The last year might have been a challenging one, but over the past months, we’ve seen photographers pivot their businesses and market their work in unexpected, creative ways online. For example, Dina Belenko released a book filled with creative at-home photo tutorials, while Ryan Longnecker sold new signature presets, and Jovana Rikalo offered fine art photography workshops.

Having a website and social media presence has always been important for photographers—whether you’re a fine artist or a portrait shooter—but 2020 has underscored the possibilities and potential of marketing your work online, from growing your audience to elevating your business. As you set new business goals for the New Year, here are our top tips for cultivating an online presence.

Build a stellar website

Of course, it all starts with a website. While social media is essential, your photography website is your home base—a hub for all your work, channels, projects, and information. The best portfolio websites are simple and optimized for desktop and mobile, with clean layouts that let the images speak for themselves. They’re also personalized to suit the photographer’s vision and aesthetic. 500px portfolio websites are ideal because they’re easy to use, navigate, and update over time.

Create educational content

This year, as many pivoted to online learning, photographers shared their skills—and diversified their incomes—by releasing educational videos, PDF guides, blog posts, and more. Think of ways to engage your audience and provide them with something they can’t get elsewhere; it can be as simple as posting a how-to on social media or as complex as publishing an eBook available for download. Maybe you create an email newsletter that goes out every month.

Whatever you choose, draw on your unique skill set, whether it’s retouching expertise or film photography know-how. For example, the photographer and filmmaker Junior Asiama has multiple online workshops available, ranging from tips for selecting models to information on editing for different skin tones, while Angela Perez has a free workshop on building a photo set on a budget. You can provide these resources for free or set up an online shop, depending on your preference.

Give a peek behind-the-scenes

As the rise of TikTok and Instagram Reels have taught us, today’s viewers crave behind-the-scenes content from the artists they follow. Don’t be afraid to reveal your personality and show your followers what a day in the studio looks like for you. While your website and main social profiles can be devoted mostly to highly-curated photos, you can use quick videos, Live shows, Stories, and more to give people a closer look into how you work.

Participate in online communities

Local, national, and international photo communities can be found all over the web, from Facebook discussion groups to curated Instagram feeds accepting submissions. Many even meet up offline, when it’s safe to do so. Depending on the group, you might use them to network with other photographers, connect with potential clients, or cross-post your projects. Ask questions, and follow artists you admire.

The 500px Resource Hub is a great place to start, whether you’re a consumer or creator. Through this new hub, photographers can list their educational resources, presets, blog posts, articles, videos, workshops—you name it—for others to browse. As a Pro member of 500px, you can publish unlimited resources, as long as they’re photo-related.

Post consistently

You can’t be active 24/7 on every single social media platform out there, so choose two or three that work best for you, and commit to sharing regularly. The web is all about fresh, new content, so set up a posting schedule that works for you. Online tools like Planoly can help you choose the best times and plan your feed in advance.

While consistency is key, try to avoid posting only for the sake of posting. Everything you share on social media should represent your best work, so if you haven’t shot anything great one week, dig into your archive for something inspiring, and share the story behind a shoot you did in the past. You can also engage your followers and help build a sense of community by asking questions or commenting on the work of other photographers.

Share work you love

Of course, you can also share photos created by other artists you admire on social media (with permission!). Throughout the years, we’ve seen photographers do “takeovers” of one another’s feeds to promote new projects and connect with new audiences. We’ve also seen photographers team up to create curated social media feeds or newsletters, where they share top submissions on a regular basis.

Though not a photographer, the world-renowned designer Stefan Sagmeister often posts follower submissions on his Instagram feed, where he offers quick and insightful reviews. It’s unexpected, and it gives you a sense of the person behind the work, while also helping to build a larger community.

Pitch your work

Once you’ve built up a strong portfolio, consider reaching out to the editors of your favorite photography blogs or websites, as many will accept submissions from photographers. Your submission will vary depending on the site and its requirements, but in general, approach an editor with a clear idea of the story you want to tell.

Maybe you submit a new series of images for them to feature, or you submit an educational blog post you wrote. Make your pitch personal to the editor or publication, and don’t get discouraged if you don’t hear back right away; there might be another publication interested in promoting your work.

Write down your goals

Building an online presence can seem daunting, but it can help to break it up into smaller, more manageable goals. Instead of “I will gain 100,000 followers this year,” maybe your goal is “I will post three new photos a week” or “I will pitch my work to three websites this month.” Get specific about where and when you’ll post, and write down a monthly plan. As with any business goal, it’s important to be realistic—the more goals you reach, the higher you can set the bar going forward.

Give back

Marketing isn’t just about selling products; it’s also about connecting with people who support and admire your work. One way to connect with your audience on a deeper level is through a flash sale or giveaway, perhaps of a limited edition print or photo book. Post the details online, and encourage people to participate by sharing or commenting. Everyone likes receiving something special in the mail, especially these days.

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