Standing Out – How to get your work seen as a photographer
Photography as an art form and potential career has grown in leaps and bounds in recent years. With technological advances, accessibility to high quality equipment and endless platforms to showcase our work, never more so than now is photography almost everywhere we look.
Saturation is a big word being thrown around these days within the industry. Is there too much saturation within the world of photography? Is social media creating a crowded market? Are we getting to the point where it’s difficult to break into the industry?
The answer is yes. But, that’s okay because there’s also a huge demand for creative content and so many opportunities and entry points to begin working as a photographer if you know how to firstly, create a niche and secondly, stand out. I believe this so called saturation is in fact pushing photographers to work harder and create fresh content in order to compete which not only does themselves a favour, but the entire industry gets a boost. Plus, I like to think photographers are a friendly bunch so the more the merrier, right?
It’s an exciting career because it’s endlessly challenging and constantly changing.
So, how do you stand out as a photographer with SO many other talented people out there? Let’s expand on some thoughts below. I’ve also noted tips throughout my ramblings that have helped me throughout my career.
These are the key points I’ll be discussing below…
- Work Hard (obvious, but essential)
- Find Your Own Style
- Be Creatively Adventurous
- Create Supporting Stories + Captions
- Share Differently + Plan Original Strategies
- A Checklist of Questions to Ask Yourself
This may seem totally obvious, but I think in order to truly stand out you need to adjust any ideals you have of ‘being a photographer’. Just taking good photos isn’t enough anymore, it’s about challenging yourself to create something unique, to get skilled, and produce professional results. Success means something different to everyone, for some of us, success in photography can mean getting published and seeing our work in magazines, for others, it’s about selling prints and one day having a gallery. For you, it can also mean receiving praise and perhaps having your work in an exhibition.
Your goals and path in photography are unique to you, consider them and work towards them.
One thing a lot of photographers starting out will quickly realise is that to build a business within the industry you need to work hard; really, really hard. It’s not a safe and structured career path with benefits and a comfortable salary. Sure there are exceptions but more often than not it requires a lot of effort to create your own success and in order to stand out. Something I’ve found after working as a professional photographer for the past 17years is that the work never really ends, it grows and this something you need to spin into a motivation that drives you to keep producing high quality imagery.
Some elements that come with working as a photographer include continually developing a professional skill set, acquiring equipment, building your own website, marketing your own work, pitching for jobs, developing ideas, editing images, creating a social audience and engaging with not only other photographers but also networking with potential clients.
It’s essentially your path to carve which is both super exciting, and daunting so I really believe that the more work you put in, the more success you’ll have.
Something I remind myself when I think things are too stressful is that as a photographer I’m not an ER doctor saving lives, and aren’t working 9-5 in a dreary office but, in order to stand out as a photographer and build a successful business, you still need to hustle. It means being comfortable spruiking your services, showcasing your work and believing in yourself that what you’re creating, is beneficial and worthwhile to someone.
Read more about ‘How to Get Started as a Professional Photographer‘.
Find Your Style
When it comes to standing out, a lot of it will come down to your style and how you interpret a scene. Developing your photographic eye is one of the essential steps towards creating a stamp that says ‘I took this’ which in turn makes your work more obvious and appealing because it’s fresh or unique.
Two photographers can stand in exactly the same place with the same equipment and still capture entirely different images because of how they compose and see through the lens. It’s not a matter of what camera you have or how long you’ve been photographing for, it all comes down to vision and creativity.
With social media enabling us to be inspired by millions of photographers around the world, it can be tempting to copy a certain style because its popular, or to repeat a pose or visit a particular destination but instead try to think outside the box. Use what you see as ‘popular’ as inspiration and add another element or refreshing take on somewhere or something that’s been photographed a billion times.
Getting back to how photography is considered an art form, I find sometimes people get so swept up in trying to get more likes on Instagram or perfecting a particular textbook technique that they forget to put their own beautiful twist on the image. It can be moody or colourful, photoshopped wizardry or naturally highlighted scenes, whatever it is that you want to bring to the photograph to help it stand out, give it a go.
You might hear crickets the first time to share it, but if your style is true to your photographic vision and is what you want to create, keep pushing.
Creative Courses + Resources for Photographers: If you’re interested in discovering your creative vision and building a portfolio with the aim of finding work as a photographer, The Wandering Lens now offers self-study courses, eBooks and Workbook Bundles. The online courses and downloadable workbooks can be accessed at any time, from anywhere in the world – it’s about creating accessible resources to help you in your photography career. The bring together over 17+years of experience and lessons from working in the industry. I want to see others share their talents and get published, sell prints, find clients – to have the confidence to achieve whatever it is you want to within the field of photography.
A Creative Vision Story –
I’ll use a personal example…back in 2009 I had the idea of photographing brides underwater in their wedding dress. Not in a trash the dress, washed up mermaid kind of way, but in an elegant, flowy underwater dream scene that was romantic and showcased the bride amongst the underwater world. It took me months to convince a real bride to swim for me (understandable since wedding dresses are expensive ha!) and even after sharing the shots online it was still difficult to gather ground on the concept.
Then I printed my favourite image from the first shoot and displayed it in a huge frame in my gallery so that all potential underwater brides could see the result in person and I could talk with them one on one about how the experience would unfold. I found that despite having developed a unique style, I still needed to personally explain it because at first glimpse, most people would still think it was too difficult to achieve or that they couldn’t swim well enough to take part. After doing this repeatedly and building a portfolio of underwater wedding images, I was able to build this area of my business and ended up taking this concept around the world working with various clients and then developed it further into split-level landscape imagery and ‘The World from The Water’, something I still focus on today.
I’ve shared this example because it’s not always clear cut that capturing what you believe to be an amazing shot is enough. Sometimes you need to find another way to showcase your vision, to get the message across that you’re trying to portray within the image. Whether it’s a message about conservation, culture or simply just beautiful light in a stunning destination, knowing how to help your viewers understand your vision is important.
Read more ‘How to Creatively Compose Travel Images’
Be Creatively Adventurous –
Get brave and a little adventurous not just in where you go, but what you photograph. Try new styles, experiment with new techniques, teach yourself how to use your camera more creatively.
Those who succeed in photography are constantly learning.
There’s no magic pinnacle that you reach and are suddenly successful enough that you don’t need to adapt or try anymore. It’s an exciting career because it’s endlessly challenging and constantly changing.
I love to keep a list of dream locations or jot down random thoughts I have relating to creative ideas. It could be that I’ve just seen a photo of somewhere beautiful online, or a scene in a movie inspired some wacky thought but try to take note of your wild ideas because they could just be crazy enough to work.
By the way, when I say be adventurous, I also mean be safe. My partner likes to say I’m a cautious adventurer because when I’m travelling solo I rarely go off into the woods at night or even wandering solo to capture astro at night…heck, I check the weather forecast every 30minutes and map my trip because I’m a total travel geek. But the point I want to make is, it’s not worth standing out if it means jeopardising your safety.
No amount of photos standing on a ledge above a canyon will make you the most famous photographer in the world. It’s scary to think what some people do in order to stand out and I just wanted to write this little message to assure you that you can be safe and successful.
Create stories to support your work
Now this is something not everyone likes to hear but sometimes, you need to tell more of the story behind an image. I know from analysing my content, that readers of The Wandering Lens love to hear about behind the scenes, and it’s something I also love reading from other photographers.
You could share one of the best ever photos taken of the Eiffel Tower but to most people, it will still just be an image of the Eiffel Tower. What makes it different? Why did you capture it this way?
Sharing on social media enables you the opportunity to pair your image with a caption and engage your audience by incorporating more of the scene in words. Tell them how taking that photo made you feel, what the mood was like that day, were there any funny moments that happened? Do you have some behind the scenes video you can share?
Adding a little personality to the words supporting your photography can really help you develop an audience and reputation. Even if you don’t fancy yourself a journalist or creative writer, you may be awesome at telling jokes, capturing short videos or see the world through sarcastic goggles. Whatever it is that comes to mind when you took that shot or are writing the caption, share it and see what the results are.
But everyone calls themselves a photographer?
Sometimes I hear people worrying that if everyone is calling themselves a photographer, it’ll bring down the level of professionalism within the industry but you know what, I think it helps boost it. I recently read something really interesting lately that stated the closer people get to calling themselves an expert in a creative industry, the lower they’ll rate their ability. In contrast, someone just starting out who has purchased a big, brand new camera may rate their ability really highly because they haven’t yet realised how much work and skill is involved in becoming a successful professional photographer.
It’s all a learning curve and one that is both relative and personal. If you put ten professional photographers together, even five, I can almost guarantee that each one will have a different story as to how they got started, and how they make their business work. This I find, is what makes having a photography business exciting and challenging, there are so many avenues and it’s more than possible to carve your own path and call yourself a photographer, whatever that means to you.
Getting caught up in the negativity of social media, comparing yourself to others and worrying only about numbers and followers is not the way to move forward. If you know someone who got a new camera and is starting to sell their services, support them. Even if you have years more experience and know their work isn’t totally up to professional level, their clients will be a reflection of that so you’ve got nothing to worry about and I highly doubt their services will impact your business.
Competition within the photography industry can be both healthy and a little nit-picky so in order to stand out, pop on some glasses and look the other way while you get busy working on your own strategies and making magic. I love getting involved with relevant hashtags on social media, it helps you find a niche group of people who are either using the same equipment or have similar interests. For example, I photograph with Olympus gear so am always tagging @omsystem.cameras and using #OMSYSTEM when sharing images…it not only helps them get seen but inspires other photographers and can lead to unexpected friendships, photography adventures or just some lovely conversations.
Almost everyone who wants their photos to be seen has an Instagram account or some kind of social media presence which is fabulous. In fact I wrote about the 6 Best Apps for Travel Photographers and also the 6 Best Social Platforms for Photographers but I also know social media isn’t for everyone. There are thousands of successful photographers who work in the industry who don’t have a big social media presence. More often than not they’ll be working as editorial photographers, in advertising or print media and can’t share a lot of the finished campaigns anyway but sometimes it could just be that they’re finding success elsewhere. They’re sharing differently and finding their own space to shine in.
There’s no golden rule that says you HAVE TO be on social media. I personally think it can hugely benefit your work if you do it right but there are so many other avenues available to photographers to get their work seen and to stand out.
What’s to stop you publishing your own mini magazine?
Could you create a PDF booklet of your work to send to clients?
What’s to stop you from renting a space and hosting your own exhibition and inviting hundreds of people along?
Who says you can’t put a creative idea together and pitch it to me for publication on The Wandering Lens?
Even just creating your own website and sharing your work online in your own way will give you a platform to showcase your work. I did it, so there’s nothing stopping anyone else.
A Little Ask Yourself Checklist
When curating your own work and deciding what images to share or even which ones to capture, ask yourself these questions…
What’s my intention with this shot?
What am I hoping to showcase within the frame?
How can I add a creative element to the image?
Is there something that makes it unique to my vision?
Will everyone like it? Only kidding…I added this because I know it’s what most people will ask themselves naturally.
Get Involved: If you’ve got any questions or want to share your photographic story or social media account, feel free to do so in the comments below! Since it’s all about standing out, why not use the comments to share a link to your favourite image…
Also, I was totally serious above so if you believe your work stands out and you want to pitch a story idea to The Wandering Lens, feel free to send through in an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, I’m always keen to hear from other photographers with creative ideas so be sure to also include a link or zip folder of your sample images.
Keen to Continue Reading?
The Art of Storytelling with Photos
How to Build a Portfolio as a Travel Photographer
Creating a Photography Website and Print Store
Hello! I’m the founder and photographer behind The Wandering Lens.
With 17+yrs experience as a professional travel and landscape photographer, all advice found on this site is from my personal experience on the road. I hope it’s useful for your own travels and would love to hear in the comments about your trips and experiences around the world.
October 25, 2018 at 4:08 pm
So much YES to this! I find self promotion the hardest but know it’s something I should try and get more comfortable with. thanks for sharing 🙂
Lisa Michele Burns
October 25, 2018 at 4:10 pm
Don’t worry I think self promotion is a struggle for most people! I know I always doubt whether or not my work is good enough but if you can find a tiny bit of ‘who cares I’m going for it’ attitude in there, it’ll go a long way! If you’re sending an email, try and click send before you second guess it and read over it a hundred times haha.
October 25, 2018 at 5:13 pm
how long was it for you to get your first job as a photographer or did you always work freelance?
Lisa Michele Burns
October 25, 2018 at 5:17 pm
I was working as a journalist when I first got some photos published in the local newspaper but I then took a summer job photographing dolphins and activities on an island resort which helped me learn quickly about settings. I’ve still got a clipping of my very first photo feature that was published when I was 18 in Woman’s Day magazine from a trip to Vietnam…it was even before I decided I wanted to be a photographer and I got paid $25 🙂
October 25, 2018 at 5:14 pm
Cool article cheers.
Lisa Michele Burns
October 25, 2018 at 5:17 pm
October 25, 2018 at 5:31 pm
This is perfectly timed for me. I can say yes to a lot of this. I am trying to find my niche, trying to get something unique and at the same time have a reason to share my images. My blog contains the stories behind my images or more info about the wildlife, but I still feel it is all a bit random and pointless. I think I just need to keep plodding along and see what evolves. Social media is my demon in the whole thing. If I could walk away from it forever I would!!!!
Lisa Michele Burns
October 30, 2018 at 8:45 am
Don’t worry Suzanne, it can feel like that along the way for sure and you’re not alone in wishing all those hours spent on social media could be put towards something else…like living haha. Wildlife photography is a great niche to get involved in as it’s still a field that’s relatively specialised. Best of luck 🙂
October 30, 2018 at 8:41 am
Another inspiring read! Yours was one of the first photography blogs I ever came across, and it’s stayed on the list of ones to keep up with. Thanks for sharing.
Lisa Michele Burns
October 30, 2018 at 8:45 am
Thanks so much Hannah, always love hearing this from someone as talented as yourself!
November 1, 2018 at 3:04 am
This is a very inspiring article. I have found a new favorite photo blog.
I’m always looking for a new way to see things and this has given me some more ideas. Like most I struggle with self promotion and doubt. I recently moved to the print world and its lookin’ good so far.
Lisa Michele Burns
November 4, 2018 at 5:28 pm
Thanks Marc, great to hear it was helpful! Exciting you’ve moved toward the print world…are you selling prints or do you mean working in editorial photography?
November 26, 2018 at 6:56 am
Great article, thank you!
January 24, 2019 at 8:23 am
I really appreciated what you said about calling yourself a “photographer”. You are right, there are some many “photographers” now with social media/instagram, but I love that you support those who are at all stages and that it helps raise everyone up. I hope to get to your stage at some point! 🙂
March 15, 2019 at 6:31 am
It’s looks very beautiful and you share a use full tips in this post. I will definitely try this. Thank you Lisa
June 24, 2020 at 12:59 am
Thank you for sharing so much knowledge Lisa!
I found you web searching information to become a better photographer and create a career out of it and I have to say that I am truly thankful for all the information that you are sharing. On some occasions, it is hard to find honest, direct and useful information and this is something that you have achieved.
I started working on my photography skills a bit more seriously about 2 years ago and I am constantly looking for new things to improve. I realised that you touch many subjects I am interested on and I kept reading and reading through your web for a long time. Great tips!
You support is truly appreciated!
Lisa Michele Burns
June 28, 2020 at 2:30 pm
That’s so wonderful to hear! Best of luck on your photography journey, there are so many ways to branch out, change things up and try to find a niche you can develop your work within. Thank you so much for your kind words and I wish you all the best!
June 25, 2020 at 10:45 am
What’s my intention with this shot? That is something I have never asked myself. I’m been a casual photographer for about ten years, and have never gained any type of “traction” for my pictures. Now I’m looking for reasons why. I’m starting to think my pictures are just simply “snapshots”? On a whole I really enjoyed this article, but … “intention” was the best part. What am I doing with my shots and why? Photography isn’t really about taking pictures, is it? Or is it? At times I have no idea lol. Cheers!
Lisa Michele Burns
June 28, 2020 at 2:28 pm
Love this response! There are always so many questions we can ask when assessing a shot, I find it definitely helps improve ourselves as photographers so it’s definitely worth asking!
Photography Business - What Skills You Need to Become a Photographer
June 29, 2021 at 5:26 pm
[…] written about this topic before here, ‘How to Stand Out as a Photographer Today’, because it’s a continually changing answer as both technology and the industry evolve. […]