Marketing Strategies for Photographers

by Carolyn Edlund

Photographer’s representative Maria Piscopo has written a definitive guide for marketing photography. She shares insights for improving your own business.


Photographers Guide to Marketing and Self-Promotion by Maria Piscopo


In her newest (and Fifth) edition of The Photographer’s Guide to Marketing and Self-Promotion, author Maria Piscopo provides clear and thorough direction for selling in different markets, and taking advantage of opportunities. I spoke with her recently about this new book and her recommendations for photographers who want to increase sales and their income.

Artsy Shark: Could you share your best advice for photographers who are looking to improve their portfolio?

Maria Piscopo: I have a broad ranging view on that! As an art/photo rep for 25 years, I worked with all types of creative professionals. My 5th edition book is for photographers but also applies to art, design and illustration professionals.

Without the specifics of portfolio formats (too big a topic), my advice is purge anything you have an excuse or apology for, add self-assignments (especially ones done for pro-bono projects relevant to your clients) and then add a dash of your personal work. The Portfolio Review programs by PPA, ASMP and APA chapters around the country are very good for getting objective marketing feedback. It is hard to be subjective about your own work.

Artsy Shark: You suggest that photographers approach marketing based on “what they want to do.” How does this work, and how can this help identify a target market?

Maria Piscopo: In one-on-one consultations, when I ask their thoughts on a target market (what they want to do more of) photographers often answer “anything” or “everything”. Those are impossible clients to find!  If you are just starting out or have been in business for a while and are changing direction, then identifying your target market is critical to cost-effective self-promotion.

Too many creative professionals waste time on client jobs “just for the money” so I advise having multiple income streams that allow you to explore different fields. This could mean working as an assistant, doing pro-bono projects, or even getting a part time job when you are just starting your business. In my book, I call this “specializing to become a generalist”. This means your client gets the “specialist” they want and you get to have lots of different income streams or marketing messages.

You have to explore until you find the “want”, the satisfaction of the creative process, the stuff that makes your heart soar. I can see this in an artist’s work, so I am sure that clients can also see it and that is the person they want to hire. Though client research is not easy, it is simple once you know what you want to do more of because the “who will hire you” is much more clear.

Artsy Shark: Many photographers get started with the idea of selling retail to consumers, especially online. What do you recommend as the most important elements of an effective website?

Maria Piscopo: Since I am usually the “marketing maniac” in the room, I would start with the most basic professional photography marketing website and hosting service (you can always add premium features later). Evaluate and weigh the customer service, ease of using templates and uploading images, the flexibility of different features and shopping cart options. In my interviews for the book, the two most common complaints I hear about these companies are the deficiency of template flexibility and lack of 24/7 customer service.

Artsy Shark: What resources do you feel are most helpful to photographers who want to research various markets?

Maria Piscopo: I think I have two chapters on this big topic! The short answer depends on the market. For the consumer (wedding/portrait) photographer, it is usually word-of-mouth referrals but I think the best pro-active resource is the “retail connection”. That is to find a business already selling to your market.

For example, a wedding photographer connecting with a wedding planner or venue. The connection works best when you have a trade of equal value, e.g. they trade their opt-in customer mailing list for your prints to hang in their office. It is a win-win. For the commercial photographer, I believe the best resource now is buying databases that have already pre-qualified photography buyers.

Artsy Shark: What suggestions would you have for photographers who are selling their work and want to build repeat business?

Maria Piscopo: Great question since repeat business is less expensive in marketing time, energy, attention and money. From my years of work as an art/photo rep and interviews for my monthly Business Trends column, I would suggest any (or all) of the following:

  • Be sure you know what the client really needs (not just what they want) so that they will be the “hero” for hiring you.
  • Be the solution, not the problem. As one of my favorite clients told us, “We hire you again and again because you are always the aspirin, not the headache.”
  • Do your homework. Then on the day of the shoot, stay in close contact with your client for good communication and collaboration.
  • Good relationships are the key to good business. Taking a client out to lunch may be a much better investment than shotgun marketing.


Maria PiscopoMaria Piscopo has been a photographer’s representative for more than twenty-five years. She has consulted, lectured, and written extensively about the business of selling photography. She works with artists, designers, and photographers, speaks at industry conferences, conducts professional seminars and conference workshops, and teaches courses at various colleges, including the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Orange Coast College, and Laguna College of Art and Design.



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