Launching your photography business: go from hobby to pro.

October 8th, 2021
surfer paddling out to wave

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​​One of my favorite questions to ask any client-based photographer is “how did you get started?” – I seldom hear the same answer twice. There are so many fun and creative ways to break into turning hobby photography into a business, and then leveling yourself up (if that is what you choose to do with your images.) Finding a client base and how to best serve them, understanding your value, and seeing the big picture are just some of the hurdles photographers have to overcome if they want their work to sustain itself. 

Since there is no “correct” way to tackle these areas among those starting out, I’m always inspired by how different photographers make it work at the beginning, as well as set themselves up for longevity. Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with a photographer who did just that.

blake canas portrait

Blake Canas is a photographer who uses Zenfolio for client delivery. On the surface, his creative approach to gaining new Clients and giving them effortless access to their galleries is the reason he caught my attention. However, as we dove into how he approaches photography as a business venture, I quickly realized that gallery delivery is just a fraction of how he is growing his new business. Blake’s story is a prime example of how there is no right way to become a successful client photographer – as long as you have a camera in your hand and the motivation to make it so much more than just taking pictures.

 

Identifying a need within your client base.

Regardless of whether you have an established photography endeavor, or you are in your beginning stages of making sense of your direction, it all starts with a passion. Blake is a 23 year old ocean based photographer who captures surfers in action through his new photography business, Ocean Air Land. We will get into that shortly, but his trajectory simply started with what he loved doing most: surfing and documenting body boarders and surfers with a GoPro. He felt that if he always wanted pictures of himself surfing, he was sure there were “other surfers in that same boat” and was able to recognize the need for photography in a space that seemed lacking within his local community.

Let’s take that into the bigger picture; being able to identify a market that has the potential to grow but also has a visible gap that photography could fill is the first big takeaway with Blake’s journey that we can all relate to when it comes to getting started as a photographer. Ask yourself: where is the need for a photographer like me? 

For our friend Blake, his answer to that question pointed him straight to the water. Being in Orange County, and a surfer himself, he was able to hone in on his market by educating himself in what was needed for him to be successful in this new found space:

  • The gear 
  • The online presence
  • The education to know what is needed to serve your business and your subjects

These are all key in building a strong foundation for your aspirations as a client photographer, no matter your genre. Gear and online presence are more objective factors, so let’s focus on the third and most important practice: knowing what is needed to serve your clients. As you identify a market, think about how to best serve that market. 

For Blake, it was giving his subjects their images on a silver platter! How could a surfer who is out in the water have time to grab information from a photographer on where to go to find their images? They are too busy catching waves and looking for the next set to think about logging on to a website. To solve that issue, Blake has an incredibly creative way of making client galleries easily accessible to his surfer subjects on the spot. This is the reason he first caught my attention and I personally think it is as simple as it is genius: wristbands. Does it get any easier than giving someone a wristband that has instructions on how to get to their pictures? I’m not so sure that it does! By using wristbands for efficient client delivery, he is identifying what is needed to properly serve these surfers out in the water without putting any burden on his subjects. This is exactly what I mean when I refer to educating yourself in how to best serve the community you serve as a photographer. Understanding their needs is going to make their photographic experience more enjoyable, which translates to more clients…. Which translates to more profits!

surfer in wetsuit riding a wave
Photo credit: Blake Canas

Understanding your value as a photographer.

Quiz time: what is the most important tool as a photographer? Chances are, your answer was your camera body, lenses, or, if you’re a film nerd like me, your favorite film stock. When I pose this question to photographers, those are a few out of many answers I hear back. If you ask me, the most important tool isn’t something that can fit in the pocket of your camera bag, in your car, or on a light stand. No major camera company even sells this! Kind of cruel of me to ask a trick question… But your number one best asset as a photographer is confidence and understanding what you are capable of, especially as you are starting out. This equates to clarity with what is possible with your new business and what is possible with you leading it into new directions! Let’s go back to Blake’s story. As we sat down to discuss how he has leveled up as a beginner photographer who aspires to turn it into a business, we naturally arrived at this subject.

When I posed the question: “What are some things that have helped you level up with your photography?” Blake immediately responded with a clear and concise answer that was far from gear, website hosting, income, or any of those tangible things we photographers feel are roadblocks for our success. He is quickly understanding his value and what he can offer through his services by throwing himself into “any photography element”. To expound specifically, he is referring to experiencing the potential “uncomfortability of any photographic session setting” which helped him not only understand his value, but also the value of what he was capable of; even if it felt foreign initially. You wouldn’t necessarily think an ocean based surf photographer would be well versed in photographing a Sorority house event, would you? Me neither… until we started discussing ways he pushed past his comfort zone to make his own value apparent. That experience was the first of many instances where he went outside what was expected to better understand what he is able to accomplish with his camera in future. What situations have you put yourself in that helped you grow as a photographer? Guess what….. those situations also help you grow as a business by expanding the communities you are able to cater to.

surfer silhouette, cresting wave, young surfers on their boards
Photo credit: Blake Canas

Seeing the Big Picture.

Building your confidence and not limiting yourself leads to personal understanding and growth, which is like fertilizer to your small business plant! Just like most photographers did not pick up a camera for their first time with the end goal of starting a business, your professional photography career could have a completely different goal than it had initially. For example, Blake’s Photo business, Ocean Air Land, started in the water. By not limiting his vision (which would limit his scope of business), he is working to expand his photo work to take on more genres outside of what is in the ocean. So far, this encompasses events, creating a non-profit branch, and contracting other photographers on shores across the U.S.A. 

His picture is much larger than what he sees on the shore of his hometown break; which is what I also encourage you to do! Try not to think about what is possible today, but more so what could be possible if you open yourself up to new opportunities – whether that be with new genres, new locations, or new business practices. Water (and fertilize) that plant!

Ocean Air Land, as well as Blake’s disposition towards his capabilities as a small business photographer, is a fantastic example of just what it takes to level yourself up from being a hobbyist to being something much more. If you leave this with only three main takeaways after hearing about how Blake has formed (and is still forming) his vision for what he wants his business to look like, I hope they are: 

  1. Finding your market
  2. Asking how to best serve that market
  3. Giving yourself the space to see just how far you could go 

I can’t wait to hear how you use these to inspire your vision for your own business! 

For more inspiration, check out Blake’s work through Ocean Air Land online at the links below.

Website: oceanairland.net

Instagram : @oceanairland_

TikTok: @oceanairland

Along with being a Zenfolio customer success team member, Richard is a film portrait photographer. Richard’s experience includes wedding studios and portraiture studios. Richard owned and operated a community studio and darkroom in South Carolina. Richard says, “My passion is not only photography, but also helping others in being successful with their photographic endeavors.”

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