Lines of Sight

The business side of photography

Toronto Photographer: 416-540-5494

Are your customers wide and flat or narrow and deep?

If you chase every type of customer, you can end up not knowing which way to turn. Wedding customers, family portrait customers, high-school seniors, social event organizers, business headshots, real estate customers, retail web sites, consumer publications, corporate customers, commercial customers, academic institutions, etc. Who gets your attention? Everyone?

You want as many customers as possible but do you want your customers to be wide and flat or narrow and deep?

Having a wide and flat customer base means that you do many different types of photography to appeal to anyone and everyone. This type of customer tends to make only occasional or relatively small purchases.

A narrow and deep customer base means that you do certain types of photography that appeal to a specific type of customer. Customers in this category tend to make more frequent or high-price purchases.

Changing sides

A flat customer might sometimes become a deep one. For example, a company that hires you for the occasional business headshot might start to use you for all their other photo needs. This will happen only if they think you can meet those needs. But there are two caveats:

1) Narrow and deep customers seek narrow and deep photographers. To rephrase that: when big-money photography is needed, customers will look for expert photographers rather than a jack-of-all-trades. Expert photographers tend to charge more and the customer expects it.

2) You will never “graduate” from low-paying to high-paying jobs for a particular customer. The economic level at which you start your business relationship with a customer is usually the level at which you will stay. So if your flat and wide customer decides to become deep by hiring you for more work, they will expect the same pricing as before.

Narrow it down

Your number one job is not to make photos but rather it’s to make customers. A small photography business doesn’t have the time or resources to chase everyone.

A common metaphor is the sales funnel.

If you think photography is a numbers game then you need to make your funnel very wide to catch as many potential customers as possible. You go wide by shooting anything and everything and/or by charging relatively low prices.

But if you think that you can’t provide all photo services to all customers then you would make your funnel narrow at the top. Target only specific types of customer. You would try to market yourself as the photo expert for these specific customers. You would also have higher prices because (i) pricing is one way to make your funnel wide or narrow, and (ii) experts are expected to charge more.

Retail photographers often try to develop a deep customer base, for example: wedding photography, baby pictures, family portraits and high-school seniors. All of these use a similar skill set to fulfill the photo requirements that a family might have.

Corporate photographers do the same when they target business customers, for example: business portraits, business conferences, annual reports and public relations. These use a similar skill set to fulfill the marketing needs of a business.

Note that “skill set” is not about equipment. It’s about knowing and fulfilling customer expectations. A retail customer has different expectations than a corporate customer. A $1,000 customer has different expectations than a $100 customer. (And it’s very important to remember that a $100 customer doesn’t often have different expectations than a $1,000 customer.)

The point is that it’s not about being everything to everyone but rather it’s about being relevant to the type of customer you understand most.

What type of customer do you understand most?


Working With A Photographer

US author Seth Godin recently wrote a post titled Working with a designer (four paths). Since my web site is about business photography, I will steal adapt Godin’s post:


Working with a photographer (four paths)

All of us want to look good online, need some web site photos and maybe even a portrait of ourselves. More and more individuals and companies are learning that they need to hire a professional photographer.

It comes down to doing your homework. Be clear with yourself before you spend a nickel or a minute with a photographer. This difficult internal conversation will save you endless frustration and heartache later.

Here are four postures to consider when working with a good photographer:
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Get a Head of Yourself

What’s the number one way to boost your professional presence?

Get a good business headshot.

This proven piece of advice was recently repeated in The Globe and Mail’s career advice section:

Chris Brown, director of talent solutions for LinkedIn Canada, says numbers prove the value of tidy headshots – profiles with images get 20 times more views. Conversely, profile photos with distant shots, cartoon avatars, and photos with pets may decimate your chances of attracting a potential employer.

The same has been said about the business headshots on a company’s About Us or Contact Us page.

How do you choose a good business portrait photographer? Look at the photographer’s own portrait. If their business headshot is missing or is poorly done then you immediately know that’s the wrong photographer. You need a photographer who understands the importance of a business portrait.


Copyright, monkeys and creativity

The US government stated, in its September 2017 update to its copyrights practices (link to PDF), that it will not register a copyright for any work that lacks human authorship. This includes, but is not limited to:

• A photograph taken by a monkey.

• A mural painted by an elephant.

• A claim based on the appearance of actual animal skin.

• A claim based on driftwood that has been shaped and smoothed by the ocean.

• A claim based on cut marks, defects, and other qualities found in natural stone.

• An application for a song naming the Holy Spirit as the author of the work.

You can be assured that all of the above stem from actual events.
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Taking stock of your photography

Everything old is new again. Maybe it’s because a new audience is always being born or maybe it’s because some folks fail to learn from history.

Around the year 2000, a Canadian web developer started his own online stock picture agency. Back then, existing stock agencies usually screened prospective photographers and they refused his photos as not being good enough.

His new stock agency accepted everyone and initially gave pictures away for free. But he soon realized that free wasn’t sustainable and he began to charge a few dollars per picture. His stock site was aimed at amateur photographers who were happy to give away their pictures:

The monetary rewards are an added bonus, but I don’t think they’re everything for everyone,” he said. “I think our core group of photographers, our 2000 exclusives” — photographers with portfolios exclusive to iStockphoto — are motivated by the reward of being part of an elite club that engages in creative discussion nonstop.

Bruce Livingstone

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Public Relations Photography

This past weekend’s Globe and Mail newspaper, like many of its weekday editions, had several half-page and full-page advertisements that weren’t directly selling anything:

Who would spend up to $75,000 for a full-page ad (link to PDF) that’s not a hard-sell ad?

Universities, colleges and various non-profit organizations.

Why do they do this?
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