I have met a lot of professional photographers that have challenges making money in this industry. They ask me, “How do you cope? There are a lot of photographers and it seems I’m not getting a lot of jobs…” One of the major issues I feel a lot of us have is, we focus more on showcasing our work for our friends and colleagues to see, and we do not focus a lot of attention on showcasing the same work to potential clients.
One of the marketing tools I have used is EXHIBITION. For a lot of us, at least those based in Nigeria, many times when we hear that a photographer is having an exhibition, are thinking, “Wow! That guy has made it, he is very good” and all that. It actually doesn’t take a lot to do an exhibition. Many exhibitions we’ve witnessed of great photographers here in Nigeria or abroad are situations where someone saw the great photographer and invited him to showcase his work to the class of people that will like it. An Exhibition is a necessity for every photographer, especially when you add the word ‘professional’ to your type of photography. If you are not been invited to have an exhibition, invite yourself.
The exhibition style of marketing has worked for me the most, and over the last few years, we have had at least one exhibition a year. At these exhibitions we showcase our work to the types of clients we like. In Nigeria, we have had exhibitions at the Silverbird galleria, Palms shopping Mall, the Shoprite Shopping Mall, Surulere and even in one of the most prestigious hotels in Abuja.
Deciding the type of clients that you want to reach is probably one of the most important things to consider when deciding to do an exhibition. For our exhibition in Abuja at the Transcorp Hilton Hotel, considered to be about the most luxurious hotel in Nigeria, I decided that I actually wanted to cater for the elite of the society. It occurred to me that the ‘big boys’ came maybe for just a couple of days to have meetings or conferences and paid large sums in this hotel to rent auditoriums or rooms to sleep in for a night or two. These were the people I wanted to cater for, who could pay for the kind of photography I do. Then I contacted the hotel and came to an agreement where we eventually had a 5 day exhibition, and till date it has been the most successful exhibition I have done.
I came to the realization some years ago that many of the people who commented on my pictures on social media were not the kind who would be able to pay my photography fee. I concluded that those who could, mostly did not even own Facebook accounts as they are too busy to even keep one. While I have nothing against social media, you just need to be sure that your online presence and use of these platforms actually results in the kind of income you want. Sometimes a lot of people even thousands can comment on a great picture of yours on Facebook and none will call to hire you for your services. Even with almost 4,000 fans (whom I like to consider my admirers) following my page on Facebook, most of my real clients don’t come from there. Funny? That’s why I decided not to put too much of my energy there. I needed to get to them where they congregate or meet and I wanted to go meet them there with my work. That was one of the major reasons we chose Transcorp Hilton.
So you must map out the reasons for your exhibition and the type of people you want to attend your exhibitions. A good place to start is shopping malls. I learnt this from one of my mentors in the United States, a photographer Rick Ferro mentioned that he holds at least three exhibitions in the major shopping mall in his town every year and these exhibitions account for most of his income in photography. If you are based in Nigeria for instance, places you could contact include Sheraton Hotel & Towers, Eko Hotel & Suites, and the shopping Mall in Surulere (a new shopping mall with a cinema). Others are Palms shopping mall, Transcorp Hilton (this one could be costly; as at 2008 when we had our exhibition it was valued at $1000 a night – “Ouch!” and you had to book for seven nights minimum), luxurious hotels in Lagos as long as the type of clients you want are the ones who visit them.
You could consider even your church youth programs, or if you love children photography, children’s day is good day to have an exhibition. In fact, dates for your exhibitions must be strategically chosen also. I usually ask my hosts when they have the most visits. So having an exhibition in a shopping mall at Christmas, for instance, is strategic. And note that for every exhibition we have done in these strategic places at these strategic times we have covered the cost of our exhibition by the amount of prime clients we get. So without over-stressing it, an exhibition is important to marketing your photography. And you don’t have to wait for someone to come do one for you so, plan one for yourself. We continue this discussion tomorrow.