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August 12th, 2009

AFTER STAFF Group Therapy – What did you do to build awareness of your new photo business?

Posted by liveBooks

We asked a wide variety of former staff photographers the same question, and here’s what they told us. Please share your own stories — as you can see, you’re not alone. Follow the “more” link to see all photographers, and check out Monday’s “Group Therapy” for photographers’ back stories and websites. Click here for a list of all other “After Staff” posts.

  • What did you do to build awareness of your photography and your new availability?

Stuart Thurlkill
I talked with everyone I knew and then went and talked to everyone I didn’t know. I found out what each person’s greatest need was and tried to find a way to fill that need. I made it a point to go everywhere with advertising and marketing material. I worked with some great photographers here in Arizona who gave me a chance to cut my teeth while I built a portfolio. I also built my own flash website. I don’t recommend this unless you have a lot of time on your hands. I also put together a print portfolio and started to shop it around to as many people in my community as I could get an appointment with.

Christopher Record
I would say a strong website is the most important first step for people starting out. I was lucky in that I had worked as a photojournalist for many years, in which time I had assembled a diverse portfolio. I also started doing weddings on the side while working at The Charlotte Observer. I was able to build my wedding portfolio while working full-time at the paper. By the time my wife and I decided to go out on our own, I had already been photographing weddings for six years. The newspaper industry has been going through so many problems and the timing just seemed right to go out on our own. We’ve been lucky that our websites have been able to attract clients from across the country.

Michael Mulvey
I instantly jumped on getting my website together and I happened to use liveBooks. I also started a blog. This allows me to routinely update a photo area with what I am immediately doing at the moment. I joined several associations and jumped into the business end of photography concerning branding, copyright law, marketing, etc. I also started networking and using the various social media sites to get the word out, build new relationships, and keep the ones I always had.

Eric Larson & Jen Sens
We each had portfolios and websites as interns and staffers, even back then. If only liveBooks were around in 1998, I wouldn’t have such disdain for HTML. You really have no excuses now. You can put together a website and print portfolio so easily, and you have to have both to compete as a freelancer. We made the rounds in NYC to meet with editors and art directors (the ones we could get in with). This is crucial since so much of this industry is based on relationships. I was represented by Getty for about four years and that certainly opened some doors and helped round out the portfolio.

Heather Hughes
I invested more in advertising with the more commonly known wedding websites like WPJA and The Knot. I also got to know the coordinators at the popular wedding venues in my area and gave a couple of them wedding albums to show prospective couples along with a stack of business cards. I decided to invest more in my website this year by getting the liveBooks site so I could have the look and feel I wanted. Now I have my work and my husband’s work represented in a way that it presented us, our personalities, and our style better than a template can. So far I have heard rave reviews from everyone that has seen the new site, and although it’s only been live for three weeks, I’ve already gotten more inquires from the contact form than I got from my old site over the course of the whole year.

My meetings with clients are still the same as when I started, we meet at a coffee shop and I always wear a suit and arrive early so I can lay out the albums. They arrive to see a nice visual presentation — which helps make up for not having a studio. I have gotten a lot of compliments from couples on my professional presentation, so besides having more albums to show now than I did in the beginning, I haven’t changed anything.

Nanine Hartzenbusch
First I put together a portfolio-building campaign. Since my work was mostly from the newspaper, I needed fresh images for my website to show clients my child portrait work. I booked 24 mini-shoots over two months and amassed a body of work to build a website, create promotional pieces, and start a blog. When we moved to Charlotte, I emailed everyone I met, carried business cards with me, and donated to silent auction fundraisers. I emailed magazine editors and area bloggers to introduce myself.

Barry Gutierrez
The first thing I did was interview ten photographers that were photojournalists and had moved into the world of freelance. I picked their brains and asked a lot of questions. I have always respectfully learned from those who have gone before me.

The one thing I had done long ago was build a website. So that was in place. Then I 1) I made a business plan. 2) Realized that my name had value because of my service at the Rocky so I named my business Barry Gutierrez Photography. 3) Set up an LLC 4) Opened a checking account 5) Contacted all the people I have worked for and told them I was available. That started a chain reaction (a.k.a. word of mouth). MISTAKE: I paid $2,300 for an ad on a website and I have not gotten one call from it. It was a mistake I made while I was in a frantic rush to get jobs going as the Rocky closed. Word of mouth will serve you best.

Robert Giroux
The scariest thing for me was my portfolio website -– it’s outdated in that the pictures are getting old, the design wasn’t cutting edge, and it has never really been given the attention it deserves. When I was last freelancing, I had more work than I could do so I neglected it. Then when I was employed full time, I continued to neglect it. Fortunately I’ve been around so long and have had prestigious clients, so people hire me on reputation and recommendation more than the merits of my website. That said, I am giving it more thought and attention now and will not let it slide in the future. I have a blog site as well which I find fun and interesting to keep up with… Both will be getting a full redesign in the near future!

Initially I made a lot of phone calls, wrote a lot of emails, and updated my website. The coolest thing, which I thought I would hate but actually am enjoying, is my blog, Hyperfocal, which I publicize on Facebook and LinkedIn. The blog has been more effective than I thought it would be and I like writing it, although I don’t post often enough just yet.

Gary Gardiner
I had a great phone list, many old friends who now were in responsible editor positions, and a few saved dollars for marketing. Built the SmallTown Stock site, beefed up my Web presence, used e-mail newsletter utilizing paid subscription lists such as Agency Access, and personal contact via phone for some possible new clients.

Once I had a solid body of work I was able to return to NYC and visit with editors. I also had a website at a time when most photographers were only showing a book around. The website made it easy for editors to find me. Now it seems like it’s the opposite – everyone has a website and fewer and fewer photographers are printing books. It’s still important to have a book. Andy Curtraro likes to say the website lets editors know where you’re at but the visit and the printed book let’s them know you’re serious. I totally agree.

Deanne Fitzmaurice
I built a website, which that took much longer than I expected, mostly to pull together the photos and figure out what I really wanted to show, which translates to what kind of work I want to do. I got a rep, Frank Meo in NY so we put together a book of prints. I found him on a list of reps/agents on “A Photo Editor” blog which is great resource. I’ve made several trips to NY to meet with editors I want to work with. I am gradually building up a small network of editors I can pitch stories to.

I have consulted with Amanda Sosa Stone and Suzanne Sease on my website/branding, etc. I am working with Agency Access to do a series of mailings to people I want to work with. I’ve entered my work in competitions so the work is seen by top editors and art buyers. I’ve been reading marketing and business books (while I’m on the stairmaster at the gym – multi-tasking) I spend more time reading photography websites and blogs to keep up on what is going in the business as well as finding inspiration. I have generated my own personal stories to keep shooting when assignment work is slow. I am now doing multimedia which has made me more marketable.

Pouya Dianat
This being my first year on my own, having a professional sports team as a client allows me to have my schedule set and concentrate on growth, establishing a new business and getting settled. In the future I might dedicate more time to freelance, but for the time being I’m only doing freelance when somebody reaches out to me. I’m actually not promoting myself all that much, and I’m not killing myself to get work. I think in the long run this will pay off, I’ll end up with a more varied skill set, a stable business, proper accounting, and I won’t burn myself out in the first year.

I was starting to feel a bit cramped creatively by the end of my time on staff. Already having time to grow and expand my boundaries has made me a more versatile visual artist. I work on video if I want to — I don’t have to have a meeting to get permission first. If I want to mess around with macro studio photography (currently doing so), I have the time to do it. Moreso than anything else, I’m making sure that in 2009 and early 2010 I revive my creative side a little bit. It’s not so much about deadlines for me right now, and I’m taking full advantage of that luxury.

A long time ago at a college interview, I was rejected by an Ivy League interviewer…he said my numbers weren’t there. But he also looked me straight in the eye and said that I was the only person he’s interviewed that knew where I was going to be in ten years and that the people who know that are usually the most successful. He also said I was probably wrong about where I would end up, but having an eye on where I’m headed is what mattered. Since then, I’ve always set up a 10-year outlook for myself and worked toward it. As he predicted, that outlook has changed several times, but I’ve never lost sight of the road ahead. I really think taking a little bit of time to plot out where you want to be, what’s important to you, and how you’re going to achieve these goals is really important for the next phase of photography.

Bob Croslin
Getting the word out that I was freelancing in FL and producing unique work was extremely hard. I started freelancing before working for the Times and I couldn’t figure out how to break in and get noticed. I took a staff job at the Times, which afforded me the time and money to figure things out. I was fortunate to have several very good friends who went to work at Corbis during the agency’s heyday, so I was able to get an inside look at how the NYC photo business worked. Networking is the most important part of the photo business, and if you’re not willing to do it, you probably ought to find something else to do for a living.

I went to NYC and sat down with editors at Corbis in 2002, showed them my work, and received great advice for focusing my work. I then went back to Tampa and worked on developing a consistent style and an idea of what exactly I had to offer editors and art buyers. As a newspaper photographer, I would shoot everything from food to college football games. Problem is, I wasn’t able to do it at a consistently high level due to deadline constraints. Jack of all trades — expert of none. Where I started to find my “voice” as a photographer was with portraiture. I was fortunate to work with two awesome DPs at the Times, Sue Morrow and Boyzell Hosey, who pushed my portraiture and understood it was my strength.

David Walter Banks
I strongly believe that there is no one key to marketing yourself, that it’s a conglomerate of lots of things that gets your work in front of the right people. I did build a strong portfolio and have my website in place before I quit the newspaper. I then proceeded to contact certain clients directly to introduce myself and let them know of my availability and where I was based to make sure I had some work to start off. I send HTML emails to a large list of magazine editors and art buyers on a monthly basis to let them know what new projects, assignments, and travel I have been up to recently.

I head up to New York to meet with editors and art buyers to show my print portfolio book and spend time face-to-face on close to a quarterly basis. I also mail out print promotional campaigns to a smaller audience. These are just the start of a long list of things that I believe work as a whole. This list also includes paying for different online portals where my portfolio can be found with links to more work, entering contests, attending conferences, and even more, smaller elements. One of the most important pieces for me has been working on collaborative marketing with the photographers of Luceo Images. With the industry in such a time of evolution and upheaval, I find it important to work with fellow photographers to benefit each other, instead of clinging to the lone wolf syndrome that seems to plague so many creatives.

Jason Arthurs
Most of my business has come through a network of contacts that I built up over the last six years. This includes other photographers, editors, and any other people I met on assignments over the years. I let people know that I was available for more freelance about five months before I left the paper, so I had a stream of paychecks coming in before I was officially on my own. I joke with my friends that I’m always “hustlin’,” whether it’s when I’m out with friends or at another shoot, I’m always keeping my ears open for possible jobs. Another one of the first things I did was revise my website portfolio to attract more commercial clients. I also rewrote my bio to reflect more of a broader scope of my career.


  1. August 12th, 2009 at 11:51 am


    why do you hotlink to your own site here??

  2. August 12th, 2009 at 6:16 pm

    Angel Valentin

    Wow, thanks Livebooks and all the great pros who’ve shared their experiences. I’m learning the ropes in this my 1st, and hopefully poorest, year of my freelance career.

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