Photography: Getting your work seen in a Saturated Industry
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?
It’s an exciting career because it’s endlessly challenging and constantly changing.
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?
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…
Work Hard (duh, 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
The viral ducky who just wanted a biscuit but ended up being Insta famous.
This may seem totally obvious but I think in order to truly stand out you need to smash any ideals you have of ‘being a photographer’. Just taking good photos isn’t enough anymore so whether you believe being a successful photographer means taking tonnes of photos and having lots of clients, or that it’s simply receiving praise for your work on social media, it’s important to work towards your own idea of success.
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 14years 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.
I’ve shared the image of the duck above and as the feature shot because this little ducky went viral in a big way and at the time I had no idea that it would. When I photographed it back in 2015 I thought it was super cute and shared it on my Instagram account. People loved it, I sold some prints and it got shared a handful of times but jump forward to 2018, this little cutie went viral. I shared this image for one of Instagram’s weekly challenges which had the theme ‘WHPcolorpop’, the @instagram account shared it to it’s 250million followers and within 24hrs, the image had amassed more than 1.5million likes and I had a crazy amount of private message requests…a little too many creepy ones for my liking! Anyway, that story is just to say sometimes you get lucky and the more you put your work out there, the more chances there is this will happen to you. Actually, apart from this shot doing the rounds regularly on social media, nothing else has really come from that Instagram exposure so I’d also just love to say that it’s important to diversify your photography work, definitely don’t put all your eggs in the social media basket and work hard to develop a number of income and visibility streams!
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.
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.
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. Okay, mumma Lisa out.
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.
A Sample: Publish blog posts or extended captions to expand your creative vision.
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 @Olympus_Au and using #olympusinspired 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.
Because sometimes photographing with a group of friends is much more fun! This image was taken during my Japan Photo Tour in 2017.
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 email@example.com, 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.
Hello! I’m the founder and photographer behind The Wandering Lens. With 14+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.
I'm Lisa Michele Burns, a professional photographer and founder of The Wandering Lens from Australia. Welcome to your guide to photographing the world, improving your photography and scouting unique and inspiring places to experience with your camera. Click here to start exploring popular guides + articles. After four years online, The Wandering Lens has turned into the leading publisher of photography focused travel guides!