” gear in your visuals to communicate that you are a pro. You could show how you use trash bags to flag off light and it will communicate that you are a “creative problem solver”. Your problem-solving skills are a greater asset than having top-of-the-line tools. Don’t stress about not having certain gear, you’ll get there. I managed to build my business for years without a tilt-shift lens, a shitty travel tripod, and a few flashes. No client ever complained. Be patient, you will grow with some clients and outgrow others, it’s the circle of life… and yes, I did just reference the Lion King.
People want to know what you are like in your element. That is truly where you shine as a creator so, let them in, show how fun your sets can be or how you collaborate with your clients.
Easy Content Creation
Most photographers I talk to struggle to keep up with the frequent demand to post regularly on social media. It can seem like a full-time job because you are always having to develop content on your own time. It is a powerful tool but, the platforms treats us as content creators first and don’t really care about your business. The expectation is that you fill their platform with powerful content so that THEY can keep making money. While this content can lead to paid work, you make the most money by getting out there and shooting. So the goal is to get as much usable content out of the work you are already being paid to do and challenge the algorithm of the platform.
Tips for quick content creation:
- Have your assistants shoot content of you on set and quickly edit it to go with your style. Keep it real and raw which will make it easy to batch edit everything in a couple of minutes and export it to a behind-the-scenes folder for that year.
- When creating a retouching timelapse, I’ll run OBS (Open Broadcaster Software) screen capture in the background and quickly process it in adobe premiere with a pre-made intro and outro, select my song, and speed up the capture until it feels right. Export and you’re good to go!
- The before and after images are already created when you’ve completed your job. You’ll have a raw file and a master edit file. Export them all at the same time into a folder and pull from them when you need them.
If you keep this up every time you execute a job, not only are your clients paying for you to develop your content but, you will always have something to pull from.
Bonus Tip: Forgot to run a screen capture when you started your edit? Turn off all the layers in Photoshop of your final edit leaving only the background layer on (the original photo), run a screen capture, and turn on each layer one by one so it looks like you are building the shot.
I feel it is safe to assume that many of us don’t enjoy the sales process because we can be forced to defend our pricing. Clients see the invoice and think “You are making $300+ per hour!!” which we know is never the case. You have pre-production, production, post-production, expenses, gear wear and tear, and various administrative tasks to be compensated for with your pricing. Not to mention the value and experience you offer. By inviting your audience to go behind the scenes, you can start to give your clients a taste of what you are actually responsible for. You get to show them who you are, why you do what you do, and how you do it. You’ll be teaching them the many layers that exist in your business and a well-educated client is a good client.
Less Glamour More Reality
There is this misconception that photography leads to a glamorous life working with beautiful people, in beautiful places, and that it’s all fun, ALL THE TIME… we know that is not the case. In my experience, I’ve landed a number of new clients by showing less-than-ideal situations. It shows that you can handle a challenge. I was contracted to photograph two wastewater treatment centers and Toronto’s wet garbage facility on the hottest day of the year in 2021… it was far from luxurious and even after multiple long showers I felt like I was a piece of garbage covered in shit.
Another image that surprisingly generated a ton of work for me was the gas station photo above. Over the years, the feedback from new clients and agencies has been “If you can make a gas station look that good, you’ll have no problem with our project!” It is honestly an image that clients mention more than anything else in my portfolio.
Showing a less conventional image of a property can communicate to your clients that you have the skills and can handle a challenge. Anyone can make a pretty picture when there is a pretty backdrop but, how do you produce in difficult environments? You don’t get to the top of the industry without rolling around in the dirt a bit.
The moral of all of this… Behind-the-scenes content allows you the opportunity to educate your audience. Through educating, you are positioning yourself as an expert in your field. The best clients typically want to know that the contractor they are hiring is competent enough to complete and exceed the task. By reinforcing that you are more than capable, it makes your high prices less of a “risk” and more of a “worthy investment”. Many people have no idea what it takes to do what we do and we will all benefit from the world understanding that it’s not just “a click of a button”.